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Mardock Scramble by tow Ubukata

Mardock Scramble (original 2003; edition 2011)

by tow Ubukata

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524225,591 (3.55)2
Title:Mardock Scramble
Authors:tow Ubukata
Info:VIZ Media LLC (2011), Edition: Original, Paperback, 680 pages
Collections:Your library

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Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata (2003)



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This is a collection of one future world story that was originally published in three parts. It tells the tale of Rune-Balot, a fifteen-year-old girl with more than a troubled past. Sexually abused by her father before being taken into care where she is forced into prostitution. Escaping from this she finds herself taken in by a more established brothel where she catches the eye of Shell Septinos who then becomes her patron. Unfortunately for Balot this is not a good thing. Shell collects young girls but only when he kills them and turns them into blue diamonds before wiping his memories and Balot is next in line to add to his collection. If not through the intercession of two PI's, one of whom just happens to be a talking mouse, then she would be well on her way to becoming the newest ring on Shell's finger. As it is, her injuries are so extensive that she will need her body to be remade using the latest technology which gives her some extraordinary powers. Balot could then be used in the case that the PI's are building against not just Shell but also the company that he works for.

When I started this story my intention was to just read book 1 but had to continue because of where the split occurs. It's at the culmination of a large battle with the outcome hanging in the balance so I was glad I didn't have to wait to pick up the next one. Part 1 deals with setting up the characters and situation and builds an interesting world for the setting. There's quite a lot of action here too. Part 2 concludes the battle (if not the war) but then slows down quite a lot when the action moves to a casino. There's a lot of play-by-play description of poker, roulette and blackjack and although this sounds boring it was interjected with Balot's feelings and flexing her extraordinary abilities and so wasn't quite as bad as it sounds. Part 3 is the end-game as Balot and her companions try to get what they need in order to win their case and then deals with the aftermath of a very quick trial. There are a couple of very disturbing topics that form the basis of many of the characters within this book but I never felt that they were gratuitous or glamorized in any way. It gets quite philosophical at times as the motivations of the various characters are dissected. This is definitely not a book for everyone but anyone who's seen the movies but wants more depth will certainly find that here. Overall I quite enjoyed it. ( )
  AHS-Wolfy | Oct 22, 2016 |
I'm not really sure what happened with this series of 3 stories. It only takes a few pages before the readers brain settle comfortably into the futuristic world of the story, but the subject matter was anything but comforting. Initially, this marked the story out as an edgy perspective. A fifteen year old babydoll prostitute with a sad background of paternal sexual abuse, is intentionally burnt alive by a psychopathic man who deletes his memories. Like the 6 million dollar man, 15yo Rune is rebuilt into a superhuman cyborg and partnered with a strange dimensionally flexible mouse.
Rune battles to find purpose in her life, to feel human emotion where she had numbed herself so long, to overcome the lure of the new power she now wields within her abilities. There are some interesting threads which weave throughout the early parts of this story.
Rune's rebirth finally falters when she confronts another like herself; Dimsdale Boil, another engineered cold creation who seeks to prevent Rune from testifying against her attacker by whatever means necessary. Dimsdale singular focus is on killing, but yearns to be reunited with his former partner, and now current partner of Rune - the odd mouse.

All of this sounds fantastic and it really sets the story up early. However, once Dimsdale enters the narrative, the story settles back into a Bourne Identity kind of action packed one-dimensional pursuit. As if sensing that the story is getting away from him, the author abruptly ends the first book almost mid thought, without any resolution of any of the events. I was initially only intending to read the first volume before deciding whether to continue or not. Yet, with the way the first part is severed off, there really as little choice but to continue straight into the next part.


I don't want to speculate too much, but I suspect the author at this stage may have been abducted by aliens. In a panic, the book's editors thought they could sneak in a rebranded copy of Gambling 101 for Dummies ad hope that no-one would notice.
Seriously W.T.F.?
The *E n t i r e* second part reads like Sophie's World for breaking a casino. The level of minutiae on game theory and gambling strategy; the level of excruciating detail we are told including what each hand people hold in a game of poker. Not helping is the ridiculous premise that our three intrepid heroes enter a casino with a few thousand dollars with a strategy to win their way to a million dollars in order to get their hands on the case-cracking prize evidence. That in itself was laughable. I kept waiting for it to end, but it went on and on. I skipped and skimed pages, but it went on, story cast aside somewhere. It only mercifully breaks when you realise you've hit the third installment. That's right - an entire volume of this series is devoted to a bullshit pantomime in a casino.

When the third part picks right up at the casino, I was ready to gouge my own eyes out.

( )
  StaticBlaq | Apr 26, 2015 |
Book 1 of 3:
Since the US edition was published with all three books in one (yay omnibuses!), I decided to break down my reviews book by book since there is a LOT of action in each different volume. I also used the original art for each volume since it’s not included in the US edition and I like this art better.

That said, this first book in the first trilogy of the “Mardock” saga is a refreshing slap of cold water in what’s been a rather tepid pool of sci-fi novels around the world within the last decade, and I’m just so glad it FINALLY got translated into English (since, for me at least, there are some parts of the book that are still hard for me to interpret from Japanese to English, but that’s my failing with kanji understanding and all) so more people can enjoy Ubukata’s awesome story.

First, it’s wonderful to see the usual idea of what can be called the “Ghost in the Machine”-inspired cyberpunk of girls-remade-as-cyborgs genre being twisted with the use of Rune-Balot, a child prostitute/porn-star being turned into something at her own request, though the full ramifications of this request don’t hit home with her (and with the audience) until the end of this first book. Balot has been used and abused her entire life, and now she has a chance to take it back with the help of Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, the Golden Mouse (who later becomes her partner).

Unlike the policewoman Katsuragi from the famed “Ghost in the Shell” who is a cyborg from the start, this is the story of a human girl becoming something more – a reverse process which is interesting to behold in of itself. Ubukata takes this abused girl who has hidden inside of her “shell” her entire life and brings her out of it to show her how to protect herself against those who would keep abusing (as in Shell, the actual villain here in these books), but trying to temper this with not abusing the power that she’s been given so that she doesn’t become what she hates.

This series of books at its very core is the question of what it means to be human with a very untraditional cast of inhuman characters – Boiled, the first Scramble, an assassin, Oeufcoque the Golden Mouse, the Living Tool, Dr. Easter, the mad scientist, and others that appear throughout the tale. We find that in the theme of “being useful”, we are at our most human – as shown by Oeufcoque and Balot, who bond very intensely as the hunt of Balot’s (second) life begins. The idea of the Scramble 09 system is to be useful so that the technology that enables Balot (and sadly, Boiled as well) to keep on living does not become abused.

One could take this theme one step farther – as a metaphor for addiction. Addiction of any and all sorts. If you ask any addiction specialist (Dr. Drew Pinsky would come to mind as the most accessable of this department of medicine), the idea of “being useful”/”providing service” to others heals many addicts on their road to recovery. Just like Balot is broken in both body and spirit upon her reboot in life through the Scramble system, Oeufcoque and Easter’s teachings of being of service to others helps heal her and gives her purpose in life.

My final note, for this volume, is how wonderful the translation is. It made clear all of the muddy parts in my own head when trying to read the source material on its own. The adaptors/editors made this very, very easy to understand with all of its philosophical parts along with the usual sci-fi story attached, and makes it all balance out very nicely. Even if you’re not a fan of this genre, I really recommend you pick up this omnibus of the first “Mardock” trilogy (the second has not yet been licensed for translation into English, as far as I know as of this moment). You won’t regret it.

Book 2 of 3:
Oh man, that ending from the first book. I admit, I was crying by the end of it and feeling like I’d really bonded with all of the gang – Balot, Easter, and Oeufcoque – and felt like I’d been facing down Boiled and his henchmen along with him. So seeing the “bleeding gun” version of Oeufcoque there in the beginning of this second book was almost more than I could handle.

That said, this is an excellent continuation from where the first novel left off. We get some answers (finally!) about Easter’s past and Balot’s present, as well as who Boiled really is (though more of that is detailed in the prequel, “Mardock Velocity”, which came out after this first trilogy was published). We see Boiled evolve as well through his lust for regaining Oeufcoque (but not as a partner) and his willingness to stop at nothing to retake the golden mouse.

Happily, there isn’t much about Shell in this book (I’m hoping that’ll be saved more for the third book) aside from the fact that he’s about to make a major power play at the top of the Mardock social pyramid – and that even though he’s stored his memories away on a chip, Balot’s death still haunts him every single night. That was really satisfying for me. Tow really knows how and when to give his readers information, and that was proven again and again with this second book.

And then, of course, the cliffhanger – which really isn’t a cliffhanger in this case, but at least I’ve learned how to gamble according to data modeling on how dealers behave. I guess what really is wonderful about this second book (at the end of the day), is Balot’s willingness to push forward in her quest for justice against Shell, no matter how much it hurts her. We see the evolution of her as a person, regardless if she’s more than half metal at this point. Her love of Oeufcoque and her wonder over making friends in Paradise was wonderful to behold, and I hope that Tow continues on this cant for the rest of the series.

Book 3 of 3:
You know, I was pretty sad when I finally got to the end of this series. I kept wanting more adventures with Easter, Balot, and Oeufcoque, and the end itself was really touching. I mean, I was actually kind of crying. I’m not sure if it’s my wacky hormones or what, but the end itself was a total emotional cliff-hanger. And even if painful, the ride was absolutely wonderful.

We finally get to see Boiled and Balot’s final showdown (as well as seeing Shell finally get his own through a strange twist of fate via Boiled, Oeufcoque, Easter, and Balot) – and that in itself was pretty thrilling and satisfying. The final chapters of the book are spent in the epic gun battle, much like a showdown like you’d find in a western, between Boiled, Oeufcoque, and Balot – and even though it was really, REALLY violent (and pretty graphic – body parts everywhere!), the entire trilogy was really building toward this. Balot needed closure, and not just with Shell, just as Boiled grew increasingly unhinged and likewise needed closure with his old partner Oeufcoque.

And now, I really REALLY want to read the prequel trilogy, “Mardock Velocity”, which is pretty much all about Boiled’s origins and the invention of the Scramble 09 technology. That hasn’t been optioned yet for US translation, but I hope it will be soon. I’m also kind of pissed that this series got ignored by US sci-fi awards this year – it won multiple awards in Japan, and the translation has been overlooked. And that’s really sad, because this translation is pretty fantastic, if I do so say so myself. If I can find the prequel trilogy via book-off or ebay or something, I might just try to read it myself, confusion over kanji or not.
At the end of the day, this book is all about one thing – the will to live. Does one have it? What does it take to have it? What is the cost of having it? “Mardock Scramble” explores this question very consistently all throughout the trilogy, and the evolution of such a decision (to live) through the character of Rune-Balot and her relationship with Oeufcoque. It really is a masterpiece, and I’m not just saying that. Ubukata did a great job in his emotional hook, and I literally could NOT put this book down.

Lucky for you, Haikasoru/Viz has released all three books in one omnibus format. If you want to try something fresh and new, please, please, please try out this series. You won’t be sorry, and you won’t look at sci-fi the same way ever again.
(crossposted to shelfari and witchoftheatre.wordpress.com) ( )
  usagijihen | Apr 17, 2011 |
Mardock Scramble by Tow Ubukata was originally released in Japan in 2003 as a three volume series, granted with a month of one another. Also in 2003, Mardock Scramble won Ubukata the 24th annual Nihon SF Taisho Award. The three books--The First Compression, The Second Combustion, and The Third Exhaust--were published in an English translation by Viz Media's Japanese speculative fiction imprint Haikasoru as a single, massive tome. Haikasoru's edition of Mardock Scramble was released in 2011 with a translation by Edwin Hawkes. Mardock Scramble is the first of Ubukata's novels to be made available in English although at least two of his manga series, the first three volumes of Pilgrim Jäger and the entirety of Le Chevalier d'Eon, have seen publication in English. The manga adaptation of Mardock Scramble is scheduled for English release in August 2011 from Kodansha Comics and an anime adaptation was released in 2010.

Rune-Balot was fifteen when she was murdered by her benefactor Shell-Septinos. Balot's life was a difficult one; she was abused as a child and forced into prostitution. A part of her wanted to die, but another part wanted to live. Two PIs investigating Shell at the time of Balot's death were able to rescue her. Eager to prove their usefulness to society, they initiated the life preservation program Mardock Scramble 09. Balot's body is combined with highly advanced and normally illegal technology, giving her her life back along with super human abilities. She, who had been powerless for so long, could now fight back. Along with the support of the PIs, Dr. Easter and Oeufcoque, who have some interesting capabilities of their own, Balot is eager to get her revenge. But shell isn't completely defenseless. His extremely powerful and brutal bodyguard Boiled, who also happens to be Oeufcoque's old partner, is more than prepared to nullify Balot's existence.

I find Mardock Scramble difficult to classify. It's definitely speculative fiction, and most likely science fiction although it doesn't always feel that way. I've also seen the series referred to as cyberpunk, which almost fits. But whatever it is, Mardock Scramble is a lot of fun. For the most part. The action sequences and gun fights are exciting and easy to follow; the characters are likeable and interesting, each with their own quirks and unique personalities. The frequent egg puns and references were a bit odd, but fit well with the vague strangeness of the story. The technology might not always be believable, but some of it is, and even if it's not it's still pretty cool. I didn't quite understand some of the worldbuilding; the bizarre legal and law enforcement system is still a mystery to me, which is unfortunate since it's fairly important to the story.

I am very glad the Haikasoru decided to publish Mardock Scramble as a single volume, otherwise I'm not sure I would have finished the series and that would have been a pity. I loved the first book, enjoyed much of the second, and thought the action packed ending of the third was great. But in the middle of the quickly paced story, there's a lengthy scene that takes place in a casino that slows things down tremendously. I didn't mind this at first, and even enjoyed it and found it interesting to some extent. But after one hundred eighty pages of Blackjack, I was getting impatient. Maybe if it was a gambling game that I actually cared about, like Mahjong, I would have been okay. But I don't give a damn about Blackjack, even if it was necessary for the story. Overall though, I did enjoy Mardock Scramble: I liked the quirky characters, I liked their captivating backstories, I found the twisting plot to be entertaining. And Hawkes' translation is fantastically smooth. With the creativity displayed by Ubukata in Mardock Scramble, I wouldn't mind exploring some of his other works.

Experiments in Reading ( )
  PhoenixTerran | Mar 11, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tow Ubukataprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hawkes, EdwinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A girl murmured, in a voice that could barely be called a voice, "I'd be better off dead."
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