MM9 by Hiroshi Yamamoto

Known mainly for his work in Japanese, this is the first English translated book of Hiroshi Yamamoto which I have read. MM9 is the set of semi related stories about the Monsterological Measures Department (MMD). They track and handle all the kaiju (giant monsters) which are present in Japan. The title refers to the monster magnitude (MM), which is a scale similar to the natural disaster scales we use (earthquake, hurricanes, etc) that is based of the size and destructive capability of the the kaiju being tracked. The stories are all stand-alone with a repeating cast and different monsters. Except the final story builds on a couple previous stories and is easily the best one of the bunch. Let’s check out what happens.

The MMD has several people who work on the various teams. There is Ryo, Yuri, Yojiro and department chief Kurihama. Together they have various roles to play in identifying, assessing and ultimately handling any kaiju’s that come along near Japan. They aim to minimize any damage or loss of human life. They are challenged by having to travel long distances to get to the kaiju, uncertainty of what they are facing and a public who blames them for not stopping kaiju sooner or for any incidental damage that happens when they do stop the kaiju. The various stories introduce us to the different characters and are told in different ways. For instance, one story is told as a “day-in-the-life” documentary about the MMD team. The various monsters are used a backdrops which to tell the stories, which play off Godzilla, Gamera and Rodan stories as if they were real, about the people and the history (and scientific theories) of the kaiju.

The monsters are pretty much disposable except for one that is a strange mix of kaiju and human and is being held by a terrorist like organization until the MMD frees her. The final story pulls everything together and goes a lot more into the theories of kaiju. The most prominent one espouses a similar theory to the Neil Gaiman Sandman story A Dream of a Thousand Cats from the Dream Country story collection. The theory is that if enough people believe something (or stop believing something), reality changes so that the new belief was always true. It doesn’t change just the future, it changes the past to match the current reality as well. It’s an interesting theory and helps make the book more than just a collection of monster tales.

Overall it’s a decent collection of stories. Until the last story, it felt mainly lightweight and breezy. The final story really brought everything together and made the whole collection feel almost as if it were a full novel instead of just a series of stories with the same characters. There is decent characterization as we spend time with each of the people and get to know them. This characterization helps out in the final story which will determine the ultimate fate of the world. Recommended.