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Besides the requisite recently deceased soul and guardian angel, “Colorful,” Eto Mori’s English-language debut released on July 20 from Counterpoint Press, offers a unique take on the reincarnation trope.

Banned from the cycle of rebirth because of a “grave error” in his previous life, the weary nameless narrator rejects the angel Prapura’s offer to redeem himself by “homestaying” in a live body at first. Although he can’t remember his past life, he has no energy for living again. But he’s the winner of a spiritual lottery, which randomly bestows second chances on souls with past-life errors and, as Prapura points out, “The boss’s decisions are final.”

Colorful, by Eto Mori
Translated by Jocelyne Allen
224 pages
COUNTERPOINT PRESS

The rules are clear: The narrator will be given a one-year period of training in his new body on Earth. Prapura will act as his guide. If his soul progresses enough in wisdom to atone for his unknown error, memories of his past life will return and he will earn the opportunity to be reborn. If not, his soul will be forever removed from the great wheel of life, death and rebirth.

Thus, the narrator reluctantly enters the body of Makoto, a 14-year-old boy who intentionally overdosed on pills. Forced to surreptitiously learn the ins and outs of Makoto’s existence, the narrator struggles to fit into his new body and world. Later, he wrestles with how to find meaning in Makoto’s life, when Makoto himself could not.

Cleanly translated by Jocelyne Allen, the book’s charm grows with each page. With gentle wit, Mori deftly addresses serious societal issues such as suicide, bullying and marital infidelities alongside the underlying reasons for living: love, friendship, art, passion and meaningful relationships. Through his gradual, but profound, transformation, the narrator realizes that a person never lives in total isolation, but actually needs connections with family and friends. Mori packs layers of redemption across a wide cast of characters within the short text.

First published in Japan in 1998 to both critical and commercial success, the novel proved popular across multiple demographics, earning Mori a coveted Sankei Children’s Book Award for young adult fiction in 1999. It’s also experienced multimedia success, with a film adaptation in Thailand and adaptations for both radio and film in Japan. “Colorful” has enjoyed an enduring and far-reaching popularity, frequently hailed as a classic in Japanese literature. Wise asides populate the novel, but Mori is neither preachy nor contrived, and the satisfying conclusion offers an important lesson for those struggling with despair: Tomorrow will always bring new hope.

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