Keiji Kiriya, a raw recruit in the Japanese Defense Forces, is sampling his first taste of battle against the Mimics, squat amphibian creatures with a remarkable tenacity, and it looks like it’s going to be his last. His squad hopelessly outnumbered, his battlesuit almost out of power and ammo, he’s facing near-certain doom when suddenly a veritable Valkyrie in crimson armour towers above him, shredding Mimics with an enormous axe. The respite is merely temporary though, his wounds already placing him beyond help. The American heroine stays with him for comfort (and to scavenge his suit’s battery), swapping small-talk about Japanese tea customs before he slips away to the great beyond…
…and wakes up in his bunk the day before the battle.
Understandably confused, Keiji gets on with his day. A pervading sense of deja vu follows his every move, although he manages to put it down to the remarkably intense dream he just had. Every conversation, every action, has a ring of familiarity about it, right down to the moment he joins the battle once again and recognises the mortal danger his friend is in. The slightest change in events and suddenly the hypersonic javelin is embedding itself not in … but in Keiji’s own stomach. Game over. At least until he wakes in is bunk the day before the battle.
You’ve guessed it already, All You Need Is Kill is Groundhog Day but with mech-suits, aliens and buckets of blood in place of Andie McDowell and twee sentimentality. From his third reincarnation Keiji recognises what is happening – at least the ‘what’, the ‘why’ has to wait – and begins to experiment. His first realisation is that no matter what he does the Mimic threat is real and that he has no choice in the matter – either fight or go AWOL he will end up dead unless he can change the future.
The key to his survival lies in his saviour from the first fateful battle, the crimson goddess known as Rita, or the Full Metal Bitch. The nature off the enemy – essentially four-limbed barrels filled with conductive sand and nanobots – makes them almost impossible to kill with conventional weaponry yet Rita and her axe have notched up more dead Mimics than his whole division combined. From this point he strives to get close to this war machine, training with her and honing his skills through death after death, awakening each time with another lesson learned and becoming a more lethal killer.
But one niggling question remains – just how did Rita get this good? What training did she have which the rest of the world’s forces seems to have been denied? Slowly Keiji puts the pieces together and understands that he’s not the only one to have been caught in a loop. Despite being the only one privy to this particular anomaly and therefore having to deal with a memory-wiped Rita every day he soon discovers what he must do to break out of the loop and end this battle once and for all.
So far, so ridiculous?
Yes it is indeed, and All You Need Is Kill is no less the novel for that. Short and insanely fast-paced it is unashamedly sheer entertainment and has no pretensions to be anything more. It wears its influences on its sleeve and makes no bones about it – I discovered this book through recommendations based on my purchase of Armor, the rest is equal parts Groundhog Day and video games as the author admits after the ending. It’s all about fantasy and imagination, Sakurazaka having immense fun with the battlesuits, the carnage wrought by the Mimics and artificial history of the war.
Unfortunately he does let the side down when it comes to the explanation for the time-loop phenomena. In trying to wrap it up as part of the technology invented by the Mimics’ parent race, a time-travelling early warning system of sorts, he gets a bit muddled. The upshot is an explanation which obscures as much as it enlightens and part of me almost wishes he’d just left it a mystery, a McGuffin around which the rest of the novel revolves. Another downside is that some of the dialogue seems to have been mangled in translation, coming across as more juvenile than the tone of the book warrants.
Still, these are minor niggles, nitpicking and nothing more. All You Need Is Kill does exactly what it says on the tin. Any fan of sci-fi, time travel or just readers in need of a one-sitting quick fix should devour this book as I did. There are moments of outright hilarity countered by the weight of Keiji’s predicament. The scenes of exposition and discovery act as the perfect complement to the dizzying adrenaline rush of the perfectly scripted battles. Woven between the lines are some meditations on Keiji’s loneliness but they never detract from the pacing or become too heavy, at least until after the finale has passed. All You Need Is Kill is never going to win a Nobel prize for literature but who cares when you’re having so much anime-inspired fun?
(PS – All You Need Is Kill will soon be an all-singing, all-dancing Hollywood blockbuster featuring that actor whose name is a death knell to sci-fi films, Tom “Hail Xenu” Cruise. Production stills look god-awful and predictably they’ve made the heroes American instead of Japanese. Please spend your money on the book instead…)