Birthday by Koji Suzuki - Book Review - Kristopher Cook

Birthday by Kōji Suzuki

And now, here we are… Birthday. A set of three short stories that loosely relate to each other, although you could argue Spiral and Loop are in different dimensions, but I’m not getting into that again.

If you haven’t read the first three books, then you stand little chance of understanding this closing collection. Despite this, there are small token attempts at flashbacks to the previous books. Still, it baffles me why Suzuki would even consider including this information.

Who picks up the fourth book in a series, one that’s a collection of short stories and thinks, ‘this seems a good place to start’?

These sorts of things undermine the readers that had taken the time to read the others; even when they started to take a turn for the worse.

Although this book is supposed to fill in gaps from sections of the trilogy, it feels more like scenes that were initially left out.

Other than the final story, Happy Birthday, which at least tries to add something new, the other two are merely additional details on previous events.

Coffin in the Sky, the first of the short stories, looks at the world from Mai Takano’s perspective; inside an exhaust shaft about to give birth to a monstrous being. This is taken from Spiral, in which Sadako impregnates Mai, who watched the Ring tape while ovulating.

We’re given no additional information on how it could have happened, nor any chances of a different outcome. Sadako is born; Mai dies; exactly as it was previously.

The second story, Lemon Heart, looks at Sadako as a teen through the eyes of Hiroshi Toyama. He used to work with Sadako during her acting days in the troupe, and where he first fell in love with her.

Hiroshi is recounting his story to journalist Kenzo Yoshino, which is also an event that took place in Spiral. Other than a few spooky going ons, and a leery director, nothing innovative is added to suggest more about Sadako.

The original Ring book already acknowledged that Sadako’s powers of Nensha came from the rape she suffered aged twenty-one, at the hands of a doctor. Given that her mother was a psychic, she’s able to then transport her pain and vengeance, along with the smallpox carried by her abuser, over to a cursed videotape.

Finally, we have Birthday. Focussing on Reiko Sugiura, the girlfriend of Kaoru, whose baby she carries alone, now that he has re-joined the LOOP to save mankind from the growing Ring virus. Through the help of Toru, Reiko can see Kaoru going about his day in the virtual world, but is unable to communicate with him.

However, that world too, has become infected. By linking together the information garnered from his time in the real world, it’s up to Kaoru to find a cure

This story does, at least, hold some emotional weight. Reiko is struggling for a reason to have her baby, let alone raise it, on top of the fact she’s already lost one son to suicide just nine months earlier.

Out of the three stories, this is the one that I thought offered a new perspective on the events. It’s only because it expanded on the conclusion of Loop, rather than just re-telling a section from a different perspective.

The writing is as lifeless as it was in the previous book and fails to deliver any sort of suspense or horror that I initially expected from this series. We’re now safely into the sci-fi genre, meandering between drama and mystery.

It’s in this lack of focus that the book’s interest dwindles.

Closing Thoughts

If you’ve been able to read the series up to this point, then the final short story, Birthday, is worth reading. While it does add to the conclusion of Loop and develop a new perspective on the events that unfolded, don’t expect anything mind-blowing.

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