top of page


Akira Otani plays with poetic dichotomies The Night Of Baba Yaga. She takes a tight action thriller and injects with a gender play that turns it into a meditative romance as it kicks and punches. It's tough muscle with a tender heart.

The relationship between two very different women in 1979 Tokyo drives the narrative. Yoriko Shindo is a woman on the lower social scale with mannish looks and ways that include mad fighting skills an an addiction to them. She doesn't consider herself a martial artist since that promotes a path of peace. With a lot of work and injuries, a yakuza gang beat her and drag her to the compound of their sect. The leader says she can live if she works as the driver and bodyguard for his teenage daughter Shoko.

Shoko and Shindo get off on the wrong foot. Sholo looks down on Shido, criticizing common and masculine ways. Shoko sees her as a spoiled "princess". However the two form a protective connection over time, being the only women on this yakuza compound that only contain the worst aspects of masculinity and amplify them. That bond becomes something stronger when Shoko's arranged marriage to a high member of another sect looms.

Some critics will view the book as elevated pulp, but I feel Otani is working deep down it. Her style is sparse and tight, getting a concise as you can. The dialogue is simple but stiletto sharp. The fight sequences are cinematic blow-by-blow events. You groan reading some of the hits. Translator Sam Bett desevrves crdit for getting this Japanese author's voice across.

A complex relationship of pathos fuels the tale of x-rated action. While it's gender bending take, it's not a normal queer love story. This is possibly due to the setting where the two would not be fully informed about their feelings. When Shako asks Shindo if she'd rather be a man , Shindo honestly can't give a clear and complete answer. They are two women creating a love with what they are given.

The Night Of Baba Yaga reads like a seventies or eighties men's adventure paperback gutted and stuffed with a female perspective. Just over two-hundred pages, Akira Otani believers bone-crunching, visceral entertainment, yet comments on the gnre by simply shifting the perspective of what it embraces. It will be a while before Shako and Shindo will leave my mind.


bottom of page