Bullet Train (novel)

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Bullet Train
Japanese cover
AuthorKōtarō Isaka
Original titleマリアビートル
(Maria Beetle)
TranslatorSam Malissa
Release number
2 (novel)
4 (overall)
PublisherKadokawa Shoten
Publication date
September 2010
Published in English
April 2021
AwardsUniversity Readers' Award
Preceded by3 Assassins
Maoh: Juvenile Remix
Followed byAX 

Maria Beetle (Japanese: マリアビートル, Hepburn: Mariabītoru) is a black humour thriller novel by Japanese author Kōtarō Isaka published in 2010 and later translated to English as Bullet Train. It follows several hitmen aboard a Tōhoku Shinkansen Hayate train, each on a different mission, interconnected in some way. The novel was well reviewed, and was adapted to the Japanese stage in 2018, as well as a 2022 American film.

It is the second novel in Isaka's Hitman trilogy, after 3 Assassins (original Japanese title: Grasshopper), published in 2004,[1] and before AX in 2017,[2][3] with characters from the novel also being incorporated into the spin-off manga series Waltz, serialized in Shogakukan's Monthly Shōnen Sunday from October 10, 2009,[4] to February 10, 2012.[5]


At Tokyo Station, Yuichi Kimura, a former hitman, boards the "Hayate" train on the Tōhoku Shinkansen bound for Morioka to take revenge against the teenage Satoshi Oji, who is referred to as "the Prince" by his friends. Kimura's six-year-old son, Wataru, is in a coma after the Prince pushed him off the roof of an apartment building for fun. However, the Prince knows exactly who Kimura is and actually lured him onto the train. When Kimura approaches, the Prince knocks him out with an improvised taser and ties him up. The confident Prince is a sociopath who likes to manipulate people, and when Kimura awakes, the Prince takes control of him, threatening Wataru's life; an acquaintance is watching over him in the hospital and will kill him if the Prince is harmed and unable to answer his phone.

Tangerine and Lemon are an odd couple of skillful hitmen; Tangerine is composed and well-read, while Lemon is frantic and obsessed with Thomas & Friends. The pair just rescued the kidnapped son of mob boss Yoshio Minegishi, and they are returning the boy and suitcase of ransom money to Minegishi in Morioka. Lemon misplaces the suitcase, and Minegishi's son mysteriously ends up dead while they leave him unattended. At each station on the way, Minegishi's subordinates are also assigned to check on their progress, so Tangerine tries to think of a way out.

Nanao is a hitman with the code name "Ladybug", who constantly laments how unlucky he is; every job he takes has been successful, but somewhere it goes wrong and becomes much more difficult than anticipated. His handler Maria has procured him the easiest job she could: to board the Shinkansen at Tokyo Station, steal the suitcase from Tangerine and Lemon, and immediately get off at Ueno Station. When he tries to get off in Ueno, he comes face to face with "the Wolf", another hitman with a vendetta against Ladybug, who is about to board the same train car. Recognizing Ladybug, the Wolf doesn't let him off and brags about his luck taking on a new contract and meeting Ladybug at the same time. Ladybug gets the upper hand in a brief struggle and unintentionally breaks the Wolf's neck when the train rocks. Meanwhile, the Prince comes by to use the restroom and notices something is odd as Ladybug holds up the Wolf, awkwardly calling him a drunk friend, and tries to shoo the Prince away. Ladybug hides the Wolf's corpse in a seat, takes the photo of the Wolf's target, and hides the suitcase in a hidden compartment in the trash receptacle while he finds a seat to wait for the next station, where Maria tells him to get off. When the Prince returns, he discovers the hidden suitcase and tries to think of ways to further manipulate other passengers for his entertainment.

Each of the three sets of hitmen escapes from their own crisis, and the Prince takes action on the immobile Shinkansen to play with the adults.


Bullet Train received "Rave" reviews according to the book review aggregator Book Marks based on seven independent reviews.[6] It received a starred review from Publishers Weekly[7] as well as Booklist, where Christine Tran described it as "a twisty, darkly hilarious game of musical chairs that draws out the train's hidden army of assassins and a strong dose of Machiavellian justice."[8] Reviewers praised the fast pacing and the darkly comedic elements of the story.[9][10][11]


Award Result Ref.
University Readers' Award Won [12]
Crime Fiction in Translation Dagger Shortlisted [13]
Strand Critics Awards for Best Debut Novel Won [14]



Maria Beetle was adapted as a stage play in Japan in February 2018.[15][16]


The novel also inspired the Hollywood film adaptation, Bullet Train, directed by David Leitch and starring Brad Pitt. The film was released theatrically on August 5, 2022.[17]


  1. ^ van der Westhuizen, Sonja (March 29, 2021). "Interview: Kotaro Isaka | Crime Fiction Lover". Crime Fiction Lover. Archived from the original on November 30, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  2. ^ Isaka, Kōtarō (2017). Ax =: Akkusu. ISBN 978-4-04-105946-3. OCLC 995845004. Retrieved November 7, 2022. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  3. ^ "『AX』:伊坂幸太郎【感想】|最強の殺し屋は ー 恐妻家。" ["AX": Kotaro Isaka [Impression]]. 晴耕雨読で生きる (in Japanese). September 15, 2020. Archived from the original on May 18, 2022.
  4. ^ Loo, Egan (September 13, 2009). "Maoh: Juvenile Remix Creators Launch Waltz Manga". Anime News Network. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  5. ^ "Waltz : La fin et l'après". manga-news.com (in French). February 9, 2012. Retrieved November 10, 2020.
  6. ^ "Book Marks reviews of Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka, trans. by Sam Malissa". Book Marks. Archived from the original on August 30, 2021. Retrieved June 6, 2022.
  7. ^ "Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka". Publishers Weekly. June 9, 2021. Archived from the original on July 14, 2022. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  8. ^ Tran, Christine (August 2021). "Bullet Train, by By Kotaro Isaka. | Booklist Online". Booklist. Vol. 117, no. 22. American Library Association. Archived from the original on January 14, 2022.
  9. ^ Hardyment, Christina (May 29, 2021). "Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka audiobook review — as fast-paced as the train itself". The Times. Archived from the original on October 21, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  10. ^ Powers, John (August 10, 2021). "5 Hit Men Board A 'Bullet Train' In This Fast And Fun Japanese Thriller". NPR. Archived from the original on May 30, 2022. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  11. ^ Siegel, Daniel J. (March 2022). "BULLET TRAIN by Kotaro Isaka Sam Malissa Trans Read by Pun Bandhu | Audiobook Review". AudioFile Magazine. Archived from the original on July 18, 2022.
  12. ^ "若者の活字離れなんてウソ? 大学生主催の読書イベントが熱い!〈BOOKSTAND〉" [Is it a lie for young people to be aliterate? The reading event sponsored by college students is hot!]. AERA dot. (アエラドット) (in Japanese). The Asahi Shimbun Company. May 23, 2014. Archived from the original on January 18, 2022. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  13. ^ "Bullet Train". The Crime Writers' Association. Archived from the original on July 5, 2022. Retrieved July 13, 2022.
  14. ^ Gulli, Andrew (September 21, 2022). "Final Report on the Strand Critics Award (2022) – Strand Magazine". The Strand Magazine.
  15. ^ "「最後はお客さんに嫌われて終わりたい」 舞台「マリアビートル」公開リハーサル | 映像化" ["I want to end with being hated by customers at the end" Stage Maria Beetle public rehearsal]. Book Bang -ブックバン- (in Japanese). February 14, 2018. Archived from the original on December 3, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  16. ^ "平野良、谷口賢志らが繰り広げる"動く"密室劇!伊坂幸太郎の小説を舞台化した『マリアビートル』レポート│エンタステージ" [A "moving" closed-door play by Ryo Hirano and Masashi Taniguchi! Maria Beetle report set in Kotaro Isaka's novel]. enterstage.jp (in Japanese). February 14, 2018. Archived from the original on January 18, 2021. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  17. ^ D'Alessandro, Anthony (May 12, 2022). "Bullet Train Moves A Week Later This Summer". Deadline Hollywood. Archived from the original on May 13, 2022. Retrieved May 12, 2022.