Zaregoto Book 1 – The Kubikiri Cycle

Posted by DiGiKerot in Novels at July 31, 2008 on 7:02 pm

An apathetic teenager referred to only as “Ii-chan” is dragged to the lavish island resort of the wealthy-but-exiled Akagami Iria by his genius-engineer friend Kunagisa Tomo. Whilst Kunagisa is happy to spend all her time in her room with her computers, Ii-chan, remarkable only in the extremity of both his apathy and his bad memory, finds himself with only a a smattering of other geniuses (and some cute maids) for company. His boredom is shattered, however, when someone mysteriously loses their head.

Yup, it’s a murder mystery.

Actually, this first instalment of the Zaregoto does an awful lot right. As far as mystery central to the story goes, it’s not really all that difficult to figure out much of the bigger picture, even if some of the minutiae aren’t so obvious. I’d rather like to think that was the point – it’s all “locked door” type situations, but with most of the cast being of the excessively intelligent variety, they spend an awful lot of time over-thinking things that should, perhaps, of been obvious round in circles. It’s part of the fun of the book, really. At this point in time, mystery novels are all very trite and cliched, so Nisioisin has wisely chosen to focus things back onto the characters.

Speaking of characters, can I just say how refreshing it is to have a book where the heroine is personable without being tsundere?

Anyway, what’s tends to be more engaging than them sitting around figuring out who the murderer is, is the characters sitting around trying to figure out exactly what Ii-chan ticks. We’re dribbled information about his past, but are given little concrete about him and what has led to someone who is clearly quite intelligent in his own right to be so passive and nonchalant about everything. Everyone in the cast seems to have their own opinions on him(some of them bordering on the slightly extreme side), but Ii-chan seems quite happy to agree with often conflicting opinions. Precisely what’s driving the curiously co-dependant relationship between Kunagisa and Ii-chan is possibly the most interesting mystery of the novel (and something I suspect the series will be revisiting a lot in future volumes).

Otherwise, it’s all the same kind of humorous exchanges we tend to get in all these light novels. The dialogue doesn’t quite sparkle as much as in books like Gosick, but it’s mostly pretty good. The characters are just the right degree of quirky without reaching the point of annoyance, so that’s all good.

There are a few nitpicks, though – Demian picked up on the biggest one – the dialogue frequently doesn’t attribute speech to the speaker. Every line of dialogue starts on a new line, but there’s no indication as to whether it’s the same speaker or someone else. It can be infuriating at times. Ultimately, you just have to accept that it probably doesn’t matter all that much – it’s literally impossible to figure it out on some occasions. If that’s going to drive you nuts, you’d better stay away. I presume that in the original Japanese text much have made it more obvious, through either it’s formatting or through the use of gender specific pronouns or something, but that’s not really the case hear.

Otherwise, the prose is occasionally a bit on the clunky side. The books written entirely in the first-person, narrated by Ii-chan, and as with any first-person book I expect the narration to be a little rambling at times. I’m willing to cut these things a lot of slack for that reason. The thing is, some of this book I just found a little too difficult to parse, resulting in me having the re-read chunks of text in order to get my head around them. The lack of any credit for an editor on the book, combined with the slightly clunky prose and dialogue issues, makes me wonder if an editor even looked at the book before publication. I don’t doubt the accuracy of the translation, but a little bit of polish would have went a long way here.

All that said, none of that is so bad as too effect my enjoyment of the book too dramatically – it’s the kind of thing that, if I scored these reviews, might cause me to drop half a point rather than a full one. I should qualify that, regardless of any issue I might have with the English adaptation, I did find this a difficult book to put down – entertaining enough that I allowed it to eat into the time that I’d allotted to doing other things (like watching anime). It’s a good deal longer that a lot of these light novel releases as well. Ultimately, despite the niggles, it’s recommended reading, and my pre-order for the second book is in already.

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