Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime

Konoha Inoue is a high school sophomore with a dark secret. Tohko Amano is a book scarfing goblin. Together, they fight crime.

No, that's not right. Together, they make up the entirety of the Seijoh Academy's literature club. Club activities consist almost exclusively of Konoha writing stories for Tohko to consume (great literature is yummy, but printed works just aren't as fresh as a handwritten story). However, Tohko's getting bored with things, so she's experimenting with ways to attract new people to the club.

Enter Chia Takeda, a first year who wants the Literature Club to help her write love notes to a boy she's fallen for. The boy in question is Shuji Kataoka, apparently the dreamiest member of the archery team. Konoha reluctantly agrees -- or, more accurately, Tohko agrees and Konoha doesn't feel like contradicting her, so he spends the next several days composing the best love note ever. Unfortunately, he tells Chia that it's just something he dashed out over lunch, so when the note goes over well she asks him to write one every day. This wouldn't be so bad if she didn't come to his class each morning to get the note. Given that she's barely pubescent, this leads Konoha's classmates to speculate that he might be into lolicon, particularly Nanase Kotobuki who becomes deeply antagonistic towards him. (This being the first volume in a series, I'm guessing she's going to turn tsundere soon enough.)

Eventually Konoha grows curious about Shuji, so he asks a classmate from the archery club about the guy -- but the classmate has never heard of him. Konoha and Tohko investigate and determine that there's no such person at Seijoh Academy. When they confront Chia, she gives them a note Shuji wrote to her, a very dark, disturbing letter that would send any sane woman running away in fear. But not Chia. Tohko recognizes several passages in the letter as being influenced by Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human, which I gather is an existential novel similar to The Stranger or Notes from Underground.

Things get even more mysterious when Chia takes Konoha to an archery practice to meet Shuji. Some alumni from the team show up to watch as well, and they rush to Konoha when they see him. Turns out, he looks exactly like an old team mate of theirs who committed suicide ten years ago -- Shuji Kataoka! Dun-dun-dun!

This popped up on my Amazon recommended list after I bought the Haruhi Suzumiya books. The description -- book club, weird girl, magic -- sounded like a knock-off, but I decided to give it a try anyway. Despite some superficial similarities, the two are very different. Tanigawa's series is a sprawling, genre-bending parody of anime/manga tropes, whereas Nomura plays things pretty much straight. I was quite surprised by how dark the book was -- to me "suicidal mime" is a funny concept, but it turns out to be a metaphor Shuji uses (taken from Dazai?) to describe the mask he wears to hide his true sociopathic self. Although when I say, "dark," I don't want to give you the impression that this is a bleak tale about how the world is a giant crapsack. Rather, it's dark in the way Byron and Emily Bronte were dark -- a key moment near the end involves Tohko explaining how most of Dazai's books are actually fun, and anyone who judges him on No Longer Human alone is missing the point.

My biggest disappointment with the story comes two-thirds of the way through when we find out exactly what's going on, and it turns out to have a rational (if convoluted) explanation. Such a Radcliffian twist seems out of place in a story with a Goblin who eats books. Nonetheless, I pushed through to the end, partly due to the fact that the book's only 180 pages, and partly to see how Nomura would fill the remaining pages after the main mystery was resolved. I'm glad I did, for after a brief lull the story picks up again with a twist that makes up for the main plot fizzling out.


parrish lantern said...

this sounds like an interesting read.

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