By Eiji Mikage and 415. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Luke Baker.
This series intrigued me from the moment it was licensed, as it was one of those rare licenses that didn’t seem to have any hype behind it. This series does not have an anime airing in 2017, nor did it have a manga adaptation. And it’s finished at 7 volumes, meaning those things likely aren’t on the horizon either. The only other equivalent title I can think of is Psycome. Zeroth Maria (as I will call it going forward) is nothing like that, fortunately. Instead, it’s a psychological thriller with supernatural overtones which, by its very nature, has me comparing it to Higurashi When They Cry. We see a group of friends reliving the same period over and over, everything ends in a murder, and one girl is determined to break this fate. That said, Higurashi was more about the friends and their relationships, whereas Zeroth Maria is about the mystery and the plot. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s a good plot.
That’s the titular character on the cover, though you don’t necessarily know she’s connected to the title right off the bat. (Get used to her face – like Strike the Blood, these covers are going to be a one woman show.) We open with her arriving in a classroom as a transfer student, singling out a seemingly normal guy, and saying that she plans to break him. The time looping is not the mystery – it’s laid out on Page 1, and made obvious by the book’s somewhat anachronic order, bouncing back and forth between old loops and new, as we see Kazuki (the seemingly normal guy) deal with this very strange transfer student, try to have fun with his friends, and think about his love for the beautiful Kasumi, a love that is quite strong but he can’t quite remember when it began. As the novel goes on, people are killed by trucks, disappear from the narrative, are killed by trucks some more, are simply stabbed to death brutally, and are killed by trucks even more. Kazuki, though the loops, gains memories, finds the culprit, and together with our heroine, defeats the bad guy.
The characters are few, and you get the sense that one or two of them are there to be generic “best friends”, but the four “main” characters are believably broken. I will admit that the identity of the main villain was not all that hard to guess, but to be fair I don’t think the author was hiding it that hard. If there’s one thing that gives me pause and makes me wary for future volumes, it’s the fact that there ARE future volumes. This was a very good, self-contained single volume mystery novel, resolving all its loose ends, and the fact that there are six more worries me – are we going to be time looping again? Something different? And is this going to be another “how depressing can I make everything?” type of series, as this one had many very depressing moments.
That said, I wholeheartedly recommend THIS volume, provided you don’t mind a bit of death, and think it’s a good series to pick up.