By NISIOISIN, illustrations by take. Released in Japan as “Kubitsuri Hai Sukūru: Zaregoto Tsukai no Deshi” by Kodansha. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Daniel Joseph.
(This review was based on a copy provided by the publisher.)
It’s been a long time coming, my friends. We got the first two books of Zaregoto back in the Del Rey days, and they did not sell well at all. But Nisio’s reputation grew, and the Monogatari novels did better, and then Zaregoto got an anime, not to mention the constant fan begging on Twitter, and here we are: the third in the Zaregoto series, a mere nine years later. Was it worth the wait? I think so. It’s not as good as the second book, but that’s a very high bar to clear. More to the point, while it’s still invested in lampooning the mystery genre, Nisioisin is not as concerned with the intricacies of the Whodunnit anymore. Which is good, as it’s pretty obvious early on who the killer is. Instead we get what the Zaregoto series does best, which is a book that looks at what it means to be a normal human told through the story of people who aren’t remotely normal.
Ii-chan is abducted… erm, invited by Jun Aikawa to help her with an escape. There’s a certain girls’ academy that has a student that would like to leave it. And so Ii-chan dons a girls’ school uniform and goes to meet this girl, Ichihime Yukariki. Of course, things do not go quite as easy as that, as Ii-chan quickly finds that the school seems to be training up assassins. Needing to get rescued from the rescue by Jun, the three of them try holing up in the office of the Director, only to find that there’s no escaping a pile of corpses that keeps getting larger. In the meantime, Ii-chan continues to entertain the reader by being his usual self, deflecting, prevaricating, omitting, and outright lying most of the time. The question is, how is he going to deal with it when he runs into someone who’s a little bit like him? No, not Zerozaki, someone else.
This is a slim book, the shortest in the series (there was apparently a contest, which Nisio used as an excuse to add an extra book to his contracted amount), and it’s also far more action-filled than the previous two. Which is to be expected given that Jun plays a much larger role here. It’s also got a lot more corpses than the previous two, though to be fair most of those are offscreen. The reason to get the book, though, is the dialogue and conversations between Ii-chan and the cast. He still avoids saying his name, but does give a few hints to one of the students which might help narrow it down for those who might know Japanese and also be good at math. And Ichihime is also a fascinating new addition to the cast. I’m not sure if she’ll show up again, but I suspect that Ii-chan inviting her to live in the apartment complex he currently does is some fairly unsubtle foreshadowing. I also really liked the other two students we met here, but sadly this is the last we’re going to see of them, unless Nisioisin does something weird like write them into a prequel in his Zerozaki side series. Lastly, Jun calls Ii-chan out on being a mystery protagonist – like Jessica Fletcher, wherever he goes, murders follow.
This does not have the psychological fascination of the second book, as I said earlier. It’s a quick hit-and-run. But it’s still a really good read, and I certainly hope that it does well enough that we get the 4th and 5th books (a 2-parter) before 2029.