By Akira and Oguchi, based on the Vocaloid song by Crusher-P. Released in Japan by PHP Institute. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Kevin Chen.
There is a certain subgenre of novels that are based on Vocaloid songs. We’ve seen a few of them over here, Kagerou Daze being the most obvious. But Kagerou Daze has sort of morphed into a franchise of which the original songs are but a part. ECHO, on the other hand, is a stand-alone novel based on the video of the same name, and after reading it it really doesn’t feel like you can separate the two works. In fact, I’d recommend tracking down the video on Youtube and watching it before reading this book – it doesn’t really spoil much beyond the girl who’s already on the cover, and it helps to make sense of some of the surreal events happening in the middle and end of the book, which quote most of the song outright. As for the book itself, in addition to fans of the original work, I’d recommend it to fans of dark horror with a mystery tinge. As for me, it was well-written, but it didn’t grab me as much as I’d have liked.
Our heroine, much as she spends much of the book denying it, is Hitomi, a teenage girl who helps her family run an electronics store. (Her last name is an aggravation to her but also a character point, so I’ll avoid it for now.) While watching the store one afternoon, she suddenly finds herself flipping through various places as if she were a TV program, finally ending up falling from quite a height into a bizarre amusement park. Fortunately, she doesn’t go splat, and runs into a few other people in the park – her childhood friend, who she’s somewhat estranged from now; the daughter of the richest family in their (very rural) town; a tall introverted girl who seems to be connected to the rich girl in some way; and an adult actor who says he was just passing through town and somehow wound up here, and seems suspicious right from the get-go. Where are they? Why can’t they remember how they got there? And what’s with the girl with six arms and a TV for a head?
The novel is written by a seasoned pro at the genre, and it shows, there’s no awkward “webnovel” prose that you’d see in some works these days. There is some striking imagery, starting with the prologue, which features a horrific sight sure to get rid of any readers who don’t like horror at all. That said, I wish I’d had more time to get to know the characters before events caught up with them. There’s also the presence of Hitomi, which doesn’t really match any of the others, and whose explanation is far from satisfying – clearly she was there because the narrator needed to be an “everygirl” and audience surrogate. She insists she’s not the sort of person to be a protagonist, which may be true of shoujo manga, but if you turn towards Japanese novels for young adults, she absolutely is. The most interesting part of the book to me was probably the real world perspective of the mother of one of the characters, who ends up being tied into the plot far more than expected.
In the end, this is a good book that does what it set out to do – craft a novel around a piece of music. Fans of the song will enjoy it. (Also, wow, what a depressing “this is what happens after you die” this novel has. Pass on that.)