「Oh, you were to enter Todai? Sorry, you are going to die.」
『悪の教典 - Lesson of the Evil』
I love Japanese bunko pockets, but they don't really work for novels with a really high page count. I have some pockets that go to around nine-hundred pages (Nikaidou Reito's Akuryou no Yakata and Shimada Souji's Atopos for example), but these are quite difficult to handle. More often, novels are split in multiple (normal-sized) volumes, but that is usually a more costly investment for the reader, as they have to buy two or more books. On the other hand, you can easily drop out after the first volume; I have often seen that people decide to drop a book split in multiple volumes after the first. As a reader, I am still not sure what is best. But that's enough for today's non-sequitur introduction...
helicopter parents) and sexual harassment from staff, Hasumi manages to deal with every obstacle that appears on his way of becoming the best teacher of the best class. Hasumi also happens to be a complete psychopath though and not seldom does his idea of dealing with a problem involve rather violent and deadly solutions. And as the academic year progresses, more and more people start to suspect there is more behind the perfect facade of Hasumi in Kishi Yuusuke's Aku no Kyouten, which also bears the English title Lesson of the Evil.
Lesson of the Evil was originally serialized between 2008 - 2010 and won the first Yamada Fuutarou Prize, first place in both the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! and Weekly Bunshun Mystery Best rankings and was nominated for a heap of other prizes like the Naoki Prize. I first saw the title in the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! list, but had rather forgotten about it until I attended a lecture of writer Kishi Yuusuke in 2012 at Kyoto University (on the role of violence in the entertainment sector), in which he mentioned this book several times and showed the trailer of the film adaptation by Miike Takashi that released the same year (the movie is also released outside Japan with the grammatically more sensible title Lesson of Evil). As a work of entertainment fiction, this is a pretty big title (there's even a comic version!).
But the first thing I have to say before anything else is: WHY IS THIS CONSIDERED A MYSTERY NOVEL BY SOME? How the heck did this won first place in not one, but two mystery novel rankings?! Setting aside the question of whether Lesson of the Evil is a good read or not: this is not a mystery novel. It's a horror novel. In the broad sense of the word, you can call it a crime novel. But not a mystery novel. The fact Lesson of the Evil won a mystery award is a mystery though. I had suspected something like that having read the description of the book in the Kono Mystery ga Sugoi! guidebook and the film was definitely meant to be bloody horror, but somewhere that it would turn out to be a mystery novel (like Abiko Takemaru's Satsuriku ni Itaru Yamai). It didn't. I think most sources refer to Lesson of the Evil as horror, which is correct, but I just can't understand multiple juries could have considered this the best mystery novel released in 2010!
The second half of the book however is mostly a splatter-horror story, when some of Hasumi's pupils start to suspect there's more behind their homeroom teacher than just his smile, and Hasumi decides to kill his entire class during a school festival, put the blame on someone else and start anew (and this kinda sounds like a big spoiler, but considering this is also written on the back cover description and the film trailer is all about this particular part...). This part has some similarities with Battle Royale, with kids trying to defend themselves from a shotgun-carrying assaillant,all locked up in one area (and the bloody bloodiness of the bloodshedding). For those who like over-the-top violence, you can find plenty of that here, and in the pool of blood that drips out of the pages.
Did I like the book? Well, reasonably. Like I said, I thought the first half was good, especially if one sees it as a parody/subversion of 'traditional' school drama like Great Teacher Onizuka, where an unconventional teacher helps students and fellow teachers alike. If one considers the place of the educational system and teachers in society as pillars (especially Japanese society) and the school as a safe haven for minors, one has to admit that Lesson of the Evil plays a lot with that. A lot of 'stereotypical' and real social problems fly by: from grand-scale cheating, 'monster parents', corporal punishments, sexual harassement to indecent teacher-student relations, but the way Hasumi deals with them is not as typical. By the way, this school has way too much serious problems, even without Hasumi!
I was less a fan of the second half. Not because I dislike the blood, but that massacre takes just too many pages. It just goes on and on and on and whereas the first half had a good sense of speed because Hasumi was multitasking on several schemes across the school, the second half is just straight splatter horror.
Lesson of the Evil is the first time I read horror by Kishi Yuusuke, by the way. Is it a mystery? Noho, absolutely no. Is it entertaining? Well, yeah. As a psycho-horror novel, it's okay and I personally liked the way the story resembles a standard school drama in form (including the social problems), but handles it in a very warped way. If what I've said sounds alluring, or if you think the film trailer looks cool, take a look. For those who want a real mystery, try Kishi's Security Consultant Enomoto Kei locked room mystery novels (also known as the Kagi ga Kakatta Heya series).
Original Japanese title(s): 貴志祐介 『悪の教典』