Saturday, November 12, 2011

Primitive or Abstract

『クビツリハイスクール 戯言遣いの弟子』

"It is not a problem of trusting or not trusting. The problem is whether you'll betray or not"
"Hanging High School - Disciple of the Nonsense Bearer"

Sometimes, the hardest part of writing a post is not finding time to read a book, or finding time to write a review. Though those are actually problems I do have at the moment. Sometimes it's not even finding the inspiration to write an x amount of words. Sometimes it's just finding a good topic for the introduction that can serve as a bridge to the main topic. So when I don't have ideas for that, I write stuff like this as an introduction.

But to be honest, I was not even sure whether I should write about Kubitsuri High School - Zaregotodukai no Deshi ("Hanging High School - Disciple of the Nonsense Bearer"), the third entry in NisiOisiN's Zaregoto series. Why would I consider not writing about it, even though I discussed the excellent previous Zaregoto novel? Well, I hinted at it in the last part of that review, but even though the Zaregoto series starts out as a funky modern pop-orthodox mystery, the series slowly moves away from that premise. That change is very noticable in Kubitsuri High School, which strangely at the same time feels like a logical continuation of the last novel, as well as a drastically different novel. But as I have no other material to post about at the moment (I need time to read books!) and it does include a locked room murder, strictly speaking, I figured I might as well discuss it.

Kubitsuri High School - Zaregotodukai no Deshi starts with Aikawa Jun, nicknamed the World's Strongest Private Contractor, asking (mentally blackmailing) the narrator to help her rescueing a friend of hers. Yukariki Ichihime wants to leave her girls' academy, but circumstances make it difficult to do that without help. The narrator is not entirely sure what that means, until he discovers that the school Ichihime is attending is actually training the students to be... assasins. Every student is trained in martial arts and the use of weaponry. And the students have the mission to hunt down Ichihime, making it kinda difficult for her to leave the school.

The narrator and Aikawa manage to sneak into the school and make contact with Ichihime, but when they sneak (break) into into the principle's office, they discover that the principle has been killed. Or rather, sawed into pieces with a chainsaw. And they are pretty sure the room was completely locked before they entered it. Aaaaaand, they also realize that they have been set up, because anyone would suspect them of being the murderers, seeing as they are intruders and Aikawa used brute force to break into the office. Who is trying to frame them and why?

But in reality, the locked room mystery is not really a big mystery. The basic trick for this novel's locked room mystery is really primitive and cliched, and the smoke and mirrors of Kubitsuri High School are not nearly as effective as that of the previous novels. On the other hand, a lot of the mystery surrounding the locked room in Kubitsuri High School is done excellently by NisiOisiN's (and the narrator's) precise choice of words and playing with readers' expectations. It is amazing how easily NisiOisiN changes the meaning of a sentence by simply adding stress to words. NisiOisiN really makes wonderful use of the so-called ambiguity of the Japanese language. Japanese is a language where a lot of information can be left out as much is assumed between the speakers. For example, one does not have to repeat the topic of a sentence every time. NisiOisiN's word-tricks / word-plays make use of these assumptions, luring you into linguistic assumptions that are false. It is pretty difficult to do effectively, because a reader only has to take only one step back to see the linguistic trap, but NisiOisiN cleverly never allows you to take that one step back, always keeping you close to his fantastically written text.

Like mentioned, the emphasis of this book is on the locked room mystery though, but on the escape of Ichihime and the interactions between the narrator, her and the other students trying to capture Ichihime. Like always, the narrator appears as a very hard-to-understand person (even though it is written in the first person), easily lying to everybody (including himself). His interactions with Ichihime, who calls herself the narrator's disciple, are fun, but do not feel nearly as satisfying as the narrator's interactions with his fellow-students in the previous novel. Kubishime Romanticist had brilliant discussions and observations, Kubitsuri High School was just funny. Interesting was also how the school is first described almost as a character itself, basically a gigantic locked space where students are held and with such an enigmatic structure that everybody keeps getting lost in it, but that kinda faded away near the end (which is a shame!).

The previous novel also featured some fight scenes, but assassin high school girls fighting each other (and the narrator) with weird weapons? Yes, we are definitely moving towards a more animanga-esque story now. Yes, I know the previous novels had hints to that too, but tsundere assassin high school girls fighting each other with weird weapons is very in-your-face animanga-esque element. I really liked the off-beat characters and wonderful dialogues in the previous novels, as the balance between those elements and the mystery elements was perfect in my opinion, but in Kubitsuri High School, the mystery element has moved quite a bit towards the background. Which at one hand seems like a logical continuation of the previous novel, but I had really prefered the style of Kubishime Romanticist.

And thus I am not sure whether to continue this series. I like NisiOisiN's writings, but I don't think I like the Zaregoto-world enough to continue reading it if it is going to move away from Kubishime Romanticist's form even further.

Original Japanese title(s): 西尾維新 『クビツリハイスクール 戯言遣いの弟子』


  1. It depends... The next story is pretty much hit-or-miss, but when it hits for you it's awesome. Concerning the mystery and otaku-esque aspects, they are more balanced and somewhat between Kubishime and Kubitsuri stylistically. However what comes afterwards are pure otaku-novels without much connection to the mystery genre apart from references to authors and novels. I put the series on halt during the final story, so I'm not sure whether I should recommend continuing or not. Personally I love Nishio's writing style and characterization, but I also need a distinct setting and plot (if not an interesting crime situation) to be captivated enough to finish stuff.

  2. Thanks for reminding me that I still have to place an order for The Kubishime Romanticist.