Review: Zaregoto series vol 1-5

Kubikiri Cycle (The Beheading Cycle: The Blue Savant and the Nonsense Bearer / クビキリサイクル 青色サヴァンと戯言遣い)
Author: Nisioisin
Illustrator: Take
Publisher: Kodansha

It’s been years since I read the first volume of Zaregoto and I barely remember anything about it now, so let’s use this space as a general introduction to the series. Kubikiri Cycle is Nisioisin’s debut work, published in 2002 at the age of 20. A mere nine months later the series had five books out, although the final ninth volume wasn’t released until 2005. It’s widely regarded as Nisio’s best work, his crowning achievement, to this day. And what is it about? Nonsense. Pure nonsense. Our unnamed narrator (commonly referred to by fans as Ii-chan) is unwillingly thrown into a new absurd situation every volume, usually involving some sort of murder or conspiracy or scheming and whatnot, but in the end it always boils down to nonsense. Our Ii-chan just can’t give less of a damn. He’s all too familiar with murderers and geniuses and strange people and would rather just not be bothered. In fact, the series is essentially a character study on Ii-chan – take someone with his purely apathetic personality, throw him into an abnormal situation with outlandish characters, and see what happens. Combine that with Nisioisin’s distinct writing style and you’re in for a fun ride.

Del Rey translated this and volume 2 before they went under, but unfortunately this volume is long out of print and sold out everywhere. Good luck finding a copy for under $50.

The second volume is titled Kubishime Romanticist (Strangulation Romanticist: Hitoshiki Zerozaki, Human Failure / クビシメロマンチスト 人間失格・零崎人識) and is also the volume that made me fall in love with the series. I can’t say much without giving away spoilers, but let’s just say that this is where Ii-chan’s personality really starts to stand out. We’re introduced to Zerozaki Hitoshiki, a serial killer who ends up getting his own spinoff novels later on, and a few of Ii-chan’s university classmates. And naturally, people get killed. If you’ve read volume 1 but are hesitant about reading volume 2, I’d say definitely go for it. This one is several times better with a twist that’ll make you want to flip tables, in a good way.

This volume should still be in stock at the usual places, but I expect it to suffer the same fate as volume 1 in a year or so. Better buy it while you still can. Sadly it doesn’t look like Kodansha USA is going pick up where Del Rey left off… but maybe some fan translators can step in hopefully maybe.

Volume three is Kubitsuri High School (Hanging High School: The Nonsense Bearer’s Pupil / クビツリハイスクール 戯言遣いの弟子). Kubitsuri takes a different approach compared to the previous two books, with more of a focus on battle action than mystery. There’s still a murder, but it’s not the main point of the story and it’s simple enough to figure out on your own. The new characters here are Yukariki Ichihime, who currently claims the spot of my favorite female character, and a few other students of this dangerous high school. Aikawa Jun also plays a major role for the first time, which might explain why this volume is so much shorter than the rest. And Ii-chan is in a skirt the entire time. It’s absolutely nonsensically wonderful.

Overall this volume was fun, though not as mind blowing as Kubishime Romanticist. This is a bit of a translator’s tangent, but Hime-chan’s lines have got to be some of the most difficult to translate out there. She speaks in awkward grammar, replaces kanji with similar looking but incorrect kanji, and uses an incorrect idiom every other time she talks. Depending on whether your reaction to that is “oh god no” or “challenge accepted,” you can determine out whether or not you’re fit to translate a Nisio work.

Psychological (サイコロジカル) takes up both the fourth and fifth volumes of the series. Volume four is tagged “Utsurigi Gaisuke’s Nonsense Killer (兎吊木垓輔の戯言殺し),” while volume five is “The Alluring Kouta (曳かれ者の小唄).” Kunagisa Tomo plays her first major role since the first book, and we find out a bit more about her past with the “team.” I found this arc a hit-or-miss. The setting is largely reminiscent of Kubikiri Cycle – our main characters travel to a distant location filled with geniuses (this time all of the scientific variety) and then a locked room murder occurs. While everyone is suspicious of everyone else, Ii-chan takes it upon himself to solve the case. The major thing with Psychological is that pretty much 98% of it is conversation. Nisioisin works tend to be highly verbose, but this was just pure dialogue and monologue. As a result I found the plot development to be slow and tedious. The conversations are mostly fascinating, but often times I felt like the characters were stating the obvious or repeating things over and over again. It was basically Kubikiri Cycle dragged into two volumes. Double the nonsense. I liked the ending and thought it impressively wrapped up all the plot points, but was it worth two volumes of snail-like pacing? I can’t say.

Currently in the middle of reading Hitokui Magical. I’m loving it so far, but it’s really damn long. As of now my favorite volume is Kubishime Romanticist, most likely because Ii-chan plays a more active role than usual. When our narrator decides to stay passive, it depends on the other characters to make the story exciting. But when Ii-chan actually does something… the results are not pretty. They’re not pretty, but they’re damn glorious. Which is why I’m really looking forward to the last arc, Nekisogi Radical. I’ve heard that the Damaged Goods is actually made to do things on his own – which might as well mean that the world is ending.

The two main draws of Zaregoto IMO are the eccentric characters and the eccentric writing. While the available English translations are impressive, reading the original Japanese is a magical experience. Granted, Nisio is my favorite author and I’m highly biased toward everything the man spews out. But unless you hate everything wordy, I recommend giving this series a try.

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8 Comments

  1. You made me very interested in this series, but I can’t find it anywhere :(
    (Maybe tomorrow a little practice with Google??? :D)

    Reply
    • Volume 1 is sold out everywhere. Unless you’re willing to shell out $60, don’t think you’re going to get it. But there are scans floating around, and with a little google searching you should be able to find them. I don’t think there are scans for volume 2 though, you’ll have to buy that one.

      Reply
  2. Afdch

     /  June 13, 2012

    Could not just pass by.
    Couple of weeks ago wanted to register almost the same domain name (nonsenstl) for the translation project of zaregoto book 1 into my language, lol. There are no people around who know japanese and who are willing to translate something. So as my english reading and understanding skill is far more better than writing skill, I’ve decided to do something useful, but ended up doing nothing so far. Still don’t know how to translate something untranslatable, there is plenty of things I like and I hate Nisio for.
    I have a strong desire to read the second volume, but the delivery prices are stopping me from ordering it immediately. I still hope to find a way not to pay over $50 to get this single book into my hands.
    But my patience is running low. Damn you Nisio.

    Reply
    • Hahah, nice. Nisio-reading minds think alike, eh?
      Totally understand loving and hating the writing. Every volume there are chapters that take me an hour to read and other chapters that take me days.
      Have you tried Book Depository? They have free worldwide shipping and should still have that volume in stock. Good luck on translating into your language if you get around to it. It’s going to be painful, but the feeling of accomplishment afterwards will be great.

      Reply
      • Afdch

         /  June 15, 2012

        Well, yeah, absolutely.
        What I love and hate in his writings, there are some parts, which may look like total, erm, nonsence, until you read the whole book. And, of course, those parts with wordplays. I absolutely love them as a reader, but as a translator… You can understand me.
        Yes, I’d checked that service, but their so-called worldwide shipping does not includes shipping to my country, that’s the problem. Such things make me think in a what third world country I live. Anyway, I think in a month or something I’ll come to a conclusion that $50 is a normal price for a such book.
        Thank you for your advice, though, and more thanks for your wishes. I too belive It’ll be painful, and I think that my translating skill Isn’t high enough for Nisio’s books, an may be some day I’ll end up retranslating it all, but for now I’ll do my best.

        Reply
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  1. Zaregoto | English Light Novels

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