Review: Zaregoto series vol 6-9

Because the world can never have enough trap Ii-chan. [pixiv]

Late series reviews equals spoilers no matter how well you try to conceal them, so I might as well give the warning now. No explicit spoilers here, but there are explicit impressions, and impressions are already enough of a giveaway for some. Or who knows, maybe it’s all just nonsense?

First off, not going to bother translating titles and subtitles at the moment. Even those require a full post’s worth of translation notes. Clearly the best way to translate a Nisio work is to leave everything in Japanese.
Hitokui Magical (ヒトクイマジカル 殺戮奇術の匂宮兄妹) is the longest book in the Zaregoto series. As a reference, here’s a picture of Hitokui and Kubitsuri, the shortest book, next to each other. It took me longer to read this volume alone than all 3 books of Nekosogi Radical for some reason. The size itself was probably a bit daunting. But moving along – Hitokui Magical tells the tale of a certain researcher and a certain pair of twins. The two may or may not have much to do with each other. While the researcher and her assistant are more of symbolic characters used to represent the theme this time around, the Niounomiya twins are more central to the actual plot. One is a detective, the other is a hitman, and both of them run into our narrator Ii-chan…

We’ve also got a few characters from previous arcs pulled back into the story. For once the people surrounding Ii-chan are idiots (in a way) rather than geniuses. As a result the former half of the book is largely comic relief. Lots and lots of comic relief. I’ve seen Zaregoto tagged as a comedy and wondered if it’s really that funny of a series, but this volume enlightened me on that. In fact the atmosphere is so bright that I had to question whether I was reading the real Zaregoto or not. Is this the Nonsense Bearer or the Tsukkomi Bearer?

But then the second half hits. And boy, does it hit hard. Never mind about this being the comic relief arc, this is the pure pain arc. The first kick to your gut is intense, and then after that it’s a stream of psychological attacks, and then after that it’s another several kicks to the gut. There were a few instances where I had to stop reading, crouch in a corner, and rock myself back and forth for a bit. The way the emotions are conveyed as events continue spiraling into chaos is wonderful. Was this an “enjoyable” volume? Definitely not, at least not the latter half. But it made me feel more sick than I have reading a piece of fiction in a long while, which makes it some category of genius.

Negative points – The philosophic discussion was a bit tedious at times. The theme is fate, yes, we get it, you don’t have to repeat it 50 times. The two new characters other than the Niounomiya twins were boring, inconsequential, and ultimately forgettable.

The final title, Nekosogi Radical (ネコソギラジカル 〈上〉十三階段, 〈中〉赤き征裁vs.橙なる種, 〈下〉青色サヴァンと戯言遣い), spans three volumes. This isn’t exactly a new arc, but rather a direct continuation of where Hitokui Magical left off. The stage has already been set and the final boss has already been introduced. And now it’s up to the protagonist, Ii-chan, to finally start taking action himself rather than remain the passive spectator.
I was looking forward to Nekosogi a lot, being the final arc and all, but perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten my expectations up. It was… well, disappointing. The cast of characters remains the best aspect of Zaregoto, especially with the addition of the quirky Thirteen Stairs. But these characters just couldn’t align themselves into a comprehensible plot. One moment Ii-chan was doing this, the next moment Fox Mask was doing that, and then the next moment all previous plot developments got nullified and they started something new. Most of the time it felt like everyone was running around with no goal in mind. Frankly, it was a mess. And a dull mess at that – we’ve got all these characters with all sorts of abnormal powers, but rather than an all-out battle Ii-chan decides to settle things with his usual nonsense talk. Not that I dislike the nonsense – it’s the foundation for this entire series, after all – but for a battle of wits it really could have been so much more. The enemies didn’t feel like enemies. The final boss didn’t feel like a final boss. There was no tension or pressure or mystery. Things just… happened, in a fashion much too linear compared to all the previous books. Much of the addictive qualities of Zaregoto was lost here, in my opinion.

Although that’s not to say the entire thing was bad. Book 1 was entertaining enough for what it was. Book 2 fizzled out in the middle, but had a great beginning and end. The final book was a disappointment, but only because certain things that I was expecting to be settled ended up not being settled. Several plot points remain vague till the end. I don’t know whether this was because Nisio wanted things to remain unclear, if everything was some sort of metaphor, or if he simply ran out of ideas. But by the last page I had more question marks in my head than anything else. I was afraid I had skipped entire chapters or something. That being said… I have to admit, it did feel like a proper ending to a fitting final arc. Despite the unexplained plot points and slow pacing, the ending still left me feeling like “ahh, that was a good end.” …With the exception of Kunagisa. That’s the one thing I can’t let Nisio off for. Her character was pure wasted potential. Not even wasted potential, it was like Nisio just had no idea what to do with her. I was expecting so much more from her, and thus she turned out to be the main source of dissatisfaction for me.

So yeah, not the best way to end an otherwise wonderful not-really-mystery series. But after all is said and done, I find myself unable to rate Zaregoto too harshly. There’s a certain charm in the way Nisio creates his characters and setting. Those two elements are really what flourished and made the series so appealing for me. While the plot suffered at times, once you take a step back and look at the grand world that Nisioisin created, you can’t help but be left in awe. After some time has gone by, I bet I’ll think back to the series and go “man, that was a crazy fun piece of nonsense.” Was it perfect? No, far from it. But it was one hell of a ride.

Story arcs ranking: (tiers because it’s hard to decide on a specific order)
High tier: Kubishime Romanticist, Hitokui Magical
Mid tier: Kubikiri Cycle, Kubitsuri High School, Psychological
Low tier: Nekosogi Radical

Favorite characters:
Ii-chan ranks at #1 by far. Best protagonist I’ve seen in a while. Zerozaki Hitoshiki, Niounomiya Izumu, Aikawa Jun, and Yukariki Ichihime follow in an order that I haven’t exactly decided upon yet.

This is far from the end of the Zaregoto series, though. There’s Dictional, which is basically Nisio rambling for 400 pages about every last thing related to the series that he could possibly think of. Skimming through the book, there’s more information on certain characters and proper nouns than the series itself explained. Then there’s the Ningen series, which had more than enough cues from Nisio in the final volumes of Nekosogi – “something happened but it’s too long to explain, it’s a story for another time! /hint hint” So that’s another 8 books to go through. Then again each volume of Ningen is fairly short. The entirety is about half the length of Zaregoto in its entirety, so yeah, not too bad. I think I’ll take a break before starting to read again though, I’d like to bask in this feeling of finishing a series for a while longer.

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