The second volume of NisiOisiN’s Zaregoto series arrived last week, and I read it over the weekend. It follows a couple of months after the incidents of the first book — the book opens with the narrator drowning his tastebuds in kimchi to burn them out, resetting them so he can enjoy mundane food once again, now that he’s no longer trapped on an isolated island with the world’s greatest cook. As he is doing this, he is confronted by Mikoko Aoii, who invites him to a friend’s birthday party. The narrator finds himself drifting along with events (that include murders, an encounter with a serial-killer, and the return of humanity’s strongest consultant, Aikawa Jun.
I’m not sure — these books remind me of Bret Easton Ellis substituting otaku references for designer-brand name-dropping. For this volume it seems to be Japanese mystery writers or characters more than anime and manga (save for Aoii referring to the strength of the narrator’s AT-field). There’s a curious void at the heart of the characters — particularly the central narrator — and Isin spends more time telling than showing as the narrator talks about his own emptiness. At one point the narrator seems to have a refreshingly human reaction. However, it’s very normality should tip the reader off that something is up.
The blue-haired moeblob hacker is nearly reduced to a footnote.
I’d forgotten from the first book that these are mystery novels with an unreliable narrator. If we are to solve the mystery we have to realize that the narrator may be hiding vital information from us. Indeed, the narrator comes close to being so misleading as to hide necessary clues. He comes close, but doesn’t quite cross that line — when Jun Aikawa does figure things out, she uses evidence that we are also privy to.
And yet, something about the books makes them more compelling for me than, say Haruki Murakami. After finishing this novel, I think the leap to the supernatural that happens in Bakemonogatari is a good strategy for NisiOisiN — it might, ironically, make the characters more human by giving them a reason to be less human.
I’m more-or-less hooked. Del Rey, why not bring the next volume out a little sooner than late 2011?