Zaregoto Book 1: The Kubikiri Cycle – Man, What the Fuck Was THAT All About?

I would like to stress that this be read in accompaniment, though preferably before, this review by my hero, Boogiepop translator Andrew Cunningham

Nisioisin is a stellar author who singlehandedly revolutionized the light novel market just as Kouhei Kadono had brought it into existence years before with Boogiepop and Others. Like Kadono, Nisioisin writes heavily psychological tripfests with a very unique style. Also, just as all Kadono stories are instantly recognizable, Nisioisin’s stories, among those I’ve read, all have very similar qualities.

The best way to describe Zaregoto in my opinion would be ‘completely fucking inaccessible mindrape.’ I guess the Japanese eat that up since all of the novels that revolutionize their markets are totally insane. Naturally, I loved Zaregoto, though the ending leaves me wallowing in self-doubt and pain. Unlike Boogiepop and Others whose worldview is crystal clear to me like some Brilliant All-Truth (it is, after all, my favorite thing ever) Zaregoto is like some hazed-over crazy land. The book is written in such a way that it begs the reader to pull thmself into relating to it even though they shouldn’t at all. The main character is a complex mechanism of confusion and derision and none of the other characters are shining examples of normalcy. If you take any of the points made or worldviews expressed in this novel seriously, you are in for a world of conflicting thoughts, bad moods, and will get very angsty very fast. It’s a powerful thing that a book so out of touch with normalcy can convince a normal person that they are either insane, a genius, or both, or at least start hating the world for no discernable reason.

I imagine this is what made the book popular. After reading it, people were probably so fucking confused with what they actually thought about the world in and of itself that they couldn’t help but relate this indescribable emotion to a love for the story. I can’t blame them – I’m in the same boat. Throughout the entire book I found myself nodding in agreement or furrowing my brow in thought at things I didn’t even comprehend, and the ending – holy fucking shit. I won’t spoil it but when you get through the epilogue it is impossible not to ask yourself ‘what the fuck did I just read?!’ honestly, I’m glad it ended that way just to show me exactly how fucked up the worldview really was so I didn’t take it so seriously I really went mad.

As for the story itself, as a mystery novel, which it is in some way, it doesn’t even try very hard to be a good mystery for the most part and is less ‘ZOMG’ than most episodes of Detective Conan but the real engrossing part is the constant dialogue and psychobable that has you gripping your head and asking ‘why am I thinking about this?!’ The main character was a guy who I would have a hard time not enjoying when he was so complex and it was refreshing to see a main character who wasn’t written to be relatable. I also loved his partner, the blue-haired Kunagisa, but that’s because she was UBER pandering to my DEEPEST emotions that made me just want to rip her out of the book and I imagine that it will sink in how much I loved her character and how I wish she were real and then I’ll get all depressed and shit. Again. Damn this fucking book.

Nine out of ten. I highly recommend it, especially if you want to be fucked hard through the ear.

7 thoughts on “Zaregoto Book 1: The Kubikiri Cycle – Man, What the Fuck Was THAT All About?

  1. I’ve read it. The cover lured me in when I saw it in a bookstore, so I decided to take a chance on it. I don’t even like mystery novels- if a person who’s never read a mystery novel can claim that. Anyway, Zaregoto defied my expectations. It did not budge my worldview in the slightest. It did, however, make for an excellent read and made me feel more optimistic about the possibilities of light novels.

    “Inaccessible” is the last word I would use to describe it, although my criteria may differ from yours. The first thing that struck me was how smoothly it reads. Most light novels I’ve flipped through either have that stop-and-start, herky-jerky feel, or they’re devoid of distinguishing characteristics. It must’ve been one hell of a translation- not once did I think to myself, “A native speaker would never have written that.”

    The other accessible quality is the way the characters are introduced and laid out, one after another. They drew me in. The characters were quirky without being flat, dislikeable without getting on my nerves. I liked the ambiguity surrounding the narrator- is he a monster or a mouse?

    I was delighted… right up until I got to the final reveal, the true end. It validated everything I was expecting to find- flat, wooden know-it-all delivering a massive infodump in sneering fashion. I guess there was a purpose to it- if this is the first book in a series, then the protagonist needed a little push to grow and improve. Still, I feel like the stinging rebuke that was delivered was actually directed at the reader. It felt like something a second author would’ve tacked on after discovering the manuscript, gathering dust in an attic. Foolish reader, everything you know is wrong!

    That said, I’d like to see the next book in the series. Hopefully the light novel market won’t collapse with all the other stuff that’s going on currently.

  2. I thought the translation was okay but was very, very iffy. I asked Andrew Cunningham, genius translator of Boogiepop, about it and he said the book was fairly marred by the translation. He explained:

    “I think the key to translating a potentially confusing book is that you figure everything out for yourself, and translated based on that understanding.
    I believe at the time that I understand every cryptic quote from Kirima Seiichi in the Boogiepop novels, for instance. There is a chance I’m wrong, but if I’m writing towards a clearly understood meaning, then the words should, in theory, seem like they’re supposed to make sense, seem like they were intended to communicate an idea – rather than simply being nonsense.

    Honestly, any writer fond of long, complicated sentence structures with lots of looping clauses tends to require the same type of mental gymnastics; you have to take the sentence apart in your head as you translate each bit, and make sure tab A still fits into slot B in the new language. If it ends up in slot C, the phrase itself will often look fine to a third part, but the overall effect will be vaguely misshapen.”

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