Kamikakushi no Shoujo by Touwa Bocchi @ Fuantei (http://www.pixiv.net/member_illust.php?mode=medium&illust_id=54866485)
The first volume of the Missing series by Kouda Gakuto, which was his debut in print, was published by Dengeki Bunko in 2001. That was when light novels as a phenomenon were experiencing another wave of increased popularity that I like to call The Age of Boogiepop. Missing soon became one of the more notable works of that epoch…
It was translated and published in English by Tokyopop in 2007, during the period when they experimented with light novels, releasing stuff like Slayers or Kino no Tabi.
I’ve been aware of this book for quite a while. I think I first heard of it from the novel’s translator himself – Andrew Cunningham had a blog where he was posting about Japanese stuff he’d been reading. It’s a treasure chest of a site, to this day. Also, when reading Japanese sites on light novels, I’ve been seeing mentions of Missing here and there. Those were mostly positive opinions, even going so far as to call Missing “one of the few good light novels” and such. Therefore, I ended up buying the first volume a few years ago and just recently I finally gave it a spin.
If you look at the cover and read the blurb on its cover’s backside, you might get the impression that it sounds incredibly gothy. And that’s exactly what it’s like. But let’s not jump the shark. The abbreviated novel would look like this:
SPOILERS AHEAD (CTRL+A TO VIEW)
While at school, the protagonist, Utsume Kyouichi, meets a strange girl who seems to be visible only to him. She tells him that everyone who approaches her ends up turning into what she is – a monster. Nonetheless, Utsume tells her that he’s been waiting for her…
We get to know his circle of friends, the Literature Club: Takemi the loser, cute girl Ryouko, ice queen Aki and Toshiya the musclehead. And Utsume himself – a dead-serious amateur of the occult. The protag introduces the girl, Ayame, to them as his girlfriend, surprising everyone.
Takemi and Ryouko decide to follow Utsume and Ayame after school. The further they go, the more suspicious things happen around. Terrifying, supernatural beings appear and in the end, the two witness Utsume disappearing. Turns out Ayame was a kamikakushi – a ghost of sorts, abducting people into another world.
We learn of Utsume’s past traumatic experiences with the supernatural: his brother was taken to the otherworld, never to be seen again. His friends visit some local weirdos, hoping to rescue Utsume. Takemi is given a mysterious bell from one of them.
Aki and Ryouko contact Kijou, an expert in the supernatural, who works in a mental hospital. And turns out to work for a grim, strangely omnipotent organization called the Agency. He offers to help and has the two girls undergo a bizarre psychological test…
We learn of the workings of the world: The Other Side preying on the material world and about dangerous, contagious stories. Utsume contacts Takemi from the other world through his phone.
His friends manage to retrieve Utsume from the other side. Apparently, Utsume let himself be taken to the otherworld as an attempt to return Ayame to the material world. Yet, as soon as Utsume comes back, Kijou turns hostile, trying to kill him with a gun in order to neutralize the kamikakushi. Utsume is an “antenna” used by the supernatural to threaten the material world. Ayame takes the shot instead.
Kijou gets devoured by Ayame and disappears without a trace. Meanwhile, Ayame survives (kind of, she’s a ghost after all).
END OF SPOILERS
The “main character” and the “hero” are not quite the same thing. Missing v1 is written in third person and it pays differing degrees of attention to the members of the Literature club, but the hero of the novel is, without a doubt, Utsume Kyouichi. He’s a rather emotionless intellectual type who wears black all the time. Even the author doesn’t treat him dead-seriously, though. He gets nicknamed “the Dark Prince” and his fellow students seem to treat him as the school’s resident weirdo. He isn’t a Yohane-style comical chuuni-byou patient, though. His weirdness becomes more understandable the more we learn about his background.
Since Utsume is the titular “missing” person, the novel focuses on his fellow members of the Literature Club, most of the time. Or should I say: his fans. The entire intrigue revolves around Utsume, and his friends, as characters, are all built around their relation to him. Kondou Takemi, the underdog with low self-esteem, for example, resents his normalcy and respects Utsume as someone he would like to become. Kidono Aki is a traumatized misanthrope who sees Utsume as the first person she has ever met who is like her. They all treat Utsume as this wise, respect-commanding entity. The characters are fleshed out enough for a 220-page novel to feel real.
The novel’s subtitle is “Kamikakushi no Monogatari”, (“Spirited Away” in English) which means that the supernatural problem that the characters are facing is unexplainable disappearances – instances of people being taken to another world, never to be seen again – a folklorey explanation for people going missing in the olden times. The novel teaches you a bit about what Japanese folklore has to say about those. In the novel, a rare book is responsible for people disappearing – even though Missing could hardly be called a “book about books”, Kouda Gakuto clearly is deep into literature. He references some actaully existing works like Sakaguchi Ango’s “Sakura no Mori no Mankai no Shita” and “Botan Dourou” – a rakugo story, although it seems like only a superficial mention.
Utsume Kyouichi wears black clothes at all times and, when asked about it, he answers that “black is the color of mourning”. Just this one line should give you an idea about the kind of audience that Missing is written for. I’ve read that it was popular among nerdy girls back in early twothousands, but the protagonist being a guy seems to suggest that Kouda Gakuto had teenage males in mind when writing. All the goths I’ve known were girls, though. The antisocial nerd interested in the occult seems to be a character type existing in high numbers in Japan. Nowadays, one would call those “chuuni-byou patients”. Except in 2001, hardly anybody knew what chuuni-byou was. I’d say that Missing was one of the works responsible for the Japanese internet starting to use the term. Or at least it was a significant early example of the aesthetics.
In the end, Missing v1 didn’t impress me much. It’s not terribly original, but it serves its purpose: it could entertain a grimdark teenager for a few hours… If you’re interested in reading it, you might find it on eBay or Biblio.com (mind that it’s out of print, therefore the used copies are rather expensive).
MY FINAL VERDICT: IGNORE