A wimpy nerd named Yuu wakes up in a school with amnesia. If that wasn’t troubling enough, the school is far from normal. There is literally nothing outside of it, not even the horizon is there. The school building seems to be suspended in the air. Apart from Yuu, only twelve people inhabit the school complex. Twelve girls, each weirder than the previous one. Usana, the katana-wielding tsundere and the person the closest to being in charge, gives Yuu an order: investigate the series of sexual assaults which has recently happened in the school. It’s the beginning of a mystery story… I guess?
Year 2003. An minor eroge titled Puni☆Fugo comes out, and thus a certain troubled nerd makes his para-literary debut. He’s been in a yakuza gang, has an extensive knowledge of illegal perception-changing drugs and is into all kinds of weird shit in general – the more off the rocker it is, the better. His name: Uminekozawa Melon. Which is also the name of a character in the game. See that green-haired loli in a PE uniform? That’s Melon-chan. The author (?). A year later, Eagle Publishing, a small company putting out books targeted at nerds, including porny novels, releases an unlikely title. “Puni☆Fugo EX: Hidarimaki-shiki Last Resort” – at a glance, a novelization of the eroge. Why would anyone want a novelization of something as obscure, though? At a second glance, it’s a spin-off. An entirely new story featuring the characters you know (duh, of course you do) from the original. At a third glance… this book is a dazzling bolt from the blue. Today, at least among experts, it’s considered one of the literary landmarks of Japanese subculture of the 2000s. The weird little paperback based on an eroge slowly climbed its way to cult status and in 2014, the “complete edition” of Last Resort was published by Seikaisha, the publishing company you might associate with the Faust crowd – all those cutting-edge nerdy writers like Nishio Ishin. The complete edition I purchased recently after hearing about the book for ages.
Prologue – the novel starts and the reader immediately gets a juicy rape scene shoved in his face. Usana, the cover girl, gets treated with a stungun to the pussy and a diabolical mixture of drugs by a rambling, sex-crazed madman. He calls himself Torch Eater and likes sprinkling weird English exclamations in his insane speeches about ancient Chinese eunuchs. Last Resort starts with a bang. And then, the criminal is caught by the protagonist – “So it was you who was the culprit”. This is how the mystery will end.
The Fight Club-style achronological bit ends and we rewind the story to when Yuu becomes burdened with the task of solving the crime. Uminekozawa Melon, the cute loli becomes the boy’s assistant. So far, four girls have been raped. Yuu will have to wander around the floating school and question the victims in hope of eventually finding Torch Eater. The deeper into the investigation, however, the stranger the situation appears to be. All of the girls look like bombastic character types from a comic. There’s an angel girl, a devil girl who says “-nyomo”, an ojou, a nazi girl, a ghost… None of them behaves like you’d expect a rape victim to. Quite the opposite – they all lust after the detective for hardly any reason, and if that wasn’t enough, most of Yuu’s encounters with the school’s inhabitants end with a sex scene. The victims all say they don’t remember the assailant’s face, which is baffling. After every attack, Torch Eater leaves behind some clues for Yuu, as if he’s taunting him: “try and catch me!” The case to solve is unconventional, as you’d expect from a detective story, which adds even more to the stupefying impression Last Resort makes at the beginning. It happens in no specific place, no specific time. The story is so absolutely unreal, completely unbelievable, like a conventional theatre play, I couldn’t help but think: is this a parable of some sort?
At a point, even Yuu notices the world seems like a pandering fantasy revolving around the detective himself. A nerd’s dream. What if it’s Yuu who’s Torch Eater, somehow? The two are the only males present. Maybe the rapist is the Dr Jekyll to Yuu’s Mr Hyde. The kid’s quite horny and the world he found himself in seems to have been created with him in mind. Early on, I assumed as much. It wasn’t a decisive bet, since all the weirdness made me unsure whether this actually is a classic murder mystery and I’m expected to speculate who done it. If Last Resort actually did turn out to do the unthinkable and have an “it’s the detective who was the culprit” kind of ending, that would be in line with all the other weird shit Melon-sensei has been throwing at me, the reader. It would give the author the opportunity to say some damning shit about nerds and their sexual habits. Last Resort would turn out to be a nice, crazy story with a message. It would also be very, very predictable.
The Yuu hypothesis gets thrown in the trashcan spectacularly. The teacher in charge of the infirmary not only gets raped, but also brutally murdered. Usana imprisons Yuu at the back of the school’s gym and then we’re treated to a chapter written from Torch Eater’s perpective. What he says ultimately destroys the Yuu hypothesis and the reader is forced to bet on somebody else being the rapist. Is Torch Eater one of the girls or a second male on school grounds who managed to hide somehow? I changed my pick to Mikoko the ghost. She gives Yuu a titjob, so the question of her gender isn’t clear enough. What if a futanari ghost did it?! Absolutely nothing would surprise me in Last Resort. I insisted on the girl of my choice to the end – to page 225 when the culprit is revealed. This actually was a proper detective novel, who would have thought?
Torch Eater keeps roaming the school corridors, so Yuu is eventually freed as innocent and continues his fruitless investigation. The number of rape victims quickly approaches the total number of girls in the building and eventually, on page 170, as the Japanese tradition goes, you are notified that you now have all the pieces and are able to solve the mystery. And then, the big reveal happens. Melon did it. I was wrong. Still, in my defense, that solution was some major bullshit. Torch Eater was some kind of evil entity sitting in the girl’s brain and he was able to *grow* a penis as if that’s the most normal thing to do. I do not accept this mystery as valid. Torch Eater was the creator of this little, strange world. Why would he become a demiurge and an insane rapist? For Yuu, of course. It was all a very round-about attempt at getting Yuu to understand that escapism is bad and that he should change his almost-hikikomori ways. The inscriptions Torch Eater was leaving for Yuu were not names of drugs he used on his victims, but references to Yuu’s favorite characters. TMA wasn’t supposed to mean TMA, but… Tsukimiya Ayu. The reader is invited to decipher the rest of those three-letter hints – I’m not hardcore enough to even try, sorry. But, in the end, Torch Eater loses. He’s killed by Usana, and Yuu refuses to give up on his favorite fictional moeblobs. Yuu regains his memories and returns to real life…
And by real life, I mean his cramped room which he hardly leaves, filled with figs, DVDs and other nerdy shit. Maybe it would be better if Torch Eater won and destroyed the kid’s fake egocentric world. Yuu returns with no answers, to his life with NO FUTURE. To his absolutely hopeless lifestyle consisting of consuming stories one after another. Obsessively, endlessly. To immersing himself in fiction to the point of drowning. Enjoying his favorite fake moeblobs with cute wings glued to their backpacks. To spending most of his money on nerdy shit. Masturbating to increasingly weird porn. And, most importantly, to not interacting with any living people. A dead-end life. And yet, Yuu thinks this is fine – no other way but to accept that there is no escape from his life of escapism. それでも僕は進み続ける。君(YOU)と僕(Yuu)の何もない未来へ. The end. You could say Last Resort WAS an allegory.
All that remains is to read the afterword by Azuma Hiroki. It’s rich in substance as always – to cut the long story short, Azuma says Last Resort is “the 2000s compressed into one book”. In terms of Japanese nerdy culture, it definitely is a neatly packed story about the fundamental question many otaku were asking themselves, generously sprinkled with many of their favorite aesthetic goodies. As you’d expect, the afterword uses my favorite buzzword, sekai-kei, more than several times. Which is adequate. It’s Zaregoto v1 on crack. Last Resort definitely is one of those books asking “who are you, nerd?”. The novel doubtlessly fits the sekai-kei spectrum as an ahistorical, introspective, nerdy story. That last line makes sure you know the author is 100% self-aware.
I’ll definitely give more of Melon-sensei’s works a go in the future. If you ever throw Last Resort a challenge, don’t expect things to make much sense, though. It’s not one of those tight, hyper-rational stories. It’s 250 pages of insanity with some haunting food for thought at the end. Mildly recommended.