You might have seen that cover with Midori’s orange toothy mug somewhere. The book is titled Kimi to wa Chimeiteki na Zure ga Aru (let’s say it means There Is a Fatal Difference Between You and Me), published by Gagaga, written by Akatsuki Kakeya, a bearer of a curious name which can be translated as “write, dammit!” – seems like he was telling himself that so often it became his name. It was his debut work. The memorable cover was drawn by Banpai Akira, whose works you might recognize. From a cover of a doujin music album, perhaps? I had no idea what the novel is about before reading it, but could make a guess that it’s a teen horror of some sort. Now I can say it was a rather accurate guess.
Although an illustration depicts him as a triangle-jawed ikemen, as expected of Banpai Akira, the protagonist, Umisato Katsuya is noone as impressive. A rather average teenager, though weaker than average physically and mentally, upon a closer look. He goes to school, hangs out in the afternoons with his effeminate friend Amagasa and a cute-slash-annoying girl, Yama Midori. Sometimes he visits a friend from outside of his class, Hinata, a softspoken cutie who never lets go of a parasol. However, there is something that differentiates him from the crowd. He only has memories reaching as far as the tenth year of his life. What happened before that point is an empty void in his head.
I have to admit that getting through the initial part of novel was a bit of a chore. Not only is it hard to unambiguously say what the story is about, there’s also weird, incomprehensible stuff going on. Katsuya suddenly lands in the infirmary. Tsukasa-sensei, in charge of the place, tells him he fell of the stairs, but he remembers nothing of the sort. No choice but to believe her, right? While in town with his friends he sees some gruesome stuff that isn’t there. One of the teachers at school is deathly afraid of him for some unknown reason. He catched wind of some unsavory rumors about himself. Every once in a while the chain of cause-and-effect decides to pull the rug out from poor Katsuya’s feet, and the reader’s, to do something unpredictable and mean to him, Kafka-style. Is all of this coincidental or not? What’s happening? There is nothing certain in this tale so far, which creates an unpleasant impression of floating in a void, with no anchor point and no control at all over what happens to you. What’s real and what’s not? Creepy.
This uneasy atmosphere provokes speculation on the part of both the protag and the reader. Pretty much everyone is suspicious in some way. Midori sometimes crosses the line separating playful teasing and abuse. Hinata calls Katsuya “Aa-kun” for some reason. Who has evil intentions towards the kid and who doesn’t? What if it’s the protag who’s the evil one? What if the his amnesia is a lie? Eventually, he receives a strange envelope. Its content says “find the sender of this letter or misfortune will befall you”. The message isn’t signed, there are no clues to who might have written it. It has to be a mean joke. Who writes physical letters in year 2011 anyway? Nonetheless, more letters keep coming. And they seem to appear out of nowhere in unexpected places around Katsuya.
The first breakthrough happens during a conversation with Tsukasa-sensei, when the topic shifts to the phenomenon called multiple personality disorder. Katsuya becomes convinced that’s what his problem is – his self from before he was 10 is one person, he is another person, and they both live in one body, Fight Club-style. The other Katsuya having awakened would explain some of the recent strange happenings. What are his intentions? What if he’s evil? What if he’s out to replace Katsuya in his own body? Well, seems like I know what this novel is about now. Or do I.
It all goes downhill from here. The boy’s situation becomes even clearer when a stranger assaults him, calling him a murderer. Then Katsuya overhears a conversation between his foster father, who’s a cop, and Tsukasa-sensei, suggesting everybody surrounding him knows his ugly secrets better than the interested party himself.
We’re far from the novel’s ending, however. In a conversation with his foster dad, Katsuya is told everything the policeman knows. Some of it is gamechanging. His original name was Uegami Akito – sounds rather sinister. There was an incident in which one person was killed and one went missing. Before losing memory due to trauma, Katsuya managed only to confess that he did it, but… the cop believes Katsuya/Akito is innocent, although he can’t prove it. Also, turns out the furious man who attacked the boy earlier was the murder victim’s father. If there’s a chance that the protag is innocent, all that remains is to have him regain his slowly returning memory completely. And find the real murderer. Don’t you think, though, that considering Midori is the cover girl, she hasn’t gotten much screentime until this point?
We’re still far from the finish line, but at this point you can already tell that KimiZure is a winding deductive story. “Not a mystery, but suspense”, as Kakeya once wrote on Twitter. He seems to understand the difference better than I do. For a long time, you’re kept in the dark about what’s happening, and the moment you start forming a clearer picture of the situation, the novel does a sharp swerve in the other direction. The game changes, what you speculated to be true proves to be different. And, the story will execute this risky maneuver several more times, too. I visualize KimiZure in my head as a Christmas tree of sorts. You start at the wide bottom of that bloodstained tannenbaum and then gradually climb higher while making sharp diagonal turns from right to left and back, until you reach the summit – the point where Katsuya regains his lost memories entirely and everything is certain, illuminated for you to enjoy. That pretty star on the tip of the evergreen tree, shining with the knowledge of what was an unlikely coincidence and what was a fact related to the murder case. The happy ending. In actuality, the ending is far from happy, and far from complete – more people die and the culprit escapes, as if there was a sequel in the works (there is no sequel, though). That twisty journey is definitely a fun one. Some people turn out to be someone else. Some people were actually never there. Some were there unbeknownst to the protagonist. At the very end, there’s “Kagami Tsukasa’s diary” that explains to you what happened in chronological order so you know there’s no bullshit going on.
Wow, that was one impressive puzzlebox in the form of a novel. I imagine it was very hard to write – not surprised that Kakeya had to tell himself to “write, dammit!”. And yet I have a very fundamental problem with KimiZure and other novels of this sort. It sure is an impressive exercise in storytelling. You need to put in a lot of effort to make sure this complex puzzle works, right? That effort is the deciding factor in one definition of art: it counts as art if its author put in a jawdroppingly large amount of time and work into it. If you can’t imagine yourself making something similar because how impressive it is. I definitely can’t, but… Maybe I don’t even want to. KimiZure is a high achievement in storytelling – it’s pure storytelling, even. Or, said more mundanely: it’s all twists. Well, what if I want something more? More like what? This story is quite a lot to process, is it not enough? I’m griping here that I’ve just read a light novel. A piece of pop-lit. A piece of entertainment. It might be stupid of me to complain since I knew what I’m in for. But, there is more to stories than storytelling. I like it when the books I read actually affect my life, ya see (lights cigar).
Anyway, that was Kakeya. Well done. I’m impressed. Will read more.