Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) In the spring of 1998, Kouichi Sakakibara transfers to Yomiyama North Middle School. In class, he develops a sense of unease as he notices that the people around him act like they’re walking on eggshells, and students and teachers alike seem frightened. As a chain of horrific deaths begin to unfold around him, he comes to discover that he has been placed in the cursed Class 3 in which the student body head count is always one more than expected. Class 3 is haunted by a vengeful spirit responsible for gruesome deaths in an effort to satisfy its spite. To stop the vicious cycle gripping his new school, Kouichi decides to get to the bottom of the curse, but is he prepared for the horror that lies ahead…?
Thoughts: At first when I got a review copy of this, I thought it was he first volume of the manga, and after having watched and enjoyed the anime, I was thrilled. Then I discovered that it was a translation of the light novel, and I was even more excited! Even aside from the fact that I have a minor love affair with Japan and its culture, I do firmly believe that more foreign literature needs to be translated and shipped to these shores. There was no way this could go wrong!
Unfortunately, I have to say that this didn’t quite live up to my expectations.
The story itself was interesting, and I was impressed to note just how closely the anime followed the events of the novel. In many ways, though, thought it was a good thing that I’d watched the anime first, as it allowed a clearer picture in my mind of characters and settings. Description was very often lacking here, tossed out in favour of circular thought patterns and a great deal of repetition, which made sections of the book tedious to get through. I do admit that the curse is quite a complex one, and occasionally a little bit of a recap isn’t a bad thing, but it was taken to extremes. Even if I hadn’t known the plot in advance (again, thanks to having watched the anime based on the book), I still would have gotten frustrated.
I do have to praise the author for such clever curse, though, and the execution of it from the main character’s point of view. As a transfer student, Kouichi had no idea what was actually going on for most of the novel, and characters around him would only make vague hints, or try and dissuade him from prying too deeply, hoping that in the end there wouldn’t be a need to tell him anything if the curse wasn’t active that year. And when it became obvious this wasn’t the case, the deaths of the students were suitably shocking and occasionally quite gruesome, and I think that as occasionally annoying as it was to read, the characters did act quite realistically given the situation they were in. So I can’t find fault with the realism of it all.
What I can find fault with, however, is the actual translation of the novel. Now, I’m not fluent in Japanese, so I’m not going to say something stupid like how I could have done a better job. However, there were many things that needed improvement, phrases that came across very awkwardly in English that I know wouldn’t have been so in Japanese. The best example I can think of for this is how one character was referred to: he was the younger brother of another character, and so was on multiple occasions referred to as “Mizuno/Little Brother.” Really, that’s exactly what the text said. Now, Mizuno-onii-chan is exactly what that would have translated as (referring to the little brother of the character known as Mizuno), but Mizuno/Little Brother is just awkward. Especially as that character had an established name. I would make the excuse that the translator was trying to make the thing feel more Japanese there, alluding to the actual term that may have been used, but given that there were countless examples of giving names in Western order (given name then family name, as opposed to the Japanese style of family name then given name), I don’t hold that as a good enough reason. Ultimately the translation needed work, and I really hope it improves for volume 2.
One other thing that deserves to be pointed out here is that the novel also assumes that the reader is familiar with what a Japanese person in 1998 would be familiar with, right down to recent crimes. When it’s known that the protagonist’s family name is Kouichi Sakakibara, mentions are made of a Seito Sakakibara, referencing “childish characters used to write his name,” and how people would make fun of Kouchi for having that surname. No explanation is given of why this is. It took me doing research online to find out about the Kobe child murders of 1997. Didn’t know that? Too bad, no context for you.
And this wasn’t just a brief passing mention. It was brought up a few times over the course of the novel. Without context, even a small footnote, the reader is left wondering what’s going on, whether this is a dangling plot thread or a bit of bad translation or whether they’re actually expected to know about 15 year old Japanese crimes.
So between multiple translation and contextual issues, plus far too much repetition and circular thought patterns that go on for pages, I have to confess myself a bit disappointed by the first volume of this story. The plot itself is quite interesting, if you can get to it through all the other issues. The characters are bare-bones at best, some of them rather forgettable in spite of playing a large role in the story. Some things could be improved with better translation, but others are flaws inherent to the novel itself. It was interesting to me primarily because I had watched the anime, but without that to pique my interest, had I just read the novel on its own, I don’t think it would have gotten as high a rating as I gave it.
If you do want to read this, I recommend doing so after watching the anime for yourself, as it will give you a very good grounding in the characters and the imagery that the novel itself is actually lacking. It’s worth reading if you want a bit of supplementary material, to know what the really good anime came from, but as a standalone reading experience, I don’t recommend it very highly.
(Received for review from the publisher via NetGalley.)