Title: Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime
Author: Mizuki Nomura
Konoha Inoue is a second-year high school boy who escaped the hectic life of novel writing under the pseudonym of a 14-year-old girl named Miu Inoue. His retirement from writing is short-lived when he meets a mysterious girl named Tohko Amano, who not only loves to read books, but eat them as well. After enlisting him into the school’s defunct Literature Club, Tohko puts Konoha to the task of feeding her stories with various prompts that he is given.
In Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime, a girl from Konoha’s class named Chia approaches the literary club and asks Konoha to ghostwrite love letters to her crush for her, much to the excitement to Tohko and her literary hunger. However, as the relationship between Chia and her crush develops, so does the mystery of her crush’s true identity, and his connection to the famous Japanese author Osamu Dazai.
The first-person narration from Konoha and his observations of the highly unorthodox Tohko draws heavy comparison to that of Kyon’s narration in the Haruhi Suzumiya light novel series. Aside from the comedy duo dynamic where, in both cases, the male is the straight man and the female is the comic foil, the characters themselves as individuals are noticeably different, bringing different dimensions to their interaction.
Konoha’s narration is a lot less sarcastic than Kyon’s, and right from the start, Konoha’s past is brought into play. Whereas Kyon starts off like a blank slate, Konoha’s character is well-defined, and provides an excellent starting point for development throughout the novel. At the beginning, he’s torn between his unwilling to write because of his perception of tainted success as a novelist and the outrageous writing prompts that he is given by Tohko. As the main mystery storyline unfolds, his past comes back to haunt him in a very creative and evocative way.
Tohko is notably more different to Haruhi than Konoha is to Kyon, in that her energy is primarily directed on books in order to fulfill her need for literature, a passion which motivates most (if not all) her actions. Despite her often selfish behaviour, Tohko is a lot less polarizing in her actions than Haruhi, which makes her less of a jerkass and more of a space case. A focused passion combined with tendencies towards cloud cuckoolander make Tohko the more interesting and likeable character in my opinion.
Even more likeable is Tohko’s relationship with Konoha, which is that of a junior-senior pair, and it plays out well throughout the story. There’s a healthy seeded respect between the two, as the support that they show for each other feels more natural and believable. They are a bit more on an equal level than Holmes and Watson, but the male-female dynamic allows for some nice moments of belligerent sexual tension, amounting to a neat anime-esque spin on the detective genre.
The main action of the story is centred around Chia Takeda, who consults Konoha to write love letters under her name to her mysterious crush, leading to highly intriguing developments. On the outside, Chia is ditzy and lovestruck, highly typical for a girl in high school. When Tohko and Konoha discover more details about Chia’s crush, more layers behind Chia’s character are revealed. What started off as a supposedly generic high school turned out to be the deepest character in the novel.
The story itself is very ambitious for a light novel mystery. It relies on two separate plotlines, one following the characters, and one that resembles that of a dark monologue written in the style of Osamu Dazai. Dazai is a prolific modern era writer inJapanwho is famous for his eerily grim novel No Longer Human, and his tragic suicide. The two weave in and out of each other reasonably well, mixing in references to Dazai and his novel.
When the mystery is all but solved, they finally come together in an emotional climax, punctuated by Tohka’s remarkable speech involving her love for Dazai’s books. For a first volume, Mizuki masterfully weaves the references to Osamu Dazai in a way that does not require knowledge of the author to understand the plot, but rewards those who appreciate the author’s works (a technique she uses for subsequent volumes with other famous novels). It results in a story that is a pleasure to read for both fans of light novels as well as more sophisticated works.
There are heavy themes of suicide in the story, but are touched upon with a message of redemption and hope, integrated well into the standard package of a high school slice of life narrative to the extent that, other than the names and a few culturally indicative tropes, reads as well as any young adult fiction novel, and provides food for thought for blossoming minds without having to burden them with dragged out prose that Haruhi Suzumiya tends to have at moments throughout the series.
The writing style is evocatively descriptive, often relying on unorthodox senses such as taste when referring to the writing that Tohko eats. It’s a distinct feature that sets Mizuki’s books from anything else I’ve read. In the final chapter, after flipping over the last page with my thumb and forefingers, I was somewhat drawn to the page’s texture, and wondered to myself what the paper would taste like if I had Tohko’s yokai ability.
If I had such powers, Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime would compare to that of a carefully arranged platter of various delectable appetizers, including Japanese dumplings, finely aged cheese, rolled cold cuts, and miniature cocktail wieners, served in a small portion as to not spoil your appetite for the main course. Book Girl is guaranteed to develop into an amazing series, and I for one cannot wait to sample its flavours.
(Book Girl and the Suicidal Mime is published in North America by Yen Press. Volume two of the Book Girl series, Book Girl and the Famished Spirit is also available in stores, with volume three set to be released next month, under the title Book Girl and the Captive Fool)