At a certain university, a make up class is being held to give students all the remaining credits they need. Their task is simple: watch 24 short films and rank them in order of preference via a survey. Beginning with a tale where computer viruses have cute avatars—charming their users as they carry out malicious activities—the tone, genre, and diversity of the films continuously grows more and more bizarre. Bewildered, a group of students begins to discuss the films after class, unwittingly leading them into situations as outlandish as the ones they just viewed.
If some authors carefully prepare and refine their stories before submission then Kazuma Kamachi must vomit his out in abundance and serve them as is. At least that is the impression I was given by Kantan na Enquete desu, a collection of short stories that Kamachi treats as his dumping ground for half-baked thoughts. Sure, a collection is bound to have its hit and misses but Enquete only seems capable of delivering disaster after disaster. The problem is that Kamachi isn’t actually interested in telling a story but rather relating a concept that he thought was novel or amusing. Though not an inherent failing either,
the concept themselves are just vapid and sometimes poorly conveyed to the reader. As if that wasn’t enough, supporting aspects are especially grating and only serve to further sabotage the stories. As a whole, the stories end up becoming as bad as the sum of its parts, if not worse.
Even when the concepts have the potential to be interesting, they’re not successfully utilized. Either they’re shallowly explored, forsaken for banal humour, or they’re taken in a lame direction. Other times, it’s painfully transparent that the concept is the only real aspect to a story. For example, one story has a kidnapper interrogate a hostage, then when on break he is told by his coworker that he’s under a reverse stockholm syndrome (A.K.A Lima syndrome). The end. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Other times, the ideas are incredibly shallow, be it with otaku pandering (“What if computer viruses were moe!”) or tired juxtapositions (Ninjas meet Technology! ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ!). There’s very little substance to these stories and it feels like the author is just trying to half-assedly tell you about some ‘cool’ or ‘amusing’ idea he came up with. For the less emaciated tales, the padding can be the downfall more than the actual idea behind the stories. Be it the characters, who with so little screentime become nothing more than tired archetypes, or the aimless dialogue which babbles on about waifus and big boobs, never getting to the point.
Despite the varying genres and tones of the stories, Kamachi still tends to get caught in a repetitive style of writing. Sometimes, he attempts a humorous style that is some kind of mix of whimsy and quirkiness, but it tries too hard to be funny and is jarring to read. Other times, stories are plagued with unintuitive and very unengaging info-dumps, whose sudden and bland presentation turns off the reader instead of reeling them in (at most it proves why ‘show, don’t tell’ is a great technique). Stories that should be diverse feel all too similar due to the ugly writing and repetitive techniques. Another major problem with Enquete is its humour and how incredibly unfunny it is. The bulk of the jokes are the same cliched ones that are done to death in most harem, ecchi, rom-coms. Sometimes the dialogue is geared to being kooky in an attempt to humour the audience, but it just trails off from the story, taking the reader’s enjoyment with it. Some stories themselves act as one big joke, but the punchlines they build up to are seemingly non-existent or don’t drum up much of a response.
Putting the ‘short’ in ‘short story’, each tale ends as quickly as it starts, acting as a blessing and a curse upon the reader: it’s nice when a bad story ends but insulting that Kamachi didn’t seem to flesh any of them out. Due to this, the 24 stories found here are painfully slight and often abrupt, which ends up being one of Enquete’s main problems. There’s just too little time to do just about anything well. Characters, settings and even the ideas—which Kamachi seems to treasure the most here—all come out undercooked, due to how little time is given to develop them. However, even with that said, there is one decent story to be found here: the final one, and not because it is the final one but because it manages to escape the trappings of its predecessors. Despite its short allocated time, it’s builds a somewhat interesting world, has an amusing moral, and is less mentally damaging than the rest. This goes to show that Kamachi is actually capable an author of writing a good tale, especially how it can still stick out after the preceding barrage of crap. Unfortunately for the novel as a whole, it’s a case of too little too late and this story is hardly able to redeem every failure that came before.
Encompassing the entire collection is a narrative that puts each tale into context; university students are watching a string of films and are asked to rank them in order of preference. There’s a tacit understanding that readers are to partake in the survey as well, which is a good way to engage them and it’s probably Enquete’s best idea (and was what attracted me in the first place). Kamachi however failed at making the stories good and diverse enough to rank. It soon becomes a contest at how bad each story is, something I found utterly futile and very boring to rank. Nevertheless, based on the rankings readers can pick one of four endings, each which leads to some explanation behind the stories. This neat idea however quickly degenerates with nonsensical and utterly silly developments that are just as much of a pain to read as the stories that came before. While you get some tidbits at what is going on, the big picture never fully comes together, though it’s not like this trash heap needed whatever explanation Kamachi was aiming for.
Reading Enquete is akin to being stuck in a one-sided conversation where your partner is endlessly bombarding you with bad jokes or boring anecdotes with vigorous enthusiasm when all you want to do is get the hell away. I feel harsh making that analogy (more towards the imaginary partner) but Enquete leaves me devoid of any sympathy. Even when Enquete can be good, something comes in to sabotage as if some kind of cosmic interference is preventing it from succeeding. The result is a collection of bareboned, inane shower thought stories and one of the worst reading experiences I’ve ever had.