Kazuki Hoshino values his everyday life above all else. He spends the days carefree with his friends at school, until the uneventful bliss suddenly comes to a halt with the transfer of the aloof beauty Aya Otonashi into his class and her cold, dramatic statement to him immediately upon arrival:
"I'm here to break you. This is my 13,118th school transfer, and even I can't help but reach the end of my tether after so many iterations. So for a change of pace, I'll declare war this time."
And with those puzzling words, the ordinary days that Kazuki loved so dearly become a cycle of turmoil and fear—Aya's sudden appearance signals the unraveling of unseen mysteries surrounding Kazuki's seemingly normal friends, including the discovery of mysterious devices known as "boxes."
Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria has been licensed in English as The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria by Yen Press under the Yen On imprint. It has also been published in Polish as Zerowa Maria i puste pudełko by Waneko since February 5, 2016.
--This review is intended for those who plan to read the novel therefore, it is free of spoilers--
"Kazuki Hoshino. I’m here to break you. This is my 13,118th 'School Transfer'. Even I can't help but get annoyed after so many. So for a change, I'll proclaim war." Those are the words that the kuudere Aya Otonashi proclaims to our dumbfounded protagonist in the start of the series, and surely, this line not only perplexes the characters in the story, but us as well.
The simple setting of a 13,118th school transfer is enough to pique your interest as this is something that is obviously uncommon. Fortunately, the first sections of the novel hints of an intricate plot in contrast to the introduction that usually leaves a first impression of a clichéd rom-com act(It turns out to be anything but). The plot would gradually unravel the underlying dark theme that is behind something that is seemingly bright.
Hakomari’s narrative starts by introducing our protagonist Kazuki Hoshino, a rather typical student with an anomalous attachment to his ‘everyday life’. Our protagonist is in the belief that there is no difficulty that cannot be solved by the continuity of everyday life. A belief he later finds to be challenged by no other than the transfer student of phenomenal beauty, Aya Otonashi, who with every school transfer throws the class of 1-6 into confusion and chaos through her stunning looks and resolute personality, and her introductions and statements that unerringly leave the class flabbergasted.
The manner in which the first volume is narrated is somewhat unique. It tells the context of the plot by gradually unravelling the events in the story through an experimental anachronistic manner. (This experimental manner of telling the story would be one of the best aspects to be found not only in this volume, but the others as well, but is most eminent in this volume) It is this manner of narration that I would describe as the glue of the entire novel. The author would always follow a constant perfect pace in character and plot exposition, unveiling his well-thought and complex plot that infallibly leaves the reader impressed.
Plot-wise, the story is narrated in a way that resembles a detective novel and is somewhat reminiscent of Death Note. This is no other than due to the fact that the novel is partly of the mystery genre. It sets the pace of the novel by pre-emptively unveiling a mystery that drags the reader to its pace and leaves the reader glued to figuring out the happenings. And what’s amazing is, despite Hakomari not being a detective novel, it surprisingly does it better than most detective novels and would even rival the acclaimed Death Note in terms of complexity. It has become somewhat of a detective novel because the reader would constantly engage his mind in thinking, constantly trying to figure out the reasons of the events, constantly analyzing the statements and dialogues of each character while evaluating if they hold water, only to find their conjectures more or less wrong as the author unravels his grand scheme. This only serves as a testament that the plot is well-thought and effective because the deception is reflected not only on the characters, but also on the readers – you cannot help but get fooled into thinking what the characters were thinking.
One might even call this novel a quasi-detective novel if not for its disparate focus.
With regards to the supernatural aspect of the novel, the narrative first reveals of the existence of supernatural wish-granting machines called ‘boxes’. These boxes are what sets our novel into perpetual motion. It introduces boxes as something that grants our wishes to the extent and limited by how much we believe in the wish, in other words, a 'box' grants wishes exactly as the person pictures it, that means whatever doubts you have in mind would also be brought to fruition. The idea of a box granting a wish distorted by one’s own beliefs is already enough to catch one’s interest, what’s more interesting though is the possibilities that come along with it that become more or less the core of each volume. In other words what gives this series its spice is not its unique idea of a flawed wishing machine, but the realization that such a premise has the potential to achieve entertainment at an unseen level. These said boxes are the complete antithesis of our protagonist’s ideal ‘everyday life’ for which he would constantly seek help in order to neutralize and return to a semblance of his everyday life, even to the point of cooperating with his antagonistic rival – Aya Otonashi.
A bonus that comes off from the nature of the boxes is it becomes well-defined. (For example the series Death Note even has its rules written down for the viewers.) This limits the author to reason out the happenings in the plot unlike most series which involve the supernatural that leave explanations to plot convenience. To add to that, despite having a well-defined set of premises, the author still managed to make a very entertaining, unique and outstandingly dramatic story out of it, which I think is very difficult to do. It does the explaining far better and more intricately than say… genie stories where the source of the story’s plot progression is the malign intentions of the genie in granting wishes, where the author can easily manipulate the actions of the genie to fit his mould of the story rather than constructing a logical plot built on well-defined premises. And when I mention ‘genie stories’, I refer not only to genie stories per se, but it extends to all stories that involve the supernatural but altogether fails to construct a coherent plot.
Despite all the praise Hakomari has, all of it would be impossible if not for the well-rounded and well-conceived characters. From the self-sacrificial perfectionist Aya Otonashi, the unbreakable Kazuki Hoshino to various other characters such as the cryptic and intelligent Daiya Oomine. The cast consists of a set of various characters who come along contrastive personalities at times, but in no manner is any character introduced or portrayed as an airhead. The characters all posses a degree of intellectual independence where the absence of which often leads a story to banality since we rarely find high entertainment value in a story where a protagonist’s inherent ineptitude constantly becomes pivotal to a story. In other words we won't be seeing our clichéd and stereotyped males who are inept at everything they do and our unreasonable females whose insights defy all logic and is commonly attributed 'female intuition'. Actually, we get some of this to a certain degree, but they primarily serve as comic relief.
It is also interesting to note our protagonist's character development as he changes his perception of 'everyday life', some may find it as progressive and some may find it loathsome.
The characters and their respective actions are certainly well-thought that we could sympathize with despite them being fictional. They portray reality very accurately that we can’t help but think that the actions they take bear semblance to what we would. This accurate portrayal of reality would inevitably make others feel that the story bears more semblance of reality and mystery rather than supernatural despite it being the main element of the novel, an aspect that makes the reader attached to it like he is with reality, despite the fact that the story is fantasy/supernatural. To evoke attachment to supernatural fantasies is something rarely achieved in the history of (supernatural) literature as they usually feel ‘distant’.
The author (Eiji Mikage) is able to truly manifest his skills in writing in this novel. He manages to display versatility in sub-genres throughout the volumes by shifting from mystery to commonplace mundane themes and even to engaging in light existential, ontological and philosophical allusions which he usually integrates to his plot. He blends several elements such as psychological, tragedy and even slice-of-life (as some may perceive it) uniquely in each arc resulting in the readers having mixed feelings. He would also insert his timely scenes of comic relief. Exercising the skill of stacking multi-layered plots through each volume, he would further surprise his readers by unveiling a bigger picture that could have only have been written coherently if the author already has the story conceptualized and laid out in his mind, and only has to fill in the details.
With all of that said, Hakomari is one of the best, if not the best of stories that has surfaced into the literature repertoire. It is a must read recommended for almost anyone as it explores different genres that reach and appeal to people of different tastes. It always leaves the reader impressed through its outstanding narrative and convoluted plot that would always leave the reader with a satisfying explanation, and always urges you to want to read more through other volumes. And despite this being a novel, where music and animation absent, I would say that it delivers far more entertainment value than most series (including animations) because it exercises your imagination through its rich narrative that would at times border between metaphorical and literal statements, and unveils a plot that barely falls short of perfect.read more
After an excruciatingly long time of waiting, at long last the seventh volume of Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria (more commonly referred to as HakoMari) has now been released, and with that it's finally time to close the lid on one of the greatest works of literature to have ever originated from Japan, and the overall best light novel I've ever had the pleasure of reading.
HakoMari's story is... *unique* to say the least. It can be classified as fantasy, mystery and psychological above all else, but it really touches upon just about every genre imaginable during the course of its progression. It starts out seemingly ordinary with a typical high-school boy named Hoshino Kazuki who is extremely fond of the idea of having a so-called "normal, everyday life". But when a mysterious girl called Otonashi Aya one day joins his class, announces that it's her 13,118th school transfer and that she's here to "break him", Kazuki's life immediately becomes as far from normal as humanly possible.
The plot progression of HakoMari is very difficult to explain to anyone who hasn't read it, because it's unbelievably complex and also very niche. It primarily revolves around a wish-granting device called a "box". The "boxes" are given to various people and function in different ways depending on the characters' personalities, what they wish for and also how much they truly believe in the concept of granting wishes to begin with. But either way a box can be considered a space like a fictional world which people can be trapped inside, and it operates under its own rules. In this way, effectively anything is possibly in HakoMari because all laws of normality are completely thrown out the window.
I think HakoMari can be classified as "Chaos Theory". It's completely erratic, yet very systematic. It's completely irrational, yet makes absolutely perfect sense. It's abstract, yet completely logical. It messes with your head like nothing else from essentially the first sentence of the first volume and it never ever stops, but neither does it stop fascinating you with what it's capable of. The plot twists are so incredibly difficult to predict, but they always make you feel like the answer was so obvious all along once the truth is revealed. It's just that well-written, and as a result it never fails to make you smile and impress you.
Almost every single volume is very different from the rest since every box operates under its own set of rules, but they still always maintain the same dark, cryptic yet incredibly captivating atmosphere. This is all possible because the writing and narration is simply superb. The author makes the readers dance to his tune like puppets with his almost cult-like writing style, and when all is said and done it's probably the main reason why HakoMari is so interesting to read. It's like trying to lay a three-dimensional puzzle in the dark, except the author is helping you by guiding your hands for you. In that way it feels like you're being presented an overall storyline that reasonably shouldn't be possible to write, except somehow it actually works out. But it's something that cannot really be explained in words alone, you have to read it for yourself.
Another interesting aspect is that HakoMari has multiple protagonists. It constantly changes perspective. Each and every character is thus provided incredible depth, much more so than you would ever expect from a novel only seven volumes long in total. Furthermore, given the abnormal nature of the story itself, the different perspectives give you vastly different impressions of the flow of events.
Overall, what you have is a light novel which is unlike anything else on the market, has some of the best writing I've ever seen and never ceases to amaze you with its unbelievable twists and turns. It makes you care about the characters something tremendously due to how captivating it is from the very beginning, and presents you with a storyline which is as about as close to flawless as you can possibly get. I don't think I've ever talked to anyone who's read HakoMari and didn't like it, which is something I don't think I've experienced with any other series, regardless of medium.
As it is though, HakoMari is only hyped in the west, but it's basically unknown in Japan. Thus the chances of HakoMari ever getting an anime adaptation are probably rather slim, even now after the novels have finished publishing. However, I do not believe it is humanly possible to make an adaptation of HakoMari that would do the novels justice anyway, so maybe that's for the best. Either way, I'm more than happy with what we got, because it is my all-time favorite light novel and quite simply one of the overall best reads I've ever had in my life. Highly recommended to essentially everyone.read more
I don't think myself able to write an objective critic to HakoMari, not while the last volume is still so vivid in my mind. As such, this is not a review, but a love letter to this wonderful novel.
HakoMari is, in a nutshell, a wild ride. A crazy, reckless and downright cruel wild ride.
The story, while thought out really well, is really just a container. It's the playbox where all the characters are thrown into while being told "Now do what you want".
And the characters are really what makes this series so worthwhile and unforgettable.
Characters who love each other but end up hurting each other.
Characters who hate each other but end up realizing how much they resemble each other.
All of them, unmistakably broken.
HakoMari is not supposed to be a "feel-good" novel. It has the wonderful gift of being able to present characters who are hurt, broken and in despair without looking edgy or try-hard.
Because at its core HakoMari is a story about many different things.
A story about regrets.
A story about envy.
As tory about boredom.
A story about misunderstandings.
A story about loneliness.
And a story about "love"
They all wander clumsily through the story, while searching for their real value, their real self, their real "wish".
And you are there with them, watching as they laugh, cry, and get hurt.
And, before even realizing it, you too have a "wish".
That at the end of their struggles, some kind of "good end" will await them... read more
HakoMari's story is one of the most 'cult' light novel story I have ever read, throwing mainstream out from the window right away.
It made me scream like a fangirl.
The story is about Kazuki Hoshino, a boy who very much treasures his normal 'everyday life'. An everyday life, which is no longer normal without he himself realizing it when he met a mysterious transfer student Aya Otonashi.
-- Story : 9/10.
HakoMari's genre is somewhat a combination of fantasy and mystery. The story, like I said, avoids today's light novel mainstream and cliche plot. It's not a stupid boy-meets-girl-then-continue-to-meeting-harem-member. It's a boy-meets-girl-then-reality-went-to-shit kind. When Kazuki Hoshino met Aya Otonashi, his whole world and the normalcy around him was turned upside down. It turns out he has been repeating the same particular day over and over again, trapped in a time loop. With only the transfer student a.k.a. heroine Aya Otonashi as the one who realize the loop, he needs to struggle out of the loop and get back his normal everyday. Little that he know, his normal life is no longer within reach.
The story itself focus mainly on an wish granting tool known as the 'box'. These 'boxes', given by a certain character that could be said as the main antagonist, reflex on the box's owner personality and granting the owner's wish, but its power only extend as far as how much the owner believes on the 'wish granting concept'. These 'boxes' is our protagonist Kazuki Hoshino archenemies, existences that only serves to destroy his precious normal lives. As the story goes, together with Aya Otonashi, Kazuki meet all kinds of 'box' owners with their own distinct mindset and, more often than not, twisted wishes.
The plot eschew the normal story nowadays and gives us a new but tainted kind of plot. The story is dark indeed; either morally or mentally. But despite the dark fantasy genre, the story would actually feel realistic, felt that the way it unfold could actually happened to our normal life.The writing style is also very unique; each novel uses different style of storytelling and it gives power and impression to each arc, for example is the repeating time loop at first arc and volume.
-- Character : 9/10.
The characters in HakoMari is realistic; you can find people like this around you. Yet each and every one of them is a distinct individual, with their own depth and story.
Our protagonist, Kazuki Hoshino, is a boy with a somewhat abnormal attachment to a concept of 'normal life'. It is the most precious thing for him. Whe it was taken from him, he'd go to his utmost in order to get it back. It is ironic that, despite his love for normalcy, it is the very thing that makes him actually abnormal.
The main heroine, Aya Otonashi, is at first ambiguously portrayed as the main antagonist, with her action completely opposing our protagonist. But it turns out that Aya Otonashi designated enemy is also the very one that serves to destroy the concept of normal life, making him as Kazuki Hoshino's enemy as well. Thus, both of Aya and Kazuki creates a mutual ceasefire relationship, which will develop further and become on that is closer than at the beginning.
Aya Otonashi is a very unique and distinct character; she is unlike any heroine I have ever met. The more the story progress, I as a reader was given more and more revelation about her. Her relationship with the 'boxes' giver is one of the most important point in the series, together with her own, indeed, wish and 'box'.
Besides our two protagonists, a lot of side characters exists as well. Except that there are no side characters in HakoMari.
Like I said before, all the characters in HakoMari is a distinct individual, with their own story. Each and every one of them has their own stage within the story, one that equals our protagonists'. And that gives all characters a strong flavor. Throughout the story, you will find that each character was, in fact, a main character.
As the story goes, the readers will be pleased that each character is given a revelation and/or development. Indeed, in HakoMari characters are not given only development, but revelation as well, to the point that the development itself comes as our view about the character changes and as more and more about the character is revealed. In other words, the characters didn't change; it's us, the readers, who changes the way we perceive those characters. And it's one thing that I love from HakoMari. The credibility of the characters was done by their action within the story, not through the power of narration, making the action they take and thus, their characterization, very realistic.
-- Art : 7/10
As often the case with a novel, art isnt it's strong point and thus, I never gave it much attention. But, again, in HakoMari the art concept is different than most light novel. We are not given an 'event illustration', we are given an illustration that 'symbolize' the current arc and chapter. It is unique in its own way.
The artwork quality itself was not spectacular, but the concept itself was good enough to make up for it.
-- Enjoyment : 10/10
This, in my opinion, is the most important point at reading a novel. Since most people dislike reading novel as seeing only writings and letter can be boring. This is the biggest hurdle for a novel. A novel must be able to give enjoyment to the readers and pull them into the story itself, so not only the reader read the story, but get pulled inside them and LIVE them. The simplest of stories can be a great story if told with great enjoyment.
This series's 'cult' concept is the one aspect that made me attached to and enjoying the series, with the typical harem and cliche plot LNs around. A refreshing idea, combined with dark premises hooked me up immediately.
HakoMari has given me enjoyment to the fullest when reading it. The pacing was perfect; Eiji Mikage write each story segment with perfect proportion and placing that each reading pulls us more and more, until the big bomb of surprise is revealed. The way he writes managed to combine mundane everyday life and comedy segment with fantasy and mystery blending, giving dark premises in the process. The way he blends hem together was so well-done that each segment, like I said, felt realistic and could actually happened around us, despite them being dark fantasy genre.
All in all, HakoMari is a great read; a different story that leave a deep impression within me, with the way the story was told and the characterization. Thus, if you are tired with the same cliche story in most LNs nowadays, I recommend HakoMari to you all. You won't regret it.
P.S. : I actually sincerely hope that there wont be an anime adaptation of this, as I believe there are no studios that could captivate the story as perfect as I imagine it. I hope I will be proven wrong.