The story revolves around an unnamed protagonist and the murders and mysteries he encounters. He tries in vain to stay out of the story, but instead, he always gets dragged into the center of everything. Even though it seems that he contributes a lot, he always finds out that whatever he did was meaningless in the end.
First off let me start by saying that this is series of light novel author Nisio Isin (Bakemonogatari, Katanagatari and Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases). There are are a total of nine novels but only the first two have been translated and licensed by Del Rey with no plans for future release.
The story is a murder mystery that takes place on a isolated island. The protagonist "Ii-chan" and his friend computer genius Tomo Kunagisa are invited to the island by the it's wealthy owner who has invited female geniuses from all over the world for her own entertainment.
One of the guests is found murder in a "locked room" scenario and the story unfolds...
If you do not like mystery novels don't worry I don't either. Personally, I thought the story was the the weakest element, but it entirely makes up for it with the main character "Ii-chan."
The story is told from his perspective. His thought and actions strongly resemble the main character in the novel The Stranger by Albert Camus or possibly the main character from Onani Master Kurosawa except less malicious. The main character is very indifferent of the world around him. He is the kind of person that makes you think "What the hell is wrong with him."
People must have caught on that the series is great because I bought the first book back in 2010 when the second novel came out for about $5 new. Now it sells on amazon for about $50 used. I would still recommend it even for that price you will not be disappointed.
The first book's concept is very similar to a standard mystery novel, and is executed very well. It just allows you to work things out enough that you can piece together clues and figure out flaws within character logic. However, it will be impossible for you to work out what actually happens unless you are an ace detective.
The main character- Ii-chan plays the role of Watson in the novel. He isn't really solving the mystery completely and is only filling in gaps in what actually happens. This of course means the reader is also left unaware of what is truly going on
until the very end, where the character that has been foreshadowed all along to be an ace detective finally shows up and results in some great interaction between the main character and them.
The cast of characters is absolutely great, each have their own nuances and are clearly defined in a short space of time. One of my favourites is the mind reader character. She has some of the best interaction with the main character and sets up the second novel. Pretty much all the interactions between her and Ii-chan is a build up and foreshadows the events of the next book and the rest of the series.
It's a murder mystery that's well executed, I can't describe it due to spoilers though.
The second book is where is picks up immensely. Ii-chan's character is so clearly defined here that he no longer becomes a viewpoint for the reader but an unreliable narrator for the story. The characters that are introduced in this book are very interesting, and 2 of them are actually quite strange complex characters on the inside but aren't elaborated on for reasons.
The the second book is better than the first and slowly bridges the way out of the mystery novel genre and into something new in the third book.
I highly recommend this series. Currently 2 books have been published in the west and the rest are being fan translated.
'"Not a very grand finale, but... hahhh, how do you say it? Hearing the whole story laid out like that makes it seem like such..."
"No, nonsense", he said, as if he had heard the most disappointing joke of all time.
I felt pretty much like that myself.'
— Conversation between the protagonist and Zerozaki, from the final stretch of the second book.
If you're a spelunker looking for a hidden gem, then dig no further than this. The Nonsense Series (or as the cool kids call it, "Zaregoto") is a series of one-off murder mysteries from the early-2000's, except that it throws everything you know about murder
mysteries as a genre out of the window, and then lights it on fire before it even hits the ground. And you know the best part about it? It's refreshing.
Being the first published work of the (in)famous NisiOisiN, Zaregoto manages to have some striking resemblances to some of his future works, both thematically and narratively, considering his use of its setting as a "sandbox" of sorts, to test concepts he would later explore in his future works; which I find ironic, considering how some of these very same ideas are better explored here than in his later stories. But alas, what this series has to offer that makes it so good is what we should be discussing here.
Zaregoto's protagonist, affectionately dubbed as the "Nonsense Bearer", is your run-of-the-mill post-Evangelion emo lead, with serious self-esteem issues and one of the poorest social skills sets you'll ever see, to which he makes up with great intuition for figuring out the absurd (aka, bullshit detection) and great inner monologues about some pretty edgy stuff that will make even the most "hardcore" teens have some serious goosebumps. Since calling him the "Nonsense Bearer" all the time would be a drag both to write and read, I'll call him "Ii-chan", just as everyone in the series seems to do for whatever reason.
So, Ii-chan is pretty unlucky, and manages to always wrap himself up into some absurdly convoluted situations involving murders and people with weird accents, where he always has a... well, "trusty" sidekick by his side, such as the genius legal loli and obvious life partner, Kunagisa Tomo, or the hottest assassin in town and self-proclaimed human failure, Zerozaki Hitoshiki, or even humanity's strongest contractor and most absurd person to ever live, Aikawa Jun. The list goes on, but the important thing to note is how each and every character is important in some way or another to Ii's development, which is what forms the meat of this series' content, behind the "murder mystery" mask it so proudly wears. The mysteries themselves, in fact, are never the main focus of their respective volumes, and some of them (like in volume 3's case, for instance) seem more like an after-thought than something that was really planned in advance.
The refreshing part about this kind of setup is how this manages to, ironically, make the setting seem more realistic, in comparison with some other more known mystery novels out there, given how many questions most of the stories these books tell are purposefully left unanswered by the end of each of them; I mean, do you really think every real-life mystery ends with everything uncovered and answered? To add insult to injury, we always (and I mean always) have Aikawa show up after everything's been "resolved" to tell the readers how Ii-chan is such a dork, and missed out on important stuff that completely changes the structure of the mystery we just thought to have "figured out", or how he just plainly omitted information from the readers altogether. Add everything together, and we'd have a recipe for an insulting mess of a plot, right? Well, not really, because Nisio knows his stuff and makes it work. "How", you ask? Simple; by making it not matter in the slightest. Sure, the bad guy got away in the end; sure, the dead person wasn't actually dead; and sure, the killer didn't even have an identity. But who cares at that point?
What makes the plot of Zaregoto so stupidly brilliant is how it's written in such a way that leads you to believe you have everything figured out before the murder even occurred, just to be left second-guessing yourself throughout the whole book, until you're finally told everything that just happened in the end through some top-tier banter between Ii-chan and Aikawa, and realize that, even if you were high during the whole experience, you would never think that such glorious nonsense would be the answer to everything. And you know the best part? It infuriates people so much they stop caring about it after a while; which, coming from a series named "The Nonsense Series", makes me think the author did a pretty stellar job on what he set out to do as a bonafide troll, in all his stunning self-awareness.
If you didn't notice already, I may have to spell it for you, but I've been mocking this series throughout this whole review not out of spite, but out of sheer admiration by just how it doesn't take itself seriously as a mystery and still manages to be an amazing character-study, with some pretty gruesome and heart-wrenching moments along the ride, seeing how every book has at least one scene where Ii has a really personal and touching moment, which always happens to be the climax of its respective book. You see, Ii has a pretty stupid way of looking at life; for him, everything is pretty much meaningless, and seeing that he knows everything he supposedly needs to know, he has not much reason for wanting to be alive (except maybe for taking Kunagisa's virginity, but that's up for debate), which leads him to make some pretty reckless and dumb decisions, such as jumping right in front of a bullet without a second thought, or befriending an assassin just because he has no one to hang out with on friday night, or breaking half of his own fingers just to prove a point, et cetera. "Oh, but what about the things he may not know yet?", you might ask; for him, the greatest stickler of all, that's just nonsense anyways, so it wouldn't be worthy of discussing.
Still, it's pretty apparent how much of an edgelord he is, but he's a good one at that. The way this series handles his character through mirroring him with other people in similar situations, yet inverted positions to his (both literally and ideologically) is not only refreshing, but creates a sense of progression you wouldn't get otherwise, given how more and more insane, yet realistic these people get. At the beginning of every book, he always meets someone like this, which always ends up being a stand-in for a thematic concept that makes a crucial part of his character arc; in fact, I wouldn't consider it a stretch to say that every character exists solely to teach him something, and no one is a better example to this than Aikawa Jun.
You see, even Aikawa, the most absurd human being to ever exist, doesn't know everything as she claims to do, but puts up a great facade nonetheless, and because of that she sees right through Ii's "know-it-all" mask as well (not unlike Gaen Izuko from the Monogatari Series, I might add). The single most fascinating thing about Aikawa is that she presents herself in such an abrasive way, with such a powerful aura, that she completely breaks Ii in every possible level, something no other character directly does. Usually, everyone just puts up with his shenanigans, but not her; after all, she is humanity's strongest contractor, and has no time for his self-pity. And this is where she shines, bringing out the best out of Ii's character without any effort; the way she is able to force her way into or out of any possible situation, be it through brute strength or brain power, and how this is woven into the story without feeling like some lame excuse for a plot tool is simply awe-inspiring, given the nature of her character in the first place. This overwhelming presence, as much as it breaks Ii, it also inspires him to try and leave behind the Watson shoes he so proudly wears, and to start going after Sherlock's coat, instead of jealously trying to watch everything from the sidelines.
A nice comparison I like to draw in every story I experience, to see how it structures itself, would be to compare its characters' behavior with Freud's basic personality theory, which I use to divide every character into three different roles; the id, which would be one's primal instincts and unconscious drive motivating their actions; the ego, one's own sense of reality based on society's expectations of normalcy; and the superego, one's own repressive behavior towards the very same instincts that dictates their actions, often being highly moralistic and idealistic. Of course, everyone has all three of those operating within themselves, and when I say I use these as roles, I mean it metaphorically.
That being said, it's pretty obvious that Aikawa would be the series' id, and Ii would be its superego, which still leaves the ego unaccounted for. And who else could it be other than the mysteries themselves? You see, everything in Zaregoto is dealt in extremes, in polar opposites, which is appropriate, considering the world Nisio created is a pretty hedonistic one; people are always doing whatever they please, inconsequential and oblivious to whatever may happen to anyone else. In the nonsensical world of Zaregoto, everyone is the id, and Ii, being the lone superego, can't take it and just stops caring. When he is made to care though, such as when someone dies and he puts it upon himself to discover who the killer is, it's pretty much unavoidable that he becomes the unmovable object to someone's unstoppable force, on a confrontation of wits when trying to discover the real criminal. And by such opposites cancelling each other amidst its nonsensical setups that Zaregoto manages to create its ego, its own sense of reality and normalcy, on an otherwise unreasonable and hopeless world, not too unlike our's.
I focused mainly on Ii and Aikawa's relationship on this review, but only because it's basically what glues these stories together so perfectly. If I had the energy to do so, I could go on and on about his relationships with other characters, such as Kunagisa, Zerozaki, Mikoko, or even Utsurugi, which all serve similar purposes to what Aikawa does, but on a minor scale. I think it's pretty evident at this point though, that the main focus of these stories are less about uncovering truths or untruths, and more about finding purpose, which ends up being way more appealing in the long run; after all, truths can be made up, but purpose can only be genuine, otherwise it isn't real purpose.
Another thing I'd like to point out is how Ii's coming of age is mirrored through the artwork. Take's style is really appealing to the eyes, and makes everything feel like a fairy tale, as if we were looking at everything through the eyes of a child; those bubbly circles, those huge and round eyes, the colorful and contrasting backgrounds, it not only helps with the atmosphere, but also serves a metaphoric purpose, to showcase just how Ii sees the world around him. As the series goes on, although the style remains the same, it starts becoming less and less bubbly to be more sharp and slick, obviously to mirror Ii's newfound maturity and more realistic mindset, which I find to be a fascinating way of showing progression subtly.
Overall though, I find the work done here to be amazing. The way these stories manage to keep a serious tone amidst all the eventual absurdity, all the while mocking itself without taking away from said tone impresses me even now, and I'd even go as far as saying that it manages to be Nisio's finest work to date; which is funny, considering how this was his debut series. Still, if you were in doubt whether or not to give Zaregoto a shot, I say I'd highly recommend it to literally anyone, as it'll surely be an unique experience regardless of what your previous experiences with the genre, or even with the author were. It's genuine nonsense, but great nonsense nonetheless.