Book Content Warnings: violence, death, sexualization
Article Content Warnings: minor spoilers, mentions of sexualization, mentions of violence
I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking, “is there any way to combine fiction and anime for an interesting book review?” To answer my own question, yes. After snooping around the web for content outside of Western media, I happened upon light novels (LN), or “ranobe,” which are Japanese young adult novels, and one in particular caught my eye.
In November 2019, a rising writer under the name Nigozyu published his first volume of his light novel called The Detective is Already Dead. Garnering popularity throughout the literary community, as well as receiving the green light for an anime adaptation this year, the light novel had been set to be translated into English. As of June 29, 2021, Yen Press published an official English translation of the first volume, and the next translated volume is scheduled to be published by the end of October this year.
In the first volume, we meet the main character Kimihiko Kimzuka, an unlucky high school student who always seems to attract trouble wherever he goes. From becoming a murder suspect to bumping into drug deals, there’s no telling when Kimizuka won’t be in danger. Among his troubles comes his run-in with a legendary detective by the name of Siesta. Unintentionally becoming her sidekick, Kimizuka assists the detective in solving numerous cases until an unfortunate mishap befalls him: the detective’s unforeseen death. Though Kimizuka lives a somewhat quieter life after her death, the past begins to resurface once he starts running into people like Siesta’s heart donor, Nagisa Natsunagi, alongside other wild characters like a nationally popular idol singer, Yui Saikawa, or killer “pseudohumans” under a secret organization called “SPES.”
The novel’s fast-paced nature and quick subchapters create great literary pockets that lure readers down a reading hole, a space where it is impossible to ascertain what could possibly happen next. Nigozyu also successfully captures the audience with the sci-fi and fantasy esque world of pseudohumans, “[monsters] created around a core consisting of a certain [organ],” and extremely engaging adventurous detective cases like hijackers on a plane, poison in spooky mansions, and theft of a three billion yen sapphire.
With all of these cases, it can be difficult to keep track of what’s happening in the past and present, but Nigozyu helps the reader stay grounded by creating relationships between the reader and characters.
Kimizuka, at times, also directly addresses the reader in a kind of fourth wall break, especially when it comes in the form of his own story telling. He remarks, “Where should I start; what should I explain first to give you the most accurate picture?” It’s in moments like these that Kimizuka confides in us like a friend trying to catch us up on a story we don’t know about. It makes us feel as though we’ve plunged into the narrative itself, and we are a part of the detective squad, not only assisting him in his ludicrous missions, but also lending an ear to listen to him as well.
Our absorption within the novel, through our budding relationship with the characters, could arguably be one of Nigozyu’s best literary tactics. With our blind trust in the characters and text, Nigozyu sneakily surprises us with curve balls that prevents us from ever jumping to conclusions. At times, our preoccupation and trust often makes us oblivious to plot twists that fester beneath the surface, which makes this novel one that goes above and beyond to play with its readers.
While Nigozyu’s literary techniques set the reader up for a sensational reading experience, The Detective is Already Dead has its downfalls. He supplies us with an array of engaging characters like Natsunagi, who is a tsundere and sarcastic character that plays as a good foil to Kimizuka by drawing in the readers with her witty comebacks and satirical scenes. Likewise, the character Saikawa is someone we would unlikely meet in other narratives. She adds great bits of both snarky and heartwarming dialogue. However, it is in characters like these and their actions that make the story more or less questionable.
Most of these female characters have just reached eighteen years of age, and some are even younger. There are too many moments where Nigozyu excessively includes sexual innuendos, objectifies the young girl’s bodies, and incorporates outlandish situations of borderline assault. Frankly, it’s nearly impossible to focus on the main storyline or instill some seriousness with all the unnecessary interruptions of Kimizuka’s pubescent mind sexualizing Natsunagi or making lewd comments towards Saikawa—even though she’s a minor. While these moments can seem like comic relief, it is too excessive and often leads the reader to be distracted or make us physically reel back from its overtly crude nature.
From a grand scope, Nigozyu’s use of sexualization as a tool for attention-grabbing definitely does draw in the reader; however, if anything, it makes the story seem less valuable since there are plenty of other ways to capture the audience’s attention without excessive sexual references.
In terms of development throughout the novel—and this may be because this is only the first volume—there wasn’t as much character development as I would hope to see in an up-and-coming, popular light novel. Most of the characters, although entertaining to see interact with each other, fail to overcome their static and almost caricaturesque personalities. There were plenty of life-changing cases that should surely have sparked some kind of emotional change, but the novel fell short in showcasing this development, which does not prepare readers for the following volume.
As a stand-alone text, it had its exemplary moments and its distasteful moments. Stepping away from it after reading, it leaves me thinking that the next volume could either be absolutely spectacular or leave me dissatisfied. “Pseudohumans” and “SPES” will definitely continue to become a problem for our protagonists in the next volumes, but for us fans abroad, we will have to eagerly wait for the translated versions. Nevertheless, if you’ve been meaning to pick up a light novel series with an anime adaptation, try out The Detective is Already Dead.