For the first week of this summer reading program, we will discuss the first third of Baccano! (volume 1) and The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria (volume 1). For Baccano!, you need to have read up to page 79 (covering “Epilogue 1”, “Prologue,” and a good chunk of “Day One”). Meanwhile for Empty Box, you need to have read up to the chapter titled “27, 754th Time.”
If you have read further ahead, please refrain from spoiling anything past the points in the stories mentioned above. (Also, obviously, if you’ve experienced a manga or anime adaptation in the past, don’t reveal what happens next.)
So far I’m really enjoying this, which perhaps should be no surprise since I like Ryohgo Narita’s other series releasing in English (Durarara!!). Another series full of unusual characters appears to be setting up, and this time with the unique aspect of its less-than-typical setting.
The “epilogue” that kicks off the beginning of this story features a Japanese photographer (our first viewpoint character) in modern-day New York City, meeting with a member of the Camorra, a group comparable to the Mafia (their founding stemming from Naples, rather than Sicily). Our setup here forms a frame story for the rest of the book, and based on what we learn, I assume the Camorra member telling the story is Maiza Avaro. Do you feel he is the narrator of the novel? The story goes on to cover many different viewpoints, so I do question somewhat if the opening scene is simply for effect. Baccano! reads like a third-person omniscient story, much like Durarara!! What purpose does this “epilogue” fulfill?
The prologue that immediately follows the opening “epilogue” takes place in 1711, on a ship in the Atlantic. A number of people have used some form of alchemy to summon a “demon,” though the story acknowledges this may be a misnomer. In any case, it appears the people involved all obtained immortality–and not only that, but the secret to losing their immortality and dying. What do you think of immortality in general? Do people really want to live forever? Or is it simply the fear of death that drives the alchemists’ efforts?
Any guesses on who “the man who obtained the knowledge” may be? He told his younger brother the secret of the elixir of immortality, but this younger brother was subsequently “absorbed” by another immortal (who presumably stole the secret in the process). Any guesses on who this culprit may be?
In the portion we read from the chapter “Day One,” quite a lot has already happened. It is 1930 in New York City: the Prohibition, the Depression, and Mafiosos. (And jazz music.) How well do you think this time and place is being portrayed? Do you think this setting was chosen for specific reasons, from a storytelling or thematic standpoint?
Among the characters shown so far, which ones are immortals? What do you think they are trying to achieve? Keep in mind these people have been alive well over 200 years now.
Any favorite characters yet? And any predictions for what will happen next?
The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria
This will be my second time reading the first volume of this series, but I’m fine with that. It’s an interesting story, and I have forgotten most of the details. I think what stands out to me most in this second reading is just how well this book could pass as a sort of psychological horror.
Be sure to notice what “Time” it is at the start of each chapter, as this story is not told in chronological order.
At this point all the main characters have been revealed, and it’ll be important to keep track of who is who.
- Kazuki Hoshino — our protagonist, who appears to have a central role in the creation of the Rejecting Classroom. He likes Umaibou, which I’ll go ahead and mention are kind of like a flavored Cheeto the size of a glue stick.
- Aya Otonashi — the ominous transfer student who appears to have maintained her memories over the endless repetitions of March 2nd. Her actions are hard to predict, to put it lightly. (Note: The academic year in Japan begins in April and ends in March.)
- Kazuki’s friends: Haruaki Usui (lighthearted boy who falls for Aya), Daiya Oomine (moody but perceptive boy with a sharp tongue), and Kokone Kirino (energetic and willful girl). What role will each of them play in this story?
- Kasumi Mogi — a quiet girl Kazuki has fallen in love with. What is it about her that he likes so much?
The beginning of the story feels purposefully mysterious and complicated. What is the cause of the “Groundhog Day” loop for this book? What is the “empty box” that Aya is referring to? Do you think it’s possible to relive a single day so many times and not succumb to madness?
Do you think this story has anything to say yet about the high school experience?
As mentioned before, feel free to discuss any point you would like to bring up about either (or both) of these two books. General impressions, predictions for how the stories will play out, some compare/contrast between the two books, or any random observations and things you’d like to analyze are all fair game.