LN Reading Program 2 — June 26

(pictured: The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria)

(pictured: The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria)

For the third week of this summer reading program, we will discuss the final third of Baccano! (volume 1) and The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria (volume 1). This is also your chance to discuss the two books as a whole, so feel free to share any general impressions.

Baccano!

And so ends the wild ruckus of volume one. What did you think of this book? How well does it work as a standalone story, and as a setup for a full series of adventures?

Did any of the twists catch you by surprise? The final clash played out more or less how I expected (my assumption was that everyone had already enjoyed the immortality liquor at the party), but I was surprised by the “narrator” of the story turning out to be Firo all along. Interestingly, I think the story does actually work out for him being aware of everything that transpired from multiple viewpoints, thanks to his obtaining all of Szilard’s knowledge (and in turn, Ennis’s). A really clever twist, actually.

I’m not entirely sure how to word it, but I think Baccano! has a sort of “classic” feel to it that makes it stand out a bit among light novels in general. The way the story plays out in the final act has a lot to do with that, I believe. Our protagonists survive the mayhem and the antagonists get their comeuppance. On one hand it’s the sort of ending we expect, but it was all set up very carefully, with all the plot points that were introduced in the beginning arriving at a suitable conclusion in the end. How did you feel about the story’s structure in general, and about the way things ended for each of the characters?

The epilogue at the beginning of the story gets a conclusion as well. What do you feel this added to the story? Did you like or dislike knowing what becomes of all the characters so many years later? What direction do you think Baccano! will take in later volumes?

(The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria art by Tetsuo)

(The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria art by Tetsuo)

The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria

It took a while, but our characters have finally managed to overcome the empty box of the Rejecting Classroom. How did you feel about this story as a whole? Did it meet your expectations from the beginning of the book?

For me, I felt the third act of this volume was the weakest part of the story. It is almost entirely devoted to lengthy conversations between the characters, in which they mull over theories and possibilities regarding their unnatural circumstances. And then, everything ends in a manner I felt was a bit too simple for following such a drawn-out buildup. The discussions felt tedious after a while, and the conclusion that followed came off as mild to me.

That said, I did appreciate the catharsis that followed–namely the resolution between Kazuki Hoshino and Kasumi Mogi. I liked how the story touched on the theme of “changing feelings,” and how the way people connect with one another needs to change over time, just as an aspect of human nature. At least, that was what I got out of it.

What did you think the story was trying to get across? In what ways were each of the characters affected by the events of this book? What do you think of our protagonist Hoshino, and why is he the target of the mysterious “O” entity? How do you imagine later volumes in this series will play out?

———

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.

11 responses to “LN Reading Program 2 — June 26

  1. Huh. Interesting perspective, as I personally loved the last part of the volume for the exact same reasons you found them weak. The way the characters talk over their problems establishes some intelligence out of our side characters, Daiya, Haruaki, and to a lesser extent, Kokone, which is something I find amusing. However, what I found very important was the relationships and conversations between them. Kazuki and Aya is self-explanatory but this part of the volume helps solidifies that bond, through Aya’s false appearance. A relationship that’s also a bit hidden is the jokingly-hostile relationship between Daiya and Kokone, as if something strange happened in the past between them.

    Kazuki’s and Mogi’s conversations probably was a delight to read for me in both the confrontation and the resolution (although, I think I have a tendency to like tragic romance stories.) They both conveyed their feelings in full force, both physically and verbally, and it just really felt great to read from both perspectives.

    I agree with you on the theme of “changing feelings”, at least for Kazuki and Kasumi’s relationship. I can’t help feeling that Kasumi’s own internal problem regarding her fake façade wasn’t completely resolved, but instead redirected towards Kazuki for an escape. Regardless, I was satisfied reading this book and this series again.

    • “The way the characters talk over their problems establishes some intelligence out of our side characters, Daiya, Haruaki, and to a lesser extent, Kokone”
      As someone who have read the next few volumes, this is actually really important because these “side characters” ended up being extremely central characters to the story later on.

      Anyway, yeah. I need to reread this to see how I think about this again, but I think I probably will just be amazed again anyway, lol. I never really saw the last part of the volume being weak, and perfectly sets up a few characterizations and dynamics which would be important later on.

      In fact, overall, HakoMari really starts out strong. Say what you will, HakoMari’s Volume 1 is one of the stronger first volumes I have ever read (out of the very little LNs I read). Just from Volume 1, it really makes sense why HakoMari is regarded so highly among the English LN reading community.

    • I was glad all the characters were involved to some degree at the end. I actually feel a little more interested in the secondary characters at this point than the main ones, so I’d be curious to see if they’re expanded upon in subsequent volumes.
      Mogi’s situation wasn’t exactly resolved, but I think the author understood correctly that this isn’t something that can be “fixed” nice and easily.

  2. I thought it was nice how the epilogue bookended things. You don’t always get to see a “where are they now” 70 years later for obvious reasons. It will be interesting to see if Ennis and Firo’s relationship grows with each volume or if they don’t get romantically involved for 49 years from the main story. I’m betting that “this brand-new-writer” didn’t realize how much of a hit this would be when he wrote it, since this feels like it was written as standalone book and not volume one of an ongoing series years later.

    I had no problem knowing what happened 70 years later since it seems like the entire story will take place during prohibition, so anything can happen between then and 2002.

    I had a lot of fun reading. Especially as I said last week, the interactions between the characters. I liked how there were multiple groups competing in different ways, but how it didn’t seem that hard to follow along with any of them.

    • I liked the author’s afterword, which showed how Baccano was written out of a simple interest in the place and time period he used as the setting’s basis. It’s a big step away from the more typical Japanese high school, but Narita put in a good effort and wrote up a good story. It’s the sort of thing I’d love to see more of not just from light novels, but YA fiction in the West too. It is very rare for authors to write outside of their “comfort zones” I guess you could say.
      I agree this book does work nicely both as a standalone and as the start of a full series. Everything brought up in this volume was resolved nicely (much more so than I was expecting, to be honest), but with such a large cast of colorful characters it’s not hard to imagine there could be many more stories to tell with them.

  3. Ahh, it’s been less than a month and I’ve already more or less forgotten everything that happened in the last act of Hakomari volume 1 LOL. It was a fun read but yeah it wasn’t terribly thought-provoking or anything. Plus, the ending itself was kind of a copout and I’m not entirely sure how this premise will extend for six more volumes. Having said that, I really did enjoy the fan translation.

    As for Baccano, I didn’t read it because it’s a bit beyond my budget considering all the other LN publications I’m following, but it seems like the book lived up to its excellent anime, which is great to hear.

    • Time flies, doesn’t it? I think after this second read-through, my opinion of Hakomari vol 1 is more or less the same as at the time of my review for it. I like it enough to try reading more in the series, but for now at least I wouldn’t call it a top favorite of mine.
      I’ll go ahead and recommend Baccano strongly though. I think once I’ve read the first three volumes, I’ll look into watching the anime. I’ve heard it has a good English dub too.

  4. I read the full fan translation of Baccano! volume 1 last year and was lucky enough to receive my copy of the official translation a week before release(!) so I got too tempted and finished it again before the Summer Reading Programme began! I didn’t comment on the previous entries as it was too easy to mention things that came later in the book but I’ll chip in now. :)

    As you can probably tell, I loved Baccano!. The setting is really quite unusual and combined with the large numbers of characters and perspectives, it stands out as a unique light novel. The story is self-contained, has a satisfying and complete conclusion and works well as a one-shot story but it also leaves itself plenty of room for potential sequels. Having established so many characters and events in three different centuries, there are numerous stories that Narita could tell from this point (and indeed does with a series of over 20 light novels that is still ongoing).

    Regarding the main twist, on my original reading it caught me hook, line and sinker! There is such a focus on the box from the characters’ perspectives that it’s easy to get caught up in that focus as well. I think I’m glad I did fall for the twist as it made the ending all the more impactful. After all, if you believe that Maiza is the one telling the epilogue story and you haven’t realised that the wine has been switched then there’s no guarantee that anyone but himself will have survived Szilard’s attack on the camorra and seeing so many lovable characters being shot down becomes even more gut-wrenching.

    I think the characterisation in Baccano! is one of the novel’s strong points. Despite the large number of characters, they receive a decent amount of time devoted to them and their individual stories and motivations, which makes it satisfying seeing all of the set-up stories slowly pull together for the climax and conclusion. I love that minor characters like Barnes and Dallas are given some very memorable moments (Barnes being eaten by Szilard from a first person perspective is such a creepy scene).

    • Thanks for the comment! I agree on this volume being a lot of fun to read. The “trick” for who is telling the story was something that really stood out to me too.
      The story certainly didn’t hold back on giving various antagonists a grim ending. Though Dallas and his friends were quite reprehensible, I still shudder at the fate that was given to them. Don’t think about it too hard, those of you with claustrophobia!

  5. I enjoyed Baccano a lot since it was a break from typical Japanese setting and drama. I think that is what made this series stood out. From my perspective, I thought of Firo as your typical “anime boy” protagonist, and then there is the Japanese narrator of the epilogues. I’ve always enjoyed stories about mysterious and sneaky guys in fashionable clothes doing things.
    Baccano! would be really cool as a musical! It would be really cool to see the characters alive on stage. The story reminds me a little of the production Guys and Dolls because there are gangsters and fedora hats but without the violence.
    I love all the characters I look forward to reading more about them in other volumes!

    • Thanks for the comment! I agree, Baccano was a fun read, and I’m looking forward to reading more volumes as they release.

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