By Mizuki Nomura. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen Press.
One of the main themes of the Book Girl series has been elements of the past seemingly overlaying with elements of the present, and our heroes and other protagonists finding themselves trapped in a seeming reimagining of past crimes. Konoha, our hero, is especially notorious for seeing his relationship with Miu mirrored and kaleidoscoped in virtually everything he interacts with, but it also plays out with Takada, Akutagawa, and the other members of the cast. Including a girl from the 2nd novel named Hotaru Amemiya, whose presence is felt in this 6th book of the Book Girl series.
This novel takes place chronologically between books 2 and 3 (Famished Spirit and Captive Fool), during Tohko and Konoha’s summer break. That said, it reads better having come after the others, and has significant foreshadowing for the last two books, so it’s well-placed here. It also delves into the story of Maki Himekura, which isn’t too surprising, given she’s the one remaining main cast member who didn’t get a book of their own. I had worried that Famished Spirit would be all we saw of her, but that was Amemiya’s book, and its consequences play out a bit here, as we see Maki unchained, to a degree. Or rather, that’s what she wants to be.
Each Book Girl novel focuses on a specific work, and this one is no exception. I admit I’ve never read Kyoya Izumi’s play Demon Pond (I’m not even certain if it’s available in English), but its plot it helpfully laid out by Tohko along the way, so there’s no real need to. This book is also heavily imbued with demons and the supernatural, just like Famished Spirit, and even though most all of the ghostly elements are eventually explained as being all too human, the book has an atmosphere of tension, sort of like the old haunted castle romances of the turn of the 20th century.
This book takes place at the Himekura summer estate, so Takeda, Akutagawa and Kotobuki are absent. We do get to see Ryuto, however, Tohko’s cousin, and it becomes clear that Maki isn’t the only one deeply affected by the events in Famished Spirit. He and Maki clash immediately, with physical as well as verbal abuse. Not a surprise given how they’re both extroverted, flamboyant characters. As for Maki herself, she’s trapped in a situation that fans of Japanese manga with rich girls will know all too well – her life is already laid out for her and she can’t escape the thumb of her all-controlling grandfather. This helps explain (though not excuse) some of the rather unpleasant things she does in this book.
As for Konoha and Tohko, things are seemingly the same as ever. We get a classic Konoha panic attack here (though he’s just been kidnapped and is lost in a forest during a downpour, so I’ll grant him this one), and Tohko once again has a long speech at the end where she lays everything out for the cast, something that always seems a bit affected in these books, but fits the character perfectly. However, we also get a few hints of the final two books. Ryuto gives Konoha some prompts that, when eaten, given Tohko an altogether different attitude, and the final few pages of the book show Tohko in a highly melancholic state over the fact that soon she won’t be able to be with Konoha anymore. (The answer being ‘she’s graduating’, but given who Tohko is and the way this scene is written, it makes it *sound* as if she may have some wasting disease or something. I doubt the series is that downbeat, however.)
All five previous books of this series have bold type showing the inner monologue of the volume’s protagonist or antagonist, be that Takeda, Akutagawa, or whoever. Interestingly, the epilogue to this book’s bold type not only gives us a hint of Maki’s eventual fate (not sure how I feel about it, but that’s just the shipper in me talking), but reveals who the actual author of these pieces may be. If you’ve been reading along, it’s not much of a surprise, but the fact that we’re seeing it shows that we’re definitely getting all the cards laid out now. All that’s left is the final Book Girl story, which is so epic it will take two books to cover.