By Jin (Shinzen no Teki-P) and Sidu. Released in Japan by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On.
Writing something that is merely one part of a massive media franchise can in many ways be even more difficult than it is to create an original story – even if you’re the original creator. The writer has to balance out giving the fans who know everything already exactly what they’ve been expecting, and trying to create a space where new readers who may pick up the book sight unseen are encouraged to continue. Kagerou Daze is one of these books. It’s based on a series of songs created for the Vocaloid series, which became wildly popular. They thus spawned this light novel series (6+ volumes), a manga adaptation (also 6+ volumes), and an anime series with a completely different name (Mekakucity Actors, complete in one season and highly controversial.)
The novel is told in two parts, essentially. The first concerns Shintaro, a young man who has been holed up in his room for the past two years and whose narration verges on the histrionic, and Ene, his sentient AI whose job is apparently to annoy him so much that he forgets to be depressed. When his keyboard and mouse are damaged and the Obon holiday means he actually has to leave the house to replace them, he goes to a department store and gets caught up in one of the stupider terrorist attacks I’ve ever seen. The second and third sections are narrated by his sister Momo, a pop idol despite her best efforts who is having tremendous trouble dealing with the fame and the fact that she apparently causes it without really knowing why. She meets up with a group of teens who all have superpowers stemming from their eyes, and finds they can teach her how to control her own abilities to make everyone watch her.
So far so good, and the characters are all mostly likeable, though I think the guy whose outward persona is ‘be a jerk until people relax around each other’ is trying a bit too hard. There’s typical anime ‘types’ here – said jerk; the grumpy NEET; the ditzy younger sister (I know she’s bad in school, but 2 out of 100 is pushing it); the stoic girl with a side of tsundere, the shy to the point of extremes girl. The problem for me is that after finishing the first book (it’s quite short, probably the shortest of the recent Yen On releases), I’m not actually remotely sure where it’s going or what the plot is. There’s a cliffhanger ending of a sort, involving danger to someone we’ve never met before. There’s also interludes featuring a young sort-of couple who are apparently reliving the same trip to the park over and over again, possibly as one of them keeps dying, and it’s almost Higurashi-esque.
It’s diffuse. There’s very little to hang your hat on, so to speak. As I said above, these are based on a series of songs that, taken together, tell a sort of plot. I admit after listening to the first, “Artificial Enemy”, I am very glad that the creator chose to not end it by killing off the AI, who is annoying but probably the most amusing part of the cast. But it reads very much like a series where the author knows he can take his time to draw the plot out over several books as he has a built-in audience which will get it no matter what. That could be the case here as well – Kagerou Daze has over 2K stories on Fanfiction.net, even more than Sword Art Online. I just wish I knew more about what was going on.