Last and First Idol

By Gengen Kusano. Released in Japan by Hayakawa Publishing. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Cunningham.

It needs to be said right up front, this is not remotely a light novel. In fact, it’s not even a novel, but rather, a collection of three large-ish short stories. The first one, which gives the book its title, won the Japanese Seiun Award, their equivalent of the Hugos, and the other two are essentially variations on a theme. This is not to say that they aren’t related to anime and manga – each of the three short stories revolves around a different otaku obsession, and indeed the first story is a repurposed NicoMaki fanfic (as explicitly stated in the afterword). But this is at its core science fiction. Even more importantly it’s of the genre known as hard science fiction. The majority of all three stories is made up of long, detailed, and mostly fascinating discussion of science concepts and themes, sometimes related to our own sciences, and sometimes off on a different tangent (such as the aether in the final story). To enjoy this book, you REALLY need to love science.

It’s not quite accurate to call the three stories in here “variations on a theme”, but they are definitely of a piece. In Last and First Idol, a young girl obsessed with idols finds reality impossible to accept, but her friend is there to ensure that she fulfills her dreams, even after death. In Evolution Girls, a young woman obsessed with Gatcha games is killed and reincarnated in a gatcha-themed world, where she has to fight to survive. And in Dark Seiyuu, we follow a murderous sociopath and her ditzy partner as they kill seiyuu, travel through space, and try to discover the meaning of life. All three stories, to a greater or lesser degree, feature “yuri” sort of relationships, though, appropriately given the inspiration for these stories are shows like Love Live and Madoka Magica, they don’t really progress beyond akogare all that much. All three stories also feature a grotesque amount of violence, laid out in loving and bloody description.

I was impressed with the premise and development of the stories. The characters may not have been all that likeable some of the time, but they were easy to follow as protagonists, and a couple of the stories even had stabs at a happy ending. I was expecting a bit more satire – honestly, despite the concept of things like “immortal idol girls”, “gatcha games that consume your soul”, and “seiyuu piloting spaceships with their evolved uvulas”, there’s not really much commentary on said industries, as the author is more interested in exploring science using the otaku-esque premises as a springboard. The science, it has to be said, can be deadly. I never really did get into hard science fiction as a genre, and my academic career is strictly humanities, so my eyes were glazing over a lot. Also, it has to be said, a great deal of this book involves cute girls killing other cute girls in very detailed ways. There’s a reason I don’t read the Magical Girl Kill ‘Em All books, you know?

So in the end, this is a book that is easy for me to admire and be impressed by, but I can’t really say I enjoyed it. That said, if you are the sort who likes hard SF and Madoka Magica knockoffs, this is absolutely something for you to pick up.