Unnamed Memory, Vol. 3

By Kuji Furumiya and chibi. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sarah Tangney.

After a first volume where I had trouble with the characters, and a second volume where I had trouble with the way the story was laid out, here I didn’t have trouble with either, and as a result we get our strongest volume to date, a truly compelling read. Indeed, if it weren’t for the last fifth of the book, you might think that this was also the final volume. It certainly has a wedding on the cover art, but this is a light novel, not a shoujo manga, and I believe we still have three more books to go after this. The question is whether those books will star Oscar and Tinasha, who seems to get a fate that’s going to be hard to overcome at the ending. Before that, though, there’s everything you want in an Unnamed Memory book, and for once that includes requited love and some real sweetness – along with a bunch of sudden death battles, of course. I mean, Oscar and Tinasha can’t escape their own pasts. Or can they?

Tinasha has truly settled into life at the castle now, to the point that she’s truly startled when some little kids try storming her castle (she’s able to dissuade them). That said, villains we’ve seen before and villains who we do not yet know continue to try to make life terrible for her, and after yet another nearly fatal attempt on Oscar’s life, she is willing to give up and admit that OK, she may have feelings for this big lug and sure, they can get married I GUESS. This is actually a bigger deal than you might expect, as spiritual magic works by the age-old rules of “no virginity no strong magic” – fortunately Tinasha is strong enough that she still has strong magic, it’s just not LUDICROUSLY strong anymore. Bad timing on that front, too, as she has to fight another Witch, this one with a grudge.

The back half of the book is taken up to a great extent by one big battle, and it’s very well written, showing off how things go back and forth and also giving us a bit of the backstory of the Witch Who Cannot Be summoned, the one trying to take out Oscar and Tinasha. She’s the classic “I want to manipulate people because I get bored” sort, but her backstory is surprising and also touching. Then there’s that final story, where Oscar picks up an orb that he shouldn’t and is sent back into the past, to Tinasha’s old kingdom, before she becomes a witch. While there’s a bit of the classic time travel dilemma here, and in fact it drives the ending, the main reason this is cute is getting to see Oscar and teenage Tinasha interact, and seeing her falling for him hard despite the fact that this changes history. It’s adorable and bittersweet.

So, not to give away the ending, but now what? The afterward suggests we’ll be looking at some other people in the history of Oscar’s family, but I can’t really believe the author would choose to end things here, so I’m raising an eyebrow at that. That said, no matter what future volumes do, you should read this one.

Unnamed Memory, Vol. 2

By Kuji Furumiya and chibi. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sarah Tangney.

This is a highly enjoyable volume of Unnamed Memory, although the story placement felt very odd. I joked when I was halfway through the book that I’d reached the end and the other 150 pages would just be light music. That’s because the story that covers the first part of the novel feels very much like a climax, the sort of thing you’d have to wrap things up with a bang. Instead, after that blockbuster we get a few lighter in tone short stories of varying length, followed by another longer story for the last fifth or so that gets serious and dramatic once again. Fortunately the stories all read well, and at its core the book is about the relationship between impulsive, outgoing Oscar and cool and calculating (except when it comes to Oscar) Tinasha. We’re still in the time promised in their contract, but that time is rapidly coming to a close. Can Oscar win her over? Will he even be able to, given her own past and the threats of other witches?

The book starts off in a disturbing fashion, as our heroes find a wannabe mage who killed most of a family and imprisoned their souls in daggers. This leads indirectly into the main plot of the first half, as Tinasha abandons Oscar after meeting a man from her past long thought dead – Lanak, who wants her back… well, “wants’ may given him more agency than he really has here. What’s worse, as this happens, towns across the land are having everyone in them suddenly vanish – seemingly dead. Is Tinasha behind this? Has she gone to the dark side? (No. Come on, you guessed that.) After this crisis, Tinasha fights a kraken, shows Oscar a very pretty lagoon, battles against time to stop her getting hit by an aphrodisiac, watches Oscar go behind her back to stop a brothel that allegedly uses a song that can kill you, and, in the last, more serious story, fights a god.

As with the first book, the novel’s main strength is that it lacks any of the gimmicks that light novels are littered with today. It’s a simple fantasy, with no one from Japan, no game worlds or stats, and none of the usual anime shtick. I particularly liked the story about the killer song (clearly, I suspect, meant to be based around the song “Gloomy Sunday”, which has indeed been banned a few times for supposedly making people suicidal) as it has more than one good fakeout, and also gives us a chance to see Tinasha at her most furious. She and Oscar are clearly a great couple, and he knows it, and I think she does too, but it’s going to take a lot more to get her to actually commit to it than what we have now. She does NOT want to be tied down that closely. Still, when you trust a man enough to disembowel you in the most careful way possible, that’s a keeper.

The third book ends with a brief cliffhanger showing us one of the witches is working to destroy the bond between Oscar and Tinasha, which should not be surprising – there are five witches for a reason – but also makes me wonder if the next book will actually feature their contract running out at last. In any case, those bored with isekai and harems should definitely add this to their must-read list.

Unnamed Memory, Vol. 1

By Kuji Furumiya and Chibi. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Sarah Tangney.

It has become increasingly rare in the Japanese light novel world to find a straightforward novel that can be called “fantasy”. Oh, the light novel market is riddled with fantasy novels, to the point where, 3-4 years ago, having anything licensed with non-supernatural content was a huge surprise. But they’re not the sort of fantasy I mean. Either they’re all based around game mechanics, or they’re literally trapped in a game-style worlds. And then there’s the Infinite Isekais, be it reincarnated souls or just “I was in my classroom and now I have a sword and three hot young girls” sorts. But there is something to be said for simply having a normal fantasy. Magic has rules, yes, but they aren’t the rules of Casting from MP. Our hero has a curse, but it’s not draining his HP bar. And that’s what we’re getting with Unnamed Memory, the story of a prince with a curse and the witch who’s trying to break it, and also the story of how the two of them are made for each other, even if she’s not admitting it yet.

Prince Oscar is our hero, and he has a curse: a witch cursed his family when he was a boy so that any woman who had his child would die. Now 20 years old and one of the strongest in his kingdom, he goes to another witch, rumored to grant any wish to those who can climb to the top of her tower, and ask her to break the curse. That said, once he meets the witch, Tinasha, he has a better idea: she can marry him, as witches are strong enough to break this curse. She refuses to do that, but she does agree to spend the next year with him at the castle, at first as the “witch’s apprentice” and then, once her cover is blown, out in the open. Over the course of the book they solve mysteries, defeat ancient evils, fend off threats from other countries, and banter. The banter is the reason to read the book.

First up, I will say I wish that we’d had a bit more depth to Oscar at first. We get to know him a bit better as the book goes on, but at first I trusted him about as much as Tinasha does, and it’s easy to see why she brushes off his constant attempts to get her to marry him. Tinasha fares slightly better, although her past is also mostly suggested in this first book. There’s also a couple of unpleasant scenes, one being a dream – brought on by the drug of another witch – which leads to him having to strangle Tinasha, a rather ugly solution I thought could be handled differently, as well as one attempted assault on her when Oscar gets jealous. I mention these as the things I didn’t enjoy, mostly because the rest of the book is otherwise excellent. A very good supporting cast, some cool battle scenes, and the interplay between the main cast is very well done indeed. The book reads smoothly and makes you want more.

So I wasn’t over the moon with it, and I think I need another book or two to like Oscar as much as the author wants me to, but otherwise I can see why this was one of the most anticipated LNs of the year. Especially recommended for those tired of the usual game stats light novels – this has none of that.