31. Gosick vol. 1 by Kazuki Sakuraba
Publication: TokyoPop (April 8, 2008), Paperback, 229pp / ISBN 1427805695
Genre: Light novel, Mystery
Rating: Bin it
Read: March 28, 2011
Summary from Amazon:
The year is 1924, the place, Sauville, a small European country neatly tucked beside the Alps… Kazuya Kujo has been studying abroad at the prestigious Saint Marguerite Academy, where urban legends and horror stories are all the rage. Most Kazuya ignores–but the story of the Queen Berry, a mysterious ghost ship, really gets to him. Of course, his brainy friend Victorique is much more intrigued by true stories, and she uses her unrivaled logic to solve mysteries even the town’s famous detective can’t. Ironically, it’s Victorique’s inquisitive nature that leads the duo to board a ship that matches the Queen Berry’s description to a tee, a ship that might just hold the key to solving a sinister mystery… Kazuki Sakuraba’s modern twist on Holmes and Watson–pairing Victorique, a wizened young girl with doll-like looks and her eager-to-please sidekick Kazuya–make this international bestseller a must-read murder mystery.
Man, I so wanted to like this book. I’ve been lusting after it ever since I started (in theory) reading more translated novels and found it listed under “mystery” and “Sherlock Holmes-related” labels. I love Sherlock Holmes! I love things that are even vaguely related to Sherlock Holmes! Sometimes this means I read really awesome stuff and sometimes, as in the case of Gosick volume 1, it means I read really crappy stuff.
So: basically, Gosick is Sherlock Holmes if Sherlock Holmes was set in an alterna-world that’s sort of steampunk/idealized Victorian (yet set in the 1920s) and if everything that was ever good about Sherlock Holmes was sucked out and replaced by moldy Jello. So you’ve got cliched character tropes, a boring mystery, and pretty terrible writing.
Like most light novels, Gosick is not the paragon of modern Japanese writing. I went into it expecting it to be a little bit bad, but I definitely didn’t expect it to be this bad. I expected to at least be entertained, to enjoy the plot if nothing else– but really, it’s pretty bad.
Maybe I’m being too hard on the mystery part of the story. It’s not as bad as some other mysteries I’ve read, and the solution was pretty cool. But does it compare to the Sherlock Holmes standards it’s trying to emulate? No. And it’s not like the Holmes mysteries are rooted in logic or believability, anyway!
But the worst thing about Gosick was the characters. I hated them! It’s interesting that the Holmes-equivalent character is female, but only barely had any sort of personality, and even that was trope-tastic. Also, it seriously creeped me out how often she was referred to looking like a doll, acting like a doll, or just generally described as being un-humanlike. Sometimes she was even mistaken for a doll, which is just– ugh.
Perhaps the author was trying to portray some of Holmes’ coldness in a way that would translate to the pseudo-anime world that light novels exist in, but it read more like Victorique-as-an-object-with-no-personhood (something be obtained/constrained/owned) rather than Victorique-as-an-emotionless-person. Doll-like female characters are pretty prevalent in anime shows, I think– it gives the male protagonists something to “break down” or “overcome” or whatever– so I suppose it’s setting up some sort of romantic theme for later on in the series. But still: ugh.
I think I’ve gone on a tangent. Er, yes– so Victorique was pretty bad, and so was Kazuya, the Watson character. I know, I know: they’re just anime character archetypes that aren’t supposed to be really deep or unique or even particularly interesting. And I can sometimes stand that in an anime, but mostly I just get annoyed and move on to another show. With a book? It’s even more annoying.
To pound another nail into the coffin, the actual text of the book was like reading a novelization of an anime, which I find really boring. Gosick actually is an anime, but it started out as a book series, so shouldn’t it read more like an actual book than a summarization of an episode?
Light novels are, I know, rather hit or miss with these sorts of things, by which I mean plot, writing ability, and decent characters. Sometimes I can look past certain flaws and enjoy other aspects of the book, and sometimes, if I’m lucky, it’s actually a decent book altogether. But Gosick barely kept my interest and if I didn’t already have the second volume in my possession I definitely wouldn’t continue onward in the series. I’ve heard that the second volume is better but, well…I’m not excited about it.
Anime News Network: “The first volume of Gosick is a solid mystery-thriller that brings in many elements and gets them right: a period setting, a closed-room scenario, an intricate but compelling plotline, and a tsundere goth-loli girl detective (okay, that one’s strictly for the otaku, but anyway). What makes this novel particularly impressive is how it balances beginning (introduce the charaters), middle (dig into the mystery) and end (explain what happened) without getting too bogged down or skimping on details.”
Otaku, No Video: “It’s also a bit strange to read a light novel that feels like it’s being written for animation. There are several bits–particularly the police assistants who hold hands and talk in unison while skipping together–that made absolutely no sense and felt like sight gags.”
Beta-Waffle: “Ultimately, though, it’s just a massively fun and oddly gripping book that I really can’t recommend enough to anyone who enjoys these light novels. It’s not anything bigger or grander than any of these other novels are, but it’s an exemplary example of what these books are all about.”
I think partly why I hated this book so much is precisely because I’m not exactly the target audience. I might have enjoyed it more when I was younger and still fond of really crappy shoujo/shonen anime shows, but now I’m sick of all that and prefer things that actually have some character depth in them. So, you know. Bah.