The Case – The Detective Is Already Dead (Vol. 1) Is Terrible
Four years ago, Kimihiko Kimizuka met a girl who went by the moniker of Siesta and called herself an ace detective. For three years, they traveled together solving crimes and combating the exploits of the terrorist organization SPES, and it was a journey of ups and downs—a journey which ended when Siesta was killed. A year has passed, and Kimizuka has returned to normal life, only having the occasional bout of excitement when he happens to run into trouble. When a schoolmate, Nagisa Natsunagi, recruits him to find a person but doesn't know who that person is, he falls down a hole and lands back in his old life of mystery-solving and death-defying battles.
Evidence No. 1 – The Detective Work
The general rule of thumb is that the words in a title will suggest what the story revolves around, a theme, or even the genre it belongs to. Yet despite detective being in the title, there's very little detective work to be seen. Rather than one main plot, this first volume is split into three short stories, with only the second bothering to toss in a mystery with clues, and even then you might be at a loss for what's going on due to the inclusion of supernatural elements.
Way back in ye olde day, a fellow came up with the Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction, and the second commandment is “No supernatural nonsense.” Being the maverick I am, I thought it was totally possible to write a great mystery story with ghosts and time travel. The fantastic Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective did exactly that. However, reading this light novel has me taking up the position that that commandment shouldn't be waived so flagrantly, and reminds me that Ghost Trick succeeded because it a.) largely kept its supernatural elements and its mystery separate and b.) established clear-cut, easy-to-understand-and-predict boundaries for said elements.
It only makes sense, though, that this light novel breaks genre rules because it doesn't have the first clue of what a detective novel is. My read and watched list for detective shows and books is quite limited, but I'm reasonably confident in saying that a good mystery includes more than the detective monologuing the solution after five lines of conversation. Much of the first Zaregoto volume is the main character wandering around an island wondering what the hell is going on, and that was an absolutely stellar read. But the advantage Zaregoto—or any halfway decent mystery—has is an appropriate length of time to gather clues and string them together. The bite-sized chapters of The Detective Is Already Dead don't allow for the usual mystery format, so what you get is a 200 IQ egotist showing off while you're passing through on the way to the loo.
Most of the time, though, this series shoves mystery aside in favor of sci-fi combat. I might be able to get behind this, like they solve the mystery and then have a boss battle, but without any substantial mystery, the characters are just hemming and hawing to kill time until the no-name bad dude shows up to ruin their days with his generic evilness.
Evidence No. 2 – The Detectives
Without any detective work to be done in a series with detective in the title, it tries making up for its literary faux pas with character development, but I'm gonna spoil the mystery and reveal that Hyouka did character development better, balanced it with the mysteries, and even expressed it through mystery. I could gush at length about what a gem Hyouka is, but unfortunately, I've chosen to review The Detective Is Already Dead, which turns out to be nowhere near as good.
With a title explaining how the main heroine is two meters beneath topsoil, it's pretty obvious that she'll be in absentia, yet this book pulls that same swindle that My Friend's Little Sister Has It In For Me, of throwing some random bimbo into the leading lady's role. It's more justified in the not-mystery series yet irks me more due to compounding poor execution.
Nagisa Natsunagi stands as a surrogate for the late Siesta, and I don't like her or how the book handles her. The very first thing she does is objectify herself. While arguing with Kimizuka, with no prompt for doing so, she goes, “Oh, would you like for me to shove your face into my massive titties? Okay. Your wish is my command,” and then shoves his face into her massive titties.
My views on sexual content might come off as inconsistent—and I'm constantly reevaluating my stance, because sex is the simplest thing in the world and simultaneously the most complicated thing in the world—since I sometimes dedicate an entire paragraph to complaining about a woman's unrealistically large breasts and sometimes dedicate an entire review to pondering the implications of a teenager's promiscuous behavior, but there's a keyword determining my opinion on the subject's handling, and it's integration. Basically, does this content serve a purpose in the narrative, or is it part of the narrative's identity? If the answer is no, I rage against it, and if yes, I have no problems.
When Natsunagi meets Kimizuka for the first time, it's to hire him for her personal missing person case, so there's no grounds for her to draw attention to her chest or satisfy any lustful urges he might be experiencing. The real kicker is when the story defends her conduct by saying, “Actually, that was Siesta momentarily taking over, because Siesta's heart was transplanted into her, so she has a spiritual connection to the late detective, who would insert his face in her cleavage, and this is all spoilers, by the way.” When a story makes up a reason to excuse its promiscuity like this, it's not because shoving Kimizuka's face in her chest is what would happen, but because that's what it wants to happen. It's writing the sexy stuff in and conjuring up a defense to deflect criticism.
I'm done ranting about one little thing Natsunagi does. Now, to rant about how she's nothing but a fill-in for the heroine vacancy.
Writing a story with just a protagonist isn't the easiest thing in the world. When you have at least a small cast, you can call on a member to liven up a scene, offer up a new perspective, kindle an argument, and so on so that you're not confined to carrying narration forward on the protagonist's thoughts and observations alone. And since this is a “detective” series, and detectives are all about helping people, it makes nothing but sense that Kimizuka would need to interact with a second character. The issue I take is how the series makes her permanent right off the bat.
As I've implied, it's a dirty trick when the plot wallpapers a different face over its poster girl. Like buying concert tickets for AC/DC but it's Bobby Branson's Banjo Band playing. I should also clarify that when I've said I don't like her taking the heroine role, I meant I don't like her being a replacement detective. Without evidence to the contrary, she has no detective experience and hasn't watched or read any sort of mystery. I'm not asking that she have a Bachelor's in Criminology, but she could've had her own arc of melting into the role rather than being jammed into it. Start off as a recurring character before lending Kimizuka a helping hand and eventually accepting the mantle that was previously Siesta's. But as the story has her, she's just an ordinary teenager plucked from the street and conscripted into the detective role, and she for her part shrugs and replies, “Okay. Got it.”
Partway through the volume, she has a monologue where she describes herself as a nobody given the chance to become somebody because of her heart transplant, which I should say is a nice touch of character development but won't because it, like with her suffocating Kimizuka on her mammary glands because spirit-science, is another half-assed excuse to keep her around. There is a story germinating on that premise alone, perhaps even a great one, but this series puts forth the bare minimum to tell it. We're only told that she was a nobody, with no experience or evidence for that label, and we just have to take her word for it.
Kimizuka isn't the best written character himself. For the most part, he's fine and occasionally amusing, if annoying with his vocal tic of whining “That's not fair.” But he's stuck in the mindset where he's nothing but the assistant to a detective, which, again, just needs a little fertilizer to sprout into a beautiful tale. Sometimes, there're no tangible barriers before our progress, and the only thing holding us back is ourselves. Despite that, there's no clue or hint, rhyme or reason for Kimizuka to remain fettered to this title. He's a smart guy, able to solve an entire mystery on his own, yet can't come up with a reason for the lack of promotion from detective's assistant. He treats the position like it was a will etched in a stone tablet by a flesh-and-blood goddess and doesn't even entertain the notion of fighting fate.
There's two more main supporting characters, and you can surmise my opinion on them through this one-sentence description: a middle school idol who objectifies herself and a stuck-up simp whom the artwork objectifies.
The Smoking Gun
I've prattled on and on about how this series has no clue what it's doing, but I'm just being long-winded. Getting my frustrations off my face-free chest. Really, all I have to do is show you this one running gag to prove its incompetence. In the third short, Kimizuka mentions this time when he and Siesta got sloshed and then they—He stops there, every time he brings it up, and that's the joke: you're left wondering what happened next. Did they spray paint the town? Did they nick wheelchairs from the local hospital and ride them down a flight of steps? Did Siesta rip off her shirt and bury Kimizuka's face in her cleavage? It's fun to think about, how naughty the both of them got, but then Kimizuka confesses that nothing happened, then two pages later, he confesses that they might or might not have slept together, and then ten pages later, he's back to telling the joke like he never ruined it in the first place. This book doesn't even care to tell a gag properly, so there's no reason to assume it would put in more effort to tell a story properly.
Reading The Detective Is Already Dead is like reading a FictionPress fantasy where things happen for the cool factor. Siesta's dead, but because her heart is in this random chick, she can sorta come back, and there's this guy who's invisible, and he's got a long tongue, but then when it's cut off, he grows a tail instead. It's such a haphazard, unorganized mess that if it were played before me on a projector, I would think I was suffering an LSD-fueled fever dream. It has imagination and the occasional amusing banter: that much I'll give. But before it goes solving any more cases, it oughta solve its terrible writing.