Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria review

Apr 16, 2021
I often equate light novels to be at the similar degree of manga—that is, I also regard them to be inseparable in presenting its medium, given that illustrations were provided to support that this is meant to be visualized with a certain art style. I've never been really familiar with them, only having some in my reading list but never getting around to actually read them.

Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria, or HakoMari, has made me appreciate the light novel medium more as a separate being to how manga presents itself, and shows that it can transcend hopes of ever seeing an anime adaptation that will be able to justify its complexity.

Now that formalities have been set in order, it's time to get on the actual reviewing.

HakoMari thrives on its consistency—not just for entertainment value, but through the constant amount of asspulls it does throughout the whole series. I read the first volume without expectations, and what I got was an interesting approach to Groundhog Day, and just by reading how many times the loops had happened you can already see how ridiculous the situation is. It doesn't stop there, as wishes can apparently be granted through the use of so-called "Boxes"—yessir, you heard it right. BOXES. This is when I noticed that this isn't just your average asspull. This is—advanced asspull.

Oh, did I also mention how edgy as shit this can get?

I mean for the first volume with how they reveal the culprit behind Groundhog Day was already way too fucking edgy, but it doesn't stop there as the series makes you bathe in teenage angst (i.e. BULLSHIT) for the rest of the story way until the final volume. One particular character can't keep his edge and that's why he decides to change the world because that's how a normal high school student really acts. But then again, the characters aren't normal to begin with.

You have this one normal guy who slowly turns psychotic because of all the things he has seen until his moral compass becomes way too deranged, you have this mysterious lady with a severe case of identity crisis, you have a white-haired dude who pierced his ears and dyed his hair just because "pfft I dunno" while being a total dick to his ex, you have a totally irrelevant "best friend" that isn't really relevant to the story but the author tries his best to, and you have the aforementioned ex who has gone through I DON'T FUCKING KNOW because all of them have the same common denominator; they all despair. There are also other side characters who seemingly bear the same amount of intellect as these people who can be very cunning and manipulative with wordy outsmarting tactics (that are so fucking unbelievable for their age) but has as much maturity as a three-year old who just had his candy taken away.

You'd think that with these honest yet accurate descriptions of characters, I wouldn't recommend this series at all right?

Well, of course, if I pose up that question, you already know what the answer is.

Much in the similar vein as Death Note and other series that claim to be "psychological warfare," HakoMari works in the similar manner to be appealing—and that is through unbelievable situations mixed in with a serious and close-to-real-life background. Part of the unbelievable situations are the characters, and that's why they may seem as superficial as they can get.

That is what makes HakoMari entertaining.

It doesn't take as much to suspend your disbelief when you start reading this—in contrast to something like JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, which can be agreed upon that requires an IMMENSE amount of suspension, HakoMari effectively balances its depth as a story while retaining that superficiality—which is like the series was simply made for one to observe it and note how ridiculous everything is, but you keep reading because it has some underlying realism mixed within. It's quite a page-turner because of how fucked up the scenarios are with blood and the stench of angst, the mindgames are very smart that it's hard to predict what will happen with the story. Who will win? How will they do it? It's much more fun to read it without you having any knowledge of who the characters are—because you don't know what their true nature is in the first place, and the author cautiously places Chekov's guns (and gunmen) from start to finish to show that this story has a direction.

With regards to the characters, they aren't as bad as I make them out to be, although there is some degree of truth with my words and how I described them. They aren't really noticeable once you get into the tone of the story overall, and it is with these unbelievable traits that the story gets more interesting. Also, they're anime characters, duh.

If you remove the age and edge though, you get to see these amazingly complex characters. You have Kazuki Hoshino whom at first glance is your average light novel/rom-com MC with his own (psychotic) harem, but eventually grows to be a cunning mastermind at mindgames, paired with Maria Otonashi, who by far is unlike most characters I have ever seen—an antisocial badass chick with a straightforward yet unpredictable personality. And these are just the main characters—I would need a longer page to describe each and every character and their internal conflicts that form the shape and structure of this very series. Each character gets to have their chance in the spotlight and as the story goes on you learn about their motives and how their minds work.

In terms of moods and themes, the very background of Boxes and their abilities to grant wishes are a perfect fit with its characters—it's like they were made exactly to be together. It's as if the series was deconstructing edge with edginess itself, and shows that being too sociopathic/psychopathic destroys your very existence. The themes explored in HakoMari are not in any way positive, and they may even be too mature for the characters themselves. This is probably what a book would look like if Nietzsche decided to write about nihilism at age 15.

Going back to the actual story, I commend Eiji Mikage for properly constructing the purpose of each volume even with huge intervals with its release dates, in such a consistent manner that every book always manages to surpass the previous installment. In the way arcs are presented, they are always executed with proper plot devices that are surprisingly natural. The story, I believe, was structured with:

Volume 1 - An exposition to the characters and the unbelievable nature of the whole series. Filled with interesting twists that get you hooked as the story goes on.
Volume 2 - A further expounding on how creative can Stands—I mean Boxes get. Presents a conflict that questions how Maria and Kazuki trust each other.
Volumes 3 and 4 - An actual arc that pounces on the status quo and shakes its foundations. A great death game arc that imposes emphasis on eventual character development that will become critical in future volumes.
Volume 5 - The status quo crumbles and you become unfamiliar with this human chess game again. The story retains that serious feeling but you know things are only going to get wider in scale from this point on.
Volume 6 - Every belief you had initially is completely destroyed and you become an atheist. The chess game reaches the endgame stage yet it is still unsure who will finally gain the upper hand.
Volume 7 - Everything comes into full circle as the truth behind everything is revealed and the characters come into terms with their internal and external conflicts.

Volume 7 is probably the weakest of the series, in my opinion, but it is the most necessary. It builds on everything the first six volumes had done thus far—a conclusive character resolution arc that is not as half-assed but still needs to be ridiculous. It doesn't have the same flair as the previous books that are filled to the brim with keikakus, but it does have the edge to the extreme and ends it in the most satisfying way possible—giving the characters more backbone in an emotional rollercoaster of an ending.

In no way is this series perfect. The fact that I can rant for about the first half of my review shows it—but it's this impressive creativity that makes it stand out for me. It isn't that easy to write, mind you—more so pulling out things out of your ass in more than one way possible. These ridiculous stalemate scenarios in HakoMari shows the effort in how the author has known how this world will work—and how he can use its preset rules to his advantage. And after all, I did mention how this was quite a page-turner. It invoked feelings of mental pressure to me, the reader, however I could not drop it because this intensity can only be found in such as HakoMari's world-building. It makes you want to know what happens next, and every volume's ending guarantees a continuation that is too relevant to put it aside for even one moment. (I could just imagine how satisfied are the readers who had to put up with that two-year gap between Volume 6 and 7.)

HakoMari isn't certainly one of the best novels out there either—but it executes so damn well how a light novel can function on its own without having so much as to rely on an anime adaptation to justify its quality. It also ends on a mood that may not be as smart as its original premise, but ties everything to a proper and well-deserved conclusion, utilizing everything it had to that point.


Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria
Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria
Autor Mikage, Eiji