Perhaps you've heard of a little-known light novel that goes by the name of 'Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria', and perhaps you might've heard of the mass critical acclaim it has received. Widely considered to be one of the greatest light novels ever writtenーand rightly soーit's an understatement to say that HakoMari is highly regarded in the light novel community. Eiji Mikage, the author of HakoMari, has written several other works that are, unfortunately, typically overshadowed by this giant. Kamisu Reina is one such series.
Much like HakoMari, Kamisu Reina is a psychological, supernatural mystery drama. And much like HakoMari, the writing is gripping. From the first page, Mikage's writing grabs you and throws you right into the heart of its narrative and its characters. It doesn't screw aroundーyou'll have a hard time putting it down after you've picked it up. The series is written from a first-person perspective all the way through, the first novel exploring the narrative through 5 distinct perspectives. Every character has their own endearing flaws; their own unique and captivating thought processes. If there is one thing that Kamisu Reina does phenomenally, it's characterisation and character development. These characters are more than believableーif you're anything like me, you will relate to them, you will understand them, and you will wonder if Mikage somehow found a way to transcribe your thoughts onto paper. All of them are interesting in their own right, each painting the same world in a different shade. Each character has their own chapter, where they are defined, explained, deconstructed, and, of course, broken. They are deep characters, chock-full of substance and personality. The common link between all of these characters?
But who is she? Who is...Kamisu Reina?
"She is my best friend—a member of the track-and-field club and in a different class, but we always go home together.
She is my hateful nemesis—the murderer of my family. I won't forgive her and I will take revenge!
She is my fellow partner—together, we fight against the humanoid energies to save the world.
She is my..."
The first novel devotes itself to answering this question, each character discovering their own piece of the puzzle and all of them coming to radically different conclusions. The series excels in developing a sense of intrigue, mystery and Mikage's trademark narrative trickery. Kamisu Reina brilliantly leads you into false assumptions and breaks said assumptions apartーit does this both with the nature of Kamisu Reina and the nature of the protagonists. Kamisu Reina is smart, and it will trick you, and you will praise it for being able to do so with such finesse. Everything you thought you knew, everything you thought you had figured out--will be completely turned on its head by the end of any given chapter. HakoMari dabbles in this, but Kamisu Reina dials it up to eleven.
This being a psychological series, it delves deep into the minds of its characters, their motivations and their true natureーnot just Kamisu Reina. While the centric, overarching mystery may be the true nature of Kamisu Reina, every chapter has its own self-contained mystery (that sometimes carries over into other chapters): why the protagonist needs Kamisu Reina, why she appears in that particular form, and why she carries that particular relation to the protagonist. And the more we learn about a particular protagonist, the more we learn about the enigmatic, eponymous Kamisu Reina. Every one of them is a part of Kamisu Reina...and Kamisu Reina is a part of every one of them.
Everything presented in the novel (both in the first and the second) is intricately tied together as you will figure out as you progress through the narrative. Kamisu Reina's narrative is brilliantly paced and incredibly engaging, however, while it deals with a plethora of dark ideas throughout its narrative, it isn't too depressing because of it. In fact, it's the way that the series juggles those dark ideas that makes it so appealing and gripping in the first place. I believe that you can't have a truly deep psychological narrative without being dark, but you don't have to make it depressing, and Kamisu Reina is a perfect example of this.
In spite of the glowing praise I have for Kamisu Reina, I must warn that Mikage fans may not be able to lose themselves as easily in its narrative as with HakoMari. Kamisu Reina is a far more abstract series than HakoMari; the writing is very different despite sharing some similarities with HakoMari. If I had to describe it, I would say that HakoMari's writing is 'emotionally logical' and Kamisu Reina's writing is 'logically emotional'. A common criticism with this series is that there seems to be an odd sense of distance between the characters and their emotions. Everything is explained using logic in Kamisu Reinaーwhile this could very well be interpreted as a warning sign that the writing in the novels is dry and out-of-touch with its characters, let me assure you that this isn't the case. I didn't see this as a detriment; I appreciated it as a different way of conveying the narrative. In fact, I even preferred this to HakoMari's storytelling. I'm a much bigger fan of Kamisu Reina's abstraction than HakoMari's more 'modernised' and straight writing, but this won't be the case for everyone. I suspect that I'm actually in the minority with this one. Potential readers should keep this in mind before diving into Kamisu Reina.
The Kamisu Reina Series is one of my personal favourite light novels in existence, topped only by my all-time favourite, Ame no Hi no Iris. I identified with, related with and cared about most-all of the protagonists, or, at the very least, appreciated their phenomenal characterisation. I read the first novel all in one sitting because I simply could not put it down. I was engaged from start to finish, captivated by its masterfully crafted narrative that had me constantly questioning everything that went on and throwing me for a loop countless times. 'Who is Kamisu Reina?' Both the question and the supposed answer lingers in my mind to this day, albeit with less awe and fascination involved, as I've become somewhat desensitised to it at this point. No other novel has captivated me with the same capacity as Kamisu Reina, and I suspect it will stay that way for a long time to come.
The Kamisu Reina Series is one of the most gripping, thought-provoking psychological narratives I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Kamisu Reina is a narrative that thrives on *good* plot twists. It is dark, and perhaps even disturbing, but not overbearingly so. It's Kamisu Reina's particular brand of darkness that manages to pull you into its world instead of simply feeding off of depressing and disturbing content in a feeble attempt to grab its readers. Kamisu Reina doesn't just scratch the surfaceーit goes all in. It delves deep into its concepts and themes in each chapter and over the course of the entire novel (as well as the second), rather than presenting a bunch of half-baked ideas and never truly doing enough with them. If you won't shy away from more abstract writing, this novel is worth your time. The Kamisu Reina Series isn't something that everyone will enjoy, but if you're willing to give it a chance, you will get something out of it. Kamisu Reina is a very well-written novel that will have you questioning every thread it introduces all the way through and long after you've finished reading it. Kamisu Reina is something very different from the norm. Kamisu Reina is all of these things, and it is also my favourite Eiji Mikage novel and my favourite psychological novel yet.
Now, I ask you:
What is Kamisu Reina to you?
[Originally posted on Goodreads and MyAnimeList]