There’s nothing Kazuki Hoshino wants more in life than normality, and there’s nothing irony wants more than raining on people’s parades. A mysterious entity calling itself O offers him a genie lamp known titularly as a Box, and despite taking a pass on it, he and his friends get sucked into a number of messes revolving around them.
The First Volume:
Hoshino’s put in a bit of a tizzy when the new transfer student, Aya “Maria” Otonashi, whom he’s never seen before a day in his life, in her introduction declares her intention to break him. Except that he has met her before, sorta, because his classroom is stuck in a timeloop, the cause of which is a Box, but whose is the core of the mystery. This book is thrilling from start to finish. New information keeps you second-guessing who’s to blame, it jumps back and forth between loops to ensure freshness, and scenes are short and punchy. It even gets kudos for making Otonashi telling Hoshino the color of a girl’s underwear nail-biting.
The Second Volume:
Explosive as the debut volume was, this one is the aftermath, when all the debris is settling. Two new characters are introduced, but this immediately robs the mystery of who’s behind the latest Box. Thankfully, the book’s self-aware enough to understand it’s condescending to pull the wool over our eyes for something so obvious, so it substitutes mystery for character drama. Unfortunately, its drama comes off a bit forced with a heap of angst, so it doesn’t make up for the lost mystery.
Every Other Volume:
This is why I abstained from reviews of individual novels. Quality picks back up with the third volume, but then it plateaus for the remainder of the series. That made it hard to pick out individual points I liked or disliked about each volume, so each review would’ve been a copy & paste of “It’s great, but not exceptional like the first volume.” A few noteworthy points of mention are sprinkled here and there, like the pixelated bear in volumes 3 & 4 which speaks in a broken dialect and a one-page summary of Hoshino’s feelings on Maria which, given context with the rest of the series, is nothing short of incredible. But other than those few examples, everything is largely the samish.
Before I picked up the third volume, I was hoping to write a full blog post on why I loved Zeroth Maria and what an injustice it was that it got booted from its spot as MAL’s highest rated light novel. But after reading the series in full, I can only repeat my quote above: This series is great, but not exceptional like its first volume. There’s something special about what the first volume accomplished, and even when a timeloop shows up for the finale, it lacks that same stopping power. The magic is lost.