This book was adapted into an anime, which I've already seen and reviewed. It's been a while since I last saw the anime, but I think it was a fairly faithful adaptation, with the only differences I can recall being a trip to the beach that was entirely invented for the anime and slight differences in the way some students died at the end.
This book is set in 1998 and begins with Koichi in the hospital, recovering after one of his lungs spontaneously collapsed for the second time. He had previously been a student in Tokyo, but, with his father gone to India for his job, he temporarily moved to the small town of Yomiyama to live with his grandparents and Reiko, his aunt. He was supposed to start as a transfer student in third-year Class 3 at North Yomi middle school, but his health issues delayed things.
When he's finally able to start school, Koichi soon notices that his classmates and teachers are behaving strangely, but he isn't able to pinpoint what's going on. Are they all acting oddly because he's new, or is it something else? Koichi finds himself drawn to Mei, a mysterious girl with an eye patch who keeps issuing vague warnings and who no one besides Koichi ever seems to talk to. It isn't until far too late that he learns the details about the curse that has affected North Yomi's third-year Class 3 for 26 years.
Since I had already seen the anime, I already knew everything that was going on: the details of the curse, Mei's part in the whole thing, who would die and how (although, like I said, there were slight changes), and how things turned out in the end. Even so, I was still able to enjoy myself by noting the clues and red herrings that Ayatsuji sprinkled around in the text. Aside from one detail that could be considered cheating (more on this later), the clues were all hidden very smoothly and yet were available for observant readers to find and piece together.
The mystery and suspenseful atmosphere kept me glued to the story, even knowing what would happen, and despite my issues with the writing. The book was written in the first person, from Koichi's perspective, and was sometimes so stilted that it just wasn't believable as a 15-year-old's POV. It also may have colored how I felt about him. Although I recall Koichi being fairly bland in the anime, in the book he struck me as being arrogant, overly reserved, and occasionally somewhat selfish. It wasn't until after several people had already died that he really seemed to realize “Oh, yes, these horrible things that are happening to people around me affect me too.”
Koichi's POV included a lot of hyper-focus on the mundane: his health, the fact that he was only supposed to be in Yomiyama for a year, his family, etc. It was a great strategy, on Ayatsuji's part, for hiding clues, but it also became a little repetitive at times.
I could forgive that to a certain extent, but what I can't quite bring myself to forgive, neither here nor in the anime, was the one important detail that Ayatsuji artificially hid from readers. He tried, via Koichi, to explain the “why” and “how” of it, but I still consider what he did to be cheating, and it annoyed me. Also, by choosing first person POV over third person, he actually emphasized that cheating.
If someone thought they were going to both read the book and watch the anime, I'd tell them they should probably start with the book. If someone planned to only try either the anime or the novel, I'd tell them to go with the anime. While I enjoyed getting to revisit the mystery surrounding North Yomi's third-year Class 3, I was a little disappointed at how stilted the writing (or translation?) was. I'm also still wondering what was up with all those randomly bolded words and phrases.
The book ends with the author's afterword to the paperback edition and a 5-page analysis written by Sei Hatsuno.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Final Destination (live action movie) - A teen saves his and his friends' lives by preventing them from going on a plane that he sees in a vision will crash. However, just like Class 3, his actions bring everyone "closer to death," and the universe tries to balance the scales and kill off everyone who was supposed to have died in the plane crash. The franchise also includes a series of novels: the first one is Dead Reckoning by Natasha Rhodes.
- The Others (live action movie) - More horror with a mix of "off" details and information that is purposefully kept from the audience and certain characters.
- The Ring (book) by Koji Suzuki - Those who'd like something else that mixes horror and mystery/suspense may want to give this a try. You might be familiar with the movie starring Naomi Watts - that movie was based on a Japanese movie, which was in turn based on this book. If I remember correctly, the book is very different, and having seen that movie will not have ruined things for you.
- When They Cry - Higurashi (manga) by Seventh Expansion and various artists; When They Cry - Higurashi (anime TV series) - Another mystery/horror series. This one tries to mess with your head, making you think you're watching a sickeningly sweet harem series, up until you get to the point where the cute girls start killing people. I've written about the first volume of the manga.