To say almost anything about The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria, Vol 1, is to dangerously skirt around a minefield of plot spoilers and shocking twists that will leave you breathless. What I can say easily is that this trippy, confusing, and violently arresting novel is brilliant, and will stick with me for a while.
Known as Utsuro no Hako to Zero no Maria in Japanese, and written by Eiji Mikage, this supernatural high-school thriller tells the story of the unsuspecting Kazuki Hoshino who has unknowingly been repeating the same day of his life for 13,118 times. He learns that startling fact from a late-in-the-year transfer student, Aya Otonashi, who declares “war” on him and the supposed “Box” he possesses.
Is Kazuki really responsible for an infinitely looping day? Or is there something more sinister at play…?
The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria is told mostly in a non-linear style, jumping back and forth through thousands of iterations. Through this format, we come to understand that Aya has been attempting to find the owner of the enigmatic ‘Box.’ This wish-granting device can seemingly do the impossible, but in a Monkey’s Paw type of situation, the wish is never truly fulfilled.
Kazuki is definitely sure he never made a wish, and after a series of violent confrontations with Aya — which oftentimes involves his own death, or that of a close classmate — he makes peace with her and they begin to unravel the mystery surrounding the so-called ‘Rejecting Classroom.’
I won’t say anything more than that, because what comes afterwards is a series of twists and turns made all the more effective by a consistent first-person POV (point of view) that ensures the reader never quite knows who’s narrating until the last moment. This helps disguise some of the sudden and shocking plot twists, while keeping the tension ratcheted high.
In the end, The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria left me feeling bittersweet about the characters and their situations — it is, in essence, a cautionary tale about wish-granting devices and how one might use them. The book has a nihilistic overtone despite the characters’ desires to return to the “real world” and even brings into question the nature of reality itself.
This isn’t the type of book you want to read before going to bed. It feels like an acid trip at times, as you’re forced to contend with the idea that someone has lived a particular day thousands of times over, without any memory of the iteration. It’s an eerily disturbing concept, made all the more morbid by some of the shocking violence perpetrated by the characters — this book isn’t for the faint of heart, or weak of stomach!
I’m not sure where the next books will go in the series, but for now, The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria has me intrigued and a little scared about our characters’ futures — and I think that’s exactly the type of emotion that’ll convince me to grab the next volume.
Have you read this volume? Are you thinking about picking it up? Leave a comment down below, and as always, thanks for reading!