This is probably a common theme in many households, but when I buy items in a bulk (albums, movies, manga), I’m less tempted to actually consume them, resulting in a game of Dust: The Gathering. Such is the unfortunate fate of Chain Mail, a novel written by Hiroshi Ishizaki, adapted by Tokyopop. It took me two years to actually start reading it and those two years were not worth the wait at all. What have I been doing in 2010!?
Chain Mail revolves around three girls who feel disconnected to society in their own way. They’re sick of the superficial connection people want to make. Sawako is an introvert and a social outcast; Mai feels out of place after having lived abroad; Mayumi is a badminton player but stands forever in the shadow of her best friend. These three girls receive an e-mail from a mysterious person named Yukari, asking them to take part in writing a novel called “Chain Mail”. Their interests are immediately piqued. Each girl picks their character to write and the story begins.
Chain Mail is of course not high literature of any sort, but it is very immersive. The subtitle even reads ”Addicted to you”. The girls deal with stereotypical problems but that makes them relatable. The fiction they write is a crime thriller and gets pretty tense.
This immersion and relatability is very important because the book deals a lot with escapism. The disconnected characters escape into their fiction, into the world they’ve created. It becomes increasingly more important in their lives and even starts to take precedence. The girls begin to wonder who’s behind the fictional characters, decide to seek each other out, decide to refrain from doing that in order to protect their fictional world. The tension and pacing pick up as these events in real life intervene. By this time you will get sucked into the novel. It’s all because it rings just a bit familiar.
Another very prominent quality of Chain Mail is its narrative structure. It is carefully written from three multiple personal viewpoints. By including the fiction the characters are writing, there’s another synthesized viewpoint. Both the reader and the characters themselves cannot help but see the autobiographical elements in the written fiction.
Adding in on all of this is the use of the unreliable narrator and chronological gaps. The effect becomes stronger because the girls all live separate from each other and only communicate through their writings or very indirectly. When you see one girl take an action through the eyes of another, but do not see it written in their own narrative, you know you’re missing out on something.
So what do these elements add up to? The author spends a great deal of time writing about what motivates the characters, why they participate in writing their adventure novel. He wants you to try to understand the various characters. This understanding is very important for the grand finale where all the questions and answers gather. At the same time, because of the fact that we cannot rely on these narrators, we feel a bit disconnected to them. This becomes mostly apparent in the later stages of the story, when we’re already familiar with and have sympathized with the characters. No matter how familiar or close they are, we can’t read their every thought, they’re still people who exist outside of the private world I’ve created.
In one of the concluding chapters, there’s a bit of internal monologue. How we may not approve of the actions, but can understand and accept the persons behind them. How we sometimes want to run away in our own world and protect it from the outside. There are different motivations for different people. But we’re not alone on this and do not have to be. This book is telling us that having our private reality is okay. But it is also telling us that all we really want is to connect that reality with other people on a deeper level.
I know how that feels.