Written by C. C. Cooper on 10 Jun 2021
Distributor Seven Seas Entertainment • Author/Artist Yoru Sumino/Itsuka • Price £7.06
We all have our secrets that we keep to ourselves for one reason or another. Sometimes, our secrets are our troubled pasts rife with regret. Sometimes, our secrets are our supernatural ability to see a person's thoughts and desires. And sometimes, our secrets are the massive hentai collections on our hard drives that would ruin our social standing if any of those racy photos got leaked. This middle item is the concern between five high school friends, who can see the true emotions behind whatever masks they may be wearing.
This novel is divvied up between the five friends, each narrating their own chapter. The main attraction of each chapter is seeing which power each friend has and how they alter their navigation of social settings, but some of the powers are a recolor of a previous power, and they're used to dull effect. Being able to tell when somebody is actually pissed when they're putting on their Stepford Smile would be a handy talent, but the characters' powers cause more confusion than shock or revelation. Nobody sees the heart rate of a friend spike when they lie about their involvement in an associate's suicide, for example, but there's plenty of “My power doesn't work on this person, and it irks me.”
I Have a Secret doesn't have too much in the way of drama, which is fine. The author's previous works didn't have much uptick on the pacing graph. But there was a throughline of potential tragedy with each, particularly the excellent I Want to Eat Your Pancreas, whose very premise had you biting your nails over whether the heroine was going to make it to the midpoint, and I Have a Dirty Little Secret lacks this throughline. Occasionally, a chapter will tease the reader with a yet-to-be-revealed brouhaha, but never to where you fear it's a secret that'll tear the friend group apart.
Speaking of secrets, what stood out the most to me is that, despite the title about keeping secrets, there're surprisingly few secrets. The characters have their respective powers that they keep secret, yes, but it's not until the third chapter that we get a cat that'd claw up the furniture if let out the bag. The most we get before that point is a boy with a crush. Everybody has crushes. An entire story genre is dedicated to people with crushes. In a novel whose premise hinges entirely on secrets, puppy love doesn't count for jack. I would accept it if said crush was an earnest threat to the group's integrity, but as I mentioned before with this novel being light on drama, there's no consequence for a secret losing its secrecy.
Line by line, I Have Classified Information is a pleasant read, perfect for a sunny Sunday afternoon in a hammock, but on the whole, it's underwhelming. Even reading chapters with full knowledge of what the other characters' powers are, nothing about their actions or words is recontextualized by any measure, and nobody ever complains, “Hey, lady, my eyes are up here,” hinting at their power. It feels as though each chapter takes place in a separate universe rather than a single timeline. And what else that's missing is a message. It's 1000% okay for a story to be nothing but an escapist jaunt through a zombie-blanketed hellscape, but following on the heels of I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and At Night, I Become a Monster, each of which melted my brain with a single line, and I Had That Same Dream, which, bless its heart, tried the same, I can't help but wonder what this novel, lacking any real secrets or repercussions to secrets getting out, is trying to say.
All said and done, I Have Enemy Intel is adeptly written, a marked improvement over the occasionally pretentious and frequently boring I Had That Same Dream, but it's lacking the edge of I Want to Eat Your Pancreas and At Night, I Become a Monster and only supposedly fosters a theme of secrets. Kokoro Connect, which also has a cast of five main characters, with the same gender ratio, dealing with paranormal phenomenon, has way more secrets and doesn't predicate its identity on said secrets. There was a ton it could've done, with secrets or with unexplained powers, but it put forth the bare minimum, and the result is a normal high school life that's a little too normal for its circumstances.
A part-time reviewer these days of video games.
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