Written by C. C. Cooper on 30 Mar 2022
Distributor Tentai Books • Author/Artist Aresanzui/Sabamizore • Price £7.30
In every anime, manga, and light novel in existence, the most coveted seat in the Japanese classroom is the window seat, because that's where the protagonist gets to sit and make out exotic animals in the clouds. Not so in Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Killer, for the seat every hot-blooded teenage boy longs for is the one beside Yui Takatsuki, the cutest, prettiest girl in the whole school, who isn't allowed in hospitals because her smile causes code blues. But the position of Yui's seatmate is as much a blessing as it is a curse, for all boys who have held it fell in love with her, only to be turned down when they confessed their feelings. Now, it seems that Yuuki Narito will be her latest victim, but he doesn't care for her daily greetings or friendly conversations. Matter of fact, he suspects the entire pump 'em, dump 'em routine is an elaborate ruse on her behalf. She's a modern day succubus, and boys' hearts are her playthings. Thus starts a game of romantic softball, in which Yui pitches feelings for Yuuki to catch.
My tummy's been grumbling a while now for a particular brand of romcom protagonist, and nothing I've read has satiated that appetite. All light novels have fed me is Noice Boi-kun, who wins girls' hearts by picking up their erasers, is oblivious to their romantic advances, and goes red with embarrassment at the slightest mention of love, and his taste went stale eons ago. I hunger for Dry Snark-kun, who's intelligent enough to know when a girl's flirting with him but will play off her advances with disinterested matter-of-factness. I know what I'm craving is strangely specific, enough so as to be niche, but with how saturated the market is with light novels, you'd think one series out there would have what I'm after. There are protagonists like Akitero Ooboshi, who sort of fit this bill, but they don't quite hit the spot, and most of his replies to the heroine, anyway, are "You're annoying. Shut up." Finally, after all this time, I found what I'm looking for—mostly—in Yuuki, and thank goodness, because it felt like I was munching on a package of bitter chocolate expecting one of the pieces to be sweet.
Yuuki isn't the funniest protagonist and far from the best-written, but the retorts he has for Yui are what I mentally edit whenever reading Noice Boi-kun. When Yui asks Noice Boi-kun what she thinks of her perm while swishing a lock of hair and winking firmly, he stutters, “Oh, ee, oo, ah, uh, it looks okay,” while avoiding all eye contact. But when she asks Dry Snark-kun, in this case Yuuki, the same, he examines her hair and says, “It looks nice,” before wondering how a Brachiosaurus would wear its necktie. Of course, if the interaction ended there, Yui will have effectively turned into a cardboard cutout, so she needs to react to his disinterest, and her frustrated “Is that all you have to say?” is the cherry on top. The best parts of this book are their back-and-forths, and I always looked forward to seeing what tricks Yui might pull this lunch period and how Yuuki would counter them, almost like another blend of Kaguya-sama, but without the excellence.
Much as I longed for Yuuki and Yui's dynamic, Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Murderer sometimes plays their skits straight, such as when she makes him a boxed lunch the day after formal introductions and alarm bells don't start going off in his head. If I meet a woman on Tuesday and on Wednesday she's making my lunches, I'll fear I'm three months from being shackled in her basement to keep me away from other women. Then their dynamic all but falls apart when the volume swaps from Yuuki's perspective to Yui's.
From where Yuuki stands, Yui's leaving a trail of heartbroken boys in her wake for sadistic kicks, but what the perspective swap spoils, and I shall spoil here, too, is that it's just the typical tale of a girl trying to befriend guys only for them to misinterpret her friendliness as attraction. This takes a metal bat to this series's entire selling point. Imagine if Takagi from her series, Teasing Master Takagi-san, wasn't teasing Nishikata because she liked him, but because she's the world's worst communicator. It's obvious Takagi's crushing on him, and there's even a spin-off series where they're married with a kid, but there's that plausible deniability surrounding the fact that she's never outright with her feelings, and because of this, it lends credence to Nishikata's struggles to understand her motives. It's the same with Yui and Yuuki. When the veil's dropped on Yui's backstory, it takes away the mystery of her character, why her favorite pastime is smashing hearts. In time, Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Menace could've drawn the curtains aside, revealing the girl behind the succubus, and from there, with the danger of the seduction game blown away like smoke, the focus could shift to Yui's burgeoning feelings for Yuuki.
That's something I expected to happen some while into Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Slayer's life span: Yui, in trying to get Yuuki to fall for her, falls for him instead. Spoilers, she starts liking him in the first half of the volume. It's quite the shock, too. One chapter, she's plotting his demise, and the next, she's daydreaming about holding his hand. At least Noice Boi-kun has a catalyst for convincing girls to like him when he picks up their eraser. Yui, she goes gaga for Yuuki for no rhyme or reason, and her feelings becoming real, especially in the first bloody volume, pulls out the bottom blocks on a Jenga tower. The reason I picked up this series, seeing a contest of temptation, turns into a pile of rubble. Now Yui's not trying to win Yuuki's heart for kicks or revenge, she's doing it so they can become a legitimate couple. That right there could be its own series, Trying to Get My Lackadaisical Seatmate to Fall In Love With Me, but it would have to be built from the ground up on that premise, not start with one, disassemble it little by little, then get impatient and blow the whole thing to smithereens.
Though I've delivered much condemnation thus far, it's all for incompetent writing: the author jotting down whatever comes to mind, with no forethought on how it meshes together. It's a construction held up by cardboard tubes and duct tape, but around in the back alley is a dumpster that reeks to high heaven, and taking residence in that dumpster and feeding on the scraps that get tossed in is Yuuki's little sister, Mina.
She looks to be a ten- or eleven-year-old girl who likes roleplaying as a maid sans costume, traipses around the house in her underwear, and though the novel doesn't explicitly say so, I get the vibe that if Yuuki requested that she throat his cock, she'd be on her knees in a nanosecond. There's a time and place for sex appeal, and prepubescence is not the time, and a girl in the confines of her home with her brother's company is not the place. I don't think I need to elaborate on why Mina's depiction is sickening. I would suggest that this series just erase her entirely, but she puts her hand on the narrative's helm when she suggests that Yuuki get a girlfriend, leading him and Yui to becoming a faux couple, because this single volume already hasn't rebuilt itself enough times, and I can't suggest she be less of a brain-damaged twit, because much of Yuuki's attitude and treatment toward Yui derives from dealing with Mina. Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Menace managed to write itself into a corner it can't get out of without busting down the corner and collapsing the whole structure. Of the many series I've read that carelessly incorporate characters, scenes, or subjects that serve no purpose beside ticking up the word count, it's infuriatingly impressive how Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Terminator integrates an illicitly sussy-wussy role into its narrative blueprint.
The sycophant would argue that walking around the house in her underwear and being subservient to her brother is her personality and that I should lay off, but what they're forgetting, or ignoring, is that behind the pages of the book is an author who made the decision to write Mina's present personality. If they had sexualized her in order to deconstruct the sexy little sister archetype too prevalent in the medium, I would've been for that. Of course, they don't do that. They made Mina a floozy either to appeal to a demographic that will drop every last penny in their wallet to see some scantily clad little girls, in between dodging the FBI's bloodhounds, or because they've never spoken to a real woman to ask if she's ever wanted to fuck her brother, the answer to which would be a stern “Hell to the no!”
My metaphor has been that Turning the Tables on the Seatmate Executor is a shoddily constructed building, but a more accurate analogy might be that it's a horribly cooked dish. The picture on the menu is of a decent-looking lasagna, and the top layer of pasta, sauce, and cheese is delish, but beneath it is a cutaway of burned lobster, raw beef, octopus tentacles, and shavings of Carolina Reapers. It's miserably crafted works like this that make me wonder not who wrote it, but who edited it. Who in the world had the job of reading the manuscript for this light novel, seeing the complete lack of focus and care put in, and giving it the thumbs up? Next, what I want to know is, where do I sign up so that I can get paid to do nothing?
A part-time reviewer these days of video games.
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