A looming sense of apprehension fills the pages of Kazuki Sakuraba's celebrated work – Sugar Candy Bullets Can't Pierce Anything.
A light novel published in 2004, it leads the story through the young mind of Nagisa Yamada, a bored middle-schooler who lives in a non-descript rural town with her future planned out and set in stone in the Japanese Self Defence Force. When Mokuzu Umino transfers to her school, bringing with her a set of candy bullets of lies, Nagisa's routine days take a nosedive into a sea of peculiarity. It's a dark, character-driven tale of two contrasting personalities who fall down the rabbit hole into a world of cruelty.
The story begins with the ending, and thus immediately sets the tone for the introspective narration that follows. Even though Nagisa portrays herself as a stern realist with a blasé attitude, her bafflement at Mokuzu's eccentricity and persistent friendliness is almost tangible. The simplicity and innocence in the interaction between the two protagonists helps to lighten the uneasiness that keeps pace with the storytelling, but only just. The storytelling is gripping, even with the weak plot development, taking time to familiarise the characters and add layers to their depth. Even the side characters with limited screen-time add an element of enigmatic perceptiveness to the story, the author managing to reflect significant social messages through their roles. The dialogue, especially, is a brilliant collection of insight, depth, and ingenuity.
The ending is the highlight of the novel. Near the end, the pace picks up, and the plot is swiftly wrapped in a flurry of events. Even so, the impact that each event leaves not only intensifies the feeling of apprehension that had stayed with the reader from the very beginning, but also sets off alarm bells for the inevitable. It is heart-rending to face that alongside the characters that the readers got to bond with so closely through the expressive, detailed writing.
This novel contains elements that may not be for the faint of heart. But it is an emotionally engaging read that leaves the mind wondering after it's over. It's an honest, gritty novel that reflects a piece of the dark reality that we live in and I would highly recommend it to anyone willing to take on a tear-jerker.