Reviewby Theron Martin,
SCP Foundation: Iris of the Mirror World
A perfectly ordinary Japanese high school boy was having a decidedly un-ordinary experience: in any book he opened, he found a picture of the same blond girl, holding a Polaroid camera. When an occult-enthusiast senior started questioning him about it, he suddenly found himself dragged into the world in the photo. After being promptly knocked unconscious, he awakens to discover that he is in a vast underground facility in the States belonging to the SCP Foundation, a secret organization dedicated to Securing, Containing, and Protecting unfathomable objects – or in some cases protecting ordinary people from those objects. The young man soon discovers that the girl in question is there, her name is Iris, and both of them are considered SCP objects themselves, as she is able to watch photos like real-time videos and manipulate things within them and he is able to actually fully pass into the photos. Thus begins his experiences with a wide variety of SCP objects ranging from the strange but harmless or even helpful (like the Never-Ending Pizza Box) to the horrifyingly dangerous (like the Carnival of Horrors).
A lot of light novels are either directly derivative of, or at least borrow ideas from, other works in either the same medium or related ones. However, I'm not sure that I have ever previously come across a light novel with a pedigree like this one's. It is based on a collaborative fiction project that is essentially an update on, and variation of, shared-world anthologies, in this case all web-based and open to innumerable contributors rather than select writers. The uniting theme here is a fictional “Men in Black”-type group called the SCP Organization. Contributors post specifically-styled reports about “SCP Objects” with names in the format SCP-xxx and commonly accompanied by a more colorful name, like Josie the Half-Cat. These are objects (which can include people and animals) that the SCP Foundation has supposedly encountered and/or secured and/or neutralized and are typically accompanied by mini-stories or other “documentation” like interviews; the specifics can be found here, and I highly recommend perusing the site after reading the novel. Author Akira (Kyōran Kazoku Nikki, [email protected]) has taken 15 of the entries on that site and united them into a single narrative done from the perspective of a single protagonist, who is himself an SCP object.
One common feature of SCP Foundation material is redacted names. Akira has used that gimmick to obscure all mention of the protagonist's name or the name of the occult-fanatic senpai he interacts with early on. Though the entire novel is from his viewpoint, the reader also never actually reads anything he directly says; all of his words are either paraphrased or can be construed from the context of his thoughts and how others respond to him. Visuals of him in the included artwork also never fully show his face. This is an odd effect which raises questions about why his identity is kept most secret of all, but it also feels in line with the whole “secret organization” theme and, along with the emphasis on him being very average besides his ability, allows him to remain a nebulous protagonist – perfect for uniting disparate story elements. The girl, on the other hand, readers do get properly introduced to: she's Iris, aka SCP-105, and she has her own entry on the SCP Foundation web site. Suspiciously appropriate name aside, she is the protagonist's guide and companion through most of the scenarios he encounters, as well as a possible love interest, though not much firmly develops on that last front by the end of the novel. The one other recurring character is the researcher Dr. Bright, whom the protagonist and Iris reluctantly deal with on a regular basis.
The story is broken down into case files which effectively serve as chapters and each focus on a particular SCP object taken from the original web site. The presences of a few other SCP objects are interwoven in amongst the running narrative of the main entries (such as SCP-963 Immortality, SCP-076 Able, and SCP-500 Panacea), with the writing sometimes being evasive about details; what, exactly, the harmless SCP-1048 Builder Bear did to cause a crisis is deliberately left as a story for another time even as it gets referred to, for instance. Details about others are also left vague, though some of this can be looked up on the web site; why Iris is permanently separated from her family is one example. These events take place over the course of several months as the protagonist navigates the ups and downs of life in the facility. The storytelling also doesn't neglect to explore the protagonist's own rather interesting ability to enter pictures and view the location and events depicted there, including the possibilities on whether or not he can influence history by doing so.
The writing style suggests that the novel may not have originally been written as a unified piece, as there is significant redundancy in the details; for instance, on several occasions the protagonist makes a point of mentioning that he's not good at estimating the ages of Westerners. Different segments can range in tone from being silly to being horror-grade, with the only consistent sentiment being that there's a lot of weird stuff out there and its existence just has to be accepted. The story simply isn't interested in delving too deeply into the “why” or “how” about how a cat can walk around normally despite literally missing half its body or a soup bowl can generate sentimental soup and messages. Then there's the case of Dr. Bright, who can do a form of body-hopping; since the doctor can appear in multiple different bodies, original gender is uncertain and current gender is always relative to their host. (The web site entry for SCP-963 indicates that Dr. Bright was originally male.)
The presentation of the novel also retains many stylistic elements suggestive of being assembled from classified documents. Scattered throughout its 340 pages are various reminders about how these documents are all confidential and the consequences of perusing them, even including one on the front cover. Also present are a handful of black-and-white illustrations to accompany the color illustrations at the front; some of the details in these and the SCP Foundation logo used throughout are also credited to the website.
As writing or storytelling quality goes, SCP Foundation: Iris Through the Looking Glass doesn't accomplish anything special. Its strength is in its relatively smooth melding together of a lot of strange stuff and one substantial (yet also sensical) twist towards the end, and it works well enough as an “explore the strange stuff” title with a bit of typical anime/manga/light novel styling thrown in.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Lots of weird stuff to revel in, its gimmickry works well to reinforce overall style
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