Return From Death is an unfortunate novel.
A light novel by Matsuhana Eiko, Return From Death: I Kicked the Bucket and Now I’m Back at Square One With a Boyfriend Who Doesn’t Remember Me is about Oriana Elsha, a thirteen year old girl who remembers being a seventeen year old girl who died after finding her boyfriend’s corpse and is somehow back in her younger body. Unfortunately for her, Vincent Tanzine doesn’t remember being seventeen, dating her, or dying mysteriously, which makes her attempts to cling to him at every possible opportunity under the excuse of keeping him alive a little awkward.
And awkward really is the best way to describe Return From Death. It’s not that it’s bad, exactly – although to be clear, it certainly isn’t good – so much as it is that the writing is painfully reminiscent of a teenager’s first attempt at writing a romance story. Despite the author’s note’s claim that the story is about romantic and friendly relationships, there’s never a scene that doesn’t involve romantic drama. It outweighs even Orianna’s attempts to figure out how to keep Vincent from dying. an issue that’s exacerbated by the fact there’s a three year time skip between the first and second chapters, and a six year blank before the book even starts, which is when Orianna was doing the bulk of her investigations. We get chunks of exposition dumped on us in place of proper world-building, and for all the setting is supposed to be a magic school it could have been literally any kind of boarding school environment. Aside from lighting a lantern, no one in the main cast ever actually does magic, and while we eventually discover the cause of Vincent’s death, it’s not actually magic-based at all.
Return From Death’s focus is very much on Orianna and Vincent’s relationship, which would be fine if the author was able to build it up competently. There’s a lot of compelling drama that time travel can bring into a plot, a lot of struggles introduced to a relationship where one partner knows more than the other, but the reason it typically works is because we’re usually given a solid idea of what those worlds and relationships were like to begin with. We don’t really get a good idea of what Orianna and Vincent had before they both died, in part because we only get to hear about it from Orianna’s romanticized viewpoint, and in part because they only knew each other for three months before that.
Their relationship in the actual timeline we get to follow is a mess of misunderstandings, refusal to communicate, and a desperate need to avoid vulnerability in front of one another. While none of those are deal-breaking issues on their own, and Orianna and Vincent do actually put some work into the first two after a brief break-up halfway through the book, the last is a brilliant and realistic problem that is never actually addressed and only serves to frustrate me, personally, every time it comes up – especially in an excruciating scene near the end of the book where Orianna, being the impossibly naive and innocent MC she is, accidentally sexually assaults Vincent because she didn’t realize that thing she was trying to grab wasn’t actually his wand, and Vincent was too embarrassed to correct her.
All that being said, there are a couple things I did actually like about this novel.
One is the ending, and the other is that it isn’t really worth getting annoyed about.
Yes, I know I just spent five hundred words talking about it, but honestly, it’s just kind of… typical. A flavorless MC falls in love with a tsundere. I’ve played that game. I’ve played several flavors of that game, in fact. It’s a pretty standard option in most dating sims. Even the added wrinkle of having to save the tsundere from dying isn’t all that exceptional. It’s got some flaws, and some moments of unbearable awkwardness, but for the most part it’s pretty mind-numbing.
Until the very end.
No spoilers, because if you want to read it yourself it’s honestly worth waiting for, and if you don’t it’s not worth buying the book to read the ending, but I really liked the cliffhanger this first volume ends on. It’s set up well enough that it doesn’t come out of left field, but it’s also not so foreshadowed that the tension of the last chapter gives way to tedium. Honestly, I’m a little split on whether or not the ending being good is actually a good thing, because the rest of the novel definitely doesn’t live up to it, but despite that I am definitely going to buy the next volume if it’s ever released. It was a good cliffhanger. I hope the rest of the story is worthy of it.