Curious about a local urban legend, narrator Tomoya, Aio, and Ryu visit an abandoned airbase to see if the Summer Ghost, the ghost of a young woman, can indeed be summoned with fireworks. Their curiosity is natural. After all, all plan to kill themselves and might well become ghosts themselves.
Aio is mercilessly bullied at school; neither the authorities nor her parents care to intervene. Ryo is terminally ill and the final stages of his illness promise to be unpleasant indeed. Tomoya is crushed by ennui thanks to his domineering mother’s relentless campaign to force Tomaya to be a top STEM student, rather than the artist he wants to be. Seeing no other solutions to their problems, all are convinced suicide is the only way out.
To their enormous surprise, the ritual works as advertised. The shade of a young woman manifests. Although she is taken aback when she learns more about the bond the trio share, the Summer Ghost is perfectly happy to converse with the three teens. The trio becomes a quartet, at least for the duration of ghost season in Japan1.
The Summer Ghost’s real name is Ayane. The teens easily establish that she vanished during a storm three years before. Ayane is able to fill in the details the official records omit: fleeing an argument with her mother, she fled into the storm and was run over. Too weak to speak or move, she was then stuffed into a suitcase and buried alive by the driver, who was undoubtedly under the impression that Ayane was already dead.
Although she regrets having died without mending fences with her mother, Ayane is a well-adjusted ghost. This is fortunate for her new friends, as her abilities include being able to yank people’s spirits out of their bodies. Rather than exploit this ability to terrorize the teens, Ayane uses her ability for entertainment. Spectral adventures are a pleasant way to while away their final summer.
Ayane’s lonely grave is sad to think about. The trio set out to find Ayane’s burying place. The task will not be easy; Ayane was only vaguely aware of her circumstances as she was dying and can give only vague directions. The teens are determined and do not relent.
Will Tomoya, Aio, and Ryu be just as resolute where suicide is concerned?
Fictional murderers are usually depicted as totally lacking in remorse. In this novel the killer, when revealed, proves to have been haunted by their actions2. It’s almost as though the average person isn’t a homicidal sociopath3, as inconvenient as that is for authors.
The novel is considerably more upbeat than one might expect from a story about a friendship between three suicidally depressed teenagers and a murdered girl. Thus, I’m calling this a ghost story, not a horror story. Terrible events transpire but nobody on stage is trying to make them worse4.
Summer Ghost began as an animated film, which I have not seen, and was adapted to a manga, which I have not read. This light novel is the novelization of the film. Otsiuchi (pen name for Hirotaka Adachi) has written a related light novel, Yūna Ichinose Is Floating, which I will have to track down at some point5. Otsiuchi is just one of the authors whose work I enjoyed when I was working my way through Haikasoru’s backlist and I will be happy to read more of his works.
1: Summer is ghost season. The kids wonder if this is because supernatural forces only allow ghosts to manifest in summer or if this is simply a cultural artifact. If everyone believes that ghosts only manifest in summer, perhaps that belief is the reason. But this is Japan. Would ghosts behave differently in Mexico, which has a different a ghost season? The teens lack the resources to research this properly.
2: Presumably the autopsy will reveal to her killer that Ayane was still alive when he buried her. Turn the guilt dial to 11!
3: High school bullies being a possible exception to the generalization that most people aren’t sociopaths.
4: Tomoya’s mother would argue she is only crushing his spirit because he is a stupid teenager who will make bad decisions unless she micromanages his life for him.
5: Otsiuchi also helmed an animated SF series, Exception, which will be easy to track down because it is on Netflix.