Light Novel Review: The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria [Volume 3]

Forewarning: The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria has been licensed by Yen Press. Please support the official release once it comes out.

The Game of Idleness-

Kazuki Hoshino and Maria Otonashi are transported to an unknown space along with four other individuals to partake in Kingdom Royale. Each individual has particular traits that will help them survive in this game of deception.

“Let’s start this meaningless game of death.”


Volume 3 of HakoMari is the first part of the Game of Idleness arc. The premise creates the setting for our characters in which they try to avoid killing each other to try to get out of the box,  only to fail with the deaths of each character. As the game is taking place, we get to see the unique personalities of each character and how they behave in order to survive.

I’m going to mention briefly the beginning portion of this volume since the content there is irrelevant to the actual plot of this book. It’s the standard casual moment the cast has before the darker elements are introduced. However, this portion does drop some subtle hints about Kokone Kirino and Daiya Otomine’s relationship, and with Daiya’s importance to the overarching plot, these small details becomes increasingly important.


Immediately after the first chapter, the plot starts to kick in, introducing the participants and the rules of the death game. Kingdom Royale can be described similarly to party games like Mafia or Werewolf, where hostiles choose a person to “kill” during the “night” phase while everyone else (hostiles included) try to figure out who killed that person during the “day” phase. HakoMari takes this idea and amplifies the psychological aspect of it through the concept of “murdering others to survive.” It’s a simple premise that fits the tone of HakoMari but its true purpose is the showcase the actions and behaviors of characters in this game.


Daiya Otomine has made a couple of appearances as a background friend in Kazuki’s group, but this is the first time he serves as important character. We have seen Daiya in the previous volumes fighting with Kokone or helping Kazuki. However, HakoMari hasn’t dismissed his sharp wits and calculating nature. So when Daiya is actively participating in the Game of Idleness, Kazuki becomes very vigilant of his actions. Daiya adds another level of mystery and interest to HakoMari as his actions and words can be very obscure as to not let anyone know what’s on his mind, having multiple layers of ulterior motives and plans underneath


One of the newer characters introduced in this volume is Iroha Shindou. Iroha is the student council president and her abilities range from superior intellect to physical capabilities to her absolute willpower. She resembles Maria a bit in terms of her unwavering attitude, but unlike Maria who puts others before herself, Iroha is steadfast and will not yield to others for the sake of her goal. The only thing that connects her human side from her seemingly flawless persona is her relation with Yuuri Yanagi. Like Kazuki’s relationship with Maria, Iroha has a very similar bond with Yuuri and that relationship becomes a key element in this death game.


Yuuri Yanagi has one hell of an impact on the game. Her charm and her innocence prompts the other players, especially Kazuki, to protect her and this allows her to have equal standing with Iroha and Daiya. Her “arc” is the centerpiece of this volume; revealing secret personalities in characters, adding crucial details to this “box” and, most importantly, causing changes within Kazuki. Sure, it may appear that everything is going fine in the chapter but once the plot reminds you that this is a game of lies and deceit, it’s already too late for the characters.

Koudai Kamiuchi is also a force to be feared in the Game of Idleness. His two-faced nature is a constant reminder that this game is all about deception, and how he keeps our characters on alert works to fulfill that purpose. Unfortunately, his personality and how Kazuki describes him makes it very obvious to the readers that he serves a big role in this game. While HakoMari doesn’t focus on the reveal of the culprit as a large shock factor, the series makes the timing of twists inconsistent from time to time.


In this volume, we start to see Kazuki slowly change as he redefines what his goals are, after remembering some old wounds. At first, he goes to Maria for help but once he realizes that Maria is completely useless in this box that revolves around killing, his mindset changes as he has to be the one to protect her this time. After rediscovering his origins about his infatuation for his everyday life and what it truly means to him, the main issue now becomes how far does Kazuki have to go to in order to prevent Maria’s death and how he plans to deal with this box without killing anyone. These contradicting statements and his origin story are the focal points for Kazuki’s character development and the answers to those questions becomes the attracting point for the next volume.

I didn’t understand this ‘Game of Idleness’. Even the thought of it having no meaning at all went through my head.

But even if this ‘box’ has no meaning – so what? Does the everyday life I’m going to return to have a meaning?

This everyday life that only has the purpose of forgetting her?

I don’t know. I don’t know, but—

—I felt the taste of someone’s tears in my dry mouth.

The artstyle for the illustrations have changed from the rough linework in the last volume. The characters are more defined in their facial structure and few details are added. It’s all about the character profiles as each black and white illustration doesn’t change except for the picture above the “Game Start” text.


Volume 3 of HakoMari creates the stage for a character-driven story. We get to see each individual’s true personality when faced with death and how each person reacts to this game of deception. While the novel ends with a large cliffhanger, it sets up Kazuki’s goal and determination for the next volume, having his mentality changed from the events in this box.

Rating: Highly Recommended

Author: Eiji Mikage

Illustrator: Tetsuo (415)

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2 Responses to Light Novel Review: The Empty Box and the Zeroth Maria [Volume 3]

  1. Leap250 says:

    Kingdom Royale is arguably one of, if not the best arcs in Hakomari. The colorful and intriguing cast of characters aside, volume 3, as you mentioned, is where Kazuki’s motivations begin to take shape – wherein his then-honest attachment to the “everyday life” prior to the events of Rejecting Classroom, now steadily has Maria in the center of it all. .


    • I mention more of this in the review of Volume 4, but the way he acts to achieve his goal after realizing his true motivatations is what makes Kingdom Royale a very good arc. While it’s not my favorite arc out of HakoMari, it’s pretty up there.


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