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Literature / A Simple Survey

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A number of students at a university sign up for a strange activity. They're a motley group: some are there because they're short on credits, others have gotten into trouble and need it to be overlooked. A professor walks in and explains that the activity is nothing more than a simple survey: he'll show them a series of 24 short films, and the students have to rank them in order of preference. The only condition is that none of the films can have the same rank.

But it turns out that the short films have practically nothing in common, covering almost every topic imaginable: computer viruses, ninjas, fairies, time travel, demons, Santa Claus... At the end of it all, the students find themselves completely baffled by the survey. And when they try to find out more, it only gets stranger...

A Simple Survey is a light novel series by Kazuma Kamachi, comprising two volumes: A Simple Survey (2012) and A Simple Monitoring (2013). A Simple Survey mainly consists of 24 short films (as mentioned above), called "Files". A Simple Monitoring similarly begins with 10 videos called "Attractions". The series was originally started as a means of using up ideas that couldn't be included in one of his normal series. However, it also contains a story arc of its own, centering around the concept of the 'absurd'.


Tropes found in this series:

  • Abandoned Mine: The setting of Attraction 08 is an island with one of these.
  • Alice Allusion: A recurring figure in A Simple Survey is a strange girl in white, called Alice. A Simple Monitoring reveals that she is a powerful Reality Warper, who the villains of the book try to control.
  • An Aesop: Several of the Files end in one of these.
  • Ambiguous Situation: All over the place. For example, File 13 features a devil who claims that hell is really a nice place , and encourages the viewpoint character to visit. An angel interjects and claims that it's all a lie. It's left up in the air as to which one is telling the truth.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Alice is the personification of the absurd. Should the absurd ever be defined, she will die and be replaced by one even more absurd.
  • Artistic License Biology: The story of Attraction 05 is based on the old myth that a defibrillator can restart a stopped heart. Admittedly, it doesn't actually succeed in doing so here, but one of the story's characters (a nurse) claims that it could work.
  • Beyond the Impossible: Discussed in A Simple Monitoring. Creating a situation so absurd that it summons Alice is near impossible, and even then once that has been accomplished Alice will simply change to become even more absurd.
  • Born Lucky: The powers of the Unbeatable Emperor and the Ever-Victorious Challenger ensure that their possessors always succeed in everything they attempt. When the two possessors collide, neither is able to harm the other.
  • Bottomless Magazines: Averted. All guns in the series have a specific (usually low) amount of ammunition, and its scarcity is usually a plot point.
  • Chainmail Bikini: The hero in File 16 only has a skirt on her lower half, leaving her legs unprotected. Fitting the tone of the story, she actually complains about this, mentioning that her legs get scratched whenever she walks through rough terrain.
  • Chain of Deals: An accidental example is mentioned in File 17. The protagonist had dropped a 100 yen coin, which was eventually used by someone else to bet on a horse race, receiving a payout 100 times the original value. The resulting money grew even more after being used for pachinko, but it was stolen by a robber. Then a bystander interrupted the robber, causing the case with the money to fall down a slope. It was eventually used by yet another person in day trading, creating a large fortune. Half of said fortune was donated to poor children in an unspecified country, which somehow led to oil being discovered there. In the end, 100 yen managed to completely lift an entire country out of poverty.
  • Compound-Interest Time Travel Gambit: File 08 features a variant in "time lodes" where the past is modified to prevent the waste of resources in the past. The preserved resources can then be harvested in the future which desperately needs them.
  • Crazy-Prepared: The Ab. Busters in and the organization behind the Attractions both show ridiculous levels of preparation, accurately predicting the actions of participants and setting up traps or challenges well in advance.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: File 19 is about different types of heroes that each specialize in fighting one type of threat. Just as police are meant to apprehend criminals, magical girls take on mystical beasts, bike riders handle mystery villains, heroes in Combining Mecha fight giant demons, and salarymen deal with economic issues.
  • Darker and Edgier: A Simple Monitoring is a clear example of this. While the short films in A Simple Survey are simply bizarre, the attractions in the sequel are entirely serious and all contain at least one death.
  • Didn't See That Coming: The organizer had planned out a perfect sequence to create a scenario so absurd she would gain the power of the Unbeatable Emperor. But even she was not prepared for her last victim to become the Ever-Victorious Challenger, the only being that can counter her.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: At the end of the novel, Higashikawa gains the power of the Ever-Victorious Challenger, which effectively makes him guaranteed to succeed at everything.
  • Exact Words: The bunny girl states during the Prisoner's Dilemma attraction that if the players choose different colors between red and black, "only those who chose black will be killed". When all ten players reveal a black card, she reveals Higashikawa's card was actually a shade of brown so dark that a human would think it was black. Because he chose a color that was not black, the other nine players are sentenced to die.
  • Flower Motifs: The premise of File 21 is that the protagonists have to assign a meaning to a new species of 'flower'; an alien Man-Eating Plant. The task is complicated by the fact that the plant is sentient, capable of understanding human language, and reacts to any meanings that it doesn't like by attempting to eat the offender. Eventually, they settle on "view me as I am".
  • Gamebooks: The reader's own ranking of the films in A Simple Survey affects which one of four endings they can follow.
  • Gentleman Thief: The premise of File 12 is Santa (one of many Santas, that is) being one of these, in order to break into a high-security mansion so he can give a present to the daughter of a man who hates Santa.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The organization behind the Attractions is attempting to summon and control Alice. While they succeed, Alice is replaced with an even more absurd Alice and the organization is killed in an absurd manner.
  • Guile Hero: The protagonists don't have any form of supernatural powers (except Higashikawa, at the end), nor do they have any effective weapons. As a result, they have to rely on their wits.
  • A Hell of a Time: In File 13, humans develop the means to spy on hell and discover that it's a beautiful beach resort. The demoness Ashtart claims demons are too lazy and contrary by nature to follow their assigned role of punishing the wicked and so made hell pleasant, even noting it might be slightly better than heaven. Gabriel pops in at the end to warn that it's just an illusion meant to lure humans to hell.
  • History Repeats: File 08 has the future civilization using "time lodes" to prevent the waste of critical resources in the past in order to prevent societal collapse. However the ability to use time lodes is limited and the future wasted its capacity, squandering the last critical resource they had.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: In File 24, it's noted that humans are the greatest threat to the stability of the food chain, due to the strength of their desires. At the end, the common folk have started scattering food for trolls, causing their population to grow even more, just so that they can harvest more of their valuable products.
  • Invisibility Cloak: A shinobi clan in one File develops an invisibility cloak which is used by a kunoichi to infiltrate an enemy compound. Unfortunately for her, sunlight causes it to break down and turn transparent. More unfortunately, she wasn't wearing anything under the cloak.
  • It Only Works Once:
    • In File 08 "time lodes" only allow one modification at a given point in history; if your change doesn't have the outcome you desired, there's no second chance.
    • Attempting to control the absurd may succeed in summoning it, but the absurd will simply redefine itself into something even more absurd.
  • Job-Stealing Robot: File 23 features a world in which various forms of technology have displaced the need for humans to have actual skills, making it very difficult to find a job. Knowing multiple languages is pointless when there are common translation apps that can easily handle 20 languages, and strength is unneeded when Powered Armor is used for any manual labor. Even works of art are now being made by A.I.s. It's suggested that social skills are the only ones still valuable... but it's also mentioned that, eventually, there could be apps for those too.
  • Just Think of the Potential!: The organization behind the Attractions intends to take control of the world after capturing Alice, pointing to the boundless potential of the absurd to improve the world.
  • Karma Houdini: Quite a few of the viewpoint characters in the Attractions have committed some crime or another. Those that manage to win their Attraction obviously fall into this trope.
  • Karmic Jackpot: The premise of File 17 is that, due to the Karma Equilibrium Law being passed, anyone who has benefited society must receive an equal reward.
  • Lima Syndrome: In File 03, the interrogator Sagittarius comes to the conclusion that his colleague is actually working against him, and pulls a gun on him. Said colleague claims that Sagittarius has fallen victim to this syndrome, but it's unclear whether or not this is the case.
  • Loophole Abuse: The Attractions are often completed in this way:
    • Attraction 02: There are five hiders and five seekers. The seekers win if they find all the hiders in 30 minutes, the hiders win if even one of them is still hidden by the end. But the rules say nothing about all the hiders having to remain alive. The narrator kills another hider and leaves her body in a tank of water, where no one would think of looking.
    • Attraction 03: Five people are each given a gun with one bullet, and the last person standing wins. There's no need to actually kill all of the other competitors to win. The eventual winner accomplishes this by pretending to accidentally shoot himself in the eye (replacing the bullet with a blank beforehand) and letting the others kill each other.
    • Attraction 06: Hit a home run with a ball shot by a pitching machine at 180 kph and get scouted by the leagues; fail and get your knee and elbow shattered. The organizers themselves used a loophole that they never specified the condition of the balls, which were doctored to be too soft to make the distance. The batter in turn hits the balls into the overhead dome's lights, which are much closer; per the rules of indoor play, a ball lodged in the lights counts as a home run.
  • Man-Eating Plant: One of these shows up in File 21, a present from mysterious aliens to the people of Earth. It's apparently sentient and capable of understanding human language.
  • Mind Screw: The series is remarkably hard to understand, even after multiple readings. Given the theme of the 'absurd', this is to be expected.
  • Moe Anthropomorphism: File 01 is about a computer virus designed as one of these, to discourage potential victims from trying to delete 'her'. Then a security program appears that has also been anthropomorphised, to counter such tactics.
  • Monster Organ Trafficking: The professor in File 24 dissects a troll with the aim of discovering some sort of use for them. This is because the troll population has increased to dangerous levels, and he wants to create an incentive for the peasants to hunt them. It's mentioned that he's succeeded in this before, having discovered that hellhound fangs make good materials for weapons and armor. Eventually, he discovers that the liver and stomach acid of trolls have various uses. But it doesn't go as planned. Instead of hunting the trolls, the peasants force them to vomit out the stomach acid and cut out bits of their liver (which regenerates). They even lay out food for the trolls, further increasing their population.
  • Multiple Endings: A Simple Survey asks the reader to rank their preferences for each File which in turn decides which of four endings they receive. The first ending is the most grounded, with each subsequent ending being more absurd.
  • Naked Apron: In the Aisu ending of A Simple Survey, Aisu is dressed in a slingshot bikini at her college. She and her Anzai head for the kitchen planning to grab her one of the cooking crew's track suits only to find nothing but an apron. And on the apron is a note that the bikini is coated in a harmless chemical that will cause the bikini to dissolve.
  • Older Than They Look: The elf princess in File 02 and the demon king in File 16 both look like little girls, but are actually 20,000 years old.
  • Organic Technology: A rather grotesque example in File 14, which is about technology that incorporates traits of human beings. Examples include: frying pans with artificial skin to measure heat (preventing food from being overcooked), ladles with lips to taste their contents, and cameras that use eyeballs to focus at long distances.
  • Our Demons Are Different: Ashtart, the demon featured in File 13, claims that demons aren't actually evil like they're generally portrayed. She explains that because they're too lazy to fulfill their divine mandate of punishing humans, hell is in fact closer to a beach resort than a place of eternal torture. However, the angel Gabriel claims that this is all a trick, to lure humans to hell.
  • Playboy Bunny: The representative of the Attraction organization is a young woman wearing a bunny outfit.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: The final Attraction faced by the party is to choose whether to show a red or black card. If everyone shows red, everyone dies; if everyone shows black, everyone lives; and if it's a mix, the people showing red survive. After Higashikawa tells everyone else to choose red while he chooses black everyone chooses black... except Higashikawa was actually a shade of extremely dark brown, meaning he alone is spared.
  • Red Herring: Attraction 07 involves a memory game where the narrator first has to memorize a video of animal silhouettes, then has to answer a series of entirely unrelated questions that make it hard to hold on to the memories. And it turns out that the video itself was a Red Herring; the final, deciding question is about the organiser's earring, and has nothing to do with anything in the video.
  • Scully Syndrome: In the Kozue ending of A Simple Survey, the various absurd beings of the Files start to appear all around the town. Anzai desperately refuses to believe they're real, coming up with increasingly strained explanations. When a Gundam starts walking down the street, Kozue suggests if he really wants to prove it's just cardboard or something he can let it step on him.
  • Smug Snake: The point of view character of Attraction 05 views himself as a born winner while everyone who isn't a winner like him is a perpetual loser to be preyed upon. In reality he's on the run from the yakuza after his aggressive approach lost them a massive amount of money and his disdain for his attraction partner gets them both killed.
  • Stockholm Syndrome: File 03 features an interrogator nicknamed Sagittarius, who specializes in using this to gain information from his targets. However, in that story, it's implied that he may have fallen victim to the reverse.
  • Time Travel: File 08 features a very limited form. The user of a time machine can't go back in time themselves, they can only influence objects in the past (creating an effect similar to a poltergeist). The main use of this is to alter the past so that fewer resources are consumed, causing the resources to suddenly appear in the present. However, time travelers are only able to affect certain time periods in history (known as "time lodes"), and can't interfere with the same time period more than once. As a result, time lodes have themselves become a limited resource. Additionally, overuse of time travel has made time itself less malleable, meaning that affecting the past is more difficult.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: A shinobi clan develops an Invisibility Cloak which works perfectly... unless exposed to ultraviolet radiation, i.e. sunlight, which turns it transparent.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Discussed in File 24. It's mentioned that monsters such as mermaids and elves are classified as protected, whereas trolls are considered no more than animals, purely due to the latter being ugly.

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