The Fall 2017 Light Novel Guideby The Fall 2017 Manga Guide Team,
Light novel publication in English is far from slowing down, and with new players like Book Walker jumping in, there are more genres than ever available for your delectation. Of course, there's still a healthy (?) amount of isekai stories being brought over, but even those are starting to show some variety, with people being reincarnated in other worlds as slimes, spiders, you name it! It's nice to see these changes, not only because more variety is always good, but because it also opens the doors to new readers, always essential for maintaining a growing market.
Like last time, we're covering the light novels differently than the manga, with just one person per book, since they do take longer to read. Again, we'll only be specifically reviewing volume ones where review copies were available, but there's more good stuff coming out than is mentioned here: J-Novel Club has the first Outbreak Company novel, Viz has NisiOisiN's Juni Taisen: The Zodiac War (look for our full-length review next week!), the first major new plot in Log Horizon is happening with YenOn's release of volume nine, and there's more Goblin Slayer, which is always a good thing. There are also new volumes of The Rising of the Shield Hero and Magical Girl Raising Project, so keep your eyes peeled!
The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria volume 1, by Eiji Mikage. YenOn, $14
The one-day-lived-over-and-over-again style narrative came into prominence with the film Groundhog Day, but it's actually been around for longer than that. Recently it's risen to popularity within western young adult novels, and now with Eiji Mikage's mystery/science fiction hybrid, it creeps into the light novel as well. The story follows Kazuki Hoshino and his seemingly normal life until he realizes that he's been living March 2nd over and over again for thousands of days. This aberration is caused by a “box” – a wish granted to people at the whim of a god, who enjoys seeing what single thing humans will desire. Eiji at first seems to be the only person who remembers each (or at least most) iterations of March 2nd until he realizes that Aya Otonashi is not an ordinary transfer student. Together they must figure out whose wish they're trapped in and how to break free of it for good. The novel reads like a sinister combination of the basic trope and a murder mystery, and with each new version of March 2nd, we and Kazuki learn just a little bit more. While it isn't impossible to figure out who has the “box,” it is sufficiently tricky, and the overarching storyline of the god who gives them out and sits back to watch humans hang themselves with the rope he's given them is fascinating. The novel gives new meaning to “be careful what you wish for,” and if you've been enjoying the Rokka: Braves of Six Flowers books, this is definitely worth checking out.
I Became the Secretary of a Hero! Volume 1, by Tsukasa Yamazaki, Cross Infinite World, $8.99
One of the rare English-language light novels to feature a female main character (although that looks to be changing), I Became the Secretary of a Hero is probably one of the most delightful books to come out in this two-month span. Following her younger sister Naho, who has been “kidnapped” by the Demon Lord, paralegal Aki jumps through a rift in the world and finds herself the anointed “summoned helper” of the enemy of the man who stole her sister: the Hero Elias. But Aki's summoning hasn't actually given her any particularly special new powers; basically her office skills have just been magically enhanced. Her real gift is seeing Elias as a person rather than as a Hero, giving him the emotional support he's been craving for his entire life. Thus begins a story that's equal parts adorable romance and isekai adventure…from the point of view of someone who really isn't supposed to be the heroine. Naho's the beautiful one who made the childhood promise with the handsome man he later came back to fulfill, the one with the immense magical powers. Aki's just her perfectly ordinary office-working sister, and having the story with her as the focus gives this just enough of an edge to make it stand out from the genre herd. It's unfortunately only available as an ebook, but with Cross Infinite World's usual smooth-reading translation and one of the cutest romances in a light novel to date, this is worth it, even if you're not usually an e-reader.
Your name.: Another Side – Earthbound by Arata Kanoh, YenOn, $20.00
If there was a book I didn't think needed a sequel, it was Makoto Shinkai's your name. That didn't stop them, though, and while this lacks the power of the original, it's still a decent enough book. A collection of four stories from the perspectives of, in order, Taki, Teshigawara, Yotsuha, and Mitsuha's dad, the book seeks to explain how each of these characters experienced the events of the original film/novel while giving them some important background information. The final story is the strongest, but on the whole, this really doesn't add a whole lot to the original, and while Kanoh is a decent author, he isn't quite up to the level of the first novel's prose. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that this reads like a cash-grab, it certainly isn't as good as the first book, which was aided by the idea of connection and seemingly impossible things. This story is, as the title implies, very much bound to the realities of Earth, and that just doesn't have the same impact that made the original your name so striking. If you really want to read about Taki struggling with bras or know how Mitsuha's parents met and eventually separated, it may be worth reading. Otherwise, this is inferior enough to its original that it can't help but disappoint.
The Ryuo's Work is Never Done! by Shirow Shiratori, Book Walker, $7.31
Is this the first loli novel to come out in English? I'm not willing to say that as an absolute, but it will doubtless make waves simply for that. The story follows professional shogi player Yaichi Kuzuryu, who at sixteen is something of a shogi prodigy. He's decided to skip out on high school in order to devote himself to the game, and he's just become the youngest player ever to win the title of “Ryuo,” something of which he's justifiably proud. He's also in a bit of a slump, though, so it may not be a title he holds on to for long. Enter third-grader Ai Hinatsuru, who saw Yaichi's winning Ryuo match, and has run away from home in order to become his official shogi apprentice. Yaichi's not comfortable with this, nor does he want an apprentice, but somehow Ai's so good at the game and so endearing that he finds himself agreeing (i.e. roped in) to taking her on. This naturally opens the door to more adorable little girls learning shogi from him, making him a target for his childhood friend/fellow shogi player Ginko, who is unreasonably jealous of his relationship with underage girls. So yeah, if you're uncomfortable with loli stories, this is not going to be the book for you – Yaichi definitely feels some attraction to the girls, and the story goes out of its way to throw them into compromising situations. For all that, though, the loli elements feel really shoehorned in; it's like Shiratori wanted to write a shogi story but someone told him that just that wouldn't fly, so he added little girls to make it more appealing. This shows in the writing – when Shiratori's discussing shogi and Yaichi's love of it, the book really flows; when he's talking about naked little girls or how Yaichi feels about them, much less so. It's kind of too bad, because it really takes away from the overall story and Ai's and Yaichi's mutual love of the game, which really would have worked on its own, and it also makes Ginko less of a character in her own right, reducing her to a Jealous Girl stereotype. You can also feel the author's lack of investment in the loli elements, which is an issue as well. That said, this isn't necessarily a bad book – it just isn't as good as it could be, no matter if you're reading it for the girls, the shogi, or just because it's a light novel that isn't about high school or isekai. That makes it disappointing on all fronts.
Re: Zero Ex: The Dream of the Lion King by Tappei Nagatsuki, YenOn, $14
If you've been following Tappei Nagatsuki's main series, in either anime or novel form, you'll know that one of the royal candidates, Crusch Karsten, wants to do away with the dragonfriend pact that has made Lugunica what it is as a kingdom. But did you ever wonder why? If you have, this is the short story collection for you – Nagatsuki covers the pasts of Crusch and Ferris, her cat-person knight, and explains what made them into the people they are in the main series. It should be no surprise that this involves the extinct royal family of the kingdom; Crusch is a duchess, after all, which puts her among the highest ranking members of the nobility. That's where this book really both succeeds and crushes your heart: a large part of both Crusch and Ferris’ pasts are tied to the deceased prince of Lugunica in ways that are truly heartbreaking. The boy who should have been king to Crusch's queen plays a central role in her life and in her formation of her philosophy when she becomes a candidate to rule, and even thinking about how she ought not even to have to fight for the position she's currently in given her mutual feelings for the prince is frankly more than a little depressing. But what's most important here is that Nagatsuki builds a believable backstory for his characters, reinforcing what we've seen in the main series by excavating the character to her foundation. It's sad, but it's worthwhile, even if you know from the start that there's no way that Crusch's story is going to have a traditional happy ending.
So I'm a Spider, So What? Volume 1 by Okina Baba, YenOn, $14
We've had people reincarnated as heroes, royalty, goblins, and even slimes. So why not a spider? That's what happens to our (so far) nameless heroine when her entire high school class is wiped out by a freak inter-world accident. Although the entire class is reincarnated in this new world and we see them starting to find each other in chapters between the main character's narrative, she's all by herself in a giant labyrinth…and she's a spider. Well, a spider monster if you want to be precise. From the moment she hatches, the poor girl is on the run for her own survival, trying to figure out not only what on earth happened, but how she can make it through and hopefully out of the monster-infested depths she finds herself in. The catch? She doesn't see herself as a "monster", she's just a spider with some awesome powers and skills. That's definitely going to be important later, because her species is one that's considered dangerous if they manage to evolve, which is what she's actively engaged in doing for her own survival. And that survival's pretty fun to read about – Okina Baba does a good job with the spider's eye(s) view of the world, and watching our heroine learn how to make the best of her situation is surprisingly fun. That she was unhappy as a human certainly helps, and while we only have bits and pieces of her backstory, there's enough there to figure out that being a spider is actually a step up in terms of satisfaction for her, which is its own kind of sad. That she was shunned by her classmates adds another dimension to her new state, and given that the reincarnated teacher is actively looking for her former students, this may make things particularly interesting if they manage to find her. Add to this the fact that Tsukasa Kiryu's illustrations of our eight-legged heroine are also surprisingly adorable, making her the cutest spider outside a Miyazaki film, and this is a really fun book. It's just far enough off the beaten path to stand out, and its sense of whimsy and use of its setting and characters works. Even if you're sick of reincarnation novels, this one is worth your time – unless you're afraid of spiders, in which case, there's enough spider information/behavior that I'd recommend staying far away.
Record of Lodoss War: The Grey Witch by Ryo Mizuno, Seven Seas, $27.99
Before you start gasping at that price tag, I will say that this is a hardcover release of the deluxe edition, with a color art gallery. It's still expensive, but if you're among those of us who have been dreaming of reading this 1989 novel since the OVAs came out in the 1990s, it really might be worth it. The story, the first in Mizuno's role-playing game-style fantasy (also known as “swords and sorcery”), is the whole battle against Karla in the first body our heroes are aware of her using – that of Priestess of Marfa Neece's daughter. While the plot will be familiar to many, the characters are a little different from their anime versions, namely they feel more developed. From Woodchuck's resentment of his past to Parn's insane devotion to his father's duty, everyone simply feels more well-rounded than in the show. It would have been disappointing if they didn't frankly, because there's a lot more space here for development, and while Mizuno is still clearly feeling out some of the world-building and character aspects, he does make sure that everyone has a clear motive for their actions. Etoh, the priest, is probably the least rounded character, followed by Deedlit the elf, but both do still contribute significantly to the story. (Although I do get the impression that Mizuno would have liked to write Etoh out at a few points.) Essentially this reads like an old Forgotten Realms or Dungeons and Dragons series book – fight scenes are the clear highlights, magic systems are painstakingly outlined, and characters move through a world as if the dice were being rolled. That's not actually a problem if you're familiar with old-school sword and sorcery fantasy, but it is a subgenre that's largely fallen out of favor in contemporary publishing. That makes this book's most likely audience those already familiar with the story and characters, although I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys a fantasy adventure. It isn't perfect, but it certainly is what we've been waiting for.
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