The Fall 2017 Manga Guide
So I'm A Spider, So What?
What's It About?
In the midst of a high school class discussion about transience, a pixilated nightmare descends upon the students, dissolving them, and an unnamed, introverted high school girl awakes in a dark, confining space. Pushing herself through a barrier, she discovers she's been reborn as a giant spider, one of many thousands of children birthed from an even larger, more terrifying mother spider creature. Before she can so much as begin to wrap her head around her new surroundings, she has to escape from her siblings’ and mother's cannibalistic tendencies, venturing down a cavern tunnel to follow what look to be human footsteps. Unable to bear her hunger, she eventually must learn to accept cannibalism and trap and kill other creatures for her own survival, realizing that, like in a video game, the more things she does, the higher her “level” becomes, granting her the strength, speed, and knowledge she'll need to survive in this bizarre place. When the humans she seeks turn out to be her enemies, the young “small lesser taratect” spider must venture further into the cave to uncover the mystery of her location and discover if she'll ever have the chance to return to her human existence.
So I'm a Spider, So What? Volume 1 (12/19/2017) features art by Asahiro Kakashi and is based on a light novel by Okina Baba with original character designs by Tsukasa Kiryu. Published by Yen Press, it will be available for $13 in paperback and $6.99 digitally.
Is It Worth Reading?
Amy McNultyRating: 4 Never in my life did I suppose I would be so fond of a story that's, in essence, a monster spider's soliloquy, but here we are. The unnamed spider is virtually the only character who speaks after the brief introductory scene in the Japanese high school classroom, and most of it is her thinking or speaking to herself, contemplating her bizarre situation and strangely adapting fairly well to it. Despite claiming to be an introverted student without friends or much family contact in her human life, she's a wildly interesting spider—though that's reflective of many introverted people. Left to themselves, they blossom, completely capable of entertaining themselves without feeling lonely, and boy, is this spider easily entertained by her new existence. The excitement she displays at the spider web home she weaves herself at one point is especially charming. If there's one weakness to the plot this far, it's the “leveling up” that constantly pervades the proceedings. While the series is clearly not intended to resemble anything like reality—it's definitely more of the fantasy type of world one might find in a classic RPG—the leveling up becomes borderline obnoxious throughout. It jolts the reader out of the moment again and again, though the spider's fondness for the Appraisal ability is rather humorous. Perhaps it works better in the original source material, but then again, it's difficult to imagine how well this story as a whole translates to the written word. With no character interaction to speak of and so much of the manga's humor relying on the adorable expressions the spider makes, a novel might read like an endless stream of rambling without the benefit of these amazing visuals.
Kakashi's art is the high point of this manga. The cartoonish spider—different than she appears in the light novel's illustrations, which are a touch more realistic—conveys an “ain't I a stinker?” expression throughout that makes her incredibly endearing. She's mightily expressive, too, conveying grit and determination on one page and smug self-satisfaction on the next. The visuals truly elevate this story from just the latest twist on the “transported to a fantasy world” genre to something truly unique on so many levels.
So I'm a Spider, So What? Volume 1 has many of the hallmarks of a light novel in its genre and manages to endear itself to the audience with its unexpectedly compelling plot and the strong singular character who carries the story—what story there is—with ease. It will appeal not only to “transported to another world” fans, but fans of comedy and cute character designs in general. Even the arachnophobe might enjoy this series because this spider is one of the most lovable characters to appear in the genre in recent memory.
If you can read only one version of Okina Baba's story about a high school girl reincarnated as a spider monster, I'd go with the original novel. But I have to say that the manga adaptation's a lot of fun, too. It's also got a much narrower focus – Baba's novel gives us some hints as to who the girl in question might have been in the classroom by also allowing a few of her reincarnated classmates a voice in alternating chapters, a narrative trick that's left out here. As far as Kumoko knows, she's the only one here, and her focus is entirely on surviving as best she can.
That the story looks entirely at Kumoko is kind of nice, largely because it makes for a much more cohesive storyline. We're with her from the moment she hatches as she struggles to figure out what's going on and how to live through it, and Kumoko's voice is a fun one to read. While the spider design isn't quite as cute as Tsukasa Kiryu's original, Asahiro Kakashi gets so much expression out of the little beast that it's hard to object. Kumoko's legs function as extra arms for posing and showing us her emotions, and some of her actions are really funny – you have to love the “pentacle pose” she strikes after learning that she's acquired the skill “Heretic Magic.” Her little “ears” (antenna? I know nothing about spider anatomy) are also used to good effect when she's just sitting around or skittering for her life. All in all, unless you're arachnophobic, Kumoko could give any cute mascot character a run for its money.
The story is set inside a giant dungeon, and while that makes sense and gives us some great creature designs (love the basilisk!), it also means that the art is really dark. For the most part it isn't difficult to read, but at times the tone can get overwhelming. Seeing things from a spider monster's-eye-view can make it a little tricky to judge sizes as well, although Kumoko's thoughts help with that somewhat. She herself really is the major draw of the series – as the volume goes on, she gets more honest with herself as she thinks about her previous life and what she'd want to do differently now that she's been given a new chance. It's a nice combination of silly and serious, and while I think that some of the background details in the novel would have been helpful here, this is an adaptation that can carry the weight of its source material.
So I'm A Spider, So What? isn't as ambitious a riff on the shopworn isekai genre as series like Re:Zero or Grimgar of Ash and Fantasy are at their best; despite what its premise might suggest, it has less in common than Kafka's The Metamorphosis than it does with old American pulp comics like Gil Kane's Sword of the Atom or even hokey sci-fi comedies like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Which is not to say it's all fluff.
Though it wouldn't be such a shame if that's all it was: Asahiro Kakashi's adorable cartooning invests our nameless spider heroine with a healthy dollop of charm, while Okina Baba's writing lends her a voice caught somewhere between sardonic and put-out that makes her as relatable as it does humorous. The constant sending-up of RPG tropes makes great comedic fodder of their absurdity, while the heroine's internal monologue is a sharp and self-aware bit of work that never strays into the snarky or obnoxious.
In fact, rare moments find her earnestly admitting that heinous though this new life is, the sense of advancement it offers – the sense of purpose that comes with progress – is far preferable to her past life as a barely-there student. It's a strange but cutting little commentary on the illusion of success that is the major escapist appeal of so many RPGs, but it also couples well with Baba's ability to convey the kind of naturalistic brutality inherent in this premise to give the series a sense of horror, of tension, that elevates it to something more interesting than similar tiles like That Time I Got Reincarnated as Slime. From an early panel that shows the hero's fellow brood chowing on their own still-living siblings to late-volume encounters with a basilisk and a gigantic serpent, it's clear that death in these caves carries with it the promise of pain and finality; there's no comfortable afterlife awaiting the dead. This is a nasty, brutish world where life is short, where the stakes aren't merely grounded as they were in Grimgar, where at least there was time to relax, to build a life; here they seem absolutely pointed against our heroine and every other living thing in the world. There is no top of the food-chain where one'd be safe enough to rest.
It maybe spends a bit too much time reiterating this truth, yes: this first volume is too content to simply follow our protagonist from victory over a dangerous animal to near-fatal learning experience that gives way to yet another victory over a dangerous animal that leads to yet another near-defeat. The result is a volume that often feels stalled out, sometimes even grating. And it could afford to expand its scope a bit, as well: harrowing a starting point as the Great Elroe Labyrinth's dank confines are, they're also visually and conceptually narrow, which leads to further monotony. One volume of endless battles with reptiles and centipedes feels drawn out enough; two, three or four would be interminable. As a start, though, it's immensely promising, a rare little gem that balances wit and pathos well.
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