The Spring 2018 Manga Guide
The Dungeon of Black Company
What's It About?Kinji Ninomiya is finally living the good life as a NEET, having spent his childhood investing and his teenage years and early adulthood playing the real estate market. Now he's ready to sit back and enjoy laughing at the suckers who weren't as smart as he was.
Sadly, that's not to be – a freak magical incident transports Ninomiya from his posh apartment in Japan to a street corner in an alternate magical world, where he almost immediately winds up in debt and practically enslaved to a mining company. After four months of hard labor, Ninomiya's ready to work his financial magic again. All he needs is a willing patsy, er, partner, which he finds in his lizardman coworker Wanibe, and a few false starts.
With his willingness to use everyone and anyone for his own betterment, there's no telling what depths Ninomiya will descend to in order to succeed. The Dungeon of Black Company is written and illustrated by Yōhei Yasumura and published by Seven Seas in May. It sells for $12.99.
Is It Worth Reading?Rebecca Silverman
Kinji Ninomiya is one of the least sympathetic protagonists I've ever encountered. This is likely because he's fully aware that what he's doing goes beyond the bounds of what is acceptable behavior in nearly any society; he simply does not care so long as it benefits his personal bottom line. To this end he enslaves fellow coworkers, makes deals that primarily benefit himself to the exclusion of almost all others, and when things don't go his way, he complains that life isn't fair. He's an entitled creep, and even though The Dungeon of Black Company is meant to be a comedy, it's kind of hard to laugh when the main character is such a dedicated asshole.
Of course, if protagonist sympathy isn't something you need in a story, this is relatively interesting. The plot revolves around the fact that Ninomiya, after having perfectly set up his ideal NEET lifestyle, is somehow transported to another world, where he quickly ends up as basically an indentured servant to a mining company. Dissatisfied with is new medieval status quo (and yeah, only bathing once a month does sound horrible), he begins to think of ways that he can get back on his feet…at the expense of everyone else's feet, of course. For his partner in crime he chooses Wanibe, a lizardman he works with who doesn't seem to have a whole lot in the way of self-esteem or motivation. Wanibe functions as the moral compass for Ninomiya, or at least he would if Ninomiya ever bothered to listen to him. At this point it does seem as if Ninomiya may actually like Wanibe as a friend, or at least feel as much sympathy for him as he is able to, so the lizardman may prove the saving grace of the series yet.
Ninomiya's main problem is that he's either not quite as clever as he thinks he is or he hasn't gotten a good feel for the economics of his new world in the four-odd months he's been there. I'm inclined towards the latter, because his ant monster revolution at the end of the volume and some of his earlier schemes do show a basic intelligence that works out for him – it's the unknown factors like how much a monster like Rim actually eats and the expenses of dungeon work that trip him up. (Well, that and his willingness to be a jerk.) The end of the book has him finally starting the business mentioned on the back copy, so this single volume may not be a good indication of where things are going from here, although I doubt that his personality will undergo any major changes, primarily because it seems like it's meant to be funny. There are some humorous scenes, like Rim in the bath or the entire ant incident, but mostly I just found Ninomiya too obnoxious to be amusing.
Yasumura's art is interesting and detailed without feeling crowded, and he's clearly building a world that's a combination of ours and the basic sword-and-sorcery dungeon. Ninomiya himself aside, there's enough here that's intriguing enough to merit giving this a second volume or checking out if you're a dungeon manga fan. Ninomiya himself is almost enough to ruin this, but not quite.
I welcome you to a review of the manga with the worst drawn ass I have ever encountered, and it couldn't belong to a worse lead character. Kinji, whose name is a pun revolving around money, starts the audience off by gloating how he's a New York Times' “How to Make 100k by the Time You're 30” success story and thus lives an entirely carefree life in his penthouse lording over the average salaryman. This is an isekai novel though, so Kinji doesn't get to keep living up his NEET life of luxury and finds himself indebted to “black company” after he tries to pawn off his tablet as magic to some fantasy creature bigwigs.
For the uninitiated a “black company” is a term used in Japan to describe a place of employment that ignores worker rights and safety protocols. These are places that literally work their employees to death. As an example, animation studios in Japan have landed on black company lists before. The reference is supposed to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek here. Yes, the mining company Kinji ends up indebted to fits the bill but the manga's tone seems to suggest that the whole concept of “black companies” is rife for parody or can function as a plot device in casual fantasy fiction. Personally it rubbed me the wrong way, and this was reinforced by Kinji himself.
See, Kinji doesn't learn his lesson when he's transported from his high-rise into the low-level depths of servitude. He's still looking for get-rich quick schemes and this comes to a head when he finds himself briefly in the ownership of a mind-control staff. He, with absolutely zero hesitation, uses the staff to overwork his coworkers and take the majority of the profits from their work. He is a-ok if they keel over dead from overwork and even breaks into a long-winded diatribe about using bottom level workers to push himself higher on the corporate chain. It's all a means for his own success. Suffice to say, Kinji has absolutely zero redeeming features and the story leans so far into establishing that that I became unsure if I was supposed to astonished by how morally bankrupt he is or if I was supposed to like it.
Having an awful protagonist doesn't have to mean a book isn't entertaining, but his supporting cast is a bunch of schmucks for the majority of the book. He's flanked by an admittedly simple lizard grunt and a demon girl who can change into a ferocious creature if Kinji doesn't agree to feed her bottomless pit of a stomach. Other than complaining about her own hunger, she doesn't do much.
I could keep reading this series just to see if Kinji ever gets his comeuppance or reforms but the latter seems unlikely and I've got enough isekai to pick from to fill in the gap.
If there's one character who deserves to be trapped in a fantasy world without a bevy of babes clinging to him, it's Ninomiya, the arrogant, lazy layabout who's nonetheless cunning and willing to put in the work so long as he determines it's a shortcut to success. Yasumura isn't asking his audience to empathize with this odious man necessarily, but you have to be able to stand him to enjoy the shenanigans that enfold around him. He's not even selfish in a humorous way, at least not most of the time. True, he does have a sliver of a heart of gold when it comes to his lackeys he sort of considers friends, but all in all, you can expect him to do whatever it takes to get out of the debt that's enslaved him to a mining/dungeon exploration company in this fantasy world. Wanibe, the lizard-man Ninomiya exploits most often, makes for a nice balance with Ninomiya—his intentions are purer, though he too easily falls in line with Ninomiya's plans. Rim, the ever-hungry dragon that can shapeshift into a (nude) little girl, is pretty one-note but necessary to the plot, as she can keep other monsters at bay in the dungeons, even though she consumes enough food to keep Ninomiya in inescapable debt.
Perhaps even more off-putting than the main character, though, is how often things just fall into place. They stumble on a mind-control device in Rim's “toilet” that Ninomiya uses to pick up the mining pace right when he needs to. He finds a rare shapeshifting potion at the last second when cornered by a horde of demon ants. Too much contrivance is hard to overlook, especially in a story that's fairly focused on the exploit-of-the-day that Ninomiya finds himself in. He struggles to succeed, but any pinch he finds himself in will have an easy solution, so that undercuts any tension built.
Yasumura populates his fantasy world with demon and animal humanoids, and the character designs are the perfect mix of fantastical and comedic to capture the mood of this not-too-serious tale. Ninomiya himself projects the cocksure, sometimes suave persona he inhabits, and though Rim doesn't look that much different than the typical taciturn young girl character, her dragon scales and horns make her pop on the page. The detailed backgrounds paint a grim and grimy fantasy world well.
If a series like The Dungeon of the Black Company is going to focus so much on an unlikable main character, it needs to up its game with comedy and storytelling to make following the antihero's adventures worthwhile. This first volume is far from dull, but it still feels too odious and too contrived to be a page-turner just yet. Readers of darker fantasy who enjoy an antihero will likely get more out of The Dungeon of Black Company volume 1, but even then, it's still not yet up to the higher standards it strives to reach.
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