Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest
Hajime is about as average as they come, and he's okay with that. What he's less thrilled with is the attention he gets from one of the most popular girls in his class, Kaori, which causes the other boys to become jealous of him. All of that just gets worse when his entire class is suddenly transported to another world as its army of heroes. Everyone gets special powers except Hajime – he's basically an average, slightly-glorified blacksmith. Now the object of ridicule in everyone's eyes, Hajime proves himself by saving the entire class, only to be thrown over a cliff by a jealous classmate. Assumed dead, Hajime finds that if he's going to survive, he's going to have to become a lot more than average…
If there's one thing that sets Arifureta apart from its fellow isekai stories, it's that in this case, an entire high school class is transported to another world, not just one lucky young individual. Not only does this make the series one of the few in English that also transports young women to other worlds (The Violet Knight and My Favorite Song - The Silver Siren are two female-oriented variants), but it also takes the class' dynamic, so this magical journey isn't necessarily an escape for the hero. In fact, for Hajime Nagumo, it's anything but – picked on at school because of his laissez-faire attitude towards class idol Kaori's attentions (they embarrass him, but no one is willing to see it that way), he's now also the weakest of the group: where all of his classmates gained impressive magic abilities and stats, Hajime is thoroughly average. Not only does this appear to make his inclusion in the class a mistake, it also allows his tormenters to be much more open in their disdain.
It's this particular issue that is both the making and the breaking of Hajime. While he does manage to learn to use his Synergist skill (basically the ability to transmute metals and stone, a bit like a natural smith) in ways that no one expected, he also has very little combat ability. This leads to him saving the class from a monster in a dungeon by transmuting the floor into a temporary shackle for the beast, but also to him being left for dead…deliberately. While fleeing, one of his jealous classmates shoots him with a fireball, knocking Hajime after the monster into the abyss. Given that no one can see the bottom of it or even knows how deep the dungeon is, everyone assumes that he has died.
But since that would mean that the book ended in the first chapter, he obviously does not. Instead he learns to survive, hardening his heart and his body. Essentially what this means is that where his classmates entered the new world as super over-powered heroes, Hajime has to become one. Not only does this give him a better understanding of what it means to have and use power, but it also forces him to grow into the kind of person who could actually do what they've been summoned to: fight in a war. As you might guess, it's not a pretty process, and author Ryo Shirakome doesn't spare much in the way of gore or detail. Hajime's progression is brutal, both from what he has to do to how he has to change internally. There's definitely a depressing element to this. What made Hajime stand out to both readers and Kaori initially was his basic gentleness, and that's precisely what he has to quash if he's going to survive the dungeon. While we do see it peek through on occasion, it has largely been pushed down to the bottom of his soul as he becomes half a monster himself.
The character of Yue is who brings Hajime's original nature back to the surface. Yue is a vampire princess imprisoned in the dungeon by those who wanted to usurp her throne three hundred years ago, and Hajime finds and rescues her. Although very strong in a magical sense, there's also something troubling about her as a character. She basically imprints on Hajime when he rescues her; she's been alone and scared for so long that she can't even function if she imagines him leaving her. This in turn begats a very unhealthy relationship. Once they reach a safe spot, Yue explicitly ignores Hajime's protestations that he's really not emotionally ready for sex and seduces him – repeatedly. While Hajime comes to care for Yue and to be happy with their new sexual relationship, the fact remains that Yue persistently ignored him when he said no (bad for him) and sees sex as a way to permanently bind him to her (bad for her). She certainly may be in love with Hajime, but he's also the first person she's seen in three hundred years. Her fear is much more likely to be making her decisions than anything else. I do recognize that this is not likely intended to be interpreted in this way. Part of the romance fantasy for some subgenres and readers is forcible seduction, and doubtless this is intended to play into that. The issue is that the way it is presented is likely to give readers who are not fond of that particular fantasy pause, which can take you out of the book.
The translation of Arifureta is not quite as smooth as J-Novel Club's other releases, although it doesn't suffer from any grammatical errors. There's a tendency to repeat words in quick succession, such as two consecutive sentences both describing something the exact same way, and a few unfortunate word choices. The biggest example of this is when Hajime thinks that something is “retarded.” While I'm sure that there are still people who use the word to imply that something is less than excellent, and thus its choice could be justified as “the way kids talk,” it is no longer an acceptable turn of phrase and thus stands out negatively.
If you aren't thoroughly done with the isekai genre, Arifureta's first volume is worth checking out. Although it has its issues with Yue and a few language choices, the story is darker than many others and Hajime's transformation is both well done and interesting to follow, especially as it contrasts with Kaori's reaction back on the surface. It should be interesting to see how she reacts when he and Yue eventually make it back.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Hajime's transformation gives him perspective on being overpowered, doesn't skimp on the darker details, Kaori's evolution is set to mirror Hajime's
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