Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody
Thirty-year-old Suzuki is a programmer working on a “death march” – an extra-long work session with no sleep in sight. He's programming a new RPG and trying to meet the demands of his bosses, so when he decides to take a nap under his desk and wakes up in a suspiciously game-like world, at first he's sure that he's just dreaming about work. But it becomes increasingly obvious that this no game, and now he appears to be stuck in a parallel fantasy world…looking like he's fifteen again. Is this really a dream, or is it more of a nightmare?
How many more “guys taken to a parallel world that functions like an MMORPG” stories can we really take? That's a question that more than one of us may very well be asking at this point; even if the genre is hardly new, it certainly has reached the point where it feels like we're in desperate need of a new idea. However, while all of the stories have the same basic premise, each author does put their own twist on it (at least in the case of those licensed in English), and it becomes not a question of “this again?” and more one of just how the author will make their story just a little bit different than the previous iterations. In the case of Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, Hiro Ainana gives us a protagonist who is an honest-to-goodness working adult, which is enough to make this feel like a slightly different version of a plot that's become as dry as toast.
Granted, when hero Suzuki, going by the name of Satou, a reference to how people misread his name on a regular basis, wakes in his parallel world, he looks like he did when he was fifteen. In his mind, however, he's very much still a thirty-year-old man, and that makes his standard interactions with the bevy of beauties he inevitably encounters differ from the norm. His reaction when Zena, the beautiful teen warrior mage, falls for him at first sight isn't delight at getting such a pretty girl or disbelief that it could happen to him; he feels like a pervert because in his mind, she's thirteen years younger than he is. The women he's attracted to are around his actual age, and at least in this first book are not the ones joining his potential harem, so rather than having his wishes of irresistibility come true, Satou sees himself more in the position of a group leader or high school teacher: responsible for the welfare of the younger girls. It's an interesting dynamic change and makes the story feel different enough that it takes the edge of weariness off the genre.
What Satou's age also does for the book is make it more sarcastic than it might otherwise have been. Since the narration is in first person, Satou's perspective is that of a grown-up, and he notes things with the eye of someone who programs RPGs for a living. It's the mechanics he's more interested in rather than the fantasy aspect, and he makes a conscious decision that he's going to try to get through this game world as smoothly as possible. No heroics, no grand quests, none of that – unless his hand is forced, he's just going to keep his head down and get through. When the story doesn't allow that – such as when he gets trapped in a dungeon and ends up helming a group of demi-human slave girls – he looks for the best logistical way to get out alive. Fortunately, he's ridiculously powerful and has an entire stash of valuables; this is due to a cheat he had programmed into the game world previous to his departure which allowed him to accidentally wipe out huge numbers of people, beastpeople, dragons, and gods and attain a ludicrous level. While he keeps this fact a secret from others, it does aid in his quest to get by as quickly and smoothly as possible.
What bothers Satou more than the fact that he's in this fantasy world being hit on by a teenage girl is the fact that the world has a social order he doesn't approve of – there are slaves, in other words, and they tend to be the demi-human beastpeople. This perhaps indicates that Satou is ultimately going to have to give up on his plan to keep his head down, because by the end of the volume, he has not only made himself known to a few powerful people, but he's also taken Liz, Tama, and Pochi under his wing. Zena appears equally opposed to slavery and is actually the first to stand up for the girls, and as Satou grows more comfortable with his new existence, it seems likely that he will begin to want to make some changes.
Writing-wise, although Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody has the usual unwieldly title, the language within is reasonably tight. Ainana doesn't spend too much time on lengthy descriptions, and Satou's general disinterest in Zena keeps the text relatively free of overblown passages about her looks and body. Satou's voice is perhaps the strongest part of the writing overall, remaining consistent and keeping the story moving, although he does wander off when giving updates about what's going on – when Satou and Zena visit the market, for example, we get a blow-by-blow account of where they shop that gets old quickly. In terms of how the game elements of the world function, they appear to be most similar to The Rising of the Shield Hero with titles and skills, although how the “menus” work is a bit confusing. The artwork, provided by Shri, is pleasant, but the color art is noticeably better than the interior black and white illustrations.
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody does have enough little changes to its genre to make it a decent read. It hasn't reinvented anything, and at this point I'm still inclined to think that The Rising of the Shield Hero is the most interesting of the stories published thus far, but its adult protagonist and his way of looking at his new world and companions definitely make this worth checking out if you're a genre fan.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Adult protagonist gives it an edge, some interesting world-building elements, Liz has potential as a character
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