Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch (If You've Got a Ringer)
A high-level crusader of the Church, Ares Crown has been assigned to be the healer of the newly-summoned hero's party as he prepares to take on Kranos, the dreaded Demon Lord. Ares takes his role very seriously, so when he discovers that the hero's entirely party, barring Ares himself, is ridiculously weak, he's aghast. But when he complains to the Church, not only do they not do anything, they act as if this was how it was supposed to be all along. Can Ares manage to keep the world's worst hero from dying until he can kill Kranos, or is Ares going to have to do it himself?
Oh look, another novel about a regular Japanese teenager summoned to a game-like fantasy world as a hero in order to defeat one of those apparently ubiquitous demon lords. If that's what you're thinking, you're not entirely wrong – Toudou was definitely brought to a new world for that purpose. But the catch here is that Toudou may be the hero, but that doesn't mean that “hero” and “protagonist” are synonymous – because the protagonist of this novel is definitely someone else.
Similarly to how The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! makes the summoned hero's unlucky best friend the main character of the story or how Accomplishments of the Duke's Daughter casts the supposed bad guy in the lead role, Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch (If You've Got a Ringer) follows the typical support character's point of view. That would be Ares Crown, a high-level young man with the Church responsible for summoning Toudou who is intended to act as the healer in Toudou's party. The problem is that Toudou is nothing like what Ares was expecting, or even all that cut out to be a hero by Ares' standards. Although the word isn't used (because Ares wouldn't know it), there's a strong suggestion that Toudou's more than a little but of a chuunibyou, and when thrown into what Ares knows to be a life-or-death situation, that's not all that helpful.
One of the strengths of this novel is the way that it makes you question other isekai stories. Is the summoned hero through whose eyes we're seeing things as intensely stupid and annoying to the people actually from the world they've been summoned to as Toudou is to Ares? It's easy to see why they would be, because Toudou appears to have very little grasp on reality – everything simply looks like a game or light novel rather than a real situation. That does change (or at least start to) by the end of the book, but for most of the novel Toudou and the other two assigned party members are so incredibly foolish that they're a bit hard to stomach. That this is author Tsukikage's intent is plain – with a slightly lighter touch than Konosuba, with which this has some similarities, they're able to point out just how ridiculous Toudou's actions are and how Ares, and later Amelia, another priest tasked with not letting Toudou die, are utterly flabbergasted by the party's seemingly blind resistance to common sense. In some cases, like requesting that a monster on the brink of death be healed because it's the “right” and “kind” thing to do, we readers can see the situation from both sides: we've seen other isekai heroes (or just unlikely heroes) make similar statements as proof of their compassion, but being in Ares' point-of-view, where he's trying to keep the idiot alive to prevent the destruction of the world, Toudou's dangerously naïve and perhaps lacking in basic intelligence. It makes for an interesting reading experience, and Tsukikage is able to balance the not-quite-dual perspectives well.
This brings us to the title of the series. While one of the more unfortunately unwieldly light novel appellations of recent translation, it definitely calls Toudou's and Ares' roles into question in an interesting way. In the context of the story, the “ringer” of the title is almost certainly Ares, and intended to be used in the way we typically see it in competitive sports: someone falsely entered under someone else's name. The implication is that Ares is the actual hero while Toudou's just sort of futzing around. Certainly that's holding true for this volume – not only does Toudou quickly throw Ares out of the hero's party (apparently it ought to be all female in Toudou's mind), but Ares is swiftly put in the position of having to clean up Toudou's messes, or at least preventing more from occurring. That makes Ares the one doing all the actual heroing, while Toudou, Aria, and Limis essentially play make-believe.
There is a major plot revelation at the very end of the volume that casts much of these things in a new light, particularly the inclusion of Ares in the hero's party in the first place, and it will be interesting to see how that affects the story in volume two. (On that subject, if you are averse to spoilers, do not flip to the back of the book's illustrations before finishing the novel.) It certainly stands to play with Ares' own execution of his duties, and that Tsukikage has managed to hint without revealing helps to mark this as one of the better-written light novels to be released in English.
Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch (If You've Got a Ringer) is, simply put, a fun book. It expertly plays with the tropes of its genre while still keeping a sense of the impending doom of the world Ares is facing, and bob's illustrations have an interesting style that works with the storytelling. Don't write this one off as just more of the same in the isekai genre – in this volume at least, there's more to it than yet more of the same.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B
+ NPC-type supporting character plays the protagonist this time, nice understanding of the genre's tropes and how to play with them
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