Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch (If You've Got a Ringer)
Ares Crown is still at his wit's end trying to make sure that the hapless hero Naotsugu (who kicked Ares out of the hero's party) manages to level up in preparation for defeating the demon lord. As if that isn't hard enough to do from afar (or at least from the shadows), Ares continues to be plagued by unexpected setbacks, like utterly incompetent “help” sent from the Church in the form of the most accident-prone human ever and the surprise arrival of his greatest nemesis, er, rival where he's definitely not supposed to be. When plans to level at Yutith's Tomb go awry because the hero's afraid of the undead, he thinks that's about as bad as it can get—until the hero moves on to Golem Valley, where things are even more messed up.
The main draw, or at least one of them, of the first volume of Tsukikage's isekai fantasy series was the fact that rather than strictly following the summoned hero Naotsugu, the story instead was told from the point of view of Ares Crown, a resident of the summoning world who was supposed to be the priest in Nao's party. Problems immediately arose when he was summarily kicked to the curb for the apparent crime of being male, and he quickly decided that the hero just wanted the girls in the party to himself or was playing out some kind of weird isekai harem fantasy. As readers quickly learned, that wasn't the case at all, but books two and three keep Ares laboring under his delusion about Nao, presumably saving that little tidbit of knowledge for much later in the series.
Or maybe it's just to remind us that no matter how competent Ares seems as our primary narrator, no matter how well he manages to manipulate events to ensure that not only does Nao stay alive but actually learns stuff and levels, he's still actually just as human as everyone else. That's easy to forget in these two books, because everyone else Ares encounters is so totally bizarre, even by the standards of a sword-and-sorcery world, that he comes out looking like a total genius. Part of that, of course, is the fact that he's so completely exasperated by the hero's party. Not only was he meant to be the priest, but also insurance to keep everyone alive and moving in the right direction; now the party is priest-less and has a severely limited mage (think Megumin from Konosuba) and a low-level swordswoman alongside the hero. The threat of them dying is real, and Ares has to try to direct them from the sidelines without them realizing that he's doing so. This leads to the group heading to Yutith's Tomb in the second novel, a good, somewhat safe place for their levels where they can raise them battling the undead. It's basically a foolproof plan as far as Ares is concerned – until he finds out that Nao is deathly afraid of the undead.
This is fairly typical of the sorts of setbacks that the group encounters in both volumes, with Ares trying to manipulate things to a positive outcome from the shadows. Mostly in book two he's concerned that they don't have a priest, a worry that morphs into them having the wrong priest when Ares' old comrade-in-arms Gregorio turns out to be hanging around the tomb for reasons of his own. Gregorio is a fanatic, absolutely convinced of his own righteousness and willing to smite pretty much anyone whose viewpoint differs from his. He doesn't care of Naotsugu is the hero; when he takes it upon himself to train the group, his methods are draconian. When Ares and his subordinate Amelia then scramble to get a less alarming priest into the party, she begins worshiping Gregorio, leaving everyone right back where they started.
This necessitates Stey, the character who arrives in volume three. As with Gregorio, Stey is a play on some of the standard character tropes found in not only fantasy, but light novels, anime, and manga in general. But where Gregorio represents the lunatic fanatic priest (Rezo from Slayers is a good baseline example), Stey is the astoundingly clumsy girl – with the added feature that she makes a brick look like a genius. In another situation, she would be profoundly irritating as a character, but the parodic nature of Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch instead makes her part of the joke: the story knows how awful she is to the point where virtually all of her interactions with others are her annoying them. No one wants to be around Stey; in fact, her parent-mandated caretakers (and she's sixteen, so way too old for them in the story's pseudo-medieval world) basically dump her on Ares and Amelia before running as fast as they can. Ares quickly realizes that he can use Stey to irritate Nao and their party into leveling quickly in if he orders Stey to “monitor” them (Stey can only follow orders and then only strictly) – they're so eager to get rid of her that they begin a rapid growth spurt.
What's particularly nice here is that Stey, while the butt of the jokes, isn't at all aware of it. She does know that she rarely gets to do anything on her own, but she's not clear why – as far as Stey is concerned, she's just overprotected. This means that most of the humor doesn't come off as particularly mean. There are some moments – Ares really can be a bastard – but it's so clear that Stey is an exaggerated version of characters like Tessa from Full Metal Panic! and Mei-Lin from Black Butler that it's difficult to see her as anything more than that parody. Tsukikage does seem to go out of their way to make that obvious as well, from Stey's ludicrously short priest robes to her inability to walk at all without tripping. In some ways that makes Stey a more likable character than Amelia, who also slots nicely into a type (tsundere) but otherwise just feels static.
Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch is not necessarily interested in major character development, or even truly getting to the demon lord's arrival. Volume three does incorporate that plot more, as Ares has to defeat another of his plans, but mostly what this series excels at is gently poking the isekai genre with a stick. Watching Ares' frustration with the summoned hero and with each tropey character he encounters is fun, and bob's illustrations are pleasant to look at. The writing is good enough that fight scenes move quickly while we get a decent idea of each of the players and settings, and there's enough world development that we get a sense of place as well. Basically these two novels reaffirm that this series is a gentle parody of its genre for those who still enjoy the genre.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Clear grasp of the tropes it's parodying, Ares' perspective stands out from the usual isekai tale
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