Reviewby Theron Martin,
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria
The death of an allied god and his entire familia, and the filling of Knossos with green flesh from the demi-spirits, have left Loki Familia (especially Lefiya) and their allies reeling, but the enemy, Enyo, seems curiously quiet. While Loki assembles the clues about Enyo's true identity, Finn tries to anticipate the enemy's next move. The knowledge of a certain young white-haired adventurer, who has just returned from his own death-defying mission, points towards a terrifying possibility, one that necessitates the marshaling of both Orario's strongest familia and the Xenos. Even as the truths of Enyo's identity and schemes get peeled back, fierce battles rage on multiple fronts within Knossos, including Aiz getting her final showdown with Levis. With the fate of Orario at stake, Finn and the forces he leads may well need an ace in the hole, a disruptive element that even the devious Enyo did not anticipate.
At 364 pages, novel 12 is by far the longest entry in Sword Oratoria and the third-longest novel in the whole franchise (behind only novels 8 and 14 of the main storyline). This is fitting, as this novel is the capstone for nearly everything which has transpired in Sword Oratoria to date, bringing together elements of every one of its novels and additionally serving as a loose follow-up to novel 14 of the main storyline. (The events of this novel specifically happen a day or two after the end of that novel.) The part concerning the follow-up to volume 14 is handled vaguely enough that being entirely caught up on the main series is not strictly necessary before reading this volume, but it is still recommended.
To accomplish the objective for this book, author Fujino Ōmori set a monumental task before himself. Omori admitted in the Afterword that this novel was “indisputably the hardest to write,” and it's not hard to understand why. Not only did he have to follow up a gut punch of a plot twist late in the previous volume by sorting through the numerous layers of deception and truth to be unburied here, but he also had to feature a grand finale-style fight that, at one point, is spread across nine different battlefronts and a tenth location that serves as a command point. Just keeping track of who is involved in what battle or other incidents practically requires a scorecard, and some participants shift from one scenario to another. The franchise has had epic battles before, but this is easily the most complex one yet.
Though Omori manages to pull it all together, this effort does not come without hitches. Working out and explaining the big schemes afoot is so involved that it takes dozens of pages total across several segments, thus bogging down the story flow at times. The biggest twist – about who Enyo is – is somewhat of a shocker, with some misdirections in volume 11 being more effective about setting that up than the misdirection in the earlier stages of this volume. It does require some contrivance to be credible, but in retrospect a handful of minor details scattered throughout the run of Sword Oratoria vaguely point in that direction. The bigger shocker is the true identity of the masked servant of Enyo — the being which was in contact with both Levis and Olivas and tried to interfere with Finn and Riveria meeting up with the group who descended through the dragon-made shaft to floor 58. No previous hints point in that direction, and that individual's secret ability comes across as an even bigger contrivance, even though it does explain events going as far back as volume 4. The franchise's most powerful ironies, and arguably its biggest tragedy, come tied intrinsically with who that character is.
The final battle scenario, which is interspersed with some of the revelatory scenes, takes up about three-quarters of the novel. The goal here is seemingly to give just about every named adventurer in the setting some kind of role, whether from Sword Oratoria or the main series; about the only ones who don't see direct action are the staff of the Mistress of Fertility aside from Ryu. Each is given full opportunity to show off what they can do, whether in individual or combination moves. The feature one-on-one battle is, of course, Aiz vs. Levis, and that does not disappoint, but the battle against Enyo's masked servant is arguably the fiercest. Bell is not forgotten here either, and ends up playing as critical a role as anyone else. While the battle descriptions keep the thrill factor high, one factor that has commonly been a problem for the franchise resurfaces more than once during the fight: having combatants persist through credibility-straining levels of trauma. Yes, they are heroically determined and enhanced by their gods' blessings, but this gets taken to ridiculous extremes.
The descriptions offer a few other neat touches, such as finally explaining who the mysterious eye seen through a crack in the wall in one of the earlier Knossos excursions belongs to and addressing some seemingly-illogical circumstances from earlier volumes, such as why the demi-spirit was so conveniently present on floor 59 to be fought. The story also cleans up a handful of odds and ends and slightly progresses certain relationships, such as that of Haruhime and Bete. Common Omori quirks, like the irritating habit of characters saying something and then describing what the character said, also linger, but Omori has certainly nailed down the sense of dramatics which drives the franchise.
Yen Press's release of the volume includes the standard trifold glossy page with color art on both sides, occasional black-and-white illustrations of typical franchise quality, and an Afterword by Omori at the end, which explains that this volume takes place before volume 15 of the main series (which has yet to be released in the States as of this writing). Who the obligatory character profile at the end of the novel features is a massive spoiler, so I recommend not looking at it until finishing the novel.
The novel ends with the battle done but only some brief aftermath descriptions; there is no epilogue or proper follow-up. While this concludes the plotline involving Enyo, the corrupted spirit remains deep underground, and the full truth of Aiz's circumstances still has yet to be revealed. The Afterword indicates that there will eventually be more, with a new story arc having already been planned, though Omori suggests that the delay before it appears could be longer than normal. (To my knowledge volume 13 has not yet been scheduled, much less released, in Japan.) Still, if there is going to be a big gap before more comes then this is a good way to segue into it.
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B-
+ Everyone gets involved, shocking reveals, cleans up a lot of little details from across the series.
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