Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World
Novel 1: The World's Strongest Little Brother
Yuichi Sakaki is the middle child and only brother of the Sakaki family. His older sister Mutsuko has a bad case of middle school syndrome (and has since before she was even in middle school), so she's spent most of Yuichi's life “training” him for the day when all of her chuunibyou dreams come true. He's always just brushed this off as his sister being weird, but on the day he begins high school, he suddenly develops the ability to read people's “statuses” over their heads. He can handle “big sister” or “classmate,” but what does it mean when he spots “serial killer” and “vampire” at school? Could Mutsuko have been onto something all along?
Whether you have a weird sibling or are the weird sibling, families often have dynamics that can feel odd to an outside perspective. In the case of Yuichi Sakaki's family in My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World, his older sister Mutsuko suffers from “Middle School Syndrome,” also known to anime and manga fans as being chuunibyou. This means that she has a very active, otaku-based fantasy life, and it looks like she's been this way since she was small. Her particular area of expertise is fictional martial arts, but she's also a firm believer in a forthcoming disaster of some kind that will require her younger brother (and herself, obviously) to be able to combat supernatural forces. To this end, for most of Yuichi's life, she's devoted herself to training him in the ways of manga-style warfare – whether he liked it or not. Now that he's about to begin high school, Yuichi is aware that Mutsuko is kind of weird, but she's still his big sister and he's fond of her – in a normal brotherly way, no matter what she might appear to be hoping.
If this wasn't a comedy, you could be forgiven for getting nervous about that. But My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World is much more of a satirical look at the tropes of light novels than anything else. This grounds it in a firm sense of disbelief on Yuichi's part, who is both shocked and vaguely horrified when he wakes up one morning with the ability to see people's “statuses” above their heads in floating letters. It's a slight confirmation that maybe big sister really does know best (she quickly names his ability “soul reader”), but it also plays havoc with his understanding of the world – and it certainly doesn't help that Mutsuko keeps asking him if her label still reads “Big Sister” just in case it has changed to “Love Interest.” He gets an even bigger jolt when he arrives at school and finds his classmates' labels changing as they introduce themselves – apparently, his class is home not only to his new athletic buddy (“Ace Striker”), but also to a Witch, a Vampire, a Dating Sim Childhood Friend, and most troubling, a Serial Killer.
If you enjoyed the 2014 anime series If Her Flag Breaks, there's a good chance that this novel will appeal to you in a similar way. Yuichi's increasingly weird life isn't beyond his ability to understand, but it does put a lot of stress on him, opening his eyes to the fact that the world is not what he thought it was. Unfortunately, his only real source of information is Mutsuko; she's such a massive chuunibyou that getting her help is almost as much trouble for Yuichi as the main problems he faces. Part of the story's appeal is that Yuichi never really buys into Mutsuko's worldview – he's still devoted to being as normal as the plot will allow, and he wants no part in any of the supernatural shenanigans that have begun to seek him out. This becomes especially clear when he gets involved with Aiko Noro, the vampire in his class. Aiko, who simply mixes blood into her food and has no great urge to bite necks, represents the everyday normal girl. She isn't monstrous in the slightest, and she's disturbed by the manga-based martial arts prowess Yuichi displays when a would-be monster hunter comes after her; you get the impression that she just wants to do her own thing, just like Yuichi. More importantly, Aiko becomes our viewpoint outside the Sakaki family, the one who lets us know that “normal” has a different meaning to everyone when she's weirded out by the fact that Yuichi has no issues rummaging through Mutsuko's clothes or sharing a room with younger sister Yoriko, who's in her last year of middle school.
This brings up another potential disconnect for Western readers. Yuichi sees nothing wrong with his living situation, and strictly speaking, there isn't anything wrong with it – he's close enough with his siblings that they're perfectly comfortable with each other, and being related, there's no sexual context to anything mentioned. However, following more common light novel themes, Aiko perceives the situation as incestuous, with Yuichi's sisters as potential romantic rivals. Mutsuko's repeated checks of her status and Yoriko's harsh words to Aiko after learning of the bedroom situation certainly imply that we are supposed to find the situation off. Perhaps more troubling is the idea that there will be more incest themes as the series progresses, although given the overall tone of the book and its treatment of the usual tropes thus far, they'll likely be played for laughs.
That's really the main goal of the story – to amuse readers – and generally speaking, it works. Yuichi's attitude, some of the more bizarre labels he spots (like his new friend Shota's ever-changing label) are fun and have the potential to become more entertaining so as the insanity escalates. He and Aiko present varying states of groundedness in a world that's getting weirder by the second, and their reactions to things like being asked to read a fellow student's novel-in-progress offer little moments of realistic high school awkwardness to counterbalance the zanier bits. It feels like My Big Sister Lives in a Fantasy World will grow into itself as it moves forward, like this first volume is laying the groundwork for a bigger parody. It isn't quite there yet, but there's definitely potential for this to become a funnier series about a guy who isn't sure he wants to be able to read the writing on the wall.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C+
+ Good sense of Yuichi and Aiko's characters, they contrast well with Mutsuko and some of the more colorful characters, generally fun parody of familiar tropes
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