Reviewby Theron Martin,
Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon
He was a true vending machine otaku, so it only seemed natural to him that his death should come from being crushed under a falling vending machine. More strangely, he finds himself reincarnated as a vending machine out in the middle of the wilderness. He can see and hear but can't move, and the only things he can say are the canned phrases that Japanese vending machines exclaim. He can dispense various products though, and he soon discovers that he can dispense any product he's ever bought from a vending machine and sustain his existence through points earned by coins being inserted into him. His movement problem is solved when he encounters Lammis, a busty young hunter imbued with strength incredible enough that she can easily carry him around on her back. She names him Boxxo, and he becomes an indispensable asset to her adventures in a massive dungeon.
When it comes to vending machines, North America simply cannot compare to Japan. They are far more ubiquitous over there, offering options that you will rarely or never see in vending machines in the States; during my own trip to Japan, I even encountered a vending machine selling hot dogs and French fries. So this is probably a story that could only have been written from a Japanese perspective.
This isn't even the first story about someone being reborn as a vending machine to come out of Japan; see also the 2009 OVA Coffee Samurai, about a medieval samurai who gets reborn in the modern era as a coffee vending machine. To my knowledge, this is the first appearance of that gimmick among the popular reincarnation variations on isekai stories, and at least the first case of someone being reborn in a fantasy world as a sentient magic item to be released in English. It sits at the farthest fringe of a genre that has already seen crazy twists like a middle-aged man reborn as a little girl, a man reborn as a slime monster, and a high school girl reborn as a spider monster. But even more remarkably, this concept actually works.
Writer Hirukuma explains in the afterword that this was far from his first attempt to get something published, and by the end of the novel it's easy to understand why this attempt broke through when others didn't. It's memorable in part because it tackles a fresh angle; this reincarnated protagonist isn't an action hero, but rather a lead who distinguishes himself through clever use of commerce. Once he discovers that he can collect points by taking in copper, silver, or gold coins and use those points both to sustain himself and upgrade his features, he dedicates himself to choosing appropriate items that will sell well to those he meets and even tweaking prices as the situation warrants. He also devotes considerable effort to finding ways to communicate his meaning through the use of limited phrases like “welcome” (for yes), “too bad” (for no), and so forth. And he does all of this without employing any special abilities beyond a defensive force field and some color-changing techniques that he later learns to use for camouflage. He's so adept at ingratiating himself to those who meet him that the (literal) bear of a Hunter's Association leader regards him as a crucial asset.
All of this comes with generous doses of vending machine otaku trivia and total embrace of the culture shock that a modern Japanese device would cause in a fantasy setting, although mercifully the storytelling emphasizes this less after the first few examples. Another major component that's crucial to the novel's success is the relationship that Boxxo forms with Lammis. Hirukuma does an impressive job justifying their mutually beneficial relationship without resorting to hackneyed gimmicks. Lammis is so ridiculously strong from her Blessing of Might that she can't easily manage her own strength, so carrying a heavy object like a vending machine around actually makes her more stable. I know from personal experience that lighter-weight vehicles function better on snowy roads with substantial weight in their trunks, so it makes sense along that line of thinking. The way each helps the other out in an unconventional manner is sweet in its own way, leading to an almost loving bond that forms between them.
Hirukuma's writing style is also engaging. He favors a casual first-person style that's fairly common in these kind of stories, but unlike in many other cases, the perspective entirely remains Boxxo's, which allows for amusing running commentary as he attempts to justify some of the purchases he made when he was human. Hirukuma relies a little too much on forcing common Japanese conventions into a fantasy setting, such as a sequence of jokes about drinking milk after a dip in a public bath, but he balances that out by having characters behave with appropriate intelligence to their strange situation. More setting details would be desirable, but limiting the world information to Boxxo's perspective is the strongest choice.
While it's certainly present, the RPG theming of this novel is much more limited than in comparable isekai works. Hirukuma has also clearly done his homework, as one key plot development late in the story is based on a particular type of vending machine that only appeared briefly in Tokyo back during the 1960s. And yes, there is a bit of fanservice shoehorned in too, since vending machines in public baths are hardly unusual. And who would feel a need to be modest around a vending machine, even if it was known to be sentient?
Yen Press produces the volume with its usual quality: a handful of glossy color pages up front, numerous black-and-whites with average artistry scattered throughout, and an afterword at the end. In the latter, Hirukuma describes how he transitioned from being a family business operator to a writer and how personal tragedy played a key part in that. His hard-won success story is heartening.
This novel's bizarre concept is what will catch people's attention, but the writing is good enough to keep it. The first volume makes the concept work better than it probably should, but I am left a little worried about what more the story can do with its premise after this. At least one volume in, it's a satisfying read.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Intriguing variation on an overworked concept, well-handled execution of its unique premise
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