by Theron Martin,

So I'm a Spider, So What?

Novel 1

So I'm a Spider, So What? Novel 1
In another world, a powerful spell cast during a battle between Hero and Demon Lord opened a dimensional rift which destroyed a Japanese high school classroom, killing all within. Perhaps as a result of that rift, both the students and teacher have been reincarnated into that fantasy world, one where a divine system of skills and game stats defines everything. Many of those students have been reincarnated as humans (original gender notwithstanding), including one who's reborn as the fourth son of a king. However, at least some have come back as monsters instead. Chief among those is a girl reincarnated as a 3-foot long spider in the land's vast, labyrinthine underworld. As one of the underworld's weaker monster types, she must develop her few abilities and rely on her wits to survive. Her successes are greater than she knows, however, and she's starting to attract unwanted attention.

Isekai (“transported to another world”) stories have dominated the Japanese light novel market over the past few years. This take on the concept is the second to be released recently in English in recent months that combines the two most prominent trends of the genre: being reincarnated rather than transported to a world, which happens to be defined by game-like stats and rules. These elements are so prevalent that some characters even make self-aware observations about how they expect certain things to work based on what's popular in other light novels. In other words, this genre is now actively feeding on itself.

Because of the timing of their English releases and the common gimmick of a protagonist being reincarnated as a lowly monster, comparisons to That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime are both inevitable and fair. Whereas Slime is more of a pure power fantasy, So I'm a Spider, So What? concentrates much more on the process of actually adapting to your new environment if you either aren't overpowered or face serious limitations, such as being too young to fully use your potential. That's not the only factor that makes this series stand out either; the most prominent protagonist is female rather than male, and several characters have been reincarnated at the same time.

The spider formerly being a girl is the least significant factor in terms of story impact. Her original gender really doesn't matter in relation to her new identity as a spider, and her original background as a loner who indulged heavily in MMOs could just as well have belonged to a male character. More importantly, she doesn't wallow in her circumstances (which admittedly would have been a fatal mistake) and keeps her head about her as she adapts quickly to her new identity and makes the most of her limited capabilities. Rather than merely overpowering her opponents/meals, she quickly learns to exploit her thread production and engage in sneak attacks, clever traps, and even ranged applications of her webs and (later) poison to both protect herself and find food, all while trying to understand the game world's skill and stat system. In the process, she gradually increases her power and capabilities.

As run-of-the-mill as this may sound, her actual process of experimentation, discovery, and taking action is surprisingly involving. A breezy, stream-of-consciousness-style first-person narrative is heavily responsible for this, mixing her somewhat flippant attitude with relatable insecurities, light touches of self-examination, and wide swings between comfort and panic as she sorts out her situation and combines her small advantages with knowledge from her school studies. Her narration also eschews a lot of specific details about her actions in favor of descriptive brevity, which keeps the storytelling flowing along at a good clip without the reader feeling like they're missing key details. Writer Okina Baba's deft hand at crafting tense action sequences and convincing threats also shines through in the spider's scenes, enough that her desperate victories can be cathartic experiences.

The spider isn't the only reincarnated character in the story, however. At times, the first-person perspective shifts to one of the spider's former male classmates, who was reborn as a prince and had to grow up from being a baby. The descriptions of being fully cognizant but unable to act because of a baby's physical limitations and lack of language understanding are vividly effective. Because this character is in the human realm, he also gets a chance to encounter some other former classmates, including a male friend reincarnated as a girl who might be a potential arranged marriage match and a female classmate reincarnated as something inhuman but eventually capable of telepathy. This greatly broadens the scope of what can be done with the concept. On a couple occasions, the perspective also shifts to the prince's elder brother, a new Hero. He doesn't seem to be a reincarnated student, which makes this choice all the more peculiar.

Less interestingly, the story also maintains the trend of defining the world as if it were a real-life MMO. I know this is a concession to prevailing style elements, and it does function effectively as a framing device, but that gimmick is losing some of its freshness and so can feel more like a crutch. Baba makes effective enough use of it not to hinder the story, but there is almost nothing novel about the setting either. There's also a seeming inconsistency in the time frame for the reincarnations, as some appear to have happened years before others. Given the circumstances, it's possible that whatever entity is behind the reincarnations staggered them based on the time it takes the chosen race to mature, so that they all would be at about the same developmental level at the same time. That would suggest a much more purposeful manipulation than the souls of the students just automatically being drawn to this world and randomly distributed as a consequence of the space-time rift.

At 245 pages, this novel is a medium-length entry for the medium. An extra-large glossy color page opens the novel, but independent black-and-white illustrations throughout the novel are sparse. Instead, chapters commonly have profile pages for either the spider or one of the other Labyrinth denizens she encounters. The novel closes out with a sparse one-page Afterword.

This first volume is clearly pure setup, as bigger plot elements are just starting to get underway by its conclusion, but what it's achieved so far, it's done quite well. Both as a concept going forward and in writing style, this franchise shows more promise than most in its genre. I wouldn't be surprised if it eventually gets an anime adaptation.

Production Info:
Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Breezy and engrossing writing style, good action scenes, offers new twists on the basic concept
Premise of world based on video game rules is getting stale, odd use of third perspective

Story: Okina Baba

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So I'm a Spider, So What? (light novel)

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So I'm a Spider, So What? (Novel 1)

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