Reviewby Theron Martin,
So I'm a Spider, So What?
After surviving the mob of monkeys and evolving as a result, the spider seeks to return to the Upper Stratum of the Great Elroe Labyrinth by crossing the Middle Stratum. The big problem is that the Middle Stratum is rife with magma pools and fire-based monsters, and both spiders and their threads are vulnerable to fire by nature. It's going to take all of her ingenuity and skill development to navigate that hazard, and if she happens to garner a dubious title along the way, them's the breaks. Meanwhile, Julius and his party target a spider who's become quite the problem, and Shun and Katia meet some of their fellow reincarnates – not always peaceably. As time passes, the new Demon Lord, who seems to know about the reincarnates, also starts to push her ambitions, while God himself seems to have something special in mind for the erstwhile spider.
The field of isekai reincarnation novel series is so dense and thickly populated with weird options that even a catchy title and premise might not hold reader attention for long; a series has to have something more going for it to stand out in such a crowded pack. So I'm a Spider, So What? accomplishes that feat by just doing the same things as its peers, but doing it all better.
So many series get so wrapped up in the minutiae of their premise that they get lazy on the basics, like making the leads compelling characters, giving them interesting personalities, and challenging them in such a way that they genuinely feel endangered. Even basic world-building is frequently deficient and the underlying tabletop fantasy structure is more a nuisance than an enhancement. The first novel of this series showed that it can handle these elements quite well, and the second novel goes further to show that the series can even turn these old stand-bys into strengths.
It all starts with the spider, who once again isn't the exclusive viewpoint character but still gets the bulk of the focus. Writer Okina Baba showed a real talent for writing first-person narration in the first volume, which only gets sharper and wittier in this book. Rarely have I encountered a perspective character who demonstrates her personality as effectively as the spider does, giving the reader a thorough sense of how she thinks and how she perceives the world. The attitude she projects in this process is enormously engaging, and it only gets better when she develops an ability later in this volume that allows her to devote a second and even third mind (effectively alternate personalities) to different aspects of her being, such as body, magical development, and skill/tactical control. These minds work together, but in one of the novel's best scenes, we learn that they also have thoughts of their own and opinions of the other minds. As confusing as this may sound, it works beautifully in execution.
All of that happens while the spider traverses through the highs and lows of her situation. The former consists mostly of developing new skills, while the latter involves her dismay at the danger of her environment, including how she has to develop her self-heal ability up to a level where she can merely survive the heat. She's hardly the first protagonist in isekai who rigorously min-maxes her skills to achieve her goals, but her efforts are more involving than most. While she is gradually becoming powerful, her inherent physical fragility and the way her environment works against her weaknesses keep her from seeming overpowered, which results in fight sequences every bit as thrilling as last volume's monkey battle. Her progress is also surprisingly effective at helping to advance the world-building despite her limited frame of reference. The one thing we don't get from her viewpoint is a clear sense of the passage of time, which other viewpoints imply is considerably longer than it seems to her.
Among the other characters who were prominent in the last volume, Julius gets a feature fight scene where we get to see what the Hero can really do. Shun gets more substantial blocks of time as we see how he, Katia, and other reincarnates they meet up with are handling their circumstances in the human world, including the reincarnation of their teacher, whose methods only become more mysterious. This content is valuable both for showing how the reincarnates fare in civilization and for further expanding the series' world-building. While these scenes sometimes stray toward more typical high school conflicts and hints of romance, none of that is a detriment to reader engagement. Late in this novel, we also get introduced to a fourth viewpoint, a demon who serves as chief assistant to the suspiciously young new Demon Lord. There's a strong implication that this young Demon Lord may be the last unaccounted-for reincarnate (a few didn't survive and the locations of others are known, with the further implication that Okaa-sensei may be aware of the spider), which raises all sorts of interesting implications, especially considering the note that the volume ends on.
Another big plus for this volume is the acknowledgement that there is a higher power – and perhaps even an entire power structure – managing the game-like mechanics of the fantasy world. This is definitely a welcome addition, since too many isekai stories just accept the artificiality of their setting's game mechanics at face value. This implies that either there's a bigger purpose to the world being the way it is, or else God really is running the whole world for its own entertainment. The latter is a scary thought indeed.
Yen Press's production of the novel has a dual-fold glossy page featuring the spider in battle on one side and the human/elven above-ground cast on the other. Its 264 pages are broken into numerous short chapters and interludes and include a few black-and-white illustrations, several monster stat pages, and a one-page afterword.
Of the isekai reincarnation manga and light novels I've sampled in the last year, none that haven't already gotten an anime adaptation are more deserving than this series. Volume 2 cements So I'm a Spider, So What?'s place in the upper echelons of isekai novels.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B-
+ Strong use of narration and game mechanics, hints of a larger picture, lovable spider
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