Reviewby Theron Martin,
So I'm a Spider, So What?
The spider's first encounter with one of her fellow incarnates – the baby vampire – gets off to an uncertain start due to a communication barrier, but she decides to watch the baby from afar and surreptitiously help protect it from those seeking to kidnap her. Her actions inadvertently draw her partially-unwanted attention and also get her mixed up with both a certain elf lord and the Demon Lord herself. Meanwhile, years into the future, the armies of Hugo and the demons have marched on the elf village. Seeking to protect their fellow incarnates, Shun and companions rush to the forefront of battle, only to encounter the rest of the surviving incarnates – including one that even their teacher, who has a special skill for knowing such things, long believed to be dead.
I am writing this review while in the midst of doing episode reviews for the anime adaptation of The Rising of The Shield Hero, so I can't help but be struck by the different ways that the two presentations are handling their world-building and vast difference that creates in their effectiveness. The key difference is perspective. Unlike Shield Hero, the split in perspective both between two main characters and (as we eventually discovered) between two time frames allows for a much broader and more intricate construction of the Big Picture. Added support has come from the occasional brief side tracks into other viewpoints, some of which are from characters whose actual identities aren't revealed until later. That has served this series well, as it has turned the world-building into the construction of a fascinating puzzle. With volume 5, those pieces are all finally starting to fall into place.
And the picture those pieces are assembling is definitely more involved than early indications suggested. Writer Okina Baba has done a lot of things well over the course of the series, but this volume reveals that one of his main strengths might actually be misleading the reader. The first major example of this was implying that the human and spider timelines were one and the same until enough evidence mounted that they had to be at least a decade apart. A more involved case an be seen in the way the story has suggested a connection between the spider and the Demon Lord since the end of volume 2. As the differing timelines has become clearer, evidence pointing towards the spider eventually becoming the Demon Lord of Shun's timeline seemed to be accumulating, but there also hints to the contrary if one knew what details to focus on. The tricky part has been recognizing the latter for what they are, and indeed, the importance of some of those details has only become clear in retrospect.
A good chunk of this volume is devoted to assembling all of the pertinent details so far to finally reveal who the spider actually is in Shun's timeline, what her connection to the actual Demon Lord is, and how that came about. The latter part of this is the most surprising revelation, especially given that earlier in this volume the Demon Lord tries her damnedest to kill the spider, though it does happen for firmly logical and in-character reasons. The former shouldn't be as much of a surprise, as hints have been dropped about that ever since the character in question was first mentioned, though again, picking up on various details actually being hints is only clear in retrospect. Overall, it's a clever play on Baba's part.
So is what's going on with the overall world structure. This volume does not fully reveal Baba's hand on that, but it offers additional hints about how twisted this world actually is. Those primarily come from the suggestions about what role the elves actually play in this setting – or, perhaps more precisely, what role the elves' leader, Potimas, plays. As this volume progresses, the notion that the elves might be the good guys is gradually thrown into complete disarray, to the point that by the end of the volume the possibility that the Demon Lord might be in the right is raised. Of course, certain moral choices – such as the harm done by manipulating Hugo – still give pause to such argument, though the storytelling also makes it clear that Hugo has a personal agenda which does not dovetail at all with the bigger picture of the side he's working with. At the same time, all sorts of additional hints are being thrown out by exposure to new perspectives, including those of both Ms. Oka and the Demon Lord Ariel.
The novel's merits are not just in the intricate world-building, however. The numerous different perspectives offered here – more, I believe, than in any previous novel – allow a much greater fleshing out of some characters who had previously been only peripheral, to the point that a score card may now be needed to keep track of all of the significant players. This volume also shows better than any previous ones the contrast between the spider's attitude-laden inner voice and her outward difficulty communicating with others, which when combined with other revelations suggests that her previous comments about being alienated from the rest of the class were more because she made herself unapproachable than because the class was actually against her. The tense action sequences that have always been a highlight of the franchise get de-emphasized a bit here but aren't entirely gone, either, with both our spider and other characters getting clever with the powers and abilities available to them. The one downside is that this novel does suffer a little from powermongering in certain places, but that is a comparatively minor nuisance.
The technical side is the same as ever: Baba still favors short, often one-line paragraphs for a breezy, free-flowing style, and that is applied to everyone. If that hasn't appealed to you in previous volumes, this one won't improve that situation. The front glossy page features a trio of characters, though one is not as significant in this volume as her placement on that pages suggests. Black-and-white illustrations mostly shy away from monster profiles in favor of the first depictions to date of Fei's humanoid form and the Demon Lord. However, I don't recommend flipping through the book before reading it, as one of the pictures late in the novel is a massive spoiler.
In the Afterword, Baba indicates that this novel has been changed markedly from the web novel version through the omission of one character prominent in the web novel version and speculates that the next novel could stray even farther from the original version. Whatever the case, the last few lines provide an enticing long-range hook for future installments, while the state of events at the end of the novel provide meaty short-term hooks. Overall, the novel is another major success for the franchise.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : B
+ Elaborate use of shifting perspectives allows for a great deal of character development, mysteries behind the setting and story are coming together
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