by Rebecca Silverman,

The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP!

Novels 1 & 2

The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! Novels 1 & 2
Lucia Arca came to the capital to work as a laundrymaid because she has a very special magic: she can clean anything. She calls her power “soap” and she's neither sure why she has it nor why she can use it without a crystal catalyst, which all other mages require, but she enjoys her life – especially since she gets to see her friend Celes, whom she met back in her village when she helped he and some other knights as they were passing through. But what Lucia doesn't realize is that Celes is Sir Celestino, one of the most important knights in the realm, and that her soap doesn't just clean, it also purifies. When that gets out, along with the fact that the kingdom's summoned Sacred Maiden isn't keen on doing her job, Lucia finds herself traveling with Celes, the prince, the Sacred Maiden, and some other luminaries as the Maiden sets out to save the world through her purification magic. That sounds kind of familiar, doesn't it…?

It's a truth that most iterations of the isekai genre focus on the summoned heroes. Equally true is that they're usually relatively okay with having been summoned – and if they're not, they still manage to find their niche somehow or at least to enjoy being super over-powered. Even Defeating the Demon Lord's a Cinch, which takes a denizen of the otherworld for its protagonist, has a summoned hero who doesn't do so badly, with the same being said of The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind!'s unhappy add-on to the summoning. That makes Nao Wakasa's The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! stand out even in this relatively quiet corner of the crowded field: not only is the main character Lucia a regular citizen of the fantasy world, but Maria, the summoned hero, is not just unhappy with her summoning, she's also sad, scared, and angry about it.

It makes sense if you think about it. While the isekai genre as it stands now could be said to exist as a form of promised escapism from a difficult or unhappy life, given the sheer number of heroes being summoned in fiction there would have to be one or two who were perfectly happy, normal teenagers enjoying their lives. Even without factoring genre oversaturation in, teens are still kids, and not every child is going to be thrilled to have been ripped away from their families and friends. That's where Maria lands – she was a popular, happy high school student who suddenly found herself yanked away from everything and everyone she loved and told that she had to use her extra-special magic powers to save a world she knows nothing about. Even without a healthy dose of teenage angst, that doesn't feel all that fair, especially when they tell her that there's no way home.

That's where we find Maria for most of the first volume, while with the second we begin to see that Banfield, the country that summoned her, has definitely not been entirely honest about all of their motives. It's this revelation, along with Maria's general unhappiness which comes out in her acting like a spoiled brat, that helps to make Lucia stand out as the story's true protagonist, even if, in her mind, she's the “ordinary” part of the title. And to a degree she is – she's a native of Banfield, a laundrymaid at the palace (traditionally a grueling job in the days before washing machines), and really quite pleased with where she is in life. But it's because she's so happy and comfortable with herself that she's able to reach Maria; she just treats her like anyone else, not like the Sacred Maiden, and she listens to her. Even without using her special magic Soap, Lucia is able to cleanse Maria's heart.

This is certainly not to say that Lucia, and the novels in general, don't fall under some of the more popular tropes. Soap aside, Lucia is painfully unaware of her own appeal, particularly to the men of the group and her friend and would-be boyfriend Celestino, and her earnest goodheartedness is also very much in line with other perky shoujo heroines. What makes her work as a character is a combination of Nao Wakasa's breezy writing style and the fact that Lucia does in fact catch on eventually – we see her learning more about Soap and its uses and she does figure things out with Celes in volume two. It's not precisely character growth, but it's close enough to keep the novels moving and to give us plenty of space to start wondering about how she came to have her powers in the first place.

That Soap is good for more than just doing laundry begins to become evident when Lucia first meets Celes and a group of other knights before she came to the capital. The knights were the survivors of a horrible battle, weary, torn, and in terrible shape. Lucia, thinking it was all she could do for them, offered to clean their clothes and cast Soap on them, with the result that she also cleansed their minds of the horrors they'd experienced and gave them back their equilibrium. (Celes, naturally, fell in love with her on the spot.) Later on in the first book, the castle is attacked by monsters, and in a last ditch effort to save people, a cornered Lucia casts Soap on the beasts – and they suddenly stop attacking. Soap, therefore, is less cleaning magic and more purification magic, which is something that only the Sacred Maiden (Maria) is supposed to have. When this becomes known, Lucia is summarily packed off to join the Sacred Maiden's group, which has set off to purify the Cristallo Sacro whose corruption created the monsters in the first place.

The king's ulterior motives come out in volume two (let's just say that magic is passed down through the bloodline and that Maria's behavior hasn't been queenly), but what's more interesting is that we learn that, contrary to what Maria has been told, she may not be trapped in Lucia's world after all. 1600 years ago a different country summoned a Sacred Maiden, and while they claim she was sent home, the fact that Lucia has a version of the power Sacred Maidens alone are supposed to hold asks us to question that narrative. Could Lucia be a descendant of the, or a, previous Sacred Maiden?

It's a shame that the second volume moves so quickly through all of its plot points, because that's something worth thinking on. The breakneck pace of volume two also doesn't give us enough time to really dwell on the Lucia/Celes romance, while exchanging Celes' narration in book one for Maria's in book two doesn't feel like an equal trade-off. It's still good, just not as good as the first novel. Despite that, however, Lucia is a winning heroine, the addition of a baby dragon does not turn into a cute mascot fest and seems to be in service of the plot, and the story itself remains fun and engaging. Hopefully volume three will put things back on track, because even with its sophomore volume's problems, this is still a good spin on a somewhat tired genre and an enjoyable story overall.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-

+ Lucia is an engaging heroine, nice twist on the isekai genre. Foreshadowing gives us something to think about.
Maria is difficult, book two's pacing is too fast. Romance subplot not developed well in book two.

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Story: Nao Wakasa

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