by Theron Martin,

The Ideal Sponger Life

GN 1

The Ideal Sponger Life GN 1
Zenjiro Yamai is a young salaryman working for a “black company.” On a rare off day, he suddenly finds himself summoned to the other-world kingdom of Capua by Queen Aura to become her husband (and thus the Prince-Consort), because he has a trace of the royal bloodline in his veins due to Capuan ancestors. That's important because Aura needs such a person to father children who will retain the bloodline's distinctive space-time magical ability. Beyond that, Zenjiro doesn't have to do anything but please the curvaceous Aura. It's a suspiciously sweet deal for Zenjiro, who has no real ties to his own world, with the only apparent downside being the loss of access to modern conveniences. Are Aura's reasons for choosing him something that Zenjiro can live with, in light of all of the potential perks? And is life in the palace of Capua really going to be as simple as it sounds?

The manga version of The Ideal Sponger Life is an adaptation of a light novel series that's not yet been released in English. It differs from most isekai titles in that both of its leads are full-grown adults, but otherwise it gives every impression up front of being the ultimate wish-fulfillment story for a young man struggling to make his way in the world: no need to work to support oneself, luxurious accommodations complete with a staff of servants, endless free time, and a hot wife that he's obligated to have sex with on a regular basis because fathering kids is his new raison d'etre. While the story doesn't step away from that wish fulfillment aspect within the scope of this volume, enough thought is put into developing this premise and enough ambition is shown to expand the story beyond it that I would recommend giving this title a chance.

The key to making all of this work is that Aura is a strong and capable woman who has been groomed to be a leader and puts a lot of thought into her actions. Though she has distant male relatives as options, she has chosen to go the route of summoning an otherworlder for a variety of practical reasons that mostly boil down to her desire to be the first female sovereign of her extremely patriarchal country. With no precedent set for her situation, she has to be careful about establishing any circumstances where a man could step in to usurp her power, so a helpless outsider willing to accept the privileged but largely powerless title of Prince Consort would be ideal. Not giving him any responsibilities beyond escorting her, and keeping him isolated from the rest of the kingdom, lessens the chance of any outside influence and helps protect her position.

Granted, this is still convenient justification for the sweet situation Zenjiro has fallen into, but the thoughtfulness of its construction is appreciable, as is the thorough discovery process that Zenjiro undergoes with Aura to make sure he fully understands his situation. It makes sense, given that he's been burned once already by being taking advantage of by a major power. Even later talk about the possibility of Zenjiro being given a concubine adds to the plot just as much as the fantasy, since this opens several potential angles for court intrigue, and the latter part of this volume gives the impression that those politics and intrigue will be integral to the story going forward.

The story also impresses with its attention to detail. Given a month to plan after accepting Aura's offer, Zenjiro carefully arranges how he's going to obtain electricity (at least for a while) to power his modern conveniences. There's also clever touches like the emphasis on Zenjiro and Aura stepping forward simultaneously during their wedding ceremony, or how typical Japanese customs of politeness could actually be detrimental in his new position. It also helps that Zenjiro is a sensible young man who's willing to cooperate with Aura in any way he can. Even the expected aspects of him introducing elements from modern society into the fantasy realm – like the ceremonial meaning of rings in weddings or how spreadsheets can help spot suspicious transfers of funds between nobles – allow for more creativity than normal.

Because procreation is the crux of Zenjiro's responsibilities, this volume isn't timid about its two leads actually having sex once married. The wedding night scene finds a good balance between being sexy and tasteful, with no actual full nudity shown. Fanservice is otherwise limited to how Aura's substantial cleavage doesn't easily escape Zenjiro's attention. While this volume suggests that fanservice will be a regular element going forward, it's not as predominant as the premise might suggest.

The artistic effort comes courtesy of Neko Hinotsuki, whose general portrayal of Aura is tastefully sexy, with an emphasis on mature beauty. Other characters stand out far less in their designs, except perhaps for one female character who appears at the end and is suggested by the interior glossary page to be a major character. Architectural and clothing designs vaguely suggest Middle Eastern influences, although military uniforms and solders' equipment are more European in design and from a variety of different eras. In other words, there is no predominant cultural style to this setting yet. (Naming conventions also lean heavily toward European but again, with no consistent theme.) Background art and panel designs are adequate but not especially inspired.

The volume ends with an address from original novelist Tsunehiko Watanabe and a couple of advertisements for the next volume but no other extras. This volume won't blow anyone away, but it does provide a surprisingly enjoyable read.

Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B

+ More carefully considered and tasteful treatment of its subject matter than expected
No clear defining themes on certain aspects of its world-building

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Production Info:
Original creator: Tsunehiko Watanabe
Original Character Design: Jū Ayakura
Art: Neko Hinotsuki

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Ideal Sponger Life (manga)

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