by Theron Martin,

The Ideal Sponger Life

GN 2

The Ideal Sponger Life GN 2
Countess Octavia has come to tutor Zenjiro on the history of his new world and the ways of both magic and court etiquette, so that he may be a proper escort for Aura at an upcoming state dinner. He quickly learns that he'll have to modify his polite salaryman instincts in order to fit in, and that magic will not be so simple to master. Despite his training, the banquet proves to be a difficult affair overflowing with opportunities for mistakes, where every move can be loaded with meaning and everyone seems to have ulterior motives. Later, Zenjiro falling ill to a local disease leads to an encounter with a foreign princess skilled in healing, which provides Aura an opportunity to intuit the meaning of the princess's reaction to Zenjiro's marbles, and what impact that might have on the grand scheme of things.

The first volume of this manga adaptation established the story's unique angle on the standard isekai story, where the protagonist is transported to another world specifically to father a child by a queen rather than to perform heroics. As eye-rolling a fantasy premise as that sounded, the first volume surprised and impressed me with its meticulous construction of its setting and many potential political intrigues. The second volume demonstrates that this may have just been a warm-up for the real intrigues to come. The result is a volume with zero action and a more limited amount of fanservice, yet it still makes for a remarkably entertaining read.

While the nitty-gritty details of Zenjiro's situation played into the first volume somewhat, they become the main focus of this volume. Even the tiniest nuances of interaction with royals are scrutinized by those seeking to curry favor or evaluate potential threats. Aura is secretly keeping tabs on Zenjiro when she's not around, but that's partly because everyone else has been as well. Even little details like how little Zenjiro allows the maids into his quarters can be loaded with meaning, and suppositions are drawn about how accessible Zenjiro might be to another pretty face. In public, the scrutiny becomes even more intense, with matters as seemingly trivial as how much Aura holds Zenjiro's hand being packed with meaning. The bulk of one chapter is even devoted to the pitfalls of accepting a publicly-offered gift from an ambitious man, including an analysis of how handling the situation one way or another could create certain obligations. Not everything is a threat to Zenjiro and Aura, however; one noble shows with his actions that he's decided Zenjiro's lack of ambition makes for the most judicious way for Aura to maintain influence.

This volume also has two other major threads, both of which detail how magic works in the setting. Octavia tutoring Zenjiro allows appropriate exposition for this world's deeply precise system of magic. In just a few pages, the volume delves into greater detail than most fantasy worlds about how the proper conjunction of words, intent, and exacting mana regulation is necessary to make even the most basic spells work. Perhaps the most interesting point it raises is that having too much mana can actually make using the simplest of spells problematic, as those possessing such heady mana have trouble throttling down their mana flow enough for the smaller demands of those spells. That and the length of time it takes to learn to regulate one's mana means that Zenjiro might be able to use spells if there's a time skip at some point, but he will not be tossing magic around anytime soon.

Somewhat related to this is the issue of Zenjiro getting sick, in a reflection of the all-too-common historical cases of disease spreading through new contact between continents. Setting aside how vastly underexplored this premise is in isekai, that leads to a visiting noble unwittingly revealing information about magical practices of her land through her interest in something utterly mundane from Zenjiro's world. That results in a discussion about magic item crafting that I suspect will have further ramifications down the road, but even for now, the logical suppositions about it could be strategically advantageous.

A few other world-building details are explored as well, including the nature of wyverns and how Queen Aura, despite being voluptuous, is not regarded as a bastion of femininity in her world. How much this is meant to reflect differing tastes in fanservice vs. commentary on the perception of strong women in this male-dominated setting is left to reader interpretation, though based on other comments made around Aura in the first volume, the latter seems to be the predominant goal. An added boon is that Octavia comes across as a likable character, who's not above a light snicker but also seems quite savvy, especially in the way that she can anticipate her husband's intentions. General Pujol's sister Fatima, who is active in her brother's scheme to get her close to Zenjiro, is also implied to be crafty, though an accompanying short story more strongly implies that she has a hard-core big brother complex. I doubt that we have seen the last of either woman, and despite the best efforts of some to set up a harem for Zenjiro, that does not look to be happening either.

Artistic merits are in line with the first volume, with Fatima making a striking new visual addition. Scene design is nothing exciting, fanservice is limited to extra emphasis on Aura's bust and a couple of panels indicating that Aura and Zenjiro's love life is still active, but the fanservice was never more than a bonus feature to this story, so this isn't a problem. The volume ends with an 11-page short story written by Tsunehiko Watanabe, the original light novels' author, which details an after-party attended by Fatima and her peers.

Whether or not this story might be worthy of an eventual anime adaptation is a matter for debate. That Spice and Wolf was successful enough to merit a second season suggests that there is an audience for these more cerebral takes on fantasy romance. While I could still see the series being a hard sell based on the first two manga volumes, I think the series is worthy of more attention.

Overall : B+
Story : B+
Art : B

+ Engrossing degree of intrigue, well-constructed magical system
Overdramatizes some scenes

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

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