By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by Softbank Creative. Released in North America by Yen On.
For those who see that title and roll their eyes, the commonly agreed on abbreviation, from the Japanese title, is ‘DanMachi’. We’ve seen a few of the cliched light novels with titles as long as their content in manga and anime format before, but this is really the first time we’ve seen one as a light novel. As you’d expect, the longer the title the more likely that this is a romantic harem comedy, and that’s true here. It’s also a fantasy, though, one closely connected to the world of role-playing games (though it’s not players trapped in a game, for once). I think that the fantasy gamers will likely find it easier to appreciate this title than the harem comedy fans, though both will find things to like and dislike. One thing I think everyone will agree on is that the cover blurb is pretty misleading: Bell stops being a ‘damsel in distress’ almost immediately.
That is where we start, however. Bell is our narrator for most of the book, though it does switch off when the author wants to tell scenes without his presence to a third person style. He’s young and naive, wanting to become an adventurer in order to meet girls and get a harem, but he mostly wants that because this is what his grandfather (now deceased) taught him was the way of all things. In reality, he can’t catch a clue when it’s thrust in his face, really. The other protagonist is his sponsoring god, in this world where gods have come down to the real world and form gangs of adventurers to entertain themselves. Hestia has only one adventurer – Bell – but it’s clear that she just needs to mature. It’s also clear that she’s head over heels for Bell, and is somewhat frustrated at his lack of interest. As the book goes on we see more women – the big sister trying to convince Bell not to be stupid, the young waitress with an immediate crush on him, another goddess who wants him mostly to amuse herself – but it’s apparent from the start who the ‘lead girl’ is.
The fantasy aspect fares better, though I don’t really game so it’s possible I’m missing stuff. Bell fights increasingly tough monsters, and when he defeats them gets gems to exchange for money, or ‘drop items’ that might be useful. It honestly takes a little while to get used to the fact that this is meant to be a real world – adventurers have their ‘stats’ printed on their back in runes, for goodness’ sake. But the fights are well-written and go fast, and there’s a nice feeling of suspense to them. The book read very quickly and smoothly, which was nice, and lacks a lot of the self-important narrating we’ve seen in other books this year. There’s also a surprising lack of fanservice – surprising as the color artwork inside the front cover is filled with it. Hestia gets the nickname ‘loli big boobs’, which is unfortunate, but other than that the emphasis here is on the story for the most part.
I may have made this sound more interesting than it is – there’s nothing here that really gets me fired up for another volume. But it’s pleasant enough, and a nice quick read. Harem fans will be annoyed at the obliviousness of the hero and the possessiveness of the heroine, because they always are. Fantasy fans might be entertained by the ‘RPG in real life’ aspect, though, and may want to give it a shot. And fans of the Durarara!! light novels or the Yozakura Quartet manga will recognize the artist. It’s also available digitally, and an anime is due out soon.