Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, Vol. 2

By Ao Jyumonji and Eiri Shirai. Released in Japan by Overlap, Inc. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Sean McCann.

As I have observed many times in the past in my reviews, I am not all that much of a gamer. Sometimes this makes it hard to follow various aspects of Japanese light novels, many of which depend on knowledge of how RPG systems work. But it also means that I may not have the patience for the sort of level-raising behavior that these games, and subsequently these light novels, involve. This second volume does a lot of character building work, and by “a lot” I mean that Haruhiro, Ranta, and to a lesser extent Merry get more development. It’s good development too, as this series has a lot of reflection on the best way to act like a leader or a team player. This does not obscure the fact, however, that the plot of this second volume involves “kill things” for the entire length of the book.

For all that I complain about Ranta, sometimes Haruhiro can also be annoying fro different reasons. He’s never really had to lead before, and has no idea how the mindset of a leader works, and so is constantly doubting himself and criticizing his decisions when things go wrong. He seems to think that this is just him rather than the norm, but I think the problem may simply be that “leader” types never get the inner monologue that we get from him here, and in fact also think about these things all the time. Stepping back and looking at things from an outside perspective, we see he is getting better at making decisions, takes responsibility, and his battle skills are also improving. I think Merry can see this best (I don’t see this series as having much romance, but if it did, they’re the obvious pair).

Speaking of Merry, she’s able to put a few of her own demons to rest in this book, though she notably does not get an inner monologue. Ranta does, though, which confirms a lot of what we already know about him. He’s hotheaded and stubborn, but also tends to act this way as a pose half the time, and is frustrated that the rest of the group doesn’t understand him better – especially as Haruhiro seems to understand the other party members fine. But Haruhiro and Ranta have a complex relationship, more than just boke and tsukkomi, and only time is going to fix that. Luckily, the near loss of Ranta at the climax of the book seems to have united them a bit more closely (if he gets paired with anyone, it’ll be Yume, who’s already sparring with him in best Ranma and Akane tradition).

So good characterization, and the fights are pretty good. That said, if we don’t get something actually happening in the third book besides “kill things, level up”, I may let this series go. It’s a good examination of how “trapped in an RPG world” would go if it were realistic, but it’s sometimes simply too realistic, i.e. it’s a slog.

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