The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Isekai

By SAKKA KEIHAN and Shinobu Shinotsuki. Released in Japan by the authors at Comiket 96. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Emily Balistrieri, Noboru Akimoto, Roy Nukia, Andrew Cunningham, Andrew Hodgson, and Mike Langwiser.

First of all, I really like the fact that this was licensed. I appreciate publishers taking a flyer on titles like this, especially when it’s something that was not published professionally in Japan, but rather was the author’s own fan work they sold at one of the Comikets. It’s also an amusing idea, the sort of thing you can imagine a writer’s group brainstorming about – deconstructing and parodying the isekai genre by putting themselves into the genre, and showing the pitfalls that most isekais manage to avoid by not thinking about them too closely. These stories think about things far too closely, and that’s part of the humor. It’s also a doujinshi, so it’s not too long (and don’t expect illustrations beyond the cover art – these are writers, not artists). That said, I feel it could stand to be a bit shorter. The danger of anthologies is that you find stories you like and stories you don’t, and this did not have a great batting average overall.

The cover art alone should tell you how seriously to take it. We start with Carlo Zen (the author of The Saga of Tanya the Evil) writing isekai as a travel guide for tourists. Tappei Nagatsuki (the author of Re: ZERO) then steps in with what amounts to a broadsided attack/homage of his friend Natsume Akatsuki’s work KonoSuba, as well as other “goddess grants you powers” works. Natsuya Semikawa (the author of Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu) has the isekai as a day trip to escape the burdens of deadlines. Natsu Hyuuga (the author of The Apothecary Diaries) writes the straightest isekai of the bunch, where they are not only transported to another world but are a “piglet” (the word “orc” is studiously avoided) and having trouble surviving; Katsuie Shibata trades on the fact that he took his penname from a Sengoku military commander and does the “accidentally summoned instead of someone else” story, and Hoko Tsuda is transported via delicious ramen into a “everyone mistakes everyone’s intentions all the time” world.

I’ll start with the good: Nagatsuki’s section is reason enough alone to buy this book, as it’s hilarious, especially if you’ve read KonoSuba. Getting hit by a truck, magical power lotteries, and Aqua herself (well, a 2nd rate expy of her) combine to make this tremendous fun. Carlo Zen’s section suffers from his dry, textbook prose (something Tanya readers will find familiar) but is an amusing “what about inoculations/money/customs declarations/etc.” guide. After that, though, things start to sink a bit, though I will admit I found the idea of Shibata’s (penname authors summoned as Sengoku commanders for a real fight) to be a very good one, but the execution was also a tad boring. Semikawa’s story was simply tedious, Hyuuga’s was far too normal (it read like a standard isekai), and Tsuda’s, I suspect, depends on knowing the work that he is riffing on, which I do not.

So again, your mileage may vary, and I like the concept and would like to see more author anthologies like this. But this particular anthology had more misses than hits for me.

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