Arifureta Zero, Vol. 2

By Ryo Shirakome and Takaya-ki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou Rei” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

In my review of the first book in this prequel series, I said that it was Miledi’s book and Miledi’s series. Here I’ll go further: I think that Miledi is meant to compare directly with Hajime. Yes, in terms of personality, she reads more like a horrible fusion of Shea and Tio, but as we see a lot in this book, even more than the last one, she is wedded to her ideals and prepared to do anything in her power to preserve them, even if that means taking on the Church, a bunch of pirates, or even a giant seas monster with her ungodly gravity powers. (Ungodly would suit her fine, I think). As for Oscar, he has Hajime’s snark down pat, but after this book we really know who he’s meant to be. He’s Shinpachi from the Gintama series. No, really, the author even straight up ripped off the glasses joke. Oh yes, and we get a new Liberator as well. That’s her on the cover.

The author suggests that the seemingly sweet big sister type who’s really a sadistic tease is a surprise for this book, something which… isn’t true, but whatever. Meiru is a lot of fun, though, and is not only a big sister to her captured real sibling, but also to a huge pirate family that she heads up. Yes, it’s Arifureta does One Piece. Miledi and company are arriving at the city the pirates work out of to find the next Liberator, and after a host of misunderstandings that eventually get resolved, find she… doesn’t want to join them. Well, that’s fine, we went through this in the first book. Till then, there’s sea monsters that get attracted to Miledi’s magic, and casino capers, etc. Of course, eventually the Church is ordered to destroy these pirates once and for all, which leads to the last half of the book, which is one giant melee battle that is highly entertaining provided you love 120-130 pages of fights.

Honestly, I’m surprised there isn’t a much higher body count in this prequel. We already know it’s going to end badly, and it always seems like there’s going to be some dead innocents, but so far the author has done a pretty good job of having them saved at the last minute. (There are a couple of Oscar’s orphan kids who are in a coma from the last book, but Meiru may be able to save them too). In fact, despite the grim Church and the ever-present threat of death, this is a fun book – I would say of all the Arifureta books, this one balances the wacky humor and the thrilling serious plot the best. Miledi is annoying as hell, but not to the reader, just to the characters – an important development! Even the art is really good, showing off both the silly and dramatic (the picture of Miledi giving the finger to the villain may be my favorite).

This is a long book, like most of the Arifureta series, but for fans, it’s a must read. Even casual readers who are turned off by Hajime being Hajime in the main series may want to give the prequel a shot.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 8

By Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

The last few reviews I’ve talked about Hajime as Christ figure, Hajime as overpowered author fantasy, and Hajime as nerd. Given the events in this volume, particularly near the end, it seems appropriate to talk about Hajime as asshole. Hajime’s experience in the dungeon in the first volume broke him in many ways, and aside from his power levels the most obvious has been in his attitude towards… well, almost everything. And while we’ve seen occasional nudges back towards non-sociopathy, particularly thanks to Aiko, there’s still an awful lot of Hajime making the choice that will upset people the most, either because he wants to or, more frequently, because he can’t be bothered. And the main reason he does this, of course, is that the author (and I assume readers) find it funny. Honestly, given all the attention focused on humiliation being a subset of arousal in this book, I suspect we learn a bit TOO much about the author’s mind here. But at the end of the book, Hajime seems to genuinely mellow out.

The bunny girl on the cover is one of the big reasons, to be honest. Much has been made by Hajime of the fact that Yue is the girl he loves and the rest of his harem are far, far below her. And while that’s still fairly true, Shea’s actions over the course of the series, and particularly in the last two books, have led Hajime to realize that he does, in fact, love her as well. Not the same way he loves Yue – there’s no sex here, much to Shea’s disappointment, though I’m not sure “platonic” is how Hajime feels either. But Shea makes Hajime happy, and he wants her to be with him – and not with anyone else. This is helped along by the other big thing that mellows Hajime out, which is that he gains magic that should finally lead him to being able to return home to Japan. Just the idea that he can escape this, let’s face it, pretty dystopian world makes him smile like his old self, much to everyone’s surprise.

Speaking of ‘harem tiers’, the majority of this book is spent clearing another dungeon, this one designed to tend the bonds of love, friendship, and teamwork. Along for the ride are the B-team Japanese group, and let’s just say they don’t do really well. Dungeon-wise, the ‘tiers are Hajime & Yue -> Shea, Kaori and Tio -> big gap -> Shizuku -> Kouki, Ryutarou, and Suzu. You’ll notice Shizuku is a level higher than the others, and indeed we also see it becoming more obvious that she’ll be part of the harem eventually, which everyone else seems to have accepted but her. Indeed, at the end of the dungeon the bottom three don’t get the reward for clearing it – they weren’t good enough. That said, props to Suzu for stepping up and asking to go try the next one anyway, especially because she tells Hajime her reasoning is to be powerful enough to try to talk sense into Eri when they next see her. I suspect the reader knows this is futile, given the epilogue, but I was honestly surprised that the whole group is going to stick around. Even Kouki, who was on his best behavior in this book.

The author says we’re in the home stretch, though I suspect that still means about 3-4 more books. Till then, this volume is very long but satisfying, particularly if you like sweet, heartfelt scenes – that last short story was almost pure sugar. On the other hand, when you get to the scenes with the “slime creatures”, take my advice and skip a few pages. What is it with Japan and “fake bukkake”?

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 7

By Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

I’ve talked before about Hajime as Christ figure, and Hajime as simply another example of the overpowered hero going after the kids that bullied the author in middle school, but in this book it’s also worth taking a look at something that has remained a core part of Hajime’s character despite every possible attempt to extract it: Hajime the nerd. (Yes, yes, I know, chuuni. I never saw that anime, so feel uncomfortable using the expression.) Hajime’s inner monologue has had the occasional taste of otaku culture throughout the series, but this volume really sees it in full flower. When he’s in the bar gathering information, and has to impress the bartender, you can almost hear him squeeing. And while the core purpose of his “arranging a distraction” was to humiliate and get a bit of revenge on Shizuku for laughing at him, the fact that he dresses them all as a sentai team also shows this off. Hajime is badass, but still a nerd.

We seem to have run out of cover girls, as we’re back to Yue. (Technically it should be Liliana, but honestly ignoring her in favor of Yue is perfectly in character.) That said, in terms of content, Shea should really be the one on the cover, as she and her rabbit tribe own this book. Considering that turning the rabbits into savage killers was a passing joke in the 2nd book, it’s become quite a large thing, and the best running gag of the volume was everyone giving Hajime the stink-eye as they realize how much he brainwashed everyone into being Rambo. (They also inherited his nerd tendencies, coming up with hilariously bad “names” for themselves.) Since the Empire is doubling down on Beastmen being enslaved, the rabbits take matters into their own hands – with a little help from Hajime, admittedly, but mostly entirely on their own – to convince the Emperor to change his mind. Again, those who like over the top battles will be very happy.

The demons also get their asses handed to them by the rabbits, but they have a much stronger response, coming up with 400 or so of the Angels that Hajime had a little trouble with in Book 6. I suspect the eighth volume will deal with the fallout from that. One last thing that impressed me, though, was the final extra story. Usually in light novels these extra stories are pure fanservice, but this one not only advances the plot but makes a nice refreshing change from the “all religion is evil” trope we’ve seen in Arifureta and other light novels. A new pope is appointed to fill the void caused by the events of Book 6, and he proves to be an excellent choice, coming across both Yuka (the girl Hajime saved in Book 1) and Aiko and helping them get over their dithering and try to move forward. It comes across as a confessional, and this is exactly the sort of thing that confessions should be about. I really liked it.

A very strong Arifureta book. Except for Tio. God, I hate Tio. More accurately, I hate the way the author writes Tio.