Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 2

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.

This is definitely a stronger volume than the first one – as with many authors, you get the sense that this is the story he wanted to tell all along, only he had to spend an entire volume giving us actual plot and backstory. But Hajime has hit world’s strongest already, and together with Yue he can pretty much carve up anything. So what’s left is the two of them snarking their way through various confrontations, beating nearly to death anyone who wrongs them, and attacking their second dungeon, which thankfully is very different from the first – in fact, the dungeon may be the highlight of the book. And of course they meet a new girl, the bunny girl on the cover. Admittedly, a lot of the plot points we had in the first book get short shrift (the rest of the class have approximately 20 pages of the book), but in a book this ridiculous that’s fine.

One of the reasons that the book works so well is the addition of Shea (whose name I think is meant to be pronounced Shee-ah, but sorry, I’m likely going to be saying Shay due to romanization habits), a loud, hyperactive, overly dramatic bunny girl who is the polar opposite of Hajime and Yue. I suspect Arifureta fandom may disagree with me on this – I haven’t verified it, but I’m pretty sure that Shea is the sort of character that readers came to Arifureta to get away from, and I bet that they winced with every whining complaint out of her mouth. These readers are wrong. Shea is quite funny and amusing, and while she starts off as the abused whiner of the group, the book is in many ways about adding her to the ‘harem’ naturally – I was relieved that Yue warmed up to her relatively quickly, as I don’t need genuine love triangle drama in my unrealistic harem fantasy – and by the end she is, if not an actual love interest, at least a valued party member.

As I mentioned in my review of the first volume, Arifureta tends to work better the more ridiculous it gets, though this is not an ironclad rule – Hajime’s training of the rabbit clan, and subsequent overdoing it, left just as sour a taste in my mouth as it did in his – and that’s likely why the best part of this book is Hajime, Yue and Shea conquering their second dungeon, which features zero monsters but eleven million kinds of traps. There’s hallways that turn into slides, there’s the ever popular washtub to the head, and there’s even a boulder rolling towards them down a slope, which is so cliched it’s remarked upon. This is added to by the constant taunting messages of the dungeon master, Miledi, who we never see (her spirit is inside a golem), but whose personality shines through with every teasing abusive message she writes for our heroes. This whole section was very fun, and the fight scenes were good.

As always, know what you’re getting into – this is still wish fulfillment fantasy of the highest order, with a ridiculously dark!grey!independent Hajime and his two companions, a gorgeous loli and a busty bunny girl. There’s no sex this time around, but that’s mostly due to lack of opportunity. It is still for fans of these sort of light novels only. But if you are one of those fans, and can get over Shea’s hyperdramatics, this is a very good addition to the series, and a definitely improvement over the first book.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 1

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.

First of all, it is very hard for me to read this book and not have ‘Arifureta, gentille arifureta, Arifureta, je te plumerai.” in my head, so I want you all to have it there as well. Secondly, this book in many ways reads like Isekai Smartphone’s dark mirror. They’re both intensely serious attempts at the classic isekai, but while Smartphone is content to be light as air and coast along on the awesomeness of his hero and the goodwill of the reader, in the grim darkness of Arifureta there is only hatred and revenge. Except, of course, we never see the actual revenge that we expect, and the hatred mostly manifests itself as our hero getting impossibly overpowered and badass. It’s a teenage power fantasy, but it has not gone the way most of those types of fantasies go – at least not yet.

The first third of the book starts you off on the wrong foot, leading you to believe this will be a far more traditional isekai than it actually is. Our hero is Hajime, a normal high school student who happens to be bullied by the majority of the class, mostly because the cutest girl in the class, Shirasaki, has taken it upon herself to interact with him every day. This becomes seemingly irrelevant when the entire class is transported to another world, there to become heroes and fight for the sake of the new country they’re now in. All of the class has cool adventurer stats and awesome powers… except Hajime, whose stats are awful and who is basically a blacksmith. So he’s bullied AGAIN, physically and emotionally. Worse, Shirasaki is still interested in him. And so one day, when the class are fighting a horrible battle far above their skill level (which Hajime actually helps out with more than anyone else), one jealous classmate turns to murder and Hajime falls into the deepest, darkest depths of the dungeon.

So far so dull, but then the plot and the writing take a dive off a cliff, just like our hero. Hajime, due to the happenstance of various things I won’t bother to get into, ends up leveling up so much his stat level is ???, acquires innumerable powers, and uses his basic blacksmith stats so do amazing things, and also build lots of guns, because kids who get transported to another world tend to be gun nuts. This is the point of the book where the reader has to throw up their hands and just go with it, because it is absolutely overblown and ridiculous, and the prose verges on the hilarious. It also may be the best part of the book, because he shortly meets a vampire princess trapped in the dungeon with him, and after rescuing her the series (again) becomes far more predictable.

That said, I expected by the end of the novel that he would get back to the surface and get revenge on those who once wronged him. This doesn’t happen, though we do cut back to the surface occasionally to check in on the rest and show how Shirasaki was very, very much in love with dull ol’ Hajime. Instead, the last third of the book relies on long battle scenes (which are done pretty well) and the interaction between Hajime and Yue, which is done less well. Hajime has a tendency at times to act as tsukkomi to Yue, which is a shame as it makes him sound like Araragi from the Monogatari series, especially bad given Yue is a blonde loli vampire. Another surprise, and a warning of sorts: Hajime and Yue have sex, several times. It’s implied rather than shown, but it is worth noting, simply as that sort of thing rarely actually happens in isekai harems like this, and likely shows off its web novel roots. You will have to trot out the old “it’s OK as she’s really hundreds of years old, she just LOOKS nine” chestnut.

Arifureta was less terrible than I was expecting, but there are better isekais out there. I’d only recommend it to those who really like this sort of thing and don’t mind overpowered, overserious heroes.