Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 9

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 Arifureta reviews have begun with me discussing some aspect of Hajime’s personality, but for the most part, after realizing he now has a way to return to Japan, Hajime’s character arc seems to be coming to an end. There is discussion here about how he can possibly fit in back home after all the changes he’s gone though, but Hajime’s attitude to this is basically “can’t do anything about it now, so will see what happens when it happens”. There’s also a side story towards the end of the book that shows that he’s not really as changed as everyone may think, as we see much of his core character even as a bullied high school student. Instead of discussing Hajime, I’d like to focus on the two characters who get the most attention during this volume (the first of a two-parter), and that’s Kouki and Shizuka. Who are suffering from the same problem but going in two very different directions.

The function of this final dungeon, aside from the snow and ice and a bunch of bigfoot monsters, is to make those who try to conquer it confront their negative traits. This starts as whispers in the ear, and ends with a full on “my evil twin” confrontation. We don’t actually see Kouki’s battle in this volume, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he’s not going to pass. In fact, I’ll even go further: I don’t think Kouki as an antagonist is going to be resolved in the series. I’m not sure it will get to the point where he’s an outright villain like Eri, but Kouki sees the world, and those around him, in black and white, and as long as he keeps doing that he’s never going to accept that Hajime isn’t “bad” in some way. It can be very frustrating to the reader – and indeed the other cast members, all of whom know exactly what his inner turmoil is but refuse to bring it up as they know once they do he’ll snap and that will be it. Expect snapping next book.

As for Shizuku, who is getting yet another picture on the cover, she not only has to confront her repressed love for Hajime, which has been bubbling up for some time, but also her repression of everything else in her life. We see her backstory as a girl who wants to do feminine things but has an amazing talent for kendo, and as a result is slotted in as ‘tomboy’ by almost everyone. Her friendship with Kouki’s who’s more an annoying little brother than anything else, also causes her to be ostracized, and it’s only Kaori who’s able to save her. (This also gives insight as to why she’s so willing to put up with Kaori’s eccentric behavior bordering on stalking towards Hajime – and why she refuses to admit her own feelings.) In the end, Shizuku’s main issue is that she needs to be more selfish. She takes a good first step at the end.

As noted, this turns out to be a two-parter, and the author says he’ll show the other cast members confronting their dark selves, including Kouki. I suspect they’ll conquer the dungeon, but the question is what will they do about the rest of the plot, which takes a back seat here aside from occasional mentions of Eri. The latest volume comes out in Japan next week, so we may need to wait a few months to find out.

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”?