Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 4

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.

We’ve been waiting for some time for Hajime’s path to intersect with the rest of his high school class, and it finally arrives in this volume, which appropriately has Kaori on the cover. It also provides us with a nice comparison between the two lives the groups are currently leading. Hajime, at the start of the volume, is trying to date his rabbit girl (with Yue’s permission, of course), but cannot help but accidentally get caught up in a string of ludicrous situations that end up with him semi-adopting a small mermaid-ish girl and also casually destroying an underground slave ring and mob over the course of, oh, an hour or so. Meanwhile, his class has gotten down to the 90th floor, and suddenly run into a demon with a bunch of monster minions, many of whom are invisible, and get their clocks absolutely cleaned. It’s serious and dramatic and… you’re counting the pages waiting for Hajime to show up again.

There are a few interesting characters among the class herd, of course. Kaori is still just as obsessed as she ever was – in fact, we get a hilarious extra story showing off how obsessed with Hajime she was from the moment she first saw him – and it’s no surprise that the volume ends with her joining Hajime’s party, though not without difficulty – it’s hard to topple Yue from the top, and she doesn’t, but like all the other girls, Yue’s absolute strength of love for Hajime gives her the courage to confess her own. Shizuku rises from “snarky best friend” to top-tier in this volume, proving smart, capable, and wielding an amazingly sharp tongue. The way she gets Hajime to promise not to mistreat Kaori is the funniest part of the book, and I won’t spoil it. She also gives excellent advice to Kouki, the actual cliched “hero called to save the world”, though I’m not sure it will stick. Kouki sounds like the author will always want him to be teeth-grindingly wrong in a Dudley Do-Right way, so I suspect the next time he meets Hajime things won’t go well – particularly after that cliffhanger.

But yeah, I had a lot of trouble remembering who was who in the rest of the class, and those I did remember didn’t appeal to me (sorry, Suzu, you need more in your quiver than “comedy lesbian”). And to a degree that’s the point. Interesting as it was to see the class struggle and mostly fail against a string of monsters far beyond their abilities, and deal with the idea that they’ll actually have to kill enemies, that’s not what we’re reading Arifureta for. The reader wants Hajime impaling monsters with one blow, Yue burning everything in sight, and Shea swinging her hammer around (and also riding Hajime’s faux motorcycle, the other contender for “funniest moment” in the book). Like other ridiculous isekai series (hi, Smartphone), it works best when it’s ridiculous. That said, the contrast between ridiculous and desperately serious here made this an excellent volume.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 3

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 was a relatively good volume of Arifureta provided you understand what genre you are reading – it’s a teenage power fantasy of the strongest kind – so let me get the weak point out of the way straight away. It’s not hard, she’s sitting on the cover. Judging by Arifureta fans’ reaction, I’d expected to dislike Shea, introduced last time, but instead I really found myself taken with her. Tio, introduced in this volume, is not nearly as fortunate, mostly as she’s a walking sex joke (it’s a sad state of affairs when the buxom bunny girl is NOT the walking sex joke). She’s a dragon person who is mind controlled to kill the party that Hajime and company are tasked to rescue, and is unsurprisingly very hard to kill. Hajime, who as we know prefers overkill anyway, ends things by shoving a giant spike up the dragon’s bottom… which apparently not only dispels the mind control, but triggers her masochistic side. She spends the rest of the book making the standard “your abuse turns me on” jokes. Also, if you’re going to develop a heroine, don’t do it at the end in an extra story. It just looks like you forgot to.

Leaving Tio aside, the rest of the book is much better. The teacher of this sent to another world bunch, Aiko, gets the bulk of the development, and honestly probably should have gotten the cover, especially as I suspect she’s eventually going to be part of the inevitable harem, though I’m not happy about that. She still has a tendency to be a bit too much of a ripoff of Komoe-sensei from Index, but her desperate idealism and desire to help everyone she meets – as well as all her students, even when they’ve turned totally insane or (in Hajime’s case) become cynical and bitter. In fact, she’s far stronger than you’d expect, and when she goes up against Hajime to convince him to do the right thing and save the town, it’s him who blinks first. Yue also helps here, saying that the Hajime she fell in love with is not someone who will kill for no reason. Having taken the hero as dark as we can, it’s time to start bringing him back to the light.

That will take some time, and may never completely happen, though I particularly liked his reasoning for killing the villain at the end, even though he was dying anyway. Hajime, Yue and Shea continue to be the most broken trio ever, and Shea has now fully integrated herself into their little group (though he still won’t sleep with her.) If you read a series in order to see the hero overcome hardships and struggles, this is so not the book for you. If, on the other hand, you enjoy seeing a ridiculously overpowered twink waltz his way through a fantasy world and occasionally be reminded that he once had an actual soul, and don’t mind him abusing nearly the entire cast, you should enjoy this quite a bit. I would not go as far as Yue and say that Hajime is a tsundere, though. Maybe he’s a tundra.

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.