Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, Vol. 4

By Natsume Akimoto and Kakao Lanthanum. Released in Japan as “Sentouin, Hakenshimasu!” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Noboru Akimoto.

This is still very much your typical volume of Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, where everyone is terrible above and beyond the call of duty. But there are glimmers of the future here, a sign that perhaps the series is not simply destined to be “KonoSuba’s first, crappier draft”. A bit more attention is paid to the ongoing plot of the series itself, with a revelation that this is not simply Six and company scouting an alien planet for the lulz, it’s because Earth is genuinely going ecologically batshit and the evil organization is trying to find a new home for everyone. That said, it doesn’t have to be Six personally, and the other subplot that matters is that there are a bunch of evil overlords who want their boytoy back home with them and are fine with leaving the worldbuilding to someone else. For any other light novel protagonist this would be heaven on Earth, but Six is decidedly uninterested in a hare, content to stay on this world with Alice. Is he getting soft?

As you can see by the cover, this volume’s “Heroine” is Lilith, one of the three evil overlords Six works for. He specifically requested her because she’s the mad scientist, and that’s just what they need right now, if only to stop their bases getting blown up. Sadly, she’s just as useless as everyone else that is in this book, and she also has all the character flaws that go along with her archetype. She’s also grumpy as Six, while happy to banter with her and also happy to threaten to sexually assault her, is not all that into her. Even worse, Alice, her own creation, is going through a rebellious stage, being crankier than usual. While Lilith is there, they dig for water (triggering a slime monster), try to get the poop of a giant sparrow for fertilizer (triggering Snow’s greed at the shiny things in its next), summon an actual angel (which terrifies everyone but Alice, who insists she’s a cosplayer), and battle the Demon Lord’s armies again, just so Rose can ask him why they’re staying at her old holiday home.

As you can see, the goal of this series is still laughs first and foremost. Usually of the “dear lord” variety – there really is a lot of discussion of pee and poop here, and one scene showing how the kingdom uses orcs horrifies Six and Lilith so much that they’re almost ill (and we’re in hysterics). But as I said, the series is starting to get a hang of its characterization. Dix’s problem is that, when you get right down to it, he’;s an asshole but he isn’t evil. And what’s more, everyone around him knows it. It’s only gotten worse since he’s arrived on this planet, but that doesn’t seem to bother him much. Being separated from Alice does, though – they aren’t a romantic couple (there really aren’t any in this series, mostly as Six is uninterested and everyone is terrible) but their bond and banter is still the best reason to read the series. They sound like best friends.

As always, this series is not for everyone. Stay away if puerile stuff makes you roll your eyes. But I think it’s finally hitting its groove, and I can actually read it without seeing what the author later ripped off for KonoSuba.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, Vol. 3

By Natsume Akimoto and Kakao Lanthanum. Released in Japan as “Sentouin, Hakenshimasu!” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Noboru Akimoto.

It can be hard reviewing these books because, much as I’m still finding them funny, there’s not as much to say about them that I haven’t said in my previous two reviews. The characters were reused and combined into the characters we love from KonoSuba – Snow is the most obvious, but in this book it really becomes apparent that if Wiz was a lot more pathetic she’d be Grimm from this series. The author is making a slight effort to try to give the characters depth – mostly with Grimm here, but a bit with Six as well. But it can be hard when you also have to fulfill a certain quota of over the top humor. Combatants is slave to its joke plot and characters, in a way that the author hasn’t quite figured out how to escape. They will in KonoSuba, but this isn’t that. So we’re left with the jokes. Which are excellent… provided you have sympathy for no one and don’t mind things getting quite crass.

Our heroes… sorry, our villains are busy trying to build an enemy base from which they can fulfill their plans to take over this world. Sadly, the bases keep blowing up. Not only that, the very world itself seems out to get them, as they’re attacked by monsters, sandstorms, and can’t even burn down the forest without it coming back to take revenge. In amongst this chaos, the kingdom is having its annual Undead Festival, where the souls of those departed are… put into stuffed animals via Grimm, and wander around helping loved ones to move on. Trust me when I say this is played for laughs, not heartstrings. Unfortunately, some of the undead don’t seem to be peacefully mingling. And a former enemy, killed by Six, may be taking advantage of the Festival to stage a comeback. Can our heroes be horrible enough to win this time? Oh, no sweat.

Grimm is the heroine of this volume, though as with Alice before her, that doesn’t mean she gets all the focus. She does get an attempt at actual depth, though, as we see how dedicated she is to her archbishop job, and she truly does want to help the undead to move on (sadly, this usually also involves sending HERSELF to the next life as well). Six even notes if she were the nice helpful archbishop rather than the desperate man-hungry woman, she’d have a husband by now. As for Six, well, he’s terrible as always, but he manages to be topped by another agent here, Ten, whose own tendencies towards gross and petty evil are far worse than what Six has been doing, and lead to the biggest “oh my God” moment in the book, involving doing something in the Princess’ room. Snow is also entertaining, though as the series goes on she’s shifted from “mostly Darkness with a bit of Aqua” to “Mostly Aqua with a bit of Darkness”. And Rose deciding “Screw it, I’m gonna be a pet dog for this book” is fantastic.

So again, this book is not recommended to anyone who wants warm fuzzies. But if you like your humor along the Beavis and Butthead end of the spectrum, Six and friends are here to entertain you.

Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, Vol. 2

By Natsume Akimoto and Kakao Lanthanum. Released in Japan as “Sentouin, Hakenshimasu!” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Noboru Akimoto.

Given that this is a series by the creator of KonoSuba, featuring characters who bear great similarities to those in KonoSuba, has a sequence where our “heroes” use The Destroyer from KonoSuba, and finally features a literal crossover with KonoSuba at the end, where a different evil operative goes to that world and is horrified by the overpowered nature of Aqua, Megumin and Darkness, it would not be unreasonable for a potential reader to ask me if Combatants Will Be Dispatched! is as good as KonoSuba. And the answer is… no, of course it’s not. Even if you weren’t aware that this was an earlier work that was dusted off and published by Kadokawa after KonoSuba became ludicrously successful, the fact is that KonoSuba’s characters are all likeable and you root for them, despite their many, many deep personality flaws. Even Kazuma. Whereas Agent Six, Alice and the others are just as flawed, but are really unpleasant people at heart. Rose comes closest, but it’s bad when the author has to say in the afterword “they’ll get more heroic soon, I hope.”

Alice is on the cover, and Akimoto states she’s the “featured girl” of the book, but honestly she doesn’t get much to do beyond what she did in Book One – snark at Six. Even her saving the day at the end of the book is only mentioned secondhand, because Six was knocked unconscious for all of it. To be fair, she is VERY good at snarking at Six – she’s still my favorite part of the book. With the Kingdom desperately short of water, the King missing, and the princess unwilling to say Six’s stupid password to a large crowd, he and his group are charged with negotiating water from a neighboring kingdom. Well, actually, he and the group are bodyguards for Snow, who is supposed to seduce the horny and easily led ruler of that kingdom. Unfortunately, due to a ridiculous chain of events, they end up starting a war. And also reviving an ancient superweapon. Fortunately, Six can still do what he does best – be petty and horrible till he wins the day.

I mentioned on Twitter that this feels like a KonoSuba with all the brakes removed, and I still stand by that. Snow is still a horrible combination of Darkness and Aqua with the flaws of both characters, and I longed for her to get run over by a bus. Rose comes off best of the crew, as I said before, but is driven by her appetite, which unfortunately leads to a lot of cannibalism jokes… not to mention sex = food jokes… when they have to cross a desert for several days with no food. Grimm is less fun here, with her one personality trait seeming to be “desperate”. There is a long-running argument over the course of the book between her and Alice over the nature of magic, which Alice, as an artificial human, rejects entirely. This could lead somewhere good, but it will have to be in future books, as nothing comes of it here.

Fortunately, this book does have one big thing still going for it: it’s funny. I laughed quite a bit. But with KonoSuba I laugh and also care, and I haven’t gotten to that point with this cast. They need a third dimension. Hopefully in future books.