Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, Vol. 2

By Hiro Ainana and shri. Released in Japan by Fujimi Shobo. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

There is a bit of a cliche about the typical isekai hero. The abbreviation used, I believe is ‘OP’, as in ‘overpowered’. In fact, it gets applied to light novels heroes whether it’s an isekai or not, but generally tends to mean that the hero wins most of his fights with ease, has very little difficulty amassing a group of girls who like him, and wanders through the story being a cool wish-fulfillment character. Of course, when you examine the works more closely, no one here is ever QUITE that bad. Taking the two most obvious examples, Kirito has various issues in both his real and gaming life (which admittedly the author does not emphasize as much as he should), and Tatsuya has genuine issues communicating properly with people much of the time due to literally being engineered to not have strong emotions. Hell, even Arifureta’s hero spends almost half the book suffering as a bullied loser before he goes through hell and becomes Grimdark Araragi. And then there’s Death March’s Satou.

Even Satou’s very name, one of the most common last names in Japan, screams generic. The author seems to have this misguided opinion that being above the age of 25 somehow manages to let you control all your emotions perfectly, and so Satou strides through situations with barely a raised eyebrow. His briefly getting mildly annoyed at the villain at the end of this volume is a major breakthrough, something he even lampshades. Hell, you know the scene in KonoSuba where Kazuma goes through hell in order to get laid with a brothel employee only for everything to conspire against him? Here, Satou can simply go to a brothel, level up in many erotic ways (which he refuses to tell us), and suffer no punishment other than being briefly yelled at by his loli slave, who he spends most of the book chastising in any case. You could argue that Touya from Mixed Bathing and Touya from Isekai Smartphone are generic nice guys too, but at least they have normal reactions and are somewhat fresh-faced and shiny. Satou is “been there, done that”.

Oh yes, speaking of that loli, Arisa is the major new cast addition this time around, and is also from Japan, though we don’t know the details yet. Given her behavior, I suspect that she’s much older than her fantasy appearance here. But on that note, can we dial down Satou reminding us he’s not a lolicon just a bit? I realize he’s surrounded by young girls (most of whom he owns – the slavery aspect to this work is still very uncomfortable, especially as his reaction is along the lines of “well, that’s the way it is”) but it’s annoying given that the author clearly IS a lolicon and is happy to give us lots of service whether asked for or not. Other new characters include Arisa’s companion, who is painfully shy except when discussing Arisa, and also cursed to look ugly to everyone (except Satou), a generic mook villainess who is #7 of a group of eight, so is naturally named Nana by Satou because he is awful, and a cute realtor who seems to want to be ravished by her boss. Oh, and an elf princess, also very young.

Is there anything in this book that isn’t painful? The last third or so, where he’s battling his way up a huge tower full of monsters, shows the author can be decent when he’s writing fight scenes. At one point, Satou has to literally breakdance his way past the villains, the only time in the entire volume I laughed out loud. But for the most part, if you’re interested in an isekai published in North America, literally any other novel is better than this. Congrats, Death March, you’re the first light novel I’m dropping for simply being bad, rather than dark (Black Bullet, Goblin Slayer, Grimgar) or offensive (Siskan).

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, Vol. 1

By Hiro Ainana and shri. Released in Japan by Fujimi Shobo. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

For all that we talk about the cliche of the “transported to another world” genre (‘isekai’ in Japan), we haven’t actually seen too many pure examples of the genre itself in the light novels we’ve had translated. There have been slight variations – DanMachi essentially works on the same principles, only Bell is not from another world. SAO and Log Horizon have people trapped in literal game worlds. We’ve seen deconstructions, like Re: Zero and Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. And next month we’ll see an outright parody with KonoSuba. Even this series I’m reviewing today, which comes closest to the original form, has a variation in that the hero is a late-20s salaryman in his old teenage body, and thus his thoughts are more of an adult’s. And honestly, there’s a reason we haven’t seen too many of the ‘standard’ types of isekai novels: they’re standard male wish-fulfillment.

Our hero is Satou, a game designer who falls asleep after a rough coding session and wakes up in a desert-like area where he’s about to be killed by lizard people. He thinks he’s dreaming and imagining he’s in a game, mostly as he can see his stats on a screen in front of him. So he tries the stupidly overpowered move that he and his boss were discussing earlier, which causes a giant meteor shower to take out the enemy. And then a bigger one to take out a dragon god. Doing this levels Satou up to absolutely ridiculous levels, and since he also has a Bag of Infinite Holding and a giant pile of money… even most self-insert fanfics don’t go this far. He goes to the nearest city, which is battling wyverns and demons and such, and slowly learns about the world he’s now in. Very, very slowly.

The difficulty with these male power fantasy books is that the hero is meant to be one that the reader can just swap out and substitute with themselves, and as a result can’t have too many signifying traits that might differ from said reader. This means that the novel’s big weakness is Satou, who is a giant yawning void where a protagonist should be. Since he’s got a teenage body but his mind is that of his old 29-year-old game developer self, he’s rather calm and stoic about things like love. And since he WAS a game designer, he can handle most of the cliches that come his way to try to kill him, especially as he’s got his God Stats, his Unlimited Items, and his Unlimited Money. Stoic emotionless heroes can work in the right context – Overlord and The Irregular at Magic High School have similar types. But there needs to be something behind them, something other than “well, here’s a monster, splat, OK, next?”. Also, he needs to stop telling everyone he’s not a lolicon every other line, or folks are going to get suspicious.

As for the rest of the book, well, it was all right. I never thought I’d say this about any work ever, but: this book is crying out for a tsundere to get angry with the hero. The female knight Satou saves falls for him immediately, and the three slaves he takes on (Satou is against slavery, but circumstances are such that he can’t do much about it) are all fairly meek and willing to do anything he says. If there is one bright light in this book, it is the stat updates that accompany Satou whenever he does anything, which range from the practical to the hilarious, and are easily the best part of the book. If you want to see what a garden variety isekai work is, you may want to give Death March a try. Everyone else is better off sticking with the subversions, deconstructions and parodies, though.