Defeating the Demon Lord’s a Cinch (If You’ve Got a Ringer), Vol. 3

By Tsukikage and bob. Released in Japan as “Darenidemo Dekiru Kage kara Tasukeru Maou Toubatsu” by Famitsu Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Caleb DeMarais.

It’s becoming clear that these books live or die based on the “guest” characters. The last book had a poor orphan girl who was so fed up by the antics of Ares and Amelia that she willingly went along with the villain at the end. But she was somewhat grounded, and this made everything easier to take. This time around we have Stephenne, whose joke is that everyone assumes her to be faking her “dojikko” personality because no one could truly be that dumb and unaware, but nope, what you see seems to be what you get. If anything, Stephenne helps to highlight one of the points of the book. Everyone is appalled at her basic personality, especially because she’s a super high level and can crush most things. Why would you not have her in the party? Well, because she’s like that. Yes, I just describes Ares. Replace “dojikko” with “asshole” and they’re the same character. No wonder his boss gets headaches just talking to him. It’s like watching Maxwell Smart and the Chief.

The premise is much the same as last time – our hero party has entered a new place, but they need to level up and get stronger, so Ares and company tail them and try to facilitate things. Stephenne is supposed to help on both sides, but she’s such a walking disaster that no one wants anything to do with her. In the meantime, Golem Valley, where this book takes place, seems to be distressingly free of dangerous golems. Oh, there’s enough so that the hero can defeat them, but where are the super strong ones? As Ares investigates, he finds that the demon lord has also sent a party to Golem Valley. A confrontation is needed, and Ares has to do the only thing he knows how to do really well: piss everyone off.

Last time I found Ares slightly less obnoxious and awful, but that’s changed once more – he’s really terrible in this book, and you absolutely can see why most sensible people want nothing to do with him. Amelia, who is in love with him, isn’t much better, as for God’s sake, WHY? Seeing her jealousy at Stephenne hanging out with Ares and her increasingly unsubtle hints just makes me wince. They’re helped by a half-giant turned priest, who’s the nicest, most relatable character in the book and ends it by now speaking to Ares. Meanwhile, the hero party are suffering from now being good enough to defeat most low-level threats. All the major flaws from the first book have been explained or are about to be fixed. Unfortunately, that makes them all rather dull, with most of the interest, again, coming from Stephenne interacting with the party and being herself.

I’m not sure how much we’re supposed to sympathize with Stephenne here – the author doesn’t seem to like her much either, and the ending where her spirit familiar abandons her seems to be mean. But then the book runs on mean, because Ares is its star. It’s well-written and I like the plot beats, but man, you grit your teeth reading it. The fourth volume seems to be the last so far in Japan – perhaps Japanese readers feel the same? (EDIT: No, it’s apparently that the author is working on more than one series. It is still ongoing.)

Defeating the Demon Lord’s a Cinch (If You’ve Got a Ringer), Vol. 2

By Tsukikage and bob. Released in Japan as “Darenidemo Dekiru Kage kara Tasukeru Maou Toubatsu” by Famitsu Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Caleb DeMarais.

The good news here is that everything is just a bit more toned down than the first volume. Sure, Ares spends much of the book frustrated and gritting his teeth, insulting the hero and companions at every turn, but he never runs into them, so it’s more tolerable. Toudou and company likewise are a lot more likeable than the first book (knowing Toudou’s secret helps), and I like their resolve even in the case of crippling fear and dealing with insane priests. And no, I don’t mean Ares, though he’s clearly not all there either – in fact, given Amelia also seems to exhibit some eccentricities this volume, I’m wondering if being in the Church means that sanity is an optional extra. But no, instead the second volume is spiced up by the arrival of Gregorio, a smiling nightmare of a crusader who seems ready to restart the inquisition. For once Ares seems to genuinely have something to be frustrated about.

We start where we left off, with our heroes trying to level up in an area known for tombs and undead. Sadly, two of the three in the hero’s party are terrified of the undead – including the hero. Area and Amelia try to help them out by finding an apprentice priest to join their ranks. Sadly, there isn’t one available, so Amelia grabs the cutest orphan she can find at the church and Ares forcibly has her killing (restrained) undead till she’s at least Level 10. That said, mostly what Spica does in this book is sit back and marvel at what is going on around her. Particularly once Gregorio arrives. He’s very devout, to a manic extent, very sure of his faith, and very ready to kill anyone who is not faithful enough. Which, given “faith” to him means “strength”, is not good news for Toudou, who’s still dealing with being rather low-level. Can Ares manage to intervene before Gregorio decides to purge them all?

The high point of the book is Spica, who is a fascinating study in what happens when you take an orphan girl with little to no power and then put her in situations where power is needed and she constantly feels useless and pathetic. You expect her to break, and arguably she does a bit, but once again Demon Lord Ringer has a last-minute reveal that’s so good I don’t want to spoil it. It absolutely makes sense for the character, though. As for everyone else, the hero’s team is a lot more likeable this time around, and we get a lot more from their perspective. This allows the narrative to not hammer on Ares’ asshole qualities quite as much, to an extent that I can almost start to feel sympathy for him. Almost. Also, Amelia, I think you’re going to have to throw him onto a bed and straddle him in order for him to get a clue about your feelings.

It’s a good second volume, and I’m liking this series a little more now. It keeps surprising me. If you can tolerate Ares, as well as endless discussion of levels and buffs, it’s a good read.

Defeating the Demon Lord’s a Cinch (If You’ve Got a Ringer), Vol. 1

By Tsukikage and bob. Released in Japan as “Darenidemo Dekiru Kage kara Tasukeru Maou Toubatsu” by Famitsu Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alex Kerwin.

I write a column for Manga Bookshelf called Manga the Week of, where I point out the manga and light novels coming out next week, and briefly try to hype the debuts. Sometimes, though, this can lead to me being embarrassingly wrong about a title, because the cover art and blurb were vague, or even actively misleading. It’s especially true when there really isn’t much known about the new series. So, let me say up front: I was expecting Demon Lord Ringer (as I will call it for brevity’s sake) To be far more comedic in tone, something like Konosuba only with more of a straight man as the lead. Now, to be fair, Ares is definitely a straight man. But the book is not going for funny, instead being a crash course in how much we can take of its intensely serious, brimming with suppressed rage narrator until we beg for the demon lord to win after all. Make no mistake about it: the Ringer is a bit of a jerk.

As you can see by the cover image, as well as the blurb, this is not merely a case of me being too thick (which has also happened before): the premise is actively trying to mislead you. It is accurate, as far as it goes. A hero has been summoned to defeat the demon lord, but the hero’s level is far too low, and as for companions, we have a third princess as a mage who can only use fire magic (the entire book takes place in a forest, so she can’t do anything), a swordswoman who has recently changed her sword style away from her family specialty (so is learning a whole different skill set on the fly), and Ares, who is a priest who clearly is far more powerful than the Level 3 he suggests he is. (Yes, the usual fantasy RPG tropes apply here, as the characters discuss buffs and leveling as if they are real life fantasy terms.) The hero’s party, however, wants to get rid of Ares. And you can’t blame then, really.

There’s a reveal at the end of the book I was very impressed by, one that makes the entire party’s behavior around Ares make a lot more sense. It’s such a good reveal I won’t get into it. It actually made me want to read the second book, which I was on the edge about, to be honest. The book’s prose is good, and Ares is certainly a memorable character. But god, you want to throttle him. He’s given an assistant, Amelia, who seems to have some lingering affection for him (he doesn’t recall their ever meeting in person, which irritates her), and she keeps desperately trying to get him to slow down and not do absolutely everything on his own. And she fails. I was honestly wondering if the big reveal was going to be that he’s the villain after all, but it would seem that’s not the case. But so far, my interest in what happens next has won out over “my god, do I really need to listen to this guy’s simmering fury for another three+ volumes?”.