Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?!, Vol. 16

By FUNA and Itsuki Akata. Released in Japan as “Watashi, Nouryoku wa Heikinchi de tte Itta yo ne!” by SQEX Novels. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Diana Taylor. Adapted by Maggie Cooper.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the overuse of slavery in isekai books, and it’s a good discussion to have, but I also think we need to look at the “plucky orphans” trope as well. Our hero/heroine comes across either children starving on the street or an orphanage where they barely get enough food to survive. And over the course of the next few pages, what happens for the most part is “sweet, free workforce!”. The general feeling is that they are amazingly fortunate to have our isekai’d person come along and teach them skills and trades, and what’s more, their bellies are finally full, so they’ll do anything they’re asked. Sometimes there is at least a vague attempt to show that this is bad (Bookworm). Sometimes it’s abused horribly, but at least the kids are paid actual wages (Kuma Bear). And sometimes it’s “they’re getting food from me, so let’s turn them all into little 6-year-old waitresses”. Welcome to FUNAtown.

Mile and the rest of the Crimson Vow finally get to see the Demon Village, which is mostly an anticlimax, though she does meet the “Holy Maiden”, a demon girl with the same ability as Mile to talk to the nanos. (The girl is clearly being used and mistreated by the village, a fact that Mile mostly ignores except to give her and her family a pile of food). Elsewhere, Mile ends up getting led to an ancient artifact, buried deep (very, very deep) beneath the ground, and communicates with it, learning a lot of backstory about this world’s past. Unfortunately, it turns out that there was some time dilation involved, and when she and the Vow emerge from the Earth the invasion that Mile has been worried about for the last couple of books is about to go full blast. Will Mile be able to stop it? And can she get Reina to cosplay as Kuroko from A Certain Magical Index?

As always with FUNA, any attempts at a serious examination of the world or actual danger and angst is offset by the fact that her heroines are massive overpowered goofs. This is especially true of Mile. She gains the ability to show the entire world a projection of herself in order to warn them that the real danger from another world is going to emerge from a different place… and the first thing she does is imitate the MGM lion. I did appreciate that she finally started to tell her friends SOME of the reason why she is what she is. Not the reincarnated from Japan thing, but that God had given her special abilities, and that she needs to use them to save the world. Mile is making a lot of inferences that I’m not sure hold up, but as long as she’s trying to do good and doesn’t just farm it out to the orphans instead, that’s fine.

We’re mostly caught up with Japan, so expect a new volume in 6 months or so. It also seems like the series might be getting near an ending, and the cover of Vol. 17 looks like a “final volume” cover… but there’s an 18 already, so I doubt it. Recommended for fans of this author.

Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?!, Vol. 15

By FUNA and Itsuki Akata. Released in Japan as “Watashi, Nouryoku wa Heikinchi de tte Itta yo ne!” by SQEX Novels. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Diana Taylor. Adapted by Maggie Cooper.

As many have noticed by now, this author really, really loves playing around in isekai tropes and cliches, and the more cliched the better – in fact, it comes as a surprise in this series when it ISN’T the cliche. When they’re investigating a local noble, you can guarantee that he is going to be a scummy noble who treats those he’s responsible for like crap, because scummy nobles are just what isekais do. (This is not unique to FUNA – Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear has similar ideas, though subverts them more often.) It doesn’t help that isekai’d Mile tends to regard this world as a giant bucket list full of things she wants to do, and most of this volume happens because she’s desperate to find a village of beastmen… mostly so that she can pet the little beastgirls. Let’s face it, FUNA is also not afraid to show that Mile can be creepy a lot of the time.

Mile and company start off by having a meeting with the Elder Dragons, which ends up being short on information but long on nail art. We then get the bulk of the book, as Mile really, really wants to find a beastman village, despite the fact that most beastmen are NOT like Lenny but are actually very wary of humans… and we see why when they get to the village, only to find that some of the village’s children have been kidnapped! Unfortunately, this is not a mission the Crimson Vow an take on officially… fortunately, Mile can get in touch with the Crimson Blood, who coincidentally look, act, and are the same as the Crimson Vow! But they’re not on the clock. Now it’s up to our heroines to investigate the kidnappings, which are genuinely happening, but also where each kidnapped girl ended up, which… does not go quite as expected.

So word of warning here, if you’re the sort who avoids slavery in your isekai books… well, first of all, you must read very few isekai books, but secondly, this book delves deeply into the nitty gritty of slavery in this world. It’s illegal officially, except in the “I am broke and enslave myself to pay off my debts” way, but unofficially it’s definitely around. Two of the three kidnapped girls are indeed either being worked to death for no money or imprisoned and in the process of being sold abroad. Mile and the others have no issues destroying the ones responsible. Sometimes, though, kidnapping can actually be a way out. When you’re a girl in a backwater village expected to marry a guy from the same village, which is a very misogynist one… honestly, getting taken in by the local evil noble ends up sounding like a pretty good deal. Especially if the noble, like Mile, has a taste for the fluff. Make My Abilities Average has always had an undercurrent of “sexism is everywhere, and it’s terrible”, and we even see it in a slavery plotline here.

The book ends with the Crimson Vow off to check the last item on Mile’s list… visiting a demon village. Will this advance the plot? Are we getting towards the end of the series? Who knows? But pretty good stuff.

Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?!, Vol. 14

By FUNA and Itsuki Akata. Released in Japan as “Watashi, Nouryoku wa Heikinchi de tte Itta yo ne!” by SQEX Novels. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Diana Taylor. Adapted by Maggie Cooper.

It’s been a while since we last had the adventures of Mile and company in front of us. Most of the reason for this is that the series got a new publisher in Japan, Square Enix, which necessitated renegotiating the license for the series, which takes time. But now, a mere 16 months after the last book, we have a new volume of the series. Perhaps sensing that this was a chance to show off why the series was picked up by a larger publisher, the author has decided to get slightly more serious than usual this time around. Oh, not to worry, there’s still plenty of “Mile does OP stuff” and fourth wall breaking, it’s just that the volume as a whole seems to want to go back to the main plot of the series, the one it usually ignores for books on end. It’s going to get harder to ignore from now on, though, as there are portals opening from another world.

That said, we have another plot to get through first. The Crimson Vow are hired as escorts/bodyguards… supposedly… to take Clairia and her fellow elves back to their village. The reason turns out to be trickier than that, as they wanted the Vow to distract from what turns out to be a “get married already” meeting set up by the village. This involves a lot of inbred misogyny, and the Vow quickly take matters into their own hands. The Guild then hires them to investigate a nearby kingdom, where things are just going… slightly worse than usual. For no stated reason. Mile is the perfect person to figure out what’s really going on… robots are making portals to their world from another world and sending in stronger, smarter monsters to take out the adventurers!

The elf stuff was not as good as the rest of the book, mostly depending on “ha ha, it’s funny because elf men are lolicons” and a heaping helping of “women should stay in the village and breed more elves”. The latter, to be fair, the narrative rips apart with its bare hands, and indeed one of the main themes of the entire series has been “you don’t have to get married immediately”. The second part is more setup for the next few books, made more amusing by Mile literally sacrificing some of her nanos to a portal to another world just to get information, and their irritated response. We also see that the Crimson Vow are a mature, powerful, respected team… but only in their own lands, and when they go elsewhere, or when their intelligence is disseminated by the Crown, it still has an air of “these are stupid kids, why should we care?” to it. Mike needs to become more famous, and not just as an author.

This is a good, not great book, with the series’ usual flaws. But it also has the series’ usual strengths as well, and fans should be pleased.