The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP!, Vol. 3

By Nao Wakasa and ICA. Released in Japan as “Hibon, Heibon, Shabon!” by ArianRose. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Emily Hemphill.

This is the final volume of this romantic fantasy, and that feels just about right. The wary reader will also note that everything seems to be resolved by about Page 80, and knows that we’re not going to get 130 pages of wedding prep. Indeed, this volume balances out dramatic crisis and romantic fluff almost equally, sliding from one to the other with verve. There is one thing I wasn’t too fond of, but that was driven by the plot, so I can’t complain too much. More importantly, I really loved the way that the friendship between Lucia and Maria was shown – it’s just as important as the romance between Lucia and Celes, and the ongoing development of Maria continues in this book. Indeed, I’d argue Maria is the best part of the series, which pulls off its isekai with a twist fantastically. Well, there are a few annoying romance novel tropes as well, but eh. For the most part, I was quite pleased with this.

We begin in a bad place, as our heroes are separated and locked up in the final kingdom they’d been visiting. This leads to Lucia getting kidnapped and almost killed by some evil nobles – someone seems to have it in for her. After this, it’s almost an anticlimax when the final tree is purified and the monsters are removed from the land… though that includes their baby dragon pet, which makes Maria and Lucia sad. That said, success! The sacred maidens did it! Lucia and Celes are engaged! Lucia no longer has her Soap! powers, but that’s likely because there’s no reason for them anymore. Now they can all go home and… wait, something is tickling the back of my brain. Wasn’t the king evil and wanted the shrine maiden killed off after they completed their duty? And isn’t Lucia without her Soap! powers… just a commoner maid? Is this going to have a tragic ending after all?

So yeah, about halfway through the book everything falls apart and we have to put it back together. That does not take long. I do wish Lucia had a bit more agency in the whole ordeal, but the problem with taking away the awesome magic powers from your heroine after her work is done is that it does tend to leave her powerless. I did love Maria’s solution to finding Lucia, which was very clever and also helped to make Lucia’s adventure well known among the entire kingdom. And yes, after THAT we get the wedding prep and the reunions and everything else, now that the evil king has been removed and Edoardo is in power. (Maria and Edoardo’s romance is not quite as heartwarming – let’s face it, if it weren’t for Celes this would be a yuri title.) And Lucia may not have Soap! anymore, but her debt is paid off, she has a husband and an ever-growing family, which is all she really ever wanted.

This was, overall, quite a nice read, and I liked the gimmick of the heroine being one of the fantasy world residents, with the actual isekai’d from Japan protagonist being a supporting character. Those who enjoy J-Novel Heart titles will want to read this one.

The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP!, Vol. 2

By Nao Wakasa and ICA. Released in Japan as “Hibon, Heibon, Shabon!” by ArianRose. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Emily Hemphill.

It has to be said, the hero and heroine of The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! are firmly in the ordinary category, and I feel would not be able to carry a typical shoujo romance on their own. The feelings between the two are, thankfully, resolved in this second volume, as Lucia is finally made to realize that she is the one Celes loves, and Celes is forced to admit his feelings out loud and straightforwardly rather than hoping that Lucia magically understands his heart without doing anything. This is even resolved in a pretty typical way, involving the two being separated from the rest of the cast by a brief disaster and having to make it on their own to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, they’re cute and I’m happy to see them get together, but Lucia x Celes is not the reason this got licensed. There are a couple of other reasons, the first being the premise itself.

I said this in the review of the first volume, and I still feel this way: I really like the fact that this is an isekai that takes place from the POV of someone from the fantasy world itself. Lucia, being the heroine, is of course big of heart and able to read emotions easily (I am hoping this isn’t just because she’s the only woman in the group, but yes, it probably is), but she also has her soap powers. And those powers, as it turns out, are perfectly capable of taking care of the cursed land that they brought in Maria specifically to fix. This leads to a great crisis for Maria, which I’ll get into in a bit, but it’s also a really good look at how quick these sorts of novels are to simply reach out to modern-day Japan to grab a savior rather than trying to address things on their own. It’s made even worse given that there is a conspiracy going on about the fate of Maria, the summoned heroine.

Maria is designed to be disliked by readers at first, with the theory being that we will gradually come to understand her as she grows as a character. That’s a hard hurdle to clear, however, especially with anime and manga fans, where you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Fortunately, the series plans to follow through for us, though admittedly it does so by taking Maria down even lower. Not only has she been pulled into a scary fantasy world and threatened by deadly monsters, but it turns out the nicer, bustier maid girl can actually save the day better than Maria can. When she hears the prince and his brother discussing having her killed (it turns out later she’s missing crucial information, but honestly, not that much – I worry how the return to the kingdom will go), she lashes out at Lucia with possibly tragic consequences. Her redemption might go a tad fast (Lucia is the heroine and gets the majority of the chapters), but it is there and welcome.

This series ends with the third volume, which seems about right given we’ve purified two thirds of the points we’ve been supposed tom, and the couple have confessed. Lucia and Celes may be typical, but the book they’re in has enough spiky edges to impress.

The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP!, Vol. 1

By Nao Wakasa and ICA. Released in Japan as “Hibon, Heibon, Shabon!” by ArianRose. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by C. Steussy.

I have talked before, and no doubt will again, about the fact that one of my favorite types of light novel is the kind that has, as its plot and character archetypes, not one original bone in its body, yet somehow still manages to win you over with the sheer power of good writing. I enjoy it so much because a) let’s face it, the old and familiar is like that hoodie that you always wear around the house – it’s your comfort food, but b) it shows the author has the skill to make you want to read more. This especially applies to the latest in a long line of shoujo light novels from J-Novel Club’s Heart imprint. I love that we’re finally getting so many light novels for women rather than men, but let’s face it, introducing a dozen or so of them in the space of about five months has been a bit wearing. So we start with a story about a common girl with a dull magic power who can SAVE THE WORLD!

The title in Japanese – Hibon, Heibon, Shabon! – is snappy and rhymes and is, unfortunately, nearly impossible to translate so that it does the same thing in English. Shabon is soap, and that’s what our heroine Lucia can do – her powers make soap bubbles that can clean even the most stubborn stains. After the death of her mother leaves her with a pile of debt, she moves to the king’s castle to find work as a laundrywomen and enjoys a fun, ordinary life – including having lunches with Sir Celes, a cute and handsome knight. Sadly, he’s away when the castle is attacked by horrible monsters one day, but Lucia, desperate and terrified, casts her soap magic on one… to find it suddenly calm and placid. Turns out her magic is a lot more than removing stains from clothing, it can also apparently remove the horrible mental and emotional stains from people. So she’s sent off to join the Sacred Maiden, who has been transported from another world to… wait, what?

Yes, the best part of the series, easily, is that this is in fact an isekai, but the girl who is transported from Japan is only a supporting character. Maria is supposedly the deus ex machina that will save them all, but things aren’t going very well. And actually, I tell a lie, because the best part of the series is the subtlety in its writing. As an example, Maria is shown to be selfish and horrible whenever we hear about her, but after Lucia a) hits her with Soap a few times to clean her clothes, and b) talks to her like a normal person rather than a savior of the world, Maria gets better. (Somewhat.) Is it Lucia’s magic or is it Lucia’s talking her down? It’s left open. The scene at the castle when the monsters are attacking is also expertly handled – there’s a real sense of terror from both Lucia and the residents of the castle, and it adds to the sense of depth in the books. As for the relationship between Lucia and Sir Celes, it’s cutely handled so far, and I liked that we added a bunch of other hot young/middle aged guys to the cast and Lucia is interested in precisely none of them – in fact, she thinks “is this what it’s like to have a dad?” with one big bruiser.

Good writing, a clever take on isekai, only a little fanservice (Lucia is somewhat busty, which is mentioned once or twice), and a winning heroine. Best of all, it’s only three volumes long, so there’s not a huge investment. And you’ll absolutely have to get the next book, as this one ends on a nasty cliffhanger. Very pleased with this series.