The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 6

By Tsunehiko Watanabe and Jyuu Ayakura. Released in Japan as “Risou no Himo Seikatsu” by Hero Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by MPT.

The idea of “You have to take a concubine for political reasons” has been around since the start of the series, but Zenjirou and Aura have been deftly avoiding it by essentially being in the “honeymoon” stage of their relationship. Now, however, she’s had a son and they’re trying for another child (trying an awful lot in this book, though as always there’s nothing explicit) and the murmurs are getting louder. Lots of factions are arranging to have their daughters be what is essentially Wife #2. That said, it is still something of a surprise when Princess Freya does the equivalent of a public proposal to him at her introductory event. Indeed, it’s a surprise to Freya’s group as well, particularly her bodyguard Skaji. They’d have been less surprised if they looked at future cover art for this series: The Ideal Sponger Life has 14 volumes out in Japan so far, and Freya features on more covers than Aura. She’s absolutely here to stay. That said, politics…

Negotiating Zenjirou’s emotional state is also an important part of this volume. We’ve seen how he is mostly a very kind, accepting person (indeed, the main reason Freya moves so quickly is that she realizes that if she becomes his concubine she’ll still have some power, as he’s not a sexist like most of this society) but that doesn’t mean that he’s happy with everything that’s happening. Taking another woman into his bed seriously bothers him (it doesn’t happen here, and it’s implied won’t for several books – negotiations, etc.) but he sees why it’s very politically advantageous for their nation. It’s a matter of sucking it up and dealing with it, unfortunately. Which is possibly why Aura basically decides the best way to pacify him for the moment is “lots of sex”. Still, at least he now has his goats, which means he can make CHEESE! And chocolate, more importantly.

The maids are also here at the end of the book, of course. Indeed, their presence is slowly starting to intersect with the main plot, as one of the older maids is married off to the middle management noble we saw in the previous book, and her two fellow maids are also called back home by their families to marry, meaning there’s a need for new trainees. Naturally, our three “wacky” maids are not being called home to marry just yet (and we are forcibly reminded that they are from noble families, something fairly easy to forget), but they do now have to act as teachers to the new girls – and it can be especially difficult given that Zenjirou is nothing like other guys that might need maids. There’s less comedy schtick here than usual, and it’s implied that the three maids are – slowly – growing up. I wonder how long they’ll be in the cast.

So with Freya added to the mix, I assume that we need to head back to fantasy Scandinavia soon, but Zenjirou has to learn more magic to do that without it taking years. And what of Bona, the other really obvious concubinal candidate? If nothing else, you know the next volume will have lots of extended discussion about it.

Also, the cover art is hilarious to me. “Sure, Aura’s got big tits, but check out THIS!” (twerks)

The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 5

By Tsunehiko Watanabe and Jyuu Ayakura. Released in Japan as “Risou no Himo Seikatsu” by Hero Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by MPT.

As promised at the end of my last review, this volume does NOT have Aura on the cover, choosing instead to focus on the newest arrival to the cast. A boat shows up containing a Northern princess-cum-captain and her crew/bodyguards. They need help getting their ship repaired… a ship whose technological advances are far beyond Capua’s own. As a result, Aura is very happy to have their shipwrights help to repair the ship, and also learn valuable things along the way. Unfortunately, she can’t go to the coast to greet them, so Zenjirou is sent – supposedly as a figurehead, but once again the book is taking its title and crumpling it into a little ball. That said, he’s got this in hand, and is getting along with the foreign princess. Everything would be great were it not for the pesky raptors from the previous volume, who have gotten away from the soldiers sent to kill them and are now laying waste to the coastal town. Can Zenjirou find a politically adept solution?

I’ve said before that this series is for those who love political wrangling, but it leaves a bit to be desired for folks of the other potential things that it promised. The romance between Zenjirou and Aura is still fine, but we don’t see any of their bedroom antics here, mostly as Aura is back at the capital most of the book. Likewise, the fights with the raptors are pretty good, but it’s clear the author doesn’t really excel in battle – some of the best parts of the battle are showing off Zenjirou’s plan to disguise their scent in order to throw the raptors off their trail. The best parts of the fight scenes come from Princess Freya’s bodyguard Skaji, who can kick a spear hard enough to pierce the head of a sea dragon, and therefore is completely badass. As for Freya, she’s more of the tactician of the group, seeing faster than the others that Zenjirou is both smarter than he looks and also more in charge than it would appear.

The highlight of the book is seeing him try to get out of the political disaster that Aura accidentally set upon him. After sending a message to her that seemingly described the situation without requesting help, she sent help anyway, meaning that he has to thread a needle as to who gets to be in charge of the battle and who gets the glory without pissing off too many factions. His solution is adept, but also unfortunately makes it so that he himself also gets a lot of the attention, something they’re also trying to avoid. Aura is quick to praise his solution… if it weren’t for the fact that it put him in danger, so she makes him promise never to do it again. (Spoiler: he’ll probably do it again.)

The raptors seem to finally be taken care of, leading to the start of a new arc in the next book. We do seem to have an excess of foreign nobility in Capua, though, so it’s not clear who will get the focus… oh wait, the cover to Vol. 6 has Freya on it, showing off her booty to the reader. No doubt we will continue to focus on her. In any event, this is still a good read if you like political wrangling.

The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 4

By Tsunehiko Watanabe and Jyuu Ayakura. Released in Japan as “Risou no Himo Seikatsu” by Hero Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by MPT.

One of the reasons I really enjoy this series despite its unrecommendable premise is that it really seems to want to dig into the nitty gritty of everything. The genetics of magic are in full force here, and we see how that can also be political for various reasons, and also how it’s likely to affect Aura and Zenjirou’s marriage down the road. The stuff Zenjirou brought from Japan is also proving to be both very good and also very dangerous, as he gets to impress a princess (who’s really a science nerd deep down), but also manages to upend the power balance by explaining concave and convex lenses to her, something that is a huge thing but also so obscure he has to explain to his wife why he screwed up. All this and their newborn son has come down with fantasy world measles. The baby has a 90% chance of surviving… which means a 10% chance of dying, something that makes no one happy. Do they have to use another rare healing stone?

Despite the occasional break in the storyline to fight raptors (who are far more numerous than expected), the bulk of this book is taken up with the arrival of Prince Francesco (who is basically Tamaki from Ouran Host Club) and Princess Bona (no close relation, she’s his minder and the aforementioned science nerd). Dealing with Francesco is somewhat exhausting, especially as they’re trying to figure out why he’s not in the line of succession… and also how much of his airhead act is just an act. Princess Bona is high-strung, but much easier to deal with… possibly a bit TOO easy, as Aura notices immediately that she and Zenjirou seem to naturally bond. That said, it’s their child’s illness that brings them all the answers they want, as Francesco reveals his background and magic abilities… something that also is going to make it even HARDER for Zenjirou not to take a concubine.

You know it’s a good Sponger Life when even the maid side-stories, usually the low point of the book, are interesting. The three goofy maids are busy playing video golf, which is the funny part, but the narration also points out that by learning about birdies, par and bogies, and the value of each, they’re being taught zero and negative numbers, something well outside what they would normally learn. That said, they’re all airheads, so I’m not sure if it will actually crop up later on. I also enjoyed seeing Aura fight (mostly successfully) against her jealousy. She points out that she worries constantly about making Zenjirou angry, as unlike everyone else in her kingdom, he doesn’t really WANT anything, so can’t be bribed to get back on his good side. Fortunately, despite his good relationship with Bona, she’s highly unlikely to be a concubine (the book seems to be pairing her and Francesco, though it’s subtle).

By now I imagine every reader who was hanging around waiting for more sexytimes has abandoned ship, leaving those who love the series’ political intrigue. This is a very good volume for that, and makes me interested in the next book, which… does NOT have Aura on the cover! Gasp!