The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 11

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.

This is the start of a new arc, and also a point at which this series says “OK, we’re in it for the long haul”, so there’s a ton of setup both for the next couple of volumes and for the foreseeable future. That said, the difficult part is that it’s almost ALL setup, with payoff presumably coming down the road. If you enjoy seeing balls thrown in the air, though, this is fine. It also gives Aura more of a role than she’s had in some time, as even through she starts the book off delegating a huge chunk of her power to others, she still has to keep a close eye on them to make sure they are not trying to undermine her own rule. She’s also quick to see that something very ominous is coming, and that their desert neighbors are making a ridiculous amount of concessions in order to make sure to stay in their good graces. Is there an upcoming war brewing?

Aura’s pregnancy and birth of her and Zenjirou’s daughter goes very well thanks to the healer that Zenjirou was able to get. Now, though, it’s time to move some other pieces on the board. Freya has to return home to tell her family that she’s going to be the kingdom’s first new concubine, and it would probably be best if Zenjirou went with her to try to show her family he’s not a creep or evil. More importantly, the events I mentioned above show Aura that they REALLY need a second concubine from the Twin Kingdoms. He gets along better with Bona, but Lucretia has the drive, the political clout, and the tragic backstory to put her in the running. There is, of course, one slight problem. She got off on the wrong foot with Zenjirou trying to lean into “seduce”, and now he’s wary of her. The solution? Join Freya’s sea voyage!

I’ve joked before about how, over the course of the series, the title has become the opposite of Zenjirou’s life. That said, I do wonder if he still sort of sees it as applying to him. His Japanese reserve comes across to everyone else, including his wife, as a complete lack of desire to have ANYTHING for himself. She knows that he objected to both Freya and Lucretia as his concubines, but he gave in really, really fast despite this, and she now is getting concerned that eventually he’s going to start to resent her. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, but it’s probably not a bad idea for the two of them to try harder to understand each other. The rest of the book, as I said, is mostly setup, with perhaps the most interesting thing being that the “problem maids” are split up, with Dolores being sent with Zenjirou on the sea voyage. This allows for a nice, touching scene where Faye and Letti worry about her.

Having talked in the first paragraph about the series settling in for the long haul, I’m sure someone will remind me that there hasn’t been a new volume in almost a year and a half. But that’s future me’s problem. For now, this remains a good political intrigue series.

The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 10

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.

Gonna be honest, I have not warmed to Lucretia yet. Frankly, I’d be happier with Bona as a 2nd concubine, as the two of them could nerd out together. That said, after getting Lucretia’s backstory here, we certainly see why she’s so desperate to seduce Zenjiro and get into his good graces. Unfortunately, we know our hero better than she does, so she keeps striking out over and over here. It takes Freya spelling it out for Lucretia to get her to change her approach: any attempts to make Zenjiro fall in love with anyone but Aura are doomed to fail. Accept this is a purely political negotiation. She’s in a much stronger position there, especially when her family offers Freya something that, as she herself narrates, she would kill for. But in terms of audience appeal… I think I’m not alone in not really warming to her, and so she’s going to have to work harder in the next few books. But at least now she’ll BE in the next few books, even if she’s still on the outside looking in.

After their error in the last volume, the King and heir to the throne of the Twin Kingdoms are trying to get back into Zenjirou’s good graces, which is unfortunate because he’s still really pissed off. That said, he knows when he can afford to be emotionally furious and when he cannot. Getting a healer is easier, as he negotiates with the Pope there, and it goes very well. A bit too well, in fact. He’s then asked by Freya, who is slowly drying up in the Southern climate, if she can go with him to the Kingdoms to negotiate on behalf of her own nation. This proves to be OK with the Twin Kingdoms as well, who are absolutely delighted to be negotiating with Uppasala. Unnervingly so. What is really going on here?

What’s going on is that the series is now popular enough that things can be planned out for a long-runner, which means we’re setting up plots here for a payoff several books down the road. Honestly, I’m amazed Freya was able to keep her cool as much as she did given the tool they gave her is basically exactly what a nation sailing on a long dangerous voyage would most desperately desire. And then there’s Francesco, still essentially this world’s equivalent of a mad scientist, and trying to invent something that would lead to complete upheaval of the world as everyone knows it. This makes everyone unhappy, but as Zenjirou notes it also may be something that can’t be avoided, so it might be best to control the metaphorical explosion when it happens than to be caught up in it. It might lead to war. The Twin Kingdoms certainly think so.

But yes, Lucretia may be on the cover, and Aura may still be the one Zenjirou loves, but frankly Freya is still the most interesting heroine in these books. I loves her joy when Aura offered her a dress as a gift (which implies she accepts her as Zenjirou’s concubine), which very rightly also got interior art. Given that the next arc will involve Freya’s return home, the author may agree with me.

The Ideal Sponger Life, Vol. 9

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.

For the most part, one of the big reasons that Zenjirou has been so successful in the political nightmare that is his new world is that he doesn’t have the ingrained reactions that anyone brought up there would. He tends to react like a Japanese person from Earth would. (I’d say “normal”, but honestly, Zenjirou’s not all that normal even to begin with.) This serves him well for a lot of this book, as attempting to negotiate with him is like hitting a brick wall much of the time because his body language and verbal questioning are so far off the range from everyone else. Unfortunately this can also be a negative, as Aura quickly points out at the end of the book,. Threatening Zenjirou’s son, even mildly as a political feint, earns his enmity, and a canny person will realize that this is a very valuable button to press. Fortunately, there’s more good than bad here, as Zenjirou accidentally on purpose gets involved in a throne war in the Twin Kingdoms.

Zenjirou is in the Twin Kingdoms to try to negotiate for a healer to be present during the birth of his second child. Unfortunately for him, while greeting him, King Bruno drops the bomb that he’s planning to abdicate in favor of his successor. The obvious choice is the eldest son, who is 49 years old but has basically trained for this. The dark horse is his youngest son, who is in his thirties and seems to be very upset about the abdication. But is that really what’s going on? And how on Earth does this tie in with Prince Francesco, who just wants to sit around and dabble in magic tools his entire life but who ends up being seen as the second coming by some groups? And, perhaps most important of all, how can Zenjirou get the latest in his succession of love interests off the cover art?

As always, the title and premise are a lie. There’s no harem seeking, and certainly no sponging here. Indeed, Lucretia strikes out with Zenjirou over and over until the middle of the book, when it becomes clear he’s not looking for a lover but a political helpmate – something that, frankly, she’s much better at doing. As for the Twin Kingdoms themselves, the plotline we get here is well thought out and handled, although I thought that Zenjirou hearing about a certain monster and immediately making a logical leap to a breathtaking new magical tool was perhaps one OP move too many, in a series when all the OP moves are intellect-based rather than fighting-based. Oh well, I should probably consider myself lucky he doesn’t sample any of the young hot single women who all essentially proposition him in this book, though they all have their own agendas.

So yes, no sex in this book, but as noted before, in this book the politics IS sex. And we still haven’t left the twin kingdoms, as there’s the other half to negotiate with. We’ll see that next time.