Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Astrea Record, Vol. 2

By Fujino Omori and Kakage. Released in Japan as “Astrea Record Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jake Humphrey.

I hate to break it to the author of this series, but the core readership are not 15-year-olds. They, I think, would get the most out of Lyu’s angsty rage and Erebus’ ridiculous trolley problems. The core audience of this series are the ones who have followed it since it began, which means my guess is most are in their thirties. And those folks might find Lyu’s emo teen phase just a little annoying. Or indeed a lot annoying. It’s very true to teenage life, I will admit, but I mean, having Lyu throw a shitfit is baked into her backstory already, do we really need for it to happen again, especially in a novel based on a game story that cannot actually affect canon? Fortunately, there are good parts to this book, including several rousing speeches. But honestly, if you want a light novel version of the “yet you participate in society! Curious. I am very intelligent!” cartoon by Matt Bors, you’re in the right place.

The cover shows Lyu looking down at the ground, despondent and despairing. Behind her is Ardee, who is smiling broadly, possibly as she’s dead and therefore doesn’t have to be in this book. Ardee’s death weighs heavily on a lot of people in this book, and she’s not the only one who’s died. The Evils are on the loose, and their goal is to make the adventurers give up. Lyu, being one of the shiniest and most idealistic of them, is the perfect breaking point, so Erebus is determined to break her. In the meantime there’s tons of fights, deaths,. gore and despair, but also some really cool life-saving, desperately never giving up, and some strong speeches by Finn, who has either been reading Churchill or Henry V. Who will win? (This is a prequel taking place 7 years before the series begins. We know who will win. And yet.)

There is one point in this volume that is easily the best by far, and it’s when Lyu, who is acting like a child, runs into 9-year-old Ais, a literal child, and the two of them have what is basically the sword version of a slapfight. I especially love Riveria, who stops the fight not by yelling at them, or by getting in between them, but by bonking Ais on the top of the head like she’s in Yotsuba&!. It was a lovely break from the rest of the volume, which is made up of half “Become vengeance, Lyu. Become wrath.” and half “I know you’re still in there so fight, damn you!” Astrea Familia gets a lot of time on the page, but I’d argue that the stronger moments go to the characters we know from the main series. There’s nothing wrong with Astrea’s folks, they’re just don’t have the raw impact of, say, Syr cheering them up while also handing out soup to everyone (a moment that works even better after the events of Book 18).

There’s one more to go, and hopefully we’ll get some answers about the Zeus and Hera bad guys, because let me tell you, I do not give two shits about any of the other villains. Still worth it for Danmachi fans, but prepare to be frustrated.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Astrea Record, Vol. 1

By Fujino Omori and Kakage. Released in Japan as “Astrea Record Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jake Humphrey.

Before we begin, congratulations to Jake Humphrey, who joins the ranks of the translators on the world’s most cursed light novel series. I think this may actually push the total into double digits, if we count all the various spinoffs. I’m sure everything will be fine. Probably.

In retrospect, there were many things that were a mistake about this book. First, there’s the fact that it came out a mere six weeks after the 18th volume of the main series, which had already totally exhausted me. I understand that the three volumes of Astrea Record were released monthly in Japan, and I am so glad that’s not happening here. Secondly, I need to beg publishers: please stop forcing authors to write novels based on your spinoff game. First we got KonoSuba, and now Omori is being forced to toil away at this trilogy, which is probably why 19 in the main series isn’t scheduled here yet. But third, I knew going in that this series was going to be depressing. It stars everyone in Lyu’s old Familia, which means by definition everyone is going to end up dead in it except the goddess herself and Lyu. However, good news! This book is not a longer version of the canonical deaths we know about from the main series. That is the end of the good news.

This book takes place seven years before Bell Cranel arrives in a peaceful (ish) Orario. It’s far from peaceful here. The Evils are making everyone’s lives a living hell, and it’s all the various Families can do to keep the peace. This is, of course, in addition to going down and dungeon clearing, which the guild is also making them do. Fourteen-year-old Lyu, a rookie with Astrea Familia, is overly serious and quick to anger, but seems to be fitting in pretty well… that is, until a mysterious guy shows up and starts to ask her questions like “what is justice, really?”. Which, given Lyu is an emo teen, works like a charm in terms of throwing her off her game. That said, this book is not about Lyu. It’s about the series of bloody terrorist attacks that completely destroys the fragile city populace, and all of the adventurers trying to stop literally everyone from dying.

The goal of this book is to show off how much better things are in Bell’s time, and it achieves that admirable. It’s some of the most depressing prose I’ve read in a while. Lyu has a friend, the younger sister of Shakti, who is a bubbling beacon of hope and happiness, and all I could think was “wow, you are going to get horribly murdered”. And, yup, that’s what happens. The back half of this book is an absolute orgy of slaughter. Hell, Ottar – Ottar! – is nearly killed and beaten bloody, because we have two mysterious new bad guys in town, from the now defunct Zeus and Hera Familia. The warrior is the one who takes down Ottar, and he’s a sword guy. The mage takes out both Gareth and Riveria, and she has the mysterious name “Silent Witch”. (She’s not Monica Everett, sorry, crossover fans.) They’re both doing this for mysterious reasons that I think I can guess, but I’ll leave that for next time. At least they seem to be the only two doing this for reasons that aren’t “we love killing people”.

There’s two more books of this, yikes. I will try to read the second one, but if it’s just more “let’s kill anyone likable” for 250 more pages, I may bail. For hardcore Danmachi fans only.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 18

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Dale DeLucia.

There’s no getting around it, this book is punishingly long. Not just because it’s 500 pages, though that is absolutely the case. It’s because it operates on the usual way that Omori writes giant action set pieces, which is to say “always darkest just before the dawn”, where the first part is the darkness, and the second part is the dawn. And because this is about 500 pages, it means we get about 175 pages of “darkest” in this book, which is a whole lot of time spent watching every likable character in the entire series getting the shit beaten out of them by Freya Familia. After a while I was tempted to do a search of the digital text I was reading for “Lyu”, because, not to spoil too much, but she is noticeably absent from the first half of this book. Which… is for the best, as apparently there was a whole Lyu side-story in this book originally, but it would have made it 650 pages, so the publisher said no.

It’s a battle royale between Freya Familiar and Hestia Familia. Unfortunately, Loki’s team has been forbidden from participating, and Ais has been forbidden from even SEEING Bell till this is over. As a result, once again, no one wants to team up with Hestia except her immediate friends and allies, even though the entire city is furious at Freya Familia for the events of the previous book but none of them are furious enough to be part of what is obviously a losing battle. The guild has basically said “this will end with Freya taking Bell, deal with it”. The battle itself is “hide and seek”, where all the involved Gods are wearing flowers and hiding, and the opposing team has to find them and remove the flowers. Of course, Freya Familia being who they are, they figure out a way to turn it into “beat the shit out of everyone” anyway.

Of course, the payoff is worth it. There are so many “punch the air triumphantly” moments in the back half of the book it’s impossible to list them all, with my favorite probably being the complete participation of the waitress staff at Fertility. We’ve been slowly getting everyone’s backstory over the last few books, so it’s wonderful to see it pay off, but the main reason that it works is because of Freya. Or rather, Syr. The issue here is not so much dissociative identity disorder but rather a milder version of what Sayo did in Umineko, and the resolution is that Freya has to accept that she and Syr are in fact both part of the same individual. No one wants to save Freya, frankly, except the misguided ones in her family. But there’s a TON of people who want to save Syr. The best moment in the book is the last scene, featuring a callback I had honestly forgotten about (I mean, it’s been 17 months since the last book) and a giant ball of heartwarming.

The idea that this is going to have a school arc fills me with dread, but at least it should be shorter. Till then, we’re done with this epic arc, and Freya is gone. Sort of. In a good way.