By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by Softbank Creative. Released in North America by Yen On.
My initial review of this title was a bit lukewarm, mostly expressing surprise that I didn’t immediately hate it given the premise and ‘light novels with long titles’ cliches. After reading the second volume, I’ve had to change my mind. This isn’t merely adequate, it’s quite good. Yes, there are still a few issues with Bell as the typical harem hero, and Hestia can be a bit annoying at times, as you’d expect from a series like this. Yet as with the first book, both seem to recognize their flaws and try to grow from them. Actually, I’d argue Hestia’s biggest issue is how little she’s been in these books given she’s the heroine, and also apparently the next big meme now that the anime is appearing in Japan.
Instead, this volume has as its main female lead Lilly, who is a hobbit (yes, I know it’s translated differently, but come on, she’s a hobbit) with a tragic backstory, who fills the role of supporter in Bell’s party, since this is not one of those worlds where you have infinite inventory. This also serves as another look at how this ‘game world’ would work in a semi-real-life setting, as supporters are basically the lower class poor here, sneered at and abused by adventurers who regard them as little better than pack mules. Needless to say, Bell is different, but Lilly is so beaten down by the cruelty of everyone else in her sphere that it takes her the entire book to realize that.
I did have issues with Bell’s response to “Why did you save Lilly?” at the end. “Because you’re a girl,” was the first thing that came to mind, which is annoying, as “Because I felt empathy for your situation and could have been like you if things had gone a different way” is far more accurate. There *is* still a major harem aspect to this book, don’t get me wrong. Lilly clearly falls for Bell a bit here; Hestia is going on “dates” with him; Eina admits to herself that she has feelings for Bell; Aiz, the object of his intense adoration, spends much of the book in a depressed funk as he ran away from her in a panic; and of course Freya wants to hug him and squeeze him and call him George. Indeed, the other issue I think I have with the book is that the nature of Bell’s ‘skill’ makes him get far too good at things too fast. This is lampshaded by others, but still, I’d like to have seen more actual work put into it given we already have a glut of perfect fantasy heroes at the moment (hi, Kirito).
The main reason I think this works as a novel is that you don’t get the sense, as you often do with series like these, that the world vanishes once Bell walks out of the picture. These characters have lives and ambitions that don’t all revolve around Bell, and certain teases from the first book are followed up on here. (I was very happy that a character who I thought was a red herring in the first book turned out to be me being right here in the second.) When I finished the first I thought “Well, I guess I might as well get the second volume.” After finishing the second, I’m really looking forward to the third. Though I’d still pitch this more to fans of fantasy than fans of harems.