Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Vol. 9

By Keishi Ayasato and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan as “Isekai Goumon Hime” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

It might come as a surprise, particularly if you read the early books, but the main character in the Torture Princess novels is, in fact, the Torture Princess. Kaito is definitely the co-protagonist at the start, but as the volumes go on it becomes clear that he’s more an ideal, a symbol of hope, rather than the one whose character development we see as the books go on. That’s Elisabeth’s role, and in this final book we see her mask cracking more than any other, as she tries to keep up the “you want to die, fine, whatever” attitude even as she cries blood trying to stop everyone from dying. If you have read every volume of Torture Princess, Elisabeth is probably the main reason. (Yes, OK, Izabella and Jeanne are probably the main reason, I’ll get there.) The plot of this book is not really “will Elisabeth win?” or “will Alice win?”, it’s “how dark can the author make this and still have us care about the outcome?”. The answer is, unsurprisingly, pretty dark.

The big confrontation with Alice is happening, and unfortunately each person being brutally slaughtered leads to more power for Alice. Fortunately, a savior arrives (no, not him – not yet) to essentially remove Alice from the plot for the first half of the book, so that Elisabeth can deal with the fallout of everything else. There’s the Sand Queen, who may be dead but that’s not stopping them. There’s the battle between humans, mixed race and beastmen. And there’s the fact that even now she really wants to see Kaito one last time. Sadly, in the second half of the book Alice returns, and gets down to the mass extinction event that she’s now wedded to. Is there anything that can be stopped? And can the book actually manage to not kill everyone off?

Spoilers: not everyone dies. That said, a lot of people do die. I mentioned Izabella and Jeanne, and I must admit that Izabella has had “I am going to die tragically” written across her forehead from the moment we met her. Indeed, the arc of her character is how she keeps NOT dying. That and her love for Jeanne, which comes dangerously close to stealing the show here. I love Elisabeth, and she’s great here, but the best MOMENT in the final volume is the impromptu marriage ceremony that Izabella and Jeanne perform. It will make you smile and cry at the same time. I also appreciated how Alice’s story ended. There was literally nothing anyone in this world could do for her anymore, so she simply got dumped back in modern Japan. It’s cruel, yes, in a “not our problem” sort of way, but cruelty is old hat in Torture Princess. As for the very end, it’s possible to read it as metaphorical. It might seem a bit too pat if you read it literally. Either way, though, I’m fine with it.

In the end, though, it may be the grand guignol, over the top prose that was the main reason everyone ate this series up. Kudos to Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher for translating it. This was a good series, which I doubt is getting an anime anytime soon. A bit too much torture for that medium.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Vol. 8

By Keishi Ayasato and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan as “Isekai Goumon Hime” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

As you might expect, there’s a lot of serious stuff going on in this volume of Torture Princess. We’re going to war, and one side does not really have a goal that is not “kill everyone in the most appalling way imaginable”. We get to see this world’s equivalent of last resort weapons, only for the enemy to respond with their own. Characters that we have seen since Book 1, who have died before but always seem to come back, finally die. And, of course, the entire book is asking the question: why are we even bothering to save a world like THIS? As a result, you might guess that the humor we’ve seen in previous volumes is pretty much absent, and you’re right – mostly. There is one scene near the end, though, which also begins in death, which ends up being the funniest scene not only in this book but possibly in the entire series. I don’t want to spoil it, but it features Jeanne and Izabella. It’s magical.

The mixed-race people, with Lewis and Alice behind them, are continuing to wage revenge against the humans and beastmen, with the help of some demi-humans. There are a few suggestions to stop the war. One is offered by the enemy, which is to give them Elisabeth, Kaito and Hina. But that would pretty much make the previous seven books pointless, so that’s off the table – at least privately. No, let’s face it, there’s really only one solution left, and it’s to go to war. On one side we have the humans and beastmen, aided by two Torture Princesses and some near gods. On the other side we have Alice, Lewis, and a dead giant sandworm which proves to be far more useful than anyone else might have imagined. Can one side win? What is “winning” in a battle that’s just about revenge? And is this world simply doomed regardless?

Kaito and Hina get a bit more to do in this book, despite spending almost all of it trapped in the big ol’ crystal. Their dreamscape not only shows off what’s happening in the world as a game of brutal chess, but also has a few uninvited guests. That said, for the most part we’re still putting focus squarely on Elisabeth. She’s trying to do her best here, but as everyone is fond of pointing out to her, she’s changed a bit TOO much fro being around Kaito, and actually, y’know, likes and cares about people now. That, plus the fact that she’s trying to save Kaito and the world he himself saved, means she’s less effective in many ways. Thankfully, she has daddy dearest, Vlad, on her side. The battle between Vlad and Lewis is probably the second best scene in the book. Also not without humor, it has a far darker finish.

The afterword notes that the next volume will be the final one in the series. Which is good, as frankly we’re running out of population. Will we go full end-of-world? Can our heroes manage to pull a happy ending out of a hat? Does a happy ending even fit this series? We’ll find out soon. Till then, this was an excellent volume.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Vol. 7.5

By Keishi Ayasato and Saki Ukai. Released in Japan as “Isekai Goumon Hime” by MF Bunko J. Released in North America Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

I suspect a lot of people looked at the decimal point in the next volume of Torture Princess and went “Really? NOW is when you decide to release a short story volume?”. After all, we JUST began not only a new story arc, but a story arc that is missing three of the four main cast members, and was promising even more horrible things happening to both deserving and undeserving people, and also possibly snarks and boojums. But also, honestly, this volume is a bit of a relief. The last book was excellent but emotionally exhausting, and I wasn’t quite sure whether I was ready to dive right into more torture games. This is not to say that all the stories in this book are fluffy fun. Come on. It’s Torture Princess. The content warnings are baked in. But compared to the rest of the series? Yeah, this is fluffy fun. Ah, yes, and one more thing: don’t read this out of order – the other stories may all come at the beginning of the series, but the last one is a prelude to Vol. 8.

The volume has four “main” short stories, interspersed with two smaller ones split up. We see Kaito, still struggling to be Elizabeth’s manservant, being haunted by a half-flayed ghost; Elizabeth being invited to a grotesque banquet by a bunch of folks who love her for all the wrong reasons; Kaito and Elizabeth realizing that Hina is missing, and searching the entire castle to try to find her; and the last story, which I will get to in a bit. Each one of those has a “front” and “back” side, showing first one POV and then the same events from another POV – while this can be annoying when you’re reading the same dialogue twice at times, that is kept mostly to a minimum. We also get several first-person monologues from the Saint, and a series of short interludes showing us Alice and her “father” are still deeply screwed up. But hey, bunny!

The final story shows us a celebration dinner for Elizabeth’s third anniversary as Captain of the Peace Brigade. Kaito and Hina are back at the castle whipping up a grand feast, inviting all their friends, and flirting shamelessly. The reader is, of course, aware that this is a giant pile of bullshit, as is Elizabeth, but she goes along with it as long as possible, and we get a few scenes that we are likely never going to get near ever again. What makes this so interesting is that some of the narrative critiques the fact that events are still proceeding as they are – in other words, it’s yelling at the author, in-universe, for not stopping Torture Princess with Book 6. I mean, I did that too! But in a review, not in a Torture Princess story. It’s fascinating and layered, and in the end I think the author does actually justify going forward. Which is good, because in reality Kaito and Hina are still locked in their Cage of Stasis, and Elizabeth has to fight a war.

This is not really a skippable short story collection – the end literally leads straight into Book 8 – but that’s OK, as it’s worth reading even if you do normally skip them. A strong stomach is needed as always, but it’s another winner from this author who writes horribly gratuitous gore much better than the author of Roll Over and Die.