The World’s Strongest Rearguard: Labyrinth Country’s Novice Seeker, Vol. 4

By Tôwa and Huuka Kazabana. Released in Japan as “Sekai Saikyou no Kouei: Meikyuukoku no Shinjin Tansakusha” by Kadokawa Books. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jordan Taylor.

Once again, I found this volume to be easy, peaceful reading, and once again I am at a loss to explain why as every time I try to describe it it sounds terrible. The same issues that plague previous books crop up here. The first half of the book features nothing happening. The main character has the personality of a herring, and yet has every single character in the series fawning over him. The battles are exciting, provided your idea of exciting is ‘reading other people’s transcripts of MMORPG fights”. Picking the proper stat is serious business. And, of course, everyone is horny on main for our hero but have generally agreed among themselves not to do anything (which is why when the married lady flirts with him they all team up to get upset). But again, there’s also nothing that immediately grates on me, nothing that says “OK, that did it, I now have an excuse to drop this”. It is serviceable wish-fulfillment of the highest order.

Arihito and company are still on the seventh floor, but have been making a bigger and bigger name for themselves. They’re still having trouble as the larger group on the floor, Beyond Liberty, are taking over the main hunting grounds and blocking others from going there. Oh yes, and they have a man whose skill is almost literally “pick up artist” who is a clear traitor. Something has to be done… after opening another cool treasure chest, choosing new skills, upgrading weapons, and getting a snazzy wool suit – and a gun, in case this wasn’t bad enough. They also need Beyond Liberty to go too far, which it does, and introduces yet another named Monster who is incredibly dangerous and who the main forces cannot remotely defeat. It’s up to our heroes, with the special guest Seraphina (again), to get the job done.

I know that we’d seen kids in this world before – indeed, Melissa is explicitly said to be the child of a human and demi-human – but I was still startled to see Daniella, a very pregnant adventurer, fighting on the front lines. Of course, it turns out that Beyond Liberty, like Elitia, has their own reasons for wanting to advance as fast as possible, but it does remind you that adventuring is the big thing here, and you either keep doing it constantly or you stagnate… which much of this floor has already decided to do. Ads for Arihito’s party, while everyone keeps praising him almost to the point of making one ill, the fact that his position is “rearguard” does mean that it’s the women in the party who get to do the really cool things. We are seeing some character development in Suzuna and Misaki, and they are very much becoming a family, albeit one that feels “warm” whenever their patriarch sleeps behind them.

So yeah, still not great. But it delivers what readers probably want, and if it tried to do something new and different it would likely be a disaster. Next time we see then going on a vacation, which means we should see even LESS happening. Fun times.

The World’s Strongest Rearguard: Labyrinth Country’s Novice Seeker, Vol. 3

By Tôwa and Huuka Kazabana. Released in Japan as “Sekai Saikyou no Kouei: Meikyuukoku no Shinjin Tansakusha” by Kadokawa Books. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jordan Taylor.

Tempting as it might be to simply cut and paste my review of the second volume here, I will try to find new words to say about this series. For one thing, I think I’m going to have to come to terms with the fact that I enjoy it quite a bit, and not just because I’m hate-reading it. It’s still not a good series objectively, but subjectively it’s fine. It reminds me quite a bit of In Another World with My Smartphone, but so far has avoided all the traps that that work fell into, such as making its hero something of a relaxed sociopath. Arihito continues to attract women, and continues to be relatively oblivious to their overtures towards him. It’s a relatively huge light novel which takes place over a mere day and a half, and there’s still stats galore, including picking out new bonuses, etc. It should be dull as dirt and mildly offensive. Instead… it’s peaceful.

Arihito’s party (still unnamed, which is brought up but not dealt with here) arrive on Level 7, which has a lot more people on it but also a lot more people who have essentially stopped trying – it’s hard to go from 7 to 6. Well, hard unless you’re our heroes, who over the course of this book defeat two of the three named monsters you need to move up. They soon team up with a four-woman group called the Four Seasons (a name pun) who they saw being harassed/blackmailed by a group that are being set up to be antagonists but in this book are mostly just foreshadowing. The two parties team up and fight off giant moles and insects, then go to the next dungeon level and battle killer sheep. Once again, everyone does amazing things, and once again, everyone feels as if they need to “be the one protecting” everyone else. All this, plus a nice Chinese dinner and a bath/massage.

Reading this series is sort of like reading a game of Jenga, because it would take only one wrong move for the whole thing to come tumbling down. Arihito has to remain self-deprecating and mild-mannered because the alternative is a leering guy banging his (by the end of this book) eleven women who have fallen for him. Likewise, they’re all perfectly content to simply make the occasional overture (that he doesn’t get) and have a few bouts of self-hatred themselves. The battles are very well-written, to the point where I don’t even mind the inserted stats, which says a lot. I will admit that, in a book trying to remain so emotionally placid, sometimes it aims for a tearjerker and doesn’t quite get it – the scene with the demihuman and his late fiancee was not quite as sad as the author meant it to be. But for the most part, there aren’t really any sharp edges in this. It’s an isekai that a salaryman can happily read on the train home.

As noted, this volume does introduce a few plot points that are then left dangling – I expect the next book will take care of that. At least they didn’t move to Level 6 already. Still, this remains a book that’s easy to read.

The World’s Strongest Rearguard: Labyrinth Country’s Novice Seeker, Vol. 2

By Tôwa and Huuka Kazabana. Released in Japan as “Sekai Saikyou no Kouei: Meikyuukoku no Shinjin Tansakusha” by Kadokawa Books. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jordan Taylor.

As you might imagine, this is not quite as hilariously bad as the first volume was. Many of the same elements are in play, and now that we’re familiar with them, they don’t provoke hilarity as they once did. That said, there is a certain amount of amusement taken in counting the number of times that Arihito meets a new woman and has them fall in love with him almost immediately. We add two more members to the party in this volume, though we met them in the first book: merchant Madoka (who has sisters named Manami and Kurumi, making me wonder if the author had been watching KOR while writing this) and monster dissector Melissa, whose mother turns out to have been a demi-human, which explains (I guess) her emotional reserve. Oh yes, and there’s a Guild Savior, Seraphina, whose job it is to save those who are in big trouble. Which is not Arihito: he’s always got this. That said… I dunno, this series remains hard to dislike.

Our party starts the book having risen to the top of the rankings, which is good, as there’s a monster breakout they have to deal with, as well as rescuing another top-level party from a dangerous monster forest, where they ran into a Named Monster that ended up possessing 4/5 of the party. And after that they have to deal with another giant loot box, which they are warned (by the goddess who now supports them) has a dangerous weapon inside of it. None of these pose TOO much of a problem for Arihito and company – indeed, they spend far more time figuring out what new skills to pick now that they’ve leveled up than they do actually fighting. They don’t even have to take the test to get to the 7th level – which they party they rescued were doing – because they’re that fantastic. But they all remain humble, generally shifting praise to other people in the party while downplaying their own strength and saying how much of it was pure luck. Arihito especially does this, as befits a light novel protagonist.

I just reread that paragraph, and God, it makes this sound wretched, doesn’t it? But as you’re actually reading it, it’s surprisingly relaxing and peaceful. This isn’t really a ‘slow life’ book – far too much happens (indeed, the events of this very long second book take place over only two days) for that to be the case – but at times it does sort of feel like a slice of overpowered isekai life. The girls are falling for Arihito more and more every day, mostly due to the usual Japanese protagonist reason of him being nice to them, but there’s precisely zero romantic rivalry. They’re suggesting who gets to bathe with him, but washing backs is all anybody does. For a book with an overpowered hero and the nine or ten different girls who are all devoted to him, it’s surprisingly wholesome, with a few “wow, those breasts are large” exceptions. And Theresia, the demi-human lizard, continues to be the best thing about the novels – her emotional range and interactions with the others show a deft touch in the writing which is completely absent from every other part of the book.

At the end of the book everyone (including Louisa, their handler, who is not about to lose the greatest party that’s ever happened to her) move up to the next level, where things are supposedly much tougher. That said, they arrive at the level being Rank 294 out of 10,000 parties, so they’re already able to afford the mansion they’re used to. What happens next? God knows – I’m guessing more leveling up, more choosing skills, and more women to add to the pile. This is hard to take seriously, but also hard to hate. I’ll be reading more.