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.

The World’s Strongest Rearguard: Labyrinth Country’s Novice Seeker, Vol. 1

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.

I’ve talked before about the times when I read a bad book and people ask me “is it bad in an MST3K way?” and I have to tell them no, it is bad in a bad way. However, we may finally have a winner. The World’s Strongest Rearguard is sort of what happens if you tell an author all the pitfalls they should avoid when writing a Japanese light novel, only he mishears you and uses them as must haves. It is a gloriously over the top power fantasy starring a hero who is so beige he verges on see-through, a harem of adoring women, and his magical job, which we’re assured is super perfect though it’s never quite made clear why he’s the only one who’s ever done this. It should be like dragging yourself across broken glass, but… it’s very readable and guileless. There are tons of “game stat” battles, which I will never ever enjoy, but aside from that, this is some of the finer trash I’ve seen in a light novel.

Arihito Atobe is a corporate wageslave who’s too good at his job, so he’s overworked by his manager – who’s also younger than him. And super hot. On their way to a corporate event, along with various other folks, their bus crashes and they are killed. Reincarnated in a world filled with labyrinths where you need to seek and defeat monsters to be able to have a place to sleep at night, Arihito is forced to choose a class – Rogue, Vakyrie, Shrine Maiden, etc. Getting an explanation from the guild receptionist, he chooses “Rearguard”, a far too general classification that is nevertheless accepted. Now he discovers that while he’s not good at attacking on his own, with the right party, he can provide fantastic buffs, restore vitality, and improve morale. But who would possibly form a party with a man such as himself? Oh, right, everyone.

I’m not even sure where to begin, so let’s start with the other cast. Kyouka, the Valkyrie, is his former boss, who apparently left her tsun back in Japan when she reincarnated and ends up all dere. The author says in the afterword that the webnovel version was too mean, so he toned her way down. I think he overdid it. She’s had a crush on him for ages. Theresia is a lizard woman… not what you (or Arihito) is thinking, it’s almost a costume. She looks like a small Japanese woman put on her robe and lizard hat. She’s a demi-human who was defeated in the dungeons by a lizard monster and so became this, and is also mute. Now she works as a mercenary, and Arihito (presumably) is the first to treat her with kindness. (Actually, this is one of the book’s few clever ideas, and I like how it avoided just making her a slave like other books would.)

Elitia is a Level 8 swordswoman who’s been here a while, but everyone avoids her due to her cursed sword. Suzuna is a sweet and mellow shrine maiden, and Misaki is her friend (they were on the bus together) who is the classic genki girl who lives for the moment and tends to get in trouble because of this. She’s a Gambler. Finally we have Louisa, the guildwoman, who is boggled by the fact that Arihito’s generic “rearguard” job was accepted and that his party keeps defeating stronger and stronger monsters. Every single one of them falls for Arihito almost immediately, and all seem to have issues accepting any sort of compliment, so any time a battle is won there’s a round of “it was all thanks to you”, “no, it was really your win”, etc. They think Arihito is their leader and let him make all the decisions. Oh yes, and he also exudes some sort of magic that, when asleep and behind them, makes them aroused. Nothing explicit happens. Yet.

As you can see, this is absolutely bonkers. It should be terrible beyond belief. It sort of is? Arihito has the personality of lint, and I started to refer to him as Huckleberry Hound due to his blase reaction to everything (he also seems to spend the entire book in his suit and tie), but let’s face it, if he had a personality this would be unreadable. The “reincarnation” aspect of the book reads like a job fair, with everyone keeping all their memories and appearance, they’re just shifted to this new world, which is explicitly designed to be “game world”. The sheer amount of rewards he gets for everything made me giggle. By the end of the book he’s found the secret level that no one else knows of and awakened a sleeping God (who, of course, is a naked robot sort of god) who vows to give her support from afar… though even SHE has severe self-hatred issues and is over the moon when Arihito and his party say they want to work with her. And there are a few plotlines that clearly are being introduced for further books (Elitia, Louisa and Theresia’s backstories, the “other gods”, why Arihito’s job works the way it does), so things are not going to get less extra.

So, again: this isn’t a good book. But, coming at it from the right angle, it’s a fun book. You won’t want to throw it away in disgust. Just read it as if Joel and the Bots were at the bottom of the page making comments, and you can’t go wrong. I can’t wait for Book 2.