After-School Dungeon Diver: Level Grinding in Another World, Vol. 1

By Hitsuji Gamei and Karei. Released in Japan as “Hōkago no Dungeon Diver: Nihon to Isekai o Ikiki Dekiru Yō ni Natta Boku wa Level Up ni Isoshimimasu” by GCN Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hiroya Watanabe.

So much about this book just made me angry. I probably could have saved myself a lot of grief if I’d just read the afterword first. The author states they just wrote this for shits and giggles, as opposed to the two titles that they clearly took seriously (The Magician Who Rose from Failure and The Magic in This Other World Is Too Far Behind!). And sure enough, everything about this has a feeling of “eh, this sucks, but lol” to it. The After-School premise is pointless since we never once see our protagonist interact with anyone from Japan this entire book. The level-grinding isn’t really true either, since he refuses to let the guild raise his rank (despite a high level) because it will force him to actually assume responsibilities. Even the art is sketchy and not that good (Sorry, Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut fans). And that’s not even getting into the cliches of this genre, which are dripping from this book’s every orifice.

Sometime before the events of this book, Akira and a friend of his tried to come up with a way to get isekai’d… and it worked! Now he can go back and forth as he pleases between Japan and this other world, which is made up of dungeons and guilds, you know the drill. As our book begins, he spots an elf… pardon me, long ears… girl who has been enslaved by a group of humans. Unfortunately, the group of humans has also been killed by a nasty floor boss, leaving Akira to kill the boss and rescue the girl. He can even get her slave collar off, which is supposed to be impossible. She promptly falls for him, in a “mild tsundere” style. Later, he meets a “tail girl” (beast girl) who is running from something that I can’t describe in this review without it becoming 18+, and he saves her too. She immediately also falls in love with him. Despite all this, he maintains an “I don’t care I just do what I want” attitude the entire book.

It would be quicker to list the things that didn’t make me groan and hold my head in my hands. Akira is that combination of “smug coolness” and “I will save everyone but pretend I’m not” that is super aggravating. Scrael the long-eared girl goes back and forth between “it’s not like I want to go adventuring with you or anything” to naked bathing with him and being surprised that this arouses him. Eldrid is basically a golden retriever in a human-ish body, and thus her immediate love for Akira is a bit ergh. He has a mage mentor who hides in his shadow all the time, who gives him dangerous assignments to help him grow and offers rewards like “I’ll let you feel me up”, which he takes. There is a serious side story about a young potion maker trying to survive in the cruel city, which just makes me angrier because it’s well written but is then followed by “lol, all Japanese okama are sexual predators!” as a gag. Oh, and the other world is gaga over soy sauce. Wait till he brings in mayonnaise.

Everything about this is meant to appeal to the lowest possible denominator. If that’s you, go nuts. As for me, I even feel less happy about the author’s other two series now.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life: Lost

By Mato Sato and nilitsu. Released in Japan as “Shokei Shoujo no Virgin Road” by GA Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.

I urge the author to do something for the next book. After writing the novel, throw the first half of it out, and replace it with a summary. Then publish the second half. This way we get all the good bits, and we avoid the crushing first half that this series always has, because the prose works best when it’s in fast action sequences and compelling character dramas, and not “moving people from place to place”. It doesn’t help that my three favorite characters in the series are Akari, Momo and Ashuna, and Akari is AWOL for plot reasons, Ashuna simply never appears, and Momo shows up on the final page. This leaves us with Menou, who I like well enough but who is essentially “the serious one”. And we also get someone who is so obviously a replacement for Akari that the text has to call it out. Fortunately, the book also has Sahara. I love Sahara. Even more so here, as she has character development, 100% against her will.

We pick up six months after the end of Book 6. Ashuna has gone back home to essentially announce that the ryals are joining the revolutionaries. Momo is in charge of watching over Akari’s body. And Menou is busy being the world’s most wanted terrorist. She’s assisted by Abbie, a conjured soldier who regards Menou (and most everyone else) as her “little sister”, and also Maya, once Pandaemonium, who has her memories of a thousand years ago back but that’s led to all sorts of issues. Chasing them is the Church, led by her old instructor priestess (unclear if Teach is her name or her job, but she’s only called that), and Michele, the new Priestess in Charge, who works for, and honestly worships a bit, Hakua. Things start to go south when Maya gets separated from Menou and Abbie. But it’s OK! Sahara will help her!… maybe?

I grumped a lot on Twitter about this, so I will admit: I really enjoyed the second half. Specifically, I enjoyed everything involving Maya and Sahara. Maya’s subplot, as she tries to reconcile her Pandaemonium memories (she’s still very bitter about Manon’s death, even though, as Sahara points out, Manon was actively seeking her own death) with her memories as a Japanese girl who was being tortured over and over for her Concept. No wonder she tries to reach out to Hakua even though she knows it’s a trap. But Sahara, oh my God. She has all the best lines in the book, and as you’d expect is lazy, jaded, and quick to avoid work and shift responsibility onto others… until she isn’t. It’s a surprise to Maya, but it’s an even bigger surprise to Sahara, who is startled to find herself trying hard to protect Maya even at the cost of her own life. It made me smile.

That said, events towards the end promises the fun times are still not happening. Menou has lost a very important connection… and that connection seems to know it. Expect fireworks next time. Probably in the 2nd half of the book.

My Magical Career at Court: Living the Dream After My Nightmare Boss Fired Me from the Mages’ Guild!, Vol. 3

By Shusui Hazuki and necomi. Released in Japan as “Black Madōgushi Guild o Tsuihō Sareta Watashi, Ōkyū Majutsushi to Shite Hirowareru: White na Kyūtei de, Shiawase na Shinseikatsu o Hajimemasu! ” by SQEX Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Mari Koch.

It’s always tricky for romance writers when they introduce other potential partners who might get in the way of the destined couple, because you always worry that the reader will actually like them better than your end pairing and just get annoyed. And while I haven’t really minded Luke in the previous two books, I must admit the longer he’s gone without saying anything, the further down he’s fallen (even his “confession” here is a classic “I’m talking in my sleep” variety). We get a cool new partner for Noelle and Luke, and he bonds immediately with her, also being someone who was hated by everyone but got where he was through hard work and gumption. He’s not the problem – I’m not even sure he was meant to be a rival. No, the problem is the incredibly powerful elf queen who has just discovered Noelle and has decided that they are going to be BEST FRIENDS! Yuri? (no. But I can dream.)

Noelle is now a gold ranked magician, and she’s not going to let any wacky clumsy girl anime fall ruin her moment. Well, she is a bit. Now she and Luke are off to the World Magic Championships, where their country has always struggled. She ends up being paired against powerhouses who will destroy her right from the start. And yet… she keeps winning. She wins by casting faster. She wins by coming up with new magic theory on the fly. And she also wins by punching and headbutting her opponent when all else fails. (We don’t actually see this in detail, which is my biggest complaint with the book.) But it’s when she’s attacked by a group of skilled assassins that she starts to realize: someone wants to stop her getting far in the tournament… even if they have to kill her.

After two books of Noelle having low self-esteem because of her old job from hell and having to get used to everyone thinking she’s the bee’s knees, here we see that there are still plenty of people who hate her. Or rather, they hate that she’s a filthy commoner. Yes, evil nobles are still evil nobles no matter what the light novel is, and these are the usual. How dare they not know their place, if things are decided by merit we’ll lose power and privilege, etc. Fortunately, there are some mages who do still love Noelle, including the most powerful mage in the world, who has spent the past twelve years studying time magic (which Noelle almost duplicates in about two DAYS), and also the aforementioned elf, who has spent a thousand years being raised to lead the elves and never have any fun, and is now rebelling. She thinks Noelle is AMAZING. She’s the best part of the book, and I’m very happy she’s on the cover of the next one.

That said, the love interest is still Luke. Will Noelle finally figure out that he loves her from his saying “I love you, Noelle” in his sleep? Signs point to no. Good stuff regardless.