A while back, Anpan on the anime conference suggested I read Realist Hero, as part of my curiosity about Japanese young adult genre fiction (light novels). Of course I am aware of Spice and Wolf and such, but I figured it would be a better idea starting off with something less insanely well-known. Realist Hero is part of the "warped in an another world" trope, which is the sensation that's taken over Japan for the past five years or so. Works in this genre are a dime a dozen; Sword Art Online is perhaps the most well known of these. The trope has become so insanely stale and uninspiring, the best way to describe it is taking a look at the Hollywood horror genre, which has produced nothing but utter, irredeemable garbage for the past 30 years, with exceptions you can count with one partially amputated hand. It's so bad some publishers straight up ban this trope. Predictably, Realist Hero is bad.
Realist Hero's gimmick is transporting an intelligent university student into a medieval fantasy country where everyone is fucking retarded. Using science and "logic", Kazuya Sōma, our titular hero, sets the country back straight from the brink of ruin. Along the way, he amasses a company of the fairer sex. That's it. That's what happens. I guess it's somewhat okay compared to yet another fighting series.
Let's start with the good parts. As I've said, it isn't a Naruto clone. The English is grammatically and syntactically correct, save for one typo, but since this is a translation, expecting less would truly set the bar low. The dialogue isn't entirely stilted. There are some entertaining moments spread throughout the novel. In trying to stay true to its title, plot problems are by and large not solved through the power of love and friendship.
There's many problems with Realist Hero, but the glaring one is that it reads like it was written by a 12-year-old. If this were the author's very first attempt at writing, I wouldn't be surprised whatsoever. Description is for the most part nonexistent, and where there is any, it's wooden, mechanical, and uninspiring. It's almost impossible to immerse yourself into the shoes of any one character, because the way they go about their business, it's almost as if they're abstract entities of pure consciousness, like Jainist deities. If it weren't for the (just as boring) illustrations, God as my witness, I wouldn't know what anyone looked like. I've referred back to them a few times just to remind myself the main characters are, in fact, corporeal.
The author messes around with grammatical person, so there are multiple first person, limited third person, and omniscient third person narrators. It isn't nearly as confusing as it sounds; the narrative is so comically flat and superficial that I'd be surprised if anyone past third grade couldn't keep up. I don't understand why he couldn't have just used limited third person for everyone, but it's a well-known fact that I much prefer third-person narrators, and it shows in my writing, so I am willing to concede I'm biased here.
The narrative itself is as straightforward as it gets. The narrator describes things as they happen. There is no such thing as stream of consciousness, or even a creative manipulation of words to make it read better. If there ever is uncertainty or ambiguity, the narrator steps right ahead and clears things up. This is done to comical extent, i.e. there are dozens of instances throughout the novel where the narration and dialogue are stopped so the narrator can give us some info dump about Sōma's thought process and/or background material on the fantasy world and country.
It's as absolutely boring as it sounds. I've played Dungeons & Dragons campaigns with less forced backstory exposition. It's at this moment that you understand why the "warped in another world" trope exists: it's a crutch for the author's inability to present information elegantly, in character, so they introduce a placeholder for the reader in-universe, so they're able to break the fourth wall without breaking the fourth wall.
Oh, yeah, speaking of which, Sōma is blatantly a reader-insert. He has nothing connecting him to the real world; hell, the novel starts with the death of his last connection. It's almost as if he lived his whole entire life never talking to anyone in person and never making any friends, never having any desires, never doing much of anything, really. He is bland, uninspiring, empty, and seems to be entirely defined by how selfless and efficient he is. I'm not asking for much; I just want a reason, any reason, for why he's acting the way he does.
I guess that's why he didn't have a complete breakdown when transported to the fantasy world. He's just empty inside, eh?
Other series, like Log Horizon, at least have the self-respect to imply there is something deeply wrong with the protagonist's mental health, in rationalising their weird behaviour. Realist Hero does attempt to pull a Log Horizon what with its intelligent protagonist—I truly, honestly appreciate that he isn't the stereotype of the useless male who solves everything by happenstance, at the very least.
That said, just cause Realist is in the title, that doesn't mean the story is "realistic". Oh, no, no, no, my dudes. That would be a really horrible assumption to make. Sōma has an unrealistic understanding of everything and anything; he's basically Wikipedia with legs. There are maybe a couple people in the real world with knowledge so all-encompassing, and Sōma is one of them, apparently. Furthermore, he receives godlike magical powers that increase his managerial effectiveness by an order of magnitude to put it lightly.
Since he is Wikipedia all by himself, the advisors he surrounds himself with are for the most part useless. Hakuya is the only one with any capacity, and who you'd expect to belong in an imperial court. Kaede, Juno, and Poncho are so out of place, useless, and irrelevant, that they are discarded almost as soon as they're introduced; heck, had I not looked up Kaede's name, I would have forgotten her entire existence.
The "harem" aspects are a misnomer also; it is blatantly obvious that the officially endorsed pairing is Sōma × Liscia. I doubt the trope even works without suggestive elements, which Realist Hero completely lacks. Then again, with how the author writes, I wouldn't want to read descriptions of skinship. They'd read like a crippled autist's idea of sensory perception, as if texture, heat, and smell didn't exist. For what it's worth, that's how the rest of the book comes across.
Arguably the most mind-rendingly boring part of the novel is the third chapter, Let's Create a Broadcast Program, which describes a variety cooking show. In real life, these are only ever enjoyable because of hyperbolic personalities like Gordon Ramsay. Otherwise, their target audience is obese, ageing single mothers trying to kill the time while they're waiting for Facebook and Instagram to inflate their narcissism as a substitute for having a personality and a youth long lost. Coupled with this author's skilled penmanship, you can imagine just how entertaining that turns out. After that, the various flash-forwards (yes, really) that litter most chapters; the author is so hell bent on leaving nothing open to interpretation that he's willing to flash forward countless decades so he can reassure us everything will turn out alright.
The last Japanese novel I read was 1Q84, which I also didn't enjoy all that much, but in comparison, Murakami comes across as a Literature Nobel laureate.
The author's inability to write anything of note comes out at its worst during a scene that's supposed to be dramatic and traumatic, after a natural disaster which claimed many lives. The author describes how these things are supposed to be important, but it doesn't feel that way at all. It's almost like we're reading a script for a TV series and there's notes scribbled around the dialogue: "he is sad, he cries", "sad music plays". When things are vapid and uplifting, then we get to have some fun; ironically the adventuring side stories come across infinitely more enjoyable than any of the main content does. It's almost like you're reading a different novel, until the story ends and you're reminded this novel and your life have dullness in common.
Anpan says it gets better later on, which I'm prepared to believe if this was indeed the author's first attempt at writing, and I'll admit to being possessed by an almost masochistic urge to see it to completion, just to experience how deep the anal hole goes. The smell is wretched; surely nine months' work of constipation. Hope is a mistake.
To say I've read better would be an understatement. There's better fanfics out there. There's better on neocities. Fucking hell, I have written better, and all I write nowadays is lolicon. This very review has more literary qualities than the entirety of Realist Hero's first volume. Give it up. Don't save it; it don't wanna be saved.
You can buy How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom through J-Novel Club. Your wallet and your insides will be a little bit emptier, but not nearly as much as paying child support for a deadbeat bad boy's spawn. Rest easy, then, knowing your life could have been wasted more.
Final verdict: 2/10