Vas' reviews and other stuff2018-10-28

How Some Geopolitics Carried the Novel (vol. 2)

I’m back at it again with the franchise that nobody wished to have more of. That’s right, my dudes and dudettes, it’s the second volume of Realist Hero, the light novel that made me reconsider life with its literary brillia— Ah, who the fuck am I kidding; it was terrible and I wish I had never read it. Deeper we now go into this isekai madness, the worst genre of them all, the turd that keeps on smelling, even as the industry descends ever deeper into the bowels of creative constipation. Perhaps having finished a novel will give the author sufficient retrospective to make the second one less bland. Spoiler: that happens.

The second volume starts where the previous one left off, and attempts to bring the rebellion of the pretenders to a close, relieving the political tension it’s been building up. To my surprise, it works out fairly well. Now, don’t misunderstand; you won’t be reading War and Peace by any measure, but if you’ve played enough Europa Universalis 4 and squint a little, you can kind of make out a reasonable execution of a somewhat straightforward plot. It isn’t exactly kiddy material in terms of complexity—as they’re several interrelated factions—but it’s held back by the fact that all the clever characters are on the same side; Souma’s side.

It’s far more enjoyable than the first volume for the simple fact that more shit happens. Since time must be spent exploring political intrigue and the relationships between characters, the author can’t spend it on pointless bullshit nobody cares about, such as narrating Kitchen Nightmares sans Gordon Ramsay in text form. This way the author can flex his world-building skills and his weak writing shows far less. You aren’t reading high literature, but this mostly shows in descriptions and emotionally charged scenes, not in straight-up narrative, which takes a special kind of idiot to do wrong.

This is not to say that the writing in itself hasn’t improved whatsoever. Occasionally, the author manages to convey an image in a half-competent fashion, mostly when describing a cute girl or a town that he’s Google searched, but that’s good! Whereas I couldn’t tell what any of the characters looked like in the first novel lest I had visual references, it was impossible to forget that, say, Carla has a pair of wings and red hair. Once or twice, he even manages to write a scene that has the emotional impact it ought to, and actually the novel starts off with this. Unfortunately senses besides sight are still missing in their entirety, and emotionally charged events fall flat more often than not, but I’ll take what I can get.

In this respect you can clearly see a delineation with the characters. The ones that were expanded on mostly in the first novel remain utterly one-dimensional, bland blobs. The ones that the second volume introduces and develops are far better; not so much better than you wouldn’t believe the same author came up with them, but nevertheless I cared more for the new ones than I ever did for the original cast. This is a little sad, but in retrospect most of the novel is focused on the new characters, so it works out okay, because the amoebae aren’t the main focus.

Almost every character is an animanga meme, heroes and villains alike. Save for a couple of them, they have no qualities outside their tropes, so they’re only as enjoyable as you enjoy the tropes. This is me saying this franchise is still generic as fuck, with no identifiable qualities that make it stand out in my mind as a work of fiction worth its weight. No work can truly stand on its own two feet in isolation, but Realist Hero is particularly egregious for how few things it brings to the table.

On a positive note, it’s very easy to forget this is isekai, as the protagonist’s skills and actions are 99% of his impact, and his unfamiliarity with the world becomes a side note, an aftertaste after you’re done devouring the cake. It reinforces that isekai is a shit tier trope that deserves death, and the first novel in particular would have been much better if it was anything but isekai. By how it falls by the wayside in this volume, I can only see it as a silent admission that the author feels the same.

Please, for the love of god, stop writing isekai.

Anyway, it was an easy read, well and truly a light novel. References to Japanese history are still there, and they still break immersion, but there’s fewer of them so they aren’t as grating. I found it funny how historical minutiae are referenced without any commentary, but basic medieval weaponry, such as trebuchets, are considered obscure enough that the author chose to explain them in parenthetical statements. The novel is already very accessible, and when it goes overboard it starts reading like it’s patronising me. Flash-forwards are still here, they’re still cringeworthy, but they’re both less cringey and less frequent.

The harem antics are more obvious this time, but they aren’t as stupid as most works out there, and the in-universe explanation is as good as you’re going to get, so whatever. The author-approved OTP remains by far and away Souma/Liscia. Characters so boring they shouldn’t have existed to begin with, namely Poncho, Tomoe, and Hakuya, are sidelined enough they might as well not exist.

Overall, Realist Hero‘s second volume is an improvement over the first, the pacing is much better, the plot is much better, the new characters are much better, and the useless old ones are still useless. Alas, the protagonist is still as bland as unsalted spaghetti, and though he manages to strike a serious chord on occasion, attempts at more personal angst stick out like a sore thumb. It leaves the reader moderately curious about what’s to come with its sequel-tease of an epilogue, assuming they haven’t given up by now. Improvement is improvement, but I don’t know if I have the patience to sit through it in hopes I get to read something that isn’t squarely below average one day in the far future.

You can buy this book, DRM-free, through J-Novel Club. It isn’t as much a waste of your time and money as the first one; for what it’s worth, it’s less boring and less expensive than Deadpool 2, though perhaps that isn’t much praise because I almost slept through it and I always pirate Marvel garbage with pride.

Final verdict: 3/10