After enjoying the first volume of Grimgar and Fantasy and Ash I decided to just dive into this whole light novel thing and when the Book Depository had a bit of a sale, and I had a discount code, I ordered the first volume of a number of series just to try. Some were recommendations by actual people and some were just the usual things that come up telling you that people who looked at this book also liked… I wasn’t too concerned or picky so I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised by anything I received that was even readable. So as the first one that actually got delivered, how does Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody (shoot the title already) fare?
Suzuki is a programmer who has worked way too many hours with way too many caffeine hits when he finally manages to catch a nap under his desk. Unfortunately he begins to have a very vivid dream about being inside a game world with new powers and a much younger looking face. With the in-game name of Satou, he needs to find a way to wake up.
On finishing this book (which I devoured in three night reads – read until I fall asleep, usually book on face) I started a conversation with someone about the book. I’d really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun, even knowing some of the obvious flaws that I will get to later in the review. Alas, I did not sell the story very well and they gave me a look. I think all anime fans know that look. The one where someone has just wondered what planet you are on when you are trying to defend a show that has literally just shown a guy fall onto some girl’s chest.
And that’s probably the issue here. Protagonist trapped in another world which is based on a mashed up combination of games. He has menus and inventory and all the in-game things you could want, except an exit. He is rapidly building up a harem. Even though he starts as a fully employed adult, his in game age is closer to a teenager and to be honest a lot of his narration is way closer to a teenager (tell me again how flat that girl’s chest is, I dare you). And to make it even worse, while he started for about two seconds as a weak character who was actually at risk of dying, due to a beginner help spell (fortunately foreshadowed – blatantly telegraphed – by an earlier real world conversation) he wipes out literally hundreds of enemies including apparently unkillable ones (good thing the game is buggy) and ends up on such a high level it is difficult to believe he will ever face danger again.
Oh, and I can already see some people scratching another title off of their list.
After finishing reading I looked up this title (backwards order I know) but I found out it started as a webcomic, became a manga, then light novels, and there’s an announcement of an anime (though how confirmed that is I am not sure). So why such appeal in a story that it can get transformed that many times when it doesn’t appear to have a single original idea anywhere in sight?
As to the webcomic and manga, I honestly wouldn’t know, I’ve never looked at them. But I know what the appeal of reading this was. When I read Grimgar my biggest complaint (other than reading fanservice fuelled moments) was the writing itself and just how poorly expressed things were even for a translated text. Death March on the other hand… Well it it clearly a translated text and some words get repeated awkwardly because of that and other sentences don’t quite flow, but on the whole, the writing is pretty good if you compare it to a standard YA novel.
There’s a natural flow to most of the descriptions, the action sequences never linger too long, the dialogue helps bring out the characters, and the inserted in-game references like skill acquisitions fit kind of perfectly with the story they are constructing. I would point out the obvious issue with their being a little too much world building and set up given we spend nearly two entire days with Satou just escourting one girl and then another around the city. Admittedly, we learn a lot from the experience (as does Satou), and the second trip is needed as it leads to the dungeon sequence which leads to the climax of this story, etc, etc. There’s still a lot of plot padding so it is a really good thing that I enjoyed Satou’s internal thoughts, criticisms, evaluations and just his general tone (when he wasn’t looking at one of the girls in the story).
Before I move on from the writing though I would like to share this gem (a lot of sarcasm there) from page 66:
“Every time she moved, something – well, two things, which were presumably D cups – asserted their presence with a distinct jiggle.”
There are some things you cannot unread and that line tragically stuck to the point where I even remembered the page number two days after passing that point of the story. I’m really starting to think there’s some obligation to include these lines in order to prove that you are actually writing a light novel but at least now all those fan-service scenes in anime based on light novels make more sense.
What is a little surprising about the direction the story takes in Death March is that Satou doesn’t immediately set out to make himself defender of the downtrodden. In fact, he goes to great lengths to hide his true level and abilities most of the time letting other characters take the lime-light with occasional assists in the form of flicked coins or rocks from the sidelines. This doesn’t last as he dons sword and cloak for a fight sequence toward the end, but having a protagonist actively avoiding conflict makes a nice change even if even he knows that can’t possibly last given the game like nature of the world.
So while there are plenty of things I could sit and criticise about this book, the one undeniable point is that I had a great deal of fun reading it and I want more. There’s a number of plot threads that have been developed that clearly are going to be continued further down the line, and while the world building in this first volume detracts from the story of this book, it has set the foundations for a lot of possibilities, many of which might be interesting.
Basically, if you can ignore the fact that this is literally a story we have seen done to death at this point, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had. Swords, demons, dragons, magic, slaves, and pit toilets. It all makes you wonder which one is the worst danger Satou will face.
Thanks for reading.
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