500 years changes everything and nothing.
WorldEnd was one of those very strange anime that I was reluctant to start because the mouthful of a title and the excessively cute character designs just kind of screamed that this was another light novel adaptation just trying to grab some quick attention and at the time I’d been burned a few too many times. Despite that, the anime series “WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?” ended up being a bit of a mixed viewing experience with some great highs and lows throughout and realistically left me wondering about the story and whether there was a better was to experience it.
And so it was I eventually picked up volume one of this series and after it sat on my shelf for a fair while in my to-be-read books I finally picked it up to read. A few hours later I went online and ordered the next book.
Now, I’m not going to claim that this is a perfect masterpiece and realistically I went in knowing what was going to happen having watched the series. The first volume actually only gets partway through the series and having a look at the other books it looks like there’s a couple more that were adapted into the anime. So this wasn’t a case of being amazed by plot twists or revelations and honestly most of the information here was in the anime.
For those who don’t know, WorldEnd is the story of Willem, the last ‘human’ who takes on a job to pay off a debt he has incurred. The job involves looking after a weapon warehouse but the weapons are actually all young girls (faeries actually). These girls are sent to fight beasts who roam the earth making it more or less uninhabitable (so all the lizardmen and other creatures that survived the end of the world live on floating islands).
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In reading this volume, I came to really appreciate Willem as a character. A lot more than I did when watching him go through more or less the same actions in the anime. Perhaps it is hearing some of his inner thoughts, or maybe it is that the pacing is a little smoother in the novel allowing his moments to sit a bit better, but really in the anime Willem comes off in most scenes as a fairly passive character and one who serves partially as an audience stand-in as he learns about the girls and their role. In written form he really comes to life and actually carries the story well (which is probably just as well as this volume very much focuses on Willem for the majority of it with Chtholly – the oldest of the weapons – only getting the focus a few times toward the end).
I also felt that I had time to take in the world building and some of the smaller details that actually probably were in the anime but were lost in the rush to get to the next scene involving a bunch of cute faeries running around.
Definite appreciation goes to the translator, Jasmine Bernhardt here. With some translated light novels there’s a stilted kind of flow at times, particularly to the dialogue, whereas here it flows very naturally. Actually, the whole novel just flowed well which made it really easy to get absorbed into the story.
There’s a real balance in this story of darker and more reflective moments for the characters and the slice of life moments where they allow themselves to forget for the time those things they would rather not remember. The story doesn’t lurch jarringly between these moments but rather allows each to come naturally into the story and then pass onto the next. There’s only really one moment in the story that feels a little rushed when one of the younger girls gets injured but that’s a fairly minor criticism.
Another thing I appreciated on reading this story is that the author clearly wanted a protagonist who was the ‘stranger in a strange land’ and yet resisted the urge to isekai a character. While Willem is out of time, he is very much a part of this world and his history has real ramifications outside of some useful knowledge. His past very much defines his present self and he’s a much stronger character because of it.
WorldEnd isn’t going to change the world but if you are a fan of fantasy stories that have a little more going for them then being a generic medieval setting, you’ll probably have a fun read here. Meanwhile I’ll look forward to the second book arriving so I can see if the story continues as strongly in the next volume.
Cover Image: WorldEnd Vol 1. Author. Akira Kareno. Illustrator. Ue. Yen Press. 2018.