Welcome to the third meeting of our light novel club! I don’t know how it is where you are, but where I am it is sizzling, and a hot summer is the perfect time to pick up a book and an iced drink of your choice. In that sense, our selection this time, volume one of How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom!, is a perfect selection for the summer—a breezy read, not too serious but engaging and quick to get through.
For those joining late, here’s a synopsis: Kazuya Souma is summoned as a “hero” to the kingdom of Elfriede, which is plagued by problems both outside—demons and monsters that are starting to gain strength and conquer the continent—and within, particularly in the form of food shortages. Souma, a bright and rational young man, outlines his plans to solve some of these issues and a remarkable turn of events happens: the current king decides to abdicate his throne to Souma and give his daughter to him in engagement. And so begins the reign of King Souma as he gathers advisors and uses his brain to help solve the problems of the kingdom!
Since this club is supposed to more a discussion than review, we’re going to do something a bit different today. We’ll give ten questions below, some general and some more specific to the light novel, and stardf29, who suggested this novel in the first place, and I will provide our answers. As a fair warning, stardf29 has read all of the novels translated by J-Novel Club so far (that’s six volumes), so he knows of many things that would be huge spoilers, but will make sure to avoid spoiling anything and do his best to approach these questions based on what he thought of the first volume when he first finished it. Nevertheless, some of the answers may be influenced by knowledge of material in later volumes.
If you’ve read along, please give your answers to some or all the questions in the comment section as well!
1. What did you like best about the light novel?
TWWK: I really enjoyed the characterization of both Souma and his bethrothed, Liscia. My experience with isekai is limited, but I’ve found the protagonists to be interesting, but sometimes hard to root for in such series, but in this novel, I actually liked Souma. His faults are there—I’ll mention some later one—but he’s still easy to get behind. Liscia is also a humble soul and down to earth, and the two make a good match. They have a realism to them, too, in a world with fantastical creatures and anime tropes, that roots the book in some reality.
stardf29: Two things really stuck out to me about this novel. First of all, the characters are great all around. The main characters are all plenty likable, fairly interesting, and have elements that make them relatable (read my latest post for why those three aspects are important), and there’s a great roster of side characters to play off the cast. The other thing that I liked is how the story made the most of the basic premise of “guy from modern world uses his knowledge to reform a fantasy kingdom”. I’ll talk more about this point later but among other things, I’ve definitely learned a few things about economics and the like.
2. What are your thoughts about the book’s setting and world building?
TWWK: The world building is—in most cases—a strength of the novel. Because state building is at the center of the book, the reader needs to be able to understand the nation and its inhabitants, and Dojyomaru does well in describing those elements. I can easily picture what the nation looks like, what the continent looks like, and how its inhabitants live in harmony (or disharmony) with one another. There were a few times, though, when it felt like the author was really forcing it when explaining how things work because it didn’t fit naturally, primarily when discussing the relationship between technology and magic.
stardf29: I definitely like the overall world-building; while it can be tough to get through with all the exposition, it does work towards making an overall fleshed-out world. One thing I found interesting upon first reading the novel, though, was that despite this being a “fantasy world”, there were a few Japanese elements; at least two characters, Tomoe and Kaede, have distinctly Japanese names, for instance. It made me wonder how this world might have independently developed a culture with Japanese elements.
3. Who was your favorite character?
TWWK: With the exception of the young girl who can speak to demons, whose role was less defined now by assuming will be expanded later, the main characters and Souma’s advisors all stood out in good ways. Though most of the focus in the initial volume is on Souma and the nation itself, there was enough time to give personality to all these supporting characters (many of whom are quite intentionally becoming part of a harem for the king) and also to give them idiosyncrasies (ex. Aisha’s love of food). Of these, I probably liked Liscia’s character best, maybe because we get to know her best, getting inside her head a bit through the narrative structure (more on that later as well).
stardf29: Speaking just from my impressions of the first volume after first reading it, this would have been a hard question. Each of the characters is great in their own way, and at this point early on in the series there’s still largely the sense that you just want to get to know all of them more. I’d say I probably did like Liscia the best, for similar reasons as TWWK said.
That said, now that I’ve read all the translated volumes, I’d say my favorite character is Roroa, the little sister of the prince of the enemy country Amidonia. She appears near the end of volume 1 and she just gets more interesting in later volumes.
TWWK: Oh ho! I’m interesting in seeing how Roroa develops. Her entrance at the end of the volume reminds me of the Attack on Titan manga and a character of perhaps similar tenacity in Gabi.
4. What are your thoughts on Souma’s solutions to the country’s problems?
TWWK: I’m really eager to hear about this from our readers. So much time is spent emphasizing Souma’s rationale and intelligence in the book. It’s critical to establishing his character in the series, but his solutions really took me out of the book. When you’re watching an anime or reading a light novel, you have to detach yourself from reality a bit; otherwise, you won’t be able to enjoy what’s happening. But since state building is grounded in reality, there has to be some realism to it, and as one that works with transportation projects and in the government, I couldn’t help but roll my eyes at every turn. If I had read this novel fifteen years ago—even ten—I might have accepted Souma’s policies without a single thought. But I struggled at points to enjoy the novel because the solutions were too simple, to free from complexities and problems. And although Dojyomaru does an admirable job setting up a rather straightforward world, the policies set forth are still too ill-conceived to work well. This bothered me immensely.
stardf29: As I mentioned in my post about isekai, one thing I like about such stories is how they present what happens when our modern world collides with a fantasy world. In this case, that takes the form of showing how modern world policies can reform a world that would otherwise be approximately in the Dark Ages. It reminds me of anime series I enjoyed like Spice and Wolf and Maoyuu Maou Yuusha with its focus, which is great. I will agree with TWWK though that the policies seem too simple and their results feel too “clean.” Perhaps going too in-depth with the policies and their results would have made for too clunky reading? It does admittedly make the series feel like it is still ultimately a wish-fulfillment power fantasy isekai story (and the hints of a harem certainly do not help in breaking that), albeit with a somewhat different approach and better execution.
TWWK: You’re absolutely right about the problem with going too in-depth, which would have made the novel read like a textbook! I don’t know if there’s an easy answer here, and I appreciate that the author went down a road that tried to address a realistic perspective and a fantasy one. It just didn’t work for me.
5. How does this book differ from other isekai material you’ve read or watched?
TWWK:I already mentioned how Souma is more likeable than some isekai protagonists (I’m looking at you, Subaru), but otherwise, the biggest thing that stood out to me was how little or no time was spent on Souma adjusting to the new world. No regrets of the former and barely a mention of him missing his old life, with just one character discussed by name (and that only before he is summoned). His adjustment into the world isn’t of much consequence, and he could be a villager elevated to the position of king with nary a change in the story, if it wasn’t for the frequent nods toward life in Japan, sometimes as humorous asides (the whole ramen episode) or to simply show how much more knowledge Souma has, which contributes to his successful kingship.
stardf29: I really liked how the protagonist, Souma, is a college-age guy rather than a high schooler like many isekai protagonists, and that moreover he does not gain any “cheat” skills (other than some amusing multitasking magic to help him with all that paperwork). The former point allows him to have generally more mature relationships with the people around him, while the latter allows the focus to be more on how he uses his knowledge of the modern world to change the kingdom, not how he uses his cheat skills to overpower everyone around him.
6. What did you think about the title? Would you change it? To what?
TWWK: I have no good response to this question, but I think its a fun one. Anyone have a different title? And can we stop already with these super long light novel titles?
stardf29: I think the title is fine. As a side note, the Japanese title of this series is Genjitsu Shugi Yuusha no Oukoku Saikenki, which roughly translates to “Chronicles of a Realist Hero’s Kingdom Reconstruction”, and while that would have been a pretty cool English title (if only because anything with “Chronicles” makes me think of The Chronicles of Narnia which isn’t a bad thing at all to me), it would have definitely been quite a mouthful, so I can see why JNC opted for the title they chose.
TWWK: Yeah, that doesn’t flow quite as well, but I do like that one, too!
7. What did you think of the book’s illustrations?
TWWK: I really enjoyed them! The only problem is that there weren’t enough. There were a number of places in the novel where I expected to see a drawing—I would loved to have seen the three armed forces commanders at the end of the novel—but they weren’t there.
stardf29: I agree with TWWK: there needed to be more of them!
8. What did you think of the way first-person perspective was used in the book?
TWWK: I totally enjoyed the shifting of perspective back and forth. There were a couple of times when I lost my way, wondering who was narrating or even if we were now in third person, but other than the confusion, I thought the different voices made the story more engaging. I don’t know if I learned any special insight by getting inside Liscia’s head, for instance, but I did like getting out of Souma’s, which can become boring with all the thoughts he has about policy. The light novel reminded me of A Song of Ice and Fire in how it did this—and I think that’s a good thing!
stardf29: I pretty much completely agree with TWWK here. It made the story feel like it’s not just about Souma, with many other people involved in and affected by everything.
9. Was it just me, or was the landslide problem at the end of the volume kind of lame?
TWWK: I gotta tell you, I hated this. I don’t like the two military characters introduced in the section prior to this (they play a big role in the landslide portion); I don’t like how contrived the section felt, especially during the rescue at the end of the chapter; and I don’t like how the whole disaster felt artificial, both like a way of giving rising climax in a book that didn’t have a strong climactic moment and in making Souma seem like a stronger leader. It all felt fake. I could have done without—perhaps some skirmish involving outside forces (or those within) would have made for a better (and more surprising) climax.
stardf29: I was overall okay with the landslide event. I think it provided something fairly important to the story: a situation in which Souma could not save everyone, and where he has to realize there may have been things he could have done better. It helps give the story just that extra bit of grounding to keep it from becoming the worst sort of power fantasy. If I had one particular criticism of this chapter, I think it came off too much like it was a “punishment” for the conservative dark elves who didn’t want to go with Souma’s suggestion of periodic thinning; I probably would have appreciated something that was more just incidentally disastrous.
10. Is Souma a good king?
TWWK: This is TBD of course, but I would give him a B- so far. His domestic policies seem to be working (again as simple as they are), but he isn’t thinking of his enemies. He’s doing things one at a time instead of all together and giving his enemies a chance to plot. Perhaps he is thinking of them, though, and we just aren’t privy to his thoughts on these matters? I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait for volume two to find out!
stardf29: Considering he was practically forced onto the throne, I think Souma is doing okay as a king. If nothing else, he seems aware that he cannot do everything by himself, hence his seeking of talented people to help him; his prime minister Hakuya in particular seems like someone he needs to perform effectively. As for needing to pay attention to his enemies… well, let’s just say that Volume 2 is all about his confrontation of enemies both within and outside, so keep reading if you want to know what happens on that front.
Again, we’re eager to hear your thoughts on the series! Please answer any (or all) of the questions above, or otherwise give some feedback about volume one of How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom!