Welcome to the next chapter of our Light Novel Club! It is in times like this, where we’re quarantined in the middle of a pandemic, when novels and light novels can be great for giving us something to do without going out. And if all of the virus news gets a bit too much, a trip to another world can sound awfully inviting. So join us as we take a trip to a fantasy world where we find The World’s Least Interesting Master Swordsman (courtesy of J-Novel Club) and how to become an overpowered protagonist by simply training for half a century!
1. What are your overall impressions of the novel?
Jeskai Angel: This book is a humorous isekai tale that uses its unusually aged protagonist to poke fun at common isekai tropes. Thanks to some of its more elderly characters (e.g., the protagonist, the Regent), the story also had so many practical observations about life and human nature that it reminded me a little of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki.
stardf29: So I have an admission to make here. Before this novel got licensed, I had actually found–and read–some of its manga adaptation on a fan scanlation site. (For the record, I have a strict policy of not using such sites for licensed content.) And… well, it bored me, so I dropped it (right about after Sansui and Saiga’s second fight).
So I was quite surprised to find out how much I liked it when reading the novel. The story really does need Sansui’s narration and getting his thoughts on everything going on around him. That’s what makes this an interesting look at the usual isekai premise to me.
2. What do you think of the novel’s humorous jabs at isekai cliches?
Jeskai Angel: What fascinated me is that this book seems like it’s both deconstructing and reconstructing isekai stories at the same time (this trope came to mind). There are a bunch of scenes and characters that blatantly highlight the silliness or impracticality of common isekai elements. Yet this isn’t just a parody whose only purpose is to lampoon the genre. This book has a real and at least semi-serious isekai story of its own to tell. Of special relevance here is that a number of characters switch (sometimes more than once) between being appearing as humorous caricatures and being portrayed as more complex and realistic people. As a result, this LN comes across as a loving critique of isekai stories, without reaching the point of being a satirical condemnation of the genre. It’s really kind of cool to see the author balance these elements. Sansui, after meeting Saiga and his harem, says, “It’s about then that I seriously begin to question if I’m actually in another world, or if I’ve been sent to some anime or light novel’s setting instead.” This question challenges readers as well — should we interpret characters like Saiga, Lady Douve, and “God” as jokes, or see them in a more serious light?
stardf29: Good call on the Decon-Recon Switch. While the story definitely pokes fun at the usual isekai tropes–and that is one of the draws of this series–it also doesn’t go out of its way to make things miserable for everyone (though some people definitely are having a better time than others).
Having multiple people brought over from Japan independently is a nice way to approach this. It’s far from the only story to do this, but it does nevertheless mean we get some different approaches to the overpowered protagonist experience, and seeing how Sansui and Saiga play off each other is fun. I especially like when they get to make video game references to each other to help explain things.
3.What do you think of the various characters?
Jeskai Angel: I was really impressed by how successful the author was at selling me on the idea that Sansui is over 500. I don’t know how a 500-year-old person would act (I suppose none of us have met one, LOL), but at the very least, Sansui is a striking contrast to most LN protagonists. He’s unfailingly calm & levelheaded, never acting impulsively out of desperation or fear or anger. He pragmatically accepts what happens even if he doesn’t like it, rather than giving any speeches about rebelling against fate or changing the world or something. He’s humble, but not pathologically so. He doesn’t care about showing off or impressing people; he doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. He perceptively critiques the failings of others, yet he remains quite empathetic toward them all the while (his attitude toward Douve & Saiga stands out in this regard). His humorous narration is the heart of the story.
I don’t know if he realistically acts like a 500-year-old, but I’m pretty sure he’s the most mature LN protagonist I’ve ever seen (the next closest might be Teacher from Reincarnated as a Sword? Maybe Veight from Der Werwolf?). Sansui consistently projects a sort of world-weary maturity & insight that really helps me believable he’s lived for centuries, & which strongly contrasts him with typical isekai protagonists. The unusual basis of Sansui’s abilities is also notable: he didn’t receive instant super powers & he’s not a young prodigy. He earned his ability through a lot of work.
One mystery does intrigue me: Sansui seems surprisingly blasé about dying, leaving behind family & friends, & being sent to another world. Thinking of other isekai protagonists who weren’t terribly happy with their old lives (e.g. Mile, Veight), I can’t help but wonder if life in Japan wasn’t kind to Sansui, & whether we’ll see more of this background in the future.
stardf29: Sansui is, ironically enough, quite interesting. Or rather, he himself might not be very interesting, but his path in life definitely is. His path as an Immortal reminds me of Buddhism and its ultimate goal of being free of desire of impermanent things, hence how he does not eat or feel romantic attraction, and by and large does not care too much about what is happening around him. It certainly gives him a nice big-picture perspective on things, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if maybe he has lost too much “humanity” in the process. In that sense, having to take care of Lain is a potentially big shake-up for him, and something I wish this volume would have gotten into more. Hopefully future volumes will get more into this.
Jeskai Angel: While Sansui’s narration is vital to the book, I thought one of the story’s neatest tricks was introducing us to Saiga through Sansui’s POV, but then suddenly allowing Saiga to narrate portions of the story as well. Our aged protagonist hilariously skewers Saiga for being a miserable little pile of clichés, & some stories would have stopped with using Saiga as comic relief, but this one turned around & built him back up. Through both Sansui’s own thoughts & Saiga’s direct narration, this caricature turns out to be a lot more human. He’s still flawed, but he’s far from the unsympathetic buffoon he first seemed to be. I was especially impressed by the humility he showed after his third defeat, & the way he accept Sansui’s wisdom.
Saiga became pivotal to how I read the entire story. He is the clearest example of the author deconstructing & reconstructing a trope. So as the story complexifies Saiga beyond his trope-skewering first impression, I can’t help but wonder about all the other seemingly cliché-mocking characters. Other important figures like “God” and Lady Douve come across as jokes at first, just like Saiga… But are they? They don’t all get to narrate their own side of the story, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more going on with them.
A lingering mystery is WHEN does Saiga come from? He arrived in the fantasy world 500 years after Sansui did…so did he die sometime in the 2500s? But that’s hard to accept. To Sansui, Saiga is wearing a totally normal school uniform — would uniforms remain unchanged that long? They also understand common references like Sansui’s video game analogies. This suggests they are from roughly the same era in our world. But if Saiga & Sansui are from the same era, why exactly did “God” reincarnate them at such different points in time?
stardf29: One theory is that the timelines of this fantasy world compared to “our” world are not completely parallel, so maybe 500 years in that world is only a few years in “our” world. Kind of like Narnia time. Hence Saiga might have died in “our” world not too long after Sansui, despite ending up in said world some centuries later.
Alternatively, “God” might be purposely choosing these times to place his otherworldly visitors…
As for Saiga himself, he’s very much the “typical” isekai protagonist, but not in a bad way; he’s earnest, likable, and knows his video games. He genuinely cares about his harem, and is able to accept losing to Sansui once he realizes the difference in how long they’ve lived. So yeah, it’s very nice to see how, rather than just being a joke, he’s actually a person trying to live the best life he can. He might not have made for an interesting protagonist, but he does well as a side character.
Jeskai Angel: As with Saiga, at first Lady Douve is just a cliche, the arrogant, shallow, privileged young woman. Sansui outright says her personality is “that of a stereotypical spoiled noblewoman.” She’s a funny joke, & not an especially evil person, but at the outset there isn’t much to like about her. But the story forces me to doubt this first impression. For me, the key was when she finds out about Tahlan. Was it really just coincidence that Douve’s capricious whimsy caused her to take immediate interest in both Sansui & Tahlan, despite barely knowing anything about them? All she knows about Sansui when she offers to hire him is that he’s some weird kid with a baby and unusual jumping ability. She becomes interested in Tahlan just from hearing about him. Did she randomly glom on to these two Rare Arts-using blademasters who, surprise, surprise, also happen to be among the most goodhearted people in the story? Once might be a coincidence, but twice? I can’t help but suspect Lady Douve is actually sharper than her petty aristocrat act would lead us to assume.
Sansui’s own observations also helped me see Lady Douve more sympathetically. At one point he remarks, “I’m starting to feel a little worried for Lady Douve. It might just be that she’s actually a very unfortunate person, and she’s just oblivious to it.” As we see the obsessive & controlling way her father & elder brother treat her, Lady Douve’s own peculiarities or ways of acting out become increasingly understandable. There’s also mention of how Douve truly wants to be loved, not just sought for her beauty or as a steppingstone to power. As Sansui notes, “She’s not even twenty, but I guess she’s starting to get desperate. There’s no malice in Lady Douve’s feelings; if anything, there’s even a touch of sadness there.” She is a comically exaggerated version of an isekai trope, but she’s also deeper than that.
Jeskai Angel: A group of wolves is called a pack. A group of lions is called a pride. And a group of coincidences is called a pattern. This entity known as “God” only appears in person briefly at the start of the tale, but his fingerprints show up suspiciously often. Initially, of course, “God” just seems like a exaggerated cliché. The scene where a newly dead protagonist appears before deity & hears “Sorry you’re dead, let me reincarnate you in another world with great power” is a staple of many isekai stories. Off the top of my head, I follow By the Grace of the Gods, I Shall Survive Using Potions, & Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average, all of which have this kind of scene. I think it also happens in Konosuba and In Another World with My Smartphone? Master Swordsman just leans into the ridiculousness of the scenario. “God’s” nonsensical excuses about killing Sansui & Saiga are…remarkable.
But that’s not the end of the matter. We find out “God” apparently has a habit of “accidentally” killing Japanese high schoolers & resurrecting them in this other world with special powers. The first hint is the way Master Suiboku reacts upon meeting Sansui: “Oh, God sent a another visitor from another world.” That’s not the most logical response to meeting an oddly dressed stranger in the middle of nowhere…unless you’ve seen it happen before. Later we meet Saiga. Then we hear the history of magic lecture about more super-powered Japanese folks. Then we get Paulette’s revelation about her OP Japanese friend, & learn that the fourth Great House has a similar champion. Finally, His Brothership & His Fathership indicate that Pseudo Revolutionary France has a similar asset. There’s also Paulette’s cryptic comment to consider: “…a time is coming when these four aces will need to work together.” It keeps getting harder to believe it’s all just a joke.
When I started reading this novel, I took the depiction of God as lighthearted mockery of a stock scene that has appeared in a number of reincarnation-type isekai stories. But as it went on & the clues kept adding up, I grew more & more convinced that “God” is up to something & isn’t just the clownish dunderhead he acted like in front of Sansui & Saiga.
stardf29: Yep, there’s definitely reason to believe “God” is orchestrating things in a particular way. After all, it’s clear that these otherworlders are affecting the world in major ways. In a way it’s yet another example of the story’s decon-recon of overpowered isekai protagonists; you can’t put massively overpowered beings in a world and not expect things to be twisted around them. And “God” may very well be intentionally twisting things here…
Jeskai Angel: Blois might be the only major character the story hasn’t gone out of its way to poke fun at so far? Likewise, nothing really jumped out at me in terms of clues that she will have great hidden depths. She’s the sane, normal, serious character, often serving as a foil to the antics of Lady Douve & occasionally even toward Sansui. The sidestory in particular let her play that role, inspiring me to make Bloiromir…
I did find it particularly interesting that Blois remains desirous of a relationship with Sansui even after finding out his true age. Given the comedic emphasis of the story, my expectation was that Blois would be freaked out by the whole concept of Sansui being an ancient immortal & there would be some sort of humorous scene where she retracts her expression of interest. Instead, she processes this new information & earnestly affirms that her feelings are unchanged.
stardf29: It feels like it’s rare in light novels to have a character who’s a religious leader of sorts and is actually portrayed positively. Paulette is a nice contrast to the other known house leaders who are definitely more of the typical self-centered (albeit not malicious) noble ladies. She also has an interesting struggle with times when she has to resolve things with violence even when she personally wishes she doesn’t have to; at the same time, she has a good sense of justice and isn’t afraid to do what she needs to in order to expose wrongdoing. I’d definitely like to see more of her.
Jeskai Angel: Is Paulette a reconstruction of flawed aristocratic characters in general? This story gives us several nobles who are…exceedingly quirky, if not outright wicked: Douve and her family, Happine, Nuri, etc. And I bet if we took a few moments, we could probably name a dozen decadent / corrupt / inept / arrogant aristocrats from other stories. I wonder if at least a portion of our negative view of aristocrats comes from modern society’s disdain of formal class systems; the concept of nobles just goes against our egalitarian sensibilities. Amid such figures, Paulette is a refreshingly exemplary noblewoman: responsible, effective, smart, etc. — and with no glaring instances of weirdness, stupidity, or evilness. She challenges our assumptions about aristocrats with realistic complexity.
4. Old Man Sansui makes many wise observations (the Regent also gets some insightful comments), so did you have any favorite life lessons or sage advice dispensed in this story?
Jeskai Angel: “It’s not enough to state the truth. Words are meaningless if the person won’t hear them.” Sansui is right on the money. I’ve spent a long time learning this lesson, as I’ve tried to grow as a writer. We can’t stop at just being right — we must strive to communicate effectively with other people, or else our being right does them no good.
“Other people are just that: other people. I need to focus on my own flaws.” Sansui is adept at critiquing the failings of Douve, Saiga, etc., but he doesn’t lose sight of the reality that he & they are all flawed, fallible humans. To borrow from Jesus’ teaching, we might say Sansui needs to focus on getting the log out of his own eye, not on worrying about the speck in someone else’s eye. He is introspective enough to recognize on several occasions that he could have handled a situation better & that he needs to grow, yet he avoids becoming overly discouraged by his missteps.
“People, not swords, should decide when and why to fight.” This speak to the importance of understanding ends & means properly. A proverbial example would be the non-profit institution that becomes more focused on bringing in money to sustain itself than on whatever good mission the organization started with. Swords are a means to fight, but having a sword does not mean fighting is the goal itself. I think religious people often become fixated on things that should just be means, but get treated as ends unto themselves. Jesus’ rebuke to the Pharisees about tithing garden herbs while neglecting justice & mercy comes to mind.
stardf29: I think I’ll go with this one: “A life obsessed with winning and losing is stifling.” This was Sansui’s advice to Saiga, and he goes on to explain how, for him, it’s more about fixing his own flaws than a desire to “win” or “lose”. Overall I think he has a good point here, in that focusing too much on defeating others is ultimately a desire for constant conflict, and one has to think if that really is the way they want to live.
5. What are your thoughts on the setting of the story and the various events going on in the background?
Jeskai Angel: On first impression, it seems like a fairly generic fantasy world that exists only to aid the story’s critique of isekai tropes. IIRC, that really starts to change when Paulette shows up. She introduces politics and foreign affairs to the story, cluing us in the complicated dynamics between the four Great Houses and the royal family, and also bringing attention to the emigre nobles who fled the revolution in Pseudo-France and how war is brewing. Learning about these broader issues that exist outside of Sansui’s personal orbit helps the world feel richer. My view of the setting was also influence by the Saiga Effect, where after seeing how Saiga was rebuilt into a more realistic character, I started to wonder if the seemingly cliche bland fantasy setting is deeper than it first appears.
On a different note, I eventually realized why the story felt somewhat sparse on world-building details. All but a couple short sections of the book are narrated by Sansui or Saiga, the latter of whom is still fairly new to this world and the former of whom has been here a long time but spent almost all of it in total isolation. There’s probably a TON that our two narrators simply don’t know about the setting, so it makes sense to leave it out of the narrative until there’s a reason for natives of the setting to explain.
Oh, I tweeted about this a while back, but I also found it intriguing that Master Swordsman is one of a number of (relatively) recent (to be translated & published in America) light novels to draw inspiration from the French Revolution. The absolutely amazing Tearmoon Empire is basically time traveling to prevent the French Revolution, and Altina the Sword Princess is aiming to LEAD the French Revolution of her setting. In Master Swordsman, the unnamed neighboring country has suffered civil war, famine, slaughtered aristocrats, overthrown the royal family, seen counter-uprisings against the revolution in some areas, and has the logic of revolution carrying it to embark upon foreign wars. Taken all together, the intended historical parallel seems clear. Interestingly, the revolution is yet to occur in the other two series, but here, the revolution is an accomplished fact, and people in the Arcana Kingdom are stuck dealing with the consequences. Another difference is that the other two series are set in the country where a revolution will / may take place, whereas Master Swordsman takes place in a non-revolutionary kingdom that borders Pseudo France.
stardf29: What stands out to me is what we had mentioned earlier, about how all these overpowered people from another world are messing with established political structures. It definitely sets up an interesting situation domestically, where the royal family is wary of the major noble houses and their “aces,” and it makes me wonder what kind of conflict that will lead to later on. And then there’s the pseudo-French Revolution going on in the next country over, which is intriguing because at this point we don’t really know that much about it. We’re mainly just getting scattered clues as to what’s going on over there, and it’s fun trying to piece those clues together. There’s definitely reason to believe that another “ace” is involved in some way, but other than that, we just have to wait for further volumes.
6. What do you make of the various “romances” in the story so far?
Jeskai Angel: I feel like the romances in the story, at this point, are basically “Schrödinger’s relationship.” They exist in an indeterminate state where they are simultaneously both jokes and serious relationships. Saiga’s harem is very much used as a source of humor. Douve’s talk of marrying Sansui is a point of humor. Blois herself seems perfectly sincere about her interest in Sansui, but their relationship is still treated as source of levity thanks to the antics of Douve and also His Brothership and His Fathership (like that scene where they express approval for Blois and Sansui to marry while pointedly ignoring Sansui). And of course Douve’s interest in Tahlan is played comedically (e.g., her melodramatic reaction to learning that he’s the brother of Happine’s sister-in-law).
But as with other aspects of the book, there are indications that these relationships may be more than just laughable cliches meant to poke fun at light novel romance conventions. So even if Douve and her family treat Blois and Sansui’s relationship humorously, the two interested parties (and even little Lain!) seem to be perfectly serious about it. Sansui pokes a lot of fun at Saiga’s harem, but the story also treats their relationship more soberly by showing how the girls genuinely care about him and by discussing the practical difficulties a harem romance brings. With Douve and Tahlan, Sansui’s observations about Douve being unfortunate, sad, and desperate strongly suggest that as readers we should see a meaningful dimension to Douve’s interest beyond just Douve being her usual foolish noblewoman self.
All these relationships, or potential relationships, are indeed amusing, but the narrative seems to show that they have (or at least might have) more significant weight than mere jokes. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. Will they all turn into legit romantic relationships? Will none of them? Or might some be handled more seriously while others remain the butt of jokes?
stardf29: Starting off with Saiga and his harem, while it definitely starts off as a joke, there does seem to be a more serious side here. In particular, we see how Saiga is warned that people will not be as accepting of a Hex User as one of his girls, despite how he wants to treat her as on equal standing as the other two girls. And as for those other two, one of them is the lady of a major noble house and the other is a foreign princess, so that could have all sorts of interesting political implications. The key thing here is that Saiga genuinely loves and cares about all of them, which means he’s invested in protecting his relationships despite whatever reality has to say about it. There’s definitely potential for some interesting effects as a result, so I say this is something to keep an eye on.
With Lady Douve and Tahlan, I just think they’re a nice couple. Douve shows a nice bit of vulnerability with how she doesn’t want to be married off as a political tool, and I’m glad she has this chance to find love on her own (if she manages to get past the implication of being tangentially related to her greatest rival). Let’s just hope her father and brother don’t try to mess things up too much…
Now, as for Sansui and Blois… this one definitely intrigues me. On Blois’s side, we see how strongly she feels about Sansui that even the news that he’s an Immortal over half a century old doesn’t change her feelings, and she’s willing to deal with Sansui’s lack of feelings for her. On Sansui’s side, though… as I mentioned before, I have to wonder how much Sansui’s lack of romantic interest, along with his lack of hunger and desire in general, is a loss of his humanity. (I want to differentiate this from actual asexuality; I do not mean to imply that not having sexual attraction means you are any less “human”; Sansui is a special case because he also lost other desires like hunger, and it came about as a result of his Immortal training.) I’m definitely curious if Sansui will regain some semblance of romantic desire later on, or if maybe he will remain as he is and accept a relationship for more practical purposes like giving Lain a mother.
And that’s our discussion for this month! Leave your own answers to the above questions in the comments.
As a reminder, our next Light Novel Club discussion is on Spice and Wolf, Vol. 2! It will be posted on April 23rd, so if you’re looking for something to do while under lockdown, why not give it a read?