Realist Hero is one of the best-selling light novels currently without an anime adaptation. That will change eventually as an anime adaptation has been announced recently, but it is still a novel that has gotten quite popular among English-speaking light novel fans. It was also one of the earlier titles we covered in the Light Novel Club, and one of my personal favorite series, so I figured it was time to revisit it, this time with Jeskai Angel, who has written about the series before. Without further ado, let’s take a look at volume 2 of How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom!
1. What are your overall thoughts on the volume?
Jeskai Angel: This volume was what convinced me to keep reading Realist Hero instead of dropping the series. Way back when I read the first volume, I thought it was actually pretty lame. Souma was a pedantic know-it-all; he may not have been OP in a combat sense, but he was ridiculously OP in terms of his knowledge level. And displayed this by pretentiously lecturing everyone (including the reader) about every topic under the sun. However, because @stardf29 spoke so highly of the series, I decided I’d give the second volume a try before giving up completely.
And, well, I went on to read every volume that’s been published so far. This volume pushed the story more toward military strategy, political intrigue, and international diplomacy, which I found a welcome improvement. Those topics remain central to the story in subsequent volumes. I think this series tends to be at its best when Souma is playing the role of heroic mastermind, rather than serving as an adjunct professor of economics at your local community college. Reading through vol. 2 again for this discussion, I felt confirmed in my opinion that this volume is vastly superior to its predecessor.
stardf29: Yeah, I also felt that Volume 2 was where the story really picked up. Volume 1 was fine but if it had just stayed at that level it wouldn’t have become one of my favorite light novels of all time; it would probably just have been “pretty good” for me. But with this volume, there are way more elements at play that start to expand the scope of the novel.
I think what I liked most about this volume is how there’s so many different parties, some allied to Souma, some not, all doing their own part. And as the point of view shifts to these different parties, we see where they all come from. This was something we touched on in the volume 1 discussion: it shows how the story is not just Souma’s story; he might be the “main character” but everyone else has their story in the greater story as well. And while volume 1 does do this a bit, it’s here in volume 2 where that really expands out even beyond country borders.
2. What are your thoughts on the characters?
Jeskai Angel: Souma feels more balanced / less OP than in the first volume. I appreciated seeing how he struggled with the weight of responsibility. Similarly, while it’s great seeing his clever plans succeed, they don’t always work out, and that’s good too. In this volume, Souma actually faces human opponents with plans of their own. That means he’s forced to adapt to the unexpected. He feels more human this way, a satisfying balance of cunning and fallibility.
This is a good chance to raise a question I’ve had before. It’s extremely common in isekai stories for the Japanese characters to refer any sort of killing as “murder,” no matter how justified it might seem in context. E.g., in this volume, Souma refers to Gaius’s death as “murder,” despite the fact that he’s killed during battle. Do the Japanese today tend to consider any kind of killing, regardless of circumstances, to be murder? Or is there some other meaning to their use of this terminology?
stardf29: Definitely agree with the assessment of Souma being more balanced, struggling with responsibility, and having more “difficult” and human opponents to deal with. I really like the moment when he realized that he had basically taken on a fake “king” persona in order to cope with the reality of war. And it’s not just that he has moments of weakness, but that he also feels like he can’t show that weakness to the girls that are closest to him. He might have the mental knowledge to handle being king, but it’s nice to see that at least when it comes to the emotional aspect, he’s still very much normal.
I don’t know the answer to the whole “murder” question, but I can imagine some people having an aversion to killing anyone, no matter how “justified” it is. Maybe they want the world to be as peaceful as possible and hate the thought of anyone dying, or maybe ending someone else’s life makes them think of how someone might kill them for a “justified” reason someday. (Or there might be some other reason I’m not thinking of.) This might be even more prevalent in Japanese culture for various reasons, or it might not. I’d have to consult someone more knowledgeable about Japanese culture on that.
B. Amidonian royals
Jeskai Angel: First, LOL at Gaius, Julius, and…Roroa? One of these things is not like the others, you know? The first two names bring to mind Gaius Julius Caesar of the Roman Empire…but Roroa? Maybe it’s symbolic? Like, her dad and brother have names that (especially together) evoke a famous historical conqueror, while her name is nothing like theirs in order to communicate how different she is from them? Well, anyway, Roroa doesn’t have much of a part to play in this volume, although there’s some heavy foreshadowing she’s got schemes of her own.
Gaius, and Amidonia in general, bring to mind various real-life examples of leaders and peoples bent on avenging past losses. Many in France looked forward to what become WWI because they wanted revenge for their defeat in the Franco-Prussian War a few decades earlier, and they especially wanted to reclaim the territories of Alsace and Lorraine from the Germans. The Nazis used vengeful rhetoric, too, wanting Germany to avenge its defeat in WWI. Even today, there’s still a ton of conflict relating to Israel (the political state) and various groups seeking to “reclaim” what they consider “their” lands — even though Israel has controlled those lands for decades. It’s interesting that the author seems to consistently portray this whole revenge-and-reclamation obsession in a negative light, implicitly repudiating it. Since Japan lost the last war it fought, I wonder if that’s any kind of commentary on the views of at least some Japanese people?
Julius gets more screentime than his sister but less than his dad. We get the impression that he’s a blend of the two of them, actually. It seems pretty obvious, based on how this volume wraps up, that we’ll be seeing more of Julius in the future.
stardf29: The concept and condemnation of Amidonia’s obsession with revenge is interesting because the Amidonian rulers have actually incorporated the desire for revenge and reclamation into the very identity of their country. So it becomes an issue of patriotism and national identity as well, especially as the rulers have assumed those elements of national identity into their personal identity. And once something has become part of your identity, it’s hard to even think of doing things a different way.
I do like how the three main royals represent a scale of how much this national identity has become their personal identity. On one extreme we have Gaius, for whom it has taken over so much that he sees no other option than to pursue revenge, even when there’s no hope of victory and all he can do is a final suicide attack. And on the opposite end there’s Roroa, who refuses to accept that identity and seeks a different way. In the middle is Julius, who has taken up that identity to an extent, but shows signs that it hasn’t gotten to the point of his father, though we’ll have to wait until later volumes to see where that leads him.
C. Souma’s girls
Jeskai Angel: Liscia is still cool. She was one of the better elements of the first volume, and had some really great moments in this one. We see her continuing to grow closer to Souma, showing that she understands him, expressing determination and loyalty with the haircut stunt, frantically trying to get her friend Carla’s life spared, and serving as a mage-general on the battlefield. She has good chemistry with Souma, while her relationships with Georg and Carla show different sides of her and make her a more realistic character.
Aisha is still Goku. Except she’s a female elf, and is less likeable. Castor was right on the money with his “idiot strength” comment. She’s probably my least favorite character in the whole series, so it was great (from my point of view) that she’s mostly in the background in this volume.
This volume does have the bizarre plot point of Juna being commander of the kingdom’s marines. To be fair, young-person-with-absurd-authority is a common trope, so Juna is hardly unique, but it still seems bizarre that someone her age could have found time to both master singing AND become a great warrior. IIRC, the fact that she’s an elite soldier and military officer mostly goes unmentioned after this volume, making me wonder if the author realized it was a bit much and decided to drop it. Young, beautiful, world-class singer who also happens to lead the nation’s marine corps? I find it hard to swallow. Juna is one of the less well-written, less interesting members of Souma’s harem, and I still feel she lacks chemistry with Souma, but at least she’s less annoying than Aisha.
stardf29: I can agree with Liscia and Aisha. Kind of ironic that Aisha is the cover girl but doesn’t have much of a role in the story beyond being a combatant.
As for Juna, it’s definitely a bit much for her to be a Marine leader on top of everything else, but I figured that just comes with the territory of having Excel as a grandmother, and Excel is… well, quite something, to say the least. And while she’s also lower down on my “girls ranking” list for this series, I do think she has at least some “chemistry” with Souma, at least with how she has assumed the role of the “slightly more mature girl who cares for him” and helps “hide his weakness”. I mean, I prefer the “chemistry” that he has with Liscia (and with other girls later on) but at least it’s something… which is more that can be said for Aisha.
Jeskai Angel: That’s fair. Between Juna and Aisha, Juna is definitely the better character (even though I’d only rank her fourth, after Liscia, XXXXX, and XXXXX).
D. The Dukes
Jeskai Angel: I do need to talk about Castor. I can only conclude that he worships Duke Carmine, because he gives Georg the sort of absolute trust and loyalty of which only a god could be worthy. He even divorces his wife for the sake of his freakish devotion to his friend! It’s insane. If someone is acting in a way that seems totally wrong and/or irrational, and they refuse to explain themselves no matter how many times you ask what’s going on… MAYBE YOU SHOULDN’T BLINDLY FOLLOW THEM. Just saying. Yes, it turns out Georg actually does have good intentions, but that kind of ex post facto justification in no way excuses Castor’s folly here. Of course, I can’t fault Castor too much, since our world has plenty of examples of blind, unwarranted loyalty. Also, I don’t know if the fault of Castor, his wife, or the author, but there’s a serious lack of creativity when it comes to naming their children. Carla and Carl? Really?
stardf29: Castor and Carla are, in a way, tragic characters. They might not be dead by the end of the volume, but even supposing they’ll escape with their lives intact, they are both currently enslaved (…that’s something we’ll have to address, huh?) and estranged from the rest of their family. Their refusal to question their loyalty to Georg is the tragic flaw that leads to their loss and current predicament. It’s interesting to contrast him with Excel. She was equally in the dark to Georg’s true intentions, but rather than blindly trust him, she sought the truth for herself, sending a spy in Juna to see what Souma was really like, and then allying herself with him when he proved to be trustworthy. I wonder if her having lived longer has given her perspective here. Overall, she definitely is a crafty leader, with how she helped with the defense of Altomura, and she’ll definitely be around to cause more chaos later on…
As for Georg… I’ll have a full question on him later.
As for the names in Castor’s family… all I can say is, I struggle with naming characters myself, so I can’t be too hard on the author on names. Especially since this is a Japanese author coming up with English names; that must be a special sort of challenge for Japanese fantasy authors.
E. Other characters
Jeskai Angel: This volume introduces a ton of new characters and hints at their possible future importance. I already mentioned Roroa and Julius, but the three dukes, Carla, and Maria and Jeanne also all seem like good candidates to reappear in another volume. We don’t really get to know most of them all that well, but they all seem well positioned to show up again. We don’t know her name at this point, but the reference to Maria and Jeanne’s reclusive, eccentric sister comes across as foreshadowing another future character. By the way, it amuses me that this LN has a girl named Maria who is known as “the saint of the empire,” while a totally different LN has a girl named Mia that people call “the saint of the empire.” Talking about this story’s empire also brings up more of the author’s peculiar naming choices — Chaos as the family name of a royal line, but then their family name changes to Euphoria? I bet they were a lot happier and less disorganized after that.
stardf29: Okay, can I just say that Halbert and Kaede are just too cute? I know my love for childhood friend romances is biasing me hugely here but I’m glad their spat in the first volume was resolved and we can just get to the two of them just being close with each other.
We’ll definitely see more of Maria and Jeanne later. For now, though, we do get a glimpse of who’s actually ruling over the supposed strongest power on the continent and… they’re actually pretty reasonable? That definitely gives hope that Souma can ultimately work with them, which should make things interesting later on.
One interesting bit though is how supposedly, Maria rules based more on “logic” whereas Souma rules based more on “feelings”. While I think in context this is somewhat inaccurate–it’s more like Maria rules according to convention–it does remind me that Souma has ultimately taken up rulership because he wanted to protect those close to him that had become his “family”. It will be interesting, though, to see if the two of them can ultimately cover each other’s “blind spots” if they work together.
Oh, and we get to see Juno and the adventurers again! Their presence in the first volume was pretty squarely in “side story” territory, but here they actively participate in the main plot (although it is still more in dealing with a contingency to save lives rather than actively advancing Souma’s military plans). It’s definitely nice to see more of them as a look at another piece of life in this world, and it does seem like we’ll see more of them from here on out as well.
3. What are your thoughts on Georg’s plan to bait the corrupt nobles?
Jeskai Angel: It was certainly a…plan. Talk about not letting the right hand know what the left hand is doing, though!
In a way, Georg’s gambit actually served to illustrate Souma’s argument about the problems with the kingdom’s divided military command structure. A ton of trouble could have been avoided if Georg had worked WITH the king and the other two dukes, rather than playing his cards so close to his vest. A more unified chain of command/communication would save Georg from acting so unilaterally and inexplicably. His intentions were good, but his decision not to communicate sooner and more clearly with Souma, Excel, and Castor, did a lot of harm. I think it actually comes across as Georg (and, to a lesser degree, Souma) distrusting everyone else. I understand not wanting the corrupt nobles to find out, but were Castor and Excel really so unreliable that there was no way Georg could let them know what was going on?
To be fair, Georg’s behavior isn’t entirely unrealistic. I didn’t feel like the narrative artificially forced him to be unrealistically stupid. History has plenty of unfortunate events caused by poor communication and/or excessive concern with secrecy. And as semi-autonomous general/duke, Georg may very well have acted in a similarly independent way on previous occasions in his career. However, a plan that is bad in realistic ways is still a bad plan.
stardf29: There sure seem to be a lot of “tragic characters” this volume, huh? Characters who make choices and plans that are ultimately folly, but are understandable for how they might have gotten there based on their character flaws. Georg seems to be yet another case of this, where his base plan in and of itself had plenty of merits, but his lack of communication with at least Excel and Castor caused a lot of grief.
Though being in the military, I can at least understand the high focus on secrecy. To put this in modern military terms, Georg’s plan was very much “Top Secret”: something that could cause exceptionally grave damage to “national security” if it got out. And when it comes to any sort of classified information, one of the most important concepts is “need-to-know”: that is, even if other parties are trustworthy, do they actually need to know the information in order for the plan to succeed? Of course, here, Georg made a clear miscalculation: Excel and Castor definitely had a need-to-know, since part of the plan involved the navy and air force joining forces to defeat Georg. And Castor’s refusal to oppose Georg made things much harder for everyone involved.
The balance between “need for secrecy” and “need-to-know” is a cornerstone of military strategy, which I will by no means claim to be an expert in. This definitely seems to be a case where Georg erred too much toward secrecy, though.
4. Strategically, what do you think of Souma’s plan to actively wage war against Amidonia?
Jeskai Angel: The way I read the story, Gaius was a warmonger actively looking for a chance to start a war, and it was absolutely certain that he would do so eventually. In light of that, Souma set a trap to bait Gaius into declaring war on terms favorable to Elfrieden. Souma didn’t cause Gaius to attack, he just took the defensive measure of faking weakness. I have no issues with any of that. It was less about provoking a war and more about giving Gaius the opening he was seeking.
The fundamentally defensive nature of Souma’s strategy also appears in how Elfrieden fought the war. The goal was regime change. Souma didn’t even try to conquer Amidonia; he only aimed to seize the capital. And his goal wasn’t actually to capture Van — it was to lure Gaius into a decisive battle. As Gaius himself belatedly realized, he was Souma’s real target all along. Souma understood, to paraphrase the Klingon ambassador in Star Trek IV: the Voyage Home, “There shall be no peace as long as [Gaius] lives!” Given the constraints “Must remove Gaius,” “Mustn’t upset the Gran Chaos Empire,” and “Must minimize casualties/destruction on both sides,” Souma’s handling of the war was pretty reasonable and effective.
stardf29: Indeed, in this situation it was definitely a reasonable choice to instigate a war that was going to inevitably happen, since it would keep Amidonia from preparing as much as they like (even if they had been preparing in some way otherwise). I think there’s also some extent to which Souma figured that they had some weaknesses they could exploit, or at least unique advantages he had on his side to leverage against them.
This also fits with Souma’s main purpose of ruling in the first place: protecting his “family”. He knows what kind of a threat Gaius is to them, and he will even start a war if that means keeping them safe.
Perhaps the more interesting here is, what does Souma do now that his subjugation is successful? I don’t want to get too much into this here because this is the focus of the next volume, but he has to be aware that defeating Gaius and taking Van is “only half the battle”. Now he not only has to manage formerly-foreign territory and people, but he also has to deal with the inevitable conflict with the Gran Chaos Empire and the Mankind Declaration. Well, this is the sort of thing that helps make this series so engaging; it looks at several aspects of international relations, not just the surface winning/losing of a war.
Jeskai Angel: Think what a mess it could be if someone else were to be scheming about the fate of Amidonia with totally different goals than Souma’s…
5. What do you think about this story’s use of slavery so far?
Jeskai Angel: The first interesting point is that this is an atypical isekai story with slavery. Souma mercifully averts the obnoxious “Isekai protagonist acquires gorgeous female slave who allegedly falls in love with him and prefers remaining his slave to being freed” scenario. I mean, technically, he briefly owns Carla, but A. Carla never falls in love with him, B. Souma passes her off to Liscia ASAP, and C. Souma makes a point of emphasizing that he really only goes along with this because the laws of the kingdom prescribe slavery as a form of punishment, and as chief enforcer of laws, he must avoid playing favorites. In terms of Souma’s direct, personal participation in slavery, he’s doing better than most male isekai protagonists in settings with slavery.
In addition, I think Souma’s discussion with Liscia about enforcing the law in an evenhanded manner raises another important facet of the story’s handling of slavery. Living up to its “Realist” billing, the story shows us that Souma doesn’t like slavery, just as he doesn’t like the laws about corporate guilt that punish members of a criminal’s family, but he can’t just snap his fingers and make them go away. Quite realistically, he understands that even as king he can’t suddenly and unilaterally change these things without the risk of causing other serious problems. We see in later volumes that he does pursue an end to slavery, but in a way that tries to avoid causing major upheaval. In this respect, Souma reminds me of America’s “Great Emancipator,” Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln wanted to do away with slavery, but unlike the abolitionists of his day who wanted it done right this very minute, Lincoln wasn’t wedded to a particular process or timeline, as long he could put slavery “in course of ultimate extinction.” (Yes, the American Civil War happened instead of peaceful abolition, but that was neither Lincoln’s fault nor his desire.)
stardf29: Well, your analysis here is spot-on so I don’t really have anything to add specifically with regards to this story. It does goes to show how, as much as we might expect–and hate–the presence of slavery in these fantasy light novels, how it’s usually pretty unreasonable to just expect even the most overpowered of protagonists to just snap it out of existence. Of course, that doesn’t exactly justify the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach many of them take, either. So Realist Hero’s approach is pretty notable in this regard.
Jeskai Angel: Usually, with LNs, the first volume (and sometimes just a portion of the first vol.!) is enough for me to decide whether I want to follow that series. Realist Hero is one of the rare exceptions. I can’t think of another instance where my opinion of an LN changed so drastically based on the second volume. This volume is much better than it’s predecessor, and does a better job of representing the kind of content you can look forward to in the rest of series.
stardf29: Some assorted thoughts that I didn’t quite feel like it justified its own question:
When I first read this volume, I was pretty intrigued by the idea of dragons that could take on human forms and would even marry the knights they allowed to ride them. I think I just like Fire Emblem manaketes too much… At any rate, it seems to be a bit too random of an element to put in a story without it coming into play later on, so I did suspect Souma might pick up a dragon wife at that point. As for whether that will actually happen… well, we know already, but those reading along here will have to wait a few more volumes.
I also found it interesting that Souma would even cover for “red-light services” for his army after the war just to keep them from causing bigger trouble for the people of Van. He really isn’t afraid to use whatever he needs regardless of how “improper” it might be.
Anyway, I’ve read a few other novels that have drastically improved in the second volume (or later); that said, while I still liked volume 1, I did feel that volume 2 is where the story really gets going. Well, this is why I personally consider two volumes to be the light novel equivalent of the “three-episode rule” used for anime, though it does vary per title and sometimes one volume is enough to say “I’m done with this” (like how sometimes one episode of an anime is enough for me to drop it). This, though, is definitely one series where it’s worth sticking around at least for a second volume to see if it’s your thing.
And that brings our discussion on Realist Hero volume 2 to a close. Starting next month, though, there will be a huge change to how the Light Novel Club discussions work: discussions will now be held on the public Beneath the Tangles Discord, and anyone can contribute to those discussions! Join the Discord if you want more information, including an early announcement of our next light novels for discussion!
We’ll be announcing the next titles on the blog on Sept. 7th, but if you want a clue… uh, let me look at my official clue book… hmm, all I have here are the letters T A R E… what could that mean?
As always, if you read along with us, let us know of your own thoughts on the volume in the comments!