By Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.
First of all, it is very hard for me to read this book and not have ‘Arifureta, gentille arifureta, Arifureta, je te plumerai.” in my head, so I want you all to have it there as well. Secondly, this book in many ways reads like Isekai Smartphone’s dark mirror. They’re both intensely serious attempts at the classic isekai, but while Smartphone is content to be light as air and coast along on the awesomeness of his hero and the goodwill of the reader, in the grim darkness of Arifureta there is only hatred and revenge. Except, of course, we never see the actual revenge that we expect, and the hatred mostly manifests itself as our hero getting impossibly overpowered and badass. It’s a teenage power fantasy, but it has not gone the way most of those types of fantasies go – at least not yet.
The first third of the book starts you off on the wrong foot, leading you to believe this will be a far more traditional isekai than it actually is. Our hero is Hajime, a normal high school student who happens to be bullied by the majority of the class, mostly because the cutest girl in the class, Shirasaki, has taken it upon herself to interact with him every day. This becomes seemingly irrelevant when the entire class is transported to another world, there to become heroes and fight for the sake of the new country they’re now in. All of the class has cool adventurer stats and awesome powers… except Hajime, whose stats are awful and who is basically a blacksmith. So he’s bullied AGAIN, physically and emotionally. Worse, Shirasaki is still interested in him. And so one day, when the class are fighting a horrible battle far above their skill level (which Hajime actually helps out with more than anyone else), one jealous classmate turns to murder and Hajime falls into the deepest, darkest depths of the dungeon.
So far so dull, but then the plot and the writing take a dive off a cliff, just like our hero. Hajime, due to the happenstance of various things I won’t bother to get into, ends up leveling up so much his stat level is ???, acquires innumerable powers, and uses his basic blacksmith stats so do amazing things, and also build lots of guns, because kids who get transported to another world tend to be gun nuts. This is the point of the book where the reader has to throw up their hands and just go with it, because it is absolutely overblown and ridiculous, and the prose verges on the hilarious. It also may be the best part of the book, because he shortly meets a vampire princess trapped in the dungeon with him, and after rescuing her the series (again) becomes far more predictable.
That said, I expected by the end of the novel that he would get back to the surface and get revenge on those who once wronged him. This doesn’t happen, though we do cut back to the surface occasionally to check in on the rest and show how Shirasaki was very, very much in love with dull ol’ Hajime. Instead, the last third of the book relies on long battle scenes (which are done pretty well) and the interaction between Hajime and Yue, which is done less well. Hajime has a tendency at times to act as tsukkomi to Yue, which is a shame as it makes him sound like Araragi from the Monogatari series, especially bad given Yue is a blonde loli vampire. Another surprise, and a warning of sorts: Hajime and Yue have sex, several times. It’s implied rather than shown, but it is worth noting, simply as that sort of thing rarely actually happens in isekai harems like this, and likely shows off its web novel roots. You will have to trot out the old “it’s OK as she’s really hundreds of years old, she just LOOKS nine” chestnut.
Arifureta was less terrible than I was expecting, but there are better isekais out there. I’d only recommend it to those who really like this sort of thing and don’t mind overpowered, overserious heroes.