By Hirukuma and Namako. Released in Japan as “Murazukuri Game no NPC ga Namami no Ningen to Shika Omoe Nai” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Alexandra Owen-Burns.
I will give credit to the realistic NPCs, they’re not doing a bad job here. Aside from the one annoying running gag of “the sister likes her brother a little too much”, they’re all nice people. The seeming traitor from the last book, the doctor, returns after their village is wiped out, and their guilt and suffering is well drawn out. Heck, even the two red pandas who are brought in to add bodies are cute and also strong – and I loved “please do not touch our high explosives”. That said, the NPCs may be real, but I’m far more interested in what’s going on with Yoshio, whose problems in this book escalate until, when the book ends, you’re screaming at the author to release the next one already. Especially when we learn that Yoshio is not the only one whose loser life has been improved by a mysterious game… and that his game’s opponents may be closer than he thinks.
After surviving the first monster rush, our NPC heroes are busy preparing for the next one, and their world is expanding a bit more – though they’re not quite ready to leave their cave as of yet. The same could be said of Yoshio, who is interacting more with his family and co-workers but is still having trouble with Life In General. This includes his unlucky childhood friend, who everyone thought he was going to marry when he grew up. Unfortunately, she got a nice job, he did not, and he began the downward spiral that led him to where he is at the start of Book 1. And now that they’ve reunited, he’s sure she deserves someone much better than him (and is not seeing the fact that she seems to be as lost as he is right now). Additionally, his sister is still worried about being stalked – with good reason – and his coworker is also really immersed in a strategy game… one that seems very familiar.
A lot of this book, obviously, seems to rely on what I would call “magical realism”. Yoshio’s game clearly isn’t just a game – even if his new pet lizard is not a clue, the ending of this volume certainly shows us that. The scene with Yoshio facing down his sister’s stalker – and his former attacker – is tense and gripping but also feels a bit too on the nose in terms of narrative convenience. But then, in a book where our hero can manipulate the narrative in order to save others, perhaps that’s not what I should be paying attention to. The final section is chilling in the best thriller way, with Yoshio suffering a vicious attack and trying to protect his friend while ALSO trying to save his village. He does not achieve all of these things, unfortunately, but at least he’s not completely done, and That Cliffhanger promises he can, perhaps, fix things.
The author has stated that this series was always meant to be three volumes, so the next will be the last (unlike Vending Machine, which was very open ended when it got axed). Fortunately, we should get the next volume soon. Very fortunately, because I’m absolutely on the edge of my seat wanting to see what happens next. Get this.