By Tappei Nagatsuki and Shinichirou Otsuka. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.
Ah, side stories, beloved by fans and feared by publishers. It may be dismaying to light novel fans, but most series coming out over here are running a year to several years behind Japan. This includes Re: Zero, whose 14th volume is due out here in October 2020, but it came out in September 2017 in Japan. When Re: Zero EX started coming out here, I noted that the timing was off, that we got the Ex books before the main titles that they were supposed to be supplementing. We have the opposite problem with this book, which came out in Japan last Christmas. It’s meant to be a supplement to the 6th arc, which begins with the 21st volume, which had just come out a couple months before in Japan. Here, we’ll likely see Vol. 21 in 2022. Fortunately, the book still does read as a stand alone, so the English speaker need not worry about spoilers here. They may, however, wonder why so much attention is being paid to a goofy samurai with a flair for drama.
The cover may be packed with people, but the most important one is right at the front. This is a book meant to give a strong role to Julius and show off how great he is when he isn’t around Subaru. The story takes place a few months before the start of the main series, and Julius, Reinhard and Ferris are bodyguards for two elder politicians who are going to negotiate with the nearby Empire. Having recently lost the entire royal family (see: Re: Zero Ex 1), they are in a very precarious position, so are trying to negotiate a non-aggression pact. Unfortunately, the Volakia Empire has “strength is the most important thing” as their watchword, so things are already unlikely to go their way. Then Reinhard is framed for murder, and he, Julius and Ferris must flee with the Emperor in tow and avoid everyone else in the Empire trying to kill them.
The Ex books are not meant to be as much of a meta commentary on isekai titles as the main series is, mostly as the isekai hasn’t happened yet – Subaru isn’t around. As such, the author is allowed to write what is essentially a straightforward swashbuckling tale, with an added air of mystery – our heroes must figure out why they’re being framed, who framed them, and how much backstabbing and double dealing is actually going on. Ferris gets a few moments to shine, but is mostly there to allow someone to be emotional, which Julius (stoic) and Reinhard (blase) have trouble pulling off. Reinhard is there to show off how monstrously strong he is, but as ever he only works because he’s something of a cipher. As such, it’s Julius who gets the heavy lifting, along with the Empire’s Cecils, the goofy samurai I mentioned earlier, who is the Empire equivalent to Reinhard and whose overdramatic flair masks his dangerous abilities.
So not as astonishing as the main series, but it’s a fun, solid romp, and fans of fighting and sleuthing will have a great time here.