By Okina Baba and Tsukasa Kiryu. Released in Japan as “Kumo Desu ga, Nani ka?” by Fujimi Shobo. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jenny McKeon.
Alas, for those who want to know what happened after the cliffhanger on the “hero” side of these books, you’re still going to have to wait. The sixth volume takes place entirely in the “past” part of the books, showing our spider heroine, Ariel, Sophia and Merazophis mostly going from town to town and bonding, while at the same time the world recovers from the battle that happened in the fifth book. The non-Spider parts of the narrative bounce between Sophia, who may be a vampire baby but is also a reincarnation, so we get her thoughts on everything that’s going on, and Ronandt, the elder mage who honestly spends most of the book as ridiculous comic relief till he finally snaps out of it. There is one big battle near the end, featuring a much better Giant Spider Invasion than the one we saw on MST3K, but for the most part this book is far more introspective than previous volumes. There’s barely any stat listings!
I am at last allowed to talk about the spider heroine while using a name. Ariel names her White, fitting her appearance. This is in fact something of a power play, as naming something works the way it does in a lot of high fantasy, but it doesn’t have much effect on White as she’s already ridiculously powerful. Indeed, after Ariel figures out exactly HOW White is able to continue to be immortal, she reluctantly concludes that she HAS to ally with her, as not doing so could be disastrous. As for White herself, her thought processes are still “teenager with no real moral or ethical sense’, who’s able to cheerfully force a baby to march through the forest in order to build up their stats. That said, she’s definitely better off being influenced by Ariel, as we find when she has to confront her parallel minds, who have gone rogue and decided to destroy all of humanity. Thus we get the one battle of the book, as it’s spider vs. spider.
Ronandt, as I said, is still reeling from his first encounter with White, and unfortunately proceeds to learn exactly the wrong lesson from it, which is to try to study the spiders in the labyrinth to see how they grow stronger. The humor here has a dark edge to it, as while it’s somewhat amusing to see Ronandt run around nude and be treated as creepy by anyone who sees him, it also reminds the reader that White is a SPIDER, and that the ways that she gets stronger are not human ways. Nor should they be. This leads to a rare heartwarming moment in this mostly cynical book, where he realizes why he became a mage in the first place and goes out to stop the spider invasion even though he knows it will mean his death. (Fortunately, White gets there first.) I also liked him bonding with Julius, here a young and emotionally broken hero rather than the confident (and dead) older brother figure we meet later.
There’s some other good stuff here, such as the confrontation with the Pontiff who runs the world’s largest religion, or Sophia’s reflection on her past life (she was the stereotypical bullied nerd) and why she hates White so much (White was sort of like Komi in that her paralyzing inability to communicate came off as cool beauty.) It’s enough to make this volume very good indeed, even though I wish we’d checked back to the future with the other reincarnated cast.