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.
The entire genre of ‘transported to another world’ (isekai) has grown massive and huge. Be it via dimensional portal, game gone wrong, or simply death and reincarnation, Japanese teens and young adults keep finding ways to enter a new world, pick up a sword, and start grinding like it’s 1999. And as you can imagine, it’s becoming harder and harder to stand out from the crowd, to have a premise that does not make the average reader go “oh, this again”. And thus we have the influx of being reborn in another world as something weird. Next month we’ll get slime monsters, and in April we may hit peak ridiculousness with vending machines, but for the moment we have spiders, as our vaguely named heroine (we hear about a mean nickname, but her actual name seems deliberately vague) wakes up after an explosion seemingly destroys her classroom to find… she’s a spider. A tiny, weak spider, the sort you kill in Level 1 of your new game. Now what?
To be honest, the other light novel title I kept comparing this to as I read it is Arifureta. The bulk of the book is similar to the middle of that series, with the spider getting into tricky situations, figuring out how to survive them, and getting increasingly strong, even if she may not realize it. Contrasting this we cut back to her other classmates, who have also been reincarnated in the same fantasy world. Some get off well – Shun is a prince with high magical talent, though he’s still a newbie to actually using it. His (male) best friend from their previous world is reincarnated as a (female) noble, though (s)he seems to take it in stride. And one of the “queen bee” types from their class is a dragon, and Shun’s familiar. We even get the cute but immature young teacher who’s there to help find the rest of her class so that she can show them the right path, which is pretty much exactly like Arifureta.
Whether you like Spider So What (which is what I’ve started to call it) depends on how much you can deal with the spider’s narration, which I would describe as first-person hyperactive teenager. In her previous human life, our heroine was apparently a quiet girl, more comfortable gaming at home than interacting with others. Which is fine, but it doesn’t quite mesh with her personality as a spider, which feels like one two hundred page run-on sentence. The plot is simple – watch her kill and eat things (even if it’s a bad idea), gain more experience and levels (which she (and we) can see, in a manner similar to the Death March books), and gradually get into some pretty badass battles – the fight against the bees near the end was probably the best scene in the book, and shows off how far she’s come. Aside from a “it was me all along” moment when we realize the egg she couldn’t open was actually the dragon egg that housed another reincarnated student, she never meets the rest of the class – their narratives are mostly separate. I’m not sure how long that will go on, though.
So I’m a Spider, So What? is not quite as goofy as I’d expected, and when you remove the veneer it’s actually pretty similar to other titles in this genre. But the fact that the lead is a teenage girl, even if she’s a spider, is refreshing, and she’s certainly plucky. I found this pretty decent, and I’ll read more to see where it goes.