By Akira Kareno and ue. Released in Japan as “Shumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Morate Ii desu ka?” by Kadokawa Shoten. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jasmine Bernhardt.
There are probably a few people, familiar with my reviews, who are surprised I even picked up this title at all. And it’s true, these days when I see a girl on the cover who, let’s be honest, looks sort of like a magical girl and is crying while staring at the reader, my initial though is to run away. But unlike Magical Girl _________ (please fill in the blank with the Madoka Magica clone of your choice), the essential premise of WorldEnd does not seem to be “let’s torture and kill off these empowered girls one by one for the delight of the audience”. Instead this is a much quieter, softer series, at least so far, that shows us the consequences of surviving the apocalypse, and what happens to kids who spend their lives treated as a living weapon when they find out they’ve been doing the weapon thing incorrectly. It’s not for me, but it’s very, very well done.
After a brief prologue where a young man and his not-quite-girlfriend (who calls him Daddy for reasons that make sense in-story but still makes me uncomfortable) debate the cliches of the soldier going out to face their final battle, we get to the meat of the book. Far in the future, humanity is extinct thanks to an attack by some sort of race. In the process, the other races on the planet (elves, dragons, etc.) all became far less powerful, and we’re now at the point where they can’t even live on the surface anymore. So they build a large number of floating islands, and everyone lives up there, dodging (mostly) any attacks by the Beasts living on the surface. Here those with no distinguishing features (like scales, fox ears, etc.) are treated poorly as they remind the others of humanity. Our hero is Willem, one of those people, who is hired to be the overseer of a bunch of kids at a facility on the outskirts of the islands. Then we find out who the kids actually are and what they’re supposed to do. Then we find out (though we probably guessed) who Willem really is.
For a series that is not my thing, I have to say that I found this book extremely readable. The prose is well-written and translated, and has some excellent turns of phrase. There is an aura of melancholy over the entire book, but that doesn’t stop it from having moments of humor. The kids are cute, and I really like the troll who is their other overseer/team mom. Willem himself is that sort of “deliberately oblivious to others’ feelings” sort, but this is called out right away – in fact, the book deconstructs a lot of the wartime cliches that you’ve read about before. And I liked Chthollly’s journey as well, as she is taught for the first time to NOT WANT TO FIGHT, but goes to fight anyway. The result of the battle is unknown at the end of the first book, but the result is not the point.
It wasn’t really till the epilogue that I realized that, despite how well-written the book was, I was not going to read more. It’s just not my kind of series. But if you don’t mind a book that screams “I will be beautifully tragic”, then I absolutely recommend WorldEnd, which has good depth of characterization and a nice style. You want to see these broken girls and their broken caretaker succeed.