Sunday, October 18, 2020

REVIEW: So I'm a Spider, So What? (book, vol. 2) by Okina Baba, illustrated by Tsukasa Kiryu, translated by Jenny McKeon

So I'm a Spider, So What? is a Japanese fantasy novel, specifically isekai (portal fantasy, basically). It's published by Yen On. I bought my copy brand new.

This review includes mild spoilers.


Spider MC is back, and she's finally made it to the Middle Stratum. Unfortunately for her, it's filled with pools of magma and fire-wielding monsters, and she's incredibly weak against fire. Not only that, but her spider silk burns up in seconds, meaning that her primary weapon is now useless. However, going back to the Lower Stratum doesn't seem like a good option, so she's going to have to focus on leveling up her other skills and get creative in order to survive and eventually make it back to the Upper Stratum.

Meanwhile, Shun, Katia, and Sue are now training at a special academy, and Shun and Katia have met most of the other reincarnated students that Ms. Oka talked about. However, there are two remaining ones that she refuses to say anything about. For some reason, they cannot be brought to the academy. While Shun is training, Julius, Shun's Hero older brother, is off fighting high-level monsters and growing increasingly concerned about the potential for a large-scale war.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the first volume of this series, so I figured it was safe to pick up the next couple volumes. Unfortunately, although this volume definitely had some good points, I didn't like it nearly as much as the first one, and there are signs that I might like the third volume even less.

If you disliked volume 1's number-heavy focus on RPG-like stats and skills, it might be best not to continue on with the series, because this volume continues in the same vein and even manages to get worse after a certain point. For most of the book, the long examinations of new or leveled up skills are at least followed by or interwoven with battle scenes, but later on Spider MC gains a new ability that results in those stats and skill examinations being the sole focus for pages at a time. Yes, the new skills were usually pretty interesting and/or cool (if increasingly likely to turn Spider MC into yet another overpowered isekai main character), but there's only so much multi-page infodumping even I can take. Here's hoping the author finally moves beyond that in Book 3.

I did enjoy that the Middle Stratum wasn't the same as the Lower Stratum but with stronger monsters. It had a completely different environment and was one of the worst possible places for Spider MC to be - her body was naturally weak against fire and heat, and her threads spontaneously combusted and were therefore useless as weapons or defense. Her efforts to expand her skills and work on a different set of strengths led to a few exciting battles - my favorites were the one against the eel and the one against the fire wyrm.

I also liked that, unlike many other isekai series, there was some focus on how being reborn in another world was affecting these characters (although they still never seemed to think about their past lives, families, and friends at all, an aspect of most modern isekai that continues to bug me). New bodies and life experiences affected all of them to varying degrees. Most of it worked for me, but the one that kind of irked me was Katia, whose changes seemed to indicate that sexuality was linked to physical form. A more diverse cast could have addressed that issue, but, well...

There were quite a few interesting revelations and developments regarding the world the reincarnated students found themselves in, and I'd really like to find out more about Ms. Oka, all the things she's hiding, and how much of it's connected to the revelations regarding Spider MC.

Unfortunately, Okina Baba's skills as an author still seem to be pretty weak, and that may increasingly become a problem. Considering the darker turn this series is taking, I don't know how much longer Spider MC's light and chatty tone (which seems to be the author's natural writing style, based on how similar the tone is to her afterwords) will be possible, and Baba's efforts to interweave different parts of the story's timeline (if that's indeed what was going on) were confusing rather than intriguing.

Well, I already have Book 3 on hand, so I guess I have one more volume before I have to make the "continue or abandon?" decision. So far odds are looking good for "abandon," though. Here's hoping that Shun's POV chapters become more interesting and that the Spider MC developments don't ruin the series' best aspects.

Additional Comments:

There were several glaring errors in this volume. For example, on page 32 Spider MC leveled a skill up from 4 to 5. Only two pages later, she leveled that same skill up from 4 to 5 again. After a certain point, I stopped paying close attention to all the stats info, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were more mistakes like that.


A folded sheet with two full-color illustrations, one on each side: one of Spider MC in the Middle Stratum, and one of Shun and his friends and family members. Also, an afterword by the author, and several black-and-white illustrations throughout. I am still not a fan of the illustrations - the full-color ones are fine, and the monster stat pages are useful, but the story illustrations are pretty terrible, basically just sketches with amateurish greyscale airbrushing and gradients layered in. Which probably explains why there are so few story illustrations. They're obviously not the illustrator's strong suit.

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