Where do heroes go after they lost a war?
Kutori (Official name: Chtholly) is a girl who believes her only purpose in life is to be a weapon. A hero. She has no reason to live otherwise; everyone is depending on her and others to save the remaining population.
But she meets a real hero, Willem, who was trapped in stone, years after he and his Legal Brave comrades lost a war to save humanity. Now, the beasts have taken control of Earth and every surviving race has been forced to live up in the floating islands. Willem is tasked to take care of her and the other leprechauns, a race dedicated to combat the beasts threatening the world. They are mostly children and teenagers who are, for all purposes of the administration, walking weapons of mass destruction.
Yet, they are children foremost and all. The house feels more like an orphanage than an actual warehouse of weapons. He feels like a babysitter and that’s fine with him.
However, Willem wonders what he should do. It doesn’t feel right to just take care of children. He takes a special interest in the leprechauns ready to battle, particularly Kutori. Willem and Kutori hit it off well. They are both lonely people who think the world is more important than individuals.
When the beasts come, Kutori is ready to sacrifice her life and self-destruct if need be. But Willem asks her to promise him that she will return. He will be baking a butter cake for her when she comes home. She says yes and Wilhelm spends a lot of time waiting for her to return while practicing baking a butter cake.
He is in love with her and he can’t help but wait for her return. Someday, she will return and get to eat his butter cake. Until then, he shall have to wait. It is intolerable, painful, and exhausting. Maybe she won’t return. Maybe she will have to keep on fighting forever. Or maybe she will wind up dead, her body lost in the battlefield. But all Willem can do is bake another butter cake when the cake gets too stale.
In a genre where adventuring and worldbuilding are key to a good story, waiting for something to happen is the drama.
Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii Desu ka? Sukutte Moratte ii Desu ka? (also referred as Sukasuka) examines what it truly means to be a hero. You don’t have to fight forever. Heroes are more than dragonslayers. They are real people trying to make a living in the midst of racial and political tensions. Even when the world is going to end soon, people still need to wake up from bed and cook food. Characters are described from a third-person narration, but the novels are never frightened to peek inside their thoughts through a very close first-person-like point of view and write out their small anxieties in a large world.
It is this everyday struggle the book focuses on. Taking care of children, falling in love, remembering how to bake a butter cake — all of this become important plot points as the series reveals more and more of the world. Each detail of the world makes living there more insufferable. But people have to live because that’s all they can do.
So there’s not much swordplay in the books. Magic isn’t too important either. Battles rarely exist at all. There are violence and lives lost throughout the books, but the series never glorifies them. It is the insufferable wait for someone’s return that the book focuses on instead. Living everyday lives against a post-apocalyptic fantasy world becomes the struggle of the series. It is why this series is seen as being quite special to many fans, including myself.
There aren’t many works I know personally that goes against the premises and conventions of the genre it is in. It doesn’t just criticize the messiah complex in heroes-and-villains narratives, but it blatantly ignores what would be interesting moments in other novels for mundane events.
Even when you are nearing the most climatic moments, the series treats it in a matter-of-fact tone. It is as if the dramatic aspects of fantasy life is anything but melodramatic. It is just sad and awful. Its despair isn’t traumatic like an Urobuchi work punching you in the face; it crawls on you and stays there for years.
It is this refreshing take on the fantasy genre that has garnered a huge cult following. The series at first didn’t sell much and was going to be cancelled at the second volume; however, the writer Kareno Akira crying for help in the afterword and word-of-mouth through Amazon reviews, Bookmeter (the Japanese version of Goodreads) reviews, and Twitter have made the series continue beyond everyone’s expectations. It now has an anime adaptation planned for spring and is becoming a well-loved series by many people.
The reason for its newfound popularity is simple: People love the romance between Willem and Kutori. The worldbuilding is fantastic and all, but the romance feels genuine. They not only want each other but need themselves. It isn’t some throwaway heterosexual romance relationship for the sake of it. There is a strong connection between them.
And that is symbolized by the butter cake. Every time Willem bakes a butter cake for the kids and waits for Kutori, you feel the desolation and bleakness of the setting in the first volume. All you want is the two to be happy and live in a world that doesn’t ask for their help. They should be together, holding hands and eating butter cakes together. Married till death do they part. But they can’t and that’s why the novel is so despairing.
Because that will never happen. They don’t have anywhere to go. They don’t have any homes to return to because it’s all gone.
No matter what people say and the times we are in, we want to lead banal lives. Even in the realms of fantasy and a world that is ending, we want to return to our homes. And Sukasuka portrays that desire without sentimentalism because it depicts what it truly is: a desperation to live somehow despite the impending doom.
Kastel’s Rating: Must read.