Haru Koyama didn’t want to be reincarnated. Her life as an average high school girl was pretty good, but that otaku loser Chiba couldn’t have just shouted for her to avoid the truck, could he? Instead, now the both of them are dead thanks to his lame failure of heroics, reincarnated in this fantasy world slated to favour chauvinistic adventurers. Sure, Chiba’s having a great time, with his otaku knowledge and his totally broken skillset graced to him by the overruling god himself—but that doesn’t mean much to Haru, who has no skill, yet has to survive here too. There aren’t a lot of options for women in this fantasy world, so she decides to join the world’s oldest occupation. At least this way she can earn some cash. This is JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World.
The novel is written by Ko Hiratori and was originally serialised on the Japanese website Shousetsuka ni Narou, a self-publishing site in the veins of wattpad, for writers to share their stories free of charge. Many popular titles like Log Horizon, Ascendance of a Bookworm, and My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! all found their start there. English translation was done by Emily Balistrieri, and was originally published digitally by J-Novel Club in September 2018. A print edition has been released this month, July 2019.
As isekai popularity has continued to grow and grow both in Japan and in the West, the simple premise of Joe Shmoe reincarnating into an ultimate hero thanks to gaming knowledge is slowly losing its appeal. Instead, we’ve seen a huge shift into the satirical and absurd, and more and more critical explorations of the genre. JK Haru is perhaps the most shocking of all. Really, the title says it all—our main character, Haru, is working as a prostitute in this strange world of magic and demon kings. Not that she had much choice in the matter, as ‘acceptable’ occupations for women in her new reality are limited to wife, slave, Sister, or prostitution. At least with sex work, she has a modicum of freedom, income and personal experience to rely on.
Haru is an interesting individual. She is, by most anyone’s judgement, the type of popular girl that’s villainised in high school dramas—at first glance, vapid, self-obsessed and judgemental. She’s so far from the typical isekai protagonist it’s comical; the antithesis of otaku culture so deeply seeped into light novels, manga and anime of current day. Before the truck accident, Haru was self-described as average: she hung out with friends, had a string of hot boyfriends and maintained moderate popularity. In middle school she had been a “Joshi Kousei” (the JK in the title), acting as a “high school girlfriend” for men willing to pay for her time—and it’s this prior experience that she relies on for her current job. She’s snarky and often blunt about her thoughts, but we come to understand who she is as a person. Beneath the veneer of “popular girl” is a hardworking, kind and genuine young woman, doing her best and being her best in a situation stacked against her. She’s far from perfect, but she feels more real than a majority of her male contemporaries in the genre.
Her companion in reincarnation on the other hand, Chiba, is exactly the type of guy you expect to find in an isekai: an unpopular otaku who has now been granted a over-powered skill (16x levelling) by the powers that be, and is aiming to become the hero of this world—fighting and killing the Demon Lord threatening humanity. He has a warped perception of his importance in Haru’s life, and has promised to make her his personal “maid”—a slave by any other name—for her own well-being. She’s fine having him as a regular customer (even if his performance leaves much to be desired), but the relationship ends there. He acts as the counterpoint to Haru throughout the piece and is the actual target of most her more meta criticism of the male wish-fulfillment in isekai. For the people in this new world, he’s an incredibly strong fighter who all the girls want to date; to Haru, he’s the acne-riddled loser who is taking advantage of the people around him, has delusions of grandeur, and wants maximum rewards for minimal efforts. He’s the worst kind of White Knight-ing creep that lurks within nerdy communities, and the novel makes it clear that that’s not a good thing.
But this story isn’t really about Chiba at all—as little importance he has in Haru’s mind, it’s reflected in the plot. The real story is Haru’s struggles as a woman in a male-dominated society; one that’s more chauvanistic and misogynistic than our own. Women can’t eat out at restuarants alone, or even in a group together. Sex work is one of the few jobs they can have, and it’s better than either slavery or being a wife. In her club, she has two close friends Lupe and Shequraso, who she spends most her time commiserating about customers with. There’s a ranking system in the club itself and both have seniority to Haru, but there’s never any sense of jealousy between them. In fact, Haru is most often complimenting their professionality and technique. These girls are comerades in this situation where no one respects them, so they respect each other first and foremost.
The only other “good” position allowed to women is a religious Sister, healers who may act as companions to adventurers. It’s something that takes years of training, and a “pure” body, so that’s an automatic no-go option for Haru too. One of the other recurring characters and Haru’s eventual friends Kiyori is one such Sister—and her own personal arc throughout the book (and in the extra chapter at the end) shows her own struggles, even though she’s in a better social position.
As the book was serialised chapter by chapter, each one is fairly self-contained and focused on a particular customer or situation. Fair warning, there is a lot—and I mean a lot—of sex in this book. The good, the bad, the downright boring, we hear about it all. Perhaps this goes without saying, but our protagonist has no qualms being frank about her work. She compares the performance of each of her customers, complains about the inconvenience of contraception in a condom-free fantasy world, and commiserates with her fellow sex workers over difficult patrons. Although the sex is pervasive and somewhat explicit, I don’t expect many people will gain much gratification from the book. Mostly in part because of the clinical assessment of each interaction—Haru is performing a job, and that’s all it is. Her internal monologue stays blase throughout each. I will also mention for those uncomfortable or sensitive to depictions of dubious consent and rape, that this book contains both—although the latter in much lesser detail compared to the other sex scenes. It also serves a larger purpose within the plot and Haru’s story. As much as I typically dislike rape as a motivation for characters in media, it does represent an unfortunate reality in the experiences of sex workers, so to not mention it in some capacity—especially in such a sexist society—would be disingenuous.
The overall story is somewhat inconsistent thanks to the serial method of posting Hiratori gave this book, but there is no point where a chapter feels totally unnecessary (perhaps the Kickin’ the Can one if I had to choose). I must also applaud the translation effort by Emily Balistrieri; I honestly could not put my Kindle down once I started. It takes a very talented individual to translate a book like this with a narrative voice that keeps it engaging, without reducing it to explicit sex. I look forward to reading the follow-up, Summer.
I must admit that I, like many others, was wary of this title when it was announced by J-Novel. It’s hard not to judge a title like JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World, and the potential for that premise to be badly and offensively written is also high. Thankfully, JK Haru is neither of those things, and it has earned the ‘feminism’ tag J-Novel Club gave it. Not only is Haru and her fellow ladies treated with the utmost respect by the writer, but the pride she takes in doing her job well and advancing her career is rare to see in this demographic of book. The deconstruction of purity culture so often focused on young women is refreshing, as well as the other callouts of hypocrisy between isekai heroes and heroines. If you have no problems with reading about sex workers, technically explicit scenes and depictions of sexual assault and rape, give this one a try.
Gee’s Rating: Recommended