Originally Posted: August 16, 2020
“I see I’ve walked into the pigsty of a defeated country.” – Air Arland Noah, addressing a class of cadets.
The creator of the Devil’s Bullet looks down on the people of O’ltmenia. Despite this, she helps in winning the war for this nation. What sort of conflicting feelings does she keep beneath her strong front?
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, Vol. 1 is the introductory entry of the war-fantasy light novel series set during the fourth war between the nation of the West, Harborant, and the nation of the East, O’ltmenia. The story follows Rain Lantz and Air Arland Noah, a cadet and ghost on their journey to end the warring for good. For those who suffered in the past and struggle in the present, the duo aims to erase history and change the world. The Devil’s Bullet, the unique element of this series, will allow them to make their desires a reality. Kei Uekawa combines aspects of action, drama, and fantasy to tell a tale of revenge, tragedy, and the nature of existence.
Did my intro blurb make the novel sound amazing? I want to like the series’ hook so let me hype it up a little before chewing into the details. I’ve seen some comparisons of this to 86 -EIGHTY-SIX- but will avoid doing so for those who have not read it. For this spoiler-free review, we will be looking at the setting, the characters, and the use of the Devil’s Bullet. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
To start, let us talk about the world May These Leaden Battlegrounds…, Vol. 1 is set in. As stated before, two nations (simply nicknamed the ‘East’ and the ‘West’) are at war and have been in some state of conflict for at least 100 years. Two main tools of combat are used by both nations: Bullet Magic and Exelias. The former is as it sounds; magic-infused bullets/bullet-type magic that fulfills many plot advancement roles, including fighting. The latter are mechanized vehicles with a driver-gunner duo (see below). A typical battle combines these two elements for maximum mobility and firepower. The resulting action scenes are filled with hectic fun and excitement. We are told that Exelias are made of graimar nuclear alloy (GNA), whose acquisition has become a central driving force of the wars. There are many other elements introduced throughout the story such as ghosts, gods, etc., each adding a sort of extra ‘cool’-factor but not explored with any significant depth. Every new addition and reveal adds more mental juggling and lacks impact; likely from the absence of build-up and connectivity between elements. The combination of these two factors leaves the world feeling messy and shallow. Thus, while the world is full of seemingly cool ideas, May These Leaden Battlegrounds…, Vol. 1 fails at its execution to keep things interesting.
Inhabiting the world of May These Leaden Battlegrounds…, Vol. 1 are a variety of characters, named and unnamed, and we will first focus on Rain and Air. Their kinda-not-really master-slave dynamic is interesting and enjoyable, especially with Athly’s misconceptions. Fortunately, we do explore them in enough detail to determine their motivations and solidify characterizations. However, such explanations for Rain are left a bit later in the book as if to hide some dark twists. Without spoiling, I will simply say this is not the case. His past is dark, that’s for sure, but nothing about it changes how we view him moving forward. Thus, it would have been better to move such a section earlier for us to better understand him throughout the novel. For Air, this is better executed but falls apart a little further into the volume. Moving to the side characters, Athly and Orca, we see a drop in page-time and subsequent development. Alongside Athly’s position as Rain’s battle partner and potential love interest, we are given a little background regarding her cadet motivations. However, it is not enough to explain some of her actions later on in the story. The class prefect, Orca, is left without much development. This situation is the same for other minor named characters leaving them feeling like shells/role-fillers rather than people with agency. Given the short length of the volume, it is expected that many details are left out. However, when such trimming leaves actions and motivations unexplained, the believability and depth of character are severely damaged. Of course, this will likely all be fixed with more page time in future entries.
Now, let us talk about the main driving force for this series: the Devil’s Bullet. To summarize, anyone killed by the bullet will be erased from history and the world will shift to accommodate such a change. Sounds awesome, right?! However, I would argue this great idea requires mountains of planning and preparation to properly implement. When one thinks about someone’s lifetime effect on history, there are two extremes to argue for: (1) one life does not have enough impact to significantly change the world, and (2) one life indirectly affects all during and beyond their lifetime. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in between. However, for any reasonable level of significance, determining the total effect of a lifetime is likely to be impossible by any means accessible to humans. Thus, to make someone’s erasure and subsequent world feel believable, one would need to spend a lot of time exploring their achievements and relationships when they existed. This light novel series does not take this route. May These Leaden Battlegrounds…, Vol. 1 appears to say that one person’s life changes the outcome of a single battle or set of battles. Thinking a little, there are much greater matters that branch off any single battle’s victory or loss (war strategy, casualties, resources consumed, etc.). Unfortunately, they are not explored and simply explained away with a few lines of dialogue. There’s a lot more to say on this matter but I will cut it off here for brevity. Honestly, I’m quite disappointed by the execution and sad to see so much wasted potential. For a much better example of the impact of one’s actions and jumping between world-lines, please go play/watch Steins;Gate instead.
Lastly, we will discuss some additional points. The writing is simple and clear, as it should be for light entertainment, and the story easily completed in a single reading. The latter is helped by its well-spaced text and short length (234 pages). However, as mentioned before, there is a significant lack of foreshadowing, loose connectivity between elements, and out-of-order storytelling which can frustrate and hinder your enjoyment. This is most exemplified by the tonal shift from the battlefields to the academy life. Next, the art is pretty and usually well-placed at critical moments. There is one instance of a unique layout (pg. 188-189 in paperback) that was cool but made reading more difficult. Perhaps this was different in the original/JPN release. Finally, the mechanical design is detailed and interesting but there is only the single page (see above). More of those would give more life to the world of May These Leaden Battlegrounds….
The light novel seems to go more for spectacle and the ‘cool’-factor rather than deeply exploring its interesting premise. This leaves the world feeling hollow and a thoughtful reader disappointed. The story structure feels out-of-order with explanations and histories occurring after the fact, but at least the writing is easy to read. On the bright-side, the characters are enjoyable and the illustrations/mechanical designs are beautiful. If you’re looking for some light entertainment accompanied by great visuals, May These Leaden Battlegrounds…, Vol. 1 is a decent choice. Unfortunately, I am unlikely to continue the series and sad to miss out on more Athly scenes. :'(
3.0 / 5 – Conditionally Recommended
To readers looking for a cool narrative with an interesting premise.
To lovers of foul-mouthed silver-haired girls packing two rifles.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my review (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down.
If you’re looking for some incentive to give this read: there are some cute scenes involving Athly, depicted in the black-and-white illustration. Those had me ‘Aww~!’-ing (in public too, s- so embarrassing!).
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve only started diving into light novels, so please bear with my naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!