Originally Posted: September 6, 2020
“Taking a bath with a Dark Lord is all right if he’s ten, right…?” – Yu Shimizu, in the Afterword.
I don’t know the correct answer to this conundrum. Just make sure you’re all washed up, okay? Though, The Demon Sword Master will do its darned best to show you the consequences of such a situation and, refreshingly, make it narratively important. Now, with some complicated feelings, let’s get to the review!
The Demon Sword Master of Excalibur Academy, Vol. 1 is the introductory volume of the fantasy-action series set in a world where Holy Swordsmen play guardian for the last remnants of humanity. The overwhelming threat that is the Voids, grey beasts in the form of mythical creatures, brings out a light from within even the Darkest of Lords. It is 1000 years from the beginning of his spell-induced slumber, but Leonis Death Magnus finds himself rudely awoken by their commotion. Too bad he’s reincarnated into a 10-year-old boy! In an era where magic technology and moving cities are the norms, how will his talents in outdated sorcery help him survive against the battles and bosoms?! In this story filled with action, ecchi, and fantastical elements, Yu Shimizu tells a tale of revenge, love(?), and wholesome baths. And accompanying it all are Asagi Tosaka’s beautiful illustrations.
Hey! So, doesn’t the series sound kind of cool? Well, it certainly has all the spectacle and action to give that sort of impression. Turns out, it’s a combined work of the author who completed Blade Dance of Elementalers (Seirei Tsukai no Blade Dance) and the illustrator for The Dirty Way to Destroy the Goddess’s Heroes. If you like male protagonists surrounded by many beautiful girls, this is more in that vein. And it’s created by some genre-veterans to boot! Admittedly, it’s not my usual genre-mix and I only bought it because it’s fantasy and I caught it on sale. We will discuss some of its unique aspects (like the ecchi) and make a brief comparison to May These Leaden Battlegrounds – whose Vol. 1 I’ve reviewed – and Reincarnated as a Sword for their use of fantastical elements and abilities. For this spoiler-free review, we will look at the hook/premise, the characterizations, world-building, plot, and its value in terms of action and ecchi. I hope my perspective adds a little bit to yours! :)
Before diving in, let us talk a bit about the first impressions. Like most of my acquisitions, I purchased the paperback edition. The first thing that I noticed was the cover. Its colourful front adds energy to any bookshelf (see The Genius Prince, Vol. 1 for a sub-par cover). Oddly, it is made of the same material as The Alchemist Who Survived and differs from the glossy one that is standard with Yen Press releases. I’ll admit that I love the way it feels in my hands, and wish all light novels were given this treatment. The issues are that it damages easy and blemishes are easy to spot. Next, after one opens the covers, five coloured inserts welcome you. Two of which are alternates of the cover art with the remaining three serving their usual purpose. Of those three, my favourite is the character page (see below) as it helpfully introduces important characters and works as a reference for future readings (and reviews!) The last two depict respective draws of the series: the intimate time between Leo and Selia, and crazy fantasy spectacle. The former’s scene choice was acceptable (though a bit much for me) but I couldn’t help but feel the latter could’ve had more oomph. In any case, with those details out of the way, let’s dive into the text.
As it is with all light novels (and media in general) there’s a hook. Whether its the characters, the art, or the premise, some aspects are designed to pull you in. The Demon Sword Master of Excalibur Academy, Vol. 1 has two main draws: (1) the beautiful girls and tempting illustrations and (2) the premise of an ex-Dark Lord enrolling in a Holy Sword Academy. Draw (1) is a tried and true way to gain some initial attention across all sorts of industries. But there needs to be more to maintain an audience over time. The Demon Sword Master gives the girls Holy Sword powers, some provocative passages, and a little backstory. None of these are unique to The Demon Sword Master and their execution in Vol. 1 leaves quite a bit to be desired. The Holy Sword powers are cool but nothing a fantasy-explorer hasn’t seen before. The provocative passages are shallow and clumsily interlaced into scenes they have no right to be in. And the backstories of most are lacklustre at best. Unfortunately, this leaves most of the promised material at a sub-par level of interesting. However, when The Demon Sword Master decides to focus on any one of the three, it does it well. We will discuss this more in the following sections. Next, (2) gives the male lead a reason to be around the girls and a way to grow accustomed to this foreign time-period. The school setting is another frequently used trope that allows for the characters to show off their powers and creates excuses for not-so-safe for work scenarios. It also caters familiarity to the majority of LN readers. Unfortunately, nothing unique comes from the Dark Lord’s odd academy situation and any fun issues that do develop are brushed off relatively quickly. Overall, the hook and premise seem interesting but The Demon Sword Master doesn’t do much that is unique and seems to just add more material into the action-ecchi genre with a fantasy twist.
With the hook hopefully pulling you in, let’s talk about the main characters: Leonis “Leo” Magnus and Riselia “Selia” Crystalia. The two are depicted on the cover and the character page (see above). Much of Vol. 1 is spent setting up their characters, relationship, and progressing their plots. For Leo, this entails a prologue backstory and lots of connections to his Dark Lord identity. He’s motivated but not stubborn. He’s ruthless but cares for his subjects. He’s extremely powerful but exhibits moderate restraint. Sounds like a perfectly middling protagonist. Although, his coping with his human form adds touches of sentimentality when his past is brought up and excitement as he encounters new experiences. This helps create a solid character base as he has to react to many different situations. However, because of his lack of extremes and the not-so-unique premise, he comes off as plain. This is most unfortunate as his identity as a Dark Lord allowed for potentially interesting results. Moving on, like Leo, much attention is given to Selia – a girl who lost much to the voids and wants to help humanity as much as she can. She fits into the paladin + big-sister tropes quite well. This is most apparent in the beginning and later points of character development. A variety of scenes focus on both the ecchi and her characterization and are decently written. Throughout the volume, we learn more about her past and current situation. Because of all this, I grew to like Selia and want to know more about her as the story progresses. Though for similar reasons to Leo, it doesn’t feel like her character deviates much from her role/trope and her ideal traits leave little room to improve. Overall, while our protagonists’ characters are well-defined and given thorough focus, they don’t feel as unique or interesting as the time investment seems to indicate.
Now that we’ve talked about the main cast, we will now look at the side characters. As it is with Yu Shimizu’s other work, the majority of characters are female. The three depicted in the character page (Regina, Elfiné, and Sakuya) are part of Selia’s platoon. As mentioned before, despite the time spent with them, they are all underdeveloped by the close of Vol. 1. Some base motivations and personality traits are provided but not enough to give them solid characterizations. Fortunately, their appearances and manner of speech are unique enough to distinguish them. (Though outfits beyond school uniforms would’ve been better.) This leads me to believe their presence fulfills certain trope positions and they will likely be explored in future entries. For now, they play a few narrative roles but are otherwise forgettable (thank you, character page). The other character I would like to focus on is Muselle, one decently important male in the story. He is a scumbag. A comically evil antagonist used to contrast Leo. Narratively, he plays this role without remorse. No backstory or motivations are given. As his poor personality and type of powers are likely intentional, I would say Yu Shimizu did a great job. However, this takes away from the “realness” of the world and causes interactions with him to feel designed rather than a natural occurrence. In summary, the weak characterizations and lack of development of many side cast create an empty-ish world and forgettable faces. And the use of an over-the-top villain is well-designed but takes away from the reader’s immersion.
With the characters all described, let’s discuss the setting. The world of The Demon Sword Master is one that draws upon many fantastical concepts. From the typical fantasy stuff like sorcery and demi-humans to the more modern things like magic tech and moving cities, this series makes use of it all. For obvious reasons, the inclusion of so many elements risks leaving them underdeveloped and feeling like they were simply thrown together. (Please see my May These Leaden Battlegrounds, Vol. 1 review for such an example.) As many concepts are mentioned but not elaborated on, this was a real issue for me. However, The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 decides to focus on three (3) seemingly connected concepts: (1) the Dark Lords and Six Heroes of old, (2) the Holy Swordsmen of the present, and (3) the Voids; each being great on their own. The remaining elements don’t receive much more attention and simply add to the fantastical atmosphere. By focusing on these three, The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 ties together Leo’s past, the girls of the academy, and humanity’s current conflict. The interconnections and interactions help flesh out the world and deepen our understanding of each element. Unlike the example provided above, this cohesiveness creates a solid foundation on which the rest of the story is built. And, once immersed, it makes for some pretty awesome spectacle. Though, one notable gripe of mine is the naming of the spells. They only sound cool! There isn’t any obvious connection with their result. While this adds to the fantasy, the need to describe every spell after the name is tedious. And this disconnect gives every future occurrence an unneeded confusion. (“Is that what this spell did?”) This could be fixed with a consistent naming scheme/base. In short, despite my initial reservations, The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 creates a decently unique world that solidly mixes fantasy elements of old and new. The numerous additional concepts help produce a fantastical atmosphere but don’t burden the reader with the mental gymnastics. Some improvements can be had but there are no fatal flaws.
After the story’s foundations, it is the plot. Leo has one goal after his botched reincarnation: to fulfill a certain promise and get revenge on the Six Heroes who had defeated the Dark Lords’ Armies a millennium ago. However, there are a few roadblocks that have appeared over the years. The largest are the Voids, a collection of beasts of unknown origin that take the form of mythical creatures (read: beasts from Leo’s previous life). After wiping out three-fourths (3/4) of mankind after their emergence sixty-four years ago, they have shown they are no small threat. The next issue is that of his own making; Leo is in the body of a 10-year-old boy. Because of this, his magical abilities have diminished, his frailty has heightened, and he redevelops *gasp* human emotions! It is around all this that the majority of the action, ecchi, and developments revolve. The simple overarching goal makes for a sturdy spine for the plot to follow (and continue with future entries). Connections between Leo and the Voids help build interesting stakes and flesh out his character. His humanity makes for risky action and odd reactions to the girls’ patronizing(?) care. Both of which constitute most of the non-exposition time and excitement. With these two being used to progress the plot and develop the characters, it doesn’t feel like the time is wasted. And with the unique world, there is much to explore beyond just Leo’s story. In short, the plot is simple to describe and easy to follow. Its sturdy overarching nature allows for connected entries down the line and for potential exploration of the world. The conflict with the Voids and Leo’s botched reincarnation create a good foundation for the action and the ecchi.
Now we talk about the obvious first draw: the girls and ecchi. As expected, all of the main-ish cast members are depicted and described as attractive. Their ages hint at the target demographic of the work (14 – 18 years old). Unfortunately, I’ve lived a little beyond that. Though, the beautiful art and wholesome-leaning scenarios helped ease me into it. That is to say, not much that hints at sexual or adult romance is depicted. This is mostly because of Leo’s physically young age: 10 years-old. As he’s too young, he is seen more as a little brother resulting in somewhat cute interactions with them. Of course, this doesn’t stop Asagi Tosaka from drawing these scenes to the best of their ability. Before continuing, let us distinguish between two types of ecchi present: (1) the descriptive passages interlaced with scenes not focused on a provocative scenario and (2) scenes based around such a scenario. The former are typically physical descriptions of the characters in great detail. These are typically inserted into sections of exposition (driving and walking about), likely intended to drip some excitement throughout. However, they are shallow at best and obstructive at worst. The descriptions do little to further our understanding of their characters and break up the narrative flow. Thus, the overall reading experience is hindered. On the other end are sections of type (2). The scenes instigated by a provocative scenario are seemingly rich in narrative and character development. The vulnerable states of the participants in one scene add a good bit of symbolism as they reveal their secrets. In this case, the scenario (and illustration) is what fuels the atmosphere of excitement with the words moving the plot along. This way, the flow isn’t affected and can be filled to the brim with interesting developments (of all kinds). It is in these type (2) sections that The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 shines. This just goes to show how a scenario and atmosphere plays a significant role in our expectations and reception to certain passages.
The second draw, the fantastical action, provides a good contrast to the first and plays the solution to the narrative’s conflicts. Because of the latter, these scenes are often present throughout. But don’t let the frequency diminish their quality; they are what makes this book such a great read. Each scene plays a different narrative purpose but all share two great qualities: well-defined stakes and easy-to-follow fun. Despite Leo’s identity as an overpowered Dark Lord, it doesn’t feel like nothing is at risk. His bodily limitations prevent him from solving everything, particularly when Voids are involved. This is especially true when accounting for Selia’s perspective. Human lives, their homes and livelihoods, and her position as a Holy Swordsman are all on the table. The unknown and oppressive threats that are the Voids delicately balance Leo’s abilities. There are even some battles that couldn’t be truly won through simply overwhelming the opponent. It is with these methods that The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 uses to keep the excitement high. Then, by pitting the many fantastical elements that make up the world against one another, we see the descriptive fireworks. This is where Yu Shimizu’s writing is at its best. Because of the focus on the three fantastical elements, we have the old vs. the new vs. the evil. The contrast between the Holy Sword abilities and sorcery keeps Void-slaying fresh, and the different Void-types maintain a spicy variety. This range of possibilities is further extended by the many spells at Leo’s disposal and the personality-tied Holy Swords. With so many combinations, it’s easy for Yu Shimizu to find new and interesting battles. However, this technique runs into the issue of having too many solutions. In Reincarnated as a Sword (whose reviews have yet to be updated), there exists an ability that allows for the protagonists to obtain the skills of the creatures they kill. Early in the plot, they gather an extensive collection of metaphorical keys to their problems thus removing the potential of any interesting solutions. The Demon Sword Master has yet to reach this point and maintains the balance of fun and interesting. In summary, the action is strong narratively and filled with high-octane fun. Despite the overpowered protagonist and large collection of abilities, The Demon Sword Master raises stakes and excitement with an equally oppressive enemy and wide range of threats. It is this draw that makes The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 a worthy read.
Finally, let us briefly talk about some additional details. The overall narrative flow is acceptable but there are quite a few instances of a disjointed blending of passages. Chunks of description are added mid-battle, ecchi is inserted into non-provocative scenes, and long dialogues are used in place of exposition. These issues make for a bumpy read but are mostly contained to the first half of the light novel. This is likely intended to weave the setup with the excitement but fails with subpar execution. However, once the foundations have been set, it’s quite the fun ride. This is especially true in the last third of the book. Next, some issues with build-up and foreshadowing are present. This makes resolutions feel somewhat disconnected and/or undeserved. As mentioned before, the action has well-done spectacle but the absence of a solid connection causes some scenes to feel hollow. Lastly, let us talk about the illustrations. There are many present throughout with the high quality as shown below. All but one depicts at least one of the female cast members. Now, this wouldn’t be a problem if they were used to accentuate a scene or critical moment. Unfortunately, many are wasted on simple introductions or inconsequential scenes. While this focus on the first draw is understandable, it limits the potential this series could achieve. More illustrations of the battle scenes would be much appreciated over the current structure. To sum it all up, there are quite a few issues in the writing and illustrations that I wouldn’t expect from genre-veterans. However, the overall flow, beautiful art, and the great amount of fun I had reading make me believe the series is in good hands.
Overall, The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 is a fun addition to fantasy-action/ecchi by some genre-veterans. A few expected issues with the reduction of an interesting premise to school life and the plain trope-like cast exist. Though, Leo and Riselia are decently developed and characterized throughout this volume. The world is filled with elements of classic (sorcery/demi-humans) and modern fantasy (magic tech./moving cities). Despite the risk of a potentially disjointed setting, The Demon Sword Master produces connections through the plot and characters and creates interesting battles between three focused aspects (old, new, and evil). Some aspects added for the ‘cool’-factor could be better implemented (spell names). The plot is simple but sturdy; it allows for exploration beyond Leo and makes a solid foundation for the ecchi and action. The former aspect is well-done in scenes centred around a (wholesome) provocative scenario but fails when dripped into others. The latter is great throughout with large spectacle and exciting fights thanks to the many fantastical elements and balancing between the Voids and Leo’s power, respectively. Many improvements in the mixing of exposition, description, and dialogue can be had to improve the passage-to-passage flow. Foreshadowing and build-up are weak in some scenes thus creating a hollow feeling. Lastly, the illustrations are beautiful but wasted on non-critical moments (mostly as an introduction for the girls). In spite of its flaws, I liked it more than I expected. Seeing its listing have ecchi/harem put me off at first. But now knowing it focuses heavily on the action and its ecchi is fairly wholesome helped me ease into it. The action is well-worth the read on its own but the relationship between Leo and Selia is a great bonus. Definitely will purchase the next volume to find out what’s next on their adventures~!
4.0 / 5 – Moderately Recommended
To readers of action-fantasy filled to the brim with spectacle and overpowered-ness.
To lovers of heavily-armed, beautiful big-sister-types of all flavours.
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. This time around, I even changed my format a little to cover more topics and make it easier to read.
If the action and ecchi aren’t enough to convince you (or may push you away), let me direct your attention to Sakuya – the super cool samurai-type. And before you ask… Yes, she’s as you’d expect. Shwing~!
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!