Originally Posted: September 13, 2020
Approximate Reading Time: ~8 mins
“What constituted the best of the sword life, though?” – Teacher
A very good question! Does it involve slaying large beasts, clearing out dungeons, and cooking worldly meals for a cute cat-girl? In any case, despite their initial inexperience, we wouldn’t have to wait too long to answer this question.
Reincarnated as a Sword, Vol. 1 is the first volume to an isekai-fantasy light novel series where the protagonist is, as one would have guessed, reincarnated as a sword after a tragic end in their previous life. This series follows Teacher, the telepathic sword, and Fran, the sweet and cool-headed cat-girl on their adventures. It’s a story that strikes a decent balance between a light-hearted atmosphere and somewhat gory depictions of an adventurer’s/sword’s duties and purpose. Yuu Tanaka combines action-adventure and slice-of-life elements in a fantastical world to bring you a story of wonder and growth. And sprinkled within are illustrations by Llo: art that accents the charming nature of our characters and the detailed beauty that is the magical sword.
Does the premise sound interesting to you? It certainly did for me! And the simple charm of the art really drew me in. Reincarnated as a Sword was one of my first light novel series ever. And I’ve been waiting to update its review for a while now. Though I’ve read another fantasy-isekai – I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level – this remains the only one reviewed so far. Thus, we won’t be making too many comparisons to other genre entries in our discussions. For this spoiler-free review, we will look at the reading experience, the overarching plot, the world-building, and some additional details. I hope you’ll enjoy it!
To start, let us talk about some first impressions. As it is with most of my collection, I have the paperback edition of Vol. 1. The most notable aspect is its girth. For a light novel, it is quite thick at a total of 377 pages and promises much more entertainment per dollar than industry standard (around 200 pages). Following this, one should notice the beautifully-coloured cover depicting our protagonists. Its palette and style invoke a cute and simple charm. Then once opened, the reader is greeted by three coloured-inserts. All of which can be seen on this page: the cover (albeit cleaner), the featured banner (above), and a small character page (below). The oddly sparse table of contents comes after; there are only four chapters + prologue & epilogue. Their size (the largest being 124 pages) caused some worry given the expected time to finish. For a book-style meant for light reading, this issue will prove to be a critical flaw – as we’ll discuss later. For now, with these impressions out of the way, let us dive into the meat of the book!
Let us start with the premise: reincarnating as a sword. One would think such a novel perspective would be full of weird thoughts and concerns. However, if you were looking for a story that explores the difficulties and unique characteristics of becoming an inanimate object, you’ll be disappointed. Reincarnated as a Sword, Vol. 1 does just enough to leave you wanting more but falls short of anything truly interesting. This is in part due to their overpowered skills and the seemingly endless conveniences that occur throughout the story; the greatest issues being the sword’s telepathy and telekinesis. My favourite parts of being a sword occurred at the very beginning of the story where the protagonist was left to figure out how to function with their limited experience and skill pool. However, once that was completed, the next hundred-some pages were filled with empty development and uninteresting battles. And with many powers, any detriments to becoming a sword were nullified. Thus, we begin the conversion from an unconventional-isekai to an OP-isekai. By the end of the book, the premise is reduced to an excuse to partner up with a cute cat-girl (which isn’t all bad). In short, if what drew you in was the restricting and unique reincarnation, be prepared to change gears quickly as you’re given the complete opposite.
Chapter 1 (or the first 111 pages of the book) is dedicated to the sword, later named Teacher, and their development towards OP-ness. This is completed through the use of a skill-absorbing ability. While cool in theory, this power can quickly grow out of control. As hinted in my The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 review, this can create a story where the protagonist(s) have an endless set of keys to their problems. The result is the inability to raise stakes or create excitement. This critical flaw and Teacher’s undirected exploration leaves very little to enjoy in the first third of the novel. Furthermore, as they are alone until much later on, there is no dialogue and we’re instead treated(?) to walls of description and inner monologues. This paralyzes the pacing to a near halt and makes for a frustrating read. For a series that promises action and adventure, it also gives a lot in spectacle but lacks much in substance. In summary, the absurd length of the chapter, lack of excitement, and poor pacing make this chapter the low point of the volume. For many, this is where you’re likely to drop the book.
The above section ends when our deuteragonist, Fran, shows up and brightens up the story. In Chapter 2, we focus on getting them set up as partners and denizens of Alessa, a nearby city. There is less action and more slice-of-life present in this monstrous 125-page chapter. However, it is a much more pleasant read than the section before it. This is almost entirely due to one addition; Fran’s existence complements the very talkative(?) and unguided protagonist against a cool and (mostly-)directed individual. Their interactions are refreshing and, most importantly, the reason I ended up finishing the book. Through their dialogue, fun quips and character development are added to the story. The relationship they form as teacher and student is just adorable and fully wholesome (and the one instance of fan-service was handled quite tastefully.) In later chapters, seeing how the OP Fran and protagonist pair affect the world around them was fun (albeit cliché at times) and gives a sense of realism and impact during their battles. The fact that Fran is a demi-human also adds a sense of danger and risk that was absent in the prior section. I’m looking forward to seeing how they continue to develop in future volumes. Though some of the lingering problems in the pace and OP-ness continue beyond Chapter 1, at least Fran makes it much more bearable.
Now with the story and writing discussed, let us comment on the overarching plot and character development. Both aspects have a common issue: the lack of a focus. As we are following Teacher and Fran’s adventures, it is their motivations and actions that drive the plot. Thus, they do not only share an issue; they are deeply connected. In this case, strong, consistent goals are required to hold the story together and give direction to our characters. In Reincarnated as a Sword, there are two: (1) figure out why Teacher was brought into this world, and (2) get Fran stronger so that she may overcome the discrimination of her race. However, almost none of the story is spent dealing with (1), and there are countless ways for (2) to happen with no definite progression markers. And these goals don’t help us deepen our understanding of their characters. With all of these flaws in the skeleton, it’s hard to create and flesh out a compelling narrative. Though one thing it does get right is the potential for exploration. In summary, the overarching plot is simple enough to follow and gives many opportunities to branch off. But its lack of focus for (1), unknown progression markers, and shallow character insight makes for a weak foundation to build from.
After the plot and characters, it is the world-building: another aspect that leaves a lot to be desired. While mostly founded upon the RPG basics of stats, skills, races, quests, etc., the resulting character system is confusing and inconsistent. The biggest problem is that there are too many things to remember. From attacks to statuses to abilities and skills, there is simply too much mental juggling to do to keep up with it all. From what my review of May Leaden Battlegrounds, Vol. 1 hopefully communicated, elements thrown together just for the sake of spectacle and/or fantasy can overwhelm the reader and lacks the cohesiveness that makes for a deep setting. At its worst, I frequently had to remind myself to read the inlaid Identify text-boxes as many of the entries did little more than add a ‘cool’ factor and hammer in the fact that this is an RPG-like world. While I believe the intention is to give the reader a quick indication of an individual’s strength, there are too many skills and ill-referenced stats to truly understand in a reasonable amount of time. And given that Teacher usually gives a summary afterwards, they almost seem pointless and only serve to fill page space. At its best, the variety in all things gives every new character and encounter that feeling of novelty and an exciting feeling of uncertainty. However, with the ‘holder of all keys’ flaw from before, every additional power makes me groan at the loss of even more interesting solutions given a limited skill pool. Overall, the world feels generic and requires a lot of background RPG knowledge for a shallow experience. Though, if analyzing character sheets and comparing numbers is your thing, there is plenty of that in this book.
Finally, let us talk about some additional details. The writing is clear and simple, as is expected for light reading. The flow overall is acceptable but the consistent interjections by Teacher’s thoughts can be obstructive at times. On a related note, the use of Teacher’s 1st-person POV is a great approach in describing a sword’s experience (being sheathed, cutting through an enemy, etc.) I only wish there was more of this to bring out the potential of the premise. Moving on, italics are used to both show Teacher’s inner monologue as well as telepathic communication. This is fine as it is usually obvious which is intended but some distinction would help in the future. Lastly, the black-and-white illustrations are all well done (see below) and frequently present during the action and important scenes w/ side characters. This helps accentuate key moments and give life to the many faces our protagonists meet on their journeys (like Klimt). With these points, I believe the series is in capable hands; even if there are many improvements to be made.
As a whole, Reincarnated as a Sword, Vol. 1 is a light novel with an interesting premise that under-delivers in many aspects. With the OP skill-pool, unfocused motivations, and shallow world-building, its action and adventure lack excitement and direction. These flaws are particularly glaring in the first chapter (up to page 111). Though, with the introduction of Fran in Chapter 2, dialogue and slice-of-life elements are added which greatly improves the overall experience. Her mortality also brings in stakes and dangers previously absent in Chapter 1. From here on, the action is improved from pure spectacle and their adventures benefit from a 2nd perspective. Due to the clear writing and adept use of illustrations, I have decent hopes that the series will improve with future entries. And it will need a lot to become more than another middling isekai. For now, I have already read Vol. 2 and will be updating that review in the future. *Schwing~!*
3.2 / 5 – Slightly Recommended
To readers looking to dip their feet into the isekai-genre with a twist.
To readers looking for light-hearted fun spotted with detailed fights to cleanse the palate.
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.
Normally, here would have an additional, undiscussed note to coax one into reading. But just this time, we’ll point out some of Fran’s outfit details. Please direct your attention to the bangle on her left ear and her finger-less gloves. Aren’t they the greatest mix of cute and cool?!
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist and light novel reviewer. 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. Let’s all get along!