Originally Posted: October 18, 2020
“A smile so sinister it could rival the King’s spread across his face. He had a foul and dirty personality, finding joy in creating under-handed strategies to defeat his enemies, interested in plans that disregarded morals and social standards. This part of him had been latent, useless in the abnormal peacefulness and safety of twenty-first-century Japan.” – Sakuma Sasaki, on Shin’s acceptance of becoming the Demon King’s advisor.
The high-school boy, Shinichi Sotoyama, has been given the chance of a lifetime to indulge in his dark desires. In this heroically courageous(?) heart, a switch is flipped to create the most dastardly villain of them all. It’s not unethical to kill someone if they have infinite resurrections… right? Oh, alright… Maybe the mind-breaking is a little much.
The Dirty Way to Destroy the Goddess’s Heroes, Vol. 1 is the introductory volume to the isekai-fantasy series of food-loving demons and cheat-magic using humans. Shinichi Sotoyama (Shin) is whisked away from Earth only to be placed in front of a Demon King – who promptly begs for the boy’s help. With muscles for brains, the demons only know of physically destroying the assaulting heroes: humans with infinite resurrections! Thus, it is up to Shin to come up with a different plan. One must be creative, villainous, and, most importantly, be willing to play dirty. This unique story of magic, psychology, and weird references is brought to us by Sakuma Sasaki and Asagi Tosaka: two creatives still working hard in the light novel industry today!
So, does this series sound interesting to you? It does some unique things, and I’ve learned quite a bit during its reading. But I’ll admit that I’m not really into isekais and only bought Vol. 1 on sale. Thus, there will be a bit of a bias in this review. However, I hope to inform you if you were thinking of buying this in the future! For this spoiler-free review, we will discuss the hook, plot, cast, and world-building. Then we’ll briefly talk about the comedy, action, and art at the end. Now, with that out of the way, let us get into it!
To start, let us talk about some first impressions. The cover is decently colourful and displays the main cast of the story. It also communicates the leading elements of the book: fantasy, pretty girls, and a sinister plot-maker. This is the mark of a great design. And those who’ve read my review for The Demon Sword Master, Vol. 1 will also recognize something; it’s drawn by the same illustrator! The Dirty Way is about 3 years older than The Demon Sword Master and there are some clear stylistic differences. Moving on, we see that the length is standard for a Yen Press release: ~ 200 pages. This is good for a light read (~ 4 – 5 hours) but can feel a little on the short side when compared to other fantasy series I’ve reviewed. For value-per-dollar, this book relies heavily on the quality of its story. Finally, after opening the book, there are the coloured inserts – all of which are on this page! The best is the reference sheet (see below) which depicts the main female cast + Shin. And with that, let us jump into the rest of the book!
The story’s premise is simple: the Demon King’s daughter, Rino, has fallen for human cuisine and, after many misunderstandings, heroes are sent to assault the demon’s castle daily (and fail). (Un)fortunately, there’s a stalemate. Rino doesn’t want humanity to be annihilated by demonkind’s overwhelming power, and the heroes have the power of infinite resurrections. Thus, Shin is summoned by the Demon King to help solve this odd debacle. This idea comes from other stories (especially video games) where the heroes can respawn (or reload): a hopelessly losing position for the final boss/demon king. Thus, the only way to win is to tire the gamer (mentally ‘break’ the heroes). For those familiar with role-playing games (RPGs), this is an interesting perspective on a concept that is simply accepted. In taking something people don’t usually think of and making a story of it, Sakuma Sasaki shows an impressive imaginative side. The premise also allows exploration of a variety of situations – always a good resource to have. However, an interesting premise and wide potential don’t necessarily lead to an engaging plot… What does The Dirty Way achieve in its 200 pages?
To be blunt, if the premise got you interested, you’re in for a boring read. The plot is as one would expect after the set-up – create and follow-through on plans to defeat the heroes. This process involves psychological torture and abusing magic to hinder and deter the first five heroes. Unfortunately, the majority of the fun occurs at the beginning third of the volume. And this is where it spends the value of the hook. Afterwards, the plot shifts focus onto Shin’s struggle with two heroes, Arian and Hube. While this gives us time to delve into their pasts, such investment is wasted when the solution is fairly simple. And it spends a lot of its time in the setup. Without going too deep, the psychological warfare isn’t creative or interesting due to the uncomplicated motivations carried by the heroes. The result is a squandering of the potential of the hook and a severe lack of sinister plan execution. Given those are the selling points of the book, I would say it failed on this front.
Now, to no surprise, Shin is a mostly normal high-school-aged boy from Japan; the ‘mostly’ comes from the reasons the summoning had picked him. Shin is supposedly courageous, is decently intelligent, and has a latent love for creating dastardly plans. The former two are respectively exemplified in his composure after being struck by a car at four-years-old and an adept understanding of the sciences. There isn’t any further exploration into his past or his base character. Instead, we are treated to passages telling us of sudden revelations of his change in motivations (e.g. the ‘latent’ desire for dark plans.) These aren’t built-up throughout the book and seem like conveniences. Then, without a solid foundation or coherent path, who is Shin? All of this leaves him feeling hollow, shallow, and inconsistent. (Perhaps Sakuma Sasaki accurately describes the pubescent mind…?) Thus, I’m led to believe Shin is closer to a vehicle for the narrator/reader rather than a full character. This implementation isn’t bad per se, but it’s not for those looking for a fully fleshed out world and cast. In short, I’m fairly disappointed with Shin’s characterization. I would’ve preferred more description of a person who would willingly psychologically torture other humans.
Moving on after Shin, there is the supporting cast. The rest of the characters take on a variety of personalities, but let us talk about the more prominent ones. There’s Ludabite, the muscle-headed Demon King; Rino, the sweet demon princess; Celes, the cool-faced dark elf; Arian, the loner hero; and Hube, the Goddess’s Bishop. From their descriptions, you have a good idea of how they’ll act. Each of them starts off trope-like and end… well, pretty much the same. Unlike Shin, there aren’t any notable character arcs – forced or otherwise – but at least their motivations are explained. Further value then comes from their worldly experiences and conversations with Shin. This is especially true with the first three; the demons’ absurd worldview contrasts well with Shin’s earthly expectations. This is the source of my infrequent chuckling – especially with Ludabite and Celes. The rest, Arian and Hube, represent the human-/hero-side of the story and present opportunities to better explore the religion that ties them together. With all this, these characters are simply better than Shin; they have core foundations, play narrative roles, and are tied closely to world elements. My only gripe is with the Bishop’s character at the end of the story… but I’ll leave that up to you to find out why.
Now that we’ve talked about the plot and characters, let us explore the world. The world is as one would expect from a RPG fantasy (compare with my Reincarnated as a Sword review). There’re class-like heroes, demons, gods, and monsters. It also borrows some inspiration from Dungeons & Dragons; one scene, in particular, makes use of a spell gone wrong. Of all the concepts, the demons and human society are decently explained (through the plot and character interactions). But there is a heavy reliance on RPG experience and niche scientific knowledge throughout the book. This isn’t all bad as it creates interesting situations where science and magic meet through the Element Conversion spell. As an example, an instance of the use of (C3H3NaO2)n, a polyacrylate, to absorb water is creative. I love science and fantasy and should be ecstatic to see the two mix. However, it is their implementation in the world that needs serious improvement. Like Shin’s motivational revelations, there is no build-up to their appearance. This sets the precedent that one should know a lot beyond the scope of the given world and creates unsatisfying resolutions. It also leaves the reader feeling the world is perpetually narratively-incomplete. In short, The Dirty Way has a decently explored relationship between the demons and humans and some cool interactions that expand the standard fantasy tropes. However, the resulting world feels hollow and relies too much on knowledge beyond its covers.
Finally, it’s the additional details. To start, let us focus on the writing. In The Dirty Way, one will notice a lot of outside references + analogies and an abundance of long dialogue tags. The former has the same issue with the world-building, and the latter is simply frustrating. Their presence creates a slow read with some needlessly long sections. For a series with ‘comedy’ as a tag, this writing style is very detrimental, and it isn’t helped by the lack of comedic situations. At best, the conversations about fantastical absurdities give some moments to forcefully exhale at. And on the other hand, the ‘action’ in The Dirty Way is bogged down by nebulous magic and sudden science. This leaves the series with very little value beyond some cute characters + the Demon King. Even then, one scene involving Arian was tasteless and only barely justifiable narratively (not the one shown below). All of these factors leave me with little confidence in the design or execution of further developments. Moving on, let us briefly talk about the art. If you like Asagi Tosaka’s style – cute designs and pretty characters – there’s more for you. However, don’t expect them to be used for exciting scenes as many are relegated to character introductions (but the Demon King isn’t even illustrated!) The combination of this with the weak writing has me disappointed in the overall experience. If you are looking for something better, let me direct you instead to The Demon Sword Master.
Overall, The Dirty Way to Destroy the Goddess’s Heroes, Vol. 1 is far from the best of books I’ve reviewed. Its interesting premise cashes in its potential by the end of the first act, and the plot proceeds to spend too much time setting up for unsatisfying sinister plans. These issues are exaggerated by the lack of characterization of Shin and the simple motivations of the remaining cast. The world-building relies heavily on RPG fantasy experience and real-world science. This leads to some cool interactions but is implemented poorly without proper build-up. And above all, the writing is frustrating to read, overly descriptive, and lacks comedic style/timing. The accompanying art is used mostly for character introductions (but not even the Demon King) and misses many more important scenes – at least it’s pretty. In short, I wouldn’t recommend The Dirty Way to any light novel readers. It is an example of why the isekai-genre has a bad rep, and I won’t be continuing the series. Hopefully, I will have something better for you all next week!
2.2 / 5 – Not Recommended
To readers of isekai fantasy looking for another series to pad their bookshelves.
To lovers of dark-skinned elves, magic + science mixing, and frustrating reads.
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 there is only one thing from this book I liked… it would have to be Celes. Her cold-exterior, ribbing, and secretly(?) sweet personality makes for the perfect sidekick. And as I always say, maid outfits are the best!
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!