Originally Posted: November 1, 2020
“Your existence shall disappear from this world, but I won’t ever forget you. Even when I reach the deepest depths of hell, I will remember you.” – Rain Lantz, speaking to an unknown recipient.
This young soldier from the East bears a burden very few share. With each use of the Devil’s Bullet, another life is erased from existence – their past, their present, and their future. The only traces are left in the minds of Rain and Air. How will our duo act, knowing there’s no taking it back?
(Warning: contains spoilers for Vol. 1)
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, Vol. 2 is the next 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. With the East suffering numerous defeats, Rain and Air are deployed on an escort mission – one whose cargo may change the course of the war. Strained relationships, new technologies, and tragic paths all come together in this story of erasing history and exacting revenge. What is the limit of Rain and Air’s determination to survive? Kei Uekawa’s writing and TEDDY + Naohiro Washio’s art/design mixes action, sci-fi, and fantasy for this cold, isolating sequel.
So, did the intro make you want to continue the series? I decided to give May These Leaden Battlegrounds another try. After all, Vol. 1 wasn’t horrendous – just sub-par. And there are some aspects of it that I do like and want to see expanded on. Unfortunately, Vol. 2 fails to deliver on those fronts and continues to play setup without any reward. If you haven’t already, please read my Vol. 1 review as we will reference it and touch on other topics. For this review, we mention important events from Vol. 1 but will be avoiding spoilers from Vol. 2. Discussions will be targeted at the setup, plot + character developments, world-building, and writing. Now, with that all out of the way, let’s jump into the review!
To start, let us talk about some first impressions. The cover for this entry depicts our main duo (Rain and Air) with an unknown character in wintry clothes. This instantly tells us that the new face is central to this volume (are they friend or foe?) and that we’ll see a lot of snow. The clothing and weapons add that this series is in the genre of war-fantasy – a mark of good design. Additionally, there is a clear change in the art style by TEDDY from Vol. 1: pay attention to Rain’s hair and the outlining of the clothing. Seeing such an evolution of art is always interesting. Moving on, we should note the short length of Vol. 2. With the paperbacks, it is easy to see the difference. And using word count, we find that Vol. 2 contains 43,000 words vs. Vol. 1’s 51,000 words. This makes it ~ 16 % shorter for the same price and one of Yen Press’s shortest releases (that I’ve reviewed). Of course, this isn’t necessarily detrimental, just something to remember. Lastly, let us talk about the coloured-inserts. There are five (5) to be seen: the clean cover, reused character sheet (below), an action shot (bottom of post), a cuter moment (featured banner), and the mechanical design (not included here). Of them all, the mechanical design is the coolest – so much technical detail and style for a newly added Exelia. If only there was more… And with that, let’s bite into the text!
As we covered the world, characters, and premise in the previous review, let us talk about the new stuff. For one, I’ll focus on this entry’s hook and setup. In Vol. 2, Rain is sent to support an escort mission through the northern regions of O’ltmenia – something far from his usual battlefields. According to his superiors, this is to ‘cool his head’ from the many defeats in which he was involved. It is then during this mission that an incident occurs that strands Air, Rain, and two others in the mountains. And with some out-of-the-blue straining in Air and Rain’s relationship, we add to the potential drama. Narratively, the point is to (1) develop Rain’s relationship with Air and (2) introduce the second-generation of Exelias. There are also some concerns about Athly’s involvement in the latter half of Vol. 1, but they aren’t addressed much further. As a whole, this setup isn’t particularly special and feels contrived: both in the ‘issue’ Rain and Air are experiencing and creating the aforementioned stranding. And while the next-gen Exelia’s are exciting, the Devil’s Bullet lost the focus – not good for the central concept. Most of all, I was mostly disappointed by the lack of expansion on the Athly plot; there was that huge cliffhanger at the end of Vol. 1! Hence, for a start, May These Leaden Battlegrounds, Vol. 2 misses the mark.
After the setup, let’s talk about plot and characterization. Much of Vol. 2 is spent recovering from the incident involving Air, Rain, and their plus two. Without detail, the four are isolated in the mountains with one Exelia and await help. Tensions are high, and lives are at stake. Finding heat, healing the injured, and maintaining shaky alliances are all part of the package. This situation takes up almost 2/3’s of the book and serves as the overarching backdrop. Thus, there won’t be too much Exelia fighting here. But it brings to light new developments, especially concerning the nature of Air and Rain’s relationship. How is this all handled? Not convincingly. Because of the (forced) time spent together, the focus is on the dialogue and exploration of the four characters. With the way information is conveyed (discussed later), conversations feel unnatural. And there is too much focus on the new characters – such investment doesn’t pay off. Instead, a deeper exploration into Rain, Air and perhaps Athly would have been preferred. This would’ve patched up the shallow characterizations from Vol. 1. But after two volumes, I still don’t fully understand or sympathize with any of the three leads. In short, the plot doesn’t delve into the widespread impact of second-generation Exelias on the war and tries to build character instead. However, it’s efforts are misplaced and loses development on more important characters and background plots.
Now, we’ll delve into the new world elements. As mentioned in the Vol. 1 review, there are many concepts mixed into May These Leaden Battlegrounds. From mechas (Exelia), to Ghosts, to Bullet Magic, to Gods, there is no lack of cool-factor. With the plot, the focus in Vol. 2 is on the next-gen of Exelia and Ghosts. As the intro suggests, the former is a new design that allows for some explosive changes. By implementing something called the flow engine, the decay heat of graimar nuclear alloy (GNA) can be exploited for great power output. And for the Ghosts stuff… I leave it to you to read it. For both, their addition to the lore doesn’t feel impactful – more akin to adding junk to a pile. And the lack of explained connections between concepts continues to imitate a sandbox rather than a cohesive world. I want to know more about the Gods; how does their worship affect the world/Ghosts? I want more on GNA; how does it interact with Qualia/Bullet Magic? Such fundamental questions are left unanswered as if to create a sense of mystery. However, this simply propagates the incomplete, unconnected, and shallow feeling the world exudes.
Finally, let’s do the additional details. First, as hinted at before, the writing is frustrating to read. In addition to my Vol. 1’s points, the two most notable contributors are (1) the constant reiteration (of various things) and (2) the tell with little show. The former is exemplified by Air explaining Ghosts to Deadrim and Isuna – every detail. It’s not cut short with a courteous “and so, she told them everything about Ghosts.” This is just poor presentation. For those who have read Vol. 1, it’s all repeated; any interesting bits regarding Deadrim and Isuna are completely washed out. At best, such scenes pad the page count and thoroughly drip in the information. At worst, it kills the pacing and tempts you with skipping over such parts. Now, (2) is related to (1). But don’t get me wrong – telling is fine, showing is just stronger. And with so much saying how things are, there is very little in the way of convincing the reader that is the case. This is exaggerated by this entry’s short length. Air and Rain’s relationship development? Shallow. The domination of the West over the East? Not a major concern. It’s all of these little things that take away from the story and leave you with a verbose fact-book.
Moving on, let’s talk about the illustrations. To put it bluntly, it feels like the quality dropped – mostly for the black-and-white inserts. The reused second colour-insert is the first hint at this. In Vol. 1, there were a handful of cool shots for Rain, Air, and the antagonists, and one debatably wasted on Athly-service. Compare this to Vol. 2, where 3 or 4 illustrations are used for completely inconsequential scenes. Instead, they should have placed the effort into depicting the ‘cool’-potential its concepts possess (see coloured-insert 3, below). That way, it could maintain some layer of spectacle on top of the padded text. At least they have the new Exelia design as a coloured-insert. Overall, this downwards trajectory may tell of worse times ahead.
In short, the continued sub-par execution of the writing and art throughout Vol. 1-2 don’t produce much confidence moving forward. The only thing I have left to hope for is the resolution of the Athly plot…
Overall, May These Leaden Battlegrounds, Vol. 2 is an underwhelming sequel to a sub-par series. With a contrived setup that doesn’t build on Vol. 1’s cliffhanger, we get a shift in focus towards Exelias and Ghosts (and away from the Devil’s Bullet). The story then strands Air and Rain with two side characters. This stifles the next-gen Exelia’s potential impact in our story. And the unnatural dialogue and ton of exposition about the new faces take away from more important developments (i.e. our lead characters + background plots). Vol. 2 also continues its predecessor’s style of world-building – throwing stuff together for the sake of ‘cool’. Each element’s lack of elaboration and explanation creates an incomplete and shallow world. Finally, the re-iterative and all-tell writing are frustrating to read and unconvincing. And the use of the black-and-white illustrations for critical scenes and action has declined. I wouldn’t recommend continuing May These Leaden Battlegrounds unless you like something from it (character design, cool concepts, etc.) And if you do, be warned that it seems unlikely to expand on old things and prefers to lump more junk into the pile. As for me, I will not be continuing and will divert my attention elsewhere (for real this time!) And with that, see you all next week!
2.3 / 5 – Hardly Recommended
To readers looking for war-fantasy but with more confusion, frustration, and expositional padding on the side.
To lovers of black-haired, sword-wielding women with a fatally sadistic side.
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.
While you’re down here, let me give you two bonus points! There’s another new character: Kreis Falman. She’s a Major General with a background in mathematics. If there’s one character I admire, it would have to be her – so cool! And the flow engine… using nuclear material for a car/tank-sized vehicle? Even cooler!
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!