Originally Posted: January 17, 2021
“Another day had ended, and the sun was setting. The sky was the same deep red it always was at that time. Did the people of the City now see a bright future in the dusk, where before they’d only waited for darkness?
There was a labyrinth in this city.
A fearsome thing that had taken their limbs, their futures, and the lives of their comrades. It threatened their way of life, even now.
However, the people were now able to stand against it on their own two legs again. They believed a peaceful tomorrow would come after they weathered the battle.” – Usata Nonohara, on the reinvigorated population of Labyrinth City.
With Labyrinth City increasing its efforts to defeat the Labyrinth, it’s going to need all of the help it can get – from those beyond its walls who’ll be affected and those within who’ve already seen the horrors. The past 200 years of suffering will come to an end, or the City will die trying. Monsters desiring the past and humans desiring the future have one last confrontation, and only one can claim victory.
(Warning: contains major spoilers for Vol. 1 – 4 and plot outlining up to the first third of Vol. 5.)
The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, Vol. 5 is the latest instalment of the fantasy slice-of-life light novel series where Mariela’s dream of a quiet life has extended to everyone around her. In exchange for her alchemy, the City moves to fulfil her wish of peace – a sentiment shared by its denizens. Vol. 5 acts as the climax to our long journey alongside the silly alchemist and her friends. The parallel stories of gathering materials, healing the wounded, and confronting the Labyrinth all flesh out their common trajectory. Will the City fall against the horrors that lurk in the dark depths or will they find the light they sought for 200 years? There’s only one way to find out! Usata Nonohara and ox combine efforts again to finish this tale of potions, legendary heroes, and unfaltering courage.
Hey again! How was my intro? It’s been three months since my last review for this series (Vol. 1-3 review here!), and I was ecstatic to read this finale(?). The Alchemist Who Survived would be the first non-standalone series I complete – thus, this review is different from the norm. I think focusing on the overall story is valuable here, rather than the building blocks. Of course, we’ll avoid going too deep into Vol. 5, but Vol. 1 – 4 will be open for discussion. Unfortunately, that means spoilers are plentiful here. Please skip to the bottom for a safe summary. Now, with that out of the way, let’s get into this review! I hope you learn something from it.
Oh! I’d like to mention that there is a Vol. 6 for The Alchemist Who Survived (due for April 20, 2021, as of the time of writing). However, with the events and Afterword of Vol. 5, it’s likely to take the form of an extended epilogue/denouement for the series.
So, to start, it’s always the first impressions. In Vol. 5’s case, we re-tread on all the familiar aspects that we’ve come to expect from this series. The beautifully-coloured cover speaks with a hope-filled palette that reminds me of spring (i.e. new beginnings) and depicts the fantastical Black Iron Corps (the ones who originally found Mariela and started it all). It’ll make a fine addition to any bookcase. And with it, almost the entire main cast has had their time in the spotlight on the covers.
After the cover, the next thing to note is the size. Like the other entries, Vol. 5 comes with about 90,000 words of writing – almost double the average Yen Press release. Although an argument can be made about ‘trimming down the fat’, I feel the extra tales create a more complete experience. It also helps to tide one over between the release dates. ;)
Finally, we get to the coloured manga-like section which portrays a spoiler-y moment. I appreciate the extra emphasis on this particular scene, but I wish it was left as a secret until the reveal. If possible, I would leave it for the end as it doesn’t add much to the initial reading. Other than that, it is expectedly well-done by ox. And with that, let’s chew on the juicy text~!
The Alchemist Who Survived, Vol. 5 begins where Vol. 4 left off: at Illuminaria’s call to the humans to defeat the Labyrinth, else the monsters completely devour Endalsia and the leyline. This comes with the task of defeating the dragon and the Walking Mountain of Fire in the fifty-sixth stratum… and everything else below it. These final goals pervade the story of Vol. 5, but let’s take one step at a time.
With a climax in mind, I expected a story full of excitement and spectacle straight from the get-go. And despite The Alchemist Who Survived not being known for that, it certainly delivers. The first chapter concludes the developments surrounding the battle against the fiery fifty-sixth stratum. Like the basilisk fight before it, there’s a bit of preparation required in the form of potion-making. But then we’re quickly thrown into the extended battle we’ve been anticipating.
This particular section is great as it showcases many powers we’ve yet to see and sets up our expectations for later. The developments during Vol. 4 and the beginning of Vol. 5 make this fight especially tense, and I love it! One can feel the potential doom, smell the brimstone, and taste the ashes – all in an epic battle. In short, I was impressed. This was a strong start to what could be the most exciting volume.
One technique of note that Usata Nonohara implemented was briefly switching to the antagonist’s(?) perspective. With the protagonists having a plan, it was fun to have it revealed from the eyes of the monster. Such mystery surely stirs excitement in the mind of the reader. Perhaps I’ll reimplement this in a work of my own…?
Following that, our characters then complete a variety of small projects in preparation for the final battles – each something specific to their responsibilities. For Mariela, this involves procuring the ingredients for Regen: dragon’s blood. For Sieg, he must train his newly-reawakened Spirit Eye. And for Leonhardt, this is re-negotiating arms and equipment with the dwarves. This section acts as the slice-of-life portion of Vol. 5, bringing potion-making, tension, and further exploration of Labyrinth City.
In Vol. 5’s case, the world-building’s expansion is kept to a minimum. Instead, the time is dedicated to these sections to continue developments from Vol. 4 and tie them to our current goal. It is here where Vol. 5 reaffirms the stakes and our character’s motivations. The growing tension then creates a sort of ‘calm before the storm’ scenario: one we know won’t last for long.
Though the parallel developments are numerous, one I’d like to spotlight is the relationship between Mariela and Freya. Vol. 4 introduced us to the fiery Sage but didn’t elaborate too much beyond Freya’s role as Mariela’s master. Now, Vol. 5 digs one level deeper. Their interactions are sweet but always have a hint of longing for their previous lives. This focus adds to Mariela’s past and character – two parts that have been underdeveloped so far. With Vol. 6, I hope we can see more of them as Freya surely brings out the best of Mariela.
My two minor issues in this particular section were the unclear reasoning behind the preparations and the too-fantastical potion-making. The former wasn’t an issue up to this point as we’re always told what’s the next Labyrinth boss, but Vol. 5 decides to leave it as a surprise. The result is a seeming lack of direction for the slice-of-life. As for the potion-making, dragon’s blood is too weird for me. While many ingredients have processing similar to techniques found in our world, Vol. 5 dials up the fantasy notch and lost me in the process.
After the lengthy preparation is the second dive into the Labyrinth. I won’t go into much detail to avoid spoilers, but I’ll say that it’s quite an adventure. This was the strongest section as well as the turning point for Vol. 5. I distinctly remember the “Oh no!”-moments and my welling tears from the more moving scenes. If you liked the action the series has provided so far, this is the best it’s ever been.
The conglomeration of monsters, skills, motivations, and stakes creates a scene that is as fantastical as it is powerful. To defeat the Labyrinth that has plagued their City for centuries, our inhabitants will have to give their all and more. And in turn, the beasts within respond with equal vigour. This battle is for those long past who made their sacrifices in subjugation, for those of today who’ve suffered from its afflictions, and for those future generations who will never feel the threat of losing everything.
Additionally, The Alchemist Who Survived skilfully implements many narratives to amplify the sense of scale and importance of this section. This can grind the pace to a halt as it gives everyone time in the limelight. But Usata Nonohara side-steps the issue by making each perspective unique and meaningfully contribute. It’s the perfect mix of the two things I love about the series: the dungeoneering and the parallel storytelling. And needless to say, the series was clearly building up towards this section.
Overall, I’m very impressed. This dungeon-dive was well-worth the journey and exemplifies the tribulations humans will confront to achieve peace. If you were on-the-fence after the long set-up that was Vol. 4, I’d recommend Vol. 5 for this part alone.
Then, with the conclusion of Vol. 5 comes the beginning of the end of the story of Labyrinth City. Of course, for those wanting to read it, I won’t say any more than that I was satisfied. However, there are untied threads that’ll hopefully be addressed in the next entry. And, of course, there’s always room for improvement. We’ll discuss more in a featured post after Vol. 6’s release (please look out for that!).
Finally, let’s now talk about some additional details. As it is with Usata Nonohara’s writing-style over the entire series, there is quite a bit of exposition and description to read through – even at some critical moments. While this aids in building the world and tension, misuse can ruin a potentially momentous scene. This happens a few times too often in Vol. 5. Normally, I’m all for weaving together excitement and world-building, but climactic moments should be times of power and flow. There’s something impressive about how they stay true to form… but in this case, it certainly hindered the overall experience.
In a related issue, I’ve noticed that The Alchemist Who Survived tends to keep the light-hearted slice-of-life (SoL) and serious action/adventure sections quite separate from one another. This is a great way of playing to each genre’s strength. Slice-of-life provides a fun look into the lives of the City’s inhabitants, and the action is a great way to evoke excitement and enact change. However, when the jokes and absurdities of SoL bleed into the action, it should be done with care. Such is not the case at a few pivotal moments in Vol. 5. Given the gravitas of crucial events, playing up a joke hurts the atmosphere and delivery. This results in a weakened impact that will forever be remembered as so.
As a final writing note, there are a few typos scattered throughout. They are usually minor (e.g. Sieg -> Seig), but can potentially break a reader’s attention. Of course, a more stringent proofing process can fix this. However, for a 90,000-word text, I’m only mildly disappointed.
After the writing, let’s talk about the art. As always, ox’s detailed work and action shots are sprinkled throughout; there are eight black-and-white illustrations in total. For a book as long as Vol. 5, this is fairly sparse, but the manga at the front and appendix serve as a great replacement. The illustrations are also concentrated around the critical scenes – always a good use of a limited resource. The only improvement I would’ve loved to see is more monsters and magic. In short, I’m still impressed by ox’s work. (And if you want to see more, please visit this link!)
Overall, Vol. 5 provides a (mostly) satisfying conclusion to the story of Mariela, the Labyrinth, and the City that contains them both. The exciting start, tense preparations, and momentous labyrinth dive create the arguably strongest entry so far. This all culminates in a powerful scene that tests the limits of human desire for peace. And with the entire city involved, everyone gets their time in the spotlight. This brings widespread character development and great spectacle from the plethora of powers. Threads that started in the transitional Vol. 4 continue with many rewards. One particular favourite of mine is the deepened relationship between Mariela and Freya.
However, no story is perfect. Issues with the overly descriptive writing and ill-handled jokes hinder the flow and impact in the climactic moments. A few typos also made their way to the print copy. And the sparse collection of illustrations and lack of monster depictions then fall short of ox’s great potential for fantasy.
So, what’s the verdict? If you’ve made it up to the end of Vol. 4, I would highly recommend you give Vol. 5 a read. You’re pretty much at the end, and the dungeon dives are well-worth experiencing on their own. However, now that we’re in the denouement, I can only wonder how Vol. 6 will fill another book with content. I suppose only time will tell! See you all next time~!
4.6 / 5 – Highly Recommended
To readers of epic dungeoneering, fantastical science, and satisfying conclusions.
To lovers of dragons, spirits, humans, and a hard-fought-for quiet life.
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. Can you believe this series is so close to being entirely complete? I’m so happy to have picked it up, and its conclusion feels a little bittersweet.
If the above review wasn’t enough to convince you, please look out for my ‘series final thoughts’ post. It was originally going to be here, but I think it’s for the best I leave it to another. That way, we can keep Vol. 5 specifics and series-encompassing thoughts separate. See you then!
For this review, a copy was provided to me by Yen Press. Thank you so much for the opportunity to continue this beloved series! If you want to see more of their excellent releases, please check out the link above or the tag below. :)
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!