Elves are a staple of Japanese fantasy, and they’re popular with readers both in and outside of Japan, but what happens if you take the elf out of a fantasy setting and into the modern day instead? Well, new J-Novel Club series Welcome to Japan, Ms. Elf! is here to answer that question!
Our protagonist is Kazuhiro Kitase, whose hobby is sleeping. This is down to the fact that ever since he was a young child, he’s had the ability to enter another world when he dreams. In this place he’s what you’d call an ‘adventurer’ and during his time spent there, he has become friends with an elf named Marie. Kazuhiro has the ability to take whatever he leaves beside his pillow into this alternate world – but he’s never tried the ability in reverse.
One fateful day when he and Marie are exploring, they end up being killed by a dragon! When Kazuhiro dies in the fantasy world, he always awakens in Japan unscathed but later respawns in the dream next time he sleeps. However, this time, thanks to him holding onto Marie at the time of death, she’s suddenly transported to Japan with him! With an inquisitive companion by his side, Kazuhiro sets out to teach his elf friend a little about his homeland and what Japan has to offer.
The nice thing about Welcome to Japan, Ms. Elf! is that it fills two genres quite comfortably. Within the ‘dream world’ we get to see Kazuhiro and Marie go on unbelievable adventures, but we’re also treated to more peaceful slice-of-life tales as Marie gets to know more about Japan. With wondrous foods and media she’s never seen before, Marie quickly falls in love with the country and spends as much time in Japan as she can. She and Kazuhiro seem to have always been close, so it feels like a natural fit for the two to spend so much time together.
Marie’s curiosity about the new world around her is truly infectious, which just made me enjoy this book all the more. Where most series would sidestep the problem of the characters being unable to speak an unknown language by giving them some kind of magical ability, Marie has no such fix. Over the course of the story she must learn Japanese to be able to communicate in this world with anyone other than Kazuhiro (who can speak the language of the world Marie is from). I’m sure much of my enjoyment stems from the fact that I’m learning Japanese myself and share in Marie’s difficulties, but I think even people who aren’t learning a new language would enjoy the day-to-day conversations and challenges Marie comes up against in Japan. It certainly inspired me to work harder at my studies!
Author Makishima Suzuki has written a truly delightful first volume. Their style of writing is full of detail for everyday objects and conversations, but when there are action scenes in the ‘dream world’ details are cut down to allow the sequences to flow more smoothly. I feel praise is also deserved for how well Suzuki nails the balance between the fantasy and slice-of-life elements as it must be difficult to work out how much time to spend in each world. The fact that Kazuhiro is so experienced with the dream world alleviates a lot of the problems most series like this have, where a character is dumped into the fantasy world right at the start. Marie being plucked out of her homeland and brought into Japan is also a refreshing twist on the trope, and putting her with someone she’s so familiar with means that Suzuki can present a laid-back and entertaining story.
Illustrations for the series have been handled by Yappen and look cute but also underwhelming. Unless the image is a close-up of the cast, they’re often lacking in detail, and I also feel like the design for Marie fluctuates between her having a rather large chest and a much smaller one. She’s never flat, but there’s definitely some noticeable size changes from scene to scene. It’s puzzling, but for a light novel the illustrations aren’t a deal-breaker for me.
This release comes to the West thanks to publisher J-Novel Club and has been translated by Hiryoya Watanabe. The translation reads well and I didn’t spot any errors even in the pre-pub releases, which was a welcome surprise. In Japan the series is ongoing at two volumes, the second of which only came out recently, so this is a good time to jump on board with the English release.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Welcome to Japan, Ms. Elf!. With a refreshing spin on some common tropes and a likeable cast, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Those of you looking for a new slice-of-life series set in Japan, with a side dish of fantasy, will certainly appreciate this book. Highly recommended.