A popular trend in the isekai genre of light novels is tales of heroes being reincarnated into adventurers who then team up to explore uncharted lands. The latest series from Yen Press to play with this concept is The World’s Strongest Rearguard: Labyrinth Country’s Novice Seeker. Does it offer an interesting read? Let’s find out as I take a look at Volume 1!
The story begins with protagonist Arihito Atobe tragically dying in a freak bus accident. This event leads him to be reincarnated into the world of the Labyrinth Country where he becomes a ‘Seeker’, one of those destined to adventure and unlock the secrets of the labyrinths dotted around the country. Before he can embark on his adventures, Arihito must first pick a job for himself but this proves more difficult than he could imagine!
While Arihito ponders his choices he listens to the discussions of those around him, who have also just reincarnated and discovers that probably everyone on the bus with Arihito died, including his slave driver boss Igarashi! Igarashi has taken a job as a Valkyrie and approaches Arihito to work with her again but he refuses while remembering all his hardships back on Earth. Perhaps being reborn will have changed Igarashi for the better, though, and Arihito begins to wonder if they can reconnect and work together later.
Having fended off his old boss, Arihito bites the bullet and decides to take the job of ‘rearguard’, a role which involves supporting other members of a party from afar. It’s perfect for our protagonist who is good at managing and doesn’t like to be front and centre. Now for his next challenge: recruit party members!
Thankfully this doesn’t prove too difficult and it’s not long before our hero has a full team of adventurers to lead. Now ready to embark on a grand adventure Arihito must learn how best to use his abilities and those of his friends to stay alive in the labyrinths. Despite being novice seekers, the group encounter all kinds of danger, including a powerful Orc known for killing other newbies, but together they face their fears.
I must admit I have a soft spot for fantasy adventure light novels like this one. Initially, I was concerned that The World’s Strongest Rearguard would feel generic, but thankfully it manages to sidestep this problem with some in-depth world-building. While a lot of this world is made up of elements you’ll be familiar with: guilds, monster people, dungeons, there are also some fresh concepts on offer.
An element that caught my eye was Karma, a system that effectively works as a law system. If a Seeker does something wrong, their Karma level will rise and they’ll be put into prison and forced into labour. It’s also said that you can lower your Karma level over time and be freed from prison. It reminded me of Psycho-Pass and although the system never comes into the story in this volume, I can certainly imagine some interesting situations for it later in the series.
Because this is an almost 400-page book, author Towa has ample time to develop all their cast, another tick in the favour of the book. By the time I reached the afterword, I knew everything I wanted to about Arihito and Igarashi as well as the companions our protagonist meets later on in the narrative. Everyone has a likeable personality and different reasons driving their desire to make a living as Seekers. I was attached to them and excited to read Volume 2, which is the most important thing for me.
Usually, the first volume of a new series is hampered by the author under-developing the plot in favour of the cast or vice versa, but The World’s Strongest Rearguard manages to find a comfortable balance. While we learn about the cast, we also find plenty of time for adventuring, which is always hard to look away from. Towa renders most of the battle dialogue in an MMO style, with a character’s action and results listed in a list. I think this approach works well because it means we don’t get bogged down in the less important fights with overly descriptive text and more meaningful battles are written in a more traditional style (although they still have the lists for special attacks and so on).
This series might not be the best of its kind out there, but it is a solid read. The only real issue with it is that some readers will be put off by the page count, especially as future instalments look set to be a similar length. In the end, it’s probably only worth it if you’re particularly invested in this genre.
The World’s Strongest Rearguard Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Jordan Taylor. The translation reads well and is problem-free. This release includes some colour pages at the beginning, which depict the cast sharing a victorious drink. Illustrations have been handled by Huuka Kazabana and they do a great job of showing the cast in their everyday lives as well as in battle. The character designs are attractive but not overly manufactured. They look like real people, which is something I always appreciate.
Overall The World’s Strongest Rearguard Volume 1 offers a fun and pleasant read. It doesn’t have any notable issues to speak of and offers everything you look for in this genre. The only downside for some readers will be how long the volume is, but I think it’s worth the investment.