While isekai stories overwhelmingly dominate the English light novel market, recently there has been a bit of a move into the sci-fi/war stories genre. Since the release of 86, more stories in a similar vein have begun popping up, with the latest being May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace. Today I’m here to find out if it’s worth your time!
The story takes place in a war-torn world. For 100 years the East and West have waged war over resources to create their Exelias, small four-legged armoured vehicles that are a symbol of a country’s power. Our protagonist Rain Lantz is a young soldier from the East, whose faction is about to be wiped out by an enemy attack. That is until Rain finds a mysterious silver bullet, with which he kills the enemy leader.
After the enemy dies, Rain is suddenly transported back to the safety of the barracks, where he realises that no one remembers the leader he killed on the battlefield. Not only do they not remember but Rain also realises this soldier now never existed to begin, which has turned the tide of battle momentarily. This power means Rain can change the very course of history.
While Rain makes use of these special bullets to change the tide of battle, he soon meets their owner – Air Arland Noah. Air tells Rain that she’s a ghost. She was murdered 100 years ago and her soul was sealed into a black bullet. In exchange for continuing to use the silver bullets, Air gives Rain a choice: give her his freedom or lose the bullets he’s come to rely on.
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace is difficult to sum up. On one hand, it’s a dark war story, which keeps the reader engaged with tense battles and likeable characters. On the other hand, it’s a bit silly and leans into high school comedy a bit too much. For example, Rain and his friends are still attending an academy between fights and once Air transfers in and becomes close to Rain, the other male students hold a battle royal, looking to take revenge on Rain for being so popular with the transfer student…
The book is inconsistent in tone and I vastly prefer the battle scenes to anything taking place in the academy. You could remove the academy and not lose all that much in the grand scheme of things (at least in Volume 1).
Having said that, I do find the world author Kei Uekawa has created interesting. In this world, magic is not uncommon and instead of fighting with regular bullets, the soldiers make use of ‘Bullet Magic’, which allows them to transform their mana into bullets in a variety of spells. It’s a more fantastical take on war, but it does open the way for some impressive combat that you wouldn’t usually get in a series like this.
As far as characters go, I like Rain and Air but they’re both fairly stereotypical. Rain has a dark past that has led to him holding a deep grudge against the West. He’s a bit of a genius with the ability to wield a Bullet Magic no one else can easily control (and that’s before he’s given the silver bullets).
Air, for her part, is grumpy and cagey. She’ll tell Rain what he needs to know and nothing else. While she puts up a tough front, she’s ultimately caring and gentle underneath it all. She’s the perfect example of a ‘tsundere’, complete with the short but attractive character design from illustrator Teddy. There is a lot to her past yet to be uncovered, which keeps her interesting.
As I read the volume, I found myself thinking that the series would make a good anime, but that thought itself proved a problem. I like the story and characters, but I don’t believe in the world Uekawa is showing me. I’m invested in seeing where this tale goes, but I’m not desperate to make sure these characters will be okay in the long run. Not in the same way I was with 86, which this series will inevitably be compared to, coming from the same genre.
How much you enjoy this book will depend on what you want out of it. If you’re looking for a dark war story then that’s certainly here, but it may be frustrating to put up with the more light-hearted comedy alongside it. I also found it difficult to take the characters’ names seriously in the more dramatic scenes, but that’s certainly a product of its transition into English rather than a problem with the book itself.
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Roman Lempert. The translation reads well with no errors to speak of. The series is ongoing in Japan at 3 volumes and Yen have Volume 2 scheduled for release in October. It’s also worth noting that Volume 1 was the winner of the 31st Fantasia Awards in Japan, which speaks to the quality of writing (beyond the tonal inconsistencies at least).
Overall, May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace proves a worthwhile read in the fantasy genre. It’s far from perfect, but if you can get along with its blend of comedy and ridiculous naming sense, then you’re sure to have fun with it.