Stories of Japan and another world living side by side aren’t new, but it’s fair to say that these days they’re heavily overtaken by the idea of a protagonist being spirited away or reincarnated into a new world with no way home. Today I’m here to take a look at The Otherworlder, Exploring the Dungeon Volume 1 which falls into my first example rather than being a more modern isekai idea. So, does it deliver an interesting read?
The story begins in an alternate 1946, when the existence of another world was confirmed and humankind set its sights on building a base for themselves there. However, in 1955 a book was published chronicling all that had happened when the first unit was sent to this other world and included horrific accounts of murder, rape and destruction to the land. The leader of the group struggled to refute the claims and by 1956, the advanced unit had been completely wiped out by something unknown. In the end, the two worlds signed a non-aggression pact. But thanks to these problems and the cost associated with travelling between our worlds, humanity gave up on making a life for themselves there and instead turned their attention to space.
Fast forward to the modern-day and we meet protagonist Souya, who is desperate for cash to help out his ill sister. He’s willing to work any kind of job he can to make ends meet, which leads him to a shady gig for a company looking to send a team of expert explorers to the other world (now known as the Other Dimension) to explore the dungeon there known as the Tower of Legion. It’s said that there are riches inside the dungeon that will keep the company afloat and also prove an extremely powerful energy source, although to power exactly what, Souya doesn’t know.
So our protagonist agrees to go to the Other Dimension where he and his team have a year in which to complete their mission and in the meantime, Souya is paid enough upfront to look after his sister and is promised she will be well looked after should anything happen to him on his quest. So Souya sets off, but upon arrival in the Other Dimension, he finds himself alone with nothing but a couple of mostly broken AI companions and some weapons and food. Given the state of the robots and the supplies, Souya is left with no choice but to assume the five expert explorers that were sent to this world with him have died in the transfer.
Luckily for Souya, one of the AI brings itself back to life and, although damaged, it still proves a worthwhile helper for him. With its help, Souya prepares a base of operations before heading to the nearby town that’s home to the Tower of Legion. He might be on his own now, but he still fully intends to complete his mission and make it back home alive.
Before Souya can even set foot in the dungeon he faces setback after setback, first in needing a god to associate with before his adventure registration can be completed. After being turned down by every god in the town, he eventually signs a pact with Mithlanica, a goddess of deception and secrecy who takes the form of a cat and is sure to be nothing but trouble. To make matters worse, Souya is targeted by corrupt merchants who are after his weapons, which leads to a brutal fight.
Coming in at over 300 pages, it’s safe to say that this book is a long one and there is a lot for author Hinagi Asami to pack in. But I have to say in this case I appreciate the work Asami has put into the world-building. There is obviously a long history between this world and Earth and that ties into the difficulties Souya faces now as an ‘Otherworlder’. The residents of this world aren’t surprised by Souya’s technology or way of thinking which means he makes both friends and enemies quite quickly. The only thing I wish the author had fleshed out more is Souya himself.
Souya is a capable fighter (not overpowered, but can certainly hold his own) and knows how to use a gun, almost as though he’s from the military. There is a reference to him having worked overseas before, but otherwise, we have no idea what his job was and why, coming from peaceful modern-day Japan, he’d be so familiar with combat. I’m hoping as the series goes on that we’ll find out more about his history since that’s the one thing that feels somewhat lacking right now in comparison to the rest of the story.
Another thing I appreciated is that this series is similar to stories like GATE: Where the JSDF Fought or Outbreak Company, both of which put a spin on protagonists going between another world and Earth, but it also has one key difference. In those series, the military was always shown as the good guys who could do no wrong and although Souya is probably still working for at least the Japanese government, I appreciate that the author keeps the military element out of it.
Although it proved a long read, I think the series is rewarding enough to be worth the time investment. It’s easy to get absorbed in Souya’s adventures and I find myself eager to see where the story goes from here. Unfortunately, we may not get to see his story through to its conclusion. The Otherworlder appears to have been completed at Volume 3 in Japanese, although the synopsis doesn’t sound like the end and the series is based on a long-running web novel, so I suspect it didn’t sell well and got cut there. Whatever the case, that will sour some readers, unless there is a somewhat satisfying ending in that instalment. We’ll have to wait and see, but it’s certainly a situation worth keeping in mind if you’re a potential reader.
The Otherworld, Exploring the Dungeon Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Alexandra McCullough-Garcia. The translation reads fine with no real complaints, although I think there is some gun terminology here that isn’t quite accurate (although I’m not sure if that’s on the part of the original text or this translation). As mentioned earlier, the series is up to three volumes in Japan while Yen has Volume 2 scheduled for release in March.
Included in this release are colour pages (illustrated by Kureta), which show off the large collection of characters and I appreciate being able to see everyone in colour right from the beginning rather than just the protagonist and one or two members of the cast. Even outside of the colour pages, Kureta does well to offer a variety of art throughout the book that captures both important moments of the story and some of the more laidback slice-of-life sections.
Overall The Otherworld, Exploring the Dungeon Volume 1 proves an interesting read, potentially hampered by the fact that the series hasn’t run very long in Japan. But if you’re looking for something different in the otherworld genre then this is well worth checking out.