Readers may already be familiar with the name Sabikui Bisco thanks to its anime adaptation currently airing. To accompany the airing of the anime series, Yen Press has released the first volume of the original light novels into English. Does it deliver an interesting read? Let’s find out!
The story takes place in a futuristic Japan where the country has been overcome by the Rust Wind, something thought to have been a product of a defensive weapon called Tetsujin exploding but no one truly knows the source. This wind causes everything it touches to rust away and even after an eternity has passed, the Rust Wind still threatens what is left of humanity.
Many blame the Rust Wind on Mushroom Keepers, such as our protagonist Bisco Akaboshi, who is journeying in search of a Rust-Eater. This mythical mushroom is said to be able to cure the Rust and Bisco wants it to cure his master/father figure Jabi who is slowly dying from the Rust himself. Because of being a Mushroom Keeper, Bisco is a wanted man with a hefty price tag on his head. This makes it difficult for him to pass through cities and checkpoints on his way to where the Rust-Eater is rumoured to be.
This journey takes Bisco, Jabi and giant crab Actagawa through Imihama Prefecture where they’re attacked by the vigilantism team protecting the place from “Mushroom Terrorists”. During the fight Jabi is hurt and Bisco has no choice but to seek out medical help, which leads to our secondary protagonist Milo.
Milo runs his medical clinic in Imihama where he treats those in need both for the Rust and any other medical help they may need. Milo’s older sister Pawoo is a part of the Imihama Watch, which works with the vigilantism team to protect the city but sadly she too is infected with the Rust. Unbeknownst to his patients and friends, Milo experiments with mushrooms in the hope of creating a cure for the Rust on his own – experiments that could lead to him being arrested for terrorism himself.
Naturally, fate leads Bisco straight to Milo where he helps treat Jabi. It’s not long before the two become friends and Milo agrees to join Bisco on his journey to find the Rust-Eater, especially if it could cure his sister of the Rust as well as Jabi. With Jabi’s health getting worse, Bisco and Milo leave their family members behind in Imihama as they set out on what could be a perilous journey.
While the anime took three episodes to get to the point of Bisco and Milo leaving Imihama, in this light novel we’re already there 60 pages in. The real meat of this story is in the search for the Rust-Eater and the people and places the two see along the way. Of course, there is some urgency to their search as Jabi only has weeks left to live before Rust claims his life, so Bisco is frantic to find the cure.
Despite being an ongoing series at seven volumes, Sabikui Bisco manages to conclude its initial storyline in this first book with the premise changing considerably for Volume 2. I have mixed feelings about it continuing as opposed to a single storyline because I think twists and character growth we see later on would have been better if the story was over in this one book. I often wish stories wouldn’t end too early, but this is one I would have preferred to see conclude. That said, you could comfortably treat it as a single instalment and not buy more of it going forward since it ties all its plot points off nicely at the end (which is surprising, as the afterword implies the series was always set to continue). I imagine the anime will also only follow this single book since it has such a suitable ending point.
Another minor criticism I have is with the writing. Now don’t get me wrong, author Shinji Cobkubo has created a very interesting world for what appears to be their first published series. I appreciate how much thought has gone into not only the world-building but also the relationship between the general population and the Mushroom Keepers. This book has a lot to pack in but Cobkubo manages to make everything fit without any sacrifices or missteps. My issue is that Sabikui Bisco doesn’t feel like it should be a light novel.
So many sections of this book are based around bombastic action scenes to the point where I think the anime will be a better way of experiencing it. The story feels better suited to a visual medium than it does to being a novel, especially given it’s told from a third-person perspective the majority of the time so we rarely see the inner thoughts of the cast as we normally would in a work like this. It’s difficult to convincingly showcase these kinds of battles in a novel and Cobkubo does a fine job of it, but I couldn’t get the nagging doubt out of my mind that this should have been something else.
The action scenes aren’t the only thing that gives me this impression either; there’s also the fact that protagonist Bisco feels ready-made for a shonen series. His somewhat grumpy personality will no doubt remind readers of Bakugo from My Hero Academia and Milo’s more gentle and optimistic personality is reminiscent of Tanjiro in Demon Slayer (not helped by the two sharing the same voice actor in Japanese).
Despite all that, I did enjoy this book, especially given how unique the premise is. There is certainly nothing else like it in the world of light novels right now, so it’s sure to win readers over just by being a fresh concept. Beyond my minor criticism toward the writing, I have nothing negative to say about it, even the fact it’s continuing is not something that ruins this book – it just muddles the future.
As previously mentioned, Sabikui Bisco Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press and has been translated by Jake Humphrey. The translation reads well with no issues to note. Yen’s release includes colour pages at the beginning, which include profile pages for the cast which are great to see in colour if you haven’t been watching the anime! Illustrations, on the whole, are handled by K Akagishi who is the artist behind Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill’s manga. Most of the images here showcase the action scenes, which are exactly what I’d been hoping for and I was pleasantly surprised to find there are even a few two-page spreads which is unusual for light novels.
Volume 2 of the series is currently scheduled for an English release in late April. The manga has been licensed by digital platform Comikey and was due for release in November/December but so far hasn’t materialised. Worth keeping an eye out for, if you’re interested.
Overall, Sabikui Bisco Volume 1 is an entertaining read with a premise that we rarely see in the market. If you’re already watching the anime, the original book is sure to delight, even despite the minor issues I had with it.