The popular fantasy light novel series Strike the Blood ended in English at the end of 2022. Nevertheless, as of early 2023, author Gakuto Mikumo was already back on the English scene with a new series: Hollow Regalia. Of course, after a hit like Strike the Blood, the question on everyone’s mind is whether this proves an interesting offering in a market with much more to offer than when his earlier work debuted here.
Four years before the beginning of the story, a dragon appeared over Japan and caused the appearance of powerful monsters known as Moujuu. In just a week after they appeared, over half of Japan’s citizens had been killed and shortly after that, the rest of the world turned on the country and decided to carry out the “J-nocide” where they murdered everyone of Japanese nationality including those living overseas, before condemning the country and leaving it to the Moujuu. After all, no one believed that the Moujuu were fantastical beings and instead thought they were a biological weapon being created by the Japanese government in secret; others believed a meteorite containing a virus landed in the country.
Our protagonist is Yahiro, a seventeen-year-old living in the Adachi Ward of Tokyo. He’s one of the few surviving Japanese people and works as a salvager for foreign buyers, obtaining artwork and artefacts left behind in Tokyo after the disaster. While most people are wary of the Moujuu that roam the area, Yahiro has powerful regenerative abilities after being bathed in the blood of a dragon four years ago. As long as at least half his body survives, he’ll be able to restore himself to full health, making him more or less immortal. And of course, being Japanese, it’s not like he can leave the country without being hunted down, so living and working as a salvager is really his only choice.
One day, Yahiro is asked to travel closer to the centre of Tokyo to search for Kushinada, someone or something that’s able to control the Moujuu. In exchange, Yahiro is promised information on his little sister whom he’s been searching for since the disaster four years ago. His clients (twin sisters Rosetta and Giulietta) initially strike Yahiro as being shady; certainly, they know more about this Kushinada than they’re willing to admit. But this is the first real clue he’s been offered about his sister, so our protagonist finds himself going along with their request.
As it quickly transpires, Kushinada is a teenage girl called Iroha Mamana who, like Yahiro, is a Japanese survivor and has been living on the outskirts of Tokyo, looking after a group of young children. She has the power to tame Moujuu, something that has helped keep her and the kids safe but is now causing her to be hunted down by several different groups, not just Yahiro’s clients. And why does Iroha seem so familiar to Yahiro? Could it be the two have some kind of prior connection?
Hollow Regalia is a fantasy series that’s filled to the brim with references to dragonlore and folklore from several different countries including Japan. As it goes on and we find out what happened four years ago, as well as what it means for Yahiro and Iroha, you can’t help but feel overwhelmed. Just like Strike the Blood, this series is compelling in the moment when you’re turning the pages but it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny afterwards. I’m not convinced that should be a reason to not give it your time, particularly if you like the author’s other popular work, but it’s certainly not the stellar novel I was hoping for. And frankly, the fact it’s fun while reading and not boring is at least a positive for it.
This isn’t helped by quite a few pacing problems once we get to the middle of the volume where it feels like we’re moving from situation to situation quickly without taking a moment to properly explore what’s happening. I’m somewhat surprised this was only 200 pages long as it feels like an extra 50 would have gone a long way in solving the problem. Alternatively, if Mikumo hadn’t tossed in everything including the kitchen sink in terms of setting and background, perhaps we’d have had some more time to spare.
Personally, I can’t take the “J-nocide” portion seriously, but in the afterword, Mikumo does at least clarify that he has nothing against Japan (or the Japanese people) and simply wanted a post-apocalyptic setting where the main character travels across Japan fighting monsters. And I did feel markedly better about the whole thing after reading that. It’s clear that Mikumo is excited about this new story and while that’s contributed to it being quite messy, it’s hard to deny that it’s entertaining.
Yahiro and Iroha are likeable characters. They bicker constantly but you can tell they care about one another despite it all. Yahiro’s easy to root for and despite his powers, he’s not completely overpowered and often leans on those around him for help. I don’t feel like we spend enough time with any of the extended cast for me to form opinions on them (another case of not enough pages!), but at least there’s no one I hated. In many ways Volume 2 will be the make-it-or-break-it moment, I just hope it slows down and better explains some of its ideas. I’m sure if it did, this would be an excellent series.
Hollow Regalia Volume 1 comes to the West thanks to Yen Press under their Yen On imprint. The release is translated by Sergio Avila Ramirez with editing by Leilah Labossiere and Payton Campbell and it reads well with no problems. Included are colour illustrations by artist Miyuu (Record of Grancrest War) which depict our main cast as well as some of the fight scenes, which are well worth flicking through. There are also detailed character profiles and a map at the end of the book, which helps fill in some of the questions you may have.
The series is ongoing in Japan with 6 volumes while here in English Yen Press has published the first three volumes with the fourth following in April. No sign of an anime yet, but there is an ongoing manga adaptation which, while currently unlicensed, I imagine will find its way to the English market soon enough.
Overall, Hollow Regalia Volume 1 certainly isn’t the polished fantasy series I was hoping for but there’s plenty to enjoy here all the same. Mileage will vary based on how much patience you have for something this all over the place, but if you enjoyed Strike the Blood in particular this is worth picking up. I remain optimistic that the rough edges can be sanded off as it continues.
Our review copy from Yen Press was supplied by Diamond Book Distributors UK.