Perhaps the true test of a media property’s success isn’t whether it gets spin-offs but rather if its spin-offs get spin-offs. Enter So I’m a Spider, So What? The Daily Lives of the Kumoko Sisters Vol. 1. A gag manga riff on the original manga adaptation of Okina Baba’s light novels, the series features Gratinbird’s humorous take on the franchise. There’s quite a lot of history and expectation built into the book from its very premise, but does it manage to stand out as a good read in its own right?
So what’s it about?
Here’s a plot summary courtesy of Yen Press:
What would you do if you were reincarnated in a fantasy world as four spiders?
Admittedly that’s quite the bare bones summary, but it does convey the core concept of the book: what was once one consciousness getting split into multiple sub-selves, with arachnid mishaps ensuing. The four selves are named Information Brain, Body Brain, Magic Brain #1, and Magic Brain #2 respectfully, all coined after the roles they play in the group’s combat and survival. With that said this is a gag manga so the focus is much more on twists and jokes than on epic battles and plot revelations.
Art quality and brand identity
Given how many iterations of this franchise already exist, there’s a lot of pressure on Gratinbird to deliver quality work that meets fans’ expectations. Fortunately, I don’t think there’s anything bad one could possibly say about the art in this book. From technical drawing ability to basic storytelling fundamentals, attention is paid to all the little details from page one to the very end.
The most notable aspect of the art may be the line-work’s consistently clean widths and general polish. The inks are aesthetically pleasing and have a certain pop to them. The mascot characters all follow rather strict models to adhere to brand identity but also have enough small visual flourishes to distinguish themselves, i.e. Information Brain’s glasses and Magic Brain #2’s top hat. The characters simultaneously clearly fit established franchise aesthetics while also being, appropriately, a smidge more visually humorous. The flow of action from panel to panel is also mostly well-done with no major clarity mishaps, and the sound effects are notably well-integrated into the art as a whole.
But most importantly: is it funny?
Before fully diving into hijinks of the week, Gratinbird takes the time to introduce the premise and then spend a chapter each focusing on all four parallel minds. It’s a solid plotting choice that enables the reader to get a good handle on the characters’ personalities and relationships before diving into the deep end joke-wise. Does it pay off with actually funny gags though?
Yes, although they’re not all gut-busters. One highlight early on is Magic Brain #1’s misunderstandings of how a terrified frog is feeling, highlighting her status as the somewhat off-kilter though competent party member. There’s also a fun chapter later on that incorporates a snail and its dreams of opening up a restaurant. All in all the manga excels most when expanding its scope beyond just the core characters and incorporating more of the labyrinth they reside in. It’s not that the core cast is insufficient exactly, but they haven’t yet deviated far enough from their basic archetypes to feel like three-dimensional characters. As a result, the chapters that stay solely focused on them are generally weaker.
All in all, So I’m a Spider, So What? The Daily Lives of the Kumoko Sisters brings a fresh tone to an established series. Its visuals impress in their polish and its writing impresses in pacing and execution. The main con is just that the characters, while effectively introduced and contrasted against one another, still have much room to grow. As far as spin-offs of spin-offs go, this debut isn’t bad at all.
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