In light of their anime adaptation’s success, the Sabikui Bisco light novels are steadily getting translated into English. Vol. 2 just came out this month and it has a lot to live up to. The series’ debut had an entire season’s worth of content after all, and the world and characters it introduced were instantly endearing. Does Shinji Cobkubo’s second glimpse into the lives of Mushroom Keepers match the prior installment’s high standards?
The transition in status quo between volumes one and two is quickly and effectively established here. Bisco and Milo’s past exploits have gained them notoriety across Japan to the point that bandits have started impersonating them for various purposes. As a result, while our heroes’ past deeds made a considerable societal impact for the better they still have to be wary of revealing their true identities. This preserves the pair’s status as underdog travelers without ignoring the results of their last adventure, as their reputations’ newfound mythic natures become obstacles unto themselves.
The excitement continues throughout the first forty pages as a run-in with one of the aforementioned groups of bandits results in a harrowing discovery. At the bandits’ base Milo and Bisco discover piles of corpses that have all been mutilated in the same way: by literally having their stomachs removed. It’s an unnervingly specific image and a portent of danger to come, with the sole survivor seemingly being a weak old man whom Bisco finds muttering to himself. Not all is as it seems however, and the choices in language help sell the drama’s eerie, supernatural nature (particularly where the old man’s snakelike movements are concerned).
Unfortunately, the further one gets into the volume the more apparent its flaws become with regards to overall polish and effective handling of subject matter. Chief among the issues is the volume’s setting. While Vol. 1 featured the characters traveling on a journey and provided glimpses of many locales, almost all of Vol. 2 takes place within the city of Izumo. When the vagabonds’ best moments often involve being on the run, planting roots in a single location is risky if that setting isn’t made compelling enough.
Izumo simply isn’t. It’s defined by its six towers which are home to various warring religious sects, and there are some fun concepts thrown around here. One clan worships money above all else and is very transparent in how it rewards corruption, which leads to Bisco and Milo committing some morally dubious acts that call the limits of necessity and necessary evil into question. Some of the leaders of the other sects also have intriguing quirks of personality or interest, including one who considers his time spent playing chess sacred above all else. All in all, it’s interesting to see new perspectives with which this world’s inhabitants approach the Rust world.
Unfortunately, there’s little else positive to say about Izumo. Half of the sects hardly get any description or exploration at all. As a result there’s not enough sense of the various cultures and morals at play, making the city feel somewhat flat and undeveloped. What details we do get are fun and prompt compelling questions about the nature of fate and obedience, but there just isn’t enough substance behind the ideas presented.
The character writing throughout is similarly mixed, with the supporting cast being the worst off. Several of them are returning characters whose new roles in the plot feel questionable, as if they’ve ended up in their current positions more as an excuse to keep them active on the page than as a natural progression of their character arcs. There are a lot of very convenient run-ins that undercut the drama somewhat, and many of the characters’ interactions feel like recycled versions of scenes we already saw back in Vol. 1.
With that said the writing is far from without its charms and Bisco and Milo’s relationship continues to be the series’ strongest aspect. While their conflicts could be tightened up a bit in execution, the heart is there thematically. In the novel’s best passages their dialogue and narration exudes an intimacy that is earnest and impactful, making one want to root for them as they travel to the ends of the Earth. Milo in particular makes progress in surpassing his initial bounds of timidness. Of course, it’s their clearly budding romantic affection that’s most poignant, even as the characters fumble with proper terms for one another.
In terms of actual plot however, this volume struggles a bit. All the intriguing aspects I’ve mentioned help it along, as fun ideas and great lead characters can balance out a lot of faults. Those faults are still present however. Besides the underwhelming showing from the supporting cast and new setting, the sense of dramatic tension also pales in comparison to Vol. 1. Concepts of immortality and perseverance are central, but they’re handled in such a way that the actual moments of resolution don’t feel earned. When you hype up characters’ power levels to a certain point their victories and defeats can end up feeling arbitrary, as is the case here.
Art-wise, the occasional illustrations throughout by K Akagishi do a good job bringing the novel’s world to life. The characters are expressive and it’s easy to see why the anime opted to steer so closely to the source material in design. My main qualm is just that I wish there were more illustrations included, especially since two of the art pages are taken up by diagrams.
Overall, Sabikui Bisco Vol. 2 is an enjoyable read that highlights the series’ strengths as well as its faults. The core duo remain endearing, particularly where their relationship as partners is concerned. The volume also has some interesting lore, well-executed horror, and promising implications for future worldbuilding. Unfortunately some of the compelling ideas presented don’t have time to develop, and the resolution of the conflicts throughout often feels unsatisfying. With that said the world’s charms are endearing enough to make the journey one well worth taking even if the execution doesn’t live up to the premise’s full potential.
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