I mentioned in my The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! blog post that I liked Bookwalker Global’s other exclusive light novel release: The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to reading volume 2, I figure I should write a post explaining why I like it.
Put simply, I’m a fan of the setting of The Combat Baker. It is a postwar story about a former soldier who takes on a mundane-sounding job in a fantasy European setting. I guess in that broad sense it is like Violet Evergarden, although the tone of the story is very, very different. The Combat Baker also puts a heavy focus on the political backdrop of its postwar setting, as well as how that affects people in a rural town. I quickly found myself sucked into this world that SOW had created.
As cute and fluffy as the cover images make it look, there are some disquieting elements to the setting of The Combat Baker beneath the surface. Thanks to the presence of fantasy technology, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact time period it’s based off, but the general “mood” of the story makes me think it’s around World War I. The victor of this fictional war is a country named Wiltia, whose citizens have Germanic names and whose physical appearances are defined by their blonde hair and blue eyes.
So, obviously, fantasy Germany won the war and annexed an entire continent.
The best thing about The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is the afterword, where the author reveals just how much research he did to write a shogi-themed light novel. Usually, light novel authors use the afterword to thank the book’s illustrator, editor and the readers (in that order), but Shirow Shiratori goes out of his way to thank dozens of people involved in the professional Shogi world. He even recounts a personal story from his high school days, when he played Shogi against “the high-school Ryuo.”
The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! is a novel that takes a traditional Japanese board game seriously. It took four years of research before the first volume was even published. Think of it like the Hikaru no Go of light novels, except with unfunny lolicon jokes and the worst opening chapter in the world.
Seriously, it cannot be overstated just how bad of a first impression this light novel makes.
People sure like to romanticise piracy. This was something that occurred to me after I published an article a few days ago called Explaining the English Light Novel Boom with Bookwalker Global, which didn’t mention piracy at all and yet sparked controversy on the subject anyway. As many of the comments argued, fan translations have played a part in popularizing light novels in English translation. Why didn’t I mention their existence?
In truth, I didn’t set out to snub fan translation in that piece. It was simply the case that the people I spoke to at Bookwalker Global did not mention it. The article was not intended as a comprehensive overview of the light novel industry; it was meant to showcase Bookwalker Global’s perspective on the subject. I thought that their views would be interesting because a) They’ve recently jumped onto the English light novel bandwagon with a clear rationale for doing so, and b) They are deeply connected to the Japanese light novel market.
Fan translations were clearly not relevant with Bookwalker Global’s choice of exclusive titles. Neither The Combat Baker nor The Ryuo’s Work is Never Done! had English fan translations when these releases were being decided, nor was there much hype for them on English-language social media. However, people still wanted me to talk about fan translation anyway. I suspect that they wanted me to romanticise their place in history.