Well, for some values of light… starting from it’s origins as a web novel, there are over 280 chapters, running 4,000 – 5,000 words each. At well north of a million words (even without the side-stories), it’s about 4 western-length novels or 1.5 Robert Jordan novels. It is also complete, although there’s room for sequels, and the author is still writing side-stories in the main canon.
I will take a bit getting into the setting, because I want to be clear: it’s the best of the Japanese LN’s that I’ve ever read. It’s close enough to the usual tropes and events to be accessible, but it does not lend itself to being the 5000th iteration of any of them. Probably the strongest trope is that the protagonist is genre savvy, and his internal monologue is full of anime references. Many other tropes appear, but they’re not substituted for story; there’s no feeling that the author was going down the list, mumbling “meet-cute, check; child-hood friend, check; face-heel turn, check….”
Moreover, it’s an unpredictable story, with arcs that last multiple volumes. People enter the story, leave for several volumes, and then come back naturally. Sometimes they’ve changed, sometimes they haven’t. Things which happen may not be explained right away, or have unexpected consequences years later. Through the twenty-plus years covered by the story, there are probably only two such contrived incidences; only one really doesn’t make sense. Which for LN’s of this pedigree and length, is damned amazing, IMHO.
So what is it about? Swords, sorcery, and a transplanted hikkimori:
A 34-year-old NEET otaku was chased out from his house by his family. This virgin, plump, unattractive, and penniless nice guy found that his life was heading towards a dead end. He recalled that his life could actually become much better if he can get over the dark history of his life.
Just when he was at the point of regret, he saw a truck moving at a high speed with 3 high school students in its path. Mustering all his strength, he saves them but ended up getting run over by the truck, which kills him.
The next time he opens his eyes, he had reincarnated to a world of swords and magic, as Rudeus Greyrat. Born to a new world and a new life, Rudeus declared, “This time, I’ll really live my life to the fullest with no regrets!” Thus begins the journey of a newly made man.
This glosses over a lot. I’ll be blunt: his siblings chased him out, not because they’re assholes, but because he was anything but a nice guy. In fact, while they’re attending their parents’ funeral, he’s sitting at home fapping to an AV. Small wonder his brother took a baseball bat to his laptop… and him.
After he’s reborn as Rudeus Greyrat, he has all of his memories, and spends most of his time enjoying breastfeeding or being cared for by the maid. After some disorientation, he realizes he has a chance to start over, and discovering that magic works in this world causes him to decide to apply himself to becoming a success. His father is a local knight; his mother a healer; both parents are successful ex-adventurers, so he’s got the support needed.
Character recap from the first arc:
Rudeus Greyrat or Rudy, as his given nickname, is the main character, who is the reincarnated NEET loser who died, the twist is that his memories of his past life remained. His current body possesses high affinity for magic, even as a child (baby).
Paul Greyrat: Rudy’s father, an accomplished swordsman. Currently works as swordsman who protects their village. He teaches Rudy swordsmanship. Former adventurer.
Zenith Greyrat: Rudy’s mother, she’s a mage who seems to know healing magic. Blonde, busty, former adventurer.
Lilia, later Lilia Greyrat: Greyrat’s family maid. she’s a former palace maid bodyguard. (Yes, a combat meido on medical retirement.) Her family’s sword school was where Rudy’s father studied at. She got the job with the Greyrats because, um, well, Paul pretty much raped her back in the day…not that she was that unwilling, as we see.
Roxy Migurudia, later Greyrat: She is Rudy’s magic tutor (during his 3-5 years of age), a talented mage from a demon race. She later marries Rudy after he’s grown, becoming his second wife.
Sylphiette, later Sylphy Greyrat: Rudy’s first friend of the same age (5 years old), whom Rudy saved from bullies. The reason was Sylphy’s a mix of elf, human and beast. Later his first wife, in one of the few contrived plot devices.
Eris Boreas Greyrat: She is Rudy’s older cousin, she’s also his student, (at this time, when he’s around age 7) he’s supposed to teach her magic among other things such as math, reading, etc.
First and second arc recap:
Rudeus soon learns the language after he’s born, and since he doesn’t have to learn modern logic and scientific principles, he quickly becomes a magic prodigy due to reading a book and practicing its lessons. His parents discover this, and hire a tutor from one of the Magic Races (i.e.: demonic, dragon, beast) to school him. Roxy is from one of the minor demon races, which generally look human but have odd hair colors, elfin appearances, and long life-spans, up to immortality. She isn’t sure what to think of this strange child, but is stunned to discover how much magic he already knows — including the ability to cast without verbal incantations, which is exceedingly advanced — most people can’t do it at all.
Having an adult mind in a child’s body, he develops a reputation for unexpected maturity — and an unusual interest in women. In fact, he steals Roxy’s panties and keeps them as an object of worship. (He was an otaku in a past life, after all!) He also manipulates his family; not cruelly or selfishly, but to ensure domestic harmony. In fact, he basically saves the family when it turns out that Paul (Daddy) wasn’t very good at keeping it buttoned, getting both Mommy and Maid pregnant at the same time.
During this period, he also befriends a young boy who was being bullied for having green hair, associated with evil demons. The boy, it turns out, is a girl, part human, part beast, part elf. Sylphiette (Sylphy) becomes his constant companion, and he teaches her magic. While not as good as him, she also learns how to cast healing spells without invocation. She also worships the ground he walks on, which given he’s obviously the son of his ‘chip-off-the-old-block’ womanizing dad, worries his parents.
So, just when the two of them have reached 7 years of age, and you think it’s about to settle into the stories of Phoenix Rudeas, Ace Wizard, the author throws in the first of the great plot twists. You see, Paul’s actually a young son of one of the four great noble houses of the kingdom — but he had a falling out with them, ran off to become an adventurer, and then shacked up with the party’s healer…
But he still stays in contact, which is how he became a village knight, and in the end, he and his family choose to kill two birds with one stone. By sending him to foster with the main family, Rudeus is split from Sylphy (so she can grow up independent and strong), wheras the family gains a tutor for their wayward 9-year-old daughter. Thus Sylphy and Roxy, Paul and Zenith (wife), Lilla (maid), and their two daughters leave the story, and a whole new cast is introduced.
Did I say the daughter was wayward? I meant insane. It’s a real taming of the shrew for the next three years, as his cousin Eris, the red-headed madbeast of the nobility, is pretty much a lost cause, having abused and beaten every prior tutor into running away screaming. Assuming they could still run when she got through with them. She’s really strong, and has been taking sword lessons from one of Paul’s ex-adventurer comrades, the Beast (cat) Ghysaline. (I can’t see that without wanting to call her “gasoline”…) It’s rocky at first, but Rudeus eventually wins them over, and the family starts seriously planning to match Rudeus with Eris, and promoting him as the heir apparent. She’s not adverse to the idea by then either, but once again, the author yanks the rug out from under the reader…
I won’t go any further with the plot descriptions, but bear in mind, this only covers the first two arcs, and the author manages to keep doing this at several points in the story. Only once is it terribly obvious that he was using a deus ex; it’s plenty jarring because most of the time, the writing is usually better than that. Again, no details, but it turns out that most everything about his life has to do with a long-running fight between the two remaining “world gods” (out of seven) and several demi-gods from other, destroyed planes. The plot is sufficiently epic that even the protagonist is not an all-powerful, destiny-defying player, though he is definitely a key mover. Alliances have to be made, and broken; today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy — and vice versa.
But the characters do not take second place to the plot, by any means. Each is vividly drawn, with their own motivations, and although some of the early ones are shallow, the writer develops his craft throughout. There’s only about four “NAD” characters, and frankly they don’t feel guaranteed. Characters die in this story. Good ones. Bad ones. Ones you think are bad but might not be. Characters you love. At one pivotal point, a major character dies to gain a victory that is distinctly pyrrhic, and it causes Rudeus to reflect on his prior life, and the death of his parents. He thinks about just how much of a jackass he was to his family, and how he spurned their attempts at helping him. The writer does a number on this sequence; it rings deep, and true.
And you know what? It’s the first time I’ve seen a serial harem develop. As you see in the character descriptions above, all three of the women he spends time with during his childhood later become his wives. No “harem hijinks” with all three girls chasing him. No “every woman could be his.” Later, he has the chance to add two more, and he doesn’t take it, even though he could.
There are a few flaws, as noted, and it’s not a light or quick read. But it is a good one, and I recommend it. Most of the text is on Baka-Tsuki, although the last few chapters and the side stories written afterwards (still being written, in fact) are on the translator’s site.