So this is going to be another anime post, but it’s combined with the light novels as well. SPO (I don’t know what the Japanese portmanteau is) is a current release available on Funimation. I had been ignoring the books for some time, as I had no interest in yet another OP isekai protagonist. Having too much time on my hands after retirement, I queued up the anime, and then got interested in the novels as a result. The reason was simple: I’d completely misjudged the original, based on the title. It’s not a tale of a romp through an alternate world – if anything, it’s a slice of life / romance so far.
We start with the usual summons from an alternate world, but there’s an immediate twist… They expected to summon one woman, but got two: Aria (age 15, HS student), and Sei (age 26? overworked office lady). The Grand Magus collapses, and the First Prince barges in before anyone can figure out what’s going on. Taken by the pretty young girl’s beauty, he completely ignores the frumpy tired woman, proclaims the cutie is the Saint, and whisks her away. Sei is almost completely ignored in the chaos. Eventually she realizes:
A) She’s been magically kidnapped.
B) She can’t go home.
C) Some other girl is the hero; she’s just an accident.
To say that she’s upset is a bit mild — only quick action by one of the attendants (and getting lost in the castle) keeps her from storming out to find her way in the world. Eventually they do right by her; although she’s trapped there, she becomes a permanent guest of the castle, and all her needs are taken care of. Except one: she’s gone from being an overworked office lady to bored hanger-on. She doesn’t even have contact with her fellow Japanese, as Aria is whisked off to the Imperial Academy for training – alongside the prince.
Eventually, her interest in botany leads her to joining the Research Society, where she learns about herbs and potions. And magic. Most definitely magic. And therein starts her tale, because for some reason, her healing potions are 50% more effective than normal, and she can make a ridiculous amount of them without getting tired. And when she turns her hand to enchantments, they’re even more OP.
I don’t think it will surprise anyone that it turns out that she’s the actual Saint. What is surprising is how long it remains an open question, and that the people around her aren’t idiots. They’re constrained (even the King), by a need to not embarrass the prince, but behind her back, powers are moving to keep her close to hand – and happy with the kingdom, just in case. There’s no demon lord, but there are monsters and “miasma” and the Kingdom needs the Saint.
This is a case where the derivative work (anime) is better than the original (novel). While the novels do a much better job of showing Sei’s gradual realization that she’s the actual Saint (and a bit of internal struggle over outing herself), the “gradual” part falls flat because of one old standby: the Character Sheet. Although it’s not an RPG, she (and presumably Aria) has the ability to view her stats. It says right there on Sei’s sheet: Lvl 55 / Saint. Uh, that’s kind of a dead giveaway, you know. The anime ignores this mechanism, except once, and then only that characters seem to know their own level. By comparison, Aria goes from Lvl 1 at summoning to Lvl 16 in a few months. The Grand Magus, when he recovers, turns out to be Lvl 40.
The romance element is supplied by a blond hunk of martial manliness — ok, he’s really a pretty boy, but he is a capable fighter. Terribly wounded, he is saved by one of her super potions. It’s a slow-motion romance, as she’s terribly skittish, and embarrassed that everyone thinks of her as his girlfriend. The pacing of the books and the show is leisurely; neither too fast or too slow thus far. I hope a fourth book will be coming out soon, and as of episode 8, the anime is only partway through book two. In part this is because ep. 7 was all about Aria, from the beginning to the current point. It combined pieces from the first two books with original content.
The animation is nothing to write home about; it’s competent but not outstanding, nor excessively cheap. All in all, I’m enjoying both forms, and recommend it for a leisurely pastime.