Prior to starting this blog, I had already written three separate reviews for Overlord, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and So I’m a Spider, So What?, all of which are published in English by Yen Press. However, I realized that my feelings regarding all three of these are very similar. So, in this unusual blog entry, I’m going to review all three of them… simultaneously. For reference, I have read the following volumes at this point; 10 for Overlord, 6 for TenSura, and 6 for Spider.
All three try to subvert modern isekai conventions, and whether or not they succeed changes depending on who you talk to. The main characters of each are transported to the series’ respective worlds in unusual forms: Overlord‘s Momonga in the form of his lich-like avatar from a dead MMO, TenSura’s salaryman who gets named Rimuru upon his reincarnation as a slime, and Spider‘s unnamed main protagonist in the form of a spider. All three end up revolving around these characters exploring their worlds and becoming stronger over time.
On paper, they have their own satisfying, JRPG-like progression system, where you feel genuinely cathartic once they have entire nations at their whim. But in practice, it doesn’t work out so well. In Overlord, Momonga- a.k.a. Ainz’s- avatar is already at maximum power, and all the custom monsters that his minions created are already devoted to him with every fiber of their being. The problem is that the author tries to have Ainz in a struggle of ideals, where he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but also doesn’t want to disappoint his minions. The latter is a moot point (because his minions already love him no matter what), and the former is kind of toggled on and off like a switch. As often as he tries to be “diplomatic” to gain new allies, he mostly ends up just brute forcing it and killing people violently and theatrically in spite of himself.
TenSura is similar, but more light-hearted. Rimuru at least has more interesting powers in that he absorbs creatures and learns their abilities, but when he gains the ability to assume a human shape, he uses it all the time and defeats the purpose of the Slime gimmick. In the end, though, the light-hearted nature of TenSura backfires. Rimuru is written as an utter saint and is never questioned when he murders in cold blood; at least Overlord TRIED to have an existential crisis, as moot as it was given its context.
So I’m a Spider, So What? had the best potential. The main character is reincarnated in a dungeon filled with powerful enemies that could kill her in one hit. As a result, she has to use clever strategies and status attacks to chip away at big enemies’ HP and kill them very unceremoniously. By the time the second arc starts, she conforms to the OP protagonist trope, but it feels like she earned it.
My ultimate complaint with all three of these series is their characters. Ainz is likable when he’s a super badass, but that’s very rare. As cool-looking as his minions are, Shalltear is the only one whose company I enjoy. The rest of the characters in Overlord are villagers and warriors who end up on the receiving end of Ainz’s boot. They exist to have you sympathize with them in order to push the moral ambiguity angle, but the characters themselves are incredibly unremarkable.
TenSura isn’t much better. The only character I liked is Milim, a character that shows up in volume 3, but- of course- tends to spend a lot of time offscreen, at least up to where I left off at volume 6. Everyone else is just as boring as Overlord, sometimes even more so.
Out of the characters in Spider, the titular protagonist is by far the best. Despite how her chapters are written in monologues, she has a sassy personality that makes Spider a joy to read. However… notice how I said “her chapters.” The story alternates between her and her classmates, who also got reincarnated. In particular, the human chapters focus on Shun, whose new name is Schlain. Schlain is a straight-up human, which defeats the subversiveness of the spider gimmick. He’s at least not overpowered, but that ends up turning him into a whiny YA protagonist who basically has to passively do what his reincarnated class teacher says. The others are almost worse. A male classmate (forgot his name) gets reincarnated as Katia, a girl, which seems like a ham-fisted attempt to comment on gender identity without actually commenting on gender identity (sort of like in Levithan’s Every Day, my second least favorite novel of all time). Hugo is one of the first major antagonists, and basically a clone of Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII. The biggest problem with these characters is that they are introduced poorly. The prologue immediately starts with the class getting blown up and reincarnated, thus you do not get to see any of what they were like prior. As a result, the story expects you to feel the emotions of Schlain as he sees his classmates’ new forms without ever seeing their original forms. If you have that level of sympathy, cool. I don’t.
The writing styles of these light novels are vastly different from each other. Overlord has a very poetic D&D quality to its writing. However, it only gets good when SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS. A lot of it is other kingdoms discussing various politics that you know mean nothing because Ainz is just gonna smash everything, and it bothers me so much. On the flipside, it makes the few good sequences feel cathartic. TenSura, however, is the most boring. Action scenes could be good, but go by quickly and unceremoniously, which sucks because the author is actually pretty good at building up to major fights, and it all goes to waste. I don’t need tension, especially not for isekai, but novels like Cautious Hero are able to be enjoyable despite having no tension thanks to straight-up great writing. Spider is polarizing to read, because it feels like it’s by two different writers. As previously discussed, the spider’s chapters are great, and Schlain’s are tedious beyond all reason. Most notably, Spider‘s plot is structured to where the spider’s events happen decades before Schlain’s, but it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose. In fact, the structure almost backfires; we get what I presume to be a preview of the climax of the entire series at the end of volume 5, which makes everything in the subsequent volumes feel like padding since we all know how it’s going to unfold in the first place. Well… it’ll only be a problem if this thing publishes into the double digits.
Lastly, let’s compare the art. The illustrations for all three books are incredible, in their own unique ways. Personally, I think the illustrations of Overlord take the cake, though, as they are gloriously detailed and look almost hand-painted. Spider’s is a more vibrant take on Overlord’s, and TenSura’s is super charming and cartoony.
Verdict: Overlord 7.65/10, TenSura 6.5/10, Spider 8/10
These three light novels have taken the community by storm over the years, and I personally don’t understand why. While I think So I’m a Spider, So What? is by far the best of them, it has its own glaring issues. Overlord and TenSura could’ve been really good, but their authors just seem to be at a crossroads with committing to the best ideas they had for them. I don’t think they’re the worst, but I think they are easily outclassed by other isekais that I’d recommend, like Cautious Hero, Torture Princess, and Otherside Picnic. If you enjoy power fantasies in general, then there wouldn’t be any harm in giving them a try.