Overlord VS TenSura VS So I’m a Spider, So What?

Cover of each book's first volume

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.

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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.

Infinite Dendrogram Overview (Volumes 1-9)

Welcome to my first “serious” blog post on Weeb Revues. Today, I’m starting with one of the best and most underrated light novels on the market, Infinite Dendrogram, published in English by J-Novel Club. This is an overview of volumes 1-9.

Infinite Dendrogram is truly a case of not judging a book by its cover. At first glance, it looks like a shameless knockoff of Sword Art Online, complete with an overpowered protagonist and a harem. However, there’s actually a lot more substance and personality in Dendro.

The first thing that makes this no ordinary light novel is the concept revolving around the titular VRMMORPG, Infinite Dendrogram. The game is probably the most advanced application of VR ever; unlike what was essentially a JRPG but with the VR gimmick, Dendro is programmed to feel like a REAL world (in a way that’s more substantiated than in SAO‘s Alicization Arc). The NPC’s, called tians, have no idea that Dendro is an RPG, and the existence of human players- masters- is programmed into the game’s lore. The tians are all dynamically programmed to live and grow like real people, and actual history takes place within Dendro completely out of devs’ control. The other thing about tians is that they permanently die if destroyed. This isn’t like your JRPG where you can get that quest to find medicine for some girl’s grandma early on, forget about it, then remember 50 hours later and it’s all fine. In Dendro, that girl’s grandma is dead, and furthermore, that girl will hate you for your neglect.

The other important aspect of Dendro is the Embryo system. Along with the traditional job system of most JRPGs, you have Embryos, which are basically Stands from Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure in Dendro form. When Embryos hatch, their appearance, and abilities are based on the personality of its user and their preferred battle style. Unfortunately, the golden rule of Embryos is that there are no rules. This aspect will probably be a turn off to a lot of people. However, look at these positives: 1) No creative restrictions means an “infinite” variety of abilities and battles, and 2) The Embryos at least behave within their own individual rules once established… for the most part. Embryos also have several stages of evolution that can happen anytime and with unpredictable results. This system was basically put in to give the author several justifiable ass-pulls whenever the main protagonist is thrust into a scenario that they cannot power out of with what they have.

However, more often than not, the fights in Dendro are actually some of the most legitimate and “videogamey” out of any fights I’ve seen in light novels. The author’s prose makes them impactful and thrilling. Furthermore, fights rely more so on preparation and knowledge of game mechanics than good ol’ nakama power.

If there is any flaw with the writing, it is the fact that there are a lot of exposition dumps. In fact, a lot of them happen right in the heat of battle, and some of them are entire flashbacks of stuff. However, unlike SAO, these dumps are much shorter and more engaging, and actually, have plot relevance to the story, or at least explain characters’ abilities.

This is all well and good, but what keeps making me come back to Dendro is its surprisingly varied cast. However, the worst character is, sadly, its main protagonist, Mukudori Reiji, known in-game as Ray Starling. He’s about as Gary-Stu-Goody-Two-Shoes as it gets. Dendro tries to justify it by having characters make fun of him for doing things as stupid as trying to save a girl at Level 0; so weak that brushing up against someone almost killed his avatar. But even then, it gets old, especially after his reaction to an overly obvious reveal in volume 9.

The real color is in literally everybody else. From Ray’s pun-making brother, Shu, to his maiden-type Embryo, Nemesis, this thing has got some characters with great personalities. I don’t want to talk about anyone else due to spoilers, but they’re just so lovable. Dendro also does a great job of building up to characters. Most of the cast of characters are alluded to early on, as opposed to having them show up for the first time with no context while the main character gets chastised for not knowing about someone SO FAMOUS, which makes the world feel that much more organic.

The last aspect of Dendro is the art. I’m not going to be talking about the art much for light novels because it’s not that important; however, I can at least give a brief blurb about it. The art is neat and stylistic, but there is still better LN art elsewhere.
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Verdict: 9/10

Overall, Infinite Dendrogram is an incredible light novel series, and I recommend it to anyone trying to get into light novels; EVEN Sword Art Online‘s critics.

This marks the end of my first blog entry on Weeb Revues. How was this first review? Sorry it was overly long, but there was a lot of ground to cover in this one.