Before anything else, it’s important to mention that the source novel for this title, plus the decision to adapt it into manga form, both predate the COVID-19 pandemic. Original author Kalaku Yuki It is very clear on that subject in their afterword, most likely out of an abundance of well-placed caution, since this adaptation hit Japanese shelves during the start of the current (as of this writing) pandemic. That said, I don’t know if that’s also true for the decision to translate it into English, and this really may not be the best book to pick up if you’re suffering from the pandemic or its effects in any way, and while The book itself errs on the side of the fluffy and goofy, it’s subject matter is difficult to divorce from present reality.
Why? Because the story, a sort of Cells at Work! isekai, is about a pharmaceutical researcher who dies in his lab and is reincarnated as a virus. The implication is that he was researching something he perhaps ought not to have been, and being alone in the lab late at night was the final blow. It’s an interesting take on the “died of overwork” trope we’ve seen in isekai before, mostly in how it affects his second chance at life. There is, of course, the usual (albeit more clothed) goddess, but even though she spins a wheel to determine his reincarnation, what little we see of her face seems to indicate that his viral state is very much a form of karma – but one that may end up serving her purposes in some way. She barely has a role in the story in this volume, but there’s a real sense that she may be using him for her own ends, which certainly could later impact his glee at discovering all of his fun new powers.
That’s where the Cells at Work! sensation comes in. Not only do we get to learn about viral basics as he gets himself spread and duplicated, but whatever he infects in his new form he can control – sort of like if zombies were the result of a pandemic and went on to take over the world. The art at this point becomes like the world’s cutest biology textbook, with squishy-looking little viruses populating the bloodstream and penetrating cell walls just like you learned in middle school. (more or less – it’s very basic and maybe a teensy suspicious in its science.) Over the course of this volume, our hero infects a rat, a wolf, a goblin, and a hobgoblin, and he’s got definite designs on humanity with an eye towards eventually taking over the world. Each being he infects takes on the wide-eyed look of his virus form, instantly cutesifying all of the creatures, with the hobgoblin being the funniest due to his overall design. It’s also a nice change from the evil goblins that are more common; Yes, the goblins (led by the hobgoblin) are attacking a human girl when we meet them, but that’s not because they’re inherently evil. Like everyone else, they’re just trying to survive, and while I wouldn’t call this a feel-good story that humanizes the food chain, it is a nice difference from the genre standard.
Despite the issues of time and place, the story is kind of a fun twist on the basic isekai tale. It still makes use of the old status screen and stat updates, but it pokes fun at them, with the virus wondering several times where on earth the announcer voice is coming from each time he infects a new being and gains a new skill. The virus-man’s nonstop narration is generally funny, mostly because there’s not a whole lot else in the way of dialogue for the first three chapters; narration does fall off once he meets the goblins and heroine-presumptive and dialogue can naturally happen. The art is generally cute even when it’s being gross or bloody, which is a fairly impressive feat, and orcs, like in the light novel Planet of the Orcsare interestingly more boar-based than pig, which is always a nice departure from what western fantasy readers are more acccustomed to.
Really, the major issue with this book is that it came out now – in another few years, I think this will be much more fun to read than in the present moment. But if you’re not suffering from pandemic fatigue or just are looking for something a little different in your reincarnation isekai, this should fit the bill – and if it makes you feel any better, no one infected with the hero appears to suffer much more than sneezing, and when he transfers who he’s controlling, they completely regain their own mentality. Small, perhaps, but with a story about a virus at this point potatoes, we should take what we can get in terms of positives.