Light Novel Review: Meikyuu: Labyrinth Kingdom, a Tactical Fantasy World Survival Guide

Ex-British Special Forces soldier Taiga Andou-Garrett is returning to Japan, which hasn’t been his home since he was 16 years old and joined the military, when he realizes that he’s being tailed at the Haneda Airport. He tries to throw his pursuers off but a sudden earthquake catapults him into the world of Million Dungeon, although not before he sees that his pursuers aren’t human. Taiga meets up with some of the local inhabitants of Million Dungeon and, since he’s not a bad person, he helps them out as they pick up the pieces from the earthquake on their side and try to reestablish a normal life. His years of survival skills come in handy in this world where nothing is safe, yet surprising few people know how to handle it like this newcomer does.

While this series doesn’t seem to be based on an actual, specific TTRPG campaign, as far as I can tell from the afterword, it does come across as so blatantly based on the setting of one that I flipped to the afterword early to check and see if my suspicion was correct. While I don’t have the time for TTRPGs myself I do listen to a few actual play podcasts and what I’ve concluded from those stories is that the biggest hook isn’t the plot or the setting, it’s the characters and the characters here are tremendously dull. If you think of books like a meal, the plot is a basic baked potato: a food that doesn’t have anything fundamentally wrong with it but really needs some kind of in addition to making it great, like butter, cheese, green onions, or a half dozen different condiments. Meikyuu: Labyrinth Kingdom, a Tactical Fantasy World Survival Guide is a plain baked potato without any interesting characters, meaningfully explored elements of the setting, compelling art, or simply unique details to season it.

While most people right now would consider a “stock light novel protagonist/Gary Stu” kind of character to be someone like Kirito, Taiga’s ex-soldier background really reminds me of the descriptions I saw of Gary Stu characters when I first encountered the term around 2010. He has what appears to be every survival skill known to man while every other character has possibly one skill (such as cooking), people attach to him quickly for no real reason (other than “trauma makes people vulnerable”), and we have yet to see him really fail in any way, from social situations to fighting. This is definitely not helped by the fact that the rest of the main cast come off as bland as well; Everyone seems to have a single quirk related to their talents but their personalities don’t really come through and as a result, reading about all of these characters makes for a slog.

You could argue that this is one of the many light novel series out there that didn’t have to be an isekai to work. Taiga could theoretically have all of these abilities and yet still come from within Million Dungeon, although then the book would be robbed of its easy way to express exposition. This setting should have been an interesting one; as far as anyone knows the dungeon has covered the entire world and it definitely didn’t used to be that way (like the encroaching dungeons in Delicious in Dungeon or The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life) and yet that just doesn’t come off as intriguing. Likewise, even the knowledge that Taiga is far from the only person to have been transported there from Earth (and not even the only person recently, if the knight Astoria’s mass-communication mirror device and youtuber-style narration are any indication), but that may play a bigger role in a future volume, if there are any future volumes. While the listing on the copyright page for the original Japanese title does include “volume one” in the name, the English version has no such mention and there certainly isn’t a second volume out in Japan. This volume really does not make for a satisfying ending to the story as Taiga and most of the other characters are in the same place (physically and mentally/emotionally) as they were less than a quarter of the way into the book and it ends with more questions than the story opened with.

I don’t plan to stick around and find out however. While fantasy has more to it than just dungeons and dragons, I can easily think of a half-dozen other series that involve dungeon crawling to some degree that I find much more engaging. I am utterly baffled that this is by the same author as Otherside Picnic since I found both the characters and setting wildly more engaging in that series! This isn’t even the case of a shaky debut series followed by a stronger sophomore series, it’s the opposite since Meikyuu is at least Miyazawa’s third light novel work; Between this and the other lackluster “adapted from a campaign/campaign setting” anime and manga over the years I’m starting to wonder if this particular fantasy sub-genre is simply cursed.

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