Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Isekai – Review

This work has an unusual pedigree: it is principally the product of the writer’s circle Sakka Keihan, with three guest authors also contributing, for seven in all. Among these are leading figures in the isekai publishing like Carlo Zen (Saga of Tanya the Evil) and Tappei Nagatsuki (Re:Zero), at least one other that Western fans might know (Natsuya Semikawa, author of Isekai Izakaya “Nobu”), and a handful of other published writers whose works have not, to my knowledge, been made legally available in English. It was originally self-published for Comiket 96 in August 2019, but given the pedigree of some of its contributors, it’s no surprise at all that J-Novel Club has licensed it for English translation and release. As near as I can determine, it is only available in digital form at this time.

The project’s name and sensibility are clear homages to the iconic sci-fi comedy work The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. Though Adams’ name is never mentioned, anyone familiar with that work and its sequels will catch several obvious references (such as “perhaps it’s more like a warning from the dolphins”) that will leave all others scratching their heads at the context. The project also makes at least some effort to capture the flippant attitude, sense of absurdity, and sly satire which characterized Adams’ comedy works. Some component stories lean more towards comedy, while others focus more on irony or satire, but even the one played most straight (the one about the train trip) has some light-hearted aspects to it. There is nothing deep or insightful about any of it; this is just a bunch of writers goofing around.

Each of the six chapters shows its contributor’s unique take on the subject of isekai writers actually getting involved in an isekai experience, with varying but entertaining results. Carlo Zen writes a brief, silly introduction before engaging in a meticulous procedural for what an isekai researcher needs to do to prepare for their journey to an isekai world, the process for actually going there, and what they will have to deal with when they get there. Like Zen’s normal writing style, this is a heavier, detail-oriented piece, one which delves into practical issues like necessary medical exams before going, decontamination procedures (such as a slime bath when you arrive), what you should expect to pay for once over there, even what kind of gold coins work best. Its absurdity comes from how it talks about things like “elite wizard” escorts like they were the most mundane things imaginable. The second piece, by Tappei Nagatsuki, is a more flippant theoretical about how he commits to visiting an isekai setting for research – which, of course, involves him getting (deliberately) hit by a truck and then having to deal with a “second class” goddess who’s less than thrilled about this because of the high volume of world-jumpers thay’ve been getting. It is more dialogue-driven and has some cleverly-nasty twists; on the whole, it is the funniest of the lot.

The third piece, by Semikawa, imagines that the Umeda Dungeon (an actual shopping/rail hub under Osaka) is the long-established location of a connection to isekai realms, which can be accessed by train rides, and describes a train journey to get into them, down even to details like why first-class cabins shouldn’t be used and how language and goods from the isekai realms have infiltrated into Japan. The fourth piece, where the main character is a sentient piglet who gets stuck trying to survive in an isekai world until reaching “The Restaurant at the End of the Isekai” (another Douglas Adams reference), is the most bizarre but has its entertaining quirks. This is followed by the story about the author who uses the name of a Sengoku era figure as his pen name. It starts off explaining how he ended up with that before segueing into him getting summoned to save the last remnants of an orc tribe – and in this world, all the major races summon heroes to fight for them. This one isn’t necessarily the funniest but may be the most fun. The final piece, about an author whose experience with divine ramen temporarily results in him being inserted in the body of an individual whom he mistakenly believes is a heroic figure rather than that setting’s most evil villain, is the one that Western readers will probably find least relatable, as it is clearly tossing around references to content which has not been released in English.

As might be expected from a group of published, established authors, the writing is all professional-grade; these writers took the writing part seriously even as they were having fun with it. As a result, it is a very entertaining effort overall, and only a light amount of familiarity with isekai stories and their common elements is necessary to appreciate it. The one big drawback is the length; the review copy clocked in at only 80 pages, including the Afterword. The cover is a sharp piece of artwork by Saga of Tanya the Evil illustrator Shinobu Shinotsuki, however, and none of those pages are taken up by additional pieces. Hence while there’s not a lot of content to it, I still heartily recommend it for any genre fans.

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