The first two audiobooks for How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom provide a decent listening experience and a positive presentation of the essential content, even if I have reservations about the narrative’s underlying conceits.
First, the positive. If you’re familiar with the anime How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom (as I am), these two volumes correspond to the first season or thereabouts. I hadn’t read the original light novels, so this was my first encounter with them. The advantage of an unabridged audiobook over an anime is that you get the characters’ full ideas, scenes aren’t chopped for time, and so on. As they cover about the same story points, there is simply more time to spend with the cast. The anime frequently felt like it was moving at breakneck speed from scene to scene, but I loved the audiobook (and, I suppose, light novels as well, as these are just rereads) spending more time letting scenes breathe and examining the characters more.
B.J. Harrison, the audiobook narrator, also does an excellent job of bringing the text to life. You can certainly buy him as a narrator, especially given the number of senior politicians in the text. His voice has gravitas and conjures a grounded wisdom that is fitting for Souma’s attitude to most circumstances. Souma is our main point of view character, and his basic thought process is meticulous and deliberate, which Harrison hits perfectly. He struggles to find the variety of voices required by the book, but this is not a criticism of Harrison as a narrator. It’s a common issue with fictional works where audiobooks only have one narrator. There are only so many voices one person can muster, especially when they are every voice in the scenario. Even when Harrison’s delivery of a certain voice is strained, it never comes off as silly; it’s a strong performance all the way through.
I still feel roughly the same way about How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom as I did when I watched the anime. I appreciate the direction that the work is headed. The primary premise is that Souma is attempting to enhance his leadership skills in order to better the lives of the inhabitants in this magical planet. He does not take his duty as ruler lightly, and he makes a concerted effort to use what knowledge and talents he possesses to right the ship, so to speak. There is a genuine concern for the people’s safety and well-being, which is admirable, and there are various attempts to improve their quality of life using common-sense ideas.
Unfortunately, my problems at work remain the same. Perhaps the most obvious issue is how seamless everything is for Souma. Almost every issue he meets is easily overcome by simply knowing the exact solution to the problem. The majority of scenes have some variant of the following:
Person A: My lord, there’s a problem. Souma: Ah, yes. Simply perform [this action]. Person B: Wow, he solved the problem! Person A: My lord, you are quite wise. Why hadn’t we thought of that before? Souma always has the correct solution, no matter what the scenario or setting is. Again, because he wants to improve people’s lives, I don’t mind if he has all the answers all of the time. However, I find the overall setup to be far too polished to take at face value.
There are essentially no considerations for the realism of operating an organization, let alone a nation of hundreds of thousands (or millions?) in a text with the word “realist” in the title. I’m not sure if anyone reading this has ever had to lead a group, but getting a bunch of people to accomplish something correctly is a major problem. Even when people are ready to work, are united in their goals, and sincerely want to succeed, there will be communication problems, logistical challenges, and unanticipated barriers when attempting to achieve your goal. Souma is never confronted with any of these problems. Every challenge is a quick time event in which he makes the correct choice and receives immediate crucial success.
It simply depletes any stress in the work and eventually leaves me tuned out. And that’s before I get into my peculiar nitpicks about the specifics of everything. The Dark Elves, for example, have lived in the woodlands for as long as they can remember, yet they must rely on Souma to govern their grounds. The country is facing a food crisis because they can’t figure out how to stop growing cash crops, but they can have a standing army of hundreds of thousands of soldiers.
These are the kinds of quibbles that prohibit me from really immersing myself in the series. Nonetheless, if they don’t upset you as much (or, more likely, if you think I’m wrong and these are perfectly realistic scenarios and I don’t know what I’m talking about), I think you’ll enjoy these audiobooks. This structure for an isekai novel appeals to me more than the traditional power fantasy that is so popular these days, and the audiobook version keeps the complete text admirably.