Adlet-san by En
The first volume of Rokka no Yuusha (because 六花 is read as “rokka” here, weird) series by Yamagata Ishio, whom you might know as the author of Tatakau Shisho, was published by Super Dash Bunko in August 2011. I learned of it somewhere in 2012, not long after the book was released, when I was reading Japanese light novel reviews a lot. Back then, it was praised by ranobe bloggers as an interesting fusion of fantasy and mystery. That’s why, when its animated adaptation was announced in November 2014, I knew I would give the anime a go once it got out. At the beginning of Summer 2015 not only did I check the first episode, but I ended up watching and enjoying the entire TV series. In July 2016, long after the Rokka no Yuusha anime left its impression on nerds from both sides of the Pacific, Yen Press announced during the Anime Expo that they got the rights to translate and publish the novels in English, under the title Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers. I’m a picky bastard – I don’t buy every single light novel that’s being put out in English, but I was sure I’d like to get my hands on this series as soon as possible…
The word “yuusha” in the title might give you the (correct) idea that Rokka belongs to the “yuusha versus maou” subgenre, which has had a few popular representatives the last few years. If you’ve watched MaoYuu or Hataraku Maou-sama, you know what I’m talking about. They’re stories obtained from extreme simplification of a typical fantasy story – there’s the Hero (Yuusha), the courageous embodiment of everything good and there’s his antagonist, the Demon King (Maou) – the unambiguously evil being who exists to be slain in the name of everything pure and just. There’s something video gamey about this idea. The “minimalism in design” that’s an inherent feature of those narratives encourages writers to come up with an original spin to put on the story to balance out this done-to-death barebones skeleton with something new and interesting. And thus, Rokka no Yuusha isn’t a classic tale of sword and sorcery. It’s a mystery.
The Big Bad has returned to life. In many stories, the incarnation of everything evil doesn’t get ultimately destroyed. It gets “sealed” – it will need to be fought by a new generation of humanity’s representatives in the future. In the sequel, that is. The same happens in the world of Rokka no Yuusha, where the awakening of the Evil God has been something happening cyclically since a long time ago, something to be anticipated. When that happens, six mighty heroes called Braves are chosen by the Spirit of Fate. By the way, I wonder what the dictionary says about using the word “brave” as a noun…? Anyway, although the number of Braves to oppose the Evil God has always been six, this time, seven exceptional pieces of talent are branded with the flower-like crest – the proof of a Brave. There can be only six, therefore the seventh, fake hero must be a spy for the forces of evil, meaning to spread confusion and deal harm among the chosen ones… The anime treated this basic premise as something to be shockingly revealed after a few episodes of fantasy shenanigans, which struck me as a bad idea – literally every piece of promotional material for Rokka no Yuusha was saying “seven heroes instead of six, not good” before anything else. In such conditions, the “twist” wasn’t surprising at all. Thankfully, the novel informs you of it up front. It’s explicitly stated in the blurb at the back of the cover and in the prologue. The characters still are shocked when *they* learn, but don’t pretend that the reader should be too.
Adlet Meyer, the protagonist, isn’t a classic candidate for a hero. Desperately wanting to be chosen by the Spirit of Fate, he tries the backdoor into hero-dom. With the help of his signature underhanded, unheroic tricks like smokebombs and paralyzing needles, he crashes a royal knight tournament, knocking out both participants in a duel. While in jail, it turns out the Spirit of Fate noticed his efforts – he receives the brand of a Brave. Adlet is the classic underdog – he’s been through a lot in life, and his fellow Braves will burden him with even more scorn and hostility. He’s one likeable protag. Together with another Chosen One, princess Nashetania, surprisingly powerful considering she’s royalty, he heads in the direction of the Evil God’s lair. The Braves successfully gather in a temple near the last boss’s territory, but something goes horribly wrong. The temple houses a device, which was supposed to stop the Evil God’s minions from advancing, but ends up trapping the heroes instead. If that wasn’t enough, it becomes clear that seven people bear the Brave’s crest. Thinking the Seventh is the one responsible, each hero starts suspecting their allies of being the phony. The primary suspect is… Adlet. With time, tension rises and eventually the supposed comrades bare their blades and throw themselves at the most suspicious of the Braves. Surrounded by mighty, famous heroes, Adlet, who calls himself “ordinary” at one point and is completely aware of his inferiority, has to resort to dirty tricks just to survive, which should place him at the very bottom of the list of the best Braves, but in the end, he proves able to be on par with the other heroes in battle. The most suspicious of the seven (after Adlet) is definitely Fremy, the brooding half-human half-fiend girl with a rifle. Adlet will have to put a lot of effort into winning her trust, since she’s so used to being despised by people. Always accompanying Nashetania is Goldof, her loyal knight. Probably the most deadly of the lot is Mora, with a deadly punch and magical skills. Following her around is fourteen year-old Chamo, with an ability as overpowered as it’s disgusting. Last but not least: there’s Hans, a cat-like assassin, probably the most competent and collected of the bunch – the Seventh’s ploy exposes the famed heroes as much less smart and more petty people than they’re probably thought of by the public opinion…
Rokka no Yuusha initially makes the impression of being a battle story in a fantasy setting, but it is a mystery – a well made one, too. After Adlet is falsely accused of being the Evil God’s agent among the forces of good, he will need to not only avoid being killed, but also think, gather information, construct hypotheses and ask questions to approach the truth. To convince others to join his side, prove that he’s not the fake, and to find out who the spy is. And together with him, the reader will also be asking oneself the question of “whodunnit?”. There will be plenty of red herrings and dead ends for the reader to consider. As for who the Seventh is – the mystery isn’t that hard to solve. The prologue suggests the solution, and on page 176 (of 220) the narrator says a line which should pretty much ascertain the reader on who the fake hero is. At the very end, Adlet proves beyond any doubt who the Seventh is, disclosing every detail, so the solution is completely acceptable and should leave no murder mystery nerd unsatisfied. Which was incredibly important for me, personally. I’ve consumed plenty of mysteries throughout the years and sadly, I have to report that many have either abandoned being a murder mystery because the author was too lazy or not intellectually able enough, or they offered outrageous bullshit instead of a convincing resolution to the criminal investigation. Rokka no Yuusha is a classic mystery in the vein of And Then There Were None, which deserves respect, since competent whodunnits are such a rarity nowadays. Therefore, the ending brings immense satisfaction and a feeling of catharsis. Even though the heroes have been huge assholes to each other throughout the story, at the end they truly feel like comrades after all they got through together.
What happens after the mystery is solved leaves a bad aftertaste, though. Yes, it’s in the novels too! After the Braves get out of the trap, yet another hero with a crest approaches them. The first volume was a finely constructed, well-rounded story and the bit at the end ruins the positive impression. It probably was stuck in to hastily enable a sequel. Still, I have to admit I can’t wait to read the second volume (to be released in English in a few months) and can’t even speculate what might happen later.
Should you read the novel? Or watch the anime? The animated adaptation is very faithful to the original work. Still, I’d say reading the novel is a better idea, just because mysteries are best enjoyed in text form. The anime is too slow for my taste and it still fails to take the time to explain the mystery properly, so that everything is clear to the viewer. There’s plenty of reasons to watch the anime anyway, though. Like the music – the soundtrack by Ooshima Michiru sounds like something that wouldn’t feel out of place in an epic movie. The songs are nice too. Cast members are all quality voice actors and Saitou Souma’s performance as Adlet remains in memory. In case you wonder about the Mesoamerican aesthetic the TV show had going on, that was an anime-original idea. In the show, the temple where the Braves were trapped was an Aztec pyramid and Adlet’s place of imprisonment at the beginning was a hole in the ground covered with a wooden grate. Seems like Yamagata imagined the world of Rokka no Yuusha as a generic medieval landscape.
Rokka no Yuusha is great! I had some complaints after seeing the anime, but the original novel does away with most of them. I wholeheartedly recommend it. The translation by Jennifer Ward is more than competent as well. So far, six volumes of the series have been published in Japan. Hope they’re as good as the first one.