An illustration from the third volume.
Finally, the time has come to challenge the third volume of the Flower Heroes. It was originally published in November 2012, while the official English translation by Jennifer Ward came out several weeks ago.
You know how last time I expressed anxiety over whether the book would be any good? I had the same worries this time… and I feel like I’ll approach every subsequent volume of Rokka with the same attitude. There is something about the premise of Rokka that makes you think “How on earth are they gonna extend the story even further?” again and again. “Big Bad needs to be killed. Six heroes were supposed to appear to do it, but seven appeared instead. One is an impostor. Figure out which one.” One might think this premise won’t get you very far. And yet, Yamagata Ishio manages to prove he can do it in a believable, impressive way. Every time.
If, like me, you’ve read the previous two books in the series, you probably noticed that its author has managed to work out a convention, a set of rules, for each next volume of Rokka no Yuusha to follow. If you’ve only seen the anime, you might be of the opinion that it failed to develop the personalities of the heroes properly. However, realizing that Rokka is a whole series of novels, that shouldn’t be surprising – you need a backlog of content for that, can’t burn through all your ammo in one book, right?
Each novel picks one of the Braves as its protagonist. It takes an in-depth look at their background. It asks “who’s the fake, seventh Brave?” and positions the protag as the prime suspect in the case. It sets up the stage by throwing around facts to remember and analyze. Some of them useful, some purposefully misleading. It has the character undergo a difficult, harrowing trial. Since it’s a mystery, it throws the protag some additional riddles to solve. It shows the convoluted process of him pursuing the truth. And ultimately, it has the hero emerge from the trial victorious, staging an impressive, emotional triumph for the reader to marvel at. As the cover suggests, that hero is Goldof.
After solving Mora’s problem in the last volume, the heroes set out deeper into the fiends’ territory. Cautious of a possible enemy attack, they traverse a forest, use diversion tactics to break through some fortifications, then reach a giant ravine and try to find a way to get to the other side. Meanwhile, we’re treated to some ancient history of the Rokka world – we learn more about the Evil God, the historical Braves who fought him (her?), and the political divisions between the major actors in this setup. There are the Braves, and opposing them are: Tgurneu’s forces, Cargikk’s forces, and a third factor:
Evil Furby Dozzu, his ally Nashetania and a small number of their supporters among fiends. The familiar feeling of doubt and the question of “Is this story still a mystery?” should be accompanying the reader around this point. What if Yamagata-sensei ran out of fuel and finally turned this piece of deductive storytelling into a plain inductive story? Into another bit of good-versus-evil fantasy?
The novel starts in earnest when Goldof the knight, still traumatized after Nashetania betrayed the Braves (and, by proxy, the entire humanity) in the first volume, suddenly shouts “Her Highness is in danger!” and runs off deep into enemy territory. Why? Is he an enemy now? Still an ally? Something inbetween? That’s the first major riddle to ponder over. Whatever the reason, seems like Goldof betrayed his comrades. Dumbstruck, the heroes follow him into a volcanic area. There, Nashetania appears and fights them. Turns out that she managed to survive this long thanks to fiend powers: it’s a kind of hypnosis that manipulates the senses of whoever is near her. During the battle, the princess sets an insidious plan into motion: years ago, she planted a special “blade gem” inside Chamo. Upon activation, it stabs her from the inside. The gem works as long as its master is within one kilometer from the victim. The gem will need to be deactivated somehow within several hours or Chamo will die. Nashetania then runs off. The blade gem is in place, meaning she has to be near, but… a thorough search of the area brings no results. She pretty much vanished. Adlet and his party are convinced that Goldof finally outed himself as the Seventh.
Then, the story takes a step back in time and switches perspective: this time we’re following Goldof and have insight into his thoughts. He’s completely loyal to her princess – so much so that he wears a magical helmet that notifies him when Nashetania is in danger. As a Brave, he also sincerely believes in fighting against Evil God and his minions. His good intentions are, however, put through a rollercoaster of a trial when it turns out that not only are those two causes in conflict, but also that his contradictory allegiances will be mercilessly exploited by Tgurneu. Fantasy Romeo will have to meander between the mutually hostile camps, figure out if whoever calls themselves his ally is worth trusting, learn what’s true and what’s a lie intended to make him do someone’s bidding and ultimately, fight alone to find and free Nashetania, while fending off enemies from two sides. He’s in for a winding journey during which certain knowledge will be thrown upside down multiple times. If a dude in a situation like his isn’t sympathetic, then I don’t know who is – putting the protag in the position of being the target of everybody’s bloodthirst worked like a charm, once again. In the end, Goldof figures out how Nashetania was hidden, finds her, and saves both her and Chamo right as he’s about to be killed by his supposed comrades, the Braves. Who, as it turns out, understood NOTHING from what was happening. Great job, doofs. He accomplishes his insanely difficult goal completely. He manages to have his cake and eat it too. Goldof saves not just one endangered ally but two, survives, and thus serves the reader a bomb of an ending. It’s intense as hell, a catharsis no worse than the solution to the previous two volumes. Woo boy.
And so ends yet another story of the Braves of Six Flowers. A fragile alliance is formed between Dozzu’s faction, including his two followers – Nashetania and Goldof, and the heroes. Dozzu’s last speech seems to suggest that his long-foreshadowed goal is to put an ultimate end to the history of recurring wars between humanity and the Evil God… Will I read the next volume? Try guessing.