Some people may have seen the relatively low-quality anime for Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou and are probably wondering why I am bothering to spout about this. Lately I've been plowing through LNs and web novels because I ran out of interesting VNs, but this is the first one I feel a need to expound on at length. Let's be clear, I am one of the freaks who enjoyed the anime, though I did so while wincing constantly at the animators' choices and the horrible monster CGs. To me, Hajime's story just stood out as being that good, despite the crippling weakness of having used up half the season on the 'buildup arc' that is the content of the first LN.
However, I wasn't anticipating just how high in quality the web novel version would be. To be blunt, Ryo Shirakome is one of those rare Japanese writers who really is as good as the hype and has a very obvious love of the material he is writing. More importantly, he is very consistent with how he portrays his characters and their growth.
For those unfamiliar with this series, it focuses on Nagumo Hajime, a young man summoned with his class to another world, only to turn out to be the overall weakest of the group and in possession of a class that is both common and unsuited for battle. In the beginning, Hajime is a kind-hearted, pacifistic young man with a great deal of courage (and enough of an otaku that it survives all his travails) but no standout abilities. However, when delving into the depths of the Orcus Labyrinth, his fellow classmates get caught in a trap and they are all sent to a much lower floor... to face a Behemoth, a monster that is beyond their abilities. Hajime, despite his weakness, manages to help greatly in holding it off, but just as he is about to make his own escape, one of his classmates betrays him, directing a fireball to stray and hit him so that he will fall into the abyss with the Behemoth.
He survives the fall only to have his right arm eaten by one of the beasts in the depths in front of his own eyes. In order to survive, he is forced into a corner where his previously kind heart is shattered and reforged in the fires of despair and hatred, reforming him into a man who sees the world in only two colors, those who are enemies and those who are not... and responds to enemies with death. This is further reinforced when he eats a monster and has to endure immense agony as his body is broken and remade again and again, shaving away at his humanity with each cycle, until what remains is only one step short of a true monster.
Main Story assessment
That's a pretty bare bones prologue for you and essentially covers the content of the first episode of the anime and the first three chapters of the web novel. Oddly, despite the horrific beginnings, this is as much a story about love as it is of hate and killing. Yue, the story's main heroine, is the reason for this. She is also the reason that this didn't turn into just another 'dark anti-hero goes out and gets revenge' story. His meeting with Yue is one of several turning points in Hajime's growth as a character and one of the most well-orchestrated ones I've ever seen (regardless of whether it is the anime or the web novel). Yue is the kindred spirit who helps Hajime stay one step away from the abyss of endless carnage he would otherwise have stepped into. This is despite the fact that she is just as broken as he is, psychologically.
The way this story uses the various heroines to help Hajime regain bits and pieces of his humanity is perhaps the most emotionally powerful aspect in retrospect. Yue helps him stop short of losing his humanity, Shia (the bunny-girl) stops Yue and Hajime from becoming completely isolated from the rest of the world, Aiko reminds him of what it is to be human, and Kaori reconnects him to his past, solidifying his reasons for his journey. Without all of these heroines, it is likely this story would not have been nearly as powerful, as Hajime's journey would have probably just been a series of 'kill this, kill that, have sex with Yue, kill more'.
I didn't mention Tio, Shizuku and Myuu in the previous paragraph because they serve slightly different roles from the other girls. Tio is pretty much just comedy relief as a character, despite being as in love with Hajime and the other girls. Shizuku is, surprisingly, the most 'normal' girl in the group and the one who serves as the most solid connection between the self-isolating harem of girls who are mostly disinterested in anything other than Hajime (with Aiko being the exception, given her sense of duty to her students). Myuu... well lets just say Myuu's role is fairly similar to Yue's, except that she awakens Hajime's obsessively protective instincts that come to define him later on.
The story itself is dark and brutal despite the frequent humorous interactions between the characters. This is inevitable, as the world of Tortus is a world ruled by an insane god whose greatest pleasure lies in ruining the lives of his slaves. There are a lot of hugely powerful battle scenes, crazy plot twists, and hilarious results of Hajime's trip through Tortus. The ending of the main story (which will probably be published sometime next year in the LNs) is as hugely dramatic as the beginning.
After Story Assessment
The After Story, which is still ongoing, is HUGE. It is almost as big as the main story, but it is told in non-chronological order as a bunch of arcs and one-off postings rather than in order. Despite this, the After Story has provided me with probably fifty times as many laughs as the main story did. Part of this is because what trials and tribulations that occur are mostly overcome by Hajime's already beyond-divine power gained during the main story or the power of his OP friends, wives, allies, and classmates. Whether it is Myuu attracting UMAs, demons, ghosts, and youkai like a bug lamp attracts flies or Kousuke falling deeper into the chuuni abyss as he builds his accidental harem in Hajime's service, I haven't stopped laughing in weeks.
Of course, there are some deadly serious points, perhaps the most powerful of which are the stories involving Kouki, who struggles with the after-effects of his time on Tortus more than anybody else (for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has already read the existing LNs or the main story of the web novel). However, even in these, Shirokome does an excellent job of keeping the balance from taking you too far into grimdark to truly enjoy.
Overall assessment up to the present
Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou does great at every aspect of what I want from this kind of story. It has great feels, it has great comedy, it has awesome characters, and its plot is close to sublime. More importantly, it is put together in such a way that all the elements enhance one another nearly to perfection. If you like isekai with a wide dark streak that can make fun of itself, this is an excellent choice.