Monday, September 25, 2017

Dungeon Defense gets worse the longer you dwell on it

So my friend Eric linked me Dungeon Defense as he had basically exhausted every Japanese reincarnation/summoning/other world game-related LN/WN available (we now call these stories "reincarnies" because we are terrible people) and was looking at the Korean ones.

Dungeon Defense is not a "reincarnie," instead it is a "game-world summoning" like Log Horizon and the like.  That being said...well the tone of the piece is something else. I'd say it's decently written, and the translation is pretty good, it kept me reading all the chapters that were currently available.

That being said, while the story may be easy to read and well-constructed, the themes of the work really start breaking down in consistency the longer you dwell on them. There's lots to go over here (all spoilers), but let's start at the biggest ones that started gnawing at me from the inside out after time to ponder them.

1. Karl Marx.
Karl Marx you say? I thought this wasn't philosophy class. But no, Karl Marx plays a big part in this work. Anyone who has reached Volume 3 Chapter 6 and has read Laura De Farnese's (the pure Aryan psychopath little girl molded in the MC's image) war speech and has the most basic of classic literature knowledge should be able to figure this out. The speech starts out with the words:
Oh, humankind, listen. All of history until now has been the history of class strife.
Its opening is literally lifted from the Communist Manifesto, word for word. The entire speech is being broadcast to both demons (the MC is a demon lord in this world) and humans as an announcement of hostilities; the intent is to destabilize the rigid class structure of the human world, delegitimize the main icon of humanity, the princess of the Empire and the only threat to the MC, and have the humans fight among themselves. I'll admit this was a pretty exciting moment on first pass-through, the entire chapter is a summation of the MC's ethos and his reasoning surrounding the speech. However, the longer I thought, the more I realized this moment was patently absurd. If the aliens in the movie Independence Day broadcast the struggles of the working class before vaporizing the White House, would we think "yeah, those aliens have a point." If I discuss Islam's treatment of women before I bomb a market in Afghanistan, do you think the natives would think, "well yeah he has a point." Have you ever talked to a mainlander about China's lack of human rights and had them go "yeah you have a point?" In any time in human history, is that how humans react to something that is alien or the other when confronted with their own situations? And yet I'm supposed to buy the fact that a small girl raised by demons on a loudspeaker (that no one can see is human so even that effect is lost) spouting Marx before going to war is going to undermine the morale of a human army? Give humans some credit for tribal deflection, and give me a fucking break. Especially in a feudal society where the means of production aren't quite owned by the proletariat yet, it's a simple us vs them in this conflict. Speaking of which, that title the MC has, the King of Peasants. If you think about it seriously, why does he have this title? What did he do to deserve this title? Does he have any common ground with the human peasantry he wishes to sway with this speech? Let's go over his interactions with human peasantry:
We asked each other in a nonchalant tone.
“How many people have you killed today?”
“I wonder. I think I’ve burned around 30.”
“This kid. You’re still completely wet behind the ears, aren’t you? I’ve burned 70 people today alone.”
“Sure. Good for you.”
That was our way of greeting one another.
Ok grimdark edgelord Trogdor, congratulations on burninating the countryside. I hope whatever deep lesson you hoped to impart on the deceased peasants made them see the righteousness of the class struggle. Ok let's see if you have any other interaction that makes you worthy of that title:
“Do not become obsessed with pillaging! Kill them if you wish to take their lives, but do not waste your energy in slaughter. We do not have the time to rape so manage your lower bodies fairly. Burn all the human towns and turn those villagers into the homeless.”
Truly the understanding one. So if sympathizing with the human peasantry is nonexistent, what about the demon side? Strangely enough, there is very little mention of demon peasantry at all in this world. While there's a lot of mention of human peasants suffering under demons and nobles, the casual slaughter of human peasants everywhere (tons by the MC), there's almost no mention of demon farmers, villagers, peasants et. al suffering under humans or demon nobles or even existing in this universe. Except three. What are those three cases?
1. 50 200 year old nymphomaniac witches each with the individual firepower of probably a WW2 era bomber, part of MC's harem.
2. A little girl who happens to be a pure evil NPC with hacked stats and a military genius, technically a human, part of MC's "harem."
3. An evil office lady, part of MC's harem.
Let's disregard the first two cases because it is quite impossible to take them seriously as "peasantry;" it's actually an insult to peasants everywhere. The evil office lady is an interesting case, as she is the closest the narrative ever shows to a demon peasant. Cursed by ignoble birth, she used her own ability to rise up to respectable evil office lady status, honestly her origin story would be filled with more risk and harrowing situations than the MC ever experiences in this entire story, and at the end what happens? It all gets crushed swiftly and simply by a cheater who knows future game events. There's no finesse, no cleverness, it's just pure "I have tomorrow's newspaper for the next ten years" and that's it for our OL. So yeah, our MC has absolutely no standing in reciting Marx to humans, demons, or anyone with half a brain. Donald Trump has done more for the lower class than the so called King of Peasants, and he got elected instead of being born a demon lord!

2. Inconsistent shift in tone
There's a pretty big change in tone from Volume 1 to Volume 2 that put off a lot of readers and made a lot of them drop the work. The most common defense I hear is that it is showing the MC's descent into madness. While that may be so, I venture it's more a product of the author's trouble in deciding what he wants the tone to be. If this is grim darklord fantasy, fine. If this is a snarky hero/demon lord summoning in the guise of video game mechanics, fine. But because so many of the MC's early achievements were accomplished through reading a lore wiki and playing a video game while staying home, it's really hard to consolidate the silliness of those explanations with all the dark fantasy penis waving that comes later. I'd say the Go match with the human princess as a means of negotiation represents the pinnacle of this, as the two later casually murder and scalp their hostage exchanges moments afterwards. For all the attempts to make the world not a game, it still ends up being one and the author seems unwilling or unable to totally remove these shackles.

3. Lack of tension
I have friends who read trashy reincarnation light novels, and they understand they are trash. But they will continue to read at least until "the reveal." The reveal in a reincarnation light novel is generally where some reincarnated salaryman or dragon or gamer or slime shows off to the "real fantasy world" his "true" worth and lays the smackdown on some poor noble/demon/boss/not slime/unpleasant townsperson through some combination of superpowers/knowledge/luck/author intervention/video game tutorials. It's usually a satisfying tale of comeuppance that is hard to repeat successfully multiple times, as quite honestly if you fuck up someone famous, people take notice and stop thinking you're harmless. Pitiful fantasy power figure idiots constantly underestimating the MC as the underdog is a quickly exhausted trope, especially if the MC's first accomplishment destroys the natural order of how things are run in the world. In the case of Dungeon Defense's MC, the tension leaves so quickly after the first encounter that it's hard to remember it ever existed in these later volumes. Every immediate encounter after the first is solved through the idiotic "I know the future of this video game" trope, and by the time we actually hit conflicts that might move beyond Gamefaqs BBS spoilers, the feeling of vulnerability has long been left wanting. It is quite impossible for me at this point in time to feel any sort of tension, worry, empathy, understanding, or care for the MC's "trials," because none of them are taken seriously, least of all by the MC himself. The war negotiations with the humans is a game of Go. The threat to haul him before demon court is a self-requested Xanatos "gambit" that he shows no concern about and that has all the finesse of a super obvious all-in in Texas Hold'em. The mechanics of the "war" he's conducting with the humans is teaching his little Nazi girl Age of Empires.
But so what, right? Usually in overpowered hero stories (OPM is a fine example of this), the tension then shifts to the hero's companions, who might be more relatable, more vulnerable, and more deserving of concern than the hero himself. Unfortunately, this fails again, as the hero's companions consist solely of his sexual fantasies of unrelateable psychopath females that were listed earlier: The 50 nympho witches, his adopted Nazi daughter NPC, and his evil OL significant other. (soon to include his undead loli lover and stackrack nice demoness). So with all the tension absent in the work, what are we left with? An extremely shallow male power/sexual fantasy that sets up easy pins and knocks them down quickly and repeatedly as its narrative goals.

That's it for now, this post was in draft form for way too long I needed to end it.