(Postscript Open ??/?? ??:??)
And that is Volume 4.
This is Kamachi Kazuma.
The theme this time was memories. I focused a bit on using a layered timeline by telling the story of Present A while referencing Past B and using Past B to focus on Madam Professor from the even older Timeline C. And Madam Professor from the older Timeline C came back and influenced Present A. I worked to create a complicated structure to corner Shiroyama Kyousuke while also making it look like a single line as a whole, but it’s up to you all to judge how well I did.
Kyousuke’s past is still a mystery, but the references to Madam Professor show that it was not an entirely cruel past like Biondetta claimed it was in Volume 3. Of course, there is a difference between Biondetta who was only involved in the Queen’s Miniature Garden and Kyousuke who was also involved in the attempt to fully destroy the White Queen, but it all comes down to how they interpret it. Part of the reason Biondetta felt so alone was due to closing herself in a shell.
But this also points to the possibility of Kyousuke himself holding a contradiction inside. Isabelle touched on this at the end of Volume 3, but have all of you noticed it?
The stage this time was the mobile fortress of Pandemonium and I based it off of that city which is also translated into Japanese as the Palace of Many Demons. Dammit, I made a mobile fortress but I didn’t have a single scene of it moving!! Anyway, I found it interesting that, despite being the palace of demons, the decisions are not based on the decree of the great demonic ruler but by a council of demons who debate amongst themselves. And to continue with the demon motif, I made it look like a squid. …But they’re so tasty.
Using many vessels to summon a single Unexplored-class might sound tricky, but any summoning ceremony above a certain level tends to involve a group instead of an individual. Summoning ceremonies in modern Western magic divide the people into different roles (e.g. priests, priestesses, angels, etc.) and invite in a special power or being by following the story of a myth like they’re performing a play. A more close-to-home example might be the Shinto rituals performed by groups during festivals or parades. The Mikoshi is a vehicle of the gods moved by human hands, so you can say it invites a god in at a specific location according to a human schedule.
With Himekawa Mika, I focused on giving her the position of an older woman, something we hadn’t seen much of in Kyousuke’s partners. Unlike Benikomichi Fuuki or Biondetta, she was more than just older than him. Perhaps because he was supposed to be the strongest, I realized I hadn’t been able to give him a vessel who could rub his head and tell him to ask for help.
Unlike with the vessels, Himekawa Mika did not argue the point and returned his gun gesture on equal footing with him. I think that showed something else the other vessels couldn’t do. I wanted to show that adults and children say goodbye with a different density(?) or that a proper adult knows how to say goodbye. …That’s still too much to ask of me, though.
Moving on to the enemies: Max Layard and Incense Expert Ellie Slide of Perfect Game. I actually had these two appear as side characters in Volumes 1 and 2. I think using them like this creates a sort of “thickness” as the number of volumes grows, so it makes me kind of happy. Max is a specialist at the world police idea of turning anything into a victory and Ellie rejects all emotional arguments and purely seeks Award 1000. I focused on making them types of characters we hadn’t seen in the main positions yet.
His Award was Government 501. You might think “Is that all!?”, but if I can’t get past that here, I would only be able to have high Award summoners appear from here on. But I think he shined brightest when he was at his weakest and punched out that corporate supervisor without using the Summoning Ceremony.
He seems somewhat insignificant and “normal” compared to Azalea Magentarain and Benikomichi Fuuki, but I kind of like tricky tactics like that. I think he was the perfect opponent for pointing out that the Summoning Ceremony battle begins before the first Material is summoned.
We’ve seen this with Imagine Breaker in another series, but the people who fully rely on a supernatural power are especially shocked when it’s taken from them. Perhaps an elite summoner like Azalea would have easily fallen into Ellie Slide’s trap? If so, we can only pray for her old butler’s luck in battle. On the other hand, I think Lu Niang Lan would have destroyed her with a single karate chop and a smile on her face.
Another unique feature of this volume was putting in the White Queen from the very beginning and keeping her around throughout. That was the opposite if the usual long buildup to the Queen. Kyousuke and the Queen truly are nemeses, but instead of just having them fight, I wanted to create a strange situation where they’re sharing a dinner at the same table and discussing the end of the world. And from there I fleshed it out into an actual date like you would expect of a Dengeki Bunko novel. I think the casting was different from normal, but what did you think?
Some of you readers may have been thinking Kyousuke could instantly defeat his opponents if he just asked the Queen instead of going through all those steps. You may have been irritated seeing him intentionally avoid that shortest path to his goal. And you aren’t wrong. But don’t forget that that that very feeling is the Queen’s temptation that is always tormenting him. Plus, this series has already given you a few examples of what happens to any summoner who relies on and grows dependent on that obvious strength. Opposing the White Queen isn’t an issue of pure specs. In a way, it starts by ridding yourself of that hesitation that appears before the battle even begins.
Now, then. As you know if you read through to the end, this volume had another shocking ending. If you couldn’t believe this was revealed in only the 4th volume, then I couldn’t be happier. Both Shiroyama Kyousuke and the White Queen are known as the strongest, but I was wondering if I could create something new that treated that term as something negative instead of something positive.
As I mentioned in Volume 1’s afterword, Kyousuke’s idea of the strongest is another word for the fear of reaching his limit and being unable to grow any further. And then he reaches this ending. As the strongest, he cannot hope to improve after training and he cannot hope to find hidden talent that provides a miraculous power up. I think that is why he could express such raw despair.
Now, what do you think of the situation the White Queen has presented him with?
At first glance, it looks like a hopeless dead end.
What options remain?
The simplest one is to just give up. You could give in to the silver twintailed Queen, submit to her because you can never defeat her, and then lose yourself in her strength and cuteness. That might be one possibility. As long as you can forget the initial humiliation, you might enjoy being what they call peerless.
But if you would hope for something other than that, here is a slight hint. Carefully read back over all of the Summoning Ceremony rules given in the Facts sections. The Queen claims to have sealed away every possibility, but she has missed something and an opening exists. It is like threading a needle, but hope still exists. And it is not hidden. It has been in the open from the beginning. If you do not let the White Queen’s overwhelming light lead you astray and you view the rules built up by human hands, you might just see a different path.
In my other series A Certain Magical Index, I build up a detailed miniature garden and then provide the trilling feeling of tearing it down while taking the first step with an emotional argument. But this is the opposite. The White Queen has walked 10 or even 100 steps ahead, but can she be sealed inside the miniature garden and defeated with the human rules? Can the human strongest stand up to the monstrous strongest? I wrote this thinking that challenge would provide a sort of catharsis.
This is not a flat path. Shiroyama Kyousuke will feel despair again and again and the Wicked Green Woman(’s spoilers?) sent things into a downward spiral where he is not even allowed to prepare for his defeat.
But I think true strength is found in the way he continues to walk down that hellish path. Instead of physical strength, willpower, skills, or specs, it is found in this protagonist who was only allowed to be the strongest. To put it another way, he always avoided anything that would work against him because he was afraid of losing, so now he has to learn how to lose properly and then crawl back up.
I hope that as you read this you briefly shared the same despair that Shiroyama Kyousuke felt. And I very, very much hope that I demonstrated the human strength needed to not give up after feeling that despair.
If so, this will surely lead to the beginning of the counterattack against the peak of the peak.
I give my thanks to my illustrator Ikawa Waki-san and my editors Miki-san, Onodera-san, and Anan-san. Pandemonium had to be a lot of trouble both inside and out. And this one also had plenty of the White Queen’s two conflicting sides: cute and frightening. I think I’m asking for an unseen factor (even though we’re talking about illustrations) with my requests for her, so thank you very much for going along with my ridiculous requests each time.
I also give my thanks to the readers. I focused on giving the White Queen thoroughly and undeniably inhuman strength. But I think that is why she is worth challenging. This might be different from the thrill usually seen in the “strongest”, but this is the story of the strongest I most wanted to tell. I hope you will continue to stick with me.
And I will end this here.
By the way, how far along the spectrum of non-human girls do you still find them moe?