Note: This commentary, which was inspired by the recent release of novel 13 in English, is designed to be accessible to those who have seen the entirety of the anime series and/or read the first five novels but are not familiar with the novel content beyond that. It deals with the structure of the story beyond that point but will not contain spoilers on specific details or revelations.
The So I’m a Spider, So What? franchise is one of the most unusual light novel franchises out there in terms of its overall structure. Splitting roughly evenly between two primary viewpoints for the entirety of its first five novels/24 anime episodes is hardly unusual for a title which uses dual protagonists, but having those two viewpoints set at substantially different points in the timeline – and then actively obfuscating that fact by preying on reader expectations for how these stories normally play out – is. (Yes, one major-name anime movie from the past few years does use this as a pivotal plot twist, but it is still rarely-used in anime.) This results in the story seeming to approach an endgame climax at the end of the fifth novel/end of the anime, but because of the skewed time frames, readers/viewers only really see one viewpoint on how the human (aka Shun) side of the story got there. That leaves a huge time gap during which Kumoko (aka the spider) has apparently been working with Demon Lord Ariel to set up the very showdown at the elf village that Shun and crew find themselves embroiled in at the end of the anime series. We know from the last chapters of the novel/last episode of the anime that Kumoko took Ariel’s offer in part out of self-preservation, but there had to be more to it than that for her to end up as Ariel’s right-hand woman, right? And how did the Arachne Kumoko become the future White?
Novels 6-12 cover this in what could be considered the longest flashback you’ll ever see. The breakdown is roughly as follows:
- Novels 6-8: A couple of years pass as Ariel’s party (including Kumoko, Sophia, and Merazophis) travel towards the demon realm, where Ariel will take up her new position. Along the way they encounter Kyouya (aka the oni Wrath) and other key players in the world (i.e., Potimas and the pontiff of the Word of God religion) and Kumoko’s transformation into the form that White has in the human timeline takes place. Ms. Oka also appears in Kumoko’s timeline for the first time during this run.
- Novel 9: Ariel’s party finally gets to the demon realm and takes over. The recruitment of Wrath also gets wrapped up and White discovers the true identity of D, which turns out to be a story foundation-shattering twist.
- Novel 10: While Ariel gets the demon realm moving towards an eventual war with humans and cleans out rebellious elements, White establishes her ultimate purpose. Future adventurers Asaka and Kunihiko (the duo who joined the elf village shortly before the arrival of Shun’s team) make their first appearance, the source of the Word of God is finally revealed, and the reason why Ms. Oka is literally the last person in the world White would seek to harm comes out. By the end of this novel, roughly five years have now passed since the spider side of novel 5.
- Novel 11: This novel shifts the focus to Julius (aka Shun’s older brother) and shows how he grew into the role of Hero. It is also used to bridge the remaining time gap between novel 10 and the events of the human side in the first two novels, up to the point where the Human-Demon War starts, and is interspersed with shenanigans that Sophia gets into at school.
- Novel 12: This describes the human-demon war in detail (including greater descriptions of how each venue played out), climaxing with a detailed description of how Julius and most of his party meet their ends. It offers the least in terms of new revelations.
That brings the story to novel 13, which details the spider-side version of events that take place during the human side of novels 3, 4, and the first part of 5 (roughly the end of episode 9 through episode 20 in the anime). If the previous couple of novels were relatively short on major revelations, this one is packed with them. Included amongst them are the truth behind why Hugo was assisted in forcing Shun’s kingdom into revolt, which characters involved in that were and were not acting of their own free will, and how the whole plan orchestrated by Ariel’s team almost got disrupted by the unexpected actions of some participants in the events. The truth behind how the Hero’s ability works within the system – and why that’s such a potential problem even beyond getting in the Demon Lord’s way – also finally gets explained. The big bombshell is the real identity of one of the prominent human-side characters, and how that revelation shakes up even further the understanding of what was happening on the human side. The novel also clarifies a horde of other small details, too, including Shun’s encounter with the Nightmare Vestiges and how that was even odder from the spider perspective than it seemed from the human perspective.
In other words, this novel thoroughly reinforces that writer Okina Baba probably had the whole story planned out from the beginning. Nearly every little thing which may have seemed odd or inconsistent about the story early on was actually a clue to the truths behind the events, and the machinations at work ran far deeper than could have been imagined without the context provided by novels 8-10 and 13. In the process, the story also finishes laying out the particulars of how and why the game mechanics system in this setting works; parts of this have been touched upon in previous novels, but this one essentially summarizes all of that.
The novel also delves more into the questionable morality of both the system as a whole and what everyone is doing, though less in the sense of characters deeply contemplating morality and more in the sense of characters taking actions that they think are right and necessary and leaving it to the readers to determine if the actions are morally justified or not. Granted, that the greater plots at work here do not fall under conventional moral standards has been a matter in play for some time now, as some actions which seem reprehensible nonetheless have greater purpose. However, not all that transpires is so ambiguous in its evilness, and the way that White sometimes deflects on this shows that she is at least partly aware of that. She is, in a very real sense, as much the villain of the story as its heroine by this point.
Of course, White being White, not everything goes perfectly according to plan, and the 13th volume, like the others, is often funniest when something deviates. She may be a pretty ruthless person by this point, but she has lost absolutely none of the character which made her such an enjoyable character early on.
Novel 13 ends with the implication that the spider-side timeline will finally converge with the human side of the last few chapters of novel 5 (i.e., the last few anime episodes) at some point during the next novel. While all of this backfill has had its moments, and certainly has been enlightening, I am eager to see where the story goes next.