While light novel titles have become something of a joke with their tendency to over-explain their plots right there on the front cover, The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody has the opposite problem: it doesn’t actually advertise what’s going on between the covers. Ard, who in his past life was the Demon Lord Varvatos, isn’t actually ordinary at all; he’s still a grossly overpowered lady-magnet like 90% of all reincarnated light novel heroes, and he honestly doesn’t try as hard as he might not to be, despite many statements to the contrary. That’s certainly fine, and Myojin Katou has a fairly deft hand with moving the plot along, but it’s also a far less interesting story than if he’d actually been reborn as a powerless typical nobody, and that’s disappointing.
The base plot of the series is that thousands of years ago, a bullied and neglected young man rose to become the powerful mage and warrior known as the Demon Lord. (He seems to have been human; “demon” refers to his actions as far as we know.) But all of the violence and god-killing and humanity-saving in the world couldn’t make up for the sadness he felt at not being able to maintain loving relationships or friendships as his friends became subordinates, and so Varvatos arranged to be reincarnated when he died so as to have a second chance. He was supposed to be reborn as a regular old villager, but somewhere along the line something went awry, and he ended up being not only the son of great heroes, but also absurdly powerful, especially in a world where magic has suffered something of a downgrade. (Think the sorceress in Sexiled; Ard is in a similar magical position.) Despite repeated demonstrations of this fact during his childhood, Ard manages not to realize that he’s anything but a “typical nobody,” and when he tromps off to magic school, he’s immediately deprived of his longed-for normal school life because he’s incredibly powerful.
To say that this is disappointingly cookie-cutter after the title and plot summary is perhaps to understate it, although the book itself isn’t terrible as-is. In terms of writing, it mostly suffers from the usual issues of an author who can’t quite write a female character who isn’t just a motley collection of tired tropes; none of the relatively large female cast members are anything resembling believable and all slot nicely into niches like “the innocent,” “the sexy one,” and “the selfish one,” among others. While Ireena, arguably the main girl, is the most irritating in her role as the vapid innocent, what’s more at issue is the fact that while Katou can write a decent story, he describes every single female in the order of breasts, thighs, hair color. Even if you don’t find this immediately off-putting, given that there are only so many ways to describe the first two, this leads to some tortured writing of an eye-rolling nature, even leaving out the issues with only using those particular identifying features or their general lack of personality. That said, Ginny, the succubus Ard saves from being bullied by her childhood acquaintance, is amusingly devoted to the idea of forming a harem for Ard, which seems completely counterintuitive for a being who gets her power through sex, something that she either doesn’t realize or doesn’t care about – she may be more invested in annoying Ireena than anything else.
An interesting feature of the novel is the way that Katou holds back on giving us too much information about what happened when Ard was Varvatos, instead choosing to dole that knowledge out as it becomes relevant to the current time. It does take a little while for this to begin working as a storytelling device, so early chapters feel a bit like we’re missing a prequel novel, but once it becomes more apparent as the plot gets going, it’s a nice way to integrate the two lives into one narrative. Essentially we’re slowly getting a better idea of why Ard is so devoted to his idea of “normal” and what he felt was missing from his previous life, and having the chance to see how it happed before, as well as how history has warped or misinterpreted events, gives us a little mystery to play with. It also reminds us that Ard may not be the best narrator of his own life, either now or as Varvatos, since being reincarnated with all of his past memories is essentially emotionally handicapping him, both in his quest and just in terms of living his (new) life. Presumably he thought that holding on to those memories would help him to avoid the same mistakes, but what it really seems to be doing is leading him right back down the very path he’s trying to avoid.
It’s also worth noting that this is a reincarnation story without a whiff of isekai. Varvatos and Ard live in a purely fantasy world, utterly lacking in summoned heroes and the like, at least as of this book. That does give it a bit of an edge, or at least a major difference from a lot of similar titles, and it’s a nice touch. The adults in Ard’s life – namely his parents and Ireena’s dad – all also may be harboring some interesting backstories that will impact the plot, so the book is not without potential. It’s highly illustrated as well, with almost a one-per-chapter picture rate, and illustrator Sao Mizuno does draw some nice (albeit ludicrous) female bodies. They also give Ginny little bat wings on her head that aren’t ever mentioned in the text, which is certainly interesting.
The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody isn’t off to a roaring start, but it is decent enough if you’re looking for something slightly different in your fantasy/harem light novel. The female characters, or rather their lack of character, may be a turnoff for some readers, and the writing takes a bit to get really going, but as long as you aren’t in need of something ground-breaking, this really is just good enough.