Although author Kei Sazane has produced several light novel titles over the past decade, including some which have received manga adaptations, this is, I believe, his first work to be released in English or announced for upcoming animation. That this work got picked up is hardly a surprise; while it is not a top technical or storytelling effort, it shows a clear understanding of how to play to an otaku target audience: sexy girls, sensitive sword-using guys, lots of flashy action and magic, and a developing romance, all on a world tailored specifically to exploiting all of them.
In this case the plot takes a variation on the classic Romeo and Juliet story, with the two central teenagers being prominent individuals in their respective warring states and finding themselves falling in love even though they know that they should be at each other’s throats. Only their conflict isn’t just one of nationality; this is also a technology vs. magic feud at its heart. Rather than this just being a “love at first sight” scenario, the bulk of the 214 page count is devoted to Iska and Alice trying to puzzle out their gradually growing attraction to each other as a result of a series of chance encounters. Both come to realize that the other isn’t the intractable enemy that propaganda and common sentiment have made them out to be, though the angles that each one takes are different; Iska never was an astral power hater in the first place and is struck by Alice’s looks, while Alice is won over more by Iska’s decency and actions. Both also find common ground in their interests in art and music and the almost uncanny way they find each other in sync when ultimately faced with a common foe.
The Eight Great Apostles who effectively rule the Empire seem to be using Iska and maybe also Alice as pawns in some greater scheme, and Iska’s absent former master seems to have had particular intent in mind in gifting Iska his treasured swords. However, neither of those scenarios is explored deeply, leaving the budding romances to effectively be the plot on its own. The big finishing battle, in which Iska and Alice have to work together (this is predictable enough that I don’t consider it a spoiler), does not impact this; it is just a case of a powerful individual on one side running amok over the possibility that Iska and Alice might team up. (Ironically, this actually causes them to set aside lingering differences and team up.) Neither the Empire nor the Sovereignty sides get developed much, with almost no one beyond Alice’s friend/attendant Rin and her mother having any speaking time on the Sovereignty side. The Empire side gets a bit more attention, with the motley crew which forms Iska’s squad getting detailed some, though each member is a walking collection of clichés; you have the ditzy, clumsy female commander who is allowed to lead because she’s an excellent people person, a female mechanic who’s a bit of a tsundere, and the practical, efficient male sniper. One or both of the other female squad members are vaguely implied to have romantic interest in Iska to some degree. Another female Sword Disciple also pops up enough in either presence or mention to suggest that she will be an important player as the story progresses.
The world-building for the story is not much of an attention-catcher, either, with the setting getting little more detailed than what is strictly needed to suit the purpose. There are neutral city-states present that are several hours away by vehicle across terrain left desolate by past conflicts, but where everything is geographically in relation to everything else is left vague. Cultural elements of the two sides are not much developed, with the Empire coming across as a strictly but not wholly repressive place and the Sovereignty basically just existing. Nor is it much explained how the two sides have been at constant war for almost a century and yet don’t seem to be suffering much for it; that might explain the youthfulness of Iska’s squad, though that smacks more of the typical light novel trait of combatants being teenagers. There isn’t much sense of history to either setting, nor is the way astral power works elaborated on. In fact, the writing in general is not particularly skillful, with Sazane also not showing much flair for dialog. Only when Iska and Alice are working together near the end does writing at all shine.
Actually, the most impressive aspect about the novel might be its color art. Its cover features Alice in all her sexy glory, while the opening dual-fold glossy page features Alice, Iska, and their closest companions on one side and Alice in an undefined nudity in a bathing scene on the other. Black-and-white illustrations throughout impress less. The book caps with an unusually-long Afterword in which Sazane reveals that the first novel in the series was almost two years in the works and that he had the hardest time with titling it.
On the whole, Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World is an unimpressive piece of writing which executes its premise just well enough to be entertaining. How the title fits with the story is not obvious at this point but presumably will be elaborated on in future volumes.