Summer Reading: WorldEnd Discussion


It is time for a discussion of the first volume of WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us?, featuring me, Carriage, and Justus! This post will contain lots of spoilers, so it's recommended you read the book first. (Amazon -- Barnes and Noble -- Book Depository -- RightStuf)

This is the final discussion for the Summer Reading Program 2018, which you can check the schedule for here.

Volume 1

Cho: It’s the end of the world as Willem knows it
And it’s the true apocalyptic experience, because his main conflict is a massive debt to pay off
Carriage: A fate worse than death
Justus: Even at the world’s end, we still have debt 😞
Cho: “turn me back to stone plz”
Justus: I have to think he thought that. In fact, I’m kind of surprised he didn’t just toss himself off the island
Cho: Of course, I’m being silly about the whole debt thing
The way Willem’s character is handled is my favorite part of this book though, I’d have to say
Justus: Well, it’s actually a pretty major point seeing as how it’s the driving force behind his surviving in this world and taking the position
He’s a very upstanding kind of guy.
Cho: Indeed, he was a valiant hero, so I’m sure that’s just part of his nature
Justus: Yeah. Did anyone else get the impression he was really just living to repay everyone and would probably end himself once his debts were paid?
Carriage: I doubt he’d do that to himself actively but he seemed to be the type to just waste away until the end
Justus: He seems like the type of guy who can’t live without a purpose or for someone else’s sake.
Cho: Many anime and manga and whatnot deal with this concept, of fighting for the sake of protecting those you love as your primary driving force — but WorldEnd is a rare instance of having the hero need to re-find that will to live and fight after a cataclysmic failure
He gave his best shot at saving the world, but in the end the apocalypse happened and he couldn’t keep his promise to reunite with his orphan friends/family
So now he’s back, and it’s just — now what? It’s a great setup to work with
Carriage: Interesting that you use “fight” because my favourite part about the novel is that Willem doesn’t actually fight anything – or at least not anymore
Justus: Agreed. It’s an interesting journey of a man who moves from just going through the motions of working to pay off debt, but then starts moving toward the discovery of family
Carriage: Sitting back and taking the role of the loved ones waiting at home was kind of a neat role reversal
Cho: He’s not on the front lines anymore, but he’s doing what he can — and that’s something I find interesting too tbh
You’re not going to be doing the same thing your entire life
Justus: Yes! It also lends itself to the whole melancholy feeling that hangs over the book.
Well, it’s like he’s moved literally into the father role
Carriage: I mean technically he had that role before the big event
Cho: The book brings things full circle for several of its details, yes
Justus: Well, he had the title, but I think that was mostly ceremonial
I mean, it’s pretty clear there is a mutual love between him and the girl who calls him Father
That their relationship would become wife and husband if his promise was kept
But with the warehouse, it seems more like a true fatherly role he’s taking. Passing on his lessons to the younger generation to fight in his stead
But agreed, that does bring the whole idea full-circle
Not to mention he now occupies the role his “daughter” held
Cho: He left his band of orphan misfit friends/family to fight, but now he has to see them off
Justus: Yes. Exactly. And just waits for them to fulfill their promise to return
Cho: The relationship with Chtholly is thus a bit more nuanced than what you usually get in light novels (or stories in general)
This isn’t *just* the hero and heroine of an adventure story
Carriage: Very true, nor is it your everyday romance either
Willem’s vehement rejection of her feelings and Chtholly’s desire to find something before her departure made their relationship a lot more different than with traditional leads
Cho: This was something I really appreciated for this book
Justus: I liked that. I appreciated it didn’t devolve into the whole “only guy surrounded by girls” harem nonsense.
Carriage: No kidding, I felt tinges of that from the anime but none of it from this novel. The inner monologue definitely helped there
Cho: Willem could have given Chtholly her youthful romance, and could have “justified” it as something for her to live on for (ie not just go out and die in the suicide mission) — but what Chtholly really needs is her own reason to live on, and I liked that the book took the time to have her wrestle with this issue
Justus: Well, that seems to be the larger point. Both characters were going through motions in which they thought they had no choice. Willem was working to pay debt, Chtholly was fighting. Their relationship gives each of them a deeper meaning and reason for their existence.
I also really liked how Chtholly rejected Willem’s advice initially because it called into question how all her friends had lived and died
Purpose and reason play a larger part in this narrative. It isn’t something that is just paid lip service to.
Cho: Chtholly’s and Willem’s character arcs certainly mirror each other
They can’t go back and do things differently — their loved ones have died, and there’s no changing that
And it’s just a matter of, what are they going to do now to make things better for those who are alive still
It’s a real tangle of thoughts and emotions to parse through

Justus: Yeah. I loved that whole bit with Willem and the swords
And speaking of those swords, I thought they were a beautiful symbol. A mess of random items that somehow merged into a powerful whole.
Cho: Should we talk about the swords? I really liked these magic swords
Justus: I loved the swords. The whole idea felt very unique. And how Willem “tuned” them felt beautiful
It amazes me how much this book fit into such a small package. The symbolism and mirroring of journeys just melds so well.
Cho: The dug weapons fit well with all of this
And of course, Willem himself is something of a dug weapon — the swords don’t use the power of the wielder, the story notes
Justus: Yes. An ancient weapon. Broken, but still somewhat functional.
Carriage: Also something made up of multitudes, all of the people he met and the things he wanted to protect
Cho: It’s the little things that matter, right? Like making a butter cake for all the little leprechauns.

Cho: How did you all feel about the setting for this book in general?
Justus: Well, I’d certainly like to know more. Like, how did they get the islands into the sky? Exactly who were the enemies Willem was fighting? There’s so many questions.
But that made me all the more invested in learning the answers.
I wouldn’t say flying islands are all that original. We’ve seen them in tons of other media.
Carriage: I was maybe a little less impressed than I should have been with the actual world but the melancholic atmosphere that Justus mentioned that seemed to just come naturally with the state of the world was neat
Justus: I don’t think the world-building is as much the point.
The story of what happened in the world and how it came to be the way it is is more important I think
Cho: It’s definitely less setting-driven than it is theme-driven, yes
I think the author’s working off what LN readers will expect of a fantasy world, and is nice enough to make it a bit different from what we usually get
Carriage: I got that impression as well
Cho: The Tolkien-style fantasy world was destroyed — here’s a slightly more modern world that rises from those ashes
And will tell a story more complicated than just, can the adventurers defeat the villainous monsters
Justus: Thing is, with the way the book ends, are the monsters villainous? I felt very conflicted after that
Cho: That plays into the whole, things are a little more complicated here, ha ha
The ending is definitely something I want to talk about
Carriage: I certainly didn’t see that one coming, haha
Justus: Like, I didn’t feel the presence of a villain in this book. It was more like two forces of nature fighting for survival against each other.
Even when Willem has that conversation with… whatever after their final battle, it doesn’t feel like there’s a ton of enmity
Cho: In the flashback?
Justus: Yeah
Cho: His enemy there unfortunately wasn’t given much description (and neither are the Seventeen Beasts, for that matter) — but yes, I got the feeling of Willem and his foe simply fighting on the battlefield for their own purposes, not exactly hating each other on any personal level
Justus: Yes. Nothing dastardly or evil per se. Just two forces who feel they can’t coexist
Cho: And the present-day conflict for the story is along those lines too. Tthe battle goes on, because there’s simply no stopping it — the story plays with the cyclical nature of war and conflict a lot actually
Justus: True. There’s no purpose outside of survival.
Which again, goes back to our themes of purpose 😉

Cho: That ending though
Definitely the scene that will stand out the most for me — really sets the tragic tone for this series
Justus: I’m just looking at it again. It makes you pity the beasts.
Not just for what it is possibly saying about their origins, but also their loneliness
A cry that no one can hear
Carriage: It hurts to think that it’ll probably be Chtholly and not Willem that’ll have to engage with the beast in the future. Willem’s present family against his past one
Cho: Exactly — the past never fully disappears — it’s a really powerful metaphor
Really bleak and ominous
Justus: And what the beast has been crying for all that time….
Cho: I also have to give this book credit for not actually ending the story with the big battle, like any other story would
(Because, of course, the fighting isn’t the point here)
Justus: I doubt we’ll ever see a big battle like a typical LN
Carriage: Very true and I thought that there might not be any battles in the novels, visible to us at least
But the afterword said otherwise, haha
Cho: The author does employ multiple points of view in this story, include Chtholly’s, so it’s not outside of possibility
But for this volume at least, that’s not the focus, and the author wants to make clear what the heart of the story is first
Carriage: Agreed and to that end, I’d say they did really well

Cho: Any other scenes that stood out to you in this volume?
Carriage: I really liked the Nygglatho scene when she was thinking about Chtholly’s coming sacrifice
Cho: I was glad that scene was included
Carriage: I didn’t remember seeing her character being explored very much in the part of the anime I watched so seeing the novel show a little more humanity in her was nice
Cho: To be honest I’m still not entirely sure how she works as a troll woman who supposedly eats people, but is also friends with people, ha ha
It’s played off as a joke most of the time, but this *is* a fantasy world and all…
Justus: Well, I think it shows many of these races, regardless of their origins, are finding ways to live together because of their situation. In a way, it’s evolution.
She’s overcoming her origins in order to do her job and find her place.
Cho: I figured it was one reason why she got her current job, which is kind of in isolation
Justus: It could be. But seeing how she handles the faeries, she seems capable in the role. Maybe because trolls still instill fear, they figured she was perfect to keep living weapons in line?
Cho: That makes sense… Speaking of jobs though, do you think Willem was very specifically chosen for his task as well? Or do we want to believe this is a big coincidence for him to be reunited with the dug weapons, and the war against the giant monsters
Justus: At this point, I can accept it being a coincidence. But, if the series decides to say otherwise, I’d be fine with that as well. I think maybe him being offered by his buddy was coincidence, but maybe him being accepted for the role by others was due to ulterior motives?
Cho: I feel like the armed forces would have to have done their research on Willem beforehand, and may have put two and two together
(Nobody ever asks Willem what race he is BTW, which I found strange)
Justus: True. I don’t get the sense his buddy was setting him up, but you’re probably right about the military
Maybe that’s frowned on, especially if you’re featureless? Maybe people just don’t want to know
Carriage: I got that impression too. His friend probably heard about the job by chance but him choosing Willem was definitely deliberate
Cho: The lizard captain probably chose him, right?
I liked the giant lizard man — usually I think such a character would be cast in a villainous light, but he turned out to be nice and helpful for Chtholly at least
Justus: Probably. I also enjoyed the exchange between him and Chtholly
Carriage: It was good!
Justus: I think there’s an effort by the author to subvert some of our fantasy assumptions. Most of the “people” in this series would be “monsters” elsewhere
I mean, they were the enemies of mankind in Willem’s day, too
Cho: That’s true, and I’m sure this topic will be explored more in later volumes
Willem is more or less the representative of the human race now, which nobody in this world is too pleased with
I liked the whole concept of humans being the age-old terror of fairy tales
And in turn, it was very cute of the fairy children to all encourage Willem after learning the truth about him

Carriage: How did you both find the translation for this one? I believe that it was well-liked by the author.
Justus: Well, I know nothing about comparing it to the original, but it was very readable in English and I thought the word choices and rhythm of the sentences was well done. It maintained that sense of melancholy and twisted fairy tale-ness to it.
Cho: The translation seemed fine, but I do feel it took a little getting used to for the prose of this one, just in general?
There are a lot of times the author will just tell us about things in this fantasy world, rather than just letting things play out and showing us how things are — which on one hand I don’t like much, but on the other hand it does have a “telling a fairy tale” vibe to it
Justus: That was how I took it.
Cho: I think the narrator really only stood out at the beginning and end though
In the end I’m fine with it I suppose, but it was all something that crossed my mind at least
I think that’s all my thoughts there — were there any other final questions or comments?
Justus: I’m just really looking forward to reading more of this series!
Carriage: Same here!
Cho: I’ll probably try to stick with it too, actually
I did see the anime a year or so ago, and tbh I just found it “okay” (and I don’t even remember many details of what happens next) — but my experience with this book was a lot more positive
I think it’s just vital to get into Willem’s head and have a clear understanding of where he’s coming from in all this
Justus: It’s definitely a series that benefits from having that internal monologue
Carriage: I only watched the first episode so I completely agree. The novel felt like it conveyed a lot more than the show really did
Cho: Last time Kastel mentioned the original author scripted only the first episode for the anime, so that was actually probably the one closest to the book
It’s a different medium though, so it’s to be expected things won’t play out or be portrayed exactly the same — might be interesting to go back to it again though after I’ve read the first three LN volumes
We’ll see…

Cho: That's it for our discussion on WorldEnd volume 1. Now it's your turn! What are some of your thoughts on this book?

4 thoughts on “Summer Reading: WorldEnd Discussion

  1. You all did a great job of selling this one. Now I’m really curious and need to add it to my read list. The anime was good but felt a little unfocused. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I liked the anime well enough to finish it (something increasingly difficult for me to do these days), but I remember feeling that the books would probably be better. And I think they are!

  2. I read this one about a year ago! It was one of the best fan translations out there. One point I was expecting you guys to cover is that this is one of the few series where the “child soldier” concept is pushed harder. They are not sticking teenagers inside a mech and sending them to fight the enemy, they are literally expecting them to do kamikaze runs.
    Another thing I found really cool about the story was how it made want to know more about Willelm's origins.
    I absolutely loved this book!

    1. You’re right, the possibility of death for the characters does feel a lot stronger here than it does in your average fantasy adventure story. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that the fairies shouldn’t expect to live past their teen years — it’s either defeat all the monsters, or die trying. A more blunt and scathing take on epic fantasy heroics.
      I hope to learn more about Willem as well, but I imagine we will in the volumes to come so no worries there.

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