The main feature of this award-winning light novel is the mix of genres it offers: science fiction, particularly cyberpunk, as the reference of this volume’s subtitles; classic fantasy stories and the mainstream manga genre of the moment, Isekai, but not the conventional version.
The story begins with the evil Veltol Velvet Velsvalt, the demon lord of the world Alneath, who is eventually defeated in battle by the great hero Gram. Being immortal, he does not die completely, and 500 years later one of his servants, the fire magic user Machina Soleige of the Six Dark Peers, Veltol is able to be reborn with magic.
However, Veltol learns that nearly 80 years ago, while Alneath was away, he encountered a cataclysm known as the “Fantasion,” in which his magical world merged with another world dominated by industrial civilizations: Earth. As the two worlds merged in Earth year 2023, conflict and prejudice between the many races spread, national borders crumbled, and the creation of vast city-states led to two city wars. The world is now at relative peace thanks to humans combining Earth’s industry with the magic of Alneath to create “Magineering”, featuring all sorts of futuristic technology now powered by magic.
Veltol learns that they are in what used to be Tokyo, but which has now become the city-state of Shinjuku. The inner part of the city centered around a power plant/magic furnace is for the wealthy elite, while the colder outer part is for the poor and slum dwellers. Beyond this zone it is too cold to live. Veltol immediately decides to start over with his goal of ruling the world, albeit a new one, and attempts to rally the other Dark Peers. However, almost all of them are missing and presumed dead, except for Machina and another vampiric blood magic user, Marcus, who now runs the Ishimaru Heavy Magical Industries (IHMI) Corporation.
Veltol goes to Marcus, but learns that Marcus has always hated Veltol and developed his magical implant technology so that Veltol could not use it. Additionally, Veltol draws his power from the faith of his followers, and since almost everyone has forgotten who he was over the years, he is powerless against Marcus’ magic. After a brief struggle, Veltol ends up living with Machina while he tries to rebuild his powers. He does this with the help of a friend of Machina’s: a magical hacker named Takahashi who hates IHMI. Together they build Veltol’s online profile by turning him into a video game streamer. As the novel progresses, Veltol meets other people from his old world and discovers that the IHMI was part of a conspiracy that threatens the lives of his allies.
Demon Lord 2099The strength of is the framework and structure of the world. The merging of the two worlds into one that is both futuristic and magical makes for an engaging read. Author Daigo Murasaki is at his best in describing the scenery. The passage where Veltol first sees Shinjuku is beautifully written, speaking of “endless lights” in a world brighter than anything in its day. Murasaki writes (p. 16): “Thick black clouds obscured the darkness of the night as polluted snow fell over the city, illuminated by the vivid hues of the lights but sparse enough not to raise an alarm. Credit also goes to translator Sergio Avila, who helped bring the text to life. No credit is given to one letter, but the font changes in the book as people communicate through technology, shifting to a more futuristic style.
The cyberpunk elements are all clearly visible, and anyone who’s ever read such stories, watched movies, or played games will recognize many of the tropes: implants, artificial limbs, cyborgs, robots, seedy mega-corporations, and more. In fact, sometimes it’s a small mistake, since the big scandal at the heart of the story is easy to understand, but sometimes it’s also fun. A good moment is when Takahashi uses a visual hacking program called “Laughing Man” which I think is a nod to the Laughing Man Ghost in the Shell: Stand alone complex. The series looks a bit like this video game Cyberpunk 2077but with far, far fewer technical hiccups – not that this novel is flawless either, as I found at least one typo on p. 80 where they spelled Takahashi’s name as “Takashi”.
However, in addition to the cyberpunk elements of the story, we also added fantasy elements. It’s a world dominated by ingenuity and although I can mention cyborgs, in this world they are called “Magiborgs”. There are a few points worth noting about the use of fantasy elements in this cyberpunk tale: First, it makes things a lot more practical for the author because instead of going into detail about how all the technology is powered, he can just say that it so everything is magical; and secondly, the combination of magic and technology makes for great fight scenes; and third, the magic also allows Veltol to meet people from his world who he thought were long gone but are still alive, and allows the author to delve into both fantasy tropes and those of the Cyberpunk fun.
On top of all that, there’s the Isekai element, or rather reverse Isekai, because it’s a character from another world that lands on earth. As with all of these stories, the fish-out-of-water element adds to the book’s more comedic elements, and the reversed isekai are particularly good at it. While normal isekai see a human attempting to master things that are often alien to most of us, reverse isekai are able to get more laughs from those otherworldly visitors who don’t understand what basic human activity is are. Veltol certainly brings that comedy as someone who can’t use the new implants, meaning he can’t use the latest technology, leading to some comical confusion. Much of the comedy comes from the fact that he doesn’t understand the technology of this world – something anyone who has tried to teach an elderly parent how to use a new technology can recognize. Combine that with Veltol’s ongoing desire to rule the world, and you also get the humor of the leader’s overambitious desires.
Besides the writing, there are also the illustrations by the artist Kureta (the illustrator of Life after death, exploring the dungeon, see review). The black and white illustration is rather crude, but the early color pages are more arresting. Overall, the art reinforces my feeling that I’d really like to see this series made into anime. I want to see those futuristic fantasy landscapes on screen. I’ll admit it’s not a perfect job, but I think it would definitely have an appeal. As the novel won the 2020 Fantasia Grand Prix, I know others would love to see it adapted too.