The Girl, the Shovel, and the Evil Eye, based on the light novels of the same name by Couchouhassha, is an isekai tale that’s a mix of the stale and the less-so, which can lead to feelings of mild disappointment. Tsuguru, our hapless modern teen protagonist, dies in a traffic accident, but not because he was hit by a truck—he’s riding a bus when a thug threatens him for his seat and Tsuguru decides that not getting beaten up is the best route to take. It isn’t delved into, but there’s a definite implication that perhaps he stood up for himself against similar people in the past and things didn’t go well, something which will hopefully be explored a bit later. The unfortunate thing about this time, though, is that giving up his seat means that he’s standing when the bus has an accident and as a result, he’s the only one injured by the glass from the windshield; to add insult to (deadly) injury, the thug films his final breaths as he lies dying in a pool of his own blood. Even if we don’t question why the bus’ windshield wasn’t made of pebbling safety glass, it’s unquestionably a raw deal for a guy who was just trying to avoid confrontation, something Tsuguru is more than aware of. So when Tsuguru inevitably awakens in a fantasy world, he’s got zero interest in stepping aside for assholes.
But first he has to figure out that he’s been transported wholesale after his death with nothing but the clothes on his back. He’s naturally confused, and this is one of the more natural elements of the story – even with the basic “how can I understand this weird fantasy language” bits, Tsuguru recognizes that there are some very important pieces of information that he’s missing. He’s immediately addressed as “tagless,” which is clearly some sort of social designation, but he knows enough to tuck that away in the back of his mind in favor of following a large buff man out of the cave he awoke in. He also quickly notices that the shiny blue rocks and crystals are very likely why the man’s in the cave in the first place, having the presence of mind to pocket a couple he sees on the ground so that he can figure it out and maybe secure some local currency.
All of that is fairly interesting. The problems, however, begin to arise almost immediately after he wanders up to a vendor outside the caves, at which point the story shifts into infodump mode, and not necessarily in an interesting and varied way. Instead, the author decides that the first thing that needs to be gone into in exhaustive detail is the monetary system and how much each coin is worth as well as what it will buy. On the one hand, it’s somewhat refreshing not to see a story simply make up a name for currency and then have it function like yen in terms of costs. On the other, it really would have been perfectly acceptable to take the copper/silver/gold system of D&D-inspired fantasy; even if “large” vs “small” coins had been included, there’d be no need for what felt like a very long few panels as Tsuguto gets an economics lesson. Mind you, this is coming from someone who finds numbers very dull; if you have an interest in currency systems, you may not have as negative a reaction.
From this point on things continue to tread a path that’s so well-worn that there’s no hope of grass ever growing on it. Tsuguto bumps into a nine-year-old sheepfolk girl named Loulier, with whom he teams up. She quickly begins to do things like “get him registered at the Adventurers’ Guild,” “teach him about game stat-style statuses,” and “kill goblins.” Tsuguto does get to put his new knowledge of Belg’s money to work as he figures out a place to stay and how to feed himself and Loulier, but mostly it feels as if the story gets less interesting as it goes on, which is a major problem. There are some bright spots – Loulier’s ability to find monsters with her enhanced senses is undeniably helpful, and Tsuguru’s special Evil Eye ability shows some promise as he uses it against local thug Danaroot, who has been strong-arming miners into giving up their hard-won mana ore as “protection,” if only because it does show us that he’s not going to just keep making the same mistakes that led to his death in Japan. There’s also the intriguing possibility that using his Evil Eye curses him as well as the person he uses it on, which could say something interesting about the story’s stance on in-world morals. The book also ends on a solid cliffhanger that could easily make it feel worth reading volume two despite volume one’s issues.
Mostly, though, this feels like the author started out to do something different before being guided down the worn path of “same old, same old.” The art is very nice, clean and attractive without giving into fussiness or overly ornate character and world designs, and Loulier is awfully cute. That’s not quite enough to save this from feeling like it lost its way once Tsuguto makes it to Belg, though, and while we all have differing tolerances for the tropes of the genre, this one’s slide into them may still end up feeling like a case of squandered potential.