There’s a special kind of joy that comes with choosing a book off the shelf entirely at random off the most superfluous of guidelines – in this case “it is the first I found that wasn’t an isekai” – and discovering that it is not only decently written, but something you genuinely enjoy and wish to recommend to people. Our Crappy Social Game Club Is Gonna Make the Most Epic Game proved to be a pleasant surprise in this regard. I went into this first volume with… well, non-existent expectations. It seemed on the surface, from the cover and premise, to be a somewhat generic romantic comedy which would boast somewhat flat, archetypal characters and shallow writing; not necessarily bad, of course, but rather the literary equivalent of popcorn. Instead, Social Game proved a remarkably heartfelt corporate drama about moving past guilt and failure and coming into your own as a creator… set in a high school, of course, because this is a light novel.
Shiraseki Kai, our protagonist, is a shy, nervous young man burdened with guilt and anxiety following his disgraced resignation from his high school’s social game development club, dropping out of school and transferring to a different high school halfway across the country. Kai, in contrast to many light novel protagonists of his particular strain, is remarkably down to earth in concept – his hang ups are grounded and believable, and where many series of this sort would present him as an unrecognized genius descended from the heavens to pluck our plucky underdog club from the depths of despair, Shiraseki’s skills are limited, born exclusively from hard work, experience, and the coaching of those who came before, a narrative thread echoed multiple times throughout the story in his interactions with resident love interest (and arguably, actual protagonist) Aoi Nanaka.
The story itself, though leaning on circumstance a bit heavily in its earlier chapters, is small in scale, but remarkably complex in how it approaches the personal struggles and relationships of its cast. It understands what it is trying to do and how to get there, and though a bit obvious at times, Oriori’s prose is well executed and easy to get invested in. Each of the characters are a tad quirky in that typical anime fashion, yet remain believable and easy to relate to in their emotional immaturity. Of which they have quite a bit; it is never overblown or melodramatic, but they are, after all, teenagers, and as such have troubles one would expect. In a way, the cast of this series gives me strong Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny-Senpai vibes, a comparison I do not make lightly and consider high praise.
Social Club isn’t a difficult read (I got through it in six hours after putting this review off for a week), but that estimation may vary depending on how willing you are to sit through extended explanations of social game development practices. Overall, I consider this a very strong first entry for anyone looking to pick up something that isn’t isekai or some form of power fantasy. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll stay strong – many promising light novel series tend to stumble on their second outing (RIP Sexiled) – but I feel comfortable recommending this one regardless.