The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor is a Korean light novel about a virtual reality massively multiplayer online role playing game (VRMMORPG) called Royal Road and the efforts of a poor but hard-working guy to become number 1 in the game and make real-life money in the process. The RPG aspects of this series very much resemble those of Sword Art Online, .hack, or Log Horizon, but unlike many of the other MMORPG stories out there, The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor (LMS) is more humorous and light-hearted. It’s a subtle difference, but it significantly changes the way you experience the story…
The story begins with a high-school dropout named Lee Hyun. In order to make money to put food on the table for his sickly grandmother and for his younger sister, Hyun spends much of his time doing odd jobs around the city. In his spare time, he plays an MMORPG called Continent of Magic, where his character, named Weed, is the highest-level character in the whole game and has achieved legendary status among other players. One day, Weed decides to auction off his Continent of Magic account to the highest bidder and ends up collecting a winning bid of 3.1 billion won (~3 million US dollars). Hyun’s father’s debt collectors find out that he has received a large sum of money and end up seizing almost all of it to cover the debts, leaving Hyun and his family in poverty once again.
Around this time, a new game called Royal Road is introduced and immediately surges in popularity. It’s a virtual reality MMORPG in which you get to feel like you’re actually experiencing the game world, and Lee Hyun decides to dedicate all his time and effort to making money through this new game, which would allow him to pay off his sister’s college tuition and his grandmother’s future medical expenses. So he enters the game using the same character name as he did in Continent of Magic: Weed.
Not long after entering the game, Weed discovers a serial quest that ultimately leads him to pick the secret class of Legendary Moonlight Sculptor. In the game, sculptors and other similar artistic and trade professions are generally seen as weak, as they lack the strength and firepower to fight monsters as effectively as battle classes like warriors or mages. However, through hard work and sheer willpower, Weed defies the odds and forges a unique path through the game of Royal Road.
It’s all about the experience
This series is 42 volumes in length. That fact by itself suggests that there’s something that makes this series different from all the other virtual reality MMO stories out there. When the story is initially set up, we see a young, hard-working man trying to make money to feed his family. It’s a very dramatic and touching premise, and I fully expected the rest of this story to play out in a similar fashion. Reading a few more chapters (and volumes) in, I quickly realized that that was not the author’s intention at all.
The story is delivered in a light-hearted manner, and comedic moments are generously interspersed between all of the action scenes. The light novel series is meant to be enjoyable and funny. Let me be clear: LMS does not have an amazing and suspense-filled overarching storyline. In the beginning of the story, the debt collectors had already collected all they were owed, effectively zeroing out the family’s debts. Though Lee Hyun’s family is poor, this impacts the overall story very little since Weed’s abilities to make money are independent of the actual financial situation of his real-life family.
Where LMS shines is depicting the adventures of Weed as he finds creative ways to excel at the game. Many of us have played an RPG at least once in our lives. We know the routing associated with such games: complete quests, defeat monsters, level up, collect loot, buy weapons, fight bosses, level up again, repeat. Weed more or less follows this pattern but often goes to extremes due to his hard-working and willful nature.
For example, upon beginning the game, Weed immediately goes to the training hall and repeatedly beats a scarecrow over and over again for an entire month of in-game time (1 week in real life) in order to gain stat points in strength and agility, so he can have an advantage when he begins to level up the traditional way. To everyone in the game – and to us, the readers – this seems like an insane thing to do. But the rewards for this type of behavior are great, and by following along with Weed as he does this, we get the satisfaction of his reward without having to personally do all the hard work. Because of these rewards, and because of Weed’s unorthodox play style, readers are hooked into reading more about what he will do next.
Don’t take this series too seriously
It’s important for anyone going into the series to not take it very seriously. Expect to have fun reading the series, but don’t expect a realistic cast. Right off the bat, Weed, the main hero, is shown to be a complete caricature. His character and personality revolve almost entirely around money. His motivations often involve money, and it is painful for him whenever he has to spend money (both in-game and in real life) to accomplish anything. In his pursuit of money, he is shown to be able to do anything, even performing great mental and physical feats.
This kind of overpowered character is very fun to follow in a story like LMS, but if you think too hard about him as a character, you’ll realize he’s not portrayed realistically at all. Even if we assume that he is just simply gifted intellectually and physically (in addition to being extremely hard-working), that still doesn’t explain many of the skills he demonstrates in-game. For example, one of Weed’s strengths is flattery and manipulating others, especially AI, in the game to get what he wants (usually discounts on items or information). But there’s nothing in Lee Hyun’s life story that accounts for these social skills. Hyun did not interact much with his classmates in school, and in Continent of Magic, his play style just involved venturing off on his own and being a lone wolf.
Lee Hyun/Weed actually reminds me very much of Hayate from Hayate the Combat Butler. The entire LMS series has the same comedy/action feel to it as Hayate the Combat Butler, and both are meant to be enjoyed in the same way. There is a balance of wacky and serious side characters, an overarching plot that doesn’t matter all that much, and a lot of scenes depicting an overpowered and over-the-top main character.
Recurring side characters
This is just a side note I feel compelled to make, but the side characters in LMS are handled extremely well. In many lengthy series (think Dragon Ball Z or The Prince of Tennis), seemingly significant side characters are introduced and described in detail, only to disappear or become irrelevant as the story progresses. In LMS, significant side characters, once introduced, always come back at some point or another, oftentimes to play significant roles.
We might first see a character introduced as someone who joins up with Weed to hunt monsters or complete a quest. Then, that character might disappear, seemingly forever, until a few volumes later when he/she comes back into the story and sees Weed again. That person might stick around for a bit and then disappear yet again for several chapters. Because a side character could come back into the story at any time, readers can keep the hope alive that their favorite ones might play a role in the next arc. At least for me, there are a few that I’m hoping to see again in the volumes to come.
Because of the length of the series, issues in pacing are hard to avoid. The first few chapters are all very interesting and eventful, and I would even argue that the first couple of volumes have pretty good pacing. In later volumes, though, as Weed’s quests get longer and more difficult to complete, there can be entire chapters dedicated to the creation of a single sculpture or to a small part of the overall strategy he plans to use to tackle the quest.
Fortunately, I wouldn’t say the pacing only gets slower and slower. As a quest reaches its climax, chapters become more and more eventful and action-packed. And during periods of slow plot development, the action sometimes cuts to a group of side characters to give readers a little break from the main quest. So, the pacing is not atrocious, but it’s also not all that great.
A caution about the translation
First of all, let me just say that I’m very grateful that this series has translations at all. Korean light novels are often not the first medium that people volunteer to translate for, and I’m happy that such a lengthy series has been translated to the extent that it has (almost 17 volumes fully translated at the time of this post).
That being said, translations can be a little all over the place in terms of quality. A number of different individuals and translation groups have been involved in the translation and re-translation of LMS, and it really shows when you’re reading the novel. Different terminology by different translators can often lead to confusion in understanding the details of the plot.
Take the phrase “masterpiece” for example. In Royal Road, sculptures and other artworks that are extremely well-done will sometimes achieve a rank. In order from lowest to highest, the ranks are “fine piece”, “grand piece”, and “masterpiece”. However, in the first few volumes, there was no consensus among the translators as to the translations of each of the ranks. So it’s very possible to see a “fine piece” being called a “masterpiece” or a “masterpiece” being called a “grand piece” in the same volume, which gets really confusing because the ranks matter, story-wise, to a certain degree.
If you can bear with some of these translation quirks, then I highly recommend giving The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor a shot. The story is exciting and funny, and the author is so adept at world-creation that you will quickly start wishing that Royal Road were an actual game.
Overall Rating: 8/10
You can read the fan-translated version of The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor on Royal Road. Edit: Royal Road has dropped the series. You can find an updated location of where to read The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor on Baka-Tsuki.