Fluffy Paradise‘s publication is the latest to show that a love of animals can be happily combined with the isekai genre. Even just in Cross Infinite World‘s catalogue, it follows Even Dogs Go to Other Worlds, I’d Rather Have a Cat than a Harem!, and I Will Cook with My Fluffy Friends, and as an animal lover, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the subgenre, because even if you’re lucky enough to have pets of your own, most of us will never get the chance to revel in a tiger’s fluff first-hand. Stories like Fluffy Paradise offer a two-fold fantasy – the basic isekai premise of a new life in a different world plus the opportunity to interact with both real and imaginary creatures. This particular tale follows a young woman whose life ends at age twenty-seven due to overwork (quickly overtaking traffic accidents as the leading cause of isekai experiences) and is surprised to get an offer from another world’s god. He needs someone to help him decide if humans are worth preserving, and he offers her not only a new life but also one skill of her choosing if she’ll give him a hand. Without even blinking, she asks for the ability to pet any animals, and before she can wonder if that is the right choice to make, she’s a baby named Nefertima (Neema for short), the youngest daughter of a powerful ducal couple in another world.
The entire book takes place while Neema is between infancy and age five, making her a toddler protagonist with the inner monologue of an adult. This disconnect, while necessary for plot progression, is the highest hurdle to overcome. Mostly that’s because whenever Neema opens her mouth to speak, she’s forced to do so in a baby lisp, something which does frustrate her at times. But since she can’t function as the point of view character without ever talking to those around her, it means that we readers have to contend with the always-tricky baby talk written out phonetically. In theory, this is amusing because of the disconnect between what she wants to say and what she’s actually able to get out of her mouth. In practice, it’s wearing and more than a little too precious (or “pwecious”), and I can’t help wishing that Neema’s early childhood was skipped through more quickly, or that it was handled differently.
On the other hand, there is something delightful about watching a three (“twee”)-year-old child panic all the adults by merrily approaching dangerous animals with total confidence that she will be fine. She is, of course, always fine – the god keeps his promises – but no one knows that but Neema herself. From giant elder dragons to giant white tigers to horn-headed bulls, there is no creature Neema won’t run up to and befriend. Despite repeated demonstrations of her safety, each grown-up is floored by the fact that she’s able to approach the beasts safely, and more than one begins to question their own extensive training when they see her blithely able to do what it took them years to learn. The only time Neema is ever in any real danger is when giant boar piglets want to play rough, and that’s more a case of them not knowing their own strength than trying to hurt her.
Neema’s doting family manages to keep their worry largely under wraps around her. Her father, the kingdom’s prime minister, and her mother, a powerful sorceress, are both more concerned that bad political actors will try to take advantage of their daughter’s skills for unsavory purposes. Neema herself is tangentially aware of this, but she’s so caught up in the sheer joy of her interactions with all creatures scaly and furry that she can’t bring herself to worry about it. This feels like the thread that will ultimately drive the plot; Neema occasionally remembers what she’s supposed to be doing for her part of the bargain, and she does notice that there’s rampant corruption in the national religion. We only get tidbits of information as Neema tangentially becomes aware of them, but by the end of the book, we’re beginning to see how the church’s stance is actively harming the balance of the natural world. When you factor in the nearly casual mention of how the church “adopts” girls with healing magic, things begin to sound very bad indeed, and once Neema is a little older, she’s going to have to start thinking about what’s going on.
That makes this book exist somewhere between “feels like a prologue” and “sweet slice of life fantasy.” The latter is what author Himawari leans into here, but the latter is never that far below the surface. A piece of Neema does know that, and she’s particularly wary of her budding relationship with the royal family because of it. Will, the crown prince who’s her older brother’s age, is fascinated by her, although at this point his parents seem to be the only ones viewing that as a prelude to a romantic relationship. (Thankfully, because she’s five when the book ends.) But Neema isn’t sure she wants to be so close to the rulers of the kingdom, and not just because she finds Will unpleasant to interact with; even if she doesn’t explicitly say it, there’s a sense that she’s leery of being used. That is a very real possibility as the situation in the kingdom becomes clearer at the end of the novel, to say nothing of the fact that she’s blindly accumulating animal and monster allies at an alarming rate. Things really may get much darker as the series goes on, this plot-light volume notwithstanding.
Although the baby talk can get grating and the book relies a little too much on exhaustive descriptions of various animals and how much Neema wants to touch them, this does feel like it’s off to a good start. Whether it continues in its present light vein or becomes something more, it’s a pleasant read and one that seems to prove that fur-based isekai isn’t going anywhere as a subgenre.