Imitation and Flattery to the Nth Degree: Icon of Sin — Self-Titled Album Review

I know you shouldn’t judge a band by its record label, but I’ve had a good enough track record doing just that. A lot of my favorite bands of all time are signed to Napalm Record, for one thing. And conversely, a number of my biggest disappointments have been signed to Frontiers Records. It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been ignoring artists that I would be interested in, such as former Styx vocalist Dennis DeYoung’s solo career, and former Queensrÿche vocalist Geoff Tate’s new band Sweet Oblivion. The only band of theirs that has remotely impressed me is the young and fresh Brazilian unit, Icon of Sin.

Icon of Sin is heavily influenced by the classics, specifically the 1980s. According to Frontiers, vocalist Raphael Mendes is a popular YouTuber who does metal vocal covers. That must be true, because—as per my nature—I had no idea who he was up to this point. In any case, he’s got a band now.

But first things first, album cover art! Normally, I’d give debuts the benefit of the doubt, but that’s not necessary here, because HOLY CRAP this album looks lit! It’s so cool… a gruff, forty-something-year-old man, with his car parked in the middle of the road (which hopefully talks), fighting demons coming out of the maw of Satan from within some vaguely Tokyo-ish city. The combination of red, black, and purple makes the album stick out like a sore thumb, and it has the feel of a turn-your-brain-off popcorn flick. I love how this thing looks… Let’s hope it sounds at least just as good.

What immediately jumps out is Mendes, and I’m not necessarily sure I mean it in a good way. Technically, his singing is very, very good. However, he very disturbingly sounds exactly like Iron Maiden’s legendary vocalist, Bruce Dickinson. Like, wow. I got used to Todd La Torre in Queensrÿche faster than I could get used to Mendes. I mean, being influenced by someone is one thing, but emulating them to that point is just… I don’t know. By comparison, Seraina Telli and Laura Guldemond, the former and current vocalists of Burning Witches respectively, both clearly try to be Rob Halford, but they manage to be something that isn’t quite him that is entirely their own thing. What Mendes does is absolutely astounding, but it feels like it’s something more tailored to a YouTube career, not a music career. I want to hear Mendes’ voice, not Dickinson’s. Unless, what, was he just naturally born with a singing voice that sounded exactly like Dickinson? 

Fortunately, I warmed up to the music fairly quickly. Icon of Sin is what it says on the tin; classic metal and 1980s culture (except for the one track called ‘Pandemic Euphoria’. I have a strange feeling that it has nothing to do with the ‘80s). Not all the songs are, as the young’uns say, “bangers”, but I thoroughly enjoyed a number of the album’s tracks. Favorites include ‘Road Rage’, ‘Virtual Empire’, and ‘Arcade Generation’.

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Final Verdict: 7.75/10

I’m sorry for the disgustingly short review, but there really isn’t much to say about Icon of Sin’s debut other than what’s been said. It’s safe, clean metal that does what it sets out to do. If you like the classics, this band will likely strike your fancy. While I didn’t find Icon of Sin to have started out on the best foot, a lot of these types of “emulate classic” bands take more than one record to not come off as knockoffs of their idols. Even Ghost’s first album was just them getting their feet wet before ascending into something more than just emulation. Here’s hoping Icon of Sin’s follow-up ends up being a good one!

Luca: Kaiju Plus Italian Food Equals Success!

By this point in human history, most of the United States will have been freed from the pandemic that definitely warranted EVERY SINGLE mandate taken against it. Theaters are open, but despite that, Pixar once again elected to squander the chance to actually profit off of one of their movies. Yep, their newest film, Luca, is included with a simple Disney+ subscription, just like with Soul. At least one good thing came from that whole incident!

In Luca, the titular sea monster (or as I would prefer to call it, Kaiju) boy is having a crap life herding fish-sheep with a dream to see the human world. Naturally, he’s forbidden to live said dream. Fortunately, all it takes is a chance encounter with a sassy teenage Kaiju named Alberto for him to completely disregard his parents and head there anyway.

The first interesting thing about this movie is the setting: Italy. This is, to my knowledge, Disney’s first movie to represent Italian culture, and as an Italian myself, it feels… underwhelming? From what I understand, kids of different heritages are supposed to feel some sort of solace in learning about where they came from. And before you tell me that my apathy is because Italians are White, allow me to tell you that Italians were just as much victims of racism in the early 1900s as any minority group. In any case, you can probably chalk up my lack of an existential and cultural awakening to my neuro-atypical brain. If you’re Italian (and not me), you’ll probably fan-gush your butt off at this setting.

What brings said setting to life is Pixar’s long-running expertise in visual presentation. Outside of a few dream sequences, the movie isn’t as abstract as Soul, but it still looks beautiful. It blurs the line between cartoon and realism thanks to its noodly characters contrasting against the extremely detailed environments. The devil is in the detail as usual, especially when it comes to those quintessentially Italian hand gestures.

Also expected from Pixar is Luca‘s very simple plot. The main conflict is that Luca and Alberto want to obtain a motorcycle to travel the world with, the problem being that they need cash. The best opportunity to get cash is to win the Porto Rosso Cup, and luckily enough, they meet a human girl named Giulia who wants to win the Cup as well. Of course, the whole Kaiju thing complicates matters.

For me, the movie’s biggest strength is in its cast of characters. Luca is kind of generic, but he develops some interesting relationships with Alberto and Giulia. Alberto is an interesting case. He has an assertive policy that inspires Luca to explore the human world, but he does it a bit to the Nth degree. This is shown throughout the movie, and is—in recent memory—one of the few organic buildups to that classic “Disney argument”. Giulia is that best friend type who’s proactive and ambitious; she’s not complex but it’s hard not to like her. I have a strange feeling that, given the month that this movie came out in, people will not be pleased at how Luca and Alberto’s relationship turns out in the end.

The parents—for once—manage to both have proper arcs and not die. Luca’s parents are dense as you can expect at first, but eventually have to acknowledge that their little Kaiju’s grown up. In the meantime, they eventually head to the surface to search for him and have some hilarious escapades. Luca’s grandma is much more likable, but she doesn’t get significant screentime. Fortunately, Giulia’s awesome dad makes up for that lack.

The weakest character ends up being the main antagonist (whose name I’m probably spelling wrong), Erkele. He’s the first Disney “villain” in like a decade, and he kind of shows that maybe they should stick with not having villains. He’s very expressive and funny, but he gets no real arc other than to be a jerk and impede the protagonists.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Luca is a great Pixar movie as usual. I don’t quite think it’s as good as Soul, but it’s definitely easier to rewatch since—for the time being—everything from last year is kind of cursed. In any case, Luca is great, and I want to stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort now.

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: To Boldly Go Where No Self-Insert Isekai Protag Has Gone Before

Well, time to read another isekai. What does this one try to do to stand out? If you couldn’t tell from the insanely long title, Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, this one is in the dark void of space! Is that enough to make it good?

In Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, a young man named Takahiro Saido (henceforth known as Hiro) wakes up in his Stella Online ship, the Krishna (PS: Stella Online is an MMO that he played to death, as per usual with this stuff). As expected, the Krishna is insanely strong and Hiro has no trouble becoming powerful. Typical stuff, really.

And I mean typical. His starship isn’t only super powerful, but he’s also amazing at piloting it. He aces the hardest test in the Merc guild without breaking a sweat. Also, he gets some early loot from pirates and it nets him a fat chunk of space smackaroos. And of course, he saves a young, exploitable girl with no more motive than an innocent pure heart.

So, the writing is the same as any light novel: if it’s not a girl, it’s not worth describing. Have fun trying to visualize the surely intricate sci-fi architecture, whatever it may look like. In any case, the story for this volume is a simple establishment of characters, with some space skirmishes to show how awesome Hiro is. 

And while we’re on the subject of Hiro, let’s discuss the cast of characters. As expected, there isn’t much to them. You’d think that Hiro, being a space Merc, would make him morally ambiguous, but… it doesn’t. He’s your usual kind of guy, only interesting quirk being his deep desire for carbonated beverages. The first cute girl is a space elf named Elma, who at least has some kind of personality trait. The aforementioned girl he saves, Mimi, is the same waifu tragedy, straight from the book of tropes. The only notable thing about their chemistry is that they are very openly romantic with each other. And by that, I mean Hiro regularly alternates between the two of them in bed.

~~~~~

Verdict: 6.85/10

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship! is relatively harmless, but it’s about as unremarkable as a garden variety isekai (hence why this review is stupidly short). I don’t see myself committing to this one unless I magically obtain some bonus time when future volumes release. But who knows? Maybe you’ll like this one more than I did.

Monogatari Series Review: Part 2.9 of 3

To Part 1

To Part 2

So yeah, funny looking title, right? Well, it’s no secret that Monogatari has had its ups and downs. That much is certain. But in case you couldn’t already tell what my final thoughts on the series ended up being, let me just give you a hint: I’ve at least made my peace with it. And if you still don’t know what I’m alluding to, then… you’ll have to wait until the end of the review.


Tsukimonogatari [Pictured Above]

After taking a hundred pages to get out of bed, Araragi is feeling a bit more vampiric than usual. Instead of confiding in Meme, he confides in Ononoki, the shikigami of Kagenui, instead. As expected of the series up to this point, Tsuki spends more than half of its length getting to the crux of the issue (it seriously opens with a twenty-page rant about alarm clocks). 

And when it actually gets to that issue, it goes just as is to be expected of the series up to this point. I get that it’s like, “Haha, NISIOISIN is so whiggety whack! What a wild and crazy guy, building up to something big and intentionally not making it a big payoff!” But at this point, it’s starting to get old fast.


Koyomimonogatari

This is a collection of short stories interspersed throughout the entire timeline of the main series. It’s so long, that Vertical published it in two parts. The stories are basically the typical conversations Araragi has with the others in the setup phases of a lot of volumes… over and over and over again, but with no core narrative. Fortunately, it does pick up towards the end. The final chapter in this collection is set after the previous volume and leaves you on a cliffhanger.


Owarimonogatari Part 1

I don’t know if it was excitement over starting the final arc, but this volume felt like the best in a while. Of course, however, NISIOISIN has to be a massive troll. Instead of following up on the events at the end of Koyomi, we are taken BACK TO THE FIRST SEASON OF THE SERIES. Yes, that far. In October, Araragi and Ogi (Meme’s neice introduced a while back) are trapped in a classroom that’s crucial to Araragi’s past. That part is as trolly and bullcrappy as usual, but the social commentary is at least something with a tangible meaning, as opposed to something like “Brushing your teeth is to absolve your mouth of sin.” This is the first volume where Ogi gets to shine, and it shows that she’s one of the best characters in the franchise.

However, that’s only one chapter. After-the-fact, a girl from Araragi’s past creeps up after two years: Sodachi Oikura. Yes, a new character. All of this happened way back in season one. If any of this was referenced in earlier books, then hooray. But if not… AAAAAGH! As for Ogi, she is my favorite and least favorite character. She’s extremely charming, but she’s the anti-Hanekawa. And funnily enough, that almost makes her worse than Hanekawa. While Hanekawa solves problems in .5 seconds and claims she only knows what she knows, Ogi solves problems in .5 seconds and claims that Araragi is the one who knows the solution (when he never does). She chastises both him and the reader, yet I still like her. Ogi really helped me enjoy this series for the first time in a really long while.

In any case, while Ogi is one of the strongest Monogatari characters, Sodachi is one of the weakest. She’s kind of a whiny brat, and doesn’t have any interesting quirks. Also, the logic behind her actions make no sense, but at this point in the series, we have to suspend our disbelief.


Owarimonogatari Part 2

This is part two, but NISI is—as always—a troll; this volume isn’t set as a follow-up to part one, but in the middle of the SECOND SEASON. Uuuugh. I don’t even know anymore. Anyway, in this volume, Araragi and Kanbaru are attacked by a phantom suit of armor that has some sort of link with Shinobu. And for some reason, every time we have a Shinobu problem, we have to consult in Izuko Gaen.

And like every time we’ve had to confide in her, it takes about half the volume to get to her. I also want to say that every time we’ve confided in her, she just tells us what’s already obvious enough from context. Oooooo. In any case, this is the first volume in like forever that actually has action in it. While Owari is definitely shaping up to be a worthy ending, this volume wasn’t as fun as the last one.


Owarimonogatari Part 3

Part 1 was set season 1, Part 2 was set in season 2, and Part 3 is actually a proper follow-up to whatever happened in… one of the volumes? If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been writing each passage for this post as the books were released by Vertical. As a result, it’s been about half a year since I actually read the earlier parts of season 3. So yeah, I had no idea what was going on. But oh boy, NISIOISIN is sure a genius for writing out of chronological order hyuck hyuck!

This volume has three chapters, and for what I think might be the first time in the series, the chapters smoothly bleed together. I can’t say what happens in the first chapter because it spoils the end of… er… one of the volumes in this post. However, the second chapter is basically a non-stop splurge of Senjo and Araragi just hanging out, and it’s actually pretty cute. The third and most important chapter is about Ogi, and the biggest twist in the series.

Oh, and by the way… I couldn’t comment on Izuko Gaen’s pretentious “knowing everything” quirk because I hadn’t finished Chainsaw Man yet. If she really knew everything, she’d only be able to say “Halloween” until she dies! Eff you, Gaen!


Zokuowarimonogatari

The final, final book of Monogatari. The final book… that I didn’t read. If you couldn’t tell from how long it took for this post to come out after the previous Monogatari posts (I hadn’t even used witty titles for my posts at that time), I had put off Zoku for a long time after it dropped on BookWalker. I didn’t want to read it. I had tried my damndest to finish Monogatari, but to be real, I had way more hate than love for it, which leads into my…  


Final Thoughts

Honestly, I don’t know what to say about Monogatari. There were some genuinely good moments throughout the series. But honestly, it’s incredibly pretentious. Fans know and accept this in their love for the series. I… er… well. It’s one of those “cerebral” franchises, where no matter how well thought out and scholarly a negative opinion of it is, fans can just defend it with a “you’re not smart enough”. As much as I love being contrarian, this is a case where my own intelligence as a writer is on the line.

Speaking of writing, I can at least say that the writing of Monogatari is a heap of bullcrap (and a waste of the talented illustrator Vofan). I’ll acknowledge that it takes talent to extend some of these conversation topics to the absolute insane length that NISIOISIN does, but why? The dialogue feels like it’s this way for the sake of being a troll, yet the author is considered a genius for doing it. In fact, he’s considered a genius specifically for committing literally every cardinal sin of writing. 

You know what, however, there is one thing I absolutely despise about Monogatari. It’s what makes the series so pretentious, moreso than anything else. Based on how it’s presented, NISIOISIN seems to think that there’s nothing more fascinating than human relationships. While human relationships are needlessly complex to the point where they need scholarly essays written about them, there’s stuff more fascinating than us. Why are we so great? What about the infinite scope of the cosmos, or the intricate beauty of nature? I know I’m in the minority about this, but hey, that’s nothing new!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been learning to stop giving an eff. Since there’s no subscription service for this stuff, I have to pay hefty flat rates for the few stuff I actually enjoy (and the time I don’t ever have). People on toxic sites like MyAnimeList act all high and mighty, and I was just done with it. WordPress has been a breath of fresh air, with great bloggers like Irina and RiseFromAshes doing the unthinkable acts of being civilized. I might cover something popular like this from time to time, but what I really made this blog for is to give limelight to stuff that most people would have never heard of. Most importantly, I’m D.N.F.ing Monogatari simply because I can, and I don’t have to live by any Internet schmuck’s metric to be happy. Call me an uncultured swine if you want; at least I get to be myself.

This Final Thoughts section has been longer than my reviews of the actual novels combined. So, you know what, I’m just going to plop my final score for the whole series right down there. Read it and weep.

Final Verdict (Whole Series): 7.35/10

A VERY BELATED Review of Amphibia’s Second Season

To Season 1 Review


I hate streaming sometimes. I don’t know if the whole season is out on Hulu right now, but for some unholy reason, it definitely wasn’t back when the season two finale of Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) aired. I had to wait for it to come out on Disney+ to watch it! In any case, with all the pieces in place, it’s time for the show to begin in earnest. Let’s FINALLY get to it! Oh, and uh, spoilers from last season.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Anne had a brief but tumultuous reunion with her friend Sasha, who is now buddy-buddy with an army of power-hungry toads. They fought, Anne stood up for her beliefs, and ‘Lean on Me’ ensued. Now separated again in good old Naruto and Sasuke fashion, the only thing left to do is haul ass to Newtopia and find out what to do with the MacGuffin that got Anne to Amphibia in the first place.

Right off the bat, season two is a major improvement. Since the crew is on the move, there is a much wider variety of setpieces. From sketchy inns, to a desert, and… Grunkle Stan?! If that wasn’t an indication of how creative the show gets, then I don’t know what is. In any case, the real treat is Newtopia itself, the biggest and most beautiful setting yet. It’s so big, that a hotel is enough for an entire episode. It is a vibrant and culture-filled location, which sadly lasts a mere five episodes before they must go a’questing again.

Just because there’s more cohesion doesn’t mean that there aren’t Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. Like Avatar, their travels take them on random detours, each with a self-contained conflict, most of which have no bearing on the plot. Even in Newtopia, they manage to cleverly find an excuse to put in filler episodes; stuff like waiting for someone else to analyze the important MacGuffin for them. There is also an issue of episode chronology. Exactly one episode was aired last October, outside of the proper order, just for them to work in a Halloween special. And to rub salt in the wound, subsequent episode broadcasts were delayed until March of this year right after that episode (I’ll give you three guesses why). It’s kind of stupid that it’s the one time that Amphibia goes out of chronological order (at least as of now). 

The characters have improved greatly since last season… to a point. Anne does get some huge growth as things get intense throughout this season, but she’s the same smooth-brain that she usually is. In fact, the characters don’t just continue to make poor judgements; it gets so bad that they start to become self-aware of it. Hop Pop eventually has to face the consequences of his hiding the MacGuffin in the garden at home (watched over by the guy who grows tulips), which leads to great development on his part. Sprig and Polly remain relatively unchanged, with the former being about as much of an ignoramus as ever.

Let’s finally discuss the other teenage girls who ended up in Amphibia along with Anne. As you know, Sasha ends up with the toads, the arch nemeses of the frogs. She aids their captain, Grime, and hits it off with him. Sasha seems like an abusive friend, but it also feels like she genuinely likes Anne and is only pushing her because of weird friend morals (at least through her perspective). As a small aside, Grime ends up being quite the likeable guy, and his chemistry with Sasha is some of the best in the series.

The other friend is Marcy Wu. She’s a strange combination of complete ditz and galaxy-brained, and is immediately way more likeable than Sasha. Similar to Sasha, Marcy ends up netting a fancy military job in the Newtopian Army. Good thing their King isn’t sus, or else we’d have something to worry about! All three girls’ character arcs get the bulk of this growth in the form of three temples, conveniently catered to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Verdict: 8.65/10

Amphibia clearly reinvents the wheel in every way. But for some reason, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. This season was a big step up, and at least leaves me very much anticipating the next (and final?) season. Of course, I won’t be watching ANY of that season until the whole thing airs!

Danganronpa Meets… Soccer?!: Blue Lock First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Most sports manga tend to be the same from beginning to end (even if Haikyuu!! was VERY different toward the end but that’s only like 15% of the story). It’s the usual thing: school is in the dumps, some special kids meet up at said school, bonds form, and in an inexplicable upset, said school is fighting the world champion team. But if you couldn’t tell from the fact that the cover of today’s manga, Blue Lock, shows characters with an eerie blood lust in their eyes, along with cuffs around their necks… this one’s a bit different across the board.

In Blue Lock, Japan’s soccer team has suffered a crippling loss at the 2018 World Cup. Since sports arbitrarily govern a nation’s entire dignity, we can’t have that crap anymore. So, in an act of desperation, an eccentric coach named Jinpachi Ego is hired to lead the final charge. But if you couldn’t tell from his name, Ego’s approach is pretty unconventional. He builds a brutal training facility, the titular Blue Lock, and hires three hundred promising strikers. In this facility, they don’t train together, but against each other, and only one of these kids can graduate from Blue Lock as supposedly the world’s greatest striker. Our main protagonist, Yoichi Isagi, is one such striker. And after experiencing a brutal loss because he chose to pass to a teammate at a critical moment, he kind of picks up what Ego is putting down.

Just one thing I need to get out there first: I love and hate this premise. I love the premise because, from a storytelling standpoint, it’s a pretty awesome idea. Soccer is the perfect sport to tackle this mindset of playing, since there really is no need for anyone but someone who can score points. The manga quotes real soccer players such as Pelé, who bizarrely enough, support this idea (unless this is an alternate universe where Pelé didn’t actually say that at all). On the flipside, I hate the premise because it’s cynical. I don’t need to read another review of Blue Lock because I know people enough to know what they’re gonna say: “This manga is so much better than other sports manga because it’s darker, which is more realistic, since there is never ever any happiness in real life.” Good thing I abandoned MyAnimeList when I did!

So far, Blue Lock does a great job at building anticipation, probably better than any sports manga I’ve read. This is done in Ego’s relatively quick exposition dump on how Blue Lock is set up. It’s divided into five wings, each of which have five groups of eleven kids who are on the same team. It seems that, over the course of the manga, these teams will compete with other teams within their wing, and eventually with the top teams from the other wings. And if my context clues are correct, this will eventually lead to some kind of knockout round between the team of eleven that comes out on top of that kerfuffle. By that point, those characters will have been fighting side-by-side the whole time, and now have to turn on each other. Of course, this is all speculation, since the manga’s barely even started.

So far, Blue Lock’s weakest aspect is its characters. Normally, sports mangas’ casts start off as pretty basic, but become super likeable down the road. However, due to the whole “ego” theme, I do not see the cast of Blue Lock being very likable in the typical sports manga fashion. Of course, with me being the lunatic that I am (what with loving narcissists like Senku), I see the possibility of Blue Lock having my favorite sports manga cast of all time. Yoichi, so far, is sadly the generic character who has the ability no one else has for no reason. The others also seem kind of generic, but time could easily mend that. I anticipate the fan-favorite to be Bachira. He’s the eccentric, mysterious character who takes a liking to the main protagonist (so, basically, he’s Nagito). I also like Coach Ego, for obvious reasons.

No sports manga is worth its salt without awesome art, and Blue Lock does not disappoint. Like the cover art, it’s full of insanity and bloodlust. As with any edgy, psychological series, there is no shortage of exaggerated, creepy faces. The action shots are spectacular, as expected from a manga like this.

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Current Verdict: 9/10

As cynical as it is, Blue Lock is shaping up to be a fantastic sports manga. In fact, I’d already consider it my favorite since Haikyuu!! And if it continues to grow at its current rate, I think it could surpass even that. I recommend it if you’re a critic of sports manga and like psychological stuff.

Never Change, Ikebukuro: Durarara!! SH Volume 1 Review

Durarara!! is one of my favorite light novels of all time, and like every light novel I have read, I do not have time to reread it no matter how badly I want to. Thankfully, it has had a sequel series, by the name of Durarara!! SH, and Yen Press has finally published it in English. Oh, and for frame of reference, the afterword of this volume dates its Japanese release while the anime of the vanilla series was still airing. Sometimes, it takes a REALLY long time for us ‘Mericans to get stuff!

In Durarara!! SH, a new face arrives at Ikebukuro: Yahiro Mizuchi. He is so overcome by fear, that he resorts to violence to avoid it. Living a life of being called a monster by peers, he hopes that the real monsters of Ikebukuro will welcome him with open arms. Meanwhile, another newbie named Kuon Kotonami transfers in hopes of finding Best Girl Celty for some (probably) ulterior motive.

Holy crap, I missed this portrayal of  Ikebukuro! As soon as I started it, I recognized that same Narita touch; the nonchalant, yet melodramatic writing that made the original Durarara!! feel so ding-dang good. It also wouldn’t be Durarara!!-ish without the interlude chapters containing Internet articles and message board conversations, and SH thankfully brings those back as well.

The premise here is that there are a number of disappearances (typical Ikebukuro). These missing persons all have one thing in common: finding the Headless Rider. The catch, however, is that our Best Girl has not been accounted for since the end of the original series. Ooooooh mystery! Yahiro, of course, ends up getting wrapped up in all this nonsense.

My biggest worry was with the new cast of characters. It’s easy to have nostalgia for the original peeps, and think less of the new ones. Fortunately, an unlikeable character just doesn’t seem to be possible in Durarara!! Er, well, at least for me, who tends to fall for weirdos (which I understand I’m the minority in). Yahiro is a very interesting basket case, for starters. His unique cowardice is definitely a level of emo that I don’t recall ever seeing before. And even if I had seen someone like that before, the fact that nobody comes to mind must mean that they were a sack of crap.

Kuon also shows potential. Very early on, he’s established as the main antagonist, who has some very conniving plan that involves Celty in some way. He’s incredibly similar to Izaya in terms of his role, but he’s actually the exact opposite. Unlike Izaya with his love for humanity, Kuon hates humanity. I don’t like saying that I enjoy a character because I personally relate to them, but man… I really felt him in one scene where he’s looking on message boards and being all like “It’s all the same stuff on there…” Seriously, that’s any online community (excluding WordPress) in a nutshell!

The female lead, Himeka Tatsugami, is the weakest newcomer thus far. Her siblings were involved in the string of disappearances, and thus she’s the one who’s all like “Don’t do the plot-relevant thing” and is ignored. At least she’s pretty?

Since it’s only been one and a half years, a lot of the original cast is actually still present. As someone who loved them dearly, I was perfectly okay with them reusing assets. And here’s an example of how awesome they are: this was my first Durarara!! experience since I posted my full review of the original series. I had not reread it since then, yet I recognized almost everyone who was reintroduced immediately, without Narita even having to write their names. That’s good writing.

~~~~~

Verdict: 8.5/10

I was worried, but it looks like Durarara!! SH does not suffer the sequel curse. I’m already hyped to be back in Ikebukuro with old and new faces alike. It’s a no-brainer that I would recommend this to series fans.

Weeb Reads Monthly May 2021

Another month, another delve into the light novel hole! Just for the record (which applies with all of these), the stuff I cover is less than 1% of what comes out each month. And yet, it’s still somehow less than the amount of anime that comes out every season. Geez laweez, this hobby is not easy!


Torture Princess Volume 7

This is it. Usually, when we have a perfect ending to a series, yet the series continues, it falls apart. For all intents and purposes, Torture Princess ended when Kaito sacrificed himself to seal away God and Diablo, all because he wanted Elisabeth to live. As the new main protagonist, Elisabeth comes across a strange man who tries to create an artificial Torture Princess. This guy, however, realizes that the person needs to be from another world for the whole thing to work. And it just so happens that he—somehow—has a girl who fits the bill.

This is mainly a dialogue-driven volume, a very different change of pace from killing two of the main protagonists. It boils down to Elisebeth having confrontations with these new villains and trying to figure out their motivation. The big thing is that Elisabeth going along with their plan would allow her to reunite with Kaito.

Speaking of these new villains… hoo boy. The ringleader, Lewis, is a pretty typical edgy villain guy; sadly, the weakest antagonist thus far. Fortunately, Alice Carroll more than makes up for it (get the obvious symbolism yet?). She’s royally effed up. Like, beyond belief. She acts all happy when she’s walking on guts or ripping butterflies, yet you can tell that she’s been through things. She has this trauma associated with having to apologize to people and it’s really messed up. Lewis, well, he did a good job making a Torture Princess, that’s for sure!

Overall, it’s a tense volume, with some action on the side. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as others, but that could be because of the drastic change in insanity from the previous volume, as well as my worries that the series will suck by going into a second act. But for the time being, Torture Princess has yet to disappoint!

Verdict: 8.9/10


Dungeon Busters Volume 2

It’s been too long since we’ve had a new volume of this pleasant surprise of a political fantasy. I loved how JRPG mechanics were integrated into real life ethics and economics in the previous volume of Dungeon Busters. We only got the tip of the iceberg then. Hopefully, with the groundwork laid out, the LN can start in earnest.

After getting an infodump on the various world events associated with the Dungeon phenomenon, Ezoe celebrates his first Dungeon clear. This accomplishment makes him quite notorious, and helps further the development of Dungeon Busters, Inc. Things around the world get shaky as well, with countries that aren’t Japan making pretty much no progress. There’s also a preview of someone with their own waifu card abusing their dungeon powers and causing mayhem in South America.

The problems I had with the first volume look like they’re going to stick. As before, Dungeon Busters seems to take its sweet time. It’s necessary, sure, but it doesn’t help someone whose schedule is as tight as mine is. The characters are also quite unremarkable, with the exception of Ezoe, and this bland cast is only expanding. We get a large number of new faces thrown at us, and the end of the volume teases SIX new, plot-relevant characters to be introduced.

My other issue is with the politics, especially now that this aspect has gotten fleshed out drastically. I have no real authority to vouch for the accuracy of these politics. It feels accurate, but that’s only because of the negativity that I experience around me. Sometimes it feels mature, and sometimes it feels like a twelve-year-old with a false understanding of politics.

Because of how heavy the political aspect is getting, I see Dungeon Busters as a source of anxiety for me moving forward. I seem all cool and stoic on this blog, but in real life, I’m a basket case struggling to merely feel like I have a right to my own existence. I am pounded by so much contradictory information, and I am currently unsure how to even live my life. While this is an alternate universe, it still feels very true to real life, and some stuff in here is not helpful for someone who’s trying to make sense in the midst of all the noise.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 9

It feels like there shouldn’t be much more to this series. After all, we beat the Libere Rebellion. And yet, there’s still more. What new plot thread could be woven now?

If you couldn’t tell from the cover, this is the Christmas special. In an attempt to give the three remaining Kings a redemption arc, they turn the Kings (along with Masato because of lolz) into babies. They must forge new memories with Mamako and Hahako as they experience the classic Christmas spirit.

The conflict in this volume revolves around our resident spoilsport, Mone. She goes a little bit crazy and ends up causing a big ruckus. The young’uns will have to reexamine the relationship between mother and child once more in order to resolve this one. Other than that, the ending teases the finale. However, the author’s plan to end this eleven-volume series at volume ten is worrying.

Verdict: 8.7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 3

So, the last volume was insane. How are we going to top eyeballs that absorb into people’s skin and turn them into mangled scabby flesh blobs? The only way to find out is to read the third volume of one of the best yuri LNs on the market!

As usual, this volume starts off slow and dialogue-driven. We learn about Gadhio and his motive for trying to take out the Church. We also see some chemistry between Sara and Neigass, even if it’s for all of five seconds. 

The real premise of this volume is the Church’s Necromancy project. Plain and simple, their thing is using Origin cores to bring people back to life as their actual selves, as opposed to, well… you know. Of course, in keeping with series tradition, that goes in the direction you’d expect. I.e. Spoilers which aren’t really spoilers, the people brought back to life aren’t really their actual selves. WHO’DA THUNK IT. Anyway, this volume easily tops the previous one during the insanity and heightened emotion of the climax. The ending shows some big changes coming to town, none of which benefit our protagonists. I can’t wait for the next release!

Verdict: 9.8/10


Conclusion

Well, I barely got this done in time. I literally just finished that Dungeon Busters volume yesterday. And oh boy, it looks like everything I care about in June will be coming out within the last ten days of the month. Hooray!

The Road to Oz: Worst Book Since the First Book

Well, time to head down the rabbit hole that L. Frank Baum created during the turn of the Twentieth Century! Today, I passed the one-third point (give-or-take, since they’re not a multiple of five) in the Oz series: The Road to Oz. Let’s see if I can be mildly impressed like the last couple books.

In The Road to Oz, we are thrown right into a conversation between Dorothy and a Shaggy Man who is lost. When trying to help him get un-lost, they both end up in some weird limbo that is neither our world nor Oz. And, well, they just wander aimlessly to find Oz.

One immediate plus is the new cast of characters… to a point. I only enjoyed the Shaggy Man because I decided to picture him as none other than the classic cartoon character, Shaggy from the Scooby-Doo franchise. As funny as that depiction is, the Shaggy Man himself is kind of a jackass (which becomes quite literal as the book goes on). They are also accompanied by Button-Bright, who doesn’t seem to know anything. Too bad Scrooge wouldn’t come out for forty-three more years, or I could’ve made a reference. In addition to that clod, we have a half-girl, half-rainbow(?) character named Polychrome. Unfortunately, the idea of her being “The Rainbow’s Daughter” is the only likeable thing about her; she’s pretty colorless in terms of personality.

Since we’re suddenly on the characters section, I might as well say this: I effing resent Dorothy. She doesn’t hesitate to call people stupid right to their faces. While I would normally like this in a girl, she’s still presented as a lovely bubbly little thing despite how condescending she is. I also want to bring up a quote from her, which was also quoted in the afterword so it’s more like quote-ception: “The queerness doesn’t matter, as long as they’re friends.” She says that despite her homophobic reaction to Billina, who’s queer in the most literal sense of the word (I know that “queer” meant something else back then, but it’s just ironic when you look at it nowadays). 

We can’t seem to have a Baum novel without an accidental prophecy! So far, he’s predicted the acknowledgement transgender people with Ozma’s character arc, and social media with the name of Tiktok. This time, he predicts… Furries. Yep, literal anthropomorphic animals. And to top it off, these animals transform the heads of some of our intrepid heroes into those of animals, making them look right at home in the world of Beastars! So yeah… if you’re triggered by Furries, then Oz is not for you.

As I alluded to in the title, Road to Oz, well, sucks. There are no real stakes in this one, beyond one random chapter where they have to fight these head-throwing men. The towns they visit are small and bland, nowhere near as neat as the previous book’s setpieces. Also, there’s a Deus ex Machina where the Shaggy Man is inexplicably able to summon a mechanic who can build anything, and it’s never foreshadowed nor explained.

Similar to the previous book, a good chunk of The Road to Oz is just hanging out in the Emerald City. It’s Ozma’s birthday, as a matter of fact. And while this would be a good time for someone to assassinate her, none of it happens, and the whole thing is just… there. Unlike the last hangout, this one has purpose. Baum invents crossovers and shameless plugs during Ozma’s birthday. He introduces us to characters from a whole slew of other books he wrote outside of Oz. But while people at the time would’ve been fan-gushing at this, there’s a darn good chance that we have no idea who the heck any of these assholes are. Hooray for the passage of time!

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Verdict: 6.65/10

The Road to Oz sucks. But you know what, with a fourteen-book series, at least one or two of them have to be utter crap. Hopefully, this is not an indicator for what the rest of the books are going to be, or else I’m in for a real treat.

New Pokémon Snap: The Dark Souls of Casual Gaming (Either that or I just suck at it)

I was a kid when the N64 came out. That puts my parents in their early twenties when the home videogame revolution occurred. Unfortunately, they were the only people who didn’t buy into it, which would cause me to miss those classic console generations and become a Gamecube kid. And while that can definitely be considered a badge of honor, it does pain me to say that I did miss a lot of great N64 games… such as Pokémon Snap. I watched several playthroughs of it on YouTube, and it looked super fun (albeit a bit on the short side). I wouldn’t get to experience that BS grading system that had nothing to do with actual rules of composition or being told that “I was close” until New Pokémon Snap came out on Nintendo Switch. I paid good money for this thing. Let’s hope it’s at least more than three hours long.

In New Pokémon Snap, you are transferred to the pun-tastic facility known as the Laboratory of Ecology and Nature Sciences (i.e. L.E.N.S.) to study Pokémon. Under the guide of Professor Mirror (not named after a tree for once), you take pictures of the critters for science. Oh, and some of them are shiny I guess.

People hated Gen 8 for how it looked (among other things), but New Pokémon Snap ends up being a big step above… Okay, that isn’t saying much. The characters look kind of plastic, but the game still has that pleasant, cartoony feel of the Pokémon world in general. The night time segments are where it excels in terms of visuals; gotta love stylized particle effects!

This is both a photography game, and a Pokémon game that isn’t Gen 5, so it goes without saying that there really isn’t a plot. The whole thing is following the old journal of some guy named Vince to discover the Illumina phenomenon. This glow makes Pokémon shiny, but sadly, it’s not the shiny that series veterans think of. In any case, that’s literally the whole story.

The characters are also as lacking as you can expect. This game is meant to be very serene and cut off from the criminal organizations, questionable ethics, min-maxxing, and awful law enforcement of the main games, so no one can be over-the-top. And as a result, they are as flat as anyone who isn’t Gladion, and also lack the great character design that Pokémon people tend to have. The only one who stands out is Todd, and that’s only under the assumption that he’s the original game’s protagonist. 

In terms of gameplay, New Pokémon Snap will feel very familiar to experienced players of the original. You move along on an automated path and take photos. You also have the help of returning tools such as the apples, and a Poké Flute equivalent that sounds way more annoying this time around.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a long-overdue sequel without some (i.e. a lot of) new features. First off, you can scan stuff now. This helps you find things as well as elicit reactions from nearby Pokémon. Pester Balls are replaced with Illumina Orbs. This can put Pokémon into an Illumina state, allowing for new behaviors. Also, hitting special flowers will trigger a widespread Illumina effect that often results in something ideal for your endeavors. The catch is that each region has its own variant, and you’ll have to earn them as you progress.

There’s also the research level. Courses, most of which are divided into day and night variants, have their own XP bars. Fill it up by discovering varied Pokémon behavior (and getting good scores), and upon levelling it up, the Pokémon on that course will change, allowing for even more variety. “It’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year,” said Randy Quaid. Movie references aside, this mechanic really helps bring areas to life in a way that wasn’t possible in the original. 

The big thing that gives New Pokémon Snap its replay value is the way completing the Photodex works. Each photo of a Pokémon has a ranking system that ranges from bronze to platinum. As expected of a game where a machine judges art… yeah, good luck. However, there’s more than just getting a good photo of a Pokémon. As I said earlier with research level, Pokémon exhibit different behaviors. In fact, each Pokémon has FOUR states that it can be photographed in, each of which has its own ranking system. The completionist run requires every photograph of every Pokémon in every state with a platinum rating. Like I said, good luck.

Since machines aren’t sentient enough to have an eye for art, photo evaluation is the same “get the Pokémon in the center of the frame” BS as it always was. If you’re used to the ever-picky Professor Oak, then it’ll feel like second nature. However, Mirror doesn’t straight-up shit on you like Oak does. Whether or not that’s a disappointment is your prerogative. In any case, it’s also about as buggy as it was before; for every shot that should be awful, you get platinum, and a bronze for every shot that appears to more-than-adequately meet the game’s parameters (okay, to be honest, it’s not like that ALL the time but it’s noticeable).

When it comes to finding the four poses,  they’re mostly fun to figure out. These states can be triggered through your various tools, or by just having good reflexes. The problem with this system is the fact that you can only submit one photo of a Pokémon at a time. This sucks, since it’s more than likely you’ll have photos of Pokémon in more than one pose in a single run. This issue is most evident when in the special Illumina Pokémon stages. These are like Rainbow Cloud from the original; just you and a glowing Pokémon that you gotta go to town on. Although more Pokémon show up when replaying these stages, the bulk of their time is taken by the Illumina Pokémon. As such, it’s more than possible to get two, three, or possibly all four poses in a single run (and they’re generally not easy shots to get either). But because you can only do one at a time at the end… yeah. I can just imagine Professor Mirror saying, “Wow, you captured this one Pokémon in a wide variety of behaviors all at once!” as he heartlessly shreds all but one of those photos you poured your blood, sweat, and tears into. And to be logic police for a second, this system is not at all efficient to doing ecology research. 

At the very least, you won’t be thrown in like cold turkey when it comes to figuring out the different poses of Pokémon; characters often provide photo requests that clue you in on what to do. However, a lot of these requests SUCK, and can make the game a hellscape if you’re going for completion. They range from pretty intuitive to Famicom-levels of obtuse, and at the time of posting this, I sure as hell didn’t get them all! And even if you know what to do, execution ends up being the hard part. While you can retry a stage anytime, there are actually slight variations within a given stage that are completely random, even if you didn’t increase the Research Level (looking at you, Elsewhere Forest). As a result, many of your retries can end up being just for the opportunity to take that photo (on top of having to set everything up for said photo). Oh, and if you end up preemptively taking a photo for a request before it comes up, then you’ll have to take it again, and waste the chance to submit a new pose from that run. And if you DO complete the request, you gotta manually turn it in!

One issue I will acknowledge that puts this game beneath the original is how progression is done. With exactly one exception at the butt end of the game, it’s all tied to raising the research level, as opposed to being observant and solving a puzzle in a given stage with intuition and timing. You don’t have to do any of the BS to raise it up to adequate levels, but it nonetheless doesn’t feel as accomplishing.

Beyond that, this game is just plain brutal at times. While it’s arguable whether or not any challenge in New Pokémon Snap is as hard as getting the 10k Mew shot in the original, a lot of this stuff really piles up, and the cumulative difficulty surpasses that of the Mew fight. Oftentimes, you’ll have to make ridiculously precise throws, sometimes at moving targets from within your also-moving vehicle, in very short windows of time. There are also a number of occasions where you have to kite Pokémon with apples for obnoxiously long periods of time. The problem with this last example is that Pokémon aren’t as responsive to apples as before, making it a real pain to maintain their attention. And if you mess up once, they go back to their starting point.

Let’s stop talking about the problems with the game and discuss some nice positives. One big help is that it gives you a visual indication of what is considered the subject of your next shot. Plus, you can take pictures while not zoomed in, as well as throw items while zoomed in. Most notably, photos are put into individual folders during evaluation, making it a lot less messy when choosing what to show to Mirror.

And need I mention the phenomenal photo customization? Every photo registered in the Photodex—as well as ones saved in your album—can be edited in some way. You can give them funny captions that are a lot better than the in-game ones, for starters. There is also the ability to re-snap a photo taken with the ability to modify angle and color balance settings (although this is only available at the end of a given run). The fun part is plopping stickers and effects onto your photos to make them hilarious. You get more and more stickers as you accomplish stuff, and it’s actually worth trying to knock out requests since they have a lot of the better stickers.

Before getting to the final evaluation, I should point out that New Pokémon Snap does have a bit of a post-game. You unlock the challenge score system from the original’s post-game (assuming you even care about it), as well as the Burst Mode setting for your camera that allows you to capture photos at rapid speed. Most notably, you unlock a beautiful new stage… that would’ve been spoiled to you if you happened to look at the Nintendo eShop pics for this game. It also spawns some Legendary Pokémon in earlier stages, if you want even more headaches. 

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Final Verdict: 8.95/10

It has more depth, better replay value, a great photo customization system, and a wider variety of Pokémon. Yet… for some completely arbitrary reason, it completely lacks the heart, personality, charm, and [insert other esoteric thing here] that the N64 Pokémon Snap had. …Look, I’m kidding, okay?! I think New Pokémon Snap was well worth the wait, and has more than enough positive qualities to outclass its predecessor. Just… for the love of Arceus… attempt to 100% it at your own risk!