Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! First Impressions (Volumes 1 and 2)

The siren song of money is a powerful one. Additionally, said song can be applied to a specific site’s built-in currency that can help you SAVE money. I didn’t really want to read Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! (published in English by Seven Seas), but I couldn’t resist the 70% Coin Back on BookWalker! So, let’s see what the cost of my stupid decision was.

In Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out!, Shichirin Sakurai is a typical, introverted college student. However, he is constantly approached by his kouhai, Hana Uzaki. She launches an all-out verbal assault on him until he, well, hangs out with her. And thus, various shenanigans ensue.

This manga is dumb, that’s pretty much intentional. There is no intention to have a complex plot or drama. While the premise is reminiscent of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, which- of all things- offended me on a personal level, the one distinction with Uzaki is that she’s forcing her way into Shichirin’s life because she’s stupid, instead of forcing him to date strange women just so that her preconceived image of him matches his actual image (seriously, why do people love Tomozaki so much?). 

Unfortunately, the humor comes off as pretty dry. The basic formula is to take everyday activities, and add boobs and a lot of yelling. Most of the time, Uzaki acts like an idiot, and Shichirin ends up in an ecchi-like situation. Other than a few clever blips (such as an epic speech about mint chocolate), there’s not much finesse in the execution whatsoever. The manga also tries to have something called “Poop Cat” appear, but it’s not funny nor clever. But hey, I’m a tough nut to crack.

The characters are perhaps the weakest aspect of all. I tend to have a soft spot for some one-dimensional characters, but the cast of Uzaki-chan is- I don’t know- zero-dimensional?! Uzaki is incredibly marketable, what with her immense assets, and that weird canine-tooth-shaped protrusion on her upper lip that makes her stand out from the 99,999 other girls that look exactly like her. She seems like the type of character who comes off as funny as an extension of her being an idiot. This works on a case-by-case basis, and this is NOT one of those cases. 

Meanwhile, Shichirin is a pretty typical dude. He definitely doesn’t hate Uzaki, but that doesn’t stop him from being the usual witty-comebacks-guy. Other than that, we have the audience surrogates; some friends who want Shichirin and Uzaki to be in bed together. HOW META AND RELATABLE. But in terms of personality, they were lacking by a large margin.

Speaking of lacking by a large margin… the art! The manga is very average and typical looking; that kind of super-simplistic style that’s so basic that the anime doesn’t look that much different by comparison. The panel flow is not taken advantage of for comedic effect. And furthermore, Uzaki-chan is somehow on par with Hunter X Hunter for the most amount of words on a single page.

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Current Verdict: 5.5/10

Uzaki-chan Wants to Hang Out! is a cute, mindless manga, but there are way better of its kind out there! It feels like it follows the bare-bones basics of comedy and thinks it can use boobs to get away with it (which it seems to be succeeding at wildly, according to the anime episode discussion). Don’t bother reading this manga; if you want something better, read D-Frag or Grand Blue Dreaming instead.

Spy X Family First Impressions (Chapters 1-17)

It’s pretty typical for some niche manga to make MyAnimeList’s Top 100. But it’s wild that Spy x Family (published in English by Viz), placed around the halfway point of the manga list in less than a year after its launch. Time for me to board this hype train and see if it’s worth it!

In Spy x Family, a spy named Twilight is among the best in the business. But when his latest mission requires him to marry and have a child, he’s positively flummoxed. His solution is to establish a pretend family, with an orphaned telepathic girl named Anya, and an assassin named Yor Briar.

The thing about Spy x Family is that it’s not a rom-com with spies, but a sitcom with spies. Twilight and Yor don’t know of each other’s professions, nor do they know about Anya’s telepathy. However, Anya does know both of her “parents’” professions due to her mind-reading ability. Normally, I’d cringe at such a dynamic, but the fact that it’s done in a comedic way instead of a romantic way (like in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades) makes it more enjoyable.

And seriously, this manga is enjoyable. Spy x Family’s formula is simple, but it somehow works wonderfully. The comedy is done seriously well, with almost every page making me laugh out loud. But it’s not just a gag manga; there’s an actual overarching story as well.

The main goal of the series is for Twilight to get close to this really important politician named Donovan Desmond, whose son, Damian, is attending a prestigious school called Eden Academy. Twilight’s solution is to have his “daughter” enroll in the school and get close to Damian. But Anya’s kind of a ditz… and getting by in such an elite school is considerably easier said than done.

What makes Spy x Family so great is its cast. Twilight comes off as rugged, but slowly warms up to the fake family that he makes. Yor is, besides being gorgeous, someone who genuinely wants to be a good mom for Anya. She does NOT hesitate to use her skills in public to help her daughter. But the piece de resistance is Best Girl Anya. She looks like one of those typical moe blobs who exist just to be cute, but she’s got a real personality. Since she’s aware of her father’s mission, she actually tries to do a good job for his sake… but ends up getting carried away very often. When this happens, hilarity and genuine adorableness ensue.

There’s a curveball in Yor’s brother, Yuri Briar. He’s a secret service officer, whose mission is to find Twilight. He doesn’t know that his target is pretending to be married to his sister, nor does he know that she’s an assassin. Just more layers onto the cake of secrets.

The art in Spy x Family is very cute and appealing. The characters are very expressive, and their designs are quite memorable. The action scenes also look great for a slice-of-life manga. But most importantly, the panel flow is spot-on, which allows the comedy to fire on all cylinders.

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Current Verdict: 9.75/10

Spy x Family is already one of my favorite comedy manga of all time. In fact, it’s probably the funniest manga I’ve read, more than my previous favorite comedy, Grand Blue Dreaming. Grand Blue’s comedy relies entirely on super visceral, over-the-top facial expressions, but Spy x Family is much more clever than that. I’d recommend Spy x Family to pretty much anyone!

How to Get Weebs into Western Pop: milet – eyes Album Review

Notice that I didn’t title this post “How to Get Japanese People into Western Pop”; after all, Western culture is already incredibly popular over there (*cough* for some ghastly reason *cough*). I specifically used the word “Weeb” because I imagine that a lot of non-Asians who love Japanese culture don’t exactly love Western music (as much). However, what happens when a J-Pop star feels very, very Western? Welcome to milet, Generation Z’s equivalent of Hikaru Utada.

I don’t know much about milet, but Apple Music shows a number of singles and EPs dating to 2019. However, almost all the songs in those EPs, and new ones, end up on milet’s first album, eyes (not to be confused with MYTH & ROID’s eye’s), released in June of 2020. She has become extremely popular already, with her album surpassing King Gnu’s smash hit album, Ceremony, on Japan’s Billboard (and btw, King Gnu is hugely popular in Japan, so that’s a big deal) and ranking in 1st place for a good while.

This milet album was incredibly challenging to get through. Something about the use of synth, sound production, and milet’s singing voice felt like the Western pop that I hate. “How can you hate it if you never listened to it, weeb?” you ask. Oh, I listened to it. Throughout high school, it played on the radio that they happened to have in classrooms on Pandora, and during various social gatherings that I begrudgingly attended (specifically in vocational school). Being exposed to this stuff was traumatizing. The annoying repetitiveness and lack of variety drove me insane, and defined my distaste of mainstream hits. From what I call “The Happy Song”, to “I Think We Can be Something for Real Yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah-uwu”, to “The One That Sounds Like it’s Saying ‘Jar Jar Binks’”, these… tracks are the reason that I eventually got into J-Pop. While not perfect (looking at you, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu), Japan has some amazing and varied music, a lot of which I ranked above many classic Western bands of old. It was my perfect escape.

But then milet… ugh. I didn’t really mind the music of her songs, but what triggered me the most was her singing. She sounds exactly like a lot of those Western singers I didn’t like, whose names I cannot say because it was on the radio and I never knew who they actually were. milet’s voice is… how do I even say it? I don’t at all mean to be hurtful with the following statements; I legitimately cannot think of a better way to describe her voice. milet comes off as nasally, whiny and like she’s constipated. Look up the song that’s like “Hello from the other side” or something like that in the chorus… that’s basically how milet sings. 

After getting through a third of her album, I was actually able to tolerate milet. Some of the songs have genuinely good atmospheres and melodies that aren’t ear-grating like the aforementioned “Happy Song”. Despite the album reeking of mainstream, there was still a decent amount of variety and experimentation. Also, from watching anime and actually meeting Japanese people in person (in Epcot), they seem to have an inherently pleasant way of speaking, which makes milet a better singer. I know it sounds stereotypical, but there truly is a visible difference in timbre between her and whoever does “Yer Guhna Hear Me Rooooa-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohar”. 

Overall, I found her album surprisingly enjoyable. Maybe someday, I’ll actually try to listen to people like Adele and Taylor Swift (or I won’t). With milet’s rising success and admirable English-speaking ability, I could see her being cast as the lead in a hypothetical Japanese Disney Princess movie (even though Mili’s singer, Cassie Wei, would be way better), and having listened to her music before it was cool would make me the hippest guy on the block. If you’re someone who’s trying to convince your J-Pop loving friend that there’s another hemisphere of music out there, then milet’s a good transitional point.

Monster Girl Doctor Overview (Volumes 1-3)

The monster girl genre of manga has a lot of inherent appeal. They have the same ecchi content that people… er… enjoy, while also giving the girls extra appendages to… do stuff with. Interspecies Reviewers is one of the best in this category. But there’s also stuff like Monster Musume, Yokai Girls, or today’s topic, Monster Girl Doctor, published in English by Seven Seas.

In Monster Girl Doctor, a young lad named Glenn Litbeit is a doctor for monsters. He, along with his assistant and childhood friend, a lamia named Saphentite Neikes, will stop at nothing to cure their patients. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

Being a doctor means having to touch certain… areas of other people. And legal or not, the novel wastes no time getting into that ecchi territory. The series opens with him groping a female patient. Plus, Saphentite (who will be henceforth referred to as Sapphee) does not hesitate to wrap her entire snake body around both Glenn and patients alike (and the same goes for their octopus mom of a teacher). Additionally, a lot of Glenn’s patients make… certain noises when he examines them.

Moral values aside, Monster Girl Doctor has some issues. While the writing is just FINE AND DANDY at describing women’s curves, skin colors, and beauty, I couldn’t get a visual on anything else. The city that the story is set in, Lindworm, is apparently a bustling metropolis with a load of districts for different monster races. But for some reason, I never had a good sense of scale.

If you couldn’t tell, this is another no-stakes slice-of-life fantasy. I’ll admit that it does try its darndest to have stakes, but it’s just too hunky-dorey. Even when the story ramps up a lot in volume three, it’s still the same basic formula of “save the waifus”. 

Also, here’s a surprise: I wasn’t a big fan of the characters (well, I suppose it would be a surprise if you aren’t too familiar with my blog)! Glenn is- like any ecchi male protagonist- very generic and unremarkable. Being a doctor makes him a perfect Prince Charming who helps all sorts of waifus. His various patients are… eeeeh. Just like he’s the perfect Prince Charming, they’re the perfect damsels in distress. They’re typical, cute but tortured girls who exist to have people grow emotionally attached to them after hearing their tragic backstories and cry buckets of joy when Glenn saves them. Even if they aren’t written out of the series after he helps them, I still didn’t enjoy them as characters. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s Sapphee. She gets jealous very easily, making her a sort of yandere character. Since she’s Glenn’s assistant, she’s an actual character instead of a waifu to save. 

The art of Monster Girl Doctor is pretty darn good. There isn’t much in terms of backgrounds, but that’s okay, because it makes all the cute monster girls stand out. There’s also plenty of ecchi goodness on each of the illustrations, like when Sapphee sticks her snake tail into a patient’s mouth.

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Verdict: 7/10

Monster Girl Doctor is a good series, but time and money are vital these days, and “good” doesn’t cut it. When it comes to light novels, anything less than an 8/10 is a risk of wasting money, and anything less than a 7/10 IS a waste of money. But regardless of how I feel, the cuteness of the monster girls, as well as how savable they are, will likely make the anime a big hit during its broadcast. Read it if it strikes your fancy.

Pokemon Sword and Shield: Isle of Armor DLC Campaign Review

The eight Generation of Pokemon has been perhaps the most controversial in the series’ history. Pokemon Sword and Shield has gotten a bad rap since they were first announced, when it was stated that there would be no National Pokedex for the first time in the franchise. And the games themselves have… issues. In my own review of Pokemon Shield, I praised the graphics, quality-of-life improvements, somewhat decent character development, and enjoyable difficulty level. However, it also had a lacking postgame, and perhaps the emptiest region design in the entire series. Plus, the Wild Areas- which could’ve made Pokemon a more open-world and grandiose JRPG- were just vast expanses of nothing. Despite all this, the new DLC might make Gen Eight more viable. Today, I cover the first part of the Sword and Shield DLC: Isle of Armor, specifically, the Shield version.

In this DLC campaign, your character is mysteriously given the Armor Pass, which allows them to go to the Isle of Amor. As you enter the train station, you end up fighting against a Galarian Slowpoke (unless you played the update beforehand in which case you already did that months ago), and catch a glimpse of a strange character heading off to the aforementioned Isle. When you arrive there yourself, you are challenged by this person and compelled to train at this Master Dojo place on the island.

With this being DLC, the story here can’t intrude on the main story; consider it filler in an old anime. The Pokemon here average at around level 60, and with battles exceeding level 70, making it seem like you are meant to go here during the postgame. But tbh, there really isn’t much of a story. You go there, fight some people, get a new Pokemon. The dojo master does foreshadow some kind of undisclosed event at the end, but I’m going to assume that’s Crown Tundra territory, since I couldn’t find anything of plot interest after the campaign.

This DLC does introduce some new faces, and one of them is determined by your version of the game. My new rival on the Isle of Armor was an eccentric, tye-dye-clad psychic named Avery. He is a lot like Kukui from Sun and Moon; someone with a secret other personality, and the tendency to use Pokemon moves’ names in their dialogue. His character arc was short, but sweet. The Dojo Master, Mustard, is also a great character with that lovable “old-fart-who’s-actually-really-strong” personality.

I don’t know about you, but I spent a lot of postgame doing Dynamax hunting, and since I was stuck with poopy A.I., I jacked up my team members’ levels to average at the mid seventies, way too high for the Isle of Armor. So, I made an entirely new team, with Pokemon caught specifically in the Isle. While some were carried over from the main overworld, there were definitely a lot of missed faces from previous Generations, such as Sharpedo and Jigglypuff. I was able to use Pokemon that I had never used myself in a serious campaign, and I was glad at this opportunity from the Isle of Armor. Since it’s short, I might just take the same team to Crown Tundra.

Design-wise, the Isle of Armor shows some great positives. After you fight your first battle, you’re told to head to the Master Dojo immediately. In most Pokemon games, you’d be blocked every which way various NPC, such as poachers who tried to force you to buy their Slowpoke Tails. But here, you are actually able to explore the whole perimeter of the island to your heart’s content. There’s also a lot more biomes in this area than in the main Wild Areas.

Unfortunately, the Isle of Armor is still an island, and an unsurprisingly small one. It only takes about a couple of hours to scope out the whole area, and that’s if you try to catch every new Pokemon as you see them. The individual biomes themselves are also similarly bland to the Wild Areas, with Pokemon placement just as haphazard as before.

But just because it’s small, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a lot to do. Unfortunately, a lot of that “lot” is helping out the Diglett Trainer. There are ONE HUNDRED FIFTY Alolan Digletts all over this place, and he wants you to find them. It’s nowhere near as bad as the Red Lobster thing in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and for a number of reasons. For one thing, the game actually tells you how many are in each area. And more importantly, ALL OF THEM EXIST AT ONCE. But if you don’t have 20/20 vision, good luck finding them. Your only visual indication is the three little hairs that stick out of the ground, which blend in in a lot of places. You obtain a regional variant Pokemon for hitting certain milestones. I didn’t find all of them because my last reward was Alolan Eggxecutor and that was good enough for me. There is also a new mechanic with the Watts. After a certain point, you can donate them to spruce up the dojo. It takes HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS to get all the upgrades, and I honestly didn’t have that kind of time.

In addition to this is the Armorite Ore mechanic. You earn these by doing Dynamax battles on the island, and they can be used on this one dude to dig for more Watts, a guy at the dojo to teach some exclusive new moves (as in entirely new to the series), and on this one lady in an all-or-nothing gamble for additional Armorite Ore. The first and latter mechanics are all luck-based. Also luck-based is the Cram-o-Matic. You can insert items and pray that you get a better one. Using berries can make TRs appear. Additionally, Apricorns return to this game, and using them can get you a rare Poke Ball… if you’re lucky.

A welcome addition is Max Soup. This stuff can take any Pokemon whose species is capable of Gigantimaxing, and enable that to any of that species that can’t Gigantimax. This is a really good mechanic. However, it requires Max Mushrooms, which are easy enough to find, but only respawn after Dynamax Battles. And as someone who needs to rely on A.I. trainers to win them… I didn’t exactly get to use Max Soup too often.

The new Pokemon are the biggest reason to play Isle of Armor. First up is Galarian Slowbro. There are two reasons why it’s one of my favorite regional variants yet. The first reason is that I’ll never forget the time when Chuggaaconroy trollishly made Lucahjin and MasaeAnela draw it during TheRunawayGuys Colosseum Direct before it was ever revealed. The second reason is that it’s flat-out really good. It comes with the unique Poison-Psychic type, and the effect of the Quick Claw as an ability. I paired it up with an actual Quick Claw… and have no idea if the effects stack. But hey, it makes me feel good!

The other new Pokemon is Kubfu. It starts off as a typical Fighting-Type, but after MUCH level grinding, you can use it to take on one of two towers. Whichever one you beat determines which version of Urushifu it evolves into. Urushifu is definitely a great Pokemon, or at least my version is. It comes with an ability where it ignores Protect as long as it attacks with a direct contact move, plus a signature move with great base power that always crits.

As I said before, there isn’t anything of story interest after you finish Isle of Armor (unless I missed it). But there is one thing that does appear: Restricted Sparring. This is a competitive battle gauntlet, much like the Battle Tower, but you can only use teams with a matching Type. It’s really interesting, especially as someone who’s always wanted to do entire campaigns in this manner. But since it has teams built around competitive battling… yeah, I didn’t dabble in it too much.

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Final Verdict: 7.65/10

The Isle of Armor improves a lot of Sword and Shield mechanics, and shows the potential for what a hypothetical Generation Nine can hold. However, it’s short-lived and relies on grindy mechanics in order for you to get the bang for your buck. It’s worth playing if you’re a series’ veteran, but it’s more rational to wait and see if the Crown Tundra can justify the Expansion Pass’ cost.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Overview (Volumes 1-8)

This is a review of a light novel that I had abandoned around two years ago: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, one of J-Novel Club’s first publications. It looked great, then I read about two volumes and… just couldn’t get into it. I know that slow burns are a thing, but due to the sheer length of the series, plus me not yet having my IRL job at the time, I literally couldn’t afford to continue with it. But over the course of the last couple of months, I tried giving it a fair shot from where I left off.

In Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, twelve people end up in this world- all Breath of the Wild style (including the amnesia). But unlike Link, they just go to the nearest town and GET A JOB. That’s basically about it; a perfect opening for a sandbox JRPG. That analogy is pretty apt, because this world is- of course- run on videogame physics.

Since it IS a JRPG world, Grimgar operates like one, specifically by having a slow and boring start. Most of the first volume is them just getting acquainted with the world. It is generic and boring, and shouldn’t have taken so much time to get acquainted with in the first place. Grimgar reminds me a LOT of Goblin Slayer, one of my least favorite LNs of all time (the group even gets called Goblin Slayers), and it could’ve even inspired that cesspool of D&D tropes. 

“Well, that’s only an issue for the first few volumes, right?” you ask. I thought that would be the case at first. But Grimgar is a “realistic” isekai. That means no lofty goals, no big bads to take out, no nothing. The whole point of the story is just… to survive. For some people (*cough* critics *cough*), this sounds like the greatest thing ever. And for some, the idea alone is enough, based on the positive reviews I’ve read. But the idea alone is never enough for me. The execution is more important, and Grimgar’s execution isn’t exactly on point.

At first glance, it seems the author really shows how ruthless the world of Grimgar is. Plot relevant characters do actually die, and it’s not always obvious who’s wearing the red shirt at any given time. Furthermore, it does a great job at showcasing the team’s struggles and shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are a ton of tone shifts. You know, have a story that takes itself SO DAMN SERIOUSLY and then suddenly throws in an ecchi scene. NO, you’re doing it wrong! Golden Kamuy and One Piece are rare gems that can mesh opposing attitudes all too organically, but Grimgar is no such gem.

The cast is ultimately what made me abandon Grimgar two years ago. Having twelve main characters immediately can be overwhelming in a book. In something like Danganronpa, sure, you’re introduced to sixteen main characters, but you didn’t have to worry about picturing them. I remember taking half an hour at the prologue just because I had to establish an image of all twelve people simultaneously. Fortunately, the author had the courtesy to split them up. The main MAIN group consists of Haruhiro (the leading protagonist), Ranta, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo, and Manato, with the addition of Merry later on. 

Sadly, they aren’t that interesting. Haruhiro genuinely cares about his comrades, almost to a fault. But other than that, he’s a typical, bland self-insert. They try to justify this by having characters say something like, “He should be the leader because he’s the most ordinary” or something… but I still didn’t give a rat’s ass about him.

Ranta is the best and worst character in the whole series. He’s the best character because he has the most personality, memorable scenes, and feels the most fleshed out. Conversely, he’s the worst character because he’s a perv and is responsible for pretty much every tonal clash in the whole series (oh, and this person named Anna, who comes up later, is the female version of Ranta). Besides him, most of the others fulfill typical tropes like “deadpan loli” and “gentle giant”. There is some semblance of character development, which is enough for some (i.e. most) people, but for me, it falls flat in the face of their already boring personalities.

Visually, Grimgar has a true JRPG look. Watercolor paint style with desaturated but appealing colors give it an Octopath Traveler vibe. It also makes me wish that the quality of the art matched the actual story (oooooooh snap). 

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Verdict (Average of All Eight Volumes): 6.85/10

Although I can appreciate what Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash sets out to do, I’m not one of those people who gives A’s for effort. From its boring characters, to dialogue that’s so far out of left field that it circumnavigates the earth and ends up back in right field, it’s just too many negatives and not enough positives. Grimgar feels like something meant to be inherently appealing to critics above all else. Maybe I’ll revisit it, but for now, I just can’t. If all you care about is that it’s “realistic”, “human”, and “poignant”, then you’ll probably enjoy Grimgar more than me.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Full Game Review

PREFACE: In case you do not already know, I should warn you the Trails of Cold Steel Franchise is explicitly designed to be played in chronological order. No, it doesn’t have a stupidly convoluted plot like Metal Gear or Kingdom Hearts, but this is nonetheless a direct continuation of the first game. As such, this review will contain unmarked spoilers of the first game. I will also not explain any basic mechanics of the first game, as you are expected to know already from playing it. If you are interested in this franchise, click on this link to read my review of Trails of Cold Steel I.


Intro

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it was never meant to be a full game; no, it exists solely to lay down the groundwork for a truly epic tale, spanning four massive games. I was more engaged in the story of Cold Steel than any JRPG I’ve ever played, and it was definitely one of the best turn-based JRPGs in terms of gameplay. With that ridiculous ending- Crow being one of the main antagonists, mechs existing, Crossbell’s declaration of independence, mechs existing, Ouroboros and Fie’s old squad have been helping the Noble Alliance pull all the political strings, MECHS EXISTING- my body was beyond ready for the sequel. The first Cold Steel set the expectations, now it’s up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, to meet said expectations.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he- in his mech, Valimar- was forced to leave his buddies in Class VII behind during a losing battle against Crow, the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. A month later, Rean wakes up on a mountain range with Emma’s mysterious cat, Celine. Now it’s time for him to make like a battle shounen protagonist and pick himself back off the ground and find what’s left of Class VII! 

Same World, New Problem

Immediately, the game starts off way sadder than Cold Steel I (even if the opening sorta ruins it a little by showing that EVERY student in Class VII is still alive). As soon as you start the game, the familiar title card appears dark, with the words singed by fire. A minor-key remix of the original game’s titlescreen music plays, and zooms in on Rean’s unconscious body. His voice actor sounds much more distraught than usual at first, and his portrait in the menu looks like someone who’s been through hell and back. Then, mere minutes after you find respite in his hometown of Ymir during the prologue, the town gets attacked. In most JRPGs, I’d say that an opening like this would constitute little more than shock value. But since this is a continuation of an existing story, it’s actually more effective, since you’re likely to be invested in the story if you’re picking up this game up after playing the previous one.

If you’re still new to the series, and you’re STILL reading this review anyway, I should SERIOUSLY warn you that the game basically gives you the finger for not starting from the beginning. There are two reasons why it’s seriously important to start from Cold Steel I, and the first of which is merely because it will be way too overwhelming if you don’t. The title screen does have a menu to read a recap of the first game, but honestly, the first game is so involved, you’d spend hours of Cold Steel II trying to memorize everything while trying to follow the present plot. 

But even for a returning player, it can be confusing knowing who’s on what team. So here, I’ll remind you. The Imperial Liberation Front is in cahoots with Fie’s old jaeger squad, Zephyr, who both report to Duke Ceyenne, the leader of the Noble Alliance. Ouroboros is with them as well, but Sharon seems to be a double agent; someone on both our and their side. Vita, the sexy sorceress lady, seems to be in a third group, containing space wizards (or something) who’ve been working on a completely separate thing. 

I pointed out that you need to keep in mind that Cold Steel I is the start of a larger story in order to enjoy it. In Cold Steel II, you need to keep in mind that it’s a continuation of a larger story. As a result, there are a lot of reused assets. While the world is big enough that you do get to visit areas that have only been mentioned, there are times where you return to old places. It really plays on your nostalgia bug, like at the start of chapter one, which has you go through a previous Field Study dungeon backwards.

Unfortunately, playing this game has kind of broken my immersion when it comes to Erebonia itself. Cold Steel I was split into multiple, self-contained areas, connected by long train rides. This was an effective way to make you use your imagination, and imagine the grandiose scope of the world. However, in Cold Steel II, you end up taking the roads that connect various areas in foot… and this is where the immersion breaks. It’s as soon as you set foot into Trista Highway for the first time that it’s made apparent; those train rides that took hours of in-game time were the alternative to roads that took minutes to traverse. It’s a nitpick, I know, but Erebonia definitely feels less Tolkienian since the world feels so much smaller now.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s actually… kind of lacking for a direct continuation, especially after an ending like Cold Steel I. Similar to how the first game’s purpose is to acquaint us with the world of Erebonia and all who inhabit it, Cold Steel II starts by reacquainting us with it, and seeing how much has changed as a result of the war. But even after the point where the story is supposed to ramp up, most of the game boils down to reclaiming areas from the first game, and gaining more support. It’s satisfying to do, but you don’t learn much about the core narrative, at least not until around the 75% point of the game, when it vomits information at you like any JRPG would.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that it never ends. After you defeat what is very much intended to be the final boss (which took me two and a half hours by itself because there’s, like, five phases), you end up playing a side section that serves no purpose other than to get players interested in another franchise set within the same universe (which, I’ll admit, was pretty darn effective, even if those games aren’t released in the U.S.). And then, you get an entire in-game day’s worth of content to do. AND AFTER THAT, the true final dungeon appears for no discernible reason. It got so annoying. The issue is that this game hypes itself up to be the conclusion of Cold Steel, and while it does a pretty good job at conveying that on an emotional level, it is very watered down by the known presence of two more games.

Same Faces… Plus a Few New Ones

Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to learn from the characters. We get closer looks at characters like Claire and Sharon, and even deeper looks at the students of Class VII. I love them even more than I did before. To think that I brushed most of them off as bland anime tropes at first… that’s character development at its finest. I’ve grown so attached to them, that I even gave some of them nicknames, such as “Reany-Beany” and “Useless Jusis” (even though the latter is my favorite of the supporting male characters).

We also get more development on the antagonists, such as Crow. Plus, there are some interesting new antagonists with quirky personalities, such as the cocky yet socially awkward Duvalie, and the sleepy McBurn. Unfortunately, Duke Cayenne proves to be a pretty one-dimensional villain for the post part.

Audiovisuals

Unsurprisingly, Cold Steel II‘s graphics aren’t too different from the first game. I shouldn’t have expected them to be since it’s both the same system and the same world, but I still had to mention it. But one thing I didn’t acknowledge in my review of the first game is that a lot of the animations for attacks, especially S-Crafts, have aged very well. They look soooooooo animeeeeeee!

The soundtrack is also more-or-less the same. A lot of tracks are reused, but there are also some new, updated battle themes. Unfortunately, a lot of tracks overstay their welcome. One bad example is that there’s a point where you tackle four dungeons in quick succession, and music for all of them is some really grating opera. Furthermore, the previous game’s issue of “having the dungeon theme play over the battle theme because it’s INTENSE” comes back even more in this game. And similar to the other example, those themes get reused as well.

Gameplay (Intro)

For the gameplay section, I will still split it into Daily Life and Deadly Life. But like I said before, I will go over mechanics as if you’re already familiar with the first game. I will also bring up the fact that this version of the game, Relentless Edition, SPOILS you. First off, the amazing Turbo Mode feature is still present. Second off, you get WAY more items in the DLC than last time, including 99 U-Materials. 

Before we start, I must also bring up the other important reason to play Cold Steel I first. When starting a new game of Cold Steel II, you will be asked if you want to load Clear Save Data from Trails I on your system. Doing this will give you items based on Rean’s previous Academy Rank, and change dialogue based on various accomplishments, as well as the person you chose to dance with at the end of Cold Steel I (G.G. for anyone who chose Crow). It felt really satisfying to have my actions acknowledged, and it helped maintain a sense of continuity.

Daily Life

JRPGs Always Need an Airship

So, the first question I- and probably a lot of people asked- going into Cold Steel II was, “Without Thors, how’re we gonna have the same school mechanics?” Well, the answer is a minor spoiler, and one that is spoiled in the game’s intro at that. After a certain point, your main base of operations is on the Courageous.

But the problem with the Courageous is that it needs some help. Fortunately, scattered throughout the world are your fellow peers from Thors. Whenever you see them, it is encouraged to recruit them to the ship, as many of them unlock new facilities. Most of these are carry-over mechanics from Cold Steel I, so I will only discuss new things here.

For starters, there’s new training facilities. These are basically your Practical Exams from Cold Steel I, except you can do them whenever. They are split into Melee, Range, and Arts, where you are locked into using characters who are built around those fighting styles. The biggest issue with them (other than how stupid hard they get) is that you don’t get to prep anyone before the fight itself like you can in the first game. Furthermore, you don’t get to see the conditions until the battle starts, which can be annoying.

There’s also the new Triple Tri- I mean- Blade II. This game plays like the first one, but with meaner trap cards: Blast and Force. Blast Cards allow you to destroy a card in your opponent’s hand (but you can’t look at it), and Force Cards double your total. Even with how game-breaking these new cards are, I still lost 95% of the time because I suck. 

Once you recruit Munk, you are able to bribe him to apply to radio contests on your behalf. There’s a cheap one where you win a modest prize, and a high-risk, high-rewards one. The results come in after five battles (excluding the training facilities in the Courageous), so make sure you use it before you go out into a combat area.

“Hey, Rean! Have you finished those errands?”

Quests are pretty much unchanged, except with the added feature of reporting manually by Skyping Olivert. And despite the hard times, people can afford to pay up. In addition to the usual rewards for completing a quest, you get a monetary donation for reporting it. There are still hidden quests, and they are sneakier than ever. Some require you to have or not have certain people in your party (but I have no idea if the game indicates it to you because I was always lucky enough to already have met the conditions).

But unlike the first game, you cannot miss ANY quests if you want to max out your Academy Rank. Last time, I missed three and still barely got it. But now, even after doing every quest (with the trophy to confirm it), I ended the game with only ONE excess AP. There is only a sliver of leeway, as I didn’t get all S-Ranks despite getting all quests. I guess some of them had more favorable outcomes and I didn’t realize it. Fortunately, due to the game’s circumstances, there are no exams this time! Yay!

You Never Have Enough Sepith in This Game

One thing I noticed in Cold Steel II was that everyone’s Arcus slots are still fully opened. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In this game, you spend Sepith to UPGRADE your slots, and I blew through most of my DLC Sepith just to be barely close to maxing out one character. If you don’t do this, you can’t equip rare quartz. It’s annoying, but they had to change it up somehow. As a side note, you eventually get the ability to create EX Orbs, which are equipped to Valimar to boost its stats.

Wow, this game has an actual overworld!

The most standout improvement in Cold Steel II is the ability to go to older areas at will. The Courageous makes it really easy to do so, and you can leave from almost any point on the map. There are times where you will be asked for specific party members, but fortunately, summoning the Courageous from the overworld allows you to reorganize your team without having to leave and come back.

So, what did Cold Steel II do to replace the Old Schoolhouse? Peppered throughout the world are these strange shrines. Gameplay-wise, they’re the same as the Old Schoolhouse; do the floor, beat the boss. You can’t complete them at first, but you obtain bonus AP for knocking out what you can early on (plus they got good loot in them).

The whole Courageous thing is the best and worst aspect of the game. It does open up a lot stuff, and adds much variety when you’re running errands for people. One thing I noticed is that there aren’t as many hidden quests once you obtain the Courageous (in fact, I only had one in Act 2 Part 4 and one in the Final Act), which is nice. However, this new level of accessibility makes it so that you can get said missable items out of sequence. And it’s not based on the order that the areas come up in the story; for example, a single shop can have both the first recipe and last book chapter of that particular time bracket. As a result, I think I spent even more time repeatedly talking to the same NPCs over and over again than I did last time.

Saving the World? Nah, I’d Rather Fish and Cook

Cooking and fishing have both been buffed since last time. While fishing is mechanically unchanged, fishing spots get marked on the map after being used once, which is nice. And due to the ability to travel to older areas, you get a lot more respawning fishing spots that you can use. Unfortunately, this also means completing the fishing is a nightmare. In Cold Steel I, all fish eventually end up in Trista. However, that’s not the case here. Furthermore, the fishing locations don’t respawn as quickly as they should, meaning that you’ll need more groundbait than ever (or save-scumming) if you want to get all the fish… on top of having to try each and every location without knowing which one has a fish you missed. In fact, I resorted to looking up the fish just to save time. But hey, at least recipes are only cooked by one character now, which simplifies the process of getting a specific type of dish.

Nakama Power, the Most Important Superpower in Any Anime

Bonding Events are much more important in this game. While there are some Bonding Events early on, the bulk of them take place on Stopover Days that occur at the end of a chapter once you obtain the Courageous. Unlike the first game, EVERY party member, as well as Alfin and Towa, are available to spend time with. While you get more Bonding Points than last time, it’s not enough to make it easier to decide. “We’ll, it’s not gonna kill me if I don’t know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY,” you think. We’ll, you might just want to save-scum to view every event, because Bonding Events have a new and trollish effect. Some SPECIFIC events will allow a character to learn new abilities earlier than they would’ve from levelling up, which is kind of annoying. I only saw one of these particular events, and the game doesn’t even tell you about them in the first place.

There’s also the case of Final Bonding Events. These are exclusive scenes between Rean and assorted characters towards the end of the game. In order to unlock a character’s Final Bonding Event, you must get their link level to its second-highest level, which is now six out of seven (technically, it only needs to be up to five and a half or so since finishing Act 2 boosts everyone’s links by 1000), as well as fulfill specific other conditions. You can also have Towa and Alfin in line for this, but you will need to do every single Bonding Event with them in order to be able to satisfy the conditions with them. Fortunately, the game will tell you when you have an opportunity to satisfy one of said conditions, which is something much appreciated that most JRPGs don’t bother doing. Also, once you recruit Beryl, you can use her services to confirm with whom you have met the conditions for. Unfortunately, when the time comes, you can only do one per playthrough, so save-scumming at that point is essential. It is also impossible to meet the conditions with everyone at once. This means that you will have to play through again in New Game+ to see everything (which you would’ve had to do anyway to complete the character notebook entries).

What is this, Sonic Adventure 1?

A new mechanic is snowboarding. Throughout the story, you unlock new courses to snowboard in. Beating these gets you great prizes, but like in any videogame, it gets really difficult late on.  In addition to snowboards, you also get to ride Angelica’s bike. It can be used almost anywhere and greatly makes up for the lack of fast travel points on highways.

Deadly Life

A Steep Learning Curve Just got Even Steeper

Here’s the final reason as to why Cold Steel II does not like newcomers: All the combat mechanics learned over the course of more than half of Cold Steel I… is taught all at once during the Prologue. So seriously… if you’re somehow still reading this and not familiar with the series. FOR THE LOVE OF AIDIOS, PLAY COLD STEEL I

For returning players, this brings some immediate positives. In Cold Steel II, every character has all their Craft and S-Craft from the first game. Your Link levels are also higher at the start, with Rean starting at Link Level 2 with everyone. This at least makes it easier for returning players to get reacclimated to the game.

A new mechanic is Overdrive. Use this between a pair of Linked characters to give them a free heal, and a set of three free attack turns with no delay. This also guarantees Unbalancing. The gauge fills by doing things in battle, but it fills up much faster based on your tactical bonuses at the end of a battle. Unfortunately, only people paired with Rean can do it…

…at first. New to Cold Steel II are Trial Chests. These chests make a set pair of party members fight a tough battle. But as a reward, you get great items, a heap of Link XP for that pair, and unlock the ability for them to use Overdrive together. It’s a great way for characters that aren’t Rean to get large amounts of Link XP, since the bonding events from Cold Steel I kinda threw off the balance of everyone’s link levels (but it still ends up being way off-balanced).

Mech Battles Before Xenoblade X Made it Cool

My biggest concern when it came to combat was how Cold Steel II would expand on the Divine Knight (a.k.a. mech) battles. Introduced during the final boss of Cold Steel I, mech battles felt very stressful and iffy. Basically, mech battles were a game of rock-paper-scissors, where you had to attack a section of the target that was weak- the head, the body, or the arms. Attacking a weak point resulted in a crit, which allowed you to press X for an immediate Follow-up, and after obtaining three Bravery Points, you could use a powerful Finisher (basically an S-Craft). The catch is that the weakness changed based on the enemy’s stance, which resulted in having to memorize a lot of combinations. Attacking the wrong spot could result in getting the attack blocked, or worse, evaded. This, as always, gives enemies the chance to counter. You also couldn’t Impede attacks that enemies were charging up last time, even if you inflicted a crit, so you were basically screwed.

Fortunately, Cold Steel II greatly fixes some of these issues. The game adds a Defend command, which allows you to greatly reduce damage and recover a small chunk of HP. But one of the best additions by far is the fact they show the Unbalance Efficacy of each piece- in each stance- after you attack it once. THANK YOU.

Although Rean is on his own in mech battles, his buddies can at least help with EX Arts. Basically, you have another character who takes their own turn in the fights. When it’s their turn, you can have them cast some EX Arts, the nature of which are determined by the person. This greatly fleshes out the mech battles, plus every person has a charge function to restore Valimar’s EP (which doesn’t really justify the parts of the game where you wait for him to recharge…). You also have a Unity Attack that you can do with five Bravery Points.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Rean also gets some significant boosts in this game. After a while, he is able to summon Valimar to regular battles for three turns, and is able to activate his Super Saiyan form at will. These can be very useful in some super-tough battles, especially if you play it on Nightmare difficulty.

One new feature is the optional bosses, the Cryptids. These enemies appear throughout the world after certain points in the story. Defeating them nets you a rare quartz containing a Lost Art. These Arts are really powerful, but consume all of a character’s EP. Fortunately, they are affected by the Zero-Arts turn bonus, which can seriously save your bum. I didn’t use them too often, but I imagine they are essential in Hard and Nightmare difficulties.

Either This Game is Hard… or I Suck

If it wasn’t obvious enough that this game alienates newcomers, they also make it much harder than Cold Steel I. I died way more often than before, and in this game I actually knew what I was doing. They really expect you to have mastered the turn order system, along with all the other mechanics, ‘cuz the kid gloves are off this time! The game also introduces a rare case of enemy attacks that ignore and remove all buffs, and some of these attacks happen to be their strongest attack. The Zeram Capsule + Moebius setup I utilized in the last game made its final dungeon a joke, but that same setup was a necessity in this game. If I hadn’t gotten forty of them as DLC, I would’ve been sunk.

Fortunately, I learned some important things about the series that I didn’t know last time. Stat changes do stack in Cold Steel, which I honestly should’ve noticed before. Also, Evasion is a broken stat in this series, especially if you give your most dodgy character (preferably Fie) the Wrath Quartz, which makes all counterattacks crit. I also had her paired with the Master Quartz, Mirage, which adds a good chance of evading magic. This game was my first time trying an Evasion build on a character; I’ve always prioritized defense in JRPGs in the past. Furthermore, Speed is immensely important, as it reduces characters’ Delay between turns, which again, is something I should’ve known last time.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel II is a massive improvement over the first game in almost every way (except strictness, and knowing when to roll credits). At this point, I am hooked on this story and I fully intend to see it to its end (and pray that I get the True Ending of the fourth game). However, I am concerned about the third game. Based on the one thing I know about it, it feels like it will be a step backward for the series. Well, with my job opened back up, you won’t know how I feel about it for a while. Anyways, as far as recommendations for Trails of Cold Steel is concerned, I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot, even if you are uncomfortable with missing things. The game is good at letting you know when you’re at a cut-off point, making it a lot less stressful than most JRPGs.

Deathbound Duke’s Daughter: Erika Aurelia and the Seafarer’s Ruins Review

I have a confession to make: a couple of years ago, I read the first volume of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom, and wholly disliked it. Maybe it improves, but all I saw was a typical, slow-paced, “grounded and realistic” slice-of-life fantasy that tried to hide that fact with an interesting premise. “Now what does that have to do with the topic at hand?” you ask. Well, you’ll see when I describe the premise of Deathbound Duke’s Daughter, published in English by J-Novel Club.

Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is a blatant clone of My Next Life as a Villainess. An unnamed character, who was apparently murdered at her workplace, is reincarnated as Erika Aurelia, the antagonist of her favorite otome game, Liber Monstrorum. Erika has a red shirt on, and is destined to die at the very beginning of the game. With her wits, the new Erika might be able to reverse her fate.

The immediate difference with Deathbound and Villainess is the world that the “games” are set in. In Villainess, Katarina is harassed by the student body, or accosted by bandits or something (I actually forgot because, to reiterate, I didn’t exactly like that series). On the flipside, Liber Monstrum proves to be the Dark Souls of visual novels; there’s vampyres, werewolves, and all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors that await. 

This gives Deathbound a much more adventurous vibe than Villainess, which automatically makes it a great light novel for me (even though “objectively” it’s bad because it doesn’t involve solving personal, human issues *sarcasm*). It wastes no time diving into the titular Seafarer’s Ruins, where Erika must save some kids from being King Midas’d to death, and more importantly, saving herself by having their hypothetical dead spirits not curse her.

However, the characters- like many-an isekai- leave much to be desired. Erika, despite supposedly being evil, is just about as un-evil and plain ordinary as Katarina from Villainess. The other major characters include Claus and Anne Hafan. The former is a typical overpowered self-insert protagonist (but he’s not the MAIN protagonist, which makes him subversive! *sarcasm*), and Anne is just a boring moe blob.

The art for this novel series is great, especially the cover art. It has a very whimsical look. However, the interior illustrations look kind of weird to me. It’s probably because it’s shoujo-looking, and I find that artstyle to be weird in general.

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Verdict: 7.5/10

Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is definitely a better version of My Next Life as a Villainess. However, it’s not perfect. If it doesn’t grow some personality soon, then I’ll end up dropping it just as hard as I did its clone. For now, I recommend it to fans of Villainess, as well as Ascendance of a Bookworm and Mushoku Tensei.

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2, Her Majesty’s Swarm Volume 3, and Invincible Shovel Volume 2 Reviews

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2

Last time on Last Round Arthurs, Rintaro transfers to Camelot International High School, where he joins forces with Luna Artur to help her win the King Arthur Succession Battle. He immediately sees Luna’s Jack, Sir Kay, being used as an idol at the school, and it’s thanks to Luna- the student council president- that it could happen. This aggros the head of the Ethics Committee, Tsugumi Mimori, and the campus turns into an all-out battleground. After school, he meets her on the roof, where she lets him join her in the succession battle! The first thing they do is… break into their own school’s fantasy office to steal the answers to their midterms. But then, they’re attacked by the Ethics Committee, and someone casts a spell that sends them to the Netherworld. Luna summons Sir Kay, who goes off with Rintaro to find the spellcaster. They find Luna’s rival, Felicia, and Felicia’s Jack, Sir Gawain, waiting for them outside the school. Gawain beats Kay easily, but Rintaro is really confident that he can take on the knight. And guess what, Rintaro beats Gawain like it’s nothing, since Gawain is only at peak performance in the daytime (and it happened to be nighttime then). However, Felicia uses her Excalibur to create a dazzling light that freezes Rintaro and Kay in place, while giving Gawain his special boost. But then, Rintaro transforms into a mythic creature, which is apparently called a Fomorian (look it up). Rintaro is crazy powerful in this state, and thus Felicia undoes the Netherworld spell and flees with Gawain. Luna had apparently been watching the whole time, but surprisingly, she thinks the Fomorian transformation was super cool. Later, Felicia is attacked by the strongest candidate, Gloria. After selling some bread with a skimpy prize inside, Luna and Rintaro go out… on a date… and we learn of the real goal of the succession battle: whoever wins must stand against the Catastrophe, an event where reality and fantasy collide sometime in the future. But then, they stumble upon Gawain, who was fleeing from Gloria… a.k.a. Luna’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Kujo (and his Jack, Sir Lancelot)! He demands that Luna meets at the Central Park Hotel at midnight, or else Felicia’s life will be forfeit. While Gawain divulges his tragic backstory, about how his jealousy for Lancelot caused the fall of King Arthur, we learn that Rintaro is actually Merlin! Unfortunately, drama unfolds between him and Luna, and he quits being her vassal. Luna infiltrates the hotel with Kay and Gawain by her side. At the top floor, they end up in an illusory replica of Camlann Hill, where Kujo confronts them. Meanwhile, Rintaro has a talk with Nayuki, one of the girls from school, and learns that Luna sold her Excalibur as a bribe to protect her school from some corporation. Back at the hotel, when Luna is about to lose, Rintaro appears and hands over her Excalibur, which he stole from that company. He fights with Kay, Gawain, and Felicia to hold Lancelot and Kujo back while Luna charges up her Excalibur, but it gets ugly when Kujo wields his own, exponentially powerful Excalibur. But once Luna activates her Royal Road, based on trust between her and her vassal, it’s G.G. for Kujo. In the aftermath, Kujo awakens in a room with a strange robed girl (the same one who compelled Rintaro to join the battle in the first place)… who turns out to be Tsugumi, a.k.a. Morgan le Fay, the evil sorceress from King Arthur’s era. Meanwhile, Rintaro and Felicia’s teams form a truce for the time being.

This volume shows us a little more of the Dame du Lac, the organization behind the entire King Arthur Succession Battle. Since they created the Curtain of Consciousness that protects everyone from the illusory world, they kinda have authority over the whole world. But before we can ponder how likely they are to be totally-not-evil, our Motley crew is ordered to take out some Rifts in the Curtain.

We’re introduced to some new characters: Emma Michelle, another King, and her Jack, Lamorak. Emma knew Rintaro way back when, and she’s all over him. Meanwhile, Lamorak is literally Eris from Mushoku Tensei: red hair, loli, brash. 

Most of this volume ends up being about Emma. Emma, Emma, Emma. The main conflict is not a bunch of deadly Rifts, but a shipping war, because EVERYONE loves those. It’s annoying, but at the same time, the antics that ensue are pretty funny.

But things ramp up in the volume’s second half. We get a ton of character development for Emma. Unfortunately, she ends up being another marketable waifu, but her character arc doesn’t quite resolve in the way that it usually does with girls like her. I can appreciate that much, at least.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Last Round Arthurs is still a great light novel, and more proof that there is a lot of good in modern light novels; they just don’t get anime adaptations. I’m very hyped for what this franchise has in store moving forward.


Her Majsety’s Swarm Volume 3

Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, Grevillea decides to infiltrate the Dukedom of Schtraut. With a Masquerade Swarm by their side, they head into Marine, the first city in Schtraut, disguised as refugees from Maluk. Their investigations show that Schtraut and Nyrnal don’t see eye to eye, and that adventurers are being sent to spy on Maluk. They join a guild to form connections. Eventually, Grevillea is invited to a party by Count Basil de Buffon. At the party, they have a run-in with a whiny noble, after which the Duke of Schtraut, Caeser de Sharon, appears. Serignan lures him over to Grevillea, who straight-up tells him that she was the mastermind behind the Maluk incident. They talk, and she tries to persuade him to let her Swarm through Schtraut to invade Frantz, and that she’ll defend his country during the inevitable war with both Nyrnal and Frantz that’s about to unfold. He leans toward her proposal, and even has her attend the International Council as a noble of Maluk… or rather have Maluk’s princess attend while controlled by a Parasite Swarm. The politics go as planned, and while the different countries are bickering, she’ll destroy them both. In order to stand up to the new threats, Grevillea makes some new heavy artillery. Meanwhile, Caesar forms an alliance with the Arachnea… if he wasn’t impeached by Leopold de Lorianne, the same mud-slinging S.O.B. from the party. Now, they have to fight Schtraut straight-up. They arrive in Marine, which has been completely destroyed. Out of a bizarre sense of respect, they harvest their bodies as meat for the Swarm. They destroy some peeps, but Grevillea ends up drinking poisoned well water, and wakes up back in the real world. She plays the game for a while, but ends up wanting to go back. Some girl appears, saying that the other world is a Devil’s Game, and swears to save Grevillea from it someday. She returns, and takes a while to remember everything. After that, they continue to destroy, further reducing Leopold the whiny noble to tatters. An army led by his younger brother, Roland, attacks next, but they too are quickly destroyed. Roland hates what Leopold did, so Grevillea offers to make him a Swarm to exact revenge. Meanwhile, Leopold’s last ditch effort is to get the Swarm on the bridge to his base, and blow it up with them on it. Fortunately, Roland knows how to steer a ship, and by extension, the Swarm now knows as well. With this, they are easily able to invade the city. They make their way to Leopold, but a basilisk comes out of the wine cellar! They destroy it easily, and proceed into the cellar to find him cowering in a secret room. Grevillea uses a Parasite Swarm to make him destroy himself. But then, she ends up back in her “room” again. That girl is here, and her name is Sandalphon. Another girl, named Samael, appears as well. They argue, and imply that Grevillea did something in her human life that resulted in her having to be judged in the game world? Well, whatever, she goes back and everything’s fine.

This latest volume shows that Her Majesty’s Swarm may be starting to enter a rut. Similar to the previous volumes, we are introduced to a new character whom Grevillea hits it off with, but then bites the dust. And just like the previous two times, she becomes a sociopath almost instantly. It was cool at the beginning, but when you have three red shirts pop up three times in a row in similar circumstances, it gets harder and harder to take seriously, kind of like Goblin Slayer.

But hey, at least sociopath Grevillea is the best Grevillea. With her sights set on the Popedom of Frantz, she’s just as conniving as she always is. The volume really ham-fists how corrupt Frantz is, and some of the things they show are pretty brutal. The plot thickens even more as far as the reason why Grevillea is in this world is concerned.

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Verdict: 8.15/10

Currently, this is the shortest individual review I have ever written. I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything else about this volume of Her Majesty’s Swarm without spoiling stuff, and even then, it would be difficult for me to make this post more verbose. This is one of those franchises where it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. This isn’t the only case, but others at least have some variety that warrants discussion. Her Majesty’s Swarm has next to no variety as far as content is concerned. It’s going to need to answer some of the questions it asks fast, or else there’ll be some trouble.


The Invincible Shovel Volume 2

Last time on The Invincible Shovel, the legendary miner, Alan, saves a princess named Lithisia using the power of his shovel. According to her, a demon named Zeleburg is threatening to take over her country. The only way to fight him back is to recover the seven Orbs, so the two of them set off to grab them. On the way, they run into Lithisia’s incapable bodyguard, Catria. But she attacks Alan, so he puts her in a hole. He convinces her about his shovel by beating her, and a team of thirty other knights, with it… and thus, she joins his party. They arrive in an elven forest that’s been ravaged by Dark Beasts, and Alan saves an elf girl named Fioriel. She’s a descendant of an old friend of his, so he helps her, which takes only thirty seconds. He also whips up a massive fortress to protect the forest. After that, Fioriel becomes Lithisia’s friend. But they leave her alone in her castle so they can go through their first dungeon: the Ancient Castle of Riften. Thanks to some extensive info gathering and remodeling, they have an easy time reaching the Blue Orb. After the boss, Alice Veknarl, flees, Alan swipes the orb and destroys the castle after they leave. She attacks again, but Alan captures her easily. After some torture, he saves her from the demon’s curse, and she tags along. Now their next destination is the desert! They head to Desertopia, where Alan saves a space girl named Julia, who has water powers. When discussing her backstory, Alan surmises that her ritual was sabotaged. When they get to her village, Alan attacks the village elder, who turns out to be a Doppelganger working for Zeleburg! But of course, Alan takes care of it, and gains new followers in the process. They infiltrate the pyramid easily, but have to contend with the dragon. Alan defeats while nearly destroying the universe. With the Red Orb in hand, the motley crew looks toward a neighboring country where they can spread Lithisia’s cult religion…

Today’s next victim is the Ice Nation of Shilasia. It doesn’t take long for the story to immediately bury itself in its shovel memes. And guess what, it gets even deeper. In this volume, Alan digs up an international embassy, a house made out of avalanche, rewrites the law, and more.

We are also introduced to a character who- finally- is about as good as Lithisia. The latest beholder of Shovelism is the Ice Sage/Witch, Riezfeld. She’s a riot. Riez has a massive ego, but it gets buried deeper and deeper every time Alan performs one of his massive feats. Like everyone else, she just has to accept that he’s too powerful. Another new face is Lucrezia, a young noblewoman. Unfortunately, she’s not as likeable as Riez, which stinks, because it looks as if Riez is a one-off character for just her specific arc.

Other than that, it’s the same shovel antics as usual. This is exactly what I was worried about after reading the previous volume; that the series would get extremely repetitive. Plus, it gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief over the ridiculous things that Alan is capable of. It’s not stale yet, but that entirely depends on how much longer it’s going to go.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

The Invincible Shovel is still a fun, mindless screwball comedy. Lithisia makes the story pop, as always, and overall it’s very funny. Let’s see how long it would take for it to overstay its welcome.

Millennium Actress Movie Review

I stated in my Tokyo Godfathers review that it was the “best anime movie I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell“. As such, it was a no-brainer that would watch another Satoshi Kon flick, Millennium Actress, on Kanopy, from a completely different license holder than GKids. Going into it, I was aware that Tokyo Godfathers was a black sheep in Kon’s career, and that this movie was going to be much darker and stranger than I could possibly expect.

In Millennium Actress, two documentarians, Genya Tachibana and Kyouji Ida, are given the opportunity to interview retired actress Chiyoko Fujiwara. The old bird gladly divulges her life story to them, and those two end up along for quite a ride.

And I mean that literally. The movie seems straightforward at first glance, and that’s because it is. Minor spoilers: it doesn’t take long before the men interviewing her are literally IN Chiyoko’s flashbacks along with her past self.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more meta, here’s a real hum-dinger. The bulk of Chiyoko’s story isn’t just told through flashbacks, but additionally through assorted scenes in her movies. These are seamlessly integrated into the actual plot, which is quite impressive (also, it’s convenient that all of her movies had similar premises). In these sequences, Tachibana ends up inexplicably planted into each given movie as an extra, further adding to the meta aspect.

Unfortunately, the biggest issue with Millennium Actress is Chiyoko’s story itself. The main conflict of the movie involves Chiyoko trying her butt off to find a tall, dark, and handsome guy she met for five minutes when she was, like, twelve. It’s so annoying when a female character gets her heart set aflutter by these idealized bozos. Sure, she was young and dumb, but the guy looks like he’s at least fifteen years older than her, which is kinda weird. Look, I don’t hem and haw over these intentionally controversial old-on-young people romances, like the Monica and Richard thing from Friends, but at least they GOT TO KNOW EACH OTHER FIRST.

This doesn’t help her as a character either. While it’s always fun [for Westerners] to watch someone descend into madness, her issues seem cringey and annoying. At least characters like Citizen Kane had REAL issues, his case being his own mother selling him to the freaking BANK, or Mildred Pierce, whose case I won’t mention because it’s a spoiler. Overall, Chiyoko comes off as a whiny brat throughout the film.

Fortunately, the two reporters are better. They have great chemistry with each other, and add a lot of humor to the movie that very much reminds me of Tokyo Godfathers. Also, they sort of represent the audience in some way. Tachibana comes off as the self-proclaimed intellectual who is totally into whatever the movie throws at him, and Ida acts like the trend-savvy, filthy casual who wouldn’t know REAL art even if it placed his head into its bosom. The fact that I’m not waxing poetic about Kon’s “Schrodinger’s Cat, quantum-reality-warping transcendentalist genius” or whatever means that I’m CLEARLY more like Ida in this case.

When it comes to visuals, despite being only a year or two before Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress looks much more aged. But even then, it still looks better than pretty much every TV anime these days. It also seems that Kon’s movies have a signature face style, similar to that of Ghibli. I hope that I don’t get sick of it if I choose to watch any more Kon movies.

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Final Verdict: 8.85/10

While I didn’t enjoy it as much as Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress was still a great movie, and proof that this Kon guy knew what he was doing. However, when you take away the whole “warping between past, present, and movie scenes” thing, it amounts to little more than a bog-standard tragic love story. This brings up the question of what’s more important in storytelling: The story or the telling? I’m a bit of a weird combination of both, but you’ll need to lean a lot toward the latter in order to enjoy Millennium Actress.