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A Witch’s Printing Office First Impressions (with an Important Announcement)

As I come upon my first whole year of managing this blog (by myself, by the way), I have been battling against a lot of stress. I don’t just have this to manage, but a full-time job as well. Plus, there’s way too much media that comes out. Even when I pick and choose what I absolutely want to cover, there’s too much. I can also imagine that you get an aneurysm trying to keep up with my three posts a week.

Fortunately, there’s going to be some changes, effective today, August 4th, 2020. Posts will be back to how they were in the very beginning: every Tuesday and Saturday. As a result, there won’t be as many First Impressions of manga, not unless I’m certain my opinion will sway wildly once they’re complete. For example, I have a Jujutsu Kaisen First Impressions written already (I’m just waiting for the anime to air so I can mooch off of it). It’s a battle shounen; those are chaotic by nature and wildly inconsistent in quality at times. While I enjoyed what I read so far, that can change over the course of a single chapter.

Light novels are going to be handled differently. If you’ve read some of my light novel reviews, you’ll have seen my struggles to write something of substance in some of them. Even if I love them, a lot of them are pretty formulaic, such as Cautious Hero and Konosuba. I even did the stupid recap thing solely to extend the reviews. As such, I will now save most light novel posts for one long post at the end of a given month, where I’ll just put a small blurb for each. Exceptions will be for the first and final volumes of a given series (assuming I get far enough for the latter). For example, I plan to post a review of The Eminence in Shadow Volume 1 when that comes out. Since it’s brand new, that’ll be its own post, but all subsequent volumes will be in the monthly post, which I’ll name “Weeb Reads Monthly” or something similar. Another exception will be any series I’ve been doing arc-by-arc, which just applies to Monogatari and Sword Art Online.

So yeah, hopefully this’ll help both our sanity. Do you like the new schedule that I’m implementing? Hopefully you do, because I really didn’t like the old way at all. Anyway, I don’t want this post to just be a dumb announcement, so below is the post I was planning to have done normally…


A lot of critics complain about isekai for being the same thing over and over again. Even the new, slice-of-life variants that are the exact opposite of typical, action-driven-harem isekai are becoming common to the point of redundancy. Now it’s at the point where the subversive isekai need to subvert themselves, and a manga (not a light novel) by the name of A Witch’s Printing Office (published in English by Yen Press) is one such subversion.

In A Witch’s Printing Office, a girl named Mika Kamiya has been reincarnated into a fantasy world (as you do). The manga kindly skips all the formalities and goes well into her career at a book printing firm called Protagonist Press. But in addition to working at a printing press, she also runs Magiket: a popular magic-themed convention!

Immediately, this manga shows off its social commentaries, not on politics, but on real world conventions (and I mean event-conventions, not social protocol). The fact that the setting is called “Akivalhalla”, based on Akihabara in Japan, shows just how creative this manga is. It even opens when these Akivalhalla Knights defeat the Overnight Fiends: literal monsters that parody those who camp outside a venue before it opens. 

But a slice-of-life isekai is still a slice-of-life isekai. While Mika implies that she wants to go back to the real world, she seems perfectly at home in the fantasy world. Most of the story are self-contained narratives, which are based around managing the convention and printing books. There is continuity, like when they introduce another person from our world into the story, but it usually hard cuts to something completely different after the fact.

Fortunately, all the chapters have their own unique charm to them. When they are not running the printing press or the convention, Mika has all sorts of funny adventures. From taking a holy sword just to use as a paper cutter, to getting unwittingly possessed by an evil mage, this manga has a lot of variety to it; it’s not just “Praise me for how chill and low-stakes I am” like most other slice-of-life isekai. Plus, the humor is really on point.

I tend to dislike most slice-of-life isekais’ casts, and while this manga isn’t quite an exception, I at least enjoyed A Witch’s Printing Office’s cast marginally better than most others of the genre. Mika comes off as a ditzy moe blob, but she shows a bit of a greedy side that makes her more interesting than most ditzy moe blobs. Sadly, her two friends, Clair and Kiriko, seem to just serve as two pairs of large breasts (and I really hope they’re legal adults for no particular reason related to my perverse imagination). A lot of the minor characters end up being pretty likeable, but they’re called minor characters for a reason.

The art for A Witch’s Printing Office is so good, that I’m willing to believe it was done with Clip Studio assets. There is so much life, detail, and texture to every panel, yet it’s still easy to tell what’s going on. The landscapes are absolutely beautiful, and I’d hate to see a hypothetical anime adaptation undermine the whole thing. There is a lot of charm and personality poured into it that I could spend minutes gawking at any given page.

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Current Verdict: 8.95/10

Like many, many truly great franchises, A Witch’s Printing Office does not get the hype it deserves. It’s a fun and unique take on the isekai genre (that critics will probably find some way to pick apart but I digress). I recommend it to anyone who truly appreciates otaku culture at its finest.

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem: A Criminally Underrated Trilogy

American history can be one of the most boring subjects in school. If only there was a more fun way to learn about it, specifically about America in the late 19th Century. While not ENTIRELY accurate, Christopher Healy’s A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem series is perhaps one of the best historical fictions ever.

A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem stars Molly and Cassandra Pepper; a rare daughter and mother pair (respectively). Cassandra’s aspiring to be an inventor, and submit a machine to the 1883 World’s Fair. But you know, sexism, so… she’s SOL. When she and Molly break into the venue to sabotage a competitor’s machine, they discover a Dastardly Plot (book 1 title drop) to take over the world!

The story is incredibly simple. A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is more-or-less an episodic trilogy where Molly and Co. go on adventures to stop the Saturday morning cartoon villain. There’s no real depth, but unlike those cerebral critics, I’m fine with that. Children’s media has evolved to where people aren’t afraid to expose them to horrific things, from sexual assault to racism to PTSD to the Holocaust, etc. But seriously, sometimes we just need to be entertained, especially since this generation is being exposed to social media, allowing news networks to beat all the despair in the world into their innocent little skulls. 

What brings this series to life is the amazing writing. The descriptions are vivid, and it’s so freaking funny. I don’t think I’ve ever LOL’d so consistently in a kids’ book series ever in my life! The pacing is also lightning quick, with sequences that would normally mark the end of an installment happening less than halfway through instead. Most importantly, the humor is absolutely on fire. But if you don’t like sarcastic comments, you might not enjoy this one.

The characters are also some of the best I’ve seen in Western fiction. Molly and Cassandra have great chemistry together, instead of the mom normally holding the kid back. The male lead is Emmet Lee, and since this is an inventor-themed series, I had to picture him as my boy Senku from Dr. Stone. Healy could’ve made real torture porn out of him, because he’s a Chinese-American living in a country that would ban Chinese immigrants at that point in history, but thankfully he didn’t. The biggest issue with the cast overall is that they sort of have the same delivery when it comes to comedy, despite all being different people…

…Well, except for my favorite character, Robot. Due to story events, an automaton made by Bell ends up gaining sentience, and Molly adopts it and names it Robot. He delivers some of the best lines in the entire series, in that robotic deadpan manner. And by the way, I can’t actually discuss the main antagonist, since they’re identity is a spoiler for book one. Just know that they’re the silly, mad-scientist-type villain.

If there are any real issues, it’s that there are snippets of that Disney-movie-trope of character-drama-that-you-know-will-inevitably-resolve-itself-because-it’s-too-light-hearted-to-not-do-so. Every instance is very short-lived, making it feel like the author put them in as a formality. Regardless, as the reader, you can choose to blitz through that crap and get back to the good stuff in a jiffy. There’s also kind of a bad case of virtue signaling, specifically with Feminism. I wouldn’t normally bring it up, but the difference here is that the story is good enough to not need to rely on the “Secret Club of Empowered Female Historical Figures.”

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Final Verdict: 9.45/10

I know that this is a really short review given that I covered an entire trilogy of books, but like I said before, A Perilous Journey of Danger and Mayhem is a clear-cut, silly little ride. It’s absolutely fantastic (and most importantly, not pretentious… for the most part), and I loved it to the bitter end. I recommend it if you are uncultured enough to want to have fun.

I Miss Hard Science Fiction: A Rant

Honestly, I don’t even know if I wanna post this, but it’s something that’s bothered me for a couple of years and I wanted to get off my chest. If you’re familiar with my other rants, you’d know that I had very different tastes back when I was a teenager. I was SO edgy, I did things that not even edgy kids did. For music, I only listened to classic rock. For movies, I only watched old movies; from classics like Dead Poets Society to freaking Spellbound (which is a boring slog that’s only any good in the climax). And for books… I read hard science fiction. 

Hard? Haha, like a—

I know it’s a euphemism, but hard science fiction is a genre. Think of popular science fiction like Star Wars. Epic battles, witty dialogue, memorable characters, spectacular spectacle… Now, think of the opposite of all that; think of Star Wars’ rival older cousin, Star Trek. Slow pacing, tons of dialogue, tackling some very difficult ethical issues… That is hard science fiction. 

As implied by the title, hard science fiction is meant to read like a history book of the future. And also implied by the title, it’s difficult. Perhaps more difficult than any genre to comprehend. They really pour everything into trying to make their worlds as immersive as possible, and it’s a damn undertaking. Tolkein was impressive enough with his Middle Earth. But hard SF authors had to do the same thing, only with multiple star systems, each with as much history as Middle Earth itself. Most adults would have a hard time reading it, and as a teenager, well… Results varied.

Greg Bear

Okay, so, technically, my first hard SF novel was Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. But, well, that one is just technically a satire and definitely not meant to read like a future history (right?). However, when I first bought it, I saw some books by a Greg Bear next to it. And, well, after finishing Hitchhiker’s (and almost having my brain fall out), I tried out some good ol’ Bear. You saw the last two words of the previous passage, right?

The first novel of his I read was called Darwin’s Radio. The premise was simple.: Sscientists discover ancient cave drawings (or something) that show that mankind has been slowly evolving into a new species. There was a lot of dialogue, a lot of which was just buildup to the revelation that mankind has been evolving in the first place (oops, spoilers).

As expected, racism is the immediate public response (side note: one of my most distinct memories is Bear actually writing in dialogue from a certain someone who I can’t name because he was a celebrity until people realized he was a rapist. But it’s still funny how it makes the novel dated due to whom Bear chose). This isn’t “racism” as we know it today; unlike people with other ethnicities, this is a legit new species. And another curveball is that mankind had a decent basis to become racist. Due to how evolution and natural selection works, Homo sapien was essentially going to go extinct due to this new species, and thus they respond in fear, which is expressed in the form of racism. 

I remember being both bored and engaged with the novel at the same time. It was weird, but I loved it. There was also a sequel, Darwin’s Children, but all I remember is that there’s some kind of concentration camp for kids of the new species and it’s supposed to make us, the readers, angry that they’re being treated that way. One big issue with both novels is that they had incredibly loose endings. To this day, I have no idea if Bear wrote a third book (or if he even still writes). 

The Bear doesn’t stop there! I was hooked enough on his writing prowess to read a rather thick standalone novel: The City at the End of Time. This book went places. What I remember most is that there were these people who had these emblems and had to stop… something from happening. It was nonsense for the sake of nonsense, from the objects getting folded and crumpled into incomprehensible shapes, to cats guiding some guy through some weird castle. Beautifully written, but with no purpose nor meaning. After this, I would read several pretty lackluster standalones from Bear, and then…

I read Queen of Angels. A lot of positive reviews consider this his best novel, and I definitely agree. It had two different plots going on at once. Half of the book focused on this old guy (that I remember picturing as Jerry Stiller for some reason) who was supposed to investigate a murder, which would eventually involve entering the accused’s consciousness, and the other half was about some other guy who had to help an A.I. attain sentience. It was an amazing mess, with themes focusing on mental health and what constituted as being sane in the first place. It iconically ends with an entire page of I’s spelling out a giant capital I. Hilariously enough, it’s actually part one (or even part two) of a four-book series, and I didn’t know that because it ended so loosely, like all of Bear’s other books. I have not read Queen of Angel’s sequels to this day.

Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter

I was mixed towards Greg Bear. Afterwards, I would try to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, and fail spectacularly. It was too large in scope for me to handle, and I have always wanted to re-attempt at reading it to completion someday. However, after having given up the ghost with Foundation at the time, Kevin J. Anderson and Stephen Baxter would help hook me on hard SF.

Anderson writes books closer to Star Wars in pacing and action, but with more hard SF scope and mind-bending concepts. His epic series, Saga of the Seven Suns, was the first long book series I was able to read to completion (yes, before Harry Potter), and I remember it being great. I also read the much more recent sequel trilogy, Saga of Shadows, but I don’t recall it being as good.

If Anderson was the weak attack that staggered me, Stephen Baxter was the heavy finishing blow. I only read two novels from him, but they were bangers. I forgot their names, but I definitely didn’t forget what they were about. In one, the main character is trying to find his missing ex (or something), and stumbles upon a secret cult of women who have lived underground for so long that they evolved into an entirely different species. The other one is supposed to have been that book’s sequel, even though it’s set about a million years in the future, and involves some guy who needs to fight aliens… of some kind. Baxter wrote a lot of wild stuff, but my library decided not to stock them. He would’ve become one of my favorites if I had more access to his bibliography.

Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton

Now I was getting into the good stuff! I recall Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton being real good at incorporating crazy ideas in ways that were relatively easy to comprehend thanks to their writing prowess. Their novels felt like narratives, and not history books. 

My library had a lot of stuff from Reynolds in particular, so I was more familiar with his works. He was definitely the more imaginative of the two authors discussed in this section. To list off a few examples, Reynolds’ novels include but are not limited to: a disease that fuses people with nearby machines, a mad scientist plan of reversing a planet’s rotation, someone getting cut into 150 individual pieces while still being alive (sort of like Law in One Piece), and some alien race’s simulation of an alternate 1950s where WWII never happened, which was also infested with mutant five-year-olds for some reason. 

Peter F. Hamilton is a guy who thinks big. He’s written a lot of books set in various eras of his fictional Commonwealth world. I mainly read the Void Trilogy. It was… complicated, but I remember it being about this guy who dreamt of a parallel dimension where some wizard boy is supposed to do… something. There was also some android girl being chased by an assassin, maybe? I always wanted to read his gigantic Night’s Dawn Trilogy. But since I have this blog, and that series is about 4,000 pages in total, I think I will not be able to fulfill that desire.

Kim Stanley Robinson

Things got iffy again with Kim Stanley Robinson. From a literary standpoint, his books are absolutely phenomenal (at least out of the ones I read). They are among the most realistic-feeling science fiction novels I’ve experienced. He’s most known for the Mars trilogy, which is an incredibly well-thought out epic showcasing mankind’s colonization of Mars. It felt so real it was like reading an actual history book from the future.

But given what I think about realism, Robinson’s books didn’t do it for me. They were so real, so human, so grounded in reality, that I couldn’t get emotionally invested. I just don’t like people very much, and the characters all felt like people. Also, the hypothetical politics regarding things like preserving the natural beauty of Mars, to a parallel of the United States declaring independence from Britain, felt so real that I hated them as much as regular politics. If you can get into this guy’s stuff, then you’re a lucky duck.

Ending on a Great Note

I read one or two books by several people for a while, all with varying degrees of success. The last hard SF media I’d consume would be the best of all of those previously discussed. It was written by Cixin Liu, a Chinese SF author. I know, controversial little China.

Yep, I’m talking about the Remembrance of Earth’s Past Trilogy, better known by the individual novels: The Three-Body Problem, The Dark Forest, and Death’s End. THIS was a thing! Remembrance of Earth’s Past is a simple first contact story, but with none of the tropes and all of the innovation. It begins when a Famicom-style adventure game is released, and is meant to test people on how to solve the titular Three-Body Problem. Those who solve it are roped into a secret first contact cover-up that ends up being publicly revealed anyway (I forgot exactly how). I will be spoiling the rest of the trilogy from here!

It starts off slow, but gets REAL crazy. In the second volume, the aliens have more-or-less announced their presence, and the government—in desperation—assigns five random people, offering all the resources that can be provided to stop the aliens. These people cannot actually communicate what they come up with, or else the aliens will know. Almost every single person comes up with something unethical, like destroying or brainwashing humanity along with the aliens. The one guy who spends most of his money on a summer home with his girlfriend (I think he actually bought the girlfriend too I.I.R.C.) comes up with the best solution. The basis for the solution is the Dark Forest theory, which I think deserves to be recognized as the best hard SF theory since Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. From what I recall, the Dark Forest states that all civilizations are hunters in a dark forest; they try to keep themselves hidden, and indiscriminately pick off any sign of life they see. In galactic terms, this means that aliens will not attempt first contact in the grandiose way you see in movies; no, they will fire a probe and end it stealthily. No peace, no war. The guy’s solution is a thing that will alert other aliens to Earth’s existence, which will scare off the current aliens, but doom mankind.

It’s cynical, and if you’ve read a lot of my blog, you’d know how I feel about cynicism. However, Liu does cynicism in a way that’s almost beautiful, and Death’s End shows it. It does start off confusing at first, because its main protagonist is a diplomat sent to the aliens during the events of The Three-Body Problem. All this time, he’s been schmoozing the aliens. But in the meantime, the aliens have pulled a 2112 and assumed control over humanity. A butt-ton of the human race gets killed off (by androids or something), and it’s at this point that the Dark Forest Flaregun thing is used. After a series of reality-bending events, we learn that the weapons that various alien civilizations have been using on each other have been slowly reducing the universe to nothing, one dimension at a time. Again, it’s cynical, but beautiful. This is hard SF at its finest. You should be able to see why I miss this genre so much. 

But… Do I Really Miss It?

I’ve been thinking of getting back into hard SF. But at the same time, I don’t know if I can. Since finishing Liu’s books, I have become fully immersed in the otaku world of manga and light novels, while also focusing on kids’ and teens’ literature in general. 

As an example, I already made an attempt to return to the genre as recently as 2019. I read the self-titled opener of Peter F. Hamilton’s newest series, Salvation, only a few months after it came out. I did not like it. It started out with your usual premise: aliens send spies to live among humans, yadda-yadda-yadda, and some ship crashes in Antarctica or something. I know that setup is a thing, but Salvation is 99% the backstories of the main characters with 1% alien intrigue, and only two of the characters’ stories are actually plot relevant I.I.R.C.! The reviews on GoodReads were smarter than usual, and they mostly checked out positive. As such, I blamed myself. I was dumbed down by otaku culture, and could no longer enjoy hard SF. I no doubt would have loved it if I had read it as a teen, but ironically, I didn’t love it as an adult.

The way I look at things from a writing perspective has changed. I attribute long bits of dialogue as infodumping, for example. I’ll criticize lack of action, too. Also, ever since reading stuff like Monogatari, I probably would attribute any themes explored in hard SF as pretentious bullcrap. But most importantly, I have realized that those books contained an excessive amount of… sex. People say ecchi is bad, but there’s entire markets here in the good ol’ US of A that revolve around sex. I hate confessing this, but, er… this is how I first learned about the process. It wasn’t like watching “that video” in health class, but it was pretty close. I recalled not being disgusted as much as confused.

But there is one glimmer of hope, that I probably shouldn’t bother hoping for, and that is the impossible union of hard SF scope with the youth and accessibility of children’s media. As far as I know, it has been attempted thrice. The first time is the famous Time Quintet, starting with the iconic A Wrinkle in Time. It’s kind of… something. While the application of hard science is good enough, it has some of the usual bullcrap. The main protagonist, Charles Wallace, is one of those “special-for-no-reason” characters, and good ol’ nakama power ends up winning the day. Other than that, there’s the usual ham-fisted commentaries against Communism that show that the author grew up during the Red Scare. I think the series has aged relatively poorly, overall.

However, the glimmer of hope shown once more in two obscure and modern series, the first of which is called Randoms. It was a trilogy that started off like a typical wish-fulfilment fantasy, but ends up going into Star Wars Episode I-levels of space politics. I was very interested, but a lot of very arbitrary and forced drama scenes would come up starting in the second book and make me really livid. I actually haven’t finished the series, but since book three is the shortest, I might just push myself for the sake of discussing it in more detail.

There was also hope in The Chronicle of the Dark Star Trilogy. I read this one to completion only a few months before starting this blog. It had scope, it had hard science, it had youth, it had ethical quandaries; this one was a winner! It handled the ideas of time travel and multiple universes in ways that made it easy for kids to grasp. It only had two problems, the first of which was that the main protagonist was just as special as Charles Wallace (the characters literally say stuff like “Wow, you’re the only human who can time travel without exploding!” and it never gets explained). I also did not like how the series resolved. In the final book, the plot basically becomes a Star Trek episode, where the characters find this weird thing, and endlessly discuss how weird the thing is. In the climax, it ends up being almost a clone of the climax of Wrinkle. And similar to that, the main character ham-fists those American values of “individuality is more important than survival of the whole race!”, and leaves no room for debate nor interpretation. And of course, everything ends happily for all those involved. This could’ve been something to raise ethical debates, but like in The Giver and Arc of a Scythe, it reinforces the same viewpoints that readers have grown to understand instead of making them question those viewpoints. I know of no other hard SF series for young’uns, and if there are any, tell me in the comments!

In conclusion, I—to this day—have no idea if I want to try hard SF ever again. It takes me all of my free time just to keep up with manga and light novels, even after I get more gung-ho with DNF’ing stuff. This is something that will haunt me to my dying day, that’s for sure. In any case, if you’ve made it here, you’re amazing! If you’d like, leave a comment on your sci-fi experiences and tell me if there’s anything in this ballpark you’d recommend.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps: A Beautiful, Death-Trap-Infested Game

I never played Ori and the Blind Forest, but I did watch Josh Jepson and ProtonJon play through it, hence my interest in the sequel: Ori and the Will of the Wisps. I needed a metroidvania to keep my mind off of the upcoming Ender Lillies. So yeah, that’s why I decided to buy this (also the fact that Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin had been murdering me at the time).

Ori and the Will of the Wisps picks up right where the first game left off. Ori and the gang watch over the bird egg that was left behind until it hatches into a baby crow named Ku. After much trial and error, Ori helps Ku learn to fly. And while flying, they happen upon some island that seems to be in a BIT of a bind.

Will of the Wisps is nowhere near the emotional gut punch that Blind Forest was. While the opening sequence is startlingly similar, the only emotional aspect is “Oh no our burb couldn’t fly” versus “Holy crap my mother just DIED”. There is a part at around the one-third point that is utter tonal whiplash. And five minutes after that, it’s like “OKAY BACK TO VIDEOGAME AGAIN”. We get to find out the identity of the super-deep narrator in this game, which is pretty cool. Other than that, it’s pretty typical videogame stuff.

The game has a LOT of character, thanks to how it presents itself. The hand-painted-like visuals and orchestral soundtrack give Will of the Wisps the same whimsical feel as the previous game. While none of the individual tracks really stood out to me, they do a good job dynamically changing as you go through a given area. The Switch version does have some loading issues if you move too fast (fortunately it doesn’t happen when speed matters), and takes over a minute to boot-up. But hey, at least it’s not Sonic 06.

If you’re wondering if you need to play Blind Forest in order to enjoy Will of the Wisps, don’t worry; the gameplay has changed a LOT. While Ori still gets his usual mobility options, combat is completely reimagined. Ori doesn’t have his Jiminy Cricket friend from last time, so instead, he gets a SWORD. Ori’s sword has great range, and moves fast; like the optimal melee setup in Hollow Knight but without the needed charms. This attack, along with many other abilities, need to be assigned to Y, X, and A. You find a lot of abilities, by either interacting with trees or straight-up buying them. Because of this, combat has a lot more depth than the previous game. Plus, your attacks pack a real wallop, which can stun enemies or send them flying. Uniquely enough, you can un-assign your standard attack if you so choose. But in any case, you can re-assign your moves instantly at any time, so it’s not that big of a deal.

But that’s not all! There’s also spirit shards. These are basically charms from Hollow Knight, but they all take the same amount of slots. They have perks, from being able to stick to climbable walls, to having applications in combat. Some of them can be upgraded, and it’s definitely worth doing (even if they cost more than a pretty penny). 

As far as being a metroidvania is concerned, Will of the Wisps does a great job. I still have doubts that any metroidvania could beat Hollow Knight in terms of exploration, but I had a great deal of fun running around this new world. The map marks off most points of interests for you, but if you want to know where everything is, you’ll have to pay the map guy. There is also a lot more to do compared to Blind Forest. In addition to the Life Cells, Energy Cells, and secret pockets of cash scattered about, you have to worry about fun combat shrines, less fun speedrunning challenges, and hidden spirits shards. You also have Wellspring Glades, the dedicated hub area. To spruce this place up, you need to find Gorlek Ore to fund various projects, and seeds to plant to allow access to other parts of town.

If you aren’t too familiar with Blind Forest, then you might be wondering what exactly makes Ori stand out from the other nine hundred ninety-nine metroidvanias out there. Pretty early on in the Ori games, you obtain the bash ability. At the push of a button, this move allows you to grab hanging lamps, enemy projectiles, and enemies themselves to literally yeet Ori in any direction of your choosing. You can use this to redirect projectiles back at the enemies, but more often than not, you use this for some straight-up ridiculous platforming. Will of the Wisps gets more insane when you obtain the new grapple ability. This thing has obscene range, able to grapple to targets practically offscreen. However, it’s a lot touchier compared to bash because this one doesn’t let you change the angle that Ori is launched in.

These crazy movement abilities allow the Ori games to have some really cinematic chase sequences. They were pulse-pounding in Blind Forest, and the ones in Will of the Wisps are no slouch. But as fun as they are, there are tons of chances for instant death. If you’re going for the no-death challenge, then… prepare to hate these sections of the game.

Blind Forest was notoriously difficult. By comparison, however, Will of the Wisps is significantly easier. The wider range of combat options make most enemies a joke, even with a shard that greatly increases their stats in exchange for more money. It is still easy to die, but the incredibly generous checkpoints kind of encourage more reckless play. The chase sequences are also a lot shorter and easier this time around. I haven’t played the game on hard mode, since it—you know—would require another playthrough, and I don’t exactly have the luxury to replay a game, but I imagine that veterans will want that mode right out of the gate.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10 

Ori and the Will of the Wisps is a great metroidvania that’s much better than its predecessor. I recommend it if you like Ori and this type of game in general.

Dungeon Busters: Pokémon Go But You Don’t Get Hit by a Car (Volume 1 Review)

I love myself some JRPGs (even if I don’t have time to play a lot of them anymore). The fantasy settings are (usually) very vibrant and pretty (I wish I could sleep in some of these settings), and you can hunt animals for money without having to worry about a mass extinction! Dungeon Busters brings the idea of living in a JRPG to our world.

In Dungeon Busters, a middle-aged salaryman named Kazuhiko Ezoe finds a dungeon in his backyard. When he enters, he initiates the “Dungeon System”, which will cause dungeons to appear all over the world. In eleven years, all the monsters of any uncleared dungeons will destroy all life on Earth. Kazuhiko is determined to clear all the dungeons and save the world.

Well… technically, he doesn’t clear all the dungeons himself. His goal is to grind up enough money to start funding his own organization to take down dungeons. As someone who likes JRPGs, it feels good to see Kazuhiko evolve and gain skills (and min-maxing, of course). The “game” mechanics are also very well thought-out. It is quite repetitive with exposition dumps, but that’s because Kazuhiko kind of has to reiterate it a lot in the context of the story; it shouldn’t be like this moving forward.

Like any incomprehensible phenomena that impacts the whole world, the dungeons get political. As you can expect, all of the governments of the world respond less efficiently than one man’s individual efforts. At the very least, they tackle the real-world impact of an infinite source of money and energy, ordinary humans being able to grow stronger than a pro wrestler, potions that can restore body parts, and other videogame tropes. The weird thing, however, is the fact that every nation except for Japan has a different name (also, the president of the U.S. is based off of Trump, which will very shortly make this series quite dated). This could be foreshadowing a twist, since the opening chapter shows the world—curiously enough—already being destroyed. What if Dungeon Busters IS an isekai, only it’s an alternate version of our own sekai?

As someone who’s read so many light novels, the writing of 99% of them feel exactly the same. Despite that, there’s a wild sense of variance in quality. Dungeon Busters doesn’t feel like it does any writing differently, but it’s more than sufficient for some reason. There is one problem, however: the P.O.V. changes are awful, sometimes switching into a minor character who never appears again. They also don’t show you who they’re changing into after the first time shifting to that character. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be an issue if the cast had personality, but sadly… that’s not the case. Kazuhiko is likeable enough at least. He’s down-to-earth, as to not come off as a sociopathic a-hole, but he at has some definable personality quirks; he’s very composed and utilitarian, always considering all the possibilities of the situation. Kazuhiko is essentially a chiller version of Seiya from Cautious Hero.

Dungeon Busters wouldn’t be a light novel without some controversy, and this leads into the inevitable harem. There is a card mechanic where you can summon monsters and items and stuff. The rarest type of card summons a girl straight out of one of those “waifu mobile games”, and Kazuhiko gets two of them. His first, Akane, is a sexy ninja girl who’s constantly trying to have sex with him. She’s at least a legal adult, but Emily, his other waifu card, looks like a twelve-year-old. Both of these girl cards only serve to discuss dungeon mechanics and be waifus. And it gets worse with Kazuhiko’s niece, Mari. She seems harmless enough; just your typical moe blob who exists just to pander. However, there is one scene that implies that she might have a crush on her forty-year-old uncle. 

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Finally, a decent light novel debut! Dungeon Busters isn’t perfect, but it at least has standards (ooooh, burn!). I’m curious to see what direction this thing goes in (and how much more political it’ll get). I recommend it to fans of DanMachi and slice-of-life fantasies.

Dual Alter World Continues to be One of Japan’s Most Underrated Prog-Metal Bands with their World Distonation EP

One of my first posts ever was introducing three new voices in Japanese music from 2019, with a very underrated metal duo aptly named Dual Alter World being one of them. Personally, I’ve changed a lot since that post; I cringe at having been a Queensrÿche OG lineup purist, now that I’ve grown to like the current lineup in its own way (which is why I’m NOT posting a link to the old post *shivers*). Also, Dual Alter World really isn’t that much like Queensrÿche. My tastes have expanded so much since then, that I now have a better idea of how to describe their style. So now, let me rectify what I said before by reviewing their new EP, World Distonation.

For those who don’t know what this band is (which you probably don’t because these bands don’t like marketing), Dual Alter World (henceforth known as DAW) is kind of a poppy prog-metal band that formed in Japan in 2019. I don’t know much about the members’ backgrounds, except that lead vocalist Kotori Koiwai is a voice actor, and the guitarist—simply named Ryu—is a veteran of the trade, having been in a band called Blood Stain Child, which dates back to the 1990s. DAW’s debut album, Alter Ego, was a concept album about an android (I think?) and it was actually really good and underrated. Think of Amaranthe meets Dream Theater and you’ll sort of get an idea of what DAW is like.

World Distonation has the same electronic metal style as before, but more refined. It also seems that the weird “futuristic record scratch” synth effect (whatever it’s called) is going to become a staple sound in their music. There is still that poppiness in their choruses, but the vibe is way more prog this time. They even went as far as to hire other voice actors to narrate and sing with Koiwai. I don’t know all of them, but people would definitely recognize Asami Imai, the voice of Best Girl Kurisu from Steins;Gate.

I really can’t say much more, other than World Distonation is really good, even more so than Alter Ego. Not only do you have your usual narration tracks, but they also have narrated bits at points in the actual songs. I have no idea who has the creative input here, but whoever it is knows what they’re doing. They’ve really been going all-out. 

It’s just a real shame that they don’t seem to be that big, even by “under the radar” standards. For starters, the official hashtag for them cannot be typed on a non-Japanese keyboard; it’s in hiragana, followed by the letters DAW. I know most Japanese labels don’t seek out international fans, but that’s just excessive. Also, the fact that this is probably a side project means that I have no idea how long it’ll last. From what I could glean of both members’ social media, they seem to act like DAW doesn’t even exist until a new release is announced. This could be their last album, or just the beginning; that’s the risk with following a young band like this.

Another big issue that only pertains to non-Japanese fans is the language. Normally, music itself is universal and transcends language. However, DAW’s albums aren’t just both concept albums, but possibly part of a linear story; the only other bands I know that do that are Gloryhammer and Dark Sarah. Concept albums are very heavily reliant on the lyrics, and without being able to know what they’re saying, DAW becomes a very hard sell. 

Overall, if you can at least appreciate the effort they put in, World Distonation is an incredible EP. Dual Alter World is a great little band that doesn’t get the traction it deserves, and probably never will. If they were more popular, there could even be an anime adaptation based off these albums (as if adaptations of concept albums have never failed before). I recommend checking them out, especially if you can fluently understand Japanese.

Weeb Reads Monthly December 2020

Well, this post’s a bit late. The reason is because the latest volume of Otherside Picnic came out too close to  the end of the year. But hey, at least I got this out on the same week as New Year’s Eve, right? Anyway, let’s do this.


Sorcerer King of Destruction and Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 2

I had a sliver of hope for this one. After all, it started out as a pretty lonely, post-apocalyptic isekai. However, it doesn’t take long for Nemaki to reach a town. At this point, Sorcerer King pretty much turns into your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life isekai.

If I was a more generous reviewer, I’d say it’s fascinating to see the fact that Nemaki doesn’t exactly understand Gol. She’s very trigger happy, and her clothes are more than just cosmetic. Nemaki genuinely does not know what she’s capable of, nor what makes her tick, giving a genuine sense of mystery and concern. Unfortunately, I’m not a more generous reviewer. From rubbing cheeks to looking at her underwear, Nemaki’s interactions with Gol are no different than that of a typical isekai waifu. It seems like she was made as a golem just to pretend that Sorcerer King is subversive. And with the usual stiff writing, I have little to no interest remaining in this series.

Verdict: 6.5/10


May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 2

Before getting into this volume, I must clarify that I did not cover The Eminence in Shadow Volume 2 like I planned. First off, I ran out of money because, well, Christmas. Second off, I had too many doubts about that series. The fact that Cid’s made-up enemy turns out to be real, along with them actually skipping how his own organization comes about… It’s just plain stupid. Combine that with the subpar characters and you have another series that, in my opinion, does not at all deserve to place on the Kono Sugoi Light Novel rankings. 

I also had doubts about May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace. Like most time travel narratives, Leaden Battlegrounds is kind of… iffy. But for some reason, I enjoyed it because I was curious as to how stupid it could get. So here we are!

The main premise of the volume is Rain and Air getting into a scuffle with some Western soldiers, one of whom is a cute girl named Deadrim, and the other person is… there. Once again, most of the volume proves to be boring, but there’s just enough intrigue at the end to make you wanna buy the next one. The only other noteworthy thing is that fact that Air should be using the Devil Bullet on Rain, but that whole aspect of their relationship goes in the direction you’d expect.

Verdict: 7.2/10


DanMachi Volume 15

It feels like it’s been forever and a day since we had a new DanMachi volume. Unfortunately, this one’s a filler volume. Sure, DanMachi has had some of the better filler in light novels, but not this time. We do get more backstory to some of our main protagonists, in addition to the backstory we already got, but it kind of feels excessive. For example, the first chapter is literally about the inn that Bell stayed at until he found out about Hestia. Do we really need that? In any case, most of the stories are pretty good, though not the best that DanMachi has to offer. 

Verdict: 7.9/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 13

After the relative nothing that happened last time, we finally have an event that’s been building up for a long time: a conference between Altar and Dryfe. In order to participate, Ray forms a clan with his friends and gets a new job. This new job, as always, is something wild that nobody likes which ends up being really useful for his build. In any case, it’s not even a spoiler to say that the conference goes south, and a big fight breaks out.

The one gripe I have is something that’s happened twice now in Dendro: withholding information from the reader that the main character, who’s narrating, happens to know. It’s a cheap way to build anticipation and I don’t know why any writer would ever think this is a good idea. Nemesis, once again, evolves into a new form after a small time-skip leading up to the conference. We also don’t get to see it, since this volume ends in the middle of the action. Other than that, Dendro still meets (and exceeds) expectations.

Verdict: 8.75/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 4

It feels like it’s been forever since we got some Otherside Picnic! With the anime in development, I cannot wait for yuri fans to get super toxic and scare off potential viewers. But in the meantime, we have this. As usual, it starts off [relatively] chill, with the girls going to the cult HQ from the previous volume to clear it of supernatural gook.

Other than that, it’s pretty typical stuff. Sorawo and Toriko’s relationship gets more intense, and we learn a bit of the former’s past, but that’s about it. There’s no new goal established. However, I’m fine with that, because Otherside Picnic is a CGDCT at heart, and core narrative doesn’t really matter in those. As long as the suspense is still off the rails (which it is in this volume HOLY CRAP), then I’m good.

Verdict: 9.3/10


Conclusion

Overall, we had a pretty good lineup of light novels to close off the year. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to be skipping this January’s Weeb Reads Monthly because there are only two volumes that I actually have interest in, excluding the upcoming debuts. February might be skipped too, because I only see ONE volume of interest on BookWalker’s Pre-Order page at the time of writing this post. Regardless, whatever I skip will all be lumped in with another month eventually!

Soul: Pixar’s Most Existential Film

I’m not one of those vocal people who thinks things like “2020 is the year of suffering” because of the media’s scare tactics regarding COVID-19, and their ability to withhold anything legitimately positive. Despite me knowing the actual facts about COVID, it was hard on me as well. Even as someone who’s not active on social media, I am around a number of people who are, and they happen to only focus on one side of the story. So yeah, I’ve broken into tears at least once a week all year. Overly long preface aside, Pixar decided to give us a Christmas present: Soul. I didn’t know what it was about, but I had to see it.

Mild spoilers in this paragraph, if you have no idea what the movie is about. In Soul, a man named Joe Gardner dreams of playing jazz with the big boys—wait, wrong movie—some lady named Dorthea Williams. He manages to land a gig, but dies on the way over to the venue. Now that he’s in purgatory, he’s gotta find a way back into his body. And his only ticket is in a literal wayward soul named Twenty-Two, who wants nothing to do with life.

Boy, this movie is sure… something else. First off, it’s definitely a twist for Disney to have a movie about one of its many, many, MANY deceased characters instead of someone who’s, well, alive. It’s kind of hilarious, actually. In any case, Pixar’s interpretation of the afterworld is more than just a world of never ending happiness where the sun shines both day and night; it’s that usual Pixar sense of imagination. Also, this movie shows just how much more lenient we’ve become with cursing in front of kids. They say the words “hell” and “crap”, which were more than enough to earn you a trip to the former back when I was a kid. Well, Disney was also the first to depict a clergyman and humanity itself in villainous roles in animated media, so… yeah.

Soul has your usual Pixar magic in terms of the storytelling. It knows how to bounce between being hilarious and emotional without feeling inorganic. This one knows how to hammer in the feels, but it gets bizarrely terrifying at times. It’s not outright horror; think along the lines of one of those psychological indie games like Arise: A Simple Story

Like any Disney or Pixar movie, Soul is definitely not new in terms of social commentary. Not to spoil it, but the takeaway is definitely something you’ve seen before, unless you’re literally the target demographic of the movie and have never seen it before. Once again, it’s something that anyone can relate to. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we HAVE to go to work and pay our bills, Soul‘s message will probably be forgotten as easily as the other times the message has been communicated.

The characters are some of the better in Pixar’s filmography. Joe Gardner is an interesting case, not just because he dies, but because he’s the oldest lead protagonist I’ve seen in a Disney animated feature. Given the nature of the movie, his journey is a bit more spiritual than most Disney flicks; definitely keeping up the trend of abandoning the tired “good vs. evil” themes of their past. As you can expect, his father is dead. Big surprise for Disney. But honestly, I feel like this is the first time a Disney parent’s death actually meant something to the plot since Bambi. That’s something at least.

Other than Joe, we have the aforementioned Twenty-Two, who’s the sarcastic and rambunctious type. She and Joe end up learning the same life lesson through each other. Running purgatory is/are a bizarre being named Jerry, along with what serves as the main antagonist: Terry. They’re pretty deadpan, but have some of the better lines in the movie. 

I shouldn’t even bother discussing visuals because Pixar pretty much always nails it. Soul is simply stunning, as good at looking both photorealistic and undeniably cartoony as any Pixar film. The movie does, at least, showcase some of the most abstract and experimental visuals I’ve seen in their entire career. Soul honestly feels like a Pixar short but as a feature film instead. I’d say that they did a great job considering COVID separated the whole team, but this movie was probably in post production since 2018.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Soul is one of the best Pixar movies I’ve ever seen. Everything about it is impeccably executed, and is definitely what the doctor ordered for this year. I recommend Soul if you want a straight-up great movie, especially if you’re a Disney fan.

And P.S.: Disney, can you please do the whole “release movies on Disney+ the same day they would’ve come out in theatres” more often, maybe forever?

A True Isekai Pioneer: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Novel Review

I don’t know what compelled me to do this. Isekai is one of my favorite genres (even though 99% of them are ass), so it only made sense for me to read a classic isekai: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. I recall watching the movie in a film class. All I remember is that Judy Garland is adorable, and that the movie itself is incredibly lackluster with the exception of the [aged] technical effects. The books (yes, books. There are fourteen Oz books actually) are sure to have much more substance, right? After all; the book is better than the film.

In The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a girl named Dorothy is just chilling at her rinky-dink home in Kansas when a CYCLONE LIFTS HER HOUSE. She is abnormally calm during the situation and falls asleep while still in the eye of the storm. Dorothy (with dog, Toto) wakes up in Oz, where she is praised for having murdered the Wicked Witch of the East with her house. In order to get home, she must find the titular Wizard of Oz.

Thanks to this, I finally know where most modern Japanese isekai get their lack of depth. The writing in this book is as archaic as the time period. We get the bare minimum description of anything, and no sense of scale for any architecture in this world (also, get used to some unexpected usage of the word “queer”). There is next to no worldbuilding; stuff is just there for the sake of being there. Also, Dorothy has plot armor out of her ass thanks to a kiss from the Witch of the North. It’s sad that a lot of literature has not evolved since the turn of the 20th Century.

At the very least, the book has momentum. It doesn’t waste any words, and scenes that would normally take ten years to read in a modern isekai can be completed in minutes. The Witch of the North would be an exposition dump character, but thankfully, she only tells Dorothy what’s actually RELEVANT to the plot at the current moment. 

Unfortunately, the original source novel wasn’t as dark as I thought it would be. Normally, I don’t really care for super cynical stuff, but given the time period, I figured that the story would be really dark. But other than a few isolated scenes, such as the Tin Woodman’s backstory, it’s just about as lackadaisical as the movie. Oh, and in case you’re a fan of the movie, literally NONE of the famous lines are in the original. No “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” no “Lions and tigers and bears”; not even the cultic chant that the Witch of the West’s guards use when patrolling.

Furthermore, I did not like the cast of the book at all (surprise, surprise). They were not just boring but inconsistent. The worst of them is the Tin Woodman, who acts like he can’t kill anything but doesn’t hesitate to create an admittedly gorey mound of wolf corpses. And before you argue “Um people were super religious then and they didn’t really think animals have souls because God gave man dominion over animal”, just keep in mind that Mr. Woodman cries when accidentally stepping on a beetle. A beetle. 

And holy heck, this is apparently where the “real treasure was the friends we made along the way” trope came from, because these characters are about as brainless as the Scarecrow. They all want these specific traits, but they end up already possessing said traits. Normally, this would be meant for an epiphany at the end, but it doesn’t turn out that way (it’s actually kind of weird what happens). I feel like Baum didn’t put any more thought into this than a typical crappy Japanese isekai author. 

Another issue lies not just in the content of the story, but the publication. I got the 100th Anniversary edition, with gold pages, which made me think “This should be really well presented.” Wrong! This edition displays a large assortment of… uh… illustrations, but their placement is all wrong. Sometimes, you’ll see one before the actual depicted scene happens. But more often than not, they’ll SUPERIMPOSE TEXT over them. Who in their right mind thought this would be a good tribute to Baum’s legacy?!

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Final Verdict: 6.75/10

Call me an uncultured swine, but I didn’t find The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to be all that wonderful. No worldbuilding, no consistency, no visual descriptions, flat dialogue… this might’ve been groundbreaking at the time, but things have changed in 120-odd years. While some classics, like Dracula, age pretty well, this one has not, and I hate it when people act like all literary classics are still objectively great even by modern standards. 

However, I am at least curious as to what the rest of the series has to offer. Each installment seems to be pretty self-contained, so I hope to possibly review all fourteen books over a long course of time. I imagine that they get more and more effed up (the cover of the final book has people on fire in the background), and it might be fascinating to see. But as far as recommendations for the original classic are concerned… I’d hold off on it. There are better things out there, with better writing.

Dragon Quest Builders 2: The Best Minecraft Clone

It might seem like I was pretty level-headed during the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020, but if you knew me in my personal life, you’d see that I was anything BUT that. I had literal panic attacks on a weekly basis, and in the aftermath, I’m now having to be practically held at gunpoint to remove my face mask, as opposed to putting it on. In addition to Covid anxiety, I realized that I didn’t have enough videogames that don’t stress me out . But then, I watched NintendoCaprisun’s Dragon Quest Builders video series, and saw what a great, superior clone of Minecraft it is. It didn’t take long for me to start playing Dragon Quest Builders 2 (henceforth known as DQB2), in hope of destressing my Covid woes.

In DQB2, a character that you name wakes up on a ship full of the Children of Hargon, a religious cult that formed in the aftermath of some other core Dragon Quest game. When you escape, you wash up on an island with a girl and this vampire-looking guy named Malroth. Since you have nothing better to do, you decide to turn the island into a pimp-ass kingdom.

I wasn’t fond of the story in the other Dragon Quest game I played, which  was Dragon Quest XI, but DQB2’s story made me LIVID. It has one of the tropes that triggers me with next to no exception: dramatic irony. Almost immediately, the game tells you that Malroth is secretly a bad guy, and it takes up to 80% of the game to reveal it. It’s so annoying, because they constantly have developments like “Whoa, why can’t Malroth build things? Everyone else and their grandma can build but not Malroth! How mysterious!” 

It gets worse than that. Based on DQXI, DQB1, and this game, Dragon Quest seems to love following clichés to the letter! While some of the dialogue is charming (specifically in the second chapter), it’s just… boring. The worst offender is the third chapter, where they’re all like “There’s a traitor here!” and stuff. At a certain point, it becomes incredibly obvious who it is, but they still play it off as if they were a galaxy-brain Impostor in Among Us. If there was a way to pre-emptively sus’ them out, that would be cool, but it seems that modern Dragon Quests do not care for multiple outcomes (which is ironic because Dragon Warrior had a very famous alternate outcome). 

The cast isn’t much better; DQB2’s characters make DQXI‘s look like Monogatari protagonists! The only character with any real arc is Malroth. And while I’d say his existential crisis is at least done relatively well, there is one annoying feature that offsets any good they did with him. Throughout the game, an omnipotent being screams “Haha you suck” in his head, and for some reason, you cannot advance its dialogue. These scenes objectively suck, and I have no idea why they had this unskippable dialogue that wasn’t even voice acted.

Well, I’ve been complaining about this game for three paragraphs, so let’s get to the good stuff already! DQB2 has some of the best Minecraftvania gameplay that I have ever experienced. There are so many different things you can build, it gets overwhelming at times. There’s also a lot of options to make it easier than in Minecraft. For example, you can learn a charged swing with your Hammer to take out big chunks at once, or use the Bottomless Pot to create bodies of water. You have the ability to switch between first and third-person perspective, which makes a difference when it comes to building. While you can use the L1 and L2 triggers to lock onto a position and hold R2 to make a lot of blocks in a row, first-person gives you more reach with your cursor. Furthermore, if you see an arrow appear next to a block, you can hold R2 to rapidly build a line of about eight blocks in that direction.

Another advantage that the DQB series in general has over Minecraft is Rooms. Placing objects in a closed off space can create a Room with a function built into the game. These really help make your bases feel alive and organic. DQB2 introduces the Fanciness and Ambience mechanics, which is determined by what items are placed in each room. They also add Sets, which are smaller, but serve their own functions. Some of them need to be placed within a Room to make a specific type of Room. There are some weird nuances with how the game considers Rooms, though. I learned that you can make the walls of a Room more than three blocks high, but any wall decoratives will only be considered part of the Room if they’re placed within the first two blocks up from the floor. It also acts weird if you have any part of the floor raised vertically, even if you put a staircase in front of it. 

Furthermore, the game has a better sense of progression than in DQB1. In DQB1, you had four self-contained islands where you started from scratch every time, down to your stats being reset to Level 1. Although someone confiscates your materials when advancing to a new story island in DQB2, you at least keep your stats and tools. Plus, the mechanics you learn have a much more cohesive sense of flow than in DQB1. In DQB1, there’s no real rhyme or reason; you get automated defenses and ores and have to re-gather existing ores and it’s weird. In DQB2, it’s more organized; the first island teaches you farming, the second teaches you mining, etc. I loved how this sense of progression was handled… to a point. As cool as the automated defenses are, they’re very short-lived. You go through a whole chapter to get them, but after that, you use them in a whopping ONE mob battle on your main island, and they’re never used again. Mob attacks on your main island straight-up STOP at this point, making them quite unnecessary.

Villagers also have a much more important role. A lot of rooms can compel them to do automated tasks, like cooking, and it really makes them feel like they’re working with you instead of you being their lapdog. This is further showcased when you inspire them to build things entirely on their own. And you’re gonna need that; you build some seriously colossal structures in this game compared to DQB1. Villagers are also more helpful in combat, plus you can give them weapons (which is your incentive to create multiples since they no longer break in this game). It can get annoying to keep track of who has what, but that’s alleviated once you can build an Armory, where they can automatically equip whatever item is stored in a chest. Also, whenever your base takes damage in a mob battle, they rebuild it in the aftermath.

Saving these other islands is well and good, but it’s all a means to an end; finding people to help build your main island. Between story bits, you help them with all sorts of tasks on your island to make it the kingdom of your dreams. In these sections, DQB2 feels like a sandbox game. I love combining mechanics from multiple islands into the same area (you get a total of three sections to manage on the main island). There’s also a ton of optional tasks that are well-worth your time. 

In addition to that, there are Explorer’s Shores. These are procedurally generated islands with exclusive resources. When arriving at one for the first time, you are tasked with examining specific objects. This can get frustrating, but a certain tool makes it relatively painless to find these objects. The issue with this is that finding more of those resources after-the-fact is a pain, because the aforementioned tool only works when the item is on your checklist. It’s annoying because one of the rarest ores in the game is hidden inside poison swampwater, which you can’t see through. I’ve had to painstakingly drain the whole thing with my Bottomless Pot, taking minutes just to find ONE deposit of that ore. In any case, your reward is an infinite supply of a certain resource, which is really helpful, mostly because that saves an inventory slot. 

And you NEED inventory slots. Colossal Coffers are nerfed, but early on, you obtain a Bag, which serves the Coffers’ function in DQB1. The Bag has seven pages of items, but it fills up shockingly fast. Even when being conscious of my inventory, I topped it off by the time I finished the final area. And as nice as these infinite items are, you have to constantly be aware of getting those items normally, in which you’ll have to open your Bag over and over again to delete them and save that inventory slot.

This is where some of the game’s issues come up. I love collecting resources, but I constantly felt overwhelmed with DQB2. You DROWN in resources in this game. When you have villagers doing multiple automated tasks, you end up having to check a lot of chests to see what they cooked up for you. The farm area of my island was always full of literally hundreds of crops. The only good way to get rid of some of these items is throwing them in Supper Sets, but I ended up having too many even with those in place. Even then, you never run out of Gratitude, which is earned by providing for your Villagers. You spend then on new recipes, but for a while, I still found myself well into the quintuple-digits with nothing to spend them on.

The big irony is that there are some resources you don’t have enough of. One thing I hated was raw meat. You can’t plant meat, so you have to kill these demon bunnies (among other things) to obtain it. They are common enough, but you need a LOT in order to cook food, or feed your pets (which can add up fast). Other things can be gathered in good quantities on trips to Explorer’s Shores, but meat always eluded me.

Let’s discuss combat now. DQB combat is pretty simple. You only have a sword slash, and a spin attack, and that’s it. While it can still get intense when they throw in specific mobs, DQB2 is pretty easy. The game also holds your hand on boss battles, but it’s not like it’s hard to figure those out anyway. The hardest parts of this game are likely the start of the story islands, since you have little resources and food. I wouldn’t complain about the game’s ease if it weren’t for the issue with your resource inflation. You get so many healing items because there’s two common enemies that frequently drop Medicinal Leaves, and you don’t NEED any healing items on the main island. While some of the later Explorer’s Shores do have pretty tough boss monsters, they’re not hard enough to justify having hundreds of Healing Herbs, nor taking the time to set up a ton of spike traps and stuff. Maybe there are secret optional mobs, but I could never find any such thing.

There are two more big flaws with DQB2, the first of which makes replay value a hard sell. At one point in the game, you are abruptly ejected from your main island and have to go through an agonizingly tedious segment that takes over an hour at best. While a similar arc in DQXI at least gives you some kind of story bits (even if it’s not much), the arc in DQB2 gives you nothing. It does give you some better context for the situation at hand, but it’s not really necessary information in the long run, plus it doesn’t develop any major protagonists involved.

The other flaw is that completion is asinine. One aspect is getting 100% on items; blocks, decoratives, cooking, etc. This gets crazy, because some items are blocks that you can’t obtain by mining them. You need to remember to use a specific tool to swap those blocks with blocks in your inventory to actually obtain them. Not only that, but there are a TON of Rooms and Sets that you aren’t told how to build. Despite how many options you have, some of them are pretty obtuse. While you are told what some of these optional Rooms are via Tablet Targets, it’s still not easy. There are also two cases of having to build a specific “place” in order to learn recipes, and since they aren’t Tablet Targets, you get no indication of what exactly the game wants. You can never tell if you are missing a decorative, or if you don’t have enough of a decorative that’s already in the room. Sometimes, one of your NPCs will occasionally tell you the requirements for a specific room, but it’s not enough to account for all the Rooms. The fun is in experimenting with stuff (I ended up building a Sculpture Gallery by accident during a story mission), but with how little time I have in my life, I don’t know how willing I am to complete the Builderpedia guideless. Also, I’m pretty sure the game has at least one missable item.

This game seems to borrow from DQXI and have a very substantial post-game. The world becomes your oyster, and you can build to your heart’s content. Three extra Explorer’s Shores are unlocked, and you get two new perks that really open things up. The first and most important one is the ability to spend that excess Gratitude to obtain any item you’ve collected before. This is a really good feature, and it can help with getting uncommon resources, as long as you’ve found it once. You also unlock the ability to craft the final Hammer upgrade, which has a very unique property. Basically, if it destroys an object that would turn into materials (like trees turning into wood), it will instead make the object itself into an item. This doesn’t really open much up in terms of crafting, plus you’ll also have to have your regular hammer take up a quick select slot if you actually want the materials. If you’re going for completion, keep in mind that you’ll need to strike crops with this hammer, for there’s a separate, decorative version of every single crop (including the rare ones) that count as different items. It does make your options extremely overwhelming, but it’s still a cool feature, and definitely helps if you really want to pimp up your island.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Dragon Quest Builders 2 isn’t perfect, but overall, it’s a fantastic game. If you want a game that plays like Minecraft, but with more depth and the fact that the stuff you build matters, then this is the game for you. But seriously, if you want to go for completion, then godspeed, buddy.

Chainsaw Man: Too Seinen for Shounen Jump?!

It’s no secret that Weekly Shounen Jump has not had the best run in the late 2010s. The newest manga by Naruto’s author got axed, among MANY other 2019 and 2020 debuts. And when they actually had a good series, it would either end off on a bad note (Shokugeki no Soma), or one of its writers would end up being a felon (ACT-AGE). But one series managed to be a standout franchise until the bitter end: Chainsaw Man, published in English by Viz. I gave it a good word in my First Impressions. Let’s see if it’s held out.

In Chainsaw Man, a dreg named Denji makes a living by hunting devils, with the help of a chainsaw-dog-devil named Pochita. But “makes a living” can be read as “barely scraping by”, for he’s shouldering a serious debt from his late father. However, when he’s almost cut to pieces, he fuses with Pochita and becomes a chainsaw man, after which he is taken under the wing of Makima, a beautiful girl from an official team of devil hunters.

Chainsaw Man is, for the most part, a very straightforward manga. The plot is very traditional shounen at first: bad guy appears, kill it, then wait for the next one. Denji’s heart becomes a major MacGuffin, but we aren’t informed of why for a pretty long time. Things heat up in the second half, and by the final third, it goes absolutely berserk with insanity.

What makes Chainsaw Man a great manga is its characters. The mangaka takes common shounen tropes and puts a seinen twist on them with Denji and the people around him. Denji himself seems to be a generic, self-insert shounen protagonist, but he’s more complicated than that. He’s very attracted to women, but he at least tries to maintain his feelings for Makima, despite the amount of other beautiful women who tempt him. I don’t like using the word “human” to describe a character, but it’s done exceptionally well with Denji. He’s an innocent kid thrust into an adult world, and his simple-mindedness made me sympathize with him.

The other thing is that the women in his life subvert common conventions as well, especially with Makima. Us readers are informed very early on of how suspicious she is. But Denji doesn’t know any of it, and he’s naively in love with her. Unfortunately, she takes advantage of his love for her to essentially exploit him, which I think is a great commentary on the idea of waifus in general. 

Of course, Makima ain’t crap compared to Best Girl Power. She’s just… effing awesome. She’s like the best friend that you’re so close to that you just start busting each other’s chops. Her chemistry with Denji is one of the best I’ve seen in all of Jump. Sadly, I didn’t really care for the rest of the protagonists. For one, I forgot a lot of their names, which is a bad sign for me. Fortunately, the antagonists are as fun as they are plentiful. They have some of the more memorable character designs and personalities, especially compared to the supporting protagonists. 

Somehow, I went almost the entire review without discussing exactly why Chainsaw Man is big (or would be if it weren’t for Kimetsu no Yaiba). Weekly Shounen Jump has some cute girls with cleavage, but that’s usually about it; the magazine is for early-teens kids after all. Chainsaw Man, however, has R18+ stuff; pretty much everything except for female private parts are shown. The manga is full of extremely visceral gore, and one character just straight-up asks Denji if he wants to have sex. The fact that something like this ran in Jump is insane.

That’s where my biggest gripe with Chainsaw Man lies. Its whole thing is that it’s very mature for a Jump manga. But the thing is—and the reason why I’m posting this so soon—that Chainsaw Man is getting a part two in Shounen Jump+, home to a lot of seinen series, from Jigokuraku to World’s End Harem. As a result, Chainsaw Man loses the one thing that makes it stand out from its ilk. This was probably inevitable because, you know, minors.

Anyhow, the artwork is fantastic. It’s rough, and dirty, with some phenomenal action scenes, and a surprising amount of abstract panels late in the series. The managaka is also able to contrast such insanity with some genuinely heartfelt and emotional scenes. It’s going to be so sad to see this twisted beauty dumbed down in the upcoming anime.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

Chainsaw Man is one of my favorite Jump manga of the 2010s. It’s over-the-top, with a lot of quirky characters, and a very alluring charm. Seriously, how in the world did Kimetsu no Yaiba beat this?! I highly recommend Chainsaw Man to anyone who likes their battle shounen super dark and edgy. Hopefully, if Viz licenses the sequel, I’ll be doing a post or two on that!