There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself! Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

There are SO MANY isekais out there, that it can become a reflex to assume that every new light novel is automatically an isekai. I read through the first chapter of There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself!, published in English by J-Novel Club, constantly asking, “So when does this guy get sent to another world?”, just to realize that it’s set in THIS world. Earth? What’s that?

Stuck in our own crap-ass world, Sago Kinemitsu suddenly develops telekinetic powers. But it kind of sucks;  he’s only able to lift a lousy potato chip. However, after several miserable years of his unremarkable life, his abilities get stronger and stronger, but now he’s just a salaryman with “phenomenal cosmic power, an itty-bitty living space,” and no big bads to save the world from. So, he decides to form his own organization to fight an evil menace of his own creation (confusing enough?), and he gets help from the rich and busty Shiori Kaburagi.

So, bizarrely enough, this is a chuunibyou slice-of-life comedy with a rare occurrence of adult main protagonists. However, unlike most chuunibyou, these two actually have powers (well, technically, Shiori gets hers later). As previously discussed, the whole thing is about forming an evil-fighting organization, and then later forming the enemies of said organization, all for the sake of these two living out their own power fantasy, or more specifically, allowing kids to live out their own power fantasy.

With this being a slice-of-life, the main appeal is the cast. Sago, while having a lot of funny dialogue, is kind of a generic mid-life crisis guy. Best Girl Shiori, on the other hand, is great. While she comes off as a hoity-toity, “ara-ara” type, she’s actually a serious chuunibyou, with stacks of research papers on Magical Girls and anime superpowers.

Later in the volume, they gain some recruits. Touka Hasumi is a petite girl who gains fire abilities, but her most interesting trait is that she’s a Buddhism extremist. She’s constantly chanting sutras while also carving the image of Buddha on rocks. It’s pretty good timing that I started reading this while studying Buddhism, among other things. In addition to her is Shouto Takahashi, my least favorite character. He’s the designated cocky brat, who gains ice abilities. Fortunately, Sago at least has his own ways of snapping the kid into shape. Lastly is Ig… whom I won’t say anything about because of spoilers. Just know that she exists.

If there’s any real flaw with Secret Organization, it’s in the exposition-heavy writing. The reason being that there’s a lot of stuff that happens over a ridiculously long course of time. So what’s better, that the author cut out the middleman, or show every single tedious step? 

On a final note, the art has a very manga-looking style. It definitely has a very Clip-Studio-y kind of vibe. However, our girl Shiori is the only one with an interesting enough character design to catch my interest.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Secret Organization is looking to be an interesting change of pace in the light novel market. The thing that concerns me is that Sago seems to be limited when it comes to the scenarios that he can craft. The volume implies that the CIA will be getting involved, but there’s no telling where it’ll go from here. For now, Secret Organization is a perfectly solid series opener that puts a good twist on the deceptively abundant slice-of-life genre.

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

Cover of volume 1

In this turbulent age of “gotta-go-fast-gotta-go-fast-gotta-go-faster-faster-faster-faster-faster-SonicX“, we all appreciate an opportunity to just lay down, cozy in bed, and sleep. The main character of Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, published in English by Viz, clearly appreciates it, and not even being a hostage of the Demon King will stop her from accumulating a world record breakin’ quantity of Z’s!

The aforementioned main character is a deadpan, loli princess named Aurora Syalis Goodreste, and as discussed, she is the Demon King’s prisoner. However, she doesn’t really give a crap as long as she can nod off to sleep. But the castle isn’t really the best place to sleep, so she goes off in search of things to make her own accommodations. Simple.

When it comes to characters, Syalis herself seems to be the entire selling point of this manga. It doesn’t take long to ask yourself if Syalis is the demons’ prisoner, or the other way around. She ruthlessly rips and tears demons apart with a nifty pair of scissors, and ends up making quite a name for herself. And since she’s a hostage, the demons can’t really do much to her besides carry her back to her room. 

The other demons are perhaps the weakest aspect of the manga. Each and every single one of them, from a random mook, to the Demon King himself, basically play the straight men who react to all of Syalis’ actions. The interactions are entertaining, but they don’t get much personality themselves. If anything, you just end up liking them out of pity more than anything else.

The true charm of Sleepy Princess is in the art. Not only do the panels flow well, but the main character looks super adorable (which is the most important aspect, by far). A lot of the other demons, even the ones who show up for five seconds, have great designs as well. The manga also has a lot of videogame meta-humor, as dialogue boxes straight out of a retro JRPG pop up often when Syalis accomplishes tasks.

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Current Verdict: 8.5/10

Sleepy Princess is pretty darn good so far, but it’s another case where it could get boring if it runs for too long. Without any clearly defined story arcs, at least not yet, most chapters are self-contained and don’t have the continuity of other comedy manga, like Kaguya-sama. Nonetheless, it’s a great manga, with a great loli (always important), and I recommend it to anyone who wants a modern twist to those old-fangled fairytales.

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Anime Reception Prediction: Sleeper Hit (no pun intended)

I don’t know when the recently announced anime for Sleepy Princess is going to air, but when it does, it will probably be well-received. However, it could get overshadowed by whatever the “next big thing” is, especially if another battle shounen or isekai comes out that season.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 2 Review

Cover of volume 2

Last time on Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Kaito Sena is strangled to death by his father and summoned to another world in the body of a golem. He is forced to serve Elisabeth Le Fanu, a young girl who has killed a LOT of people, and must hunt thirteen powerful demons as punishment. After a fun frolic through a creepy guy’s slaughterhouse for kids, Kaito finds Hina, an autonomous doll that ends up joining the crew. Later, they fight a demon disguised as a corrupt clergyman, and encounter Elisabeth’s father, Vlad. When they go to Elisabeth’s old hometown to find him, they fight Elisabeth’s estranged nanny, Marianne. During the fight, Vlad captures Kaito, and says that he’ll summon Kaito’s dad to this world and allow him to torture the man if he abandons Elisabeth. Edgelord that he is, Kaito agrees. But when his dad is summoned, he sees a drunken old fart, and calls the deal off. Thanks to a teleportation sigil drawn on his torso, she appears in Vlad’s room and destroys him. Well, so much for the main antagonist!

Waiting for this volume was really hard for me. After all, so many other “edgy” series, like Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer, had traumatizing openers that made it look as if they were going to be incredibly dark, only to wind up being light-hearted and boring. Torture Princess started out so elegantly angsty, but-

OH WHO AM I KIDDING?! THIS VOLUME WAS FREAKIN’ LIT!

The first question that would be raised is, “Well, we basically killed the final boss, Vlad and the Kaiser. So, what now?” Just because that guy was the strongest doesn’t mean he’s the final boss! In fact, a new Demon, the Grand King, lures Elisabeth and Co. into a trap that causes a mana-sapping affliction to be, well, afflicted on Elisabeth. However, the church waits for no one as she is still dispatched to, well, dispatch other Demons. KAITO, it’s your turn to protecc her!

And that’s exactly what happens. When investigating Vlad’s HQ for information on other Demons, Kaito pockets a strange orb that contains Vlad’s spirit. He colludes with Vlad and starts to learn magic, so that he can fight people on his own for a change. I can see him developing into an overpowered main protagonist…

When it comes to character development, Hina and Kaito are the ones in the spotlight this time. Their one-sided relationship gets tested thanks to Kaito’s new secret, plus we get some of 2nd Best Girl Hina’s presumably week-long backstory.

Other than that, the utter angst is still in full swing. As soon as I started this volume, with that flesh-coffin that had mangled up human arms for wings, I knew that this volume of Torture Princess would live up to its predecessor. However, it concerns me that the author could inevitably run out of ideas for terrifying situations… but we’ll cross that bridge (probably made out of the corpses of women and children) when we come to it!

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Verdict: 9/10

If you’re looking for an intellectual, subversive isekai that questions moral values and explores the inner recesses of people’s emotional insecurities, then Torture Princess isn’t for you. However, as long as it follows through with its exquisitely well-written angst and disturbing imagery to the bitter end, then it will remain one of my favorite light novel series of all time, just for the sheer entertainment value. With Kaito as a to-be-overpowered protagonist, his yandere girlfriend in Hina, and a waifu he must protecc in Elisabeth, this series may seem to be generic, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. As someone who’s been disappointed time and time again by “edgy” YA novels and stuff that just end up copping out for whatever reason, Torture Princess is a repugnant breath of fresh air! I still recommend this series to anyone who loves wanton violence and gore!

Archenemies Review

Cover of the book

Last time, on Renegades, Nova Artino (a.k.a. Nightmare) squanders a wonderful opportunity to kill Hugh Everhart, the most powerful Renegade in the world, because she’s your typical “Mary-Sue-can’t-kill-even-if-it’s-the-guy-I-hate-more-than-anyone” YA protagonist. She also has a run in with some tokusatsu guy who calls himself the Sentinel. Incidentally, she literally meets him on the street in his true form- Adrian Everhart (yes, he is the aforementioned Hugh Everhart’s son). In order to investigate the Sentinel, she attends Renegade School-or-Whatever under the fake name of Nova McLain. She gets recruited to Adrian’s squad, which was formed to investigate Nightmare. See where this is going? What’s worse is that Nova’s Anarchist friend, Ingrid, ruins everything because she’s afraid that Nova will side with the Renegades (which actually happens). But there’s good news: Nova meets Max, a strange kid who basically has All For One’s Quirk (which aren’t officially called Quirks in the book, but they aren’t called anything so I’m with the My Hero Academia reference)- to steal other Quirks, including the Quirk of Nova’s late uncle and Anarchist leader, Ace Anarchy. Meanwhile, Nova and Adrian go on a “date” to an amusement park that Nightmare/Nova frequents. They have a run-in with Ingrid at an old fun house, but two good things happen: Ingrid dies (of course you can kill your FRIEND just fine), and Nightmare’s death is staged. Nova catches wind of some kind of the secret drug that Hugh and the Council are developing. Oh, and Ace Anarchy is still alive. *rolls eyes*

WOW, what a long recap! Should I bother with them for Western novels? Tell me your thoughts in the comments! Anyways… spoilers for the new season of My Hero Academia up ahead. Proceed with caution!

Positives first. We do establish what the mysterious Agent N thing is in this book, and within the first one hundred pages! And guess what, it removes Quirks, just like Overhaul’s drug in My Hero Academia! AND DOUBLE GUESS WHAT, it all revolves around a human child’s unique Quirk, and in Archenemies‘ case, it’s Max’s Quirk-stealing Quirk! Ain’t that a coinkidink…

The main conflict of this book revolves around Nova and Adrian’s response to Agent N. They are given training to start using it in battle to neutralize criminals immediately. However, it gets pretty ham-fisted, IMO. The existence of Agent N makes Nova and Adrian question if its use is just. They start thinking about human rights and go into a moral crisis. It’s so freakin’ preachy. It was preachy in the last book, but now it feels like those kids are reading off of a set of cue cards, and once again you don’t really see any SHOWCASES of Renegades being unjust except for an isolated incident with those same high school bullies from before.

Most of the rest of the book is more Nova and Adrian wuv. In fact, the wuv in more abundance than the actual plot, which has always been one of my least favorite aspects of YA novels and something I was glad to see wasn’t the case in Lunar Chronicles… but it IS the case here. Look, I’m not some action-savvy guy or anything, but there’s a time and place for stuff. You know how most longer series have more chill scenes after a really intense arc, like One Piece‘s Davy Back Fight Arc, or the episode of My Hero Academia where they move into their dorm rooms? Archenemies feels like that 90% of the time.

Romance aside, we are introduced to the artifact storage room, which is the location of the major MacGuffin- Ace Anarchy’s helmet. I really didn’t like that place because the security there was super lax and it was written off as, “Oh us Renegades are too morally uptight to wanna steal from in there” (while you laugh at the fact that Nova wants to steal from in there), and it really makes things convenient for Nova, because stakes are overrated. Even more baffling, Renegades are allowed to rent some of the crap stored in there like a freakin’ library, and it made me facepalm hardcore. What’s worse is that there’s apparently a random object in there that ends up being vital to the plot, and nobody knew about it until Adrian stumbled upon it. *shakes fists in the air*

Adrian is the only likable character remaining. Nova starts becoming aware of her wuv (which she writes off as “flirting with Adrian to use him”), turning her into another badass female lead who loses the “bad” and becomes just “ass.” Adrian is at least not entirely convinced that Nightmare died, so he tries his damnedest to keep that case open. But of course, even HE has to get goo-goo eyes for Novie-wovie…

Fortunately, things do pick up after page 340, like in good ol’ delayed gratification fashion. I’ll admit that the climax of this novel felt pretty darn good, all things considered.

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Verdict: 6.5/10

It’s middle-book syndrome. My expectations for the final installment, Supernova, are not too high as this series continues to be a teen drama “but with superpowers!” I’m at least enjoying picturing All Might and Saitama as Adrian’s fathers, and trying to read Adrian’s name as “YO, ADRIAN!” as many times as possible while having it still fit into the context.

To be honest, I’m only being this harsh because it’s Marissa Meyer, an author who wrote something I enjoyed. If a YA author I didn’t like wrote this, I wouldn’t be so salty. A similar case is Ice Wolves, by Amie Kaufman, one of the authors of the amazing Illuminae Files. Ice Wolves is kind of just mediocre, but since it’s by someone who’s written something really good, it feels extra really bad. It’s the same feeling with Renegades so far. But hey, if you’re a fan of that cringey “forbidden-romance-between-enemies-who-don’t-even-know-that-they’re-enemies” stuff, then Archenemies follows through on its predecessor.

Sexiled Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

Looking back on human history, I’d say that women’s rights have made some good headway over the years. Now that it’s the 21st Century, their universe is no longer the diameter of the kitchen! But as we close in on the second decade of this century, feminism has once again become a very controversial topic, especially in art, where creators get crap either for including any amount of men at all, or for including only women. Why am I bringing this up? Well, let me tell you. Sexiled: My Sexist Party Leader Kicked Me Out, So I Teamed up with a Mystical Sorceress!, published in English by J-Novel Club, is aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall about the infallible greatness of women! Men SUCK.

So, here’s what happens. Tanya Artemiciov is a young mage who is removed from her squad, which is led by the misogynistic Ryan Daars. Enraged, she fires off more Explosions than Megumin could ever hope to imagine, and frees Laplace, an all-powerful Sorceress who had been sealed for three hundred years. The two agree to extract their revenge on Ryan, and presumably, every man on the planet.

The elephant in the room is obviously the ham-fisted feminism, and that’s emphasized in the extremely biased cast of characters. As you’d expect, the female leads are the main selling point of the series thus far. Tanya is insane, perhaps even more so than a certain loli in the military. She doesn’t just pack a ton of powerful magic, but a powerful vocabulary as well. She curses her goddamn motherf***ing sh**ty ass off (like in this demonstration), and it’s f***ing hilarious for some reason. The writing is so tryhard and I love it!

Laplace is the Best Girl. With her being so powerful, she’s got a massive ego. She can’t stop reminding everyone that she’s an all-powerful Sorceress, even though she’s not supposed to reveal herself as one to begin with. Nadine is the weakest link. She’s a super-low level and is solely recruited because Tanya and Laplace’s average levels were too high for them to be allowed to enter a tournament. Laplace and Tanya are definitely the “Emilia or Rem” of this series (wow, what a comparison to make).

The guys are the actual scum of the Earth, especially the aforementioned Ryan Daars. Most guys in Sexiled don’t have names, and they all have the exact same personalities as Ryan himself; they’re all one dimensionally sexist and don’t think women are ever capable of anything. In fact, the explanation for Sexiled‘s use of the JRPG trope of skimpy female armor is literally because men designed it to be that way. The biggest source of catharsis in this series is seeing Tanya and Laplace continuously one-up the different men of this world and remind them that women are phenomenal and far better than men.

Along with all of that glorious feminism, there is also some lesbianism as well, a.k.a. yuuuuuuuuuuri. Well, at least according to the genre tags. Despite this being a yuri series, this volume of Sexiled only has three smooch scenes and nothing else. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if these girls form their own lesbian brothel and completely boycott men from existence, or better yet, start enslaving men (since that would be so controversial, the reaction would be priceless). But the thing is… this could be a case where the author has the characters vomit feminist dialogue ad nauseum, but use it as a red herring to get women to enjoy a series that will live entirely off of male titillation. I heard that was the whole marketing technique behind Wonder Woman (key word: ‘heard!’ I don’t actually know if it’s true, so don’t quote me on that), so it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if it was the case for Sexiled as well.

The art for Sexiled seems to have more manga-y style despite being a light novel. It’s good, but since this IS yuri, it’s not gonna hold any water until they start illustrating some of said yuri.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

Sexiled is shaping up to be a very controversial light novel series. Probably. Even though the actual writing and the setting aren’t too remarkable, the over-the-top feminism, Tanya’s putrid vocal chords, and Laplace’s narcissism make it hilarious just the same. I can’t tell if it’s by an actual feminist, or by someone who wanted to comment on society’s current state of affairs. Regardless, I whole-heartedly recommend Sexiled if you want to see some actual, legitimate girl power, and not YA’s pretend girl power.

PS: If they actually have Tanya and Laplace fall in love with guys later, I’m going to drop this series like a brick.

Dragon Quest XI S First Impressions

The game's box art

JRPGs are my favorite genre of videogames by far, even though a lot of them are time sinks and take a long time to really strut their stuff. I’ve been meaning to get into the Dragon Quest games for a while, and I finally got that chance with Dragon Quest XI S for Nintendo Switch.

So far, at about ten hours in, it seems to be almost going out of its way to be a bog-standard JRPG. The plot is about the main character, whom you get to name whatever you want, is a special hero guy who needs to fight a big bad atop the same World Tree that’s been ripped from Norse mythology for about the 12,221st time to date. However, the cutscenes never feel like they’re more than two minutes long, and most of them can be A-mashed through, plus you can skip them by holding Y.

As for the gameplay, this is a good, old fashioned, rootin’ tootin’, retro JRPG. When battle starts, you pick your character’s command when it’s their turn, and do the move. Everything is as it says on the tin. If you’ve played a JRPG, you’ve played this one. Battles can also be set to go extra fast, just in case you need to grind, but this game isn’t designed to be grindy (but that doesn’t mean it isn’t outright).

The modern twist that Dragon Quest XI uses to stand out is Pep Powers. With Pep Powers, your character basically goes Super Saiyan (since this is an Akira Toriyama game, after all), and if the right party members are Pepped, you get access to what essentially are Dual and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger, and as expected, being able to try out all these combinations is no doubt going to be the best aspect of the game. However, there are a number of issues. Although the game says that Pep kicks in after your character takes a lot of damage, similar to a Tales Of‘s Overlimit, in my experience it seems to be purely random. Furthermore, the Pep status goes away as soon as you use one Pep Power, or after a certain number of turns, which the game thankfully gives a visual indication on the last turn that it’s available on. What sucks is that the Pep Powers are the coolest aspect of the game, yet you cannot control the conditions in which you use them. Fortunately, ending a battle in the Pep state causes it to carry over, which can help in a tougher battle; but at the same time you’d have to grind battles if you wish to rely on Pep for said situations. I’m hoping that there will be ways to make Peps happen more frequently later.

Another thing I find tedious is the game’s skill tree. Normally, I love skill trees in JRPGs; however, Dragon Quest XI‘s looks really stingy. You only get skill points on level up, which so far has been only 2 or 3 each time. Most skills require 6, 10, or even more skill points each, meaning you gotta level up several times to get one skill unlocked.

One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that everyone has different weapons they can use, such as a regular sword or a greatsword for the main protagonist, and you can change equipment mid-battle without taking their turn. Each section of their skill tree is devoted to one of the weapon styles, plus an additional style that’s unique to them only. I’ve been doing skill trees by committing to a single section, which might not be the way the game intends, since skills are pricier the further out from the center you go, and it’s a real pain. Maybe you get more skill points at once upon further level ups?

Fortunately, the crafting system in Dragon Quest XI seems to be a lot of fun, so far. With the Fun-time Forge, you can craft new equipment with materials you find around the world (as well as their recipes). This starts a minigame where you have a limited number of strikes to fill up gauges on different areas of the equipment. You want to fill it up to the green section, but REALLY want to fill up to the arrow on each gauge (which will be indicated by it turning yellow if successful). The closer you get, the better the final product will be, with the best being a Perfection. Forging things successfully gives you Perfectionist Pearls, which can be consumed to reforge something to make it stronger. Your forging skills will also level up, allowing you to learn Flourishes, which are special moves that make the minigame even more interesting than before. Options are limited early on, but one can only imagine how ridiculously hard- and rewarding- some of those late-game equipments will be to make.

I’m kind of split on the aesthetics of the game right now. Although it’s pretty hard to be angry at Toriyama’s timeless art style on the characters, the world itself is- although colorful and vibrant- very large and bland. I get that this world was designed with the ability to be played in old school top-down style or 3D, but it’s still kind of jarring to see the latter. Also, the game’s soundtrack is kind of meh, but it doesn’t grate on you unless you start doing tedious stuff like material farming. The towns have the best personality and the most thought put into them, but they seem to act like vehicles for padding the game more than anything else.

As far as side quests go, the overworld only has a whopping 26, which is way less than a lot of JRPGs I’m used to. However, there is also a side section where you find weird ghosts that unlock different areas of past Dragon Quest worlds in a special, 2D only zone. This looks like it’s going to be a pretty fun thing to work towards completing, however it seems arbitrary that you can’t save in this zone, since I assume that some of the later ones are going to get really long and difficult.

The game also has a Draconian Quest setting, which lets you custom set some handicaps to make the game harder. I chose one where NPCs can sometimes lie, because I thought they would give me false game advice, such as, “Use this ability on this enemy, whoops that actually does the opposite of killing them,” but the lies are all gobble-di-gook and the game plays a jingle whenever one actually occurs. It’s funny if it happens with a story-important NPC, but I might remove it later, since it doesn’t actually make for a greater challenge (and since I’m a filthy casual, I don’t think I want to play a game blind on its highest difficulty). Speaking of difficulty, the game shows signs of steadily getting tougher, but it seems like one of those where you’ll breeze through standard battles, and only struggle on bosses.

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Current Verdict: 8/10

Dragon Quest XI is off to a shaky start, more than most JRPGs I’ve played. I truly do see potential for this to become a great JRPG, but it definitely wants you to make those risky early investments. At the point I’m at, I at least managed to obtain the designated sea vehicle, which usually marks a big turning point in quality for JRPGs in general. Probably by this time next year, you’ll hear my final thoughts on the game!

Durarara!! Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

In a world full of isekai stuff, one might forget that THIS WORLD EXISTS TOO. That’s when we turn back to the start of the 21st Century, before the isekai boom. Back in the good ol’ days, we didn’t have “i-SUCK-ais”, we had QUALITY like that there Monogatari series, or better yet, Durarara!!, finally published to completion in English by Yen Press.

It all starts when Mikado Ryugamine moves to Ikebukuro in the hopes of finding excitement (and boy does it pay off in dividends). He meets his friends, Masaomi Kida and Anri Sonohara, and… well, crazy things happen. From fights between gangs like the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, to a creepy sword called Saika that turns the people it cuts into its slaves, to a dullahan that wants to find its head, which has fallen into the hands of a teenage boy who has fallen in love with it in spite of his yandere of an older sister. Told you crazy things happen.

Despite this downright bonkers plot, Durarara!! is a character driven story, so there really isn’t much in the way of an overarching narrative. But not much doesn’t mean not at all. Durarara!! has a ton of different stories going on at once, such as the conflicts revolving around the aforementioned gangs and dullahan, plus a whole slew of other things. All of these different stories happen separately, but always manage to converge in a Seinfeld-level amount of absurd coincidences. You will have to suspend your disbelief for this one (as if the presence of a creature from European mythology wasn’t enough of a sign) in order to be able to enjoy it.

There are two things that are vital to make an episodic, character driven story work. One is great writing skill, and the author, Ryohgo Narita, has it to spare. His nonchalant and satiric writing makes Ikebukuro, Durarara!!‘s setting, seem like a strange and otherworldly place (don’t worry; it’s in the real world. Remember that). He also drives the emotions and motivations of characters home really well. The series is also really good at buildup. Consequently, this makes for some slower volumes; Volumes 10 and 11 don’t really have much in terms of character development or plot progression because they merely establish the final arc. But when that final arc begins… HOOOOOO BOOOY it is amazing!

The other important thing you need to make this type of story work is a great cast. Durarara!! has an amazing cast… depending on who you ask. I find this series easily comparable to NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series, which is also an episodic character driven story. Durarara!! has the antithesis of Monogatari‘s nuanced and deceptively complex characters; Durarara!!‘s cast is 1D and open like a book. There are only a couple of times where characters catch you off guard, but most of those scenes towards the beginning.

So depending on your definition of good character writing, these guys are either amazing or insufferable. I prefer bombastic characters, so I naturally love Durarara!!‘s cast. I can’t go over the main characters- Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri- because of spoilers for volumes 1-3, but Celty Sturluson, the aforementioned dullahan, is the Best Girl. She is just a designated “nonhuman thing that learns how to be human”, but she’s a damn good one! Her relationship with Shinra Kishitani, a black market doctor, is always fun to read through (and makes me wish I was Shinra instead… RRGH). 

Shizuo is the embodiment of the insanely powerful blockhead. His iconic bartender’s outfit makes it incredibly easy to insert him in scenes without using his name, and those scenes where he’s casually throwing vending machines and motorcycles with one hand never get old. His rival, Izaya, is the main antagonist, who wants to cause chaos because he is a literal yandere to all mankind. I love these boys as much as they hate each other!

For the art, the illustrator uses a minimalistic style that I’m not a fan of. It does a good job using extreme shaders, and it has a lot of sharp polygons (ripped straight out of a Persona game’s HUD) that help enforce the weirdness. It works for the series, but I wouldn’t want to read a manga drawn like this.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

You can tell if you’ll love Durarara!! just by reading the first volume, so just borrow it from a friend and give it a read, then decide where you’ll go from there. Personally, I think it is one of the best light novel series out there, and now that it’s finally done, I can start Dead Mount Dea– wait, what’s Durarara!! SH?! A sequel?! Well, crap… Ikebukuro just never rests, does it?

The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

Isekai has fallen into a rut of tropes lately, so naturally the way to make isekai great is to subvert the crap out of those tropes. For example, Ascendance of a Bookworm, and Otherside Picnic. However, one relatively recent isekai, The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious (short version, Cautious Hero), conforms to isekai tropes so hard that it implodes and ends up subverting them in its own unique way!

In the realm of the gods, a goddess named Ristarte is charged with summoning a hero to save a world from a generic evil force. She leafs through the resumes of some average Joes when she comes across Seiya Ryuuguuin, who has great stats but a cautious personality. She summons him because his cautiousness shouldn’t at all be a problem. The story, uniquely enough, is told through the perspective of Rista, so you get to experience the cringe-inducing hilarity of Seiya alongside her.

The selling point of Cautious Hero revolves entirely around our cautious Best Boy Seiya. His personality makes him super untrusting and condescending towards others, like an edgelord without the edgelordiness! Watching his interactions with the other characters is what makes this light novel so appealing. Seiya follows through on his exploits. After every battle, he heads back to the gods’ realm to train. He also makes three of every piece of equipment, just in case (sometimes, even breaking to Rista’s room and pulling out her hair to craft better kits). He uses top-tier magic against slimes, and even against the dead bodies of enemies (just in case they regenerate). This causes him to destroy the towns he’s supposed to have saved in the first place, which he funnily enough doesn’t care about. The most important aspect of Seiya is his catchphrase, translated by Yen Press as “I’m perfectly prepared.” I’m not gonna lie, but I literally started fangushing at one point with this catchphrase, and it’s only volume 1. I love this meme and I hope it stays forever.

The only real issue (other than the usual stuff that isekai’s critics would hate) is that as a result of Seiya’s indisputable greatness, almost everyone else gets the shaft, which is a shame because a lot of other characters are also great. Rista is a good girl and a great audience surrogate with a lot of personality. We see some of the other gods, and out of all of them, Valkyrie has the most potential (plus she’s on the cover of volume 2, so I know that there’s more with her). Mash and Elulu, two companions Seiya recruits, are the blandest characters by far, but it’s on purpose because they literally exist just to carry Seiya’s massive inventory.

The art in Cautious Hero is great. The illustrator really captures the characters’ personalities in their facial expressions, which is important for a parody series such as this.

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Verdict: 9.5/10

Sorry, for the short blog, but this series is as simple as a retro JRPG. You know the old phrase: “Less is more.” A simple twist to something that’s been done a million times breathes new life into the isekai genre with Cautious Hero. If it continues like this, it will become one of my favorite light novel series of all time.

Sadly, the anime is going to air six episodes by the next volume release, more than enough to adapt the first two volumes and beyond, so being a “I-was-a-fan-before-it-was-cool” hipster isn’t gonna last for much longer. But nonetheless, reading Cautious Hero is worth it at any time, and it will have you perfectly prepared for the days ahead.

Descending Stories Full Series Review

I think it’s safe to say that there are only two ways that a Westerner would be exposed to the Japanese performing art known as rakugo. One way is the Ace Attorney case that had rakugo and notoriously expected you to know real life information about Japanese cuisine in order to be able to solve the case. The other way is to read Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju– published in English by Kodansha Comics- or watch its anime adaptation (okay, so technically there are three ways but the latter two both involve the same thing). Because of the Ace Attorney case, I was left very confused as to what this rakugo thing is. So, I basically read this manga all the way through as a form of research.

And here’s a small warning: DON’T read this manga for research! Descending Stories jumps right into the rakugo theme expecting you to already have a basic idea of what it is. Although you can at least figure out some terms thanks to footnotes and context clues, it doesn’t really serve any purpose as to what the appeal of rakugo is. If you want that, you’re going to have to read the bonus sections where the author literally documents different areas of rakugo. From context, rakugo itself seems to be an event where you watch a man kneel down and tell a story out of a pre-written selection while also doing the voices and mannerisms of all the characters. I didn’t actually do any research on rakugo so that I could dive into this manga fresh and from the perspective of an average Joe who wouldn’t know about it themselves.

Descending Stories is a slice-of-life manga, with rakugo as a narrative theme, more than anything else. The main character, Yotaro, is an ex-convict who has finally served his time in jail. Upon release, he seeks out Yakumo, a rakugo-ist(?) who performed at his prison, because Yotaro was inspired by him. When he finds the man, he’s turned down from becoming a rakugo apprentice, but is allowed to freeload and figure out how to rakugo on his own. Oh, and also, the whole overarching narrative revolves around Yakumo’s friend, the late, great Sukeroku (late, as in dead). This is a manga about coping with loss.

Similar to Ascendance of a Bookworm, I have a hard time discussing the characters because they are just normal people. While Yotaro is the main character, technically, half of the manga is actually focused on Yakumo and Sukeroku’s backstory. Keep in mind that depending on their rakugo status, their names will change like that guy in the Secret Show. It’s not that hard to get used to because the recap at the beginning of volumes 2 and onward tell you who’s who every time.

I think the art is the weakest aspect in the manga. Although it’s got a distinct, humble style, every character looks like they’re making duck-lip expressions, which clashes with the theme of loss, and basically any scene that’s meant to be taken seriously. At the very least, the panel flow is perfectly fine, and has some strong double-page spreads.

Geez… I… I’m gonna be honest, I don’t know what else to say about Descending Stories. My preferred genres are battle shounen and isekai, yes, but I’ve been more than capable of enjoying the more “cultured” manga. Heck, Naoki Urasawa- the mangaka of 20th Century Boys and Monster– is one of my favorite mangaka of all time! Plus, there’s Kasane and ACT-AGE that I love too, and don’t even get me started on the masterpiece that is Space Brothers. I’m more than certain that Descending Stories is a great manga. My beef with it is probably the art, which I find really important for the actual conveyance of the story. If Urasawa did the art for this, I might like it more.

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I gave Descending stories a lot of benefit of the doubt. I can see the makings of a great drama manga here, but I just couldn’t get into it like the drama manga I previously mentioned. It also didn’t help me appreciate rakugo itself, which is unusual because I find that manga are the only time that I appreciate a real-world things that I normally find boring. If you want something with more “culture” than those “mindless” battle shounens, Descending Stories has culture to spare!

Konosuba and No Game No Life Double Overview

Covers of each series' first volume

Konosuba

Isekai is an iffy genre. The bad ones are littered with overpowered protagonists, inconsistent world logic, and all-around insufferably boring casts of characters. But they don’t HAVE to be this way. One light novel, Konosuba: God’s Blessing on this Wonderful World!, is one of those really, really good isekai light novels. This is a review of volumes 1-9 of the series, published in English by Yen Press.

Konosuba has so many ridiculous ideas that it’s a miracle they all somehow work. The story starts when the main character, Kazuma, is killed in the real world (like ya do) and is given a chance to live a fantasy life in another world. He jumps at the chance, but immediately regrets it when he forms the most incompetent harem ever.

This light novel revolves primarily around character interactions, to the point where it’s almost a slice-of-life. So if you want an epic adventure, you won’t get that here. The world is also not the most well-built. The areas that are visited are memorable by themselves, but there isn’t any fascinating lore as opposed to something like DanMachi (which will be covered soon enough on this blog). Fortunately, the characters themselves are phenomenal.

Kazuma, our boy, is not an ideal, righteous, yet socially awkward and wholly unremarkable turd. He is an ACTUAL turd; a selfish thief who has sub-par stats with the exception of his high Luck. He prefers leisure over labor, but thanks to his allies, that won’t quite happen.

Aqua, the goddess who accompanies Kazuma, is an egotistical and whiny brat, and I love her. For some reason, the author’s writing is so good at making these annoying-ass characters so lovable. But she’s only the tip of the iceberg.

My favorite girl, Megumin, has grown pretty notorious due to her meme-ability. Since you’ve probably already been spoiled of it, I’ll tell you that she has insane magic power. However, she only knows the spell Explosion, and although powerful, sucks her dry, forcing her to rest for 24 hours. The real problem is that she is obsessed with using it in the worst situations possible!

Darkness is the tank of the group. The catch is that she’s a hardcore masochist, and as such chooses to go out and not wear armor because she wants to get hit by enemies over and over again. There is also another side to her, but that’s spoilers…

In fact, there are still a lot more lovable characters, such as Chris, Eris, Vanir, and Wiz, but they’re more minor characters that I’ll let you react to for yourself. In any case, the four main characters form one of the best groups in light novels by far, and this is a case where nothing can happen and yet feel like more is happening than most plot-focused narratives.

The art has a charming look to it. The characters are very appealing and expressive and that’s enough to get customers to see what the books are about.

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Verdict: 10/10

Konosuba is a brilliant light novel that I would recommend to anyone, even one who hates isekai. The funny characters and their interactions make it an amazing pick-me-up if you’re ever feeling gloomy.


No Game No Life

Overpowered protagonists, check. Fanservice, check. Blatant pandering, check. Incest?! Lannister-shaped check! That basically sums up everything wrong with modern isekai. YET WHY IS NO GAME NO LIFE SO GOOOOOOOOOD?! This is perhaps my favorite light novel of all time, and yet it’s so… wrong! I’ve read all eight English volumes published by Yen Press at the time of this review.

No Game No Life stars two sibling protagonists, Sora and Shiro. These two have given up on the world and only play online games. Together, they are unstoppable, to the point where a GOD invites them into his world of games.

The thing that immediately sets this series apart from its contemporaries is the world it’s set in. It is a world where the aforementioned god, Tet, created laws to where everything is governed by games. This goes right down to the laws of physics and people’s willpower. If you want a girlfriend, beat her at chess, and she will be FORCED to fall in love with you if you win, as long as she agrees to the terms of the game.

Sora and Shiro’s goal is to use games to start at the bottom and conquer all of the races in the world, a lot of which are mind-bogglingly powerful, in order to win the right to challenge Tet on his own home turf. Since this is an isekai, Sora and Shiro are insanely brilliant and smart. Almost stupidly so.

Nah, impossibly so. The first, simple matches that they have are pretty tame. But as the games get more and more cinematic and literally reality-bending, your disbelief is suspended from the school flagpole like that poor kid who got wedgied. No matter what circumstances they’re in, Sora’s got a plan. In fact, everything that happens in a given match- EVERYTHING- is all according to keikaku for Sora, no matter what. This is something that isn’t a problem for me, as I love over-the-top theatrics if done right, but it might be a turn-off for some people.

Speaking of turn-offs, how about that sexualization of an eleven-year-old girl?! No Game No Life could be called No Shame No Life. And Shiro’s the tip of the iceberg. Every volume contains tons of bathing, bras, and panties. Thankfully, this being a book enables you to censor a lot of this content in your imagination if need be. But what CANNOT be censored is Shiro’s incestuous love for her brother Sora. It’s just something you’ll have to put up with. It’s not integral to the plot, and it more so comes off as a young sibling not understanding her own feelings toward her loving brother than anything else.

The characters are one of the best parts of No Game No Life. We discussed the cruel and calculating Sora and Shiro before, but there are so many other great people. Best Punching Bag Steph is normally a really strong character, but reduced to a lowly servant at the hands of the siblings. She tends to be the “straight man” who flamboyantly reacts to all the stupid things they do. Jibril is a gorgeously lewd guardian angel who always puts a smile on my face whenever she’s on scene. Actual Best Girl Izuna is awesome. She’s, like, eight years old, but hilariously speaks using a lot of curse words while also ending sentences with the word “please” at the same time. I love her! Mentioning anyone else leads straight into light-novel-only spoilers, so I’ll stop here.

The art of No Game No Life is surreal and eye-catching, and it’s drawn by the author himself! It’s very colorful (well, at least the ones that actually ARE colored), to the point where it could give you a migraine. And of course, a lot the illustrations are very lewd. You have been warned.

When it comes to flaws, No Game No Life‘s theatrical prose almost shoots itself in the foot. As previously mentioned, the games that these kids play get INSANE. Almost too insane. And I’m not saying that as far as suspension of disbelief, but as far as actual visual comprehension goes. From volume 6 and onward, there is so much grandiose space-time rending and multi-dimension-ing stuff occurring that it can’t be described well in human language. You will really have to pull through with your imagination to be able to paint a clear picture of stuff, or just not paint the picture at all.

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Verdict: 10/10

If you can get past its lewdness, No Game No Life is easily one of the best light novels, if not THE best. Since the anime so notoriously lacks a second season, there really is no better version to experience than the original light novel!