Otherside Picnic Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

At first glance, Otherside Picnic– published in English by J-Novel Club- looks like a boring, CGDCT isekai that uses the cover art of cute girls holding guns to lure you into what looks like an edgier version of Laid-Back Camp. In actuality, it’s a surreal sci-fi thriller that doesn’t have time for sissie things like picnics (sorry, Yogi Bear).

This story jumps in so fast, that you’d think that you were reading the start of volume 2 at first. Our main character, Sorawo, is saved from a threatening encounter in the titular Otherside by a cool, tomboyish girl named Toriko (no, she’s not a gourmet hunter). Turns out that Toriko’s looking for a friend who’s been lost in the Otherside, so Sorawo joins her because she’s got nothing better to do. After this abrupt intro, you get context to how Sorawo found her way into the Otherside, and it’s not long before you find that there are multiple entrances into it.

What makes this novel most interesting is how it subverts a lot of modern isekai’s tropes, perhaps moreso than Ascendance of a Bookworm. The characters aren’t overpowered; in fact, they are very vulnerable at all times. Also, the characters freely move between this world and Otherside, a rarity among isekai in general.

Most importantly, the Otherside itself is interesting, and is by far the biggest appeal of the series right out of the gate. It is very bizarre and strange. It seems almost post apocalyptic, as it has ruins scattered throughout. The place is also- as Stan Laurel would say it- infatuated with terrifying creatures. A lot of the weird stuff that happens in Otherside Picnic are based on real Internet ghost stories and urban legends, which gives a sort of Steins;Gate vibe, as that series incorporated real-life conspiracy theories into its story.

The characters, so far, seem to be the weakest aspect. Sorawo is kind of a generic, ditzy girl, while Toriko is a generic badass. They’re brain and brawn, respectively. They obtain interesting powers early on in the story that force them into some interesting scenarios, but their personalities- aside from a couple of weird things that Sorawo says in her monologues- are a bit lacking. However, I at least see room for improvement moving forward.

The art is appealing. As much as I joked about the cover art earlier, the coloring is great, and the illustrations have a lot of cool tones and shades to them. Its much darker than most light novel art is.

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Verdict: 8.85/10

Otherside Picnic is shaping up to be one of the best new isekai. While I don’t like it as much as The Hero is Overpowered But Overly Cautious or Torture Princess, it has merits in that it subverts modern tropes enough to appeal to the critics, while having enough thrills and action to appeal to fans of isekai. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys weird sci-fi thrillers like Steins;Gate.

Katanagatari Volumes 1-3 Review

A lot of people love NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series to pieces, but the same author’s 2007 series, Katanagatari, is much more obscure. In fact, I wouldn’t have known about it if my friend who’s been lending me the Monogatari novels hadn’t also lent me this. Published in omnibus form by Vertical Inc., this series can now be experienced in English. Each of my reviews will cover three volumes due to the aforementioned omnibus format.

The big thing about Katanagatari is that it seems deceptively simple. The main character, Yasuri Shichika, lives alone on an island with his sister until he is approached by a girl named Togame. She tells him about these twelve powerful swords forged by a famous swordsmith named Shikizaki and offers to help her obtain the swords. Since there would be no series if he didn’t decide to tag along with her, Shichika decides to tag along with her. Given the amount of swords, the amount of volumes, and the fact that each volume, so far, has been named after one of the swords, it is easy to infer that Katanagatari follows a monster-of-the-week formula, with each volume consisting of going to where the next MacGuffin is, then fighting the person who’s wielding it.

NISI, do you actually think you can fool me? (And well, if the series actually stays this simplistic all the way to the end, then yes, you have fooled me.)

Since this is by the author of Monogatari, you’d naturally expect some phenomenally complex characters (and if you haven’t read Monogatari, just know that this author is known for phenomenally complex characters). But again, they seem deceptively simple! Shichika is kind the antithesis of Araragi. Unlike the iconic Monogatari tragic hero, he doesn’t like thinking too hard, and is pretty much an idiot when it comes to anything other than fighting. He sounds an awful lot like a cardboard cutout battle shounen protagonist… NISI, just what are you playing at? Regardless, the fact that he fights armed swordsmen without using a sword himself is cool.

Togame, meanwhile, seems to be just a waifu. She’s good at tactical stuff, but she can’t fight to save her life. So, Shichika has to protect her (NISI, do you actually want your FANS to like this series?). There are strong implications of ulterior motives on her part, but it shouldn’t be anything that would offset her need to be “protecc-ted.” Despite how bland these characters seem, they still have some great (and long) interactions between each other, as to be expected from NISI.

The biggest challenge from reading this book is visualizing it. As you can tell from the cover, this has an appealing and unusual art style. At first, I had a very hard time picturing things because I couldn’t decide if I wanted to picture it exactly like the illustrations or in a modern anime style. I ultimately settled on a weird combination of both, but it might not be so easy for you.

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Verdict: 8/10

So far, so good. Due to its simpler format, this is a much easier series to recommend to people than Monogatari, or if they’re intimidated by Monogatari, then they can use this to get an impression of NISI’s writing style. If there’s any concern I have, it’s that the basic plot formula won’t change much, and I’ll have problems writing posts for subsequent volumes… But for entertainment value, this is shaping up to be a great series for Monogatari fans who need a break from Araragi’s constant existential crises.

Octopath Traveler Full Review

Box art of the game

Welcome to my first gaming review on this blog! Since my preferred genre is JRPG, most reviews are going to be split into First Impressions, which cover the first ten or so hours of a game, then a full review for after I beat it. But in the case of Octopath Traveler for Nintendo Switch, I’ve actually been whittling it down since I started playing it last year, and while I haven’t beaten the postgame content, I at least beat all eight campaigns. I doubt that the postgame will make me change my thoughts on the entire game as a whole, so I think I can review it now.

I’ll start with the thing that probably compelled you to think of buying the game: the BEEEEEEEYOOOOOTEEEEEEFUUUUUUL graphics. I’m not someone who plays games for graphics, but I cannot deny how visually appealing this game is. Octopath Traveler combines pixel art straight out of an indie game with the production value of a triple A game to make for a unique artstyle. It is a very melancholy and atmospheric game, filled with quaint areas that you’d need all one thousand of Kannon’s hands just to count the amount of places to sleep in.

Next, let’s discuss the premise of Octopath, which is sadly my least favorite aspect of the game. As alluded to in the title of the game, the story consists of eight, four-chapter-long campaigns, each starring one of the eight party members. Unlike a lot of JRPGs that are more grandiose and escalate to insane levels, Octopath is sort of a slice-of-life JRPG for its eight campaigns. Instead of saving the world from A GOD, the characters all go on their own journeys of self-discovery. I can at least respect Octopath from a thematic standpoint for this. However, the game itself shoots its own narrative in the foot.

The problem is the progression style of the game. Starting out, you select your first character and beat their first chapter, then go out to other towns in any order you want to start the first chapter of the other seven characters. The world is structured so that the further out from the center you go, the harder it gets. As a result, you will be woefully underleveled for every characters’ second chapter until you beat all of their first chapters, and so on up to their final chapters. Instead of choosing whom you find to be most interesting, you must experience each characters’ arc in very isolated incidents. Sidequests don’t help either. This results in an extremely disconnected experience. By the time I got to the later chapters of these people, there’d sometimes be huge developments involving an earlier character in their story, but I wouldn’t feel the emotions because I completely forgot who they were. I don’t blame you if the same thing happens. It also doesn’t help that all eight stories are really boring. The writing is very bland and heavy-handed, plus the inexpressive character sprites rob it even further of life. I am aware of voice acting in the game, but since it’s supposed to feel like a retro RPG, I muted it for the entire game. How is the voice acting in Octopath Traveler? Feel free to comment on that!

Fortunately, I don’t care about story AT ALL in videogames. Ironic how I’m saying that since JRPG is my favorite genre. I factor gameplay above all else, and Octopath Traveler delivers with its gameplay!

Octopath has mechanics that are simple but complex at the same time. On the field, each character has a field skill, from gaining information, to stealing, to even recruiting NPCs to assist you in battle. There is a reputation mechanic that screws you if you fail these interactions too many times. However, losing reputation is pretty inconsequential. There are only four actual field skills, each with a type that is guaranteed to work but gets locked behind level up walls, and ones that could lower reputation if you fail but can be attempted at any time. The odds of the latter types succeeding go up with level anyway. It’s only something you do if you want to get lategame equipment and NPCs early.

As is with all great JRPGS, the REAL fun comes, naturally, from the combat. As usual, you have physical attacks and magic attacks, regular attacks that are free, and special moves that cost SP (which is just MP). Also, each and every attack is categorized under a type of weapon, or an element. Each enemy has several weaknesses, be it magic or a weapon. Combat basically involves guessing what their weaknesses are, then going ham. Once you discover a weakness, it displays under them for good. Enemies have shield points, which get reduced when you hit a weakness. Shield points take damage based on number of hits, which is important to note, since there are some weaker attacks that hit multiple times at once, which make those weaker attacks lifesavers at times. When shield points are reduced to zero, the enemy breaks. This causes them to lose a turn and makes all attacks on them crit for that turn. Keep in mind that enemies get attack priority when they recover from break. The turn order displays up on the top, so use that to strategize. If you can break an enemy at the proper time, they can lose TWO of their turns at once.

The real bread n’ butter of Octopath is boost points. All characters gain one boost points per turn, and can store up to five. All attacks can be boosted up by a max of three levels to make your moves much stronger. This system really forces you to make tough decisions for your strategies in battle. Good thing it’s turn-based!

The power progression in Octopath is one of the most satisfying that I’ve seen. Each of the eight characters has a Primary Job, from Warrior to Cleric. They all gain Job Points in addition to XP. Job Points can be spent to learn techniques in ANY ORDER you want (be warned that the cost increases each time). Learning these also unlocks passive skills that each can be equipped. They range from a lower encounter rate, to stat buffs, to the ever broken Saving Grace (my favorite skill, which allows you to heal above Max HP). When you learn all moves in a job, you unlock the Divine Skill of that job. When learned, they prove to be insanely helpful, but can only be used with a maximum boost.

If that didn’t sound fun enough, just wait until you embark toward the second chapters. On the way, you can visit shrines which unlock each Job to be equipped as a Secondary Job by all characters. The amount of combinations are insane, and its fun to experiment to see what works. It gets even MORE ridiculous if you can unlock optional Super Jobs that REALLY step things up!

But Octopath is not without its flaws. Other than the story being bad, the side quests also get incredibly difficult if you don’t go into them with the right mindset. Most side quests are solved by talking to the person, doing one field action, then talking to them again. They’re simple, but very obtuse at times. You WILL need to talk to every NPC and really read their dialogue, because any of them can have the solution. Some of the late game ones at least get easier because the NPCs for them don’t show up until after you start finishing campaigns. However, you might want to consider taking notes, just in case. I didn’t, and as a result some side quests that I could’ve beaten early on took me over eighty hours to finish. But all that aside, when you finally find what you had to do to solve a side quest, it feels genuinely cathartic, even if you berate yourself over it.

Other than that, I do have a number of nitpicks, which are moreso a consequence of how irregularly I played Octopath over time. I really found it annoying that dungeons on the map don’t show if you completed it or not. There were times where I felt like I forgot a treasure, but I wouldn’t be sure until I combed the entire thing all over again. This is especially annoying because of my other nitpick- that there is no way to have no random encounters. You can get pretty close with the skill Evasive Maneuvers, but it’s still annoying. One last thing is that things can be really convenient or inconvenient depending on your first character. The gameplay doesn’t get easier or harder, but certain little things change. For example, if you start with Cyrus the Scholar, he has a free skill that reveals one enemy weakness at the start of a battle, which is REALLY HELPFUL if it’s your first time playing. However, a lot of dungeons have a Thief-only chest, and it’s really annoying if you don’t have Therion the Thief in your party as you play through the game in general. Also, bosses can take a really long time to defeat, and often end up being battles of endurance, even if you’re within the recommended level for them. The final chapters end up being among the easiest because the level requirements don’t escalate. You might even be able to fight them with the Super Jobs, thus making them take less than ten minutes to beat.

Lastly, I will note the soundtrack. It doesn’t really have an identity; just generic orchestra stuff. But, it’s still really good. There are several ROCKIN’ battle themes as well as atmospheric and soothing themes. My favorite theme is whatever the chapter 4 boss theme is called.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

Octopath Traveler is a really good game. It’s a fun homage to retro RPGs with a modern twist. It can get repetitive and tedious at times, and if you care about a good story that doesn’t waste your time, then it might also be a turn off for you. But if you care about great combat, great power progression, and great music, Octopath Traveler is a more than viable option. Just be forewarned that trying to tackle everything will easily take over 100 hours total.

5 Worlds First Impressions (Volumes 1 -2)

Covers of books 1 and 2.

I did not expect the first comic I covered would be a Western graphic novel instead of a manga, considering the fact that I’ve been reading manga for over seven years. Since this is a Weeb Revues first, let me explain how I’m thinking of approaching comics. Most individual volumes don’t have enough material for me to write a good blog about them one at a time. Plus, there’s the fact that I have read ahead to the more recent chapter releases, thanks to things like Viz’s Jump subscription. So what I’m thinking of doing is to do a first impression of comics I haven’t read before, then a full review when I finish them. The problem is that you won’t get to know my general thoughts on the 100-odd manga I’ve already read prior to starting this blog… I’ll figure something out.

Before we get started, I need to give my background on Western comics. I grew up not reading a single comic book- with my only exposure to the culture being the Christopher Reeve Superman movie. I only just got into comics earlier this year- 2019. My first graphic novel was Amulet. I read the first three volumes, and I hated it. I don’t use that word all the time, but Amulet pushed me over the edge. I could have an entirely separate blog detailing exactly why I hate it so much, but I won’t, because there would be a LOT of salt. Later on, I read Cleopatra in Space. I found that one to be much better, but it seemed to be too fast-paced for its own good. I had planned to tackle 5 Worlds, published by Random House, third because it looked the best out of all the graphic novels I’d seen, and boy did I make a good call!

Being a kids graphic novel, the premise of 5 Worlds is pretty simple. The titular five worlds, consisting of Mon Domani and its four moon-planets, are going through real tough crap, thanks to deteriorating ecosystems and some evil whatsit called the Mimic. Apparently, the only way to turn things back to normal is to light beacons built on each of the worlds. Fortunately, we have people called sand dancers, who do interpretive dance to manipulate, well, sand. However, the beacons can only be lit by a special dancer who has the Living Fire. It’s a good premise with a lot of wiggle room for a fantastic adventure.

The characters, however, are less than fantastic. Oona Lee, the main protagonist, is a marginally better version of Emily from Amulet, but she’s still kind of generic. She’s also just about as much of an overpowered protagonist as Emily was; the dialogue has this “the sand knows” line often that lets us know how she’s able to do some of the things, that according to the rules established, she shouldn’t be able to do because she’s supposed to suck at sand dancing. An Tzu is my least favorite character; he jumps to conclusions way too fast, plus he’s been the least useful in terms of abilities. Jax Amboy is the best character, relatively speaking. He’s got a decent lover-boy personality, plus he’s pretty nifty in battle. But overall, this cast just doesn’t wow me. It’s not the authors’ fault; I had the same issue with both Amulet and Cleopatra in Space. I just can’t help but compare these comics to manga. The pacing and structure is very different between the two mediums.

For some reason, Western graphic novels seem to have quicker plot progression than manga, and the panels in them seem to be incredibly large, which means that they need more pages in order to convey the same content. 5 Worlds seems to be the most efficient out of what I’ve read thus far. It helps that the books themselves have averaged at 240 pages a pop, but even then it still moves too fast. As a consequence, they’ve had to “pull a Disney” (you know, like how parents commonly get killed off in Disney movies) so we can sympathize with the characters immediately: Oona Lee’s sister having run away from home, An Tzu having some kind of Back to the Future disease, and Jax Amboy not having any real friends (well, that’s what the description says). To compare this to a manga with similarly fast pacing, Made in Abyss, that manga might’ve had two unremarkable main characters, but it also had a cast of phenomenal side characters that left a strong impression on me, despite how brief their screentime was.

Similarly, when a big character-based plot twist happens, the emotional impact of it didn’t resonate with me since it occurs just as I’m getting acquainted with the character. I can appreciate that the authors don’t beat around the bush, but in this case, they’re beating the exact location that the bush will be in before it’s even existed yet! But keep in mind that I love One Piece, where you don’t get most characters’ full backstory until over ten years worth of published material.

The art of 5 Worlds is the best out of the three graphic novels I’ve read. It’s a very cartoony and whimsical style with eye-catching colors. Western comics seem to stack similarly sized panels together in order to showcase motion in a sort of flipbook style. I do not find this as impactful as with manga that normally use gesture drawing lines and foreshortening. I did flip through some DC and Marvel comics at my local library, and the action seems to be done similarly, to my surprise. I would’ve expected more from the significantly more complex artwork. Is it a strictly Western thing? Regardless of if it is or not, I can’t get used to it, as opposed to my first manga, where I could understand the medium almost right away.

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Current Verdict: 7.85/10

Despite all my nitpicks, 5 Worlds is shaping up to be one of the better Western comics out there. It’s just a real shame that the story moves too fast to really let it grow on me. It’s entertaining and appealing. I’ve read two volumes thus far, and I’ll try to finish this series and put out a full review. But with new volumes only coming out annually, it’s going to be a long process!

Monogatari Series Review, Part 1 of 3

Cover of volume 1 of Bakemonogatari

The Monogatari light novel series is one of the few that have been adapted, in their entirety, into anime form. However, I heard that the show uses an artsy directing style that sounds really distracting and pretentious, so I’ve been reading the light novels instead of watching the anime. Published in English by Vertical Inc., only the first “season” is available digitally. Therefore, I’ve been borrowing volumes from a friend. At the time of this writing, I’m a little bit into the second “season”, according to MyAnimeList. In the meantime, let’s review the first season.

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Bakemonogatari

For those fans who know that Bakemonogatari isn’t the chronological first installment, I’m tackling the light novels in published order. Sorry.

Anyhoo, Bakemonogatari is a setup arc that serves to establish all of the major players by following a distinct formula. The main protagonist, an angsty, existential teen named Araragi Koyomi has to help cute girls who are possessed by various spirits, called aberrations. The aberrations are all representations of actual, real-life human issues, and the solutions to remove them are roughly the same as actually dealing with them in real life.

Since Monogatari is a character study, the characters are of the utmost importance. Best Girl Senjogahara Hitagi is a super tsundere who carries a stapler around. Her insults put a lot of other tsunderes to shame. Hachikuji Mayoi is also a charming character; she roasts Araragi and intentionally mispronounces his name in spectacular ways. Kanbaru Suruga and Sengoku Nadeko aren’t the most remarkable at this juncture, but the former is at least a weird, jealous lesbian. Hanekawa Tsubasa is- at a glance- a Mary Sue and a know-it-all, but the story gives a preview to a much darker side of her at the end of the arc.

Speaking of pretentious, the dialogue of this series had me- scratch that, it STILL has me- at a crossroads. The vast majority of the series is written in an unconventional and very wordy style.
And.
Also, a lot.
And a lot.
Of crap like this.
Right here.
Yeah, I’m not kidding.
Sometimes the dialogue goes on and on and on, where over half a volume can be spent just talking about random stuff. Araragi himself even points that fact out in the actual story. They talk about things from panties, to sexuality, to existence itself. I find some of the dialogue funny, some pretentious, but the sheer amount of it tends to make this series tedious to read at times. And to top it off, there are no page breaks except for the ends of chapters. Get ready to read 30+ pages without rest!

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Kizumonogatari

This is the chronological first volume of the series, and it showcases how Araragi became a vampire (oh yeah, forgot to mention that part in the review of Bake…). It’s a very long volume and it follows a monster-of-the-week formula.

I also forgot to mention the best man, Oshino Meme. Meme is a cool and nonchalant gentleman who serves as an exposition dump for whatever issue is occurring. He always manages to know the problem and the solution before it even occurs, and this chronologically first meeting is no exception.

Kizu is the proper introduction of Shinobu, the vampire whose fate is attached to Araragi, and goes by a much longer name in this volume. When the conflict gets resolved, she becomes a deadpan loli who speaks in “old-timey” talk. I like her, but not as much as some of the the other people.

This volume is the first one that really showcases Araragi’s emotional insecurities. If you’re fascinated by that stuff, get ready for a treat!

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Nisemonogatari

This two-volume-long arc deals with Araragi’s sisters and also questions the meaning of “real” and “fake” as far as identity and existence goes. Personally, I find these types of arcs to be tedious because there is no way to arrive at a clear-cut conclusion to this quandary. Last time I checked, Morpheus doesn’t exist to give you that clear-cut conclusion. It is at least something you can have an endless debate over if you enjoy that kind of stuff.

But regardless of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, the arc introduces some awesome new characters. The Araragi’s Fire Sisters are quirky and strange. Beware, there are a lot of incestuous interactions between them and their brother. Normally, I don’t have a problem with incest in fiction (because it’s, you know, FICTION), but this instance doesn’t add anything to the narrative and tries to justify itself by having the characters explicitly say how wrong it is, while still doing it anyway.

The other newcomers are the first antagonists of the series, such as Kaiki Deishu. But, this blog’s gotten long enough, so I’ll let you experience these awesome character for yourself.

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Nekomonogatari: Kuro

This is the chronological second volume. It delves into Hanekawa’s background and gives you a true introduction to her character arc. It’s a bit lengthy given the actual content of the plot, but that’s nothing new with this series. The only real issue is that content from it is spoiled too much in the last chapter of Bake.

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Verdict: 8/10

It’s a decent enough first impression, even if it’s a bit verbose. Having read some of the subsequent volumes, I already know that it gets much better from here. If you love the human psyche and generally weird stuff, then this light novel is for you!

Renegades Review

The cover of the book.

Hello and welcome to the first Western media covered on this blog! Since this is also the first YA novel on the blog, allow me to give a quick background on my experience with the genre. Over ten years ago, in my teen years, I loved that novel- The Hunger Games– just as much as the next guy. Then I read its sequels, Catching Fire… and Mockingjay… and let’s just say that third book was a real letdown. It was so disappointing that I abandoned all YA novels and instead used old Hollywood movies, like Citizen Kane, and challenging science fiction novels for adults, such as those by Isaac Asimov and Greg Bear, as vessels for my teen angst. Fast forward to last year, I started getting curious about YA again. Since it seemed that most YA novels are popular among adults as well, I decided to give the genre another try. In the past year, YA has consistently disappointed me, with my top 3 least favorite novels off all time ALL being YA novels. There are only a handful of them I flat-out enjoyed: The Chaos Walking trilogy, The Illuminae Files trilogy, and… The Lunar Chronicles quartet.

So, given my harshness towards YA, I wanted to start off on a good note, so I made sure I covered a novel from an author whose previous works I already enjoyed. As you can tell, it’s a review of Renegades, published by Square Fish, and written by the author of the aforementioned Lunar Chronicles, Marissa Meyer. Does this new series give as strong of a first impression as Lunar Chronicles‘ first book, Cinder?

For starters, just exactly HOW similar to My Hero Academia is this premise? In the city of Gatlon, people born with Quir- I mean- superpowers, who are called prodigies, are oppressed by society because that’s what humans love to do when they’re scared. A group called the Anarchists, led by Ace Anarchy, caused an uprising, naturally. A ragtag group of heroes called the Renegades took care of it. Ace Anarchy is now dead, and the OG Renegades run Gatlon as the Council.

Not angsty enough? Well, get this. The main protagonist is Ace’s niece, Nova Artino, who fights Renegades under the alias of Nightmare. On the flipside, we have Adrian Everhart, the adopted son of the most powerful Renegade in the world, All Mi- I mean- Hugh Everhart. He lives secretly as a renegade Renegade named the Sentinel, and is the rival of Nightmare, but ends up fighting other Renegades just about as often. And here’s the icing on the cake: Nova goes to Renegade academy as a spy and… gets recruited to Adrian’s own squad. Because of course.

Naturally, you’d expect it to be a dystopia, where the “heroes” are a corrupt governing body and the “villains” are the heroes. And it is, at least according to the narrative, which conveys this by constantly telling us over and over again about how corrupt the Council is but never showing us. From the actions we do see, the only corruption comes from random Renegades being high school bullies, but that instance is implied to actually be AGAINST Council regulations. In fact, the Council itself is the reason why Nova and Co. aren’t rotting in jail just for being Anarchists themselves. It’s contextualized poorly, and because of that, I’m willing to bet that there’s inevitably going to be some kind of massive conspiracy that makes the Council the corrupt governing body that Nova actually says they are. It’s still better than Scythe, which had an interesting premise of hired, legalized murderers in a world of immortality, but copped out by having a cackling madman of an antagonist that didn’t blur the line of good and evil, but made everything very black and white.

In terms of the actual writing, Renegades still has that Meyer touch. Similar to the Lunar Chronicles, I’m able to visualize characters and settings easily, however, the action scenes are a bit hard to imagine in terms of telling where people are in 3D space. The story starts off slow, but picks up at around the halfway point.

The characters are pretty generic. Be forewarned, however, that I am much a harsher critic of Western fiction than Eastern for some reason, even on the novels that I find really good. Nova is not as much of an utter snob as most of her YA cousins, but there’s definitely enough time to develop Stockholm-Syndrome-love with Adrian, and turn her into one of said cousins. Speaking of Adrian, he’s alright. He’s got a strong sense of goodwill but he’s also a bit reckless. Nova’s friends are the snobby YA cast incarnated as side characters. Ingrid is a really annoying Bakugo-type (literally; her Quirk is the same as his) who often causes contrived conflicts, and Honey, Phobia, and Leroy are more inconsequential than My Hero‘s Class 1-B. Adrian’s friends, Oscar and Ruby, are very unremarkable and exist just for there to be a second couple. Speaking of couples, Nova and Adrian’s relationship is going to be my least favorite aspect of the whole Renegade series because they spend so much time with each other while not realizing that they’re the very enemies that they’re each trying to find dirt on. It’s a trope that I didn’t like in American Dragon, and I still don’t like it now.

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Verdict: 7.75/10

If you’ve enjoyed Red Queen, Shadow and Bone, or Divergent, then you’ll probably love Renegades. It doesn’t have the same chutzpah of The Lunar Chronicles, but it’s at least leagues better than most of what’s available on the YA market. The whole “teen-is-forced-to-be-something-that-they-are-not-for-some-reason” schtick carries a lot of inherent appeal.

The fact that the teaser at end of the book implies that the sequel, Archenemies, is going to be the “conclusion” to this story, when there’s a third installment on its way at the time of writing this blog, leaves me very concerned. But for now, Renegades is more than good enough if you want an angstier, Westernized My Hero Academia.

Ascendance of a Bookworm Volume 3 Review

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Last time, on Ascendance of a Bookworm Volume 2, Myne and Lutz get their job with the merchant, Benno. They use magic to sign a contract allowing them to mass produce paper and for him to sell it at whatever price he wants. Meanwhile, Myne also establishes a market for the shampoo and hairpin that she made for her sister, Tuuli. Myne meets the guildmaster’s granddaughter, Freida, and learns of the Devouring, the disease that she herself has. However, the cost of the cure is great, so she’ll need to really earn those fat stacks. Lutz finds out that Myne is possessed by another person, but it bizarrely doesn’t lead to any quarrels between the two. The two kids are taught valuable lessons about advanced economics, and things are overall looking great for their future. This is the perfect time for an arbitrary tone shift (i.e. Myne’s disease overtakes her, and Lutz is alone)!

I never understood why some feel-good, low-stake slice-of-lifes tend to have a sudden turn for the dramatic that ends just as suddenly. Bookworm proves to have no tension as Myne is immediately nursed back to health thanks to Freida. It is a temporary fix, but do you REALLY expect Myne to actually get killed off? Fortunately, Bookworm at least makes the Devouring itself a very important factor in the narrative for this arc, which is a pleasant surprise.

Speaking of important factors in the narrative, I must apologize and redact my statement in the volume 2 review about the magic being frivolous, at least in the case of the contract. The nature of the magic contract versus a regular contract is actually examined here and proves to be VERY valuable information in the story. I also must redact my statement of the side stories not being plot relevant, because the author states in the afterword, that the side stories (at least the ones that take up a WHOLE THIRD of this volume) WILL be plot relevant. This is just one of those consequences of doing a review volume-by-volume.

As far as character development does, Myne is kind of growing on me a little. I don’t think she’s fangush-worthy amazing, but I do like her, especially when she compares the culture of Bookworm‘s world to that of Japan’s. I guess you can call me out for being on the receiving end of pandering, but I literally have been researching Japanese culture very extensively lately. On the flipside, viewers who don’t know much about Japanese culture- or get the reference to a certain location in Japan- will probably find her commentary as boring as the usual exposition dump. But in my case, that particular chapter of the story would’ve been forty times more boring without it.

Meanwhile, Lutz is shaping up to be a real good kid. I’m not hemming and hawing over him, but I can definitely see why people in general would. He’s real devoted to his dream of becoming a merchant, in his own right, in that pure-hearted, childish, battle shounen protagonist way. I personally prefer a number of actual battle shounen protagonists over him, but I at least don’t resent him.

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Verdict: 7.6/10

This concludes the first arc of Ascendance of a Bookworm. It’s definitely much better than I expected it to be, as I’m not a big fan of these more low-key series. It’s definitely the characters. I don’t get the appeal of characters who feel like just regular ol’ Joes. I’d rather have characters with more bombastic personalities. However, Bookworm is still looking to be one of the better chill series out there.

However, I need to warn you. I only have so much money to buy books, and only so much time. The latter is the real issue. SO much crap is coming out from Kodansha, Yen Press, Seven, and some newer publishers such as Sol Press already, and J-Novel Club has just opened the door even wider, which I freakin’ LOVE them for. But, there’s only so much TIME to actually read stuff. If I have to pick and choose between what to prioritize, then Bookworm will be among the first to go. I can damn well try to cover as much stuff as possible, but I can’t promise anything!

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 1 Review

The cover of volume 1

Welcome to the first Thursday blog! I’m hoping to include Thursday evenings in the regular schedule from here on out. Today is my review of Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, published in English by Yen Press.

The issue of gore and inhumane crimes’ presence in entertainment has always been a subject of much controversy. In the anime community, shows such as Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer have ignited wildfires on message boards. Torture Princess has the potential to cause a volcanic eruption. And what a beautiful eruption it would be!

Torture Princess shows it’s edginess in its premise. Sena Kaito is summoned to another world in the body of a golem- after he is strangled to death by his father- to serve Elisabeth la Fanu, a lowly sow who has committed a ton of crimes and whose punishment is to hunt thirteen demons. As Kaito helps her on her quest, he learns about her and the cruel world she lives in and is slowly changed during his new life there. The events taking place in this volume are consistently violent and unsettling, but that’s not a surprise given the title of the series.

The characters, however, end up being a big surprise. I expected Best Girl Elisabeth to be a one-dimensional sadist and for Kaito to be a one-dimensional masochist. However, this volume quickly proved me wrong. In the case of the titular torture princess, Elisabeth is a strange combination of several dere types that somehow manage to work. She’s a two-sided coin where one side is the sadistic badass you’d expect, but on the other side is an emotionally insecure waifu that you just want to offer your shoulder for her to cry on.

Speaking of emotionally insecure, Kaito is one dark and disturbed kid. Who wouldn’t be, with a father like that? Although the numerous illegal practices of his father are a bit over-the-top, the mere presence of an abusive parents makes Kaito much more relatable to audiences than his Goody Two-Shoes cousins in other isekai. He’s also got a snarky personality, which leads to some great interactions with Elisabeth.

The third major player is Hina, an autonomous doll girl who ends up taking the role of yandere. I admit that she’s the weakest link out of the trio so far, but in terms of sheer personality she is one of the better yandere I have seen.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without the author’s prose. Torture Princess doesn’t try to pull off its angst with a straight face and end up falling apart; it embraces its angst and doesn’t care what you think. The prose portrays violence with elegance and grace, which is suitable to how Elisabeth looks when she takes down her foes. One of the few concerns I have is that the dark pasts of both Elisabeth and Kaito seem to be tackled in their entirety in this volume. I have no idea where it’ll go from here, but I’m going to put faith in the author.

I really like the art in this one. Elisabeth looks awesome on the cover, plus I commend anyone able to draw chain links and still have a hand attached to their body.

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Verdict: 9/10

Torture Princess is– surprisingly- one of my new favorite isekai of all time. I found it very immersive, and difficult to put down. It’s no Berserk, but you can probably count on actually being able to READ the conclusion to this one.

If you cannot stand things like blood and murder (of children, among other things), then STAY AWAY from this. If Goblin Slayer went over the line, then that line is a dot to Torture Princess!

But if you DO read it, I recommend reading it on Barnes & Noble’s nook app, just for the ability to change the style to white font on black paper. I decided to try that out halfway into the volume and it legitimately helped with the immersion!

Ascendance of a Bookworm Volume 2 Review

Cover of volume 2

Last time on Ascendance of a Bookworm, Motosu Urano is killed in a collapsing heap of books, and reborn as a frail child, named Myne, in a startlingly realistic fantasy world. Her family is poor, and thus without the ability to read, write, and own books. After a number of failed attempts to make some paper, she at least succeeds in making shampoo, and that lands her a job working for a bigshot merchant with her friend (read as: future love interest), Lutz. However, magic is in this world apparently? And Myne is slowly dying of some kind of magic deficiency disease? Wow, that came out of left field.

The story is at least picking up in this volume now that we’ve established all the major aspects of Bookworm. The series gains a Spice and Wolf-y atmosphere in this volume when she has to start negotiating with Benno, her new supervisor, and deal with her first clients. However, the economics course isn’t as… er… dense as it was in Spice and Wolf.

As opposed to volume 1, we have magic properly contextualized during this volume. However, this instance seems like the first real use of traditional isekai tropes. Most magic in isekai- and modern fantasy- is kind of just an excuse to justify having inconsistent world logic (I, for the record, am fine with that as long as the end result is entertaining). The issue with it in Bookworm is that it seems frivolous. Since this world has already been established as perfectly realistic, there’s no need to make a magic system in the first place. So far, the magic in this world is used to do various tasks that could be just as easily accomplished with the actual technology of the time, such as signing a contract. It seems to have been made just to look cool, and for shock value in the case of Myne’s affliction. Speaking of said affliction, it doesn’t take long for Myne to find out about in this volume, due to her meeting with a rich guy’s granddaughter, so Bookworm isn’t going to do one of those dramatic-irony-cringe things this time.

In other news, we get some interesting developments with Myne and Lutz. Lutz actually starts to notice that his friend is not actually the original person, but possessed by someone else. However, it ends up not being as big of a deal as it’s made out to be.

The last thing to note is that the side stories are so far proving to be wholly irrelevant. I never talked about the side stories in the first volume because of this. They show some other POVs outside of Myne, but a lot of them happen out of sequence from the main plot and are confusing, as opposed to Infinite Dendrogram or DanMachi where they actually introduce new, plot-relevant characters and actually effect the main plot. You can read the side stories if you’re really into Bookworm, but otherwise they seem pretty meh.

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Verdict: 7.25/10

Things are picking up now that we’ve established all of the ground rules. However, I still don’t see it as the “end all, be all” isekai. So far, it’s turning out to be a quaint, chill series.

Combatants Will be Dispatched! Volume 1 Review

Cover of Combatants Will be Dispatched! Volume 1

To those of you who have read my first two reviews, thanks for coming back. I’ve been busy reading and planning my next couple of reviews. I hope you enjoy this one!

Since I have not covered Konosuba on this blog yet, let me give you a quick preview of my thoughts on it, as I will- naturally- be comparing it to this light novel, Combatants will be Dispatched! (written by the same author and published in English by Yen Press). Konosuba is an utter masterpiece that parodies isekai, right at the point where it was starting to become popular, with a morally ambiguous main character and a harem of attractive, but unruly girls. Those same attributes are present here in Combatants, but in a way that still feels fresh.

As stated in my clickbaity Twitter post promoting this entry, Combatants‘ premise is like a Konosuba-y Overlord. With the powers of big business, the Kisaragi Corporation has achieved near total domination over humanity. With the Earth conquered, the heads of this company have their sights set on a fantasy world. Combat Agent Six is sent to gather information on this world and establish a portal for the Kisaragi army to follow up with the real attack. And like in Konosuba, everything acts against the main character’s intentions.

In order to talk about the bread and butter of Combatants, I need to talk about the main characters introduced in this volume. Agent Six is Konosuba‘s Kazuma, if he was actually powerful for once. Throughout his exploits in the fantasy world, you’ll recognize the same arrogance and perverseness that was ever-present in Kazuma. The other interesting thing to note is that although his life at Kisaragi has definitely influenced how he behaves, he’s not entirely happy with his job. That shows in this volume and could have repercussions moving forward.

The harem is as lovably loathsome as ever in Combatants. I grew attached to Best Girl Alice very quickly. She’s a high-spec pretty-girl android, which sounds as useless as you think. Her skills in battle basically amount to using microtransactions to send Six some Kisaragi equipment from our world (in a very Wile E. Coyote and ACME fashion). Most of the time, she’s roasting Six (and everyone else too) with every chance she gets, and I love her for it. She has so much personality it really makes you forget that she’s a robot.

Snow is a denizen of the fantasy world. She comes off as the righteous and morally correct royal knight at first, but since this book runs on Konosuba rules, we know that isn’t the case. As expected, she turns out to be very pretentious and not as morally uptight as she seems. She later recruits two rejects, Rose and Grimm, into Six’s party. Rose is my least favorite character so far, as she seems to merely be a cute monster girl who only thinks of eating. This is only volume 1, so she still has a chance. Grimm is great, though. She comes off as a real asset to the team with her assortment of dark magic and curse abilities, but due to her terrible sleeping habits, she ends up nodding off 99.99% of the time.

The overarching story has more focus and purpose than Konosuba, at least for now: The main cast’s goal is ultimately to defeat a Demon army, but this time it’s to wipe out competitors as opposed to being able to live a leisurely life. The writing is just as strong as Konosuba as well. The only real flaw so far is that it seems to switch POVs without any indication, so be wary of that.

The art is alright. It’s got nice textures and expressive faces. Although different in style from Konosuba, the two could go hand-in-hand.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

It is incredibly simple to recommend Combatants will be Dispatched! to someone. I can’t logically see how anyone who loves Konosuba wouldn’t also love this. And if you haven’t read Konosuba at all, then I will have a confused look on my face, followed by a strong recommendation to read both it and this!

And who knows? Maybe Combatants will SURPASS Konosuba someday.