Dungeon of Black Company First Impressions

Cover of volume 1

Slavery has been a common trope in fantasy since, basically, forever. But when Rising of the Shield Hero came out, the public reception showed that you can no longer use it as a theme without getting massive backlash. Well, the creator of Dungeon of Black Company, published in English by Seven Seas, did not give a crap, because slavery is the driving theme of this manga.

Black Company stars Kinji Minomiya, a corrupt man who has extorted his way to becoming the richest NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training) person in the world. However, his perfect life is cut short when a portal opens up in one of his many apartments and sucks him into a fantasy world, where he is forced to slave away in a mine for the Raiza’ha Corporation (run by a super smexy demonness). After learning how he can capitalize on rare minerals found in a much deeper and more dangerous part of the mines, he- along with his lizardman friend, Wanibe, and a cute dragon-girl named Rim- start their own outfit called Dungeon Black Company and try to overthrow the Raiza’ha Corporation that runs this world.

Well, technically that was a spoiler, because he doesn’t form it until after the end of volume 1. But look, is it really a spoiler when the title of the manga is the name of a group that the main character forms during the story?

Anyhow, this is one of those fantasy worlds where there are typical fantasy creatures, but they live in a 21st Century-esque civilization. The world itself really isn’t that interesting, but at least the author takes the time to define the rules for how the mining operations work.

What makes Black Company stand out is its portrayal of slavery, a.k.a. big business. Things get done by hard work, and by making people that aren’t you do that hard work. Black Company definitely wants to test your morality as a (presumably) good-natured human individual. It’s basically Shield Hero without all the JRPG stuff and focused entirely on the slavery and business themes. Even when the story takes a big tonal shift in volume 3, the heart and soul of Black Company remains the same.

As for the characters, we have another instance of the scummy isekai protagonist in Kinji. He’s someone who manages to become filthy rich in our world, even though he’s a NEET, which makes him pretty conniving. Even though he’s against the practices in Raiza’ha, he’s just as willing to enslave and brainwash people (or giant worker ants) without hesitation. While Rim seems to be just a fanservice character (and a damn cute one at that), she is actually a foil to Kinji, because he ends up having to spend a lot of money on feeding her, and if he can’t feed her, she’ll eat him. Wanibe is kind of a third wheel in all of this, so he isn’t too interesting of a character.

The art, drawing-wise, is pretty darn good. The girls are cute, and the characters are very expressive. The only problem is that this manga has the most jarring use of gray tone I have ever seen. I don’t know if it’s the managaka or the publisher, but the texture used in these toners looks… how do you describe it?… like it’s trying to hypnotize you. It seems to have gotten less jarring after volume 2, but that might just be me getting used to it.

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Current Verdict: 8/10

Dungeon of Black Company is a fun, controversial comedy. I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys guilty pleasure manga such as Kakegurui, Prison School, and Magical Girl Apocalypse. Let’s just hope this never gets an anime (scratch that; I’d love to see how people would react to an anime of this).

Supernova Review

Cover of the book

Last time, on Archenemies, Adrian’s squad beheld the Council’s new Agent N drug. Agent N is a Quirk-sealing drug that Renegades are expected to use against criminals. This causes a TWO-HUNDRED-FIFTY PAGE moral crisis for Nova and Adrian, and those two go on and on and on and on and on and on about how unjust it is without allowing the reader to make their own interpretation. Meanwhile, Nova is introduced to the superhero artifact room, which most notably contains Ace Anarchy’s helmet, sealed within a box of All Hugh Evermight’s chronium. Also meanwhile, Adrian discovers a Vitality Charm within the artifact library, and it makes Agent N and Max’s power useless! AND IT WAS THERE THE WHOLE TIME?! *facepalm* When Nova finds out, she visits his house (on a date) to steal it. While having some cringe-inducing romance with her, Adrian is able to use his Quirk to paint a depiction of a dream of Nova’s that she told him about where she’s in some sort of post-apocalyptic world and finds a statue with a glowy thing in it. When she steals the Vitality Charm at night, she heads into the dream room, that’s still there while Adrian’s asleep, and she picks up the glowy thing and it goes into her special bracelet. When preparing to infiltrate HQ to steal the helmet for good, one of Danna’s butterflies comes into her friends’ base, so they capture it so she can’t reform (not gonna make Adrian suspicious at all). After a boring gala, she infiltrates HQ and makes it to the artifact room, where the glowy thing allows her to break the indestructible chronium and free the helmet. However, the high school bullies attack! Nova uses one of the Agent N gas bombs that her friends made and seals Gargoyle’s Quirk. Max shows up to try and fight her, along with Frostbite, but Max ends up taking the L. And since Nova IS A FRICKIN’ MARY SUE DESPITE HOW MUCH SHE’S SUPPOSED TO HATE THESE PEOPLE, she helps Max by making Frostbite sacrifice her Quirk. Adrian is able to show up as the Sentinel and take Max to the hospital. Nova returns successfully with the helmet, just to find that Adrian’s friends broke into her base (no way!) and captured Ace! 

And here’s the REAL clincher. *Inhale* ADRIAN STILL DOESN’T KNOW THAT NOVA IS NIGHTMARE! However, that doesn’t last for too long, because after an admittedly contrived incident early on, my new favorite character, Danna, manages to reform and FINALLY SPILL THE BEANS! And mah boy Adrian arrests her and is all, “You’re under arrest… Nightmare,” LIKE A BAWSS! Knowing YA, this development is meant to be considered the end of the world, and the fact that I consider it the point where Renegades gets good again shows what kind of person I am. 

So, this final volume is gonna have Nova break out of jail, she fights Adrian to the death, and it’s a generally awesome time, right? Well, not quite. Due to the Renegades only having circumstantial evidence, among other things, Nova ends up getting released from prison about as fast as she’s thrown into it. And as a result, the book returns to the cringey romance that should have zero place in the final book as everything builds up to the climax of the whole trilogy.

Oh, and kids, did you know that Nova hates the Renegades because they didn’t show up to help her family when they got slaughtered by a gang?! Did you know that everyone should have human rights, and not be bogged down by society?! Did you know that all convicts should be allowed a fair trial in a court of law?! Well,  even if you did, Meyer still expects you to have forgotten because she repeatedly reminds you at least every other chapter! GAAAAAH! The redundancy in this whole trilogy really puts the “nausea” in “ad nauseum!”

Well, at least things ramp up in this final volume. After around the halfway point of Supernova, the Renegades Trilogy finally takes the kid gloves off and becomes the pulse-pounding series that it promised to be. If Meyer’s good at something, it’s finales, and that’s something that most YA authors, even the good ones, can fail at. Supernova might actually be the best installment of the three. 

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Verdict: 8/10

Final Verdict (Whole Series): 7.4/10

The Renegades Trilogy is a series of ups and downs. The fact that Meyer went from something as consistent, high-octane, and inventive as The Lunar Chronicles to something like Renegades, which is so by-the-book and a let down thematically by comparison (I bet that American Dragon isn’t on Disney+ because the whole secret enemies romance theme is stupid). I get that not every author has to have a masterpiece, but this is a far cry from what she wrote in the past (but hey, Platinum End‘s existence will suspend my disbelief on that one).

If you’re a teenager who’s just had the corruptness of the world thrust into your face in social studies class and is questioning morality, then Renegades– although preachy- would be a good wake-up call for you. The action- when it happens- is also fun, and the romance is admittedly a good cringe-fest. But in all honesty, if you want a truly creative exploration of a superhero society that has real depth, instead of just going off of Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely,” then read or watch the superior series that I’ve been comparing this to since book 1: My Hero Academia!

March of the Wooden Soldiers Retrospective

Promotional artwork for the movie (on IMDB)

Holiday movie traditions have been a thing since television. But over the years, I’ve come to question the quality of some of these “classics.” On this Thanksgiving Day, let’s take a modern look at a Laurel and Hardy favorite: March of the Wooden Soldiers (or Babes in Toyland, originally), a Thanksgiving tradition on the East Coast that started since 1963, when WPIX11 would broadcast this film every year since then. There will be spoilers.

So, the premise (even though we should all know it already). In the fantasy world known as Toyland (that was built right in front of the gates of hell. Great location, guys), the local tax collector, Silas Barnaby, is more than willing to evict the Old Lady who Lives in a Shoe from, well, her shoe, unless she sells her daughter, Little Bo Peep, to him. Well, not if Stannie Dum and Ollie- Ah, screw it, we never call these two by their character names. They will always be Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, and they set out to stop Barnaby!

The movie starts out with Mother Goose singing the most cynical opening ever about how adults lose all semblance of childhood without exception as a big book opens up and introduces the cast of characters. The little video-pictures give a good visual clue of what each person is like, but it gets undermined by captions like “Barnaby’s the meanest man in town, just so you know, in case you were too stupid to tell from the fact that he’s an old hunchback creepozoid.”

Man, this movie was sure state-of-the-art for the time period. I’m sure the kids these days are watching this and being all like, “Wow, the CG was really bad back then!” Well, guess what, movies back then were filmed on “sets,” which means, a physically existing site, where they- yes- had to BUILT all of this crap. I always admired when people actually had to make magic with science back then, instead of just doing it on a fancy machine. I’ll never understand the appeal of those films that are done entirely with a green screen.

Watching this movie again really shows how unremarkable most of the actors are. Key Word: MOST. Similar to Hocus Pocus, we put up with all this crap (like that cringe-inducing Tom-Tom and Bo Peep subplot) just to see the actors that were on the poster, with this case being the irreplaceable Laurel and Hardy. Any scene that doesn’t have these two in it is really boring, but unlike Hocus Pocus, these guys are actually in most of the movie. It’s really amazing how well their humor holds up, with scenes like Laurel’s amazing pee-wee skills, to him dropping a rock on Barnaby and telling him to look out, and- of course- “So far, so good.” “It wasn’t so far!” “Goodnight Ollie.” “Goodnight Stannie- OOohhhhhhh…”

Out of the actors besides Laurel and Hardy, Barnaby’s actor really takes the cake. People were still coming out of the Silent Era, and this guy’s expressive mannerisms help make Barnaby a real conniving mo-fo. Well, okay, maybe there are better antagonists in more modern works, but he’s still a fun character (Side Note: The real bad guy is that stupid toymaker. Screw that guy).

Speaking of other actors, I wanna bring up the cat and the mouse. Screw the bogeyman; THESE are the stuff of horrors. The fur on the cat is just not fluffy enough, plus- GAH!- he still has his human eyes. Wh-why?! The less scary of the two is the monkey-mouse. This is perhaps the first instance of riding on someone else’s success that I personally have experienced in cinema. It was 1934, and Mickey Mouse was just starting his world conquest (with Snow White three years away from following suit). So, the most logical move for competitor M.G.M. was to take a monkey, dress it up as Mickey Mouse, and pander to the kiddies. Since the costume sucked, the creature looked just derivative enough from Mickey so that it wouldn’t violate whatever copyright laws existed at the time, but still looked enough like Mickey so that the kids would think it really was him. On a side note, the Three Little Pigs also look really creepy. The bogeymen that we were all scared of still look scary in a way, but nowadays it’s more of a “It’s scary that a design team actually gave the okay on such bad-looking costumes.”

Let’s also discuss the background music next. I think truly good background music had sort of died, with John Williams and the peeps at Disney seeming to be among the few who actually know how to make it work. The whole “sound” thing was still new, and at this point in time, music had to convey everything, and March of the Wooden Soldiers is no exception. I’m sure you still have an earworm playing Laurel and Hardy’s “doo-doo-doo-doo-DOO-doo-DOO,” or Barnaby’s “duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duuuuuuuuuh-DUH, duh, duh-duh-duh-duhduhduhduh.” It’s such a good example of show-don’t-tell, but that’s also undermined by the captions in the picture book in beginning.

I’ve discussed a lot of the positives, but since the analytical process has skyrocketed to such heights in recent years, it’s impossible to not notice some issues in March of the Wooden Soldiers. It is a lot of small suspension of disbelief stuff, but it stacks. Why is the King such a dictator and an idiot? Why is the toymaker an ass? Why are there TAXES in such a peaceful kingdom? Why does attempted larceny result in ducking and banishment to Bogeyland, but kidnapping and murder- a far worse crime- result in just the banishment? And WHY IS BOGEYLAND RIGHT NEXT TO TOYLAND?! If it’s symbolism of the adult world (“Once you cross its borders, you will never return”), then- geewillickers!- this is such a dark movie! Other issues also include Tom-Tom and Bo Peep. Uuuuugh… I’m pretty sure nobody liked their chemistry, and it still sucks today (but hey, it’s still a better love story than Twilight). And why oh WHY did Tom-Tom think that falling asleep in that hellhole was a good idea (yeah, I know the sandmen did it but he started serenading Peep way before then)?!

But in all honesty, the movie’s biggest flaw is probably its age. The movie is still great and all, but the evolution of cinema and entertainment in general has transcended March of the Wooden Soldiers. I also don’t enjoy movies as much anymore; I’d rather read manga or play videogames. Also, the climax of the film isn’t really as cathartic to watch anymore, in comparison to something like an epic One Piece moment. It’s still a good scene, though, and it’s at least foreshadowed properly. The only real flaw is that it makes no sense that it showed the first soldier only being able to walk forward, while the others are perfectly autonomous golems that can easily fight off an army of hairy old men.

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After All These Years: 7.5/10

March of the Wooden Soldiers is still a good movie, but it’s not an indisputable masterpiece. Heck, I don’t even think it’s the best Laurel and Hardy movie (that one’s called Way Out West). It doesn’t hit like a cannon full of darts anymore, but out of all Thanksgiving traditions, March of the Wooden Soldiers still beats that parade in New York by light-years (especially if you’ve seen a Disney parade, like me).

Frozen 2 Movie Review

Poster of the movie, WHICH I DO NOT OWN. DISNEY OWNS IT!

PREFACE: I did not see a single review, rating, or opinion regarding this movie; I went into it with a completely open mind. So, the opinions you are seeing have not been influenced by anything besides the movie itself. Also, minor spoilers ahead. Nothing too bad, though.


Disney sequels have come a long way from straight-to-VHS cash grabs (that, admit it, we all loved when we were small and innocent), to theatrical releases that they put more chutzpah into. How does the sequel of the meme-able animated sensation that is Frozen measure up?

Frozen 2 starts with a flashback about the nobles of Arendelle and the people of some magical forest meeting up, having a BIT of a falling out, and the Anna and Elsa’s dad being saved by some mysterious voice. Years later (and after the events of the original Frozen), Elsa hears that voice, and it’s not long after that until Arendelle gets wrecked. Now, the original cast must go to that forest and see what the heck’s going on. This all somehow ends with the origin story behind Elsa’s powers.

Well, it’s not anywhere near as mind-bending as MatPat’s original theory on the subject, that’s for sure. In fact, everything about it seems too simple. When the actual reveal of her powers comes up, it’s like, “Yeah, so that’s it,” and the other characters kind of take it in their stride. However, as I will mention in a future post about the appeal of Disney movies in general, the narrative ends up being the most trivial matter.

The characters are what sell these things, and it is no exception this time around. As you’d expect, Elsa, the character who became synonymous with THAT song, is the one who is given the most character development. She, basically, well, learns about herself and that she should REALLY trust her buddies, just sayin’. Anna and Kristoff end up mostly involved in a subplot where the latter repeatedly tries and fails to propose to the former. This ends up creating some very cringe-inducing scenes, but they’re offset by something I’ll get to in another section of this review. Despite getting almost (key word) no further development, the kudos once again goes to Olaf, who has perhaps cemented himself as the greatest supporting protagonist in Disney history. His one-liners are cleverer than ever, including a hilarious abridged recap of the first movie.

Despite this, it seems that only the main characters were given any love this time. There are a lot of newcomers in this movie, and I already forgot their names (I literally just got home from the theater at the time of writing this). The worst offender by far is the purple Pascal clone; it is the Porgs of Frozen 2: cute, unnecessary, and marketable.

But hey, at least the soundtrack rocks. This time around, they seem to be pushing one of Elsa’s new numbers, “Into the Unknown,” as the next meme (even though “Show Yourself” is better…). However, the crown jewel of Frozen 2 goes to Kristoff of all people. His ridiculous power ballad, “Lost in the Woods,” rivals the timeless Spongebob classic, “Sweet Victory,” in terms of its amazing stupidness. It will not get nominated for Best Song at the Oscars (*cough* ‘cuz they suck *cough*), but I know in my heart that it’s the best. Regardless of what song I like and what you like, the soundtrack came out before the movie, so give yourself a listen if you end up liking it.

And lastly, the visuals are as astonishing as ever. The models don’t really look that much different (going off of memory), but they definitely did some new stuff with particles and lighting that they didn’t do in the first movie. I’m glad it wasn’t a downgrade from the first movie.

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Final Verdict: 7.6/10

Frozen 2 is something, all right. While I think that the first movie is better put together, and has some hint that they tried to build genuine tension, this movie has certain isolated moments that wholeheartedly surpass the first one. The soundtrack is also more consistent, so you can always look forward to another number, instead of the first one, which was like “Well, ‘Let It Go’ is over, it only goes downhill from here.” Due to many references to the original movie, you will need to have seen and enjoyed it get the inside jokes of Frozen 2 at all, so keep that in mind. 

Eighty-Six Overview (Volumes 1-3)

Covers of volume 1-3

I’ve been reading Eighty-Six since its English release courtesy of Yen Press. Due to the fact that volumes 2 and 3 all happen during the epilogue of volume 1, I decided to cover all three of them in one blog post because it’s technically still a review of volume 1(?).

Eighty-Six is set in the Republic of Mongolia, in a world at war with the Legion: surviving robot weapons of an empire long gone (supposedly). The pale-skinned people of Mongolia live in paradise within the 85-sector city, leaving the dark-skinned people in the 86th sector to fight the Legion. It’s justified because the Eighty-Six (the derogatory term for this people) are considered pigs, and nobody cries when pigs are killed. …Yeeeeeeah, this is a light novel about racism. 

Racism is such a universal issue that it can also be used, in writing, as an easy emotional hook to make something that sucks seem good. However, the portrayal of racism in Eighty-Six is executed really well. The writing is so evil and devious, it’s as if each passage is like firing a railgun bullet straight into your throbbing aortic pump.

The biggest strength of Eighty-Six lies in the main protagonists.. Like in classic forbidden romance fashion, the lead female is a white girl in the military- Lena- who is assigned as an operator who corresponds via some kind of brain-Skype to a squadron of Eighty-Six soldiers, captained by the male lead Shin. The experiences that they have with and away from each other are very engaging, and makes their relationship one of the better romances, despite how they don’t communicate in person (at least not yet). 

Unfortunately, they are marred by a lackluster supporting cast. It seems you need to be SERIOUSLY emotional and not analytical, because the rest of the characters are either blatantly wearing red shirts, or are of almost no consequence. These people tend to be really one-note and forgettable. The only character I liked besides Shin and Lena was Frederica, a military loli introduced in volume 2, but that’s only because she actually has plot relevance. You’d think that the characters who are higher-ups in command, such as *takes out notes* Lena’s supervisor, Karlstahl, or Ernst Zimmerman from the city introduced in volume 2, would be very important. However, these people just end up twiddling their thumbs, stalling out the story discussing different strategies when we KNOW that Shin’s squad is going to just tackle any given conflict head-on because Shin is a lead protagonist. If that’s meant to be a commentary on the actual military’s competence, then I applaud the author on that one. 

Due to this miserably sad cast (both in the emotional sense and the writing sense), a lot of Eighty-Six really drones on. The basic formula seems to mainly be slice-of-life and drama, followed by actual battles. However, since I didn’t grow emotionally attached to these characters, I got bored fast, especially in volume 2, which didn’t even have a fight. There isn’t much character development outside of Shin either; most of his squad complains about how miserable they are, while other people complain about how unjust it is for kids to be in the military (yet Shin ends up getting sent out anyway). In a manga very similar thematically, Attack on Titan, I could at least grow attached to the characters because there were more defining traits, and instead of Shin being the only one who matters, everyone in Attack on Titan (well, mostly everyone), has some important role to play in the story. Shin could literally be a one-man squad and nothing would change in terms of what actually goes down on the battlefield.

The art is middle-of-the-road for me. The characters look okay, but the real juicy stuff is in the schematics of various Legion and other machines as well as maps of the areas where strategies are being planned. The color art’s also great.

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Verdict: 8/10

Eighty-Six is torture porn, but damn good torture porn. Despite the low quantity of good characters, the series has great worldbuilding, and great tryhard writing to boot. Now that volume 3 has contextualized volume 1’s epilogue, maybe we’ll FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN VOLUME 4!!

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 12 Review

Cover of volume 12

Last time on DanMachi, we finished off the Xenos Arc. All kinds of chaos ensued (including a gripping fight between Bell and Aiz) as Hestia Familia tried to help the Xenos escape from Orario. However, Hermes created a fake notebook to trick them and force Bell to kill one of the Xenos. Double however, Freya had other plans. She had Ottar direct Asterios, the black minotaur that Aiz injured earlier, to Bell. Turns out that Asterios is a reincarnation of the very first minotaur that Bell fought all that time ago. Their battle is enough of a distraction for the Xenos to escape into the Dungeon, but Bell gets his ass handed to him by Asterios. After the battle, the beast returns to the Dungeon, to train up for the last of their best-two-out-of-three-match. Bell cries for a bit, but continues to move forward as usual.

So, guys, did you know that there’s a massive, underground labyrinth called the Dungeon right underneath Orario? It’s kind of been a while since the story actually involved going there. After the incident, Bell’s rank increases to Level 4, which brings Hestia Familia’s overall rank to D. At this rank, the Guild will now send them off on regular expeditions in the Dungeon, with each ending off on a floor that they haven’t been to before. Finally! But here’s the thing, floors 25 and onward are called “the New World” (*cough* not a ripoff of anything *cough*), and this is where the Dungeon takes the kid gloves off.

The main narrative of this volume is that they end up discovering a rare monster that has grown stronger  by gaining XP from other monsters. Although it’s not Asterios, it ends up proving to be quite a challenge because it’s also much smarter than most monsters that aren’t Xenos.

Overall, it’s a good volume, but the biggest issue with this volume is the lack of further character development. It’s undeniable that the characters have grown immensely throughout the series; Bell has better judgement, Lily and Welf are better fighters, Haruhime even gets a new move, and more. The character arcs for most of these people feel more or less complete, which is both good and bad. Good because the series can focus primarily on the Dungeon like it was meant to, and bad because there’s still a lot of story left but it needs chutzpah to stay interesting. Hopefully the new development at the end of the volume will give it that chutzpah.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Sorry for the short post today, but there really isn’t much to say here. This is a good breather volume, and one that we really needed. It doesn’t have a huge revelation or anything, but it’s still DanMachi.

Pokemon Shield First Impressions

You’d think that with eight whole generations of Pokemon, that Game Freak would be out of ideas. However, the latest installments, Sword and Shield, might just be the best games yet. I will be covering my impressions of Shield on today’s blog.

So, the premise is a return to form; no more having to “make the Pokemon League” crap (although it was pretty interesting conceptually). In this instance, your rival character, Hop (who, unfortunately, still chooses the Starter with a disadvantage against yours), is the younger brother of the Champion, and said Champion gives you your Starters. You and Hop also have a run-in with some weird Pokemon that is immune to all attacks, and it is most likely a pre-evolution of your game’s titular Legendary. But hey, Gyms are back! Thank Arceus! 

Every new Generation feels like it has a billion new mechanics and changes, so it’s overwhelming to talk about stuff… Gah, I guess I’ll just go off of whatever comes to mind first. Let’s talk Pokemon Centers. These things baby you; allowing you to buy each type of healing item other than Full Heals and REVIVES before your first Gym Badge. But other than that, these are the best Pokemon Centers ever because they EACH come with a Name Rater, Move Reminder, AND Move Deleter; no Heart Scales required!

On the field, Gen 8 borrows from Pokemon Let’s Go!, and shows wild Pokemon in the overworld. However, it’s a bit confusing. While some appear visibly on the field, there are still old-school random encounters, except those tend to have completely different Pokemon. Intuitively, the invisible Pokemon are ones that are too small to actually be seen above the grass, which makes sense, but it’s still annoying. Also, the Pokedex yet again does not have the Habitat List from Black and White 2. Instead, the Pokedex tells you what Pokemon you can catch in a given area, but it only shows one area at a time, and in chronological order, meaning that you have to catch EVERYTHING as you go along in order for it to actually show the next place.

Another noticeable thing is that all Pokemon naturally gain battle EXP together from the get-go. Also, there’s the Pokemon Camp ability, which allows you to play with your Pokemon and cook Curry (which is this game’s version of the crap you make with Berries in past games, and it’s just as convoluted as ever). This gives them even more EXP and increases their affinity towards you. So far, it seems that they at least got rid of the EXP boost from affinity, but kept the more luck-based perks. I’m sure you’re looking at this and thinking, “Oh my God the game’s even EASIER than ever! 0/10!” I thought that too, but this game’s actually proven to be reasonably difficult so far. You really need to know your stuff (fortunately, they still have the Battle Info button for noobs). Even with the bonus EXP from catching Pokemon (which I’ve been doing pretty liberally), fighting Trainers, and using the Camp, I’ve been cutting it close, with major bosses being the exact same level as my strongest Pokemon. They finally designed those Pokemon-helping mechanics around the actual challenge factor (as long as you don’t grind). Speaking of Pokemon-helping mechanics, you also have PokeJobs. These are accessible from the PC and are basically Merc Missions from Xenoblade 2. You send out boxed Pokemon for a set period of time, and they come back with a chunk of EXP (with bonuses for the Types specified on the request). This will be important for breeding tons of Pokemon at once. You can also farm new EXP Candies, which do exactly what they sound like. They are much more powerful than they look; only 5 or 6 of the smallest units can level up a Pokemon early game.

Overwhelmed yet? Well, there’s also the addition of Wild Areas. These are where Pokemon becomes a true JRPG; they are vast, open, and have tons of Pokemon of wildly varying levels and draw points to get items from. The most important materials are Watts, which are obtained by visiting glowing red Pokemon Dens and pressing A on them. These can be exchanged for items, such as the new/old TR items. TRs are like TMs of old, use it once and they break. They are much more common, and generally contain better moves (seriously, most of the TMs are going out of their way to give you crap moves), plus they can be obtained multiple times, such as from Pokemon Dens…

…which segues into the BIGGEST (pun intended) change made in Gen 8, Dynamax Pokemon. Inside some Pokemon Dens are Dynamax Pokemon, giant versions of regular Pokemon who are much stronger than regular ones; so strong, that four Trainers need to band together to take one down. So that means that you have to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online and connect to the Internet and fight them alongside some randos, right? Fortunately, no; you can play offline and you’ll be joined by some fairly competent A.I. trainers. When fighting against Dynamax Pokemon, you’ll be able to Dynamax the Pokemon you chose to fight in these battles, turning them gigantic as well. Dynamax is basically a fusion of Mega Evolution and Z-Powers. When your Pokemon are Dynamaxed, they get a big stat boost, and their moves are modified. Offensive moves become a much stronger move of the same type, and leave a free effect like a multi-target stat buff on your team, a multi-targeting debuff on the enemy team, or a Weather effect, and Status moves just become a stronger version of Protect. Dynamaxing lasts for three turns (and I assume you can only use it once per battle?), so coming out swinging isn’t always the best. A lot of battles were decided by me timing my Dynamax so that the opponent’s would run out while mine was still going. Overall, Dynamaxing is by far the most gimmicky and least necessary mechanic in the game, but they made a good decision in restricting it to Pokemon Dens and Gym Battles.

Hey, another segue! Gyms are back and, well, the same, really. They build up Gyms as this whole extravagant thing, just for them to be the same. The problem with this is that you basically have to go through a whole extra step for no reason. When you enter a Gym, you now have to go to some receptionist and change into a tokusatsu uniform before actually starting the Gym in earnest. Also, when you actually get to the boss, the cutscene leading up to the fight is really long. But hey, I’d take this over those stupid Trials in Gen 7. 

But unfortunately, the Gym Leaders have taken a downgrade again. In Gen 8, they’re once again one-note characters that you talk to a single time outside of the Gym, then fight back inside the Gym. And it doesn’t end there; the whole cast is as one-note as ever. Hop shows that they gave up at making the rival anything more than free EXP. They tried to give him a defined character arc by making him edgier later, but it feels very cliche and contrived. Meanwhile, the cloud-headed Bede is a return of the obnoxious rival of old, but this guy is at least obnoxious as part of his job, working for Chairman Rose, the guy in charge of Galar’s biggest source of energy. Rose is at least kind of funny, as he comes of as this business-y guy, but spends more time wearing summer casual clothes than taking his job seriously (*cough* totally not the bad guy *cough*). Team Yell is our new mischief-making group this time around. Despite their similarities to Best Team Skull, they seem pretty unremarkable, and only seem to serve as justifying the game walling you with NPCs at the exits of towns (which seriously needs a new approach; it’s getting old).

Let’s discuss cutscenes next. These have been a replay-killer in Pokemon for a while, and it was OBNOXIOUS in Gen 7. In Gen 8, it’s at least been far better than Gen 7, but still kind of bad. The Poke Ball tutorial is still forced, but they at least not bother telling you to weaken it first. However, to be honest, the cutscenes here aren’t actually terrible. With the more cinematic camera angles and more expressive character models, the cutscenes have a lot more personality. For example, the cutscene that introduced the Starters might be overly long, but it gives off a subtle visual cue of their Type matchups, to save from people actually having to tell you in a forced tutorial. Also, to make the game more anime, bosses offer comments during battle. While they are cool and will no doubt give later fights much more emotion, you can’t skip them, and are onscreen for what feels like ten whole seconds. Curiously, there is a setting to skip cutscenes. However, it is a toggle to automatically skip all cutscenes, not a button prompt to skip them, which is kind of stupid. Most modern JRPGs at least give you a button prompt… I guess in Gen 9, then.

Next, I’ll give my impressions on the new Pokemon. Thankfully, they actually made them pretty common out in the wild, unlike Gens 6 and 7, where you’d be hard-pressed to find actual NEW Pokemon. Regional Variants return, but this time it’s not limited to Gen 1. The best one I’ve found is a Ground-Steel version of my boy Stunfisk, and it’s freakin’ great. But as far as the new-new Pokemon, I’ll say that I’m not screaming “WTF?!” as consistently as I was in Gen 7, but overall Game Freak’s still got it. The starters seem to continue the trend of being unremarkable until their final form, which in my case is my water Starter that ended up evolving into Michael Phelps the Pokemon. I have a Pokemon that I really like, design-wise, but it only knows Withdraw and Astonish. This is a sign that it will evolve into something amazing, but when and how? What if it’s a trade evolution?

Speaking of trading, the fact that this game is on the Switch has a down side for me. As someone who is uncomfortable around people, I just used two DSs to exploit trading in the past. Since I believe that Gen 8 is the first game in a LONG time to let you ACTUALLY complete the Pokedex, I’d like to be able to do that. The problem is of course, the other two starters, trade evolutions, and the opposite game’s titular Legendary. While I do have a copy of Sword that I would love to play in the future (any%, of course), I only have one Switch. I have no idea if you can trade between save files. But if I can’t, I’d have to subscribe to Nintendo Switch Online, and see if randos are willing to give up a Legendary just so someone else’s Pokedex can be completed. You can also use Link codes to trade with a specific someone, but that requires real, human friends.

Lastly, I will discuss the visuals. The Switch has made Pokemon look like a true JRPG, or to be more specific, those new-fangled “animu” JRPGs, with cel-shaded anime kids, vibrant colors, and amazing lighting effects. This is definitely the best-looking that Pokemon has ever been.

But despite how glowing this review has been, I do have some concerns. According to the Map, there only seems to be two Wild Areas in the game, which feels like a vat of wasted potential (maybe they’ll abolish Routes entirely in Gen 9). Also, I didn’t notice a Victory Road AT ALL on the Map, which is really bad, especially since the lack of one in Gen 7 sucked ass. And if that wasn’t enough, Gen 8 could have the worst postgame yet, since the Map doesn’t show anything interesting past what I assume is the Pokemon League. The only thing of note is a mysterious dot adjacent to the foggy area that you couldn’t do much in at the beginning, but that would make it even more miserable than vanilla Gen 7, which would be quite impressive in of itself. But alas, these are just concerns formed just by looking ahead at the Map.

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Current Verdict: 9.25/10

Despite the alarming possibility of a weak postgame, Sword and Shield are looking to be the quintessential Pokemon games. They’re not perfect, obviously, but like Disney Parks, perfection would mean no more strives for further improvement. The game’s options for different Pokemon you can use are a bit overwhelming, so I’d still recommend noobs start with Gen 7 (or Gen 5’s sequel, Black and White 2, if you don’t mind those stupid HMs). But seriously… Pokemon Sword and Shield is lit.

Smile Down the Runway First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Cover of volume 1

I don’t know about you, but for me, manga is the one medium that can explore real-world themes that I would normally find boring, and make me like them. Shokugeki no Soma– about cooking- to ACT-AGE– about acting- are two great examples. But what about something I wholly resent- like the fashion world? Well, there’s a manga for that, too, and it’s called Smile Down the Runway. This blog is my overview of the first three volumes published in English by Kodansha Comics.

This manga is basically two underdog stories in one: Chiyuki Fujito, who wants to be a fashion model, but is too much of a loli, and Ikuto Tsumura, who wants to be a fashion designer, but is too uneducated. But you know, with a little hard work, and a lot of nakama power, they can live their dreams (Spoiler alert: They succeed because they tell you as much right on the first page)!

All I can say is, “so far, so good.” Smile Down the Runway’s plot progression has been really simple, almost like a sports manga such as Haikyuu!! There isn’t as much focus on infodumping assorted fashion jargon as there is on getting the job done, which might be off-putting to some people.

And speaking of off-putting… despite the unusual premise, Smile Down the Runway has been fairly generic thus far. This is most emphasized in the characters. Chiyuki and Ikuto are mostly similar, with the only difference being Ikuto’s lack of confidence (but hey, they at least have good chemistry, and THAT’S what matters). There’s also a third character, Fumiyo, who is aspiring to be a fashion journalist. She seems to act as the audience surrogate for those who are going into this perturbed by the fashion world (and will presumably grow to like it along with the reader (also presumably)). But yeah… these characters are really uninspired. 

However, the biggest problem I have with this manga is that it hasn’t really dived into the psychology of the fashion world, at least thus far. While I’m glad that it hasn’t pulled any of that model-on-model drama BS in those “reality” TV shows ( not yet), you don’t really get any idea of the mindset of people in this field, as opposed to something like ACT-AGE. I mean, it’s literally a world where people’s entire character is judged based entirely on how they look, which sounds straight up immoral from my perspective. What kind of background does one have to grow up in, and what do they need to be influenced by, in order to view the world this way? That’s what I want to know from this manga.

On the plus side, the art is great. The author seems to capture the expressions of fashion models well, and create some nice-looking clothes that somehow feel colorful despite it being in black-and-white. There are also some surprisingly juicy double-page spreads. I recommend reading this digitally so that you can snip some desktop wallpaper (fair use for personal purposes).

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Current Verdict: 7.5/10

Smile Down the Runway is pretty good. It has potential to be something truly special, but for now, it hasn’t really done much with said potential. Given its sports-like formula, it could be appealing to shounen fans (bizarrely enough), but I’d only recommend it to those with a wide-open mind.

Infinite Dendrogram Volume 10 Review

Cover of volume 10

Last time on Infinite Dendrogram, Ray fought a lot of people (like he always does). This time, he uses the pent-up powers of his Miasmaflame Bracers to summon the true form of Gardranda, the first boss he ever defeated (which is a cute girl, of course), and she helps him defeat Hell General Logan Goddhart (who lost because he’s a whiny brat who doesn’t actually know how to play the game). But it’s not over yet, for the ancient weapon Arca-Vesta has rebooted itself and is about to destroy Quartierlatin! The strange Tom Cat guy he met before heads down into the ruins to fight it. Turns out, he’s actually Chesire, the A.I., and the Incarnations that the ancient weapons were created to destroy are actually the A.I.’s of Dendro itself. Cheshire uses his power to make infinite clones of itself to fight, but it doesn’t do crap because Arca-Vesta is comprised of two machines: A ground-based one which constantly gets healed by the other, flying machine. Arca-Vesta sets out to destroy the town, but Ray and Azurite try to fight it. The obvious solution is to destroy both parts at once, but how? It doesn’t help that the flying one has an ability to distort space and expand the distance between itself and the ground so it’s much further than it appears. But fortunately, Ray has the Shining Despair he got from Monochrome, which travels at the speed of light. So, with the help of Azurite (and his horse, Silver, using one of its hidden skills for the first time), they’re able to defeat Arca-Vesta. Oh, and fun fact: Azurite is actually the Princess of Altair. OH MY GOD I DIDN’T SEE IT COMING (sarcasm).

So, this volume… I knew that this was inevitable, but here it is: the first volume to contain nothing but side stories. Normally, in something like SAO or Overlord, this feels like the author saying, “Hi, I don’t actually know what the plot moving forward is going to be, so here’s some crap to tide you over,” and it ends up being equatable to the filler arcs of anime of old. But Dendro has proven its side stories to be not just wholly entertaining, but also essential for the overarching plot.

This volume has two types of chapters, episodes and side stories, and both are important. Ray begins his juggling performance, with college and Dendro as the balls. We also get to see Gerbera’s character arc progress down in the gaol with Sechs Wurfel, the King of Crime. Plus, this volume introduces two new and incredibly rare types of Embryos.

There are several chapters, but I need to focus on the one that isn’t like the others: Pallid Pages Part One. In it, we get some Hugo action for the first time since Franklin’s Game IIRC. He ends up getting caught up in a MacGuffin fetch quest, with a strange lady named AR-I-CA, that appears to be a setup for possibly the next big arc. AR-I-CA is some wild bi lady who has what is perhaps the most broken Embryo thus far, and she’s a real hoot.

The one issue with this volume is that we get to see at least a taste of every region in Dendro, except for the one that they’ve been teasing since volume 1: Legendaria. To add salt to the wound, we still don’t get to meet Ray and Shu’s superhuman sister.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Like DanMachi, Dendro knows how to make really enjoyable side stories that are actually plot relevant. While I’m so ready for what happens next, the author stated in the afterword that volume 11 is just gonna be Shu’s fight with Gloria. Sure, it’ll be really cool to see the battle that everyone keeps talking about ad nauseam since volume 1, but man… I rrrrrreally wanna know what happens next!

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Anime Reaction Prediction: Heavily Criticized, but Popular

You know that the SAO critics are gonna hit the Dendro anime like trucks, and there’s no stopping them, especially if it airs on Crunchyroll, where the shows that cause the major hubbub normally end up. Also, LN fans, like myself, will notice everything wrong with it (which looks to be a lot), and characters like Gouz-Maise will likely be marred by bad CG. However, since Dendro is one of the better of its ilk out there, SAO fans will probably eat it like Nemesis eats, period, regardless of the production issues it inevitably will have and the criticism it will inevitably receive. Of course, since there will be stuff like the new season of Haikyuu!! and Quintuplets airing during the same season, it might not get that much recognition (which, to preserve the sanctity of the source material, would be good).

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Overview (Volumes 1-11)

Cover of volume 1

What happens when you read a story that cares more about its characters than its narrative, but YOU end up caring more for its narrative than its characters? Well, for me, that’s how I feel with the immensely popular and subversive Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, published in English by Yen Press. Even after eleven volumes, I am just at odds with this.

As much as I enjoy the story, I must preface this by vehemently saying that this is NO Steins;Gate. Steins;Gate was- and still is- a brilliant sci-fi thriller with weird characters, fascinating mechanics and powerful tension building. Why did I mention Steins;Gate? Well, that’s because our protagonist, Subaru Natsuki, is sent to an alternate world. But instead of being overpowered, all he can do is repeat events within a set time frame by dying and respawning, with a power called Return by Death. His incentive to actually use it is to help a cute waifu named Emilia (Oh Emilia…). Hence, the Steins;Gate comparison that I’m pretty sure EVERYONE’S made.

Anyhow, with a premise like this, there is plenty of time for the amazing and mature (and not at all try-hard) sensations of torture and despair, since- after all- our boy Subaru must retry the same events several times. Back when I had started this series, a year before I got into the superior Steins;Gate, I thought that this was a brilliant idea.

In execution, there is a rather big flaw. It’s not so much at the beginning, but the Return by Death premise has more and more come off as a devious plot to pad out the narrative to me. Not that there aren’t arcs where we gain valuable information about the world (such as the agonizingly long one that spans volumes 5-9), but a lot of times, the deaths of Subaru are really cheap. Oh, you didn’t know about this serial killer running around town? Sorry, die and try again. At least in Steins;Gate, it was  obvious what points in the story caused the conflict to fester, but here it’s basically like playing an old-time videogame: Keep dying over and over again until you have the whole thing memorized.

I guess I’m not being fair because the two series’ have vastly different plot structure, but it’s just that Re:ZERO does seriously drag on. The worst example so far is having an entire mid-boss fight across ALL of volume 7, then when you think everything is resolved in volume 8, suddenly it throws in an extra wrench just to kill Subaru again and drag the arc a whole extra volume. 

But when Re:ZERO actually feels like firing on all cylinders, it is a real pleasure to read. Well, at least in terms of the overarching plot. The first nine volumes are very psychological, and cover a theme that’s very unconventional for isekai. After that… well, I’ve only read two volumes of what I call the “season 2 material”, but it’s definitely a LOT different (but still really slow).

But as great as a plot can be, the cast ends up having a more lasting impression in most cases, especially in a character study like this. The characters of Re:ZERO are often a subject of very long and very heated debates. For me, I’m either in the middle with them or I don’t care about them whatsoever. 

Subaru is okay. Sometimes. He has great character development (though it’s slow, like everything else), and there are times when he exudes some genuine badassery. But for the most part, he’s naive and annoying. The others don’t fare much better. Emilia is the textbook “perfect girl”, and like the textbook “perfect girl”, she has the fatal flaw of no substance whatsoever. She SOMETIMES has interesting interactions with Subaru, but those are few and far between. 

Besterestereresteresteresterest Girl Rem is… well… not the best. She is the best, relatively speaking (within Re:ZERO itself), but I feel like she gets too much credit. To make another Steins;Gate comparison, she’s basically an inferior Kurisu but with a morning star.

The others aren’t  worth discussing in depth. Ram only exists to mispronounce Subaru’s name, at least for the first couple of arcs, which stops being funny after a while. Roswall is cool, but he goes out of his way to contribute as little to the plot as possible, and even consistently manages to mar its progress. There are many other characters, but I won’t mention them due to spoilers. I will say that the antagonists have been interesting so far, though. In fact, I’ve basically been continuing this series just to behold the main antagonist whom they’ve been building up to since volume 1. But in all honesty, it’s a BIG problem when a primarily character-driven story has such forgettable characters. It’s one thing if you can give all their motivations the proper context so that it actually makes sense in some way, but if your reader is so bored that they won’t be able to appreciate it because they’ll probably have drifted off to sleep, then it kind ends up preaching to the choir. I even have notes that I always use for reference in any non-manga material I read, and I’ve rarely had to refer back to them as often as I had to for Re:ZERO. You gotta be REALLY sensitive in order to grow as attached to them as you’re expected to.

The art is very visually pleasing. The girls are all drawn in this cutesy-wutesy style, with very unique eyes and facial proportions compared to most anime girls, that likely serves to lure readers into a false sense of security before the sh** hits the fan (kinda doesn’t work anymore now that the series has gotten so notorious). The illustrations convey a lot of emotion in each given scene, whether it’s just a girl being cute or someone (namely Subaru) breaking down in despair.

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Verdict: 8/10

Overall, Re:ZERO is nonetheless a great LN. Better than most on the market, at least. It’s slow in terms of plot progress, but it’s at least THERE as opposed to something like Overlord. I’ll definitely try to finish Re:ZERO for now. As far as recommendations go, while there are still a number of superior isekai series, Re:ZERO is still a great psychological drama with plenty of waifus.