Three J-Rock Debuts of 2019 That you Should Keep an Eye On

Left to Right: Mayu Maeshima’s album, “From Dream and You”; EXiNA’s album, “XiX”; Dual Alter World’s album, “Alter Ego”

I’ve really gotten into Japanese music lately (‘cuz I’m a weeb). There are sooooooo many artists out there, all with varying styles. In fact, there’s almost too many of them, and it doesn’t help that new ones keep coming out of the woodwork every year! In today’s blog, I’m going to highlight three who have peaked my interest, and could end up being really awesome in the foreseeable future.

NOTE: Finding information on REALLY famous Japanese people is hard enough on the English-speaking Internet, so I can’t even imagine finding info on these more obscure people. As such, I’m mainly going to talk about the music, please do not take anything I say about their backgrounds as gospel.


Mayu Maeshima

I’ve recently come to realize that the anisong industry- the market of people, like Konomi Suzuki, who perform music used in anime- isn’t all that great. A lot of those artists kind of sound similar to each other, the exception being the J-prog-rock band, MYTH & ROID. Mayu Maeshima is their original vocalist, and she left the band last year. In April of this year, I found a music video for Mayu’s solo debut: Yellow. 

And that song bamboozled me. It was slow, strange, outright depressing, and if it wasn’t for me recognizing Maeshima’s voice, I would not have thought that she was in MYTH & ROID. A couple months ago, she released her first album, From Dream and You, and with this she cements the style of her music.

Sad. As. F***.

Maeshima’s music is what I’d call “sad ReoNa.” It’s mostly acoustic-based, with a folksy style, and really sad lyrics. “Hang on, Mack, you don’t know Japanese. Did you somehow learn the language fluently since your last post?” No, it’s just that Maeshima sings in English. I don’t know why she does it, but she still sounds good doing it.

I do have a couple of concerns with Maeshima.  Based on the first album, I fear that she might become one of those artists who’s only liked for their hits. Yellow and When You Went Away have noticeably more oomph than the other stuff on there. I’m not saying that the other stuff is bad per se, but if there’s not a solid enough consistency moving forward, she’ll kind of have a Tears for Fears situation where people associate her with two popular songs and nothing else. Also, I haven’t caught a whiff of a single live gig since she debuted, which I’d interpret as bad. But hey, whatever happens with her, I hope she’s happy and that she becomes super popular!


EXiNA

According to information on this young woman’s social media, she had a career as Shiena Nishizawa before becoming EXiNA. I don’t know anything else because, like I said, finding information on these people is hard for a non-Japanese like me.

EXiNA is basically an angstier nano. Her songs generally have a gritty, electric-punk-rock-with-hard-rock style. Her voice is also surprisingly deep and very angry-sounding. To quote the second track of her first album, her music will make you “crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy!”

Unfortunately, the licensing for her seems to be a bit shaky, at least here in ‘Merica. None of her first singles came out over here, which isn’t really a big deal since their all on the album, which we do have. However, her subsequent single, Jesus Knows, came out over here a couple weeks late, her newest single (at this time) is unaccounted for, and an article I read about a recent gig mentioned songs I hadn’t even heard of. I’ve also checked a friend’s Spotify and confirmed the same case there too. It’s a miracle how much Japanese media has been unleashed worldwide, and you never know when it’ll be gone. So, check out EXiNA while you still can!


Dual Alter World

I only found out about this duo, consisting of voice actress Kotori Koiwai and RYU, the guitarist of Blood Stain Child, on Apple Music’s New Music Mix playlist. They looked interesting, so I gave them a whirl. 

And WOW, what a band! DAW is like a fusion of Kanako Ito and Passcode; with the cyberpunk atmosphere of the former, the sheer chutzpah of the latter, and the potential to surpass both. So far, they only have one album, Alter Ego, and it’s lit. The big problem, however, which is only for non-Japanese speaking people, is it’s a concept album. Each track, for the most part, alternates between an ambient spoken track and an actual song. It’s not a problem for me because I never know what’s happening in concept albums anyway. Overall, the album is really great, and the way it ends is disturbing and reminds me of Queensryche (the classic, OG lineup of course). That’s not a vibe I expected a modern band to have at all.

In conclusion, DAW is great so far and has the best potential out of the three. If they continue to evolve and experiment over time, they could become really powerful. Hopefully this isn’t a one-off thing or I’ll look like a real idiot.


I know I’m a puny little blogger. But hey, anyone who likes this post is another potential customer for these artists. It’s all free advertising for them!

Jigokuraku First Impressions (Chapters 1-40)

Artwork from Viz site

You’ve gotta love edgelords sometimes. There’s a little charm in their hackneyed “to kill or not to kill” monologues. Oh, and gore too. And out-of-left-field comic mischief. Jigokuraku: Hell’s Paradise, simulpub in English on Viz’s digital Jump subscription, has got all of that to spare!

In a dark period of Japan’s past (sorry, I’m not weeb enough to tell what era it is just by looking at it), the edgy ninja known as Gabimaru the Hollow is pending execution. However, nothing they try will actually kill him! So, the shogunate recruits him, among other criminals, to journey to a strange island and recover the elixir of life. He is accompanied by swordswoman Sagiri Amaemon, who must watch over him, and immediately decapitate him if he steps out of line. But since this is a battle shounen, she’ll probably never do that to him.

So far, it’s pretty fun. The beginning makes you think it’s going to be a battle royale, but they got bigger fish to fry. And by fish, I mean the giant mutant Bosatsu that live on the island. Basically, imagine if Shou Tucker from Fullmetal Alchemist was Buddhist. The island has a very surreal and creepy, yet whimsical feeling to it, and it makes me curious as to what it has to offer. There are also some powerful, human-looking foes that are super swole and can freely genderswap any time that they want. 

The characters, for the most part, are decent enough. Gabimaru is pretty nonchalant, edgy, and fun. Sagiri starts off as a whiny, “character who gets crapped on for being a woman because it’s historically accurate”-type, but she becomes much more resourceful at ten-odd chapters in. One of my favorite characters is probably the sexy female ninja Yuzuriha. Although she looks powerful, she’s very aloof and doesn’t even seem to take the mission seriously. But she’s still fun to see. I also like Gantetsusai, who is a tall, powerful swordsman that ends up being the “frenemy” of the group, and of Gabimaru in particular.

Sadly, I can’t figure out if these characters are based on actual people from history. The only thing I could recognize were two brothers whose dad was one of the 47 Ronin. Hopefully I’ll be a big enough history buff to be able to say something authoritative during the full review of the series, once it ends.

The art in Jigokuraku is great. It’s very rough and sketchy, with vivid details and great action shots. Word of warning, there is complete female frontal nudity, as well as gore, so stay away if you hate that stuff.

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Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Jigokuraku is a fun, enjoyable, and somewhat addicting historical fiction manga. I recommend it to any fans of battle shounen and edgy stuff.

Interspecies Reviewers First Impressions (Volumes 1 & 2)

I never cared for being able to relate to characters in order to enjoy a narrative. However, when I caught the premise of Interspecies Reviewers, published in English by Yen Press, I bought the first two volumes on a whim!

“So, what makes you relate to this lewd-ass manga, you perv?” you ask. Well, it’s simple, really. I’m a pretty big fantasy fan, and I’ve always pondered which cute fantasy girl was the best to have as a… really close friend. And guess what, a group of adventurers set off to all the red light districts in order to answer that very question!

Interspecies Reviewers takes this premise and runs like Jesse Owens with it. The creators actually really went into the… s-s-s-science of what it would be like to do, well, you know, with each species. For example, customers to a fairy brothel need to be measured (including the general), so that their employees don’t get crushed to death. It’s actually made me rethink the prospect of… partnering with girls that I would’ve been totally game with in the past. 

Furthermore, the creators also took into account the fact that every fantasy fan has different preferences. Some of the main characters rotate out, but they always go in groups so that you can see how each person reacts to the same… situation. The bulletins they post after-the-fact are actually very well thought out and can be helpful in similar debates that probably take place in this world.

The cast of Interspecies Reviewers is very one-dimensional, making it either a hit or miss. There are technically five(?) main protagonists, however only three of them really get any spotlight. Among those three are Stunk, who’s basically the team leader, and the one who’s the most willing to try anything. He also has a friend named Zel, with whom he frequently disagrees. Lastly is the punching bag named Crim. He’s one of those “looks-like-a-girl” characters, and he ends up suffering in every… interaction that he comes across. I’m fine with their personalities, since the dialogue concerning… events is the big strength of the manga anyway.

Obviously, no ecchi manga is good without great artwork, and Interspecies Reviewers is… a series of drawings, all right. The art is as if Miss Kobayashi’s Maid Dragon put on weight; the girls are in a cartoony, hyper-moe-blob style similar to Kobayashi, but they’re a lot chunkier. The proportions are often very out-of-whack, which might be a turnoff to some people, but I like it. The good thing is that most of these characters are legal adults, so yay for me- I mean- many people that want to project themselves into the story, none of which are me! (Oh, who am I kidding? I previously said that No Game No Life is my favorite LN of all time…)

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Current Verdict: 8.25/10

Interspecies Reviewers is a great ecchi manga that puts a twist on shipping by not causing arguments over which particular character is the best, but over which species is the best. I’d easily recommend it to fans of the genre, but be warned… this is seriously lewd. You better tread with caution if it’s not your cup of tea, or if you just want to complain about it. I just hope the next volume isn’t the finale, because then I’ll look like an idiot with this post.

Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki Volume 1 Review

This isn’t the first time I’ll say that I don’t like factoring relatability into quality, and it won’t be the last. And despite how much I can relate to the titular character of Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki (published in English by Yen Press), I will absolutely not factor it into the final score of this series. Well, assuming I even finish it, since there are a billion things out there right now..

Fumiya Tomozaki views life itself as the Dark Souls of… life itself (great analogy there)? Basically, he ranks humans in tiers, with higher tiers given an unfair advantage over bottom-tiers like himself. And as such, he just plays videogames, which make more sense to him. However, all of this changes when he meets a tough online opponent IRL, who turns out to be top-tier girl Aoi Hinami. After a serious argument, she convinces him to let her give him the “tutorial” for the game that is life, so that he can pick himself up and not be a piece of crap.

As someone who’s content as an introvert, this premise immediately made me uncomfortable on a personal level. While I don’t entirely agree with Tomozaki’s attitude, his viewpoints of life are undoubtedly true; after all, there are some individuals who have more net worth than entire nations in this world. But what bothers me the most is that whenever we have an introverted main character, they are forcibly put through the social wringer until they become an extrovert. I get that there wouldn’t be much of a narrative without the goal of making friends, that at least 99% of the human race actively seeks out relationships, and that Japan is really hypersocial, but the nature of the situation in Tomozaki really irks me.

But like I said, I’m not factoring all that personal-schmersonal crap into the score, no matter what.

The writing in Tomozaki is better than I expected. With the titular character as the narrator, you get a lot of videogame terminology lumped into aspects of everyday life. It’s not very descriptive, but it’s set in the real world, you can just picture where they are based on intuition.

Since this is technically a rom-com, the characters are gonna be the bread and butter. Unfortunately, they don’t give off a good first impression. Tomozaki is pretty passive; because of his situation, he just ends up getting strung along by Hinami every step of the way. He’s also treated like an idiot because he seriously knows NOTHING about social interactions, not even what one could glean from basic intuition (and I relate to him- Nice job giving yourself a good reputation, Mack). Hinami seems to be the Best Girl, because she is literally the best at almost everything. She has a funny quirk where she minces the word “exactly” and acts like nothing happened, but I see it becoming an old meme quick, especially when the anime airs. Although the interactions between Hinami and Tomozaki are where the series is at its best, the former sometimes comes off as a real b**** to me. The other characters aren’t even worth talking about yet; they are very one-dimensional, and some of them are kinda a**holes.

The art is pretty unremarkable. It’s a nice, tame style for a rom-com, but it’s not my cup of tea. It’s probably still more presentable than the anime will be.

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Verdict: 7.5/10

Sorry, but this is the score I’m giving volume 1, even when I’m not factoring personal input. A lot of people on social media have hyped this thing to be an amazing masterpiece. But so far, Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki is a generic “degenerate boy meets perfect girl, who helps him become an upstanding person whether he wants to or not” but with videogame jargon thrown in for what seems like further pandering. It’s a solid rom-com for someone who’s been in Tomozaki’s position (and of course, wants wish fulfillment). 

Lockwood & Co. Full Series Review

Covers of the books

The U.K. has had a history of really popular writers: From William Shakespeare and Charles Dickens all the way through to the late, great Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. So, is it any surprise that also-English Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series is fan-freakin’-tastic in every way? It was a surprise for me, actually. I read Stroud’s claim to fame, Bartimeaus, over ten years ago. I loved it at the time, but since I was an impressionable teen and a completely different person then, I didn’t expect too much out of Lockwood. However, I ended up falling in love with it.

Lockwood & Co. is basically a British (therefore better) Ghostbusters. A mysterious event called The Problem (it’s got a capital letter, so it’s a big deal- Discworld taught us that much) has occurred. As a result, ghosts have been popping up everywhere at the spots where they died in life. Fortunately, there are agents who investigate the sites that ghosts appear in and send them back to the other world by capturing their Source; a physical object that they’re tied to. This series revolves around the titular Lockwood & Co.: consisting of agents Anthony Lockwood, George Cubbins, and Lucy Carlyle.

The basic narrative structure of Lockwood & Co. follows the Harry Potter and Percy Jackson formulas: Self-contained arcs within each individual book, which all help build on the overarching plot that comes together in the final book. Each one makes our cast investigate some haunted sites throughout Britain in two distinct phases: mystery and action. In the mystery phase, they need to study up on the history of the area and the people involved in order to deduce what the Source could be. And in the action phase, they need to go over there and neutralize the Source. 

Stroud’s writing talent makes this stuff really enjoyable. His worldbuilding is well thought-out, really keeping in mind how people would live everyday life with ghosts running around (and the rules are also very simple, unlike something like Keeper of the Lost Cities). He makes the encounters with ghosts genuinely terrifying and suspenseful. He’s also able to spend multiple paragraphs just describing stuff, while not making the pacing feel slow at all. 

But in the end, the real Source of Lockwood’s greatness is in its cast of characters, and this Source cannot be neutralized. Lucy Carlyle, our narrator, is a tomboyish and proactive girl who gains strangely exceptional communication skills with ghosts. The head of Lockwood & Co., Anthony Lockwood, seems to be an aloof idiot, but when sh** goes down, he knows what’s up. George Cubbins is the comic relief guy, but he’s really good at researching stuff. Interestingly enough, these characters’ greatest traits end up playing into their biggest flaws. Lucy’s excellent communication skills cause her to empathize with ghosts, perhaps a little too deeply for what it’s worth. Lockwood, on the other hand, feels the exact opposite way, and there is most definitely a good reason as to why. George’s fascination with ghosts from a scientific point causes him to make some rather stupid and life-risking decisions as well. But despite their different viewpoints, their interactions- for the most part- are amazing. Stroud comes barreling right out of the gate with that nonchalant, sarcastic British humor. However, there is also some drama between the agents. While some of it made sense from a story standpoint, a lot of it felt sitcom-levels of contrived. A particularly sitcom-y development at the end of book three made me roll my eyes, and as a result, the fourth book, The Creeping Shadow, ended up being the weakest in the series for me. 

Other characters outside of the main crew include agents from other companies, like Lockwood’s rival, Quill Kipps, and the salty spirit of a skull in a jar. There is also Flo Bones, Lockwood’s connection to the black market, and Holly Munro, who joins the agency in book three. Overall, this is one of the best casts of characters, of this genre, I’ve ever come across. Their chemistry is priceless, and it felt bittersweet to have finished all of their adventures. And best of all, no cringey romance!

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

This is one of the best pieces of non-Japanese literature I have ever read. From its strong writing, to its amazing cast, to its British humor, Lockwood & Co. is an underrated treat. If you love Ghostbusters or Goosebumps, then I daresay that this is a must-read. Otherwise, I highly recommend it to anyone who just wants flat-out, high quality literature.

Bakuman Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

I know that working in the manga world can be harsh; I’m even aware of how it’s literally killed people. That’s why I never read through Bakuman (published in English by Viz) until just now. And wow… where has this been all my life?!

Bakuman stars Moritaka Mashiro, whose uncle died from overworking during his manga career. However, when he leaves his notebook at school one day, a starving writer named Akito Takagi sees it, and says that they should make a manga together. He refuses until the girl he likes, Miho Azuki, who’s trying to become an anime voice actor, promises to star in the anime of their manga. And just like that, boom! End goal established!

Despite my dislike of slice-of-life manga, I have to admit Bakuman does pretty much everything right. The story is fun and engaging, plus the characters are very expressive and have great personalities (more on that later, though). Despite the fact that Mashiro’s uncle died from overwork, which is a real life problem in Japan’s society, the manga is pretty lighthearted for the most part.

Naturally, the big appeal of Bakuman is its theme: manga publishing. This is one time where I’ll admit that I enjoyed something because I related to the characters, even though I hate factoring that into the actual final score of the story. Since they’re publishing manga, the characters of Bakuman spend a lot of time talking about all the topics that I think about everyday: tropes, marketing, mass appeal, and taking risks.

The cast is also surprisingly good. One of the biggest problems I have with slice-of-life is that writers seem to think that characters need to have dull expressions and no interesting personality quirks in order to seem more “human,” which isn’t really true. The characters in Bakuman are “human” done right. While Mashiro is a bit generic, he’s at least very expressive, along with everyone else. I knew that Takagi was going to be my fav the moment I saw him; he’s just so aloof yet driven. They work with one of two editors at any given time: Akira Hattori and Goro Miura. Although the latter is inexperienced as an editor, they both genuinely care about Mashiro and Takagi’s careers. 

There are also a number of rivals in Bakuman. My favorite is Eiji Nizuma, who is a true prodigy, but is a total eccentric. He doesn’t seem to take his job seriously, or even know how Jump works, and he just draws whatever he wants and leaves the pages neatly lying on the floor. He also walks in Jojo poses, which you need to see in order to believe. Along with him are the brash Fukuda and the terminally antisocial Hiramaru, among other people. Although they’re competitors, they’re also good friends, and their chemistry with each other brings out the absolute best in all of them.

My least favorite characters are probably the two main characters’ love interests, the aforementioned Miho, and Takagi’s girl, Kaya Miyoshi. They’re good girls (Miyoshi’s the better of the two, though), but they kind of exist just for moral support. Sure, Miho has plot relevance, but you don’t really get to see her progress that much; you only see the results.

Now for the art. Holy crap. I think that is the best art Obata has ever provided. Sure, Bakuman isn’t as detailed or complex as Death Note or *shudders* Platinum Freaking End, but it brings the atmosphere of Bakuman and it’s characters to life. Also, he has to draw his own characters’ manga, which each have their own styles. This really showcases what an absolute mastermind of art Obata is, and I have the utmost respect for him. If you’re a fan of more chill, CGDCT-type stuff, then Bakuman’s cartoony art style will likely be a turn-off for you.

My one real complaint with Bakuman is the fact that the protagonists want an anime so badly. I get that there’s a specific context behind why they want to get an anime of their manga, but as someone who’s seen so many great works get horrible anime adaptations, I couldn’t help but cringe, especially since their storytelling style is just the kind of unconventional stuff that can only work in the manga medium. This whole thing is a big nitpick of mine, which is why it won’t affect the final score at all.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

Bakuman is the best manga by the Ohba-Obata team. Yeah, I just said that. Everything about it is top-top-notch. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves manga in general, and heck, probably those who love anime too. 

Fairy Tale Battle Royale First Impressions

Cover of volume 1

My introduction to the battle royale genre was Future Diary. It wasn’t a good first impression to say the least. But despite that… experience, I decided to read Fairy Tale Battle Royale, published in English by Seven Seas. Let’s discuss if it’s any good.

Aoba Kuninaka is a classic, emotionally insecure high school girl who gets crapped on all the time. But when she signs a strange contract that makes all of her bullies love her, she’s transported to a twisted fairy tale world in a cosplay costume of her favorite character, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and all the other characters in this world are zombies.

So, let me be honest. This isn’t the first time that fairy tales have been given a darker dark motif, but what I always find hilarious is this is done with the intention of being cool and edgy, when they’re actually just portraying these stories as they were historically. But in Fairy Tale Battle Royale’s case, there is gore and zombies, so it’s at least edgy to some extent.

What actually makes Fairy Tale Battle Royale a true battle royale manga is the trope of many elaborate rules revolving around the royale itself, that the characters end up learning the hard way (i.e. red shirts getting offed early on). In this manga, it is established that killing the character zombies will free their souls and add them to a player’s book of the corresponding fairy tale (Ex. killing the card soldiers from Alice in Wonderland will add them to Aoba’s book). Doing so will also restore the area back to its less-decrepitness. But since this is a battle royale manga, it’s not as simple as that. It never is, and that could end up being the downfall of Fairy Tale Battle Royale. Fortunately, despite the short volume lengths, some semblance of plot progression always happens within each installment.

Unfortunately, the characters of Fairy Tale Battle Royale up being really weak, and by weak, I mean formulaic. One whiny main protagonist who lives off of sheer luck, one badass that you actually care about, at least one exposition dump character, and the rest are red shirts (characters who are obviously going to die, with the term inspired by a running theme in Star Trek episodes). Aoba is, obviously, the first item on the list. There really is nothing to say about her whatsoever at this juncture. The other characters who show up, besides the mysterious badass, are just as dull.

The art for the manga is solid. It does a good job clashing storybook-moe-style with dreariness. I kind of wish there could be more gore, since the edginess is what I’m enjoying most, but that’s just me. It’s basically a weaker Promised Neverland in terms of the art.

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Current Verdict: 7/10

Fairy Tale Battle Royale is, so far, marginally better than Future Diary. It’s not the greatest thing out there, but it’s still a fun, while-sitting-on-the-toilet read.

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).