I’ve known about The Ideal Sponger Life for over a year now. The problem was that only the manga, published by Seven Seas, has been available in English. Fortunately, J-Novel Club has come through and FINALLY licensed the original light novel series for Western consumption. Has it been worth the wait?
In The Ideal Sponger Life, a salaryman named Zenjirou Yamai is summoned to another world, by a queen named Aura Capula. She wants a hubby, and Zenjirou fits the bill. Obviously, he decides to marry her.
However, it isn’t that simple. Zenjirou really thinks through with his decision, and it’s made readily apparent that there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. For some reason, Aura wants him to just lie around and occasionally have sex. The early chapters of the volume also showcase that fantasy worlds are great and all, but are incredibly uncomfortable if you’re too used to modern technology. Unfortunately, this aspect is quickly made a non-issue when Zenjirou is able to briefly return to earth to bring a generator back to the fantasy realm.
The big problem with this volume is that it’s not… wrong enough! I thought that this was going to be all about Zenjirou having sex with Aura and a bunch of maids; that would’ve made for some interesting debates and whatnot. In fact, this thing skips any raunchy content with a mere “After they had sex, blah blah blah…” I’m being adamant about this because Sponger Life isn’t that remarkable otherwise. The only real plus is that there’s an actual explanation for the “isekai language” trope, but that just results in some needlessly tedious language lessons that he doesn’t need because he can already speak their language AS A RESULT of the “isekai language” trope!
Sponger Life’s writing is about as problematic as most light novels. It HAS to be a translation issue, because they all (even the good ones) have bad grammar and redundant word usage. As a blogger, I’ve become less and less tolerant of that kind of stuff, and honestly, it’s really bad that it’s coloring what’s supposed to be the core content I cover.
Speaking of redundant, guess who doesn’t like any of the characters: me! Zenjirou is kind of okay; too okay! He’s smart and composed, which some critics would respect, but he doesn’t help make this series controversial enough. Aura isn’t the iron-fisted lady I was expecting either. I was hoping she was more dominant, but due to the in-universe sexism, she’s actually incredibly awkward. One scene implies that she is very physically strong, but due to the aforementioned sexism, I doubt she’ll be showcasing her strength too often. Another case of Sponger Life trying to be as ethical as possible is when they introduce a private tutor named Octavia, a wife of some noble guy from another nation who would—in ANY other setting—be sent to seduce Zenjirou because of politics. Hopefully that’ll come up in future volumes.
I probably shouldn’t have let multiple years build up to something like this. The Ideal Sponger Life has all the setup for an incredibly sexy isekai, but ends up being extremely typical. I can only hope that things ramp up from here, or else it’ll be ANOTHER drop on my part.
Fans and critics of the massive and iconic Sword Art Online franchise can easily agree that it’s been a wild ride. From waifus to gratuitous sex to inherent appeal to contrived B.S., it’s been a very fascinating series of ups and downs. With the anime caught up to Alicization, only one arc remains exclusively in light novel territory: Unital Ring (I’m pretty sure it’s the final arc, too). I would normally wait until it’s finished and cover it in one post (since individual volumes tend to make no progress), but I just HAD to get my first impressions out, since there’s a ghost of a chance that this one is actually good.
In Unital Ring, Kirito is hanging out in Alfeim with his waifus, Alice and Asuna, when they suddenly find themselves playing Minecraft. Like, literally, the game just changes to something completely different. Since their stats also get reset, Kirito is no longer Mr. Perfect… right?
The titular new game is, for all intents and purposes, the most well-realized in the series (which isn’t saying much but still). The game is very intuitive since it plays like Minecraft; you find resources and build stuff. However, SAO is SAO, and Unital Ring has some issues. While a large number of items can be instantly crafted through the menu, as to be expected, the game tries to capitalize on its “V.R.” gimmick and makes it so some things have to be crafted by hand. This would sound cool, but the problem is that you need real-world knowledge on how to make this stuff, and there isn’t exactly anything in the game that can teach you.
Unital Ring also has a weight system, where items in your inventory will actually, well, weigh you down. While this does allow for some creative situations in combat of all things, since you could drop materials from high up and let gravity take care of the rest, I feel like this mechanic was created solely to make Kirito have to spend the early parts of this arc in only his underwear (i.e. “manservice”).
This volume is, as expected, merely the characters getting acquainted with the game world and its basic mechanics. Beyond that, there’s no real plot progression. Bizarrely enough, this is probably one of the best volumes of the series. The only sexualization is of Kirito, and there’s relatively low exposition dumping. Since Unital Ring seems to be all wilderness, it at least doesn’t look like there’ll be any rape-faced villains in this arc. The volume ends with the introduction of a new character and a returning character whom I don’t remember at all, and since it’s a cliffhanger ending, they’re likely to be important moving forward in this arc.
SAO has really grown up. It’s gone from tedious and pseudo-intellectual to just above average. Unital Ring might not be as impressive of a start as Alicization, but since this is the first entirely new arc (as opposed to the original web novel), Kawahara will be going into it from scratch as a full-fledged adult with an adult brain who might actually be uncomfortable with sexual assault as a plot device. Next time I post about SAO, it’ll be a review of Unital Ring from start to finish, so stay tuned for that!
I love myself some JRPGs (even if I don’t have time to play a lot of them anymore). The fantasy settings are (usually) very vibrant and pretty (I wish I could sleep in some of these settings), and you can hunt animals for money without having to worry about a mass extinction! Dungeon Busters brings the idea of living in a JRPG to our world.
In Dungeon Busters, a middle-aged salaryman named Kazuhiko Ezoe finds a dungeon in his backyard. When he enters, he initiates the “Dungeon System”, which will cause dungeons to appear all over the world. In eleven years, all the monsters of any uncleared dungeons will destroy all life on Earth. Kazuhiko is determined to clear all the dungeons and save the world.
Well… technically, he doesn’t clear all the dungeons himself. His goal is to grind up enough money to start funding his own organization to take down dungeons. As someone who likes JRPGs, it feels good to see Kazuhiko evolve and gain skills (and min-maxing, of course). The “game” mechanics are also very well thought-out. It is quite repetitive with exposition dumps, but that’s because Kazuhiko kind of has to reiterate it a lot in the context of the story; it shouldn’t be like this moving forward.
Like any incomprehensible phenomena that impacts the whole world, the dungeons get political. As you can expect, all of the governments of the world respond less efficiently than one man’s individual efforts. At the very least, they tackle the real-world impact of an infinite source of money and energy, ordinary humans being able to grow stronger than a pro wrestler, potions that can restore body parts, and other videogame tropes. The weird thing, however, is the fact that every nation except for Japan has a different name (also, the president of the U.S. is based off of Trump, which will very shortly make this series quite dated). This could be foreshadowing a twist, since the opening chapter shows the world—curiously enough—already being destroyed. What if Dungeon Busters IS an isekai, only it’s an alternate version of our own sekai?
As someone who’s read so many light novels, the writing of 99% of them feel exactly the same. Despite that, there’s a wild sense of variance in quality. Dungeon Busters doesn’t feel like it does any writing differently, but it’s more than sufficient for some reason. There is one problem, however: the P.O.V. changes are awful, sometimes switching into a minor character who never appears again. They also don’t show you who they’re changing into after the first time shifting to that character.
Of course, it wouldn’t be an issue if the cast had personality, but sadly… that’s not the case. Kazuhiko is likeable enough at least. He’s down-to-earth, as to not come off as a sociopathic a-hole, but he at has some definable personality quirks; he’s very composed and utilitarian, always considering all the possibilities of the situation. Kazuhiko is essentially a chiller version of Seiya from Cautious Hero.
Dungeon Busters wouldn’t be a light novel without some controversy, and this leads into the inevitable harem. There is a card mechanic where you can summon monsters and items and stuff. The rarest type of card summons a girl straight out of one of those “waifu mobile games”, and Kazuhiko gets two of them. His first, Akane, is a sexy ninja girl who’s constantly trying to have sex with him. She’s at least a legal adult, but Emily, his other waifu card, looks like a twelve-year-old. Both of these girl cards only serve to discuss dungeon mechanics and be waifus. And it gets worse with Kazuhiko’s niece, Mari. She seems harmless enough; just your typical moe blob who exists just to pander. However, there is one scene that implies that she might have a crush on her forty-year-old uncle.
Finally, a decent light novel debut! Dungeon Busters isn’t perfect, but it at least has standards (ooooh, burn!). I’m curious to see what direction this thing goes in (and how much more political it’ll get). I recommend it to fans of DanMachi and slice-of-life fantasies.
Well, this post’s a bit late. The reason is because the latest volume of Otherside Picnic came out too close to the end of the year. But hey, at least I got this out on the same week as New Year’s Eve, right? Anyway, let’s do this.
Sorcerer King of Destruction and Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 2
I had a sliver of hope for this one. After all, it started out as a pretty lonely, post-apocalyptic isekai. However, it doesn’t take long for Nemaki to reach a town. At this point, Sorcerer King pretty much turns into your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life isekai.
If I was a more generous reviewer, I’d say it’s fascinating to see the fact that Nemaki doesn’t exactly understand Gol. She’s very trigger happy, and her clothes are more than just cosmetic. Nemaki genuinely does not know what she’s capable of, nor what makes her tick, giving a genuine sense of mystery and concern. Unfortunately, I’m not a more generous reviewer. From rubbing cheeks to looking at her underwear, Nemaki’s interactions with Gol are no different than that of a typical isekai waifu. It seems like she was made as a golem just to pretend that Sorcerer King is subversive. And with the usual stiff writing, I have little to no interest remaining in this series.
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 2
Before getting into this volume, I must clarify that I did not cover The Eminence in Shadow Volume 2 like I planned. First off, I ran out of money because, well, Christmas. Second off, I had too many doubts about that series. The fact that Cid’s made-up enemy turns out to be real, along with them actually skipping how his own organization comes about… It’s just plain stupid. Combine that with the subpar characters and you have another series that, in my opinion, does not at all deserve to place on the Kono Sugoi Light Novel rankings.
I also had doubts about May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace. Like most time travel narratives, Leaden Battlegrounds is kind of… iffy. But for some reason, I enjoyed it because I was curious as to how stupid it could get. So here we are!
The main premise of the volume is Rain and Air getting into a scuffle with some Western soldiers, one of whom is a cute girl named Deadrim, and the other person is… there. Once again, most of the volume proves to be boring, but there’s just enough intrigue at the end to make you wanna buy the next one. The only other noteworthy thing is that fact that Air should be using the Devil Bullet on Rain, but that whole aspect of their relationship goes in the direction you’d expect.
DanMachi Volume 15
It feels like it’s been forever and a day since we had a new DanMachi volume. Unfortunately, this one’s a filler volume. Sure, DanMachi has had some of the better filler in light novels, but not this time. We do get more backstory to some of our main protagonists, in addition to the backstory we already got, but it kind of feels excessive. For example, the first chapter is literally about the inn that Bell stayed at until he found out about Hestia. Do we really need that? In any case, most of the stories are pretty good, though not the best that DanMachi has to offer.
Infinite Dendrogram Volume 13
After the relative nothing that happened last time, we finally have an event that’s been building up for a long time: a conference between Altar and Dryfe. In order to participate, Ray forms a clan with his friends and gets a new job. This new job, as always, is something wild that nobody likes which ends up being really useful for his build. In any case, it’s not even a spoiler to say that the conference goes south, and a big fight breaks out.
The one gripe I have is something that’s happened twice now in Dendro: withholding information from the reader that the main character, who’s narrating, happens to know. It’s a cheap way to build anticipation and I don’t know why any writer would ever think this is a good idea. Nemesis, once again, evolves into a new form after a small time-skip leading up to the conference. We also don’t get to see it, since this volume ends in the middle of the action. Other than that, Dendro still meets (and exceeds) expectations.
Otherside Picnic Volume 4
It feels like it’s been forever since we got some Otherside Picnic! With the anime in development, I cannot wait for yuri fans to get super toxic and scare off potential viewers. But in the meantime, we have this. As usual, it starts off [relatively] chill, with the girls going to the cult HQ from the previous volume to clear it of supernatural gook.
Other than that, it’s pretty typical stuff. Sorawo and Toriko’s relationship gets more intense, and we learn a bit of the former’s past, but that’s about it. There’s no new goal established. However, I’m fine with that, because Otherside Picnic is a CGDCT at heart, and core narrative doesn’t really matter in those. As long as the suspense is still off the rails (which it is in this volume HOLY CRAP), then I’m good.
Overall, we had a pretty good lineup of light novels to close off the year. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to be skipping this January’s Weeb Reads Monthly because there are only two volumes that I actually have interest in, excluding the upcoming debuts. February might be skipped too, because I only see ONE volume of interest on BookWalker’s Pre-Order page at the time of writing this post. Regardless, whatever I skip will all be lumped in with another month eventually!
Sometimes it’s hard to write an intro. As I said in my review of Unnamed Memory, I’ve been disappointed with the new light novel releases pretty much all year. No one seemed to look forward to The Bloodline, published in English by J-Novel Club. And as someone who rarely posts about something popular, it seemed like a fitting choice for me.
In The Bloodline, the world is ruled by vampires who feed off the common people’s blood. In the middle of some festival or whatever, a boy named Nagi breaks into some house and finds a girl named Saya. He saves her for no particular reason, and chaos ensues.
Sadly, there’s not much to say about the story thus far. The Bloodline is very generic across the board. Not only is it a typical “rob from the poor to feed the rich” dystopia (complete with vampires as if this was some YA novel), but it’s also a wish fulfilment fantasy. In about 30 pages, Saya thinks to herself: “I want to be with this boy.” I mean, sure, he saved you. But to be in love with him so impulsively? Not even Disney does it this fast anymore.
Time for me to sound like a broken record again. I don’t like the characters, not a single one of them! So far, Nagi is a typical whiny self-insert, and Saya is a typical damsel in distress. Keele is Nagi’s snarky brother, and this girl named Tess is the third wheel. I don’t even remember the names of everyone else, but they’re about as plastic as the rest of the cast.
But even with all these issues, The Bloodline is at least better than what I have read recently. Although the writing is about as negligent at describing people and places as a lot of light novels, the pacing and momentum is solid. There is some good entertainment value here, and honestly, that’s all I could ask for these days. Also, they don’t dump all of the lore on you at once in the beginning.
Maybe I’m just desperate, but I actually have hope for The Bloodline. As bland as the story is idea-wise, it still appeared to be pretty well thought out by light novel standards. It’s no masterpiece at this juncture, but it could become close to one if it’s given enough love over time. If you like edgy dystopian novels, then this one’s for you.
This was about the most stressful installment of Weeb Reads Monthly thus far. At first, I was going to have about six light novels to read, all releasing on October 20th, including High School DxD and In the Land of Leadale. But for some reason that’s probably related to Covid even though they’re digital releases, Yen Press moved a bunch of those to November, leaving me with only Re:ZERO and Konosuba to discuss for October. In any case, I (should have) recovered from the general toxicity of the digital world that I am forced to be a part of in order to manage my blog. So now, I bring you a hellishly long Weeb Reads Monthly.
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Volume 14
This volume made me mad at first, but not because of the volume itself. Apparently, the entire anime community of Re:ZERO already knew the content of this volume before season two of the anime was even announced. For some reason, White Fox decided to make an OVA about Emilia’s backstory even though it was technically spoilers for much further down the road. Well, in my defense… I was probably one of the few to experience it the proper way! Anyhoo, enough rambling, because this volume’s lit.
With no beating around the bush, we jump right in to Emilia reliving her own backstory via the Sanctuary Trial (co-starring Echidna as the witty peanut gallery). This does answer a lot of questions, despite the author’s amazing ability to make straightforward developments feel incredibly convoluted, and it’s very cathartic to see. Unfortunately, it raises a lot of new questions because we see some things that don’t exactly make sense, such as the existence of a secret eighth Witch. Furthermore, there’s a new development that makes me hate Garfiel right after I started liking him. He doesn’t turn a 180 for the tenth time, but it’s kind of a withholding information thing that really shows how much the earlier parts of this arc were blatant padding. But overall, I loved this volume, and it looks like we’re finally about to finish up the stupid Sanctuary.
Konosuba Volume 12
This was the first thing I read following my post-Disney depression for this year, and boy, did I need it! If I hadn’t made it apparent already, Konosuba has been one of my favorite light novel series of all time, and volume eleven’s cliffhanger left us with a startling development: Darkness has a daughter! I just HAD to know what was up with this…!
And it turns out that it was all a jape. The new loli, Sylphina Ford Dustiness, is not Darkness’ daughter, but her cousin. So yeah… that’s anticlimactic. But worry not… things get spicy! Konosuba has been teasing the Kazuma and Megumin ship for a while, and this time, they finally try to do something about it. Usually, making one specific ship canon in these settings is like asking for death threats, but Megumin was probably the best call because she is the Best Girl. It’s basic science.
But we can’t have Kazuma settle without hearing from everyone, and by everyone, I mean Darkness. She comes clean about him in a very uncharacteristically emotional scene, and it’s really awkward and weird. It’s cliché, but interesting to see the cast of Konosuba actually showing visible change instead of reusing the same jokes.
Overall, the volume is kind of all over the place. In just one hundred fifty-odd pages, we go from meeting Darkness’ cousin, to characters opening themselves up emotionally, to a new tax law in Axel, to helping this orphanage (Hang on, weird orphans!). With five volumes left, I have doubts that the author entirely knows what they’re doing. Konosuba seems to be on the brink of becoming a cringe-inducing shipping war, and that would be the worst way to end it. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.
Rascal Does Not Dream of Logical Witch
When we last left off our intrepid testosterone-factory, we saw Shouko Makinohara, the girl from Sakuta’s past who basically started it all. However, she’s a bit younger than she was then. And for some reason, she becomes a freeloader at his house. From a writing standpoint, I think that her sole purpose here is to cause controversy. Since Shouko is twelve now, and Sakuta is sort of still attracted to her because of his past, her relationship with him is borderline creepy. Furthermore, since he has Mai as his girlfriend, this case fringes on straight-up adultery. Throw his jealous incestuous sister into the mix and you have Western-drama levels of sin in the Asuzagawa residence. I don’t really care about any of this stuff in the context of fiction (since it’s not real), but as a writer, this really supports my initial impression of Rascal Does Not Dream intentionally being as scandalous as possible in a vain attempt to look intellectual.
As curious as fans are likely to be in the case of Shouko, she is put aside for this volume. The real issue is our Hanekawa wannabe, Rio Futaba. Due to quantum entanglement, there are two different versions of Rio at once. It’s up to Sakuta to figure out what the problem is and solve it using his husbando powers! Just like last volume, it’s all symbolic of very simple and relatable human insecurities blah blah blah. And since this is a Rio volume, Shouko’s character arc is a very rushed one-and-done kind of deal that I felt was put there just for the sake of making you cry. If it weren’t for the genuinely charming prose, I would’ve dropped this thing by now. Well, let’s see what happens next time.
Eighty-Six Volume 6
I love Eighty-Six, but boy, it is not as amazing as it thinks it is. At this point, the series seems to be getting rather formulaic. For the past several volumes, the first halves have been bombarding us with pretentious and ham-fisted semantics about racism and war as if the author was the first person in human history to ever come up with those notions (with a few brief operations to keep us on our toes), while the second halves are full of action and despair, leaving just enough intrigue to make us want to buy the next book. I’ll admit it’s effective, but that doesn’t mean it’s not annoying.
Sadly, this has been the weakest volume in a while. All that stood out to me was some new character development for Shin. Beyond that, we just have Lena and Shin battling their inner demons while we are repeatedly told how tragic the Sirins are. The second half, as expected, is quite intense, but there really isn’t anything else to say about it. Fortunately, the next volume looks like it’s gonna be a big one, given how things stand at the end of this one.
So I’m a Spider, So What? Volume 10
Last time, we were met with the revelation that our girl is not actually Hiro Wakaba, but a fake created by D, the real Hiro Wakaba (or something). Shockingly enough, this changes nothing of the core content, which is actually something that takes a lot of talent. In fact, she doesn’t even recap the twist at the beginning of the volume, which really shows how inconsequential it is.
The premise of this volume is some kind of rebellion or something (I don’t know anymore). Over a hundred pages are just White giving us exposition dumps on different mechanics of the world, which don’t matter because the protagonists are so damn powerful they can pretty much end anyone in an instant. Things get interesting in the second half since we FINALLY start converging with characters from Shun’s chapters (remember those good ol’ days?), but it only shows Ms. Oka at this juncture.
Overall, I’m at the end of my rope with this series. It has so many good ideas, but it’s been stuffed with padding and information dumps since the beginning. I also don’t really care about the moral ambiguity aspect, since I only ever sympathized with White. I’m still going to give it a chance, because the end of the volume seems to set up for the endgame, which promises to be nonstop butt-whooping. Fingers crossed!
Last Round Arthurs Volume 3
Well, here’s another volume of this underrated series. It opens up with a startling development: Rintaro is confronted by his Id, who’s all angsty and stuff and disables his Fomorian Transformation. Unfortunately, this feels like it was done for some unnecessary pot-stirring, because the gang is immediately attacked by two new Kings. One of them is really annoying and not even worth discussing. The other is named Reika Tsukuyomi, and she’s an interesting case who actually gives us more insight on King Arthur himself.
One major concern I have is the new direction for Fuyuki. Early on in the volume, she’s revealed to be a former Dame du Lac person, and is incidentally the one who screwed over Rintaro during the time of King Arthur. However, he doesn’t remember that she’s the person who did it, which makes for a really aggravating case of dramatic irony. Other than that, the action is still as pulse-pounding as ever, even if it’s stuffed with clichés. The climax is insane and stupid and I love it.
Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 7
Sometimes, you need a vacation, and that’s the premise of this volume. After participating in some gimmicky contest, Mamako wins the party a trip to a fancy resort. However, shenanigans ensue and they end up crashing into a deserted island. While it would be a vacation in its own right, well… Amante and Sorella are there too, of course.
The usual antics abound in this volume, but we also introduce a third Heavenly King: Fratello. He pretends to be a good guy for a while (even speaking with a bit of Southern drawl), and takes advantage of Masato’s issues. But between him and his coworkers, he’s my least favorite of the three. Beyond that, we get some great character development for Masato, and a sneak preview of the Fourth Heavenly King, who happens to be the Libere Rebellion’s leader. I’m not sure if I properly understand who the person is, but if I do… OH GOD.
Cautious Hero Volume 5
In this volume, Seiya now has to deal with the Death Emperor and his army of ghosts. In order to damage them, he gets spiritual training. It goes the way you would expect. But I’m sure you saw my thumbnail with the cover art just now, and are immediately curious as to why there are two Seiya on it. Well, that’s simple. They encounter an alternate reality version of Seiya, you know, like you do. The interactions between the two Seiyas are amazing, but despite being the front cover, they take up a disappointingly short percentage of the book.
This volume also concludes the Ixphoria Arc, which is cool. The final battle against Ultimeaus is excellent, but there’s a development during it that feels like shock value, as it doesn’t affect the story moving forward. Other than that, we get to see just how much Seiya bottles up under his abrasive surface (kind of makes him sound edgy, doesn’t it?), which will probably not be enough to curb the vocal critics’ opinions. Oh, and the volume lays the groundwork for the next arc, which leaves me wanting more very badly.
Well, that took a while. Overall, there were some good volumes these past two months (at least as far as ongoing series are concerned). I still wanted to cover The Eminence in Shadow and May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, but I ended up not meeting my budget for them. Hopefully, I’ll get to them next month, because a lot of the next volumes I plan to cover come out at the tail end of the year. Hooray!
I feel like the light novel game hasn’t been strong lately, at least from the English-publication perspective. To be honest, WATARU!!! is the only new series that got me excited. And while I don’t mind having less titles to worry about, I still enjoy having new ones to look forward to. There are two new titles left on my list this month that seem promising, and today’s post covers the first: Unnamed Memory, published in English by Yen Press.
In Unnamed Memory, a Prince named Oscar Farsas has been cursed to where his boys can no longer swim without drowning. Since he’s an only child, he has to alleviate the curse or his family line ends. To do this, he visits Tinasha, the Witch of Azure. She says that she can’t undo the curse, but a woman with a uterus immune to the curse (apparently?) can birth his kid just fine. Oscar immediately proposes to Tinasha, and is rejected. But since he climbed her tower, she has to do something, and that something is to live with him while pretending to be an apprentice.
Does this light novel seem shoujo to you? Well, it is. This is one of those where the strapping young man sweeps the tsundere girl off her feet. However, this one takes its sweet ol’ time. That sounds all well and good, but there’s still a lot of the dumb shoujo clichés that make me want to rip my hair out.
This volume is all over the place, as it tries to set up multiple things at once with no rhyme or reason. For example, the second chapter is a literal murder case, and there are these very blatantly suspicious people at the scene of the crime (who, of course, knew that the crime was going to be committed before it even happened). The case itself is resolved very lackadaisically, as if it was just a Saturday morning visit to the park.
Because of this, I have no idea where the priority lies with the story. The murder case isn’t all that’s resolved super fast. They build up to this big ancient demon from a war that suspiciously happened at the same time that the Farsas family got cursed, and they just do away with it like it’s no big deal. It almost reminds me of Sailor Moon, which is actually a bad thing because I wholeheartedly dislike that series.
Surprise, surprise, guess who didn’t like the characters whatsoever? Me! Oscar felt like a weird combination of genuinely caring for Tinasha while also being sexist? Based on the premise, you’d think she’d be the dominant member of the relationship, but nope, he still has to think he needs to swoop in and save her ass (but it doesn’t matter because their both overpowered protagonists). And to top it all off, he proposes to her on a daily basis and it’s ridiculously annoying.
Tinasha is, so far, a cookie-cutter tsundere. Her identity gets revealed super early, which I can at least appreciate, but the fact that she’s accepted by everyone quite easily makes the whole thing seem pointless. The other characters are as “kinda just there” as any peanut gallery, and a lot of them are introduced quite suddenly.
Unnamed Memory is a decent shoujo series I guess, but as someone who really doesn’t like shoujo, I can’t say I enjoyed even a lick of it. I’m not likely to commit to this series, but maybe you’ll like it if you’re a romance junkie.
During my time in the anime community, one popular series has come up from time to time: High School DxD. Whatever it is, it seems to be one of the most beloved light novel series on the market. Despite my amazing track record of not liking popular things, I decided to read the first volume anyway (since Yen Press FINALLY got the licensing for it). Let’s see what I’ve gotten myself into.
In High School DxD, a boy named Issei Hyoudou dreams of having a harem. After he’s attacked by a fallen angel (you know, normal stuff), he is revived as a demon by the school idol, Rias Gremory (who is also a demon). Issei becomes her servant, and joins the occult research club to fight fallen angels, regular angels, and rogue demons alike. Most importantly, a lot of his co-workers are beautiful girls.
If there are any negatives right off the bat, it’s that DxD isn’t too interesting in terms of ideas. This isn’t the first time that a high school student gets recruited into a secret club to fight Biblical monsters, and it’s not the first time this has been done in ecchi either. They do try to spice it up by attributing their abilities to chess, but it’s not the first time that’s been done either.
Like a lot of ecchi, what DxD needs is sheer entertainment value, and so far… it’s kind of in the middle. The best part has been the writing. Issei narrates the story in a fast-reading, over-the-top manner that comes off like Konosuba before it was cool (DxD came out before Konosuba in Japan). There’s a lot of personality in it, and that’s something I can be grateful for.
Another oddity is that DxD isn’t that ecchi yet. The only really scandalous thing that happens is in the beginning, where he wakes up in bed with Rias cuddling him. But other than that, there are next to no panty nor accidental breast gropings. It feels more like a battle shounen than an ecchi series.
The characters end up being kind of weak. While Issei is a good narrator, he isn’t particularly interesting. He’s your usual ecchi protagonist who saves all the waifus and is painted as “righteous and stuff” even though he’s merely a perv. The women are pretty standard: Rias is sexy, Koneko is a loli, and Akeno is chill. There’s also another dude in the club, named Yuuto, but he’s kind of just there. They also introduce a nun named Asia, and she ends up playing this volume’s role of “waifu who needs saving” and isn’t that interesting.
High School DxD is not terrible, but it’s nowhere near the god-tier status that its fans imply it is. As of this volume, I can’t recommend the series yet. I feel like there are a large number of better ecchi and battle shounen out there. Well, there’s twenty-four volumes of this thing left, so there’s plenty of time for DxD to improve!
They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. But in defense of doing just that, having great cover art is important for generating interest. And that’s exactly what drew me to a new isekai licensed by Yen Press: In the Land of Leadale. There’s something eye-catching about really tall towers in the middle of fantasy landscapes… and let’s hope my eyes weren’t caught by another marketing scheme.
In In the Land of Leadale (well, that sounded wrong), a girl named Keina Kagami dies in her hospital bed and is transported into the VRMMORPG, World of Leadale. She has taken the form of her avatar, Cayna, and has pretty much all of her (OP) abilities. However, two hundred in-game years have passed since she last played! …Which means nothing.
I don’t know if this is a case of slow burn, but Leadale seems like another dime-a-dozen isekai. Unlike others of its ilk, this one at least has a few positives. The author managed to put some decent worldbuilding into the game, even if most of it is cosmetic and has no effect on the plot. According to the lore dump, World of Leadale was made by some incredibly trollish devs, and apparently, you need to be a god-tier player who can cast ten spells at once just to cure poison. Poison, one of the most common ailments in RPGs!
But worry not, for Cayna is one such god-tier player, at Level 1,100. She can down a massive bear by merely kicking it in the face, and is super rich. Oh, and that whimsical tower that’s normally a goal in these games? That’s her house! So yeah, don’t expect stakes. There’s supposed to be a goal where she goes to the other guardians’ towers, but there’s no urgency to it, and Cayna herself even says that she’s only doing it because she has nothing better to do.
Also, don’t expect to be able to visualize anything. It seems to be customary with most light novels to only provide the bare minimum description of anything, and sadly, that’s the case with Leadale. They also don’t bother describing anyone who isn’t a lousy NPC, which would be nice, except the NPCs tend to have more screentime than major characters in this volume.
The cast is as cardboard as usual. Cayna tries to be a subversive protagonist by being a girl and a mother, but those traits seem to distract from how little personality she has (Also, expect the volume’s only sense of humor to consist of people having over-the-top reactions to her identity. Over and over again). Her three kids (read as: custom-made NPCs á la Overlord) aren’t very interesting either. Out of the three, I had a lot of hope in her son, Skargo, because he looked like someone who’d have an Oedipus complex and make this more controversial. But alas, he just ends up being annoying.
In the Land of Leadale is either pulling a long con, or it’s your typical, boring isekai. Some people will probably like it enough just from the main character being a mom, but that’s not enough for me. I recommend it if you like Mushoku Tensei and stuff.
I had every intention of reading Mashle: Magic and Muscles since its debut in Weekly Shounen Jump. But then, Seven Seas came out of nowhere and licensed a light novel with an extremely similar title: Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Since they seemed so identical, I decided to review them both in this post. Although Mashle came out in the U.S. before Muscles, the latter actually predates the former by three years. So naturally, I’ll go over it first!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Volume 1
In Muscles Are Better Than Magic!, a boy named Yuri lives in the forest alone. He has managed to train himself to the point where he’s super ripped, and can take on anything. When he finds an elven girl named Filia Windia, he decides to go on adventures with her, for no reason whatsoever.
If Muscles appears to be a run-of-the-mill, typical shounen fantasy light novel to you, that’s because it is! The whole darn thing is the two of them hanging out. A lot of the interactions are just him using his muscles and freaking people out. And like I said in the premise, there’s no purpose to anything that happens. They just go on adventures that are no different from your typical slice-of-life fantasy with no real spice beyond Yuri’s muscles.
The mostly boring cast doesn’t help either. While Yuri and Filia have some legitimately cute and funny interactions, they are surrounded by idiots. All the other characters are inconsequential NPCs who have no personality other than being shocked by Yuri’s muscles. That’s literally it! But even then, Yuri is also incredibly bland, with Filia being the only remotely likeable character.
The biggest issue is the writing. Muscles is one of those light novels that feels like a rough draft and not a publication. Although the action scenes are pretty good, descriptions of locations are as bare minimum as they typically are in these series. I get that writing is really hard but that doesn’t excuse when it’s bad in a published work!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! is no better than your typical blazé fantasy. Similar to Buck Naked in Another World, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, and others, it uses some defining character design trait to pretend that it’s subversive. My chances of reading more are pretty low. But let’s see whether or not it’s the lesser of two evils when I review Mashle!
Mashle: Magic and Muscles First Impressions (Chapters 1-15)
In Mashle: Magic and Muscles, a boy named Mash Burnedead lives in the forest with an old wizard guy. He was born in a world of magic, but has no magic himself, making him an easy target of the police. When he bests the police with his bare hands, he is given a deal: enroll in Magic School and graduate at the top of his class or be pursued by the law forever. He accepts the deal, and attends the school with no magic power whatsoever.
I made a big deal about how Muscles and Mashle are the same, but… it turns out that Mashle resembles Black Clover more than anything else (oops). In any case, Mashle already shows greater personality than Muscles. Not only is the humor (and its delivery) much more substantial than in Muscles, but there’s also a purpose to the shenanigans that ensue.
So far, Mashle’s biggest issue is its simplicity. While I love a good, clear-cut Jump manga, a lot of [very vocal] people don’t. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the magic that gets used; they don’t even bother to explain the rules. And of course, let’s not forget the magic word, “unrealistic”, because of how impossibly strong Mash is for a teenager.
Mashle has a similar issue to Muscles: everyone other than the main character exists just to react to how swole said main character is. Furthermore, the lead girl is less remarkable than Filia, to the point where I already forgot her name. But unlike Yuri, Mash is a significantly more likeable character. In fact, he’s the bread and butter of this whole manga. While he’s completely devoid of personality, the author somehow makes that lack of personality into its own personality quirk. Also, his inane obsession with cream puffs makes him even more hilarious.
The art doesn’t look like much, but it’s more than enough. The panel composition expertly sells the humor, while also delivering the appropriate amount of punch to Mash’s attacks. If there are any issues, it’s that the black wizard robes make a lot of the foreshortening shots look kind of weird.
Current Verdict: 9.35/10
Muscles might be better than magic, but Mashle is far better than Muscles. It’s a risk investing in a new series when you don’t know whether or not it’ll get axed, but here’s hoping that Mashle stays for a couple of years at least. I recommend it to people who like battle shounen and fun (i.e. not cynical).