This is a review of a light novel that I had abandoned around two years ago: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, one of J-Novel Club’s first publications. It looked great, then I read about two volumes and… just couldn’t get into it. I know that slow burns are a thing, but due to the sheer length of the series, plus me not yet having my IRL job at the time, I literally couldn’t afford to continue with it. But over the course of the last couple of months, I tried giving it a fair shot from where I left off.
In Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, twelve people end up in this world- all Breath of the Wild style (including the amnesia). But unlike Link, they just go to the nearest town and GET A JOB. That’s basically about it; a perfect opening for a sandbox JRPG. That analogy is pretty apt, because this world is- of course- run on videogame physics.
Since it IS a JRPG world, Grimgar operates like one, specifically by having a slow and boring start. Most of the first volume is them just getting acquainted with the world. It is generic and boring, and shouldn’t have taken so much time to get acquainted with in the first place. Grimgar reminds me a LOT of Goblin Slayer, one of my least favorite LNs of all time (the group even gets called Goblin Slayers), and it could’ve even inspired that cesspool of D&D tropes.
“Well, that’s only an issue for the first few volumes, right?” you ask. I thought that would be the case at first. But Grimgar is a “realistic” isekai. That means no lofty goals, no big bads to take out, no nothing. The whole point of the story is just… to survive. For some people (*cough* critics *cough*), this sounds like the greatest thing ever. And for some, the idea alone is enough, based on the positive reviews I’ve read. But the idea alone is never enough for me. The execution is more important, and Grimgar’s execution isn’t exactly on point.
At first glance, it seems the author really shows how ruthless the world of Grimgar is. Plot relevant characters do actually die, and it’s not always obvious who’s wearing the red shirt at any given time. Furthermore, it does a great job at showcasing the team’s struggles and shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are a ton of tone shifts. You know, have a story that takes itself SO DAMN SERIOUSLY and then suddenly throws in an ecchi scene. NO, you’re doing it wrong! Golden Kamuy and One Piece are rare gems that can mesh opposing attitudes all too organically, but Grimgar is no such gem.
The cast is ultimately what made me abandon Grimgar two years ago. Having twelve main characters immediately can be overwhelming in a book. In something like Danganronpa, sure, you’re introduced to sixteen main characters, but you didn’t have to worry about picturing them. I remember taking half an hour at the prologue just because I had to establish an image of all twelve people simultaneously. Fortunately, the author had the courtesy to split them up. The main MAIN group consists of Haruhiro (the leading protagonist), Ranta, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo, and Manato, with the addition of Merry later on.
Sadly, they aren’t that interesting. Haruhiro genuinely cares about his comrades, almost to a fault. But other than that, he’s a typical, bland self-insert. They try to justify this by having characters say something like, “He should be the leader because he’s the most ordinary” or something… but I still didn’t give a rat’s ass about him.
Ranta is the best and worst character in the whole series. He’s the best character because he has the most personality, memorable scenes, and feels the most fleshed out. Conversely, he’s the worst character because he’s a perv and is responsible for pretty much every tonal clash in the whole series (oh, and this person named Anna, who comes up later, is the female version of Ranta). Besides him, most of the others fulfill typical tropes like “deadpan loli” and “gentle giant”. There is some semblance of character development, which is enough for some (i.e. most) people, but for me, it falls flat in the face of their already boring personalities.
Visually, Grimgar has a true JRPG look. Watercolor paint style with desaturated but appealing colors give it an Octopath Traveler vibe. It also makes me wish that the quality of the art matched the actual story (oooooooh snap).
Verdict (Average of All Eight Volumes): 6.85/10
Although I can appreciate what Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash sets out to do, I’m not one of those people who gives A’s for effort. From its boring characters, to dialogue that’s so far out of left field that it circumnavigates the earth and ends up back in right field, it’s just too many negatives and not enough positives. Grimgar feels like something meant to be inherently appealing to critics above all else. Maybe I’ll revisit it, but for now, I just can’t. If all you care about is that it’s “realistic”, “human”, and “poignant”, then you’ll probably enjoy Grimgar more than me.
I have a confession to make: a couple of years ago, I read the first volume of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom, and wholly disliked it. Maybe it improves, but all I saw was a typical, slow-paced, “grounded and realistic” slice-of-life fantasy that tried to hide that fact with an interesting premise. “Now what does that have to do with the topic at hand?” you ask. Well, you’ll see when I describe the premise of Deathbound Duke’s Daughter, published in English by J-Novel Club.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is a blatant clone of My Next Life as a Villainess. An unnamed character, who was apparently murdered at her workplace, is reincarnated as Erika Aurelia, the antagonist of her favorite otome game, Liber Monstrorum. Erika has a red shirt on, and is destined to die at the very beginning of the game. With her wits, the new Erika might be able to reverse her fate.
The immediate difference with Deathbound and Villainess is the world that the “games” are set in. In Villainess, Katarina is harassed by the student body, or accosted by bandits or something (I actually forgot because, to reiterate, I didn’t exactly like that series). On the flipside, Liber Monstrum proves to be the Dark Souls of visual novels; there’s vampyres, werewolves, and all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors that await.
This gives Deathbound a much more adventurous vibe than Villainess, which automatically makes it a great light novel for me (even though “objectively” it’s bad because it doesn’t involve solving personal, human issues *sarcasm*). It wastes no time diving into the titular Seafarer’s Ruins, where Erika must save some kids from being King Midas’d to death, and more importantly, saving herself by having their hypothetical dead spirits not curse her.
However, the characters- like many-an isekai- leave much to be desired. Erika, despite supposedly being evil, is just about as un-evil and plain ordinary as Katarina from Villainess. The other major characters include Claus and Anne Hafan. The former is a typical overpowered self-insert protagonist (but he’s not the MAIN protagonist, which makes him subversive! *sarcasm*), and Anne is just a boring moe blob.
The art for this novel series is great, especially the cover art. It has a very whimsical look. However, the interior illustrations look kind of weird to me. It’s probably because it’s shoujo-looking, and I find that artstyle to be weird in general.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is definitely a better version of My Next Life as a Villainess. However, it’s not perfect. If it doesn’t grow some personality soon, then I’ll end up dropping it just as hard as I did its clone. For now, I recommend it to fans of Villainess, as well as Ascendance of a Bookworm and Mushoku Tensei.
Last time on Last Round Arthurs, Rintaro transfers to Camelot International High School, where he joins forces with Luna Artur to help her win the King Arthur Succession Battle. He immediately sees Luna’s Jack, Sir Kay, being used as an idol at the school, and it’s thanks to Luna- the student council president- that it could happen. This aggros the head of the Ethics Committee, Tsugumi Mimori, and the campus turns into an all-out battleground. After school, he meets her on the roof, where she lets him join her in the succession battle! The first thing they do is… break into their own school’s fantasy office to steal the answers to their midterms. But then, they’re attacked by the Ethics Committee, and someone casts a spell that sends them to the Netherworld. Luna summons Sir Kay, who goes off with Rintaro to find the spellcaster. They find Luna’s rival, Felicia, and Felicia’s Jack, Sir Gawain, waiting for them outside the school. Gawain beats Kay easily, but Rintaro is really confident that he can take on the knight. And guess what, Rintaro beats Gawain like it’s nothing, since Gawain is only at peak performance in the daytime (and it happened to be nighttime then). However, Felicia uses her Excalibur to create a dazzling light that freezes Rintaro and Kay in place, while giving Gawain his special boost. But then, Rintaro transforms into a mythic creature, which is apparently called a Fomorian (look it up). Rintaro is crazy powerful in this state, and thus Felicia undoes the Netherworld spell and flees with Gawain. Luna had apparently been watching the whole time, but surprisingly, she thinks the Fomorian transformation was super cool. Later, Felicia is attacked by the strongest candidate, Gloria. After selling some bread with a skimpy prize inside, Luna and Rintaro go out… on a date… and we learn of the real goal of the succession battle: whoever wins must stand against the Catastrophe, an event where reality and fantasy collide sometime in the future. But then, they stumble upon Gawain, who was fleeing from Gloria… a.k.a. Luna’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Kujo (and his Jack, Sir Lancelot)! He demands that Luna meets at the Central Park Hotel at midnight, or else Felicia’s life will be forfeit. While Gawain divulges his tragic backstory, about how his jealousy for Lancelot caused the fall of King Arthur, we learn that Rintaro is actually Merlin! Unfortunately, drama unfolds between him and Luna, and he quits being her vassal. Luna infiltrates the hotel with Kay and Gawain by her side. At the top floor, they end up in an illusory replica of Camlann Hill, where Kujo confronts them. Meanwhile, Rintaro has a talk with Nayuki, one of the girls from school, and learns that Luna sold her Excalibur as a bribe to protect her school from some corporation. Back at the hotel, when Luna is about to lose, Rintaro appears and hands over her Excalibur, which he stole from that company. He fights with Kay, Gawain, and Felicia to hold Lancelot and Kujo back while Luna charges up her Excalibur, but it gets ugly when Kujo wields his own, exponentially powerful Excalibur. But once Luna activates her Royal Road, based on trust between her and her vassal, it’s G.G. for Kujo. In the aftermath, Kujo awakens in a room with a strange robed girl (the same one who compelled Rintaro to join the battle in the first place)… who turns out to be Tsugumi, a.k.a. Morgan le Fay, the evil sorceress from King Arthur’s era. Meanwhile, Rintaro and Felicia’s teams form a truce for the time being.
This volume shows us a little more of the Dame du Lac, the organization behind the entire King Arthur Succession Battle. Since they created the Curtain of Consciousness that protects everyone from the illusory world, they kinda have authority over the whole world. But before we can ponder how likely they are to be totally-not-evil, our Motley crew is ordered to take out some Rifts in the Curtain.
We’re introduced to some new characters: Emma Michelle, another King, and her Jack, Lamorak. Emma knew Rintaro way back when, and she’s all over him. Meanwhile, Lamorak is literally Eris from Mushoku Tensei: red hair, loli, brash.
Most of this volume ends up being about Emma. Emma, Emma, Emma. The main conflict is not a bunch of deadly Rifts, but a shipping war, because EVERYONE loves those. It’s annoying, but at the same time, the antics that ensue are pretty funny.
But things ramp up in the volume’s second half. We get a ton of character development for Emma. Unfortunately, she ends up being another marketable waifu, but her character arc doesn’t quite resolve in the way that it usually does with girls like her. I can appreciate that much, at least.
Last Round Arthurs is still a great light novel, and more proof that there is a lot of good in modern light novels; they just don’t get anime adaptations. I’m very hyped for what this franchise has in store moving forward.
Her Majsety’s Swarm Volume 3
Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, Grevillea decides to infiltrate the Dukedom of Schtraut. With a Masquerade Swarm by their side, they head into Marine, the first city in Schtraut, disguised as refugees from Maluk. Their investigations show that Schtraut and Nyrnal don’t see eye to eye, and that adventurers are being sent to spy on Maluk. They join a guild to form connections. Eventually, Grevillea is invited to a party by Count Basil de Buffon. At the party, they have a run-in with a whiny noble, after which the Duke of Schtraut, Caeser de Sharon, appears. Serignan lures him over to Grevillea, who straight-up tells him that she was the mastermind behind the Maluk incident. They talk, and she tries to persuade him to let her Swarm through Schtraut to invade Frantz, and that she’ll defend his country during the inevitable war with both Nyrnal and Frantz that’s about to unfold. He leans toward her proposal, and even has her attend the International Council as a noble of Maluk… or rather have Maluk’s princess attend while controlled by a Parasite Swarm. The politics go as planned, and while the different countries are bickering, she’ll destroy them both. In order to stand up to the new threats, Grevillea makes some new heavy artillery. Meanwhile, Caesar forms an alliance with the Arachnea… if he wasn’t impeached by Leopold de Lorianne, the same mud-slinging S.O.B. from the party. Now, they have to fight Schtraut straight-up. They arrive in Marine, which has been completely destroyed. Out of a bizarre sense of respect, they harvest their bodies as meat for the Swarm. They destroy some peeps, but Grevillea ends up drinking poisoned well water, and wakes up back in the real world. She plays the game for a while, but ends up wanting to go back. Some girl appears, saying that the other world is a Devil’s Game, and swears to save Grevillea from it someday. She returns, and takes a while to remember everything. After that, they continue to destroy, further reducing Leopold the whiny noble to tatters. An army led by his younger brother, Roland, attacks next, but they too are quickly destroyed. Roland hates what Leopold did, so Grevillea offers to make him a Swarm to exact revenge. Meanwhile, Leopold’s last ditch effort is to get the Swarm on the bridge to his base, and blow it up with them on it. Fortunately, Roland knows how to steer a ship, and by extension, the Swarm now knows as well. With this, they are easily able to invade the city. They make their way to Leopold, but a basilisk comes out of the wine cellar! They destroy it easily, and proceed into the cellar to find him cowering in a secret room. Grevillea uses a Parasite Swarm to make him destroy himself. But then, she ends up back in her “room” again. That girl is here, and her name is Sandalphon. Another girl, named Samael, appears as well. They argue, and imply that Grevillea did something in her human life that resulted in her having to be judged in the game world? Well, whatever, she goes back and everything’s fine.
This latest volume shows that Her Majesty’s Swarm may be starting to enter a rut. Similar to the previous volumes, we are introduced to a new character whom Grevillea hits it off with, but then bites the dust. And just like the previous two times, she becomes a sociopath almost instantly. It was cool at the beginning, but when you have three red shirts pop up three times in a row in similar circumstances, it gets harder and harder to take seriously, kind of like Goblin Slayer.
But hey, at least sociopath Grevillea is the best Grevillea. With her sights set on the Popedom of Frantz, she’s just as conniving as she always is. The volume really ham-fists how corrupt Frantz is, and some of the things they show are pretty brutal. The plot thickens even more as far as the reason why Grevillea is in this world is concerned.
Currently, this is the shortest individual review I have ever written. I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything else about this volume of Her Majesty’s Swarm without spoiling stuff, and even then, it would be difficult for me to make this post more verbose. This is one of those franchises where it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. This isn’t the only case, but others at least have some variety that warrants discussion. Her Majesty’s Swarm has next to no variety as far as content is concerned. It’s going to need to answer some of the questions it asks fast, or else there’ll be some trouble.
The Invincible Shovel Volume 2
Last time on The Invincible Shovel, the legendary miner, Alan, saves a princess named Lithisia using the power of his shovel. According to her, a demon named Zeleburg is threatening to take over her country. The only way to fight him back is to recover the seven Orbs, so the two of them set off to grab them. On the way, they run into Lithisia’s incapable bodyguard, Catria. But she attacks Alan, so he puts her in a hole. He convinces her about his shovel by beating her, and a team of thirty other knights, with it… and thus, she joins his party. They arrive in an elven forest that’s been ravaged by Dark Beasts, and Alan saves an elf girl named Fioriel. She’s a descendant of an old friend of his, so he helps her, which takes only thirty seconds. He also whips up a massive fortress to protect the forest. After that, Fioriel becomes Lithisia’s friend. But they leave her alone in her castle so they can go through their first dungeon: the Ancient Castle of Riften. Thanks to some extensive info gathering and remodeling, they have an easy time reaching the Blue Orb. After the boss, Alice Veknarl, flees, Alan swipes the orb and destroys the castle after they leave. She attacks again, but Alan captures her easily. After some torture, he saves her from the demon’s curse, and she tags along. Now their next destination is the desert! They head to Desertopia, where Alan saves a space girl named Julia, who has water powers. When discussing her backstory, Alan surmises that her ritual was sabotaged. When they get to her village, Alan attacks the village elder, who turns out to be a Doppelganger working for Zeleburg! But of course, Alan takes care of it, and gains new followers in the process. They infiltrate the pyramid easily, but have to contend with the dragon. Alan defeats while nearly destroying the universe. With the Red Orb in hand, the motley crew looks toward a neighboring country where they can spread Lithisia’s cult religion…
Today’s next victim is the Ice Nation of Shilasia. It doesn’t take long for the story to immediately bury itself in its shovel memes. And guess what, it gets even deeper. In this volume, Alan digs up an international embassy, a house made out of avalanche, rewrites the law, and more.
We are also introduced to a character who- finally- is about as good as Lithisia. The latest beholder of Shovelism is the Ice Sage/Witch, Riezfeld. She’s a riot. Riez has a massive ego, but it gets buried deeper and deeper every time Alan performs one of his massive feats. Like everyone else, she just has to accept that he’s too powerful. Another new face is Lucrezia, a young noblewoman. Unfortunately, she’s not as likeable as Riez, which stinks, because it looks as if Riez is a one-off character for just her specific arc.
Other than that, it’s the same shovel antics as usual. This is exactly what I was worried about after reading the previous volume; that the series would get extremely repetitive. Plus, it gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief over the ridiculous things that Alan is capable of. It’s not stale yet, but that entirely depends on how much longer it’s going to go.
The Invincible Shovel is still a fun, mindless screwball comedy. Lithisia makes the story pop, as always, and overall it’s very funny. Let’s see how long it would take for it to overstay its welcome.
Pulling inspiration from the legend of King Arthur, and battle royales… these are two things that have been done A LOT in entertainment media. But what happens if you combine the two? The result is a light novel series called Last Round Arthurs: Scum Arthur & Heretic Merlin (published in English by Yen Press)… and one that I’m very late to reading.
In Last Round Arthurs, there is a magical, man-made island called Avalonia. Hidden here are four relics that have the power to revive King Arthur himself. One out of eleven of his descendants-called Kings- must fight and obtain the four relics in order to become the next Once and Future King. A boy named Rintaro Magami transfers to Camelot International High School to serve the weakest and most… morally incorrect King, Luna Artur. Together, they just might win this thing.
Right off the bat, Last Round Arthurs seriously commits to the King Arthur theme. The Kings’ swords are called Excaliburs (except that Luna sold hers off for money). Additionally, each King has a Jack assigned to them. Jacks are basically the spirits of actual Round Table Knights, and can be summoned at will (except Luna sells her Jack’s body for money). Even the writing of the novel is inspired off of the pretent- I mean- poetic Old English style from ye old days of Yore and Yesteryear.
The main purpose of this volume is to familiarize us with the rules of the succession battle, as well as the lore of the world itself. Last Round Arthurs is relatively sparing with exposition dumps, and does a good job of easing readers into the story. The fights are fast-paced and intense, but lean a lot more towards spectacle than, well, actual thought. It’s typical battle shounen stuff, which can be a deal breaker to some people.
But the most divisive deal breaker is in the cast. For some reason, critics seem to want this impossible Goldilocks Zone of morality in protagonists; if they’re too good, then they’re a Mary/Gary Sue self-insert character (like Tanjiro from Kimetsu no Yaiba), and if they’re too bad, then they’re an insufferable narcissist (like Ranta from Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash). If you couldn’t tell from the title saying Scum Arthur in it, this volume’s main protagonists fall into the latter.
Best Girl Luna is as scummy as her ego is large. Like I said before, Luna uses her Jack, Sir Kay, to extort money from the other students. Her eccentric, tomboyish personality makes her a blast to be with. Kay, unfortunately, exists to be the fanservice character. As the weakest of the Round Table knights, she doesn’t do much in battle, either.
But the same can’t be said for Rintaro Magami. They try to make him a subversion of the overpowered protagonist by having him be an outcast as a result of how good he is at everything. But as a result, he ends up being the “dejected guy who’s conveniently saved by the girl”. Fortunately, he has great chemistry with Luna. Plus, he’s got a great ego of his own.
I can’t say that the rest of the cast is particularly likeable. The only other character of interest is Tsugumi Mimori, the leader of the school’s Ethics Committee. She’s one of Luna’s many enemies, and it’s crazy to see how badly she wants Luna destroyed. But yeah… everyone else I’ve seen so far is kind of boring.
Last Round Arthurs looks a lot more like a manga than a light novel. The textures are simple, but the linework has a nice style to it. The coloring for the cover art is also pretty nice as well.
Current Verdict: 8.75/10
Last Round Arthurs starts with a great first impression. It’s mindlessly fun, with a lovable pair of anti-heroes at the helm. I recommend it to fans of battle royales and shounen.
PREFACE: Most of this post, up to the second half of the Alicization Arc, is a reworked draft of an old MyAnimeList review that I had, at the time, written from memory. If I mention anything about the actual story that ends up being inaccurate, it’s entirely on me. I did NOT feel like rereading volumes of something I don’t even like (spoilers: I, an Internet critic, do not like SAO) when I’m already swamped enough as it is. I hope you can bear with me.
Light novels had definitely changed drastically at the start of the 2010s, and it can largely be traced to one source: Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online, published in English by Yen Press. It was the first light novel I’d ever read. I enjoyed it at first (key word: “at first”), but since joining the anime community, I’ve come to know full-well the criticism that the series has garnered over the years. Due to its episodic nature, I will be splitting this post by story arc. Apologies in advance… I’m not going to be bringing anything new to the table.
Volumes 1-2: Aincrad
The world’s first VRMMO, Sword Art Online, is released. However, the first players who log in are unable to log out, and death in-game becomes death IRL, which is evidently all according to the keikaku of the game’s original creator.
The main character, Kirito, is as blank-slate as his character design, and is insanely powerful for no reason (I get that he played the beta, but it doesn’t explain his equipment setup, that the game ISN’T EVEN PROGRAMMED TO ALLOW). The far better female lead, Asuna, doesn’t take long to become a inconsequential girl with untapped potential. Kawahara develops a running theme of reminding us just how much of a beauty she is and that she is Kirito’s and nobody else’s. It gets annoying, especially since I don’t consider her THAT attractive.
Due to the series originally being an entry to a writing contest, it kicks off with a decent setup volume before it immediately guns it to the final boss. The second volume is filler that serves no purpose other than to introduce new characters who do almost nothing in future arcs.
Volumes 3-4: Fairy Dance
After the SAO Incident, Kirito finds out that Asuna has been imprisoned in the final dungeon of the new hit VRMMO, Alfeim Online. He plays it immediately, with no PTSD whatsoever (of course) and goes on adventures.
His sister Suguha (who gets her blandness from her brother) wants to commit incest with him for some reason, but she is ultimately another inconsequential female protagonist. Of course, the same happens to Asuna; here, she officially becomes a damsel in distress, instead of a strong, independent woman.
The story at this point is more focused than Aincrad, although there is padding. The arc is also notorious for a certain… choice scene in the climax, the likes of which WILL be rearing its ugly head again.
Volumes 5-6: Phantom Bullet
My personal least favorite arc. Because our Mr. Perfect, Kirito, is more powerful than the Japanese Self-Defense Force, he is given a secret mission (which takes all too long to explain even though we already see the incident told to us in the prologue) to find a serial killer in the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online.
Well, at least it’s a game that plays entirely different from SAO. Too bad he just uses a sword again and inexplicably dominates the best player in the game. Talk about beginner’s luck! That aforementioned best player in the game is a girl by the in-game name of Sinon, who would’ve had a decent character arc if she didn’t become another Kirito concubine. Sigh…
Despite its promising pulse-pounding action, the arc is somehow insanely slow. It has as much dialogue as a Monogatari novel minus all the charm of Monogatari.
Volumes 7-8: Mother’s Rosary and Filler
Kirito steps aside for Asuna to bond with a girl who’s first name is Asuna’s surname for some reason. Unfortunately, this other girl, Yuuki, is really uninteresting. While my Fault in Our Stars PTSD makes me hate Yuuki (since her whole character arc is her life-threatening disease), it is a decent look at Asuna as an actual PERSON. However, Volume 8 is filler, set in arcs that have ALREADY happened, making it irrelevant. And bad.
Volumes 9-18: Alicization
The most ambitious arc thus far, and the one that actually managed to curb some critics’ fervor against the series. However, I remain unchanged. After an IRL run-in with a Laughing Coffin straggler, Kirito is put into a coma… and strapped to another VR machine. Only this one takes him to a new project called the Underworld, a new type of virtual world with an overly long, complicated, and not at all engaging explanation as to how it brilliantly emulates real people… or something.
Unfortunately, while the ideas are amazing, the execution is still lacking. Despite how “human” the people in the Underworld are supposed to be, they’re just as boring and uninteresting as previously introduced characters. The ones who showed the most promise- more promise than anyone in SAO up to this point- are Eugeo and Alice, two “NPCs” who end up playing major roles. Kirito also has some genuine struggles, and Asuna shows some traces of her prideful, confident self from the beginning. But Kawahara’s old writing habits consistently get in the way to the point where it seems like he was actively TRYING to get in his own way.
While a good chunk of the second half of the arc is spent without Kirito onscreen, it’s not much better than what precedes it. A lot of the positive reviews of this section- the War of the Underworld, as it’s officially called- stated that it single-handedly redeems SAO as a whole by giving the side characters more development. One of my biggest pet peeves is the notion that character development alone, and always, equals good characters, period. Sure, on paper, it’s great that all those other people get fleshed out. But in the end, they were still boring, and I completely forgot who they were after finishing the arc.
As a final note, I’m not a fan of the art of SAO. While a lot of the characters do have the “overly complicated clothes” typical of a lot of JRPG characters, they’re facial expressions look generic and lacking. It also looks very shoujo-y, which earns even less points from me.
Verdict (Average of All 18 Volumes): 6.25/10
I acknowledge that what I’ve said here doesn’t bring anything new to the table. SAO has kind of become a rite of passage for any anime-related internet personality, so I decided to make my contribution now. I heard that Alicization marks the end of the stuff that Kawahara originally wrote when he was a teenager, so maybe it’ll actually get better moving forward. But for now, I can only recommend SAO for those who want a fun and mindless escapist experience.
I’ve stated my disdain toward slice-of-life isekai in my reviews of Ascendance of a Bookworm, Mushoku Tensei, Buck Naked in Another World and Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear. There are exceptions, like Konosuba, but that one’s more of a screwball comedy that’s only technically a slice-of-life because of its general lack of plot progression. I have yet to like any of those chill fantasies that have the word “wholesome” slapped onto them when they try to sell their one-dimensional, superficially cute lolis to savvy audiences, such as If It’s For my Daughter, I’d Even Defeat a Demon Lord (a.k.a. one of the worst light novels of all time (side note: I know it gets darker later, but I got to that point and I still hate it)). But maybe, just maybe, The Extraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! (published in English by J-Novel Club), will be the exception.
In a kingdom whose name I already forgot, a girl named Lucia Arca is living her life as a royal maid who washes clothes for the soldiers. Thanks to her only magic, Soap, she gets the tough stains OUT (R.I.P. Oxi-Clean…). But when monsters attack, she ends up using Soap against them in panic, and… it works! Now her whole lifestyle changes for the better.
But before that, there are definitely a number of hurdles to jump. This volume takes about 25% of its content to get to what’s mentioned in the product description, which also includes two side chapters. It is a pain, but thankfully, it doesn’t take long to get through.
Unfortunately, it is- surprise, surprise- a bit boring. The writing isn’t that interesting, and I found myself zoning out a few times (mainly because I was looking forward to resuming Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash for the first time in two years but that’s beside the point). The biggest issue is that- I’m gonna have a heart attack I’m so surprised!- the soap gimmick does not shake things up. Sure, it’s all neat and cool that Lucia has this unusual power, which could’ve made Extraordinary Soap a power fantasy combined with slice-of-life fantasy. But due to the fact that Lucia is a woman, she’s forced to stand aside and let the men handle things, in complete disregard of her overpowered ability. There’s also not much in the way of stakes, even though the volume tries to have them with its cliffhanger ending.
Also… the cast is boring. “Slice-of-life characters are more human,” you point out, “therefore they don’t need the unrealistic, over-the-top personalities of your battle shounen and power fantasy isekai trash!” Being human MEANS having quirky personalities, not being a blank slate (something I’ll get into more detail once a certain manga is complete). As I was saying, most of these characters are boring, “good” people. Lucia is the typical “poor girl who’s special for literally no reason” and this guy named Celes is the “perfect ideal boy-person that the aforementioned poor girl gets for literally no reason”.
“Hang on,” you say, “you compared this LN to isekai in the first paragraph, but it’s NOT isekai. Just because an LN is a fantasy doesn’t mean it’s an isekai!” I know that. However, Extraordinary Soap throws you a curveball; it IS an isekai, but Lucia is not the person from our world. The person from our world is Maria, who is admittedly the most fleshed out character. She’s got an abrasive side, an emotionally insecure side, and a weird yuri side. Perfect waifu material if I do say so myself! Unfortunately, she and Lucia are part of a sitcom-like love triangle, and Celes happens to be the unlucky third vertice.
The artwork for Extraordinary Soap looks more manga-y than light novel-y. It has nice, vibrant cover art, but overall, the grayscale illustrations are bland. Also, it looks like a shoujo manga, so it loses additional points from me.
TheExtraordinary, the Ordinary, and SOAP! is more ordinary than extraordinary, and soap not even a factor. It’s a typical, “WHOLESOME” isekai, falling for the genre’s typical trappings thanks to Middle Age misogyny (in Layman’s Terms, it would be better if Lucia actually got to USE Soap). It’ll likely become a sleeper hit if it ever gets an anime (and people are gonna LOVE Maria, I can tell). If you like any of the books I mentioned in the first paragraph, then this one should scratch the same itch.
Last time on Outer Ragna, Twitch streamer PotatoStarch booted up his new deluxe edition of the Dark Souls-ian JRPG called Dragon Demon RPG, where humans are caught in an unending war between elves and vampires. But unbeknownst to him, it’s actually a real alternate world, and his character, Kuroi the slave girl, is a real person whom he’s controlling. With his skills, she manages to defend the human village from monsters, learns some magic from an item drop, and acquires the rare job of Apostle. She is inevitably joined by the knight, Agias, the fire sorcerer, Odysson, and a loli named Sira. Things heat up when an Elven army (complete with its own Apostle) moves in and occupies the human territory, in preparation for a battle against the vampires. When the vampires actually appear, the humans and elves team up and manage to drive them away. Kuroi was MVP, of course, and she is turned into an object of worship: the Hare of Flame. Now humans are- for once- sitting pretty, and even joining Kuroi in her stat farming regimen. But it doesn’t stay that way for long when the vampires commence another attack, this time with one of their own Apostles. As you’d expect, Kuroi steamrolls the vampires with her flame sword and wrecks their Apostle, the Golden. In the aftermath, Starch gets a strange message…
…that is completely ignored, apparently. But there are more pressing developments to discuss, such as the world-changing exposition dump given to us during various chapters set in the real world. Apparently, Dragon Demon RPG was a computer virus disguised as a videogame that’s being used in cyber warfare? What’s happening in the game world is the Parallel World War, and if I’m understanding it correctly (which I have been consistently failing to do based off of the previous volume), the different races are all being run by various world powers. If this is correct, then I’ll admit that my interest is piqued for Outer Ragna.
However, despite how cool all of this stuff is, it doesn’t change much of the content within Dragon Demon RPG itself. The POVs are still all over the place. The descriptions of locations, characters and where they are in 3D space, etc. are still pretty lacking.
Furthermore, the characters are no better than last time. The existing characters still feel like cardboard cut-outs, and I completely forgot about a lot of them from the previous volume. The only new character who seems even remotely interesting is Shadow Tamika, a vampire person who seems to want to do away with all the gods in the world. However, she’s about as boring as everyone else.
And I still can’t seem to tell where anyone is at any given time. I’m really bad when it comes to large-scale military narratives, and I lose myself in all the different cardinal directions. “Oh this person’s this way, that person’s that way…” I can’t make any sense of it. That’s not a problem I can fault Outer Ragna for, but it’s definitely having an inverse effect on my enjoyment of it.
Outer Ragna has a lot of great ideas, but it’s all falling flat on its face. I don’t know what it is, but I just can’t get into this one at all. I might give it one more volume, but it’s likely that I’m not going to read Outer Ragna anymore.
Normally, light novels get manga adaptations at some point after publication. However, the inverse is true for Buck Naked in Another World, adapted from a web manga (at least according to MyAnimeList). Seven Seas has had a great track record of publishing… divisive content (to the point where they have their own imprint for it), and this might (key word) be their most controversial release yet.
The premise is as simple as it gets. A thirty-two year-old part-timer named Shuta Yoshida is mysteriously reincarnated in another world. He’s in his full adult form, with all of his memories. However… he’s naked! As such, he has to do hard labor for scraps… while having his wee-wee barely blocked from view by a loincloth.
So… I got something to say. I always talk about how certain gimmicks don’t really bring any sort of interest to the table, such as the upside-down mechanic in Patema Inverted. And astonishingly, the naked gimmick is next to meaningless here in Buck Naked. Despite this, there still is a bit of controversy, laid bare for us to see. For example, Shuta is quickly forced to marry a girl who’s only in her teens that he’s just met minutes before. Other than a few unfunny jokes regarding “Shuta Jr.”, his nakedness doesn’t play into the plot whatsoever.
Buck Naked is yet another slow-paced, tensionless, slice-of-life isekai with not much of interest. There is a whole thing where the villagers have some arbitrary prejudice towards hunters (which Shuta ultimately becomes), but I see it becoming a non-issue in the future. The first half of this volume is basically hunting stuff. Seriously, if I wanted that, I would’ve read Cooking With Wild Game instead! (P.S. is Cooking With Wild Game any good? I’d love to hear some comments.)
Admittedly, it picks up a bit in the second half, but not by much. They end up going to the big city, where a number of more controversial things, such as slavery, and Shuta bathing with a girl that isn’t his wife, happen. However, that stuff’s also synonymous with almost every isekai on the market, which once again renders the naked aspect inconsequential.
Also synonymous with almost every isekai on the market, the characters aren’t so great. Shuta is basically Rudeus from Mushoku Tensei; sometimes has funny, snide remarks, but is overall a cardboard box. Most of the other characters are basically just there, especially the women. The only remotely entertaining character is this girl named Nishka, but that’s just because she’s the busty, drunk type.
The art is as painfully average as the story. While the cover art looks nice, the illustrations inside have a lot of simple gradients and not much linework. But hey, it’s still better looking than anything I could whip up.
I expected Buck Naked in Another World to be one of the most controversial new isekai, but it’s not even that; it’s just a typical, boring isekai with next-to-no substance. At least Mushoku Tensei managed to be consistently offensive in each volume! Well, my chances of continuing this thing are next to nil, so let’s hope Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is better!
So, Buck Naked in Another World failed to capitalize on its gimmick so hard that I couldn’t even be minutely offended by it. Let’s see if slapping bear motifs onto everything is enough to change the isekai formula in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, also published in English by Seven Seas.
In Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (protip to fellow bloggers: DO NOT abbreviate the title of this series if you want your American audience to like you), a young lass named Yuna has mastered the stock market, earning her enough money to live as a NEET and to bribe her parents to eff off. This enables her to play her favorite VRMMO, World Fantasy Online. In a new update, she receives some overpowered bear-themed equipment, and is sent to another world in said equipment.
The million dollar question is, once again, does this gimmick make it any different from your typical isekai? The answer is still a surprising “NO!”. Although Yuna starts at level 1, her bear suit is insanely OP, and gives her basically everything she could need and then some. She has no problem beating overleveled enemies in seconds, and as a result, she grows rather quickly. It bothers me because, as someone who looks at things from a marketing standpoint, having a cute loli in an animal onesie is somewhere in the book How to Make Tons of Money with no Effort.
But what Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear has that Buck Naked lacks is much more competent writing. The pacing is much tighter, and there is some decent humor, which makes it enjoyable for sheer entertainment value. It’s a lot more fun, and doesn’t beat around the bush, except in certain chapters that just retell what just happened from another person’s POV.
This is about the umpteenth time I’m saying this: the cast is lackluster! While Yuna is kind of funny at times, everyone else might as well be made of cardboard. Fortunately, the fast pacing makes it so that you don’t have to BEAR with them for too long.
The art is kind of average, but it suits the theme. Yuna looks very “cute” in her bear suit. But otherwise, it’s pretty typical stuff tbh.
While substantially better than Buck Naked, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is merely a decent-at-best isekai. Geez, laweez, I can’t seem to catch a break with the Seven Seas light novels AT ALL… why is that? Anyways, I’d recommend Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear if you’re willing to sell your soul to the nearest onesie-wearing loli on your block. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other, better isekai out there.
Last time on Torture Princess, Kaito and Elisabeth are dispatched to the capital to kill a giant mound of flesh, which happens to be the three remaining Demons fused together. There, they meet a powerful paladin named Izabella Vicker, who naturally does not like Elisabeth very much, as well as the not-exactly-dead Godd Deos, who’s using a mechanic similar to that of Vlad to project his soul throughout the world. In order to not have to rely on her, Izabella resolves herself to kill the mutants of the townsfolk that are spawned by the flesh blob (and is the only soldier who doesn’t get scarred for life). They manage to hold it back on the first day, at least. Later that night, Kaito overhears a conversation with Izabella and some other soldiers and realizes that the Knight was actually her brother, who was one of the many people that Elisabeth slaughtered in her backstory. The next day, the Church’s trump card appears: La Mules, a young girl who can vomit big birds. They manage to cut a big gash in the blob, causing the Monarch’s body to split off from it, which Kaito captures alive. Unfortunately, the blob forms the face of the King, and zaps La Mules with a mental attack that makes her kill herself. Elisabeth must finish it off tomorrow while it’s wounded. Since she’ll die no matter what tomorrow- either from the blob or being executed- Kaito goes on a wholesome date with her. Later that night, he uses pain-sharing magic to inflict massive pain on both the Monarch and himself, so that his magic is supercharged for the final battle. When the fated day dawns, they launch a full-on offensive (with the help of Hina, who just fully recovered), and infiltrate the flesh blob. Inside its core, they manage to destroy the King and Grand Monarch’s fused hearts, as well as the grotesque demon baby that they give birth to. With this, Elisabeth’s mission is complete. On the day of execution, she complies without resistance. However, Kaito shows up and attacks, threatening to destroy mankind. Yup, Kaito is now the fifteenth contractor, and he saved Elisabeth’s life by having her ordered to vanquish him.
Sure, this sounds like a cheap excuse to pad out a series that was CLEARLY over, and… well… it is. But hey, that doesn’t mean that the series is BAD. At least not for the time being, because this volume is the start of a rootin’ tootin’ new arc of Torture Princess!
One final warning before getting into the actual review: DO NOT READ THE CHARACTER BIOS at the beginning! It mentions a new character introduced in this volume, and spoils a very standout trait of theirs. It kinda-sorta ruined a good half of the book for me, so seriously, do what I said.
Kaito is on the run as usual, because he- you know- declared war on the world. Sadly, the series once again shows that it is indeed a generic wish fulfillment isekai in the fact that he doesn’t choose to kill anyone who goes after him (which is not bad, but it’s still worth pointing out). But on the way, he meets the designated beastfolk, who seek his aid. There’s been a series of massacres in their community, and Kaito needs to find the culprit.
This volume has a ton of new (and maybe kinda predictable) revelations about the overarching narrative as a whole. And most of it is provided courtesy of Jeanne de Rais, the new character whose trait I got spoiled of. Fortunately, I can tell you about her personality without spoiling anything. She’s an absolute lunatic, in the best way possible. She randomly swings from talking super politely to something a bit more… bold (literally; her text turns boldfaced in this state), and begins cursing people off.
But not a single character has yet to surpass Best Girl Hina (who has recently become my favorite character in the series). I get that her relationship with Kaito is a one-dimensional yandere-servant and self-insert-protag, but it’s an incredibly well-written one. Their chemistry is bubbling more excitedly than ever, and I’m loving every minute of it. And you know what… I’m officially going to declare that Kaito and Hina are a better Subaru and Rem than Subaru and Rem. THERE. I SAID IT. NO TAKESIES BACKSIES.
With the amazing character interactions, Jeanne’s entertaining personality, and the new plot developments, this may be my favorite volume of Torture Princess thus far. And the irony behind that is that this volume has the least amount of gore. As much as I was saying that the gore is what will carry this series, I was proven wrong. This volume shows that Torture Princess is a legitimately well-crafted masterpiece that stands out among other isekai rabble, and I’m hoping it continues to stay this way (and for the love of God never get an anime adaptation).
Normally, I’d give an overly detailed recap of a previous LN volume at the start of these posts. But I goofed this time… again, just like with No Game No Life Volume 10. I’m really sorry. But hey, maybe not having a recap is better? Well, the basic gist is that Iris is the Best Girl. That’s what’s important.
This volume is titled The Archwizard’s Little Sister. That means it’s all about Megumin’s sister, Komekko (who I had completely forgotten was introduced in volume 5 and thought that she was a brand new character), right? Heh-heh-heh, WROOONG. The book pulls a Monogatari and spends a third of itself with Kazuma lazing around at Iris’, which becomes its own mini-arc where they try to convince him to come home.
Unlike Monogatari, this part’s entertaining in its own right. He literally fights tooth and nail to stay with his little sister, Iris, and this causes the usual Konosuba Khaos (had to change the letter for alliteration) to ensue. It’s your usual Kazuma being a buttmonkey stuff that’s karried Konosuba (alliteration again) all this time… and it’s kind of getting old. I love these characters, but their comedy hasn’t really evolved. For example, the third volume of Cautious Hero introduces a lot of new abilities for Seiya that creates even more ridiculous scenarios than before. But here… Kazuma’s still being lazy, Aqua’s still being a whiny brat, Megumin’s still the Best Girl, and Darkness is still a punching bag.
Fortunately, this volume of Konosuba is a return to the series’ roots. For the first time in what feels like a long time, we have the cast doing just normal quests. We also have a reference to Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, with a brief mention of the goddess who is supposed to be the sister of Zenarith, the goddess of undeath that Grimm worships. Overall, the volume was pretty nostalgic in a way.
With six volumes left for us Westerners, Konosuba is still coming in strong. This volume is a nice little romp, and the twist ending definitely has me curious. Let’s hope it can stay good all the way through!
I’ve seen tons of seasonal anime constantly being talked about while they air, but ultimately forgotten as soon as the season ends (which I personally call “post mortem”). Nonetheless, I must ask if anyone remembers an anime called Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. That one was a big cult hit. On the ol’ message boards, a lot of people said it was “deep” and “profound”. Almost two years later, Yen Press finally published the original novel in English, so now I get to see what all the hype was about.
In Rascal Does Not Dream, a boy named Sakuta Azusagawa sees his celebrity senpai, Mai Sakurajima, wearing a bunny suit. Bizarrely enough, he’s the only one who sees her. When he talks to her about it, he theorizes that she has Adolescence Syndrome, which in her case, is making her appear invisible as a result of her deepest fears (or whatever). And because you can’t have a male protagonist without a desire to help waifus, he wants to help her… because she’s his waifu I guess (it actually gets explained later but it’s a spoiler)?
If you couldn’t tell just from the name “Adolescence Syndrome”, Rascal Does Not Dream has social commentary written all over it. It’s not just a commentary on the emotional insecurities of teens, but on how easily lies can become the truth over social media. It’s not deep nor profound; it’s merely “topical”, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand this stuff. Literally every human who’s ever lived past age eighteen has experienced the turbulent times of teen years, and anyone who has a social media account would know the mental anguish it can cause.
But how good is the actual story, from an entertainment perspective? Well, as someone who has been known to not like slice-of-life and to SEVERELY dislike romance, Rascal Does Not Dream… is an experience. I tried to go into it with an open mind, but TBH, this is not the best series opener. The whole “What even is Adolescence Syndrome?” thing is cool, but it could easily end up being something that goes unexplained; a means to an end. I assume that in the subsequent volumes, Sakuta will have to help more girls than just Mai, which would make it similar to Monogatari in a way.
For the most part, it’s typical slice-of-life… slowness, with not much in terms of the supernatural. Factoring out the Adolescence Syndrome, it’s really just some boy helping some girl with her emotional problems. And like I said before, the commentary on the whole social media thing isn’t very interesting or insightful. Part of me wants to say that fans only said it was deep to justify their enjoyment of something that had the “taboo” of women in skimpy bunny suits (because apparently, what media you consume showcases who you are as a person). But that’s only my interpretation.
The character interactions also bored me, but it was mostly because of the characters themselves. They, for the most part, have no defining personalities. Sure, while Sakuta does have an explanation for why he’s the umpteenth “savior” trope, he’s still pretty unremarkable. Mai is definitely a tsundere, but that’s about it. She says some sassy things from time to time, but I don’t really feel anything for her. Also, Rio Futaba, who greatly contributes to plot progression, is literally Hanekawa ripped right from Monogatari, except less likeable. A lot of other characters, like Sakuta’s sister, Kaede, are kind of just there. One thing that I can at least appreciate is that they feel more like real teens than the highly stereotyped, angst-spewing things seen in most Western YA novels, but that seems to be something that most Japanese writers have a knack for over Western authors to begin with.
The artwork is average. It has a dreamy color palette (get it? Because it’s Rascal Does Not DREAM), but it’s kind of meh overall. The character designs are all your typical stock teenager designs as well.
I’m giving it some leeway thanks to sheer benefit of the doubt, but overall, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is pretty mediocre. It has all the pretentiousness of Monogatari, but none of the charisma. If I didn’t “understand the profound, life-changing, cosmic message hidden in between its text and subtext”, then please enlighten me as to what I missed. Because as far as I know, this was just a typical “boy meets girl, boy helps girl with her problems, audience wants to be the boy who helps girl or vice versa, author makes fat stacks as a result” piece of media. But for now… I’ll give it one more volume to impress me.
Last time on Isekai Rebuilding Project, a salaryman named Eiji Kazama is summoned- by a strange woman known only as the Inspector- to a fantasy world that had recently been saved by a plucky, teenage boy. This turns into a mish-mash of various eras of Japanese history and begins to destroy itself as a result. When he gets there, he is partnered with a dragon named Tiamat, who proves to be a real hoot. In the first town, a disease that previously ravaged urban Japan is working its way here, all thanks to white rice! Fortunately, all Kazama has to do is introduce pork into the town’s diet. So, he prepares to hunt this world’s closest equivalent: the gagd (hey, I didn’t come up with this name myself). The hunting goes smoothly, and they bring a good load of gagd meat back to Lishua. He also cooks some Sunday mochi as a sweeter alternative. This, naturally, grabs the king’s attention, and Kazama and Tiamat meet with the guy. He’s the descendant of the hero, who was named Shizuru Mishima. The hero ends up being Kazama’s brother-in-law, who had committed suicide six years ago. But Kazama has no time to dwell on that when he dies of poisoned tea, courtesy of the king. Back in purgatory, the Inspector tells him that the king monopolized the knowledge of “gagd” and refined sugar for himself, and went to war with another country that suffered from the same disease. Millions of people died, but due to the declining economy, people settled back to brown rice, making Kazama’s project a success. He is disgusted at this development. But when he realizes that Tiamat was not only the actual person summoned to fix the world (with Kazama as her assistant), but his own fiance, Ayano, in dragon form, he is given one final chance to save that world again.
One thing I didn’t get at the start of this volume was that he was summoned to the point in time where he’s initially summoned to the castle. So, that means the war technically doesn’t happen yet (I think?). I just wanted to put that out there because I was confused about it at first.
Anyway, the issue surrounding Azur gets resolved pretty smoothly; all it needed was a change of venue. But as we learned last time, the neighboring country of Noura has the same problem with beriberi. So, the natural thing to do is head over there.
He’s accompanied by new faces, and by new faces, I mean existing faces who use magic to acquire new faces. Tiamat, Baze, and Hieronymus (the latter two of which are the Fenrir and Cait Sith that I didn’t mention in the recap because I thought they’d be one-time characters and not mainstays) all gain human forms. I didn’t like this because up to this point, I’d been picturing Tia as Wheezy from the REAL greatest isekai ever written: Dragon Tales (*sarcasm*). There’s also the Murdock troupe, a team of circus people led by a guy named Murdock (no sh*t, Sherlock).
But hey, it’s not always politics here in Isekai Rebuilding Project. This volume’s main conflict is one that many-a fantasy character has had to deal with time and time again: goblins. The interesting thing about them is that the group of them is unusually good at various tactics that goblins wouldn’t specialize in. There’s an interesting possibility that another human was summoned to lead them… But regardless, it’s up to Eiji’s squad to stop them.
Unfortunately, the execution could be better. While the banter between Eiji and Tia is entertaining, the other characters are pretty boring. Also, the power of Eiji’s companions really don’t showcase any stakes whatsoever. Locations are still not given any personality or description, further baffling me as to how the illustrator was able to create such gorgeous art with no reference.
Isekai Rebuilding Project isn’t bad, but it’s definitely looking to be another one of those low-key, feel-good fantasy series. It still has potential to become something bigger than what it is now, so I’ll keep it on my radar.