Weeb Reads Monthly: October and November 2020

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.

Verdict: 8.65/10


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.

Verdict: 8.45/10


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.

Verdict: 7/10


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.

Verdict: 8.15/10


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!

Verdict: 7/10


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.

Verdict: 8.85/10


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.

Verdict: 9/10


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. 

Verdict: 9.35/10


Conclusion

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!

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Volume 13 Review

Last time on Re:ZERO, everyone gets attacked by Satella the Witch of Jealousy. Subaru and Garfiel (of all people) have to stop her. Fortunately, she can’t pass through the barrier due to her being a half-elf, and the trial being incomplete. But that doesn’t stop Garfiel from getting unceremoniously slaughtered by her. As she advances toward Subaru, he rejects her, and in response, her shadow swallows him to get him to love her. Fortunately, Echidna had a contingency plan: making Petra’s handkerchief a magic handkerchief that ends up saving him from the Witch. Also, the handkerchief turns into a dagger, which he promptly uses to kill himself and restart the loop. Back at the sanctuary, he’s comforted by Emilia. While Ram distracts Garfiel, Subaru recalls the memories he absorbed while in the shadow, and uncovers a secret room containing the real Ryuzu’s body. Apparently, the true purpose of the Sanctuary was to make Ryuzu clones that Echidna was able to possess, and effectively achieve immortality as a result. He also finds out that both Garfiel and himself have become Apostles of Echidna. His next task is the sitch at the mansion. He’s able to get Frederica and Petra to evacuate without a hassle, but Beatrice- as always- isn’t so easy to convince. He steals her “not-a-Witch-Cult” book and sees that it’s entirely blank inside. Apparently, Beatrice is a spirit contracted by Echidna to watch over the forbidden books in the mansion until “That Person” shows up. The moving scene that follows is, unfortunately, interrupted by Elsa’s arrival. Not even Beatrice can stand up to her, but Subaru manages to survive. Back at the Sanctuary, it’s already snowing, and Emilia shut herself in the tomb when he left. He goes in and finds her, and she starts getting unnaturally waifu-y with him. He leaves and confronts Roswaal- again- but this time Roswaal murders Ram and Garfiel before implying that he knows about Return by Death, and showing Subaru that he has the other version of the gospel that Beatrice had! He is also the culprit behind the snowfall, and it was all to break and isolate Emilia (a plan that had been in effect since the beginning, of course). Their conversation is interrupted when the Great Rabbit attacks again, killing Roswaal, and making the others burn themselves to death. Subaru flees to the tomb, where Emilia gives him a kiss… right as he dies again. After respawning, he seeks Echidna, but ends up taking the second trial instead, which involves seeing the outcomes of previous routes after he died. After all that, he encounters a spirit of Rem. But he knows better, and immediately recognizes her as an imposter, who turns out to be another Witch: Carmilla, the Witch of Lust. After almost suffocating for some reason, he ends up with Echidna, just like he wanted to! She offers to form a pact with Subaru, and all the other witches except Satellla show up! In all the confusion, Echidna has a grandiose speech detailing how Subaru’s ability to experience an infinite amount of outcomes turns her on. After her schpiel, Subaru asks her who Beatrice’s Person is… and, of course, Echidna has no clue… because Beatrice had to decide for herself the whole time. Subaru refuses the pact with Echidna, and the Witch’s tea party is joined by one more guest: Satella.

If you couldn’t tell from that paragraph, volume 12 was full of revelations and turning points. Based on my past experience with Re:ZERO, the next several volumes will be pretty boring before it picks up again. Does this volume follow the same trend?

Well… yes and no. It’s not a constant pelvic thrust of pain and torture like the previous volume, but there are definitely some highlights. One important thing is that Subaru gets some much-needed growth. He gets another helping of waifu-speech, but this time, he gains some self-worth. This is a big improvement for him, because his whole “Hey look at me I’m a martyr herp-a-derp” has been annoying for a while.

Speaking of annoying, we finally get to resolve Garfiel’s character arc in this volume! And thank goodness too; I never liked the guy. He was a whiny brat who felt like he made the arc 1.5x longer than it already was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offset the fact that his personality is 100% abrasive and nothing else. But hey, backstory is backstory, and that’s what counts.

And speaking of backstory, we finally get some more background on Emilia. Unfortunately, that “some” is really “a bit”, since this volume loves Garfiel so much. Plus, the things we learn about Emilia only scratch the surface, and we are cliffhung right when we’re about to get the full serving.

Another issue is that Re:ZERO once again shows its bipolar identity. It tries its damndest to subvert the isekai formula, and ends up clashing with that mindset like it tends to. There’s an emotional scene between Subaru and Emilia in this volume, and similar to his scene with Rem, it’s ripped right out of the Book of Waifus. It doesn’t help that the climax of the volume is a one-v-one of Subaru against Garfiel that reeks of the “white knight” trope. Gotta love it when a series has a great idea that contradicts itself in its execution!

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Verdict: 8.65/10

While not as turbulent as the last volume, Re:ZERO shows that it’s finally gaining momentum. This was a great volume, and it promises that the next one will be even better. If you’re reading ahead of the anime, what are your thoughts on this current arc and this volume? Re:ZERO is very complicated to evaluate, and I’d love to hear different perspectives.

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Volume 12 Review

Last time on Re:ZERO, we learned that Subaru has WAY too much to do to get through this arc. First off, Emilia has to pass this trial at the sanctuary so that they can get through the forest, and even though Subaru got through the first part with no problem, Emilia is the one who needs to pass it because reasons. However, at the same time, Elsa- back from volume 1- attacks Roswaal mansion, where the comatose Rem is. Oh, and if they take too long with either, their camp will be ravaged by a hive-mind of demon bunnies created by the Witch of Gluttony. I should also mention that Beatrice is potentially a Witch cultist, since she has a Gospel-looking book in her room. But when Subaru presses Roswaal, he’s real adamant that she isn’t. And after he returns to New Best Girl Echidna’s place for advice, the camp gets attacked by-!

Holy crap, finally! It’s mother-effing Satella! As I mentioned in my overview of the series, my curiosity of what Satella is like has been my driving force to commit to Re:ZERO. Unfortunately, you don’t really get to see much of her personality, other than that yandere crap that she’s been displaying in all of Subaru’s previous encounters with her. But hey, it’s freaking Satella. Beggars can’t be choosers.

Minor spoilers; Subaru dies again, which further compounds the layercake of conflicts in this arc. Now, he has to: help Emilia get through the trial, deal with Garfiel, save Rem from the attack of Elsa and her cohort at Roswaal Mansion, the attack from that rabbit demon, AND the subsequent attack from Satella! Have fun, Subaru.

I never got to talk about this arc properly in the original overview, so I’ll sum up my thoughts on it up to this point. I wasn’t too into this arc at first. Garfiel felt like a very arbitrary antagonist, just stuck there to be annoying, and Echidna came off as merely a replacement for Rem; someone for Subaru to confide in.  It was also agonizing that they’re just stuck in this stupid Sanctuary in the first place.

Also, as far as the story as a whole is concerned, Re:ZERO is as padding-happy as ever. The reason why the previous arc, with Petelgeuse (or whatever his name is), was my least favorite thus far was because it just took forever. 

But right at the start of volume 12, I finally got to enjoy this arc for the first time. The story went from nothing happening to everything happening all at once. There are so many huge moments, from Echidna’s backstory, to a powerful scene between Subaru and Beatrice of all people, to Roswaal finally coming clean, and the proper introduction of Satella, volume 12 cranks it up a notch and then some. And that scene at the end… holy crap. We are likely on the cusp of a big turning point here.

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Verdict: 9.5/10

This volume was lit. Scratch that, this is my favorite volume in Re:ZERO to this point. It was completely worth getting to read this far ahead before the second anime season! Let’s hope that it continues to get better from here.

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

Cover of volume 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verdict: 8/10

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