Two First Impressions of Two Psychological Manga

I initially come off as someone who only likes happy, fluffy stuff. And while that is generally what I gravitate toward, I do get that variety is the spice of life. I love a good, dark drama; the problem is that there aren’t a lot that satisfy both conditions. But for some reason, I’ve found manga to be my most enjoyed medium when it comes to enjoying the darker facets of the human psyche. And to show how insane some manga can get, here are two examples. Note that neither of these appear on BookWalker’s search suggestions, meaning only one thing: THEY ARE NOT FOR YOUNG’UNS. For fairness sake, both reviews are based on the respective mangas’ first two volumes. 


Back When You Called Us Devils

In this messed up manga, you have the most generic-looking kid imaginable: Yusuke Saito. Apparently, looks are deceiving. He’s been coming down with amnesia, but it isn’t long before some people show up who claim that he was a very, VERY horrible person in his past. 

And I mean horrible. Basically, the most messed up things you can think of, Yusuke allegedly did. I don’t even want to write the words for them, so here’s a basic TL;DR of his crimes: Goblin Slayer Episode 1. No, that’s not hyperbole. I have a good enough grasp of reality and fiction to not get messed up by it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t mess you up.

The main conflict is to get Yusuke to remember everything he did. Fortunately, helping him is his childhood friend who also happens to be one of his alleged victims: Aizawa Yojiro. Since Aizawa actually knows Yusuke, the process is simple: go to the places relevant to his past and jog his memory in said places. The story is fun (albeit a bit messed up), and I’m curious to see where it goes.

The hardest sell of Back When You Called Us Devils is no doubt the characters. If you couldn’t tell, everyone is basically evil. It doesn’t take long for you to find out that Yusuke is indeed what his victims claim him to be, but it feels very unrealistic for a kid to just be like that without the full story. Aizawa is Mr. Ends-Justify-the-Means, and does not hesitate to commit equally bad crimes if he darn well feels like it. Even Yusuke’s favorite victim, Akari Ichinose—whom he supposedly murdered (they have yet to show her dead body, which is a classic trope in pretty much all media)—is pretty messed up as well. She had some bizarre relationship with him where she lets him do whatever he wants to her and hopes it breaks him somehow? It’s something I can’t really describe, honestly; you’ll have to read the manga to find out!

The art is what it should be for this type of manga. It has a sketchy style, and the character design gives me a very 1990s manga vibe for some reason. Thankfully, a lot of the expressions are relatively subdued; a very rare design choice in this medium. Overall, it looks great.

Current Verdict: 8.5/10


My Dearest Self With Malice Aforethought

This manga ended up being, by sheer coincidence, similar to Back When You Called Us Devils; the main protagonist, Eiji Urashima, is also haunted by a dark past that’s about to bite him in the butt. But unlike the other guy, the reason is pretty well-known: he’s the son of LL, a serial killer. Eiji has been able to live a normal life, but he suddenly starts experiencing time-skips. The reason for this is B1, a split personality that seems to be more-or-less following in his father’s footsteps. Eiji now must find the truth behind, well, himself.

Dearest Self ends up, arguably, being more suspenseful than the other manga. Back When You Called Us Devils is built entirely around the anticipation of learning Yusuke’s past, the suspense being in us not knowing information. Here, however, we are fed new information relatively quickly. After all, we’re seeing the consequences of B1’s actions in real time. And every time we’re given that new information, it has the same “Oh crap” feeling that makes suspense good. There’s also a lot more action to boot.

The characters are, sadly, not too spectacular. Eiji is your typical thriller protagonist, where he starts off as super timid, but ends up becoming more and more like B1 as he’s forced to do uncouth things in order to find the truth. The most likeable character is this one loli whose name I actually forgot… oops. Basically, she’s that weird girl who’s super big-brain and knows how to do a lot of unconventional stuff that just so happens to be helpful in plot progression.

The art, for the most part, is much more modern than Back When You Called Us Devils. The eyes are very detailed, and there are a lot more instances of crosshatching and distortion effects. The faces are a bit more exaggerated, however.

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Current Verdict: 8.65/10


Conclusion

These were both very fun, and dark manga that will probably never get anime adaptations. Of course, Naoki Urasawa can eat these for breakfast. But at the very least, these will do fine to tide you over if you’re waiting on more Asadora! to release. In fact, that’s basically why I decided to read these in the first place. Since both are finished in Japan, I should be able to put out full reviews of them sometime next year!

The Last Fallen Star: My First Ever Impression of Korean Culture

As someone who’s been alive within the last ten years, I have borne witness to the sudden rise of South Korea’s influence on the world’s entertainment industry. And considering I’ve been into Japanese culture for a long time, I’ve basically been jealous of Korea to this day. Anime have been out internationally for decades, and only a handful of them are accepted by your garden variety “all-American”. In my experience, it feels like Japan has only gotten more disdain as facets of their culture continue to come into the fold. And yet, all it took was ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ for South Korea to be welcomed with open arms. Nowadays, manhwa and webtoons seem to be eclipsing Japan’s manga industry, and BTS the biggest active music group in the world, with their other K-Pop compatriots not far behind. Eventually, I just lost it, and absolutely HAD to know if I was missing something. And my voyage into Korean culture begins with Graci Kim’s novel, The Last Fallen Star, one of two Korean I.P.s from Rick Riordan Presents.

In The Last Fallen Star, you have your usual secret coven of witches. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the main protagonist, Riley Oh’s, problem is. …Did you guess that she has no magic? Yep, that’s exactly the case. The other old beans in the clan try to act like they don’t think she’s just baggage, but it’s not a particularly good facade. So, what does Riley do? She and her sister, Hattie, perform an illegal spell that has a chance to give Riley temporary powers. I’ll give you three guesses as to what results.

If you guessed that it goes horribly wrong, then that would be correct, but also an understatement. In fact, Riley’s parents end up in a position where they decide if they or Riley get permanently ejected out of the clan. Riley decides for them, and boots herself out, afterwhich the sisters perform ANOTHER illegal ritual that puts Hattie’s life at stake. Of course, the solution is for Riley, and her friend Emmet, to find a MacGuffin. Why wouldn’t it be?

Positives first. The story, unlike other Presents books, doesn’t waste time. The premise being entirely centered around MacGuffin-finding screams padding, but it’s actually relevant to a much bigger plot. It’s much more dialogue-driven than other Presents books, but not having random Korean monsters attack just for the sake of action is another plus for the pacing.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. The Korean-mythology-based worldbuilding is pretty typical. It’s your garden variety urban fantasy, with the different portals to witch-land in the middle of unassuming public areas, various rituals, and really dense-headed coven bigwigs. The specific legends used in the story, such as Korea’s creation legend, are… alright, I guess. Even taking my Shinto bias in mind, it’s your usual “the world is created perfectly and then someone does something stupid.”

The cast also leaves something to be desired (big surprise coming from me). Riley, being adopted, magicless, and wanting to be included in social circles, ticks all the boxes on the “relatable” checklist. I also dislike her for using the word “amazeballs”. The male lead, Emmet, is your typical best friend, and his arc revolves entirely around his response to the inevitable big plot twist reveal. We don’t get to see many gods—in fact, we only see one—and she is not as memorable as she could’ve been.

The only other issue I have is with the climax. It’s a good climax from a sheer entertainment standpoint, but I feel like some stuff happened solely for shock value. Also, the final twist feels like Kim trying to make readers feel that participation-trophy-specialness, which—according to Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck—leads to mental health disorders.

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Final Verdict: 8/10

The Last Fallen Star is the second best Rick Riordan Presents book I have read thus far, which is not saying much considering that I don’t like most of them. And even then, I still didn’t love it like I do that one series I will be covering at some point. I’m willing to finish this series, but I don’t think I’m going to learn why people like this particular brand of mythology.

Miitopia (Switch): Your Most Insane Fanfic Come to Life

If you’re reading this, then I’m a time masochist. When you’re working a full-time job along with running a blog, you don’t exactly have much time left. All of the precious recreational time I have is spent working on the blog. Every single piece of media I select must now serve some purpose for it. It’s hard. I’ve had to veto a lot of stuff. There are a lot of videogames that I’ve been juggling, and instead of playing them based on mood, I play them based on a number of factors too convoluted to go into right now. But a wrench was thrown in when Nintendo re-released the insane 3DS RPG, Miitopia, on Switch, with an improved character creator and FREAKING HORSES. I loved the crap out of the old one, but I was hesitant to play this new one ONLY because I never had raw desire take hold. So of course, this post (with an overly long preamble) is my only justification for playing Miitopia AGAIN. On Switch.

In Miitopia, the Dark Lord steals the faces from everyone in the titular kingdom of Miis. You, along with a vast number of intrepid heroes, set forth to whoop his butt and get everyone’s faces back. 

If you know RPG basics, then you know that this game has a simple and predictable plot. But unlike most RPGs, which pretend to be something they’re not, Miitopia spoofs them up. It is chock full of hilarious, tongue-and-cheek dialogue. The charm oozes out of every pixel, and we’ll get to more on that when we cover some of the gameplay elements.

I’d normally discuss the cast of the story here. However, every copy of Miitopia is kind of like a snowflake; no two are alike. This is because of the game’s main selling point: the Miis themselves. The identity of literally every character is decided by you. They can be your closest friends, or—if you’re like me and have no friends—fictional characters. You can be a light novel protagonist and insert yourself into the story, fighting alongside your favorite waifus. You can ship Arin and Dan from Game Grumps, or ship either of them with Markiplier and PewDeePie. You can even dictate the villain; take out your hatred on your most hated person by making them the Dark Lord. Hate mainstream culture? Then make the Dark Lord Billie Eilish. You also get other allies, like the Great Sage and the three Fairy Sisters. Just keep in mind that—SPOILER ALERT even though it’s a common RPG trope—whoever your Great Sage is will end up being the true final boss. If you didn’t have online in the original, you’d be given some lousy presets for non-plot-relevant characters. But in this version, you can freely dictate their identities as well, but you’d have to take the time to make them from scratch (or, you know, have an online subscription). Although the game doesn’t tell you this, you can preemptively add Miis—complete with makeup and wigs—from the Mii Characters database on the title screen. Use this if you have a plan on who to include in the story. Oh, and when it comes to your party members, you can change their in-battle phrases. 

For some reason, however, it doesn’t quite work in the Traveler’s Hub area. Every visit spawns a random, non-plot-relevant set of NPCs, and ideally, these would pull from Miitopia’s save data just like anyone else.  You can still go into the record menu and change that, but you’d have to do it every time the area reshuffles, and it kind of gets annoying. I’ve noticed that it has higher odds of pulling from the data if you have more characters with no assigned roles already made, but if that was the case, you’d have to make a LOT of Miis for it to pull from there every time.

Regardless, improvements to Miitopia’s customization mechanic are, well, massive. The Mii making system seems pretty normal at first. But when you go to the Mii Characters tab on the title screen, you can add makeup and wigs. With these, the sky’s the limit. You can make an anime character, and have it be accurate for once. Just a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, the sky isn’t quite the limit. For instance, there are no pompadours, nor any hairdos that defy gravity. More importantly, the quiz NPC doesn’t take makeup or wigs into account during the minigames. This means if you have an advanced character, like Darth Vader or something, it’s going to be tough to recognize him.

The icing on the cake is the amount of personality that oozes out of Miitopia. There are so many little charming details that make it hilarious and fun. One example is this derpy tuba-like jingle for literally EVERY new character as they show up. When the Dark Lord first appears, you hear this ominous choir, abruptly cut off by that sound, causing intentional tonal whiplash. Beyond that, there are too many examples to list, like the occasional Psycho bit after character interactions or the fact that every ability has this fancy, anime-like cinematic for it when it’s used for the first time.

The personality is also present in the game’s visual and audio presentation. Miitopia has a quirky and cartoony vibe, which is basic yet appealing. The Switch’s superior power adds lighting effects that help give it a more whimsical vibe. The soundtrack is also surprisingly fantastic. The battle theme and the titlescreen music are unique to each area in the game, and the boss track is a real bop that still lives in my head rent-free.

Although combat would be an afterthought in a game like this, Miitopia manages to have legitimately fun combat. The battles are your basic JRPG turn-based formula, but there are a number of factors to add spice (and chaos) to this formula. First off, you get to choose everyone’s personality quirk. They all have advantages and disadvantages, that range from free evades to refusing a much-needed heal. They trigger randomly, and as a result, a lot of battles end up being luck-based to an extent. The game is balanced enough around this fact… well… to a point (we’ll discuss that later).

A much more important factor is Affinity. Characters can build relationships through various, self-explanatory methods, from battle, to being roomies at the inn, as well as other means. Levelling Affinities up can cause some powerful effects to happen, some of which can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Of course, these are also luck-based, but they feel awesome when they happen. However, random events, as well as certain moves and personality traits, can cause a rift in two characters’ relationship. When this happens, you need to keep them together until they make up, or use the Popstar’s insanely powerful skill that instantly resolves their argument (this doesn’t work if the Popstar is involved in said rift; something that happened to me way too often in my playthrough).

Exploration in Miitopia is divided into automated traveling courses. If a path splits off, you get to dictate where they go, and you’ll need to take EVERY PATH if you want to get everything. It can get repetitive, but using the ZR button speeds up gameplay and saves BUTTLOADS of time. It even works in cutscenes! Random events occur, from stumbling upon loot to characters suddenly being fed up with each other. It’s generally rare for these events to lead to an unfair game over, but it can happen in VERY specific circumstances.

In between each course, the party rests up at the Inn. Unlike most JRPGs, this is where the action occurs. Here, you arrange characters’ living spaces so that they can bond with one another. While in the Inn, you can feed characters food obtained throughout the adventure to permanently increase their stats. They have very random tastes, and more often than not, they will hate the food most tailored to their build. You can also gamble any Arcade Tickets found from adventuring to get money or items. I always did the latter, since you will always get something from the item roulette. These range from a random equippable item, to rare food, to a boost of XP or Affinity between two people. Spending money is another mechanic based on luck. You need to see if a character wants something, and give them the money to grab it. Equipment for characters come in tiers, which means that if a chest contains equipment, it will always be the next step up from whatever you have. Oh, and keep in mind that characters will sometimes fail to buy the equipment that you loaned them the cash to buy. New to the Switch version are Outings. These are fun little events that give sizeable Affinity boosts and are quite charming as well as varied. Also new to the Switch version is the Horse. This adorable, customizable companion is basically a fifth party member. By raising Affinity between your Horse and other characters, you can trigger new, unique assists in battle. These are insanely helpful! One of them is basically an ultimate move. It requires all MP, and has a unique effect depending on the class of whoever uses it. However, there’s one unwritten nuance that I learned the hard way: the horse will only assist as long as a character is in the stable with it, regardless of Affinity and if it accompanies you to battle.

Well, I ended up deviating from battle for a while. Anyway, though the amount of luck in this game appears daunting, Miitopia does allow some divine intervention. Sprinkles can be used to restore HP, MP, to revive a party member, and more. Your carrying capacity with these Sprinkles increases as you defeat enemies, but keep in mind that they don’t refill until after a course is done. There is also the Safe Spot, where one character can use their turn to rest and heal a percentage of HP and MP as well as cure any debuffs. Of course, this puts your party at three, so careful planning is needed.

I talked about pretty much every element in battle before the bread and butter of RPGs: classes! You can assign a class to each new party member, and after a certain point in the story, can freely change said class. They range from your usual Mage and Cleric, to the unusual Popstar, Chef, Cat, Flower, etc. For the most part, they all have good enough strengths to win no matter what. The exception is the Tank. I don’t mean the high-aggro defensive class; I mean a literal Tank. This class has high defense and high damage, but most of the latter are used at the detriment of the Tank’s Affinity. Its low base MP doesn’t help either. 

In terms of difficulty, Miitopia is surprisingly balanced. Like with any JRPG, you’ll be pretty frail at the beginning, but be relatively okay at taking control as the game goes on. Bosses, and this one type of enemy with an insta-kill attack, are pretty much the only real challenges in the main story. Unfortunately, Miitopia is one of those annoying games where three party members are A.I. despite the fact that this is a turn-based RPG and that A.I. shouldn’t be necessary. They don’t spam useless moves like Marin Karin, at least. In fact, the A.I. is pretty good at making choices that a real gamer would make. Unfortunately, the A.I. fails to take turn order into account, and will use HP Bananas even if a healer was going to go immediately after them.

The real difficulty is in the post-game. In addition to new and tougher quests, the post-game unlocks three secret areas, two of which have the secret Vampire and Elf classes (for all I know, there could be a third one because I still have yet to do everything in this game). I usually like to make new party members dedicated to these, but keep in mind that they’ll have a whole game’s worth of Affinity, equipment buying, and permanent stat building to catch up to!

The third and most involved post-game area is a massive city, split into EIGHT sectors, teeming with the most powerful mobs in the game. Each sector has a stronger version of a previous boss, all of which HURT. This place sucks, and is probably the one place where Miitopia’s chaoticness loses its novelty. It’s hard enough on its own, but when you have to worry about relationships failing, or a Stubborn character refusing to be healed, it becomes beyond irritating. And don’t get me started on the U.F.O. enemies! They can use an attack that steals all of a character’s HP Bananas, which cannot be evaded no matter what. You also don’t get the Bananas back when defeating them. This causes your coffers to be sucked DRY,  to the point where you can’t organically regain them within the game’s parameters as long as you proceed through that area; you actually need to grind for them. I can’t even imagine how it feels when you get to the end of the boss rush tower, just for a few, RNG-based boo-boos to kick in and cost the whole run. And according to the Medal list, there’s a second tower that I actually have never seen before. Who knows what that could be!

The post-game has one more nice unlock: the villa. With this, you can house a massive number of party members all at once, and freely create new ones. This helps alleviate the issue of there being more classes than party members in the main story. Unfortunately, the inn capacity doesn’t account for the addition of the horse stable, meaning that one person will always be alone if you want to build Affinity with the horse.

Oh, and one warning for true completionists: the Medals. These are in-game achievements, and the Traveler’s Hub guy tracks your progress with them. Getting all of these requires getting every class to the max level of fifty, maxing out Affinities, getting all of the different equipment items for every class, and more. This is where grinding becomes a must, and that kind of sucks. But to be honest, you’ll probably need to do it anyway to take on the aforementioned boss rush. I have never completed Miitopia, but I might make an attempt if I ever feel the need to veg out with something mindless. But if you undertake this task, do it with some music or Twitch streams in the background.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

An already great game is better than ever on the Switch! Miitopia is a quirky, fun adventure, perfect for relieving stress (as long as you don’t try the really BS stuff). I recommend it to anyone who just wants to be happy.

Weeb Reads Monthly June 2021

Welcome to what is most definitely the shortest installment of Weeb Reads Monthly yet! There are only three titles here today, and at the time of writing this, there aren’t many light novels I’m looking forward to in July either. So, let’s get right to it I guess!


Konosuba Volume 14

Three volumes left after this. I’ve already been feeling like this series is running out of steam, but that could still be a placebo effect from me worrying. Is Konosuba going to end on a good note? Can’t exactly answer that question today, can we?

Fortunately, this is the best volume in a while. And the main reason is that it’s back to the Crimson Magic Clan! This is my favorite setting in Konosuba because literally everyone in it is some form of smooth-brain idiot. We also get to see more of our resident snarky armor, Aigis.

The antics are more-or-less the same, but they are much funnier than recent volumes. As always, we get more shipping war time, as Kazuma once again has a heart-to-heart with both Megumin and Darkness. Also, it looks like the final arc will FINALLY start in the next volume!

Verdict: 8.5/10


Re:ZERO Volume 16

Finally, a new arc, and it’s after a TIME SKIP?! That implies there was a whole year of no tragedies; unusual for Re:ZERO. Well, something awful is going to happen in this volume, it’s just a matter of what and when.

Unfortunately, because of how tonal whiplash works, this is moreso an establishing volume than anything else. I wouldn’t normally mind that, however… this is a dummy thick establishing volume!  Most of it is a reintroduction to a myriad of previous characters, and—to me—it shows how clumsy this cast is, because I forgot a lot of them. At the same time, it’s kind of arbitrary how many characters are brought back; even one of the random thugs from the VERY BEGINNING of the series is included in this pot. Why? 

Reinhard’s dad appears at some point, but whether he’s actually going to be relevant remains to be seen. The actual plot doesn’t start until the last twenty pages of this three hundred page volume. We are introduced to a new Witch Cultist then, but I won’t spoil what happens since that’s not how I roll.

Verdict: 7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE! Volume 4

Geez, that took no time at all, did it? Well, here it is; more insanity. The royal army has been assimilated by the Church, which basically means that the Church controls all of society. That’s not exactly good, is it? 

In any case, Flum’s former party is in even more disarray, with Cyrill now going AWOL. Also, the Children are just going on a rampage, Flum gets an ominous warning about something that’s going to happen in four days, and Chimera is still at large. Oh, and Maria is an Uzumaki thing now, but since she’s still herself despite her face being messed up, Linus gives her a chance (right, those two are AWOL as well. Is Jean the only one left at this point?). 

Most of the plot is focused on fighting the already-established antagonists. There are some weird developments about the world here, but a lot of it is swept to the side. I had mixed feelings toward Cyril in this volume because she meets one of the Children, but has trouble killing it after having seen said Child will thousands of people to commit suicide in gruesome fashions for no reason. ROLL OVER AND DIE! does fall for a lot of clichés, and sadly, the “I can’t kill the mass murderer because I’ll be just as bad as the mass murderer” thing rears its ugly head. I guess Cyril’s degraded mental health is supposed to justify it? I dunno. To be honest, character development is all over the place. The nonsensical suspense is what’s been carrying this series for me. Overall, it was another smashing installment with an insane climax.

Verdict: 9.45/10


Conclusion

Well, there weren’t many volumes I cared about this month. But at the very least, they were more than adequate. It’s like quality supersedes quantity or something. Let’s hope next month will be just as good!

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Read it Before Ragnarök

Lately, I’ve been questioning my admiration toward Rick Riordan, the author of Percy Jackson, a.k.a. “The Storyteller of the Gods”. I read Percy Jackson over ten years ago, and needless to say, it helped me become who I am today. I would’ve never wanted to study Japanese culture to the Nth degree if it weren’t for Percy. But I haven’t reread Percy to this day. In 2017, I attempted to read Trials of Apollo—completely skipping over Heroes of Olympus—and I never finished it. With every Apollo book, I liked it less and less. Furthermore, I kept getting disappointed at the books published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint; books that all had to get his seal of approval. With me questioning the tastes and talents of one of the most defining people in my life, I was tempted to do a Percy Jackson retrospective. However, that series is five stinking books long, and I had so much crap to do as it was. Instead, I turned to another series of his: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. It was only three books, so it was doable. Although Norse mythology is the second most overused template for fantasy worldbuilding, I at least had some vague familiarity with some of its more nuanced aspects, thanks entirely to one of my new favorite bands, Brothers of Metal. Without further ado, let’s see if I can like something by Rick Riordan!

In Magnus Chase, the titular character has been homeless ever since his mom died in a fire. After living in the slums of Boston, he gets your typical visit by a long-lost, mysterious relative. This time, it’s his Uncle Randolph, who tells him the usual: he’s the son of a Norse god. Magnus gets this fancy sword thing that’s been lying in the Charles River, but then he dies. He awakens in Hotel Valhalla, where he must join the other halfbloods on adventures.

Rick Riordan is at least good at jumping into the action. All that I just described happens in the first forty-seven pages, when most books would take almost a hundred to start in earnest. And like in Percy Jackson, you get acclimated to Hotel Valhalla while everyone there shits on him and his Valkyrie friend, Sam. As expected from Riordan, he does a great job of blending Norse folklore with the modern day in his own signature style. Riordan’s snarky sense of humor is also very prevalent.  

While there are a number of obvious similarities to Percy, Magnus Chase is a bit different. Due to the power of red herrings, it’s never clear who’s on whose side. All we know is that Ragnarök = Bad, and that some people want it more than others. Sam ends up being the daughter of Loki, who’s supposed to be the bad guy, and she gets ejected from Valhalla for bringing Magnus in. Is she sus and working for Loki? Is Loki sus? Whoooooo knooooooooows?!

In terms of writing, Magnus is actually not bad. Riordan is about as talented of a storyteller as I remember, even if I didn’t take the story as seriously as my younger self did Percy. I could easily visualize everything as it appeared, which most authors fail doing. One thing I noticed is how wordy the books are most of the time. Well, it’s kind of a thing I’ve noticed in most Western literature, and it kind of fascinates me for some reason. I know that flavor text can bring more life to the story, but sometimes it feels excessive. As an aspiring writer, my problem ended up being that my stuff was too short. I’ve taken inspiration from the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which Leonard Maltin described as “understatement and restraint.” That’s why I try to not go for BS hyperbole on my blogs. Anyway, sorry for that tangent; let’s get back to the review.

Since middle grade books have to be dummy thick, Riordan does have a number of scenes that don’t seem necessary. I had problems with this in The Storm Runner and a certain other Percy-influenced franchise that I’ll be reviewing in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Riordan at least has the ability to make the filler fun in its own right. Instead of dumb, arbitrary trials that tell stuff about the characters that we already knew, Magnus has more fun and varied activities, like fishing up Jormungandr and bowling with giants.

If there was another thing I could always trust Riordan for was his research. Readers are expected to recognize Thor and Loki (thanks to the M.C.U.), and perhaps Yggdrasil and stuff since everything in every JRPG series is named after Norse mythology. But me, I had Brothers of Metal. I recognized the Norns, Heidrun, and more. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t help me pay attention to the story when they come up. I know it sounds bad, but I couldn’t help it. A lot of the time, I was just thinking of this:

And I may or may not have come up with the post just to plug the band.

Like with more-or-less everything I’ve ever experienced, the characters—once again—don’t quite win me over. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them. If you’re familiar with Percy Jackson, then you’d probably like them just fine. But that’s the thing; they pretty much are Percy Jackson characters in every way. I don’t 100% recall how the Percy characters were, but at least going off of my nostalgic memory, the cast of Magnus is inferior in a number of ways. Magnus himself is that typical wish fulfilment character, with his initial homelessness as an added bonus. At least he’s appreciative of being whisked away to the lap of luxury, for once?

Sam is pretty much Annabeth, which I suppose is inaccurate, since Annabeth herself is actually Magnus’ cousin (apparently, every religions’ gods coexist in the same universe?). Basically, she’s a tomboy and has not much else going for her. Sam’s sibling, Alex Fierro, ends up packing much more sass. As the offspring of good ol’ Loki, their whole character arcs revolve around getting over their abusive pa. Magnus’ other main cohorts end up being Blitz and Hearth, a dwarf and elf respectively. They’re good dudes.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t fond of everyone. There are several other kids in Magnus’…  er… class(?), but they have no presence at all. They crap on him super early on, but they just suddenly stop doing that, and I can only assume Riordan did that initially for shock value. Even with more of a role in the final book, they feel like half-assed characters, especially by Riordan standards. 

The assorted Norse mythology characters, as expected, end up being the cast’s strong suit. They’re full of sass, as well as having the duality of being ancient characters who are in touch with the modern world (something that would lose its novelty if someone were to write a series based on Japanese mythology, since that duality is already part of their culture). Sadly, I was the most disappointed in Loki. SPOILER ALERT, the god of tricksters is—in fact—the main antagonist. While he is an entertaining villain, his role doesn’t exactly shed a new perspective on Norse mythology in the way that other series try with their villains (even if those books fail at the attempt). The only attempt in Magnus’ case is made towards the end of the series, where Loki just says the same old “there’s no real good and evil” schtick that I’ve only seen in stories that fail to actually convey that through context. I’m sorry, but wanting to jumpstart the end of days for no reason seems to be pretty close to one-dimensional evil, just saying. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t think Rick Riordan deserves to be hailed as the Storyteller of the Gods, but he is a very capable writer (even if his references are pander-ously mainstream). Magnus Chase isn’t life-changing, nor(se) does it subvert Viking culture, but it’s nonetheless a solid action-adventure trilogy. It’s also taught me how shallow a lot of the Rick Riordan Presents books feel by comparison, where they merely seem to emulate what people find appealing in Riordan’s books instead of finding their own voices. I recommend Magnus Chase if you like Percy Jackson, or if you want an actually good urban fantasy for once.

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: To Boldly Go Where No Self-Insert Isekai Protag Has Gone Before

Well, time to read another isekai. What does this one try to do to stand out? If you couldn’t tell from the insanely long title, Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, this one is in the dark void of space! Is that enough to make it good?

In Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, a young man named Takahiro Saido (henceforth known as Hiro) wakes up in his Stella Online ship, the Krishna (PS: Stella Online is an MMO that he played to death, as per usual with this stuff). As expected, the Krishna is insanely strong and Hiro has no trouble becoming powerful. Typical stuff, really.

And I mean typical. His starship isn’t only super powerful, but he’s also amazing at piloting it. He aces the hardest test in the Merc guild without breaking a sweat. Also, he gets some early loot from pirates and it nets him a fat chunk of space smackaroos. And of course, he saves a young, exploitable girl with no more motive than an innocent pure heart.

So, the writing is the same as any light novel: if it’s not a girl, it’s not worth describing. Have fun trying to visualize the surely intricate sci-fi architecture, whatever it may look like. In any case, the story for this volume is a simple establishment of characters, with some space skirmishes to show how awesome Hiro is. 

And while we’re on the subject of Hiro, let’s discuss the cast of characters. As expected, there isn’t much to them. You’d think that Hiro, being a space Merc, would make him morally ambiguous, but… it doesn’t. He’s your usual kind of guy, only interesting quirk being his deep desire for carbonated beverages. The first cute girl is a space elf named Elma, who at least has some kind of personality trait. The aforementioned girl he saves, Mimi, is the same waifu tragedy, straight from the book of tropes. The only notable thing about their chemistry is that they are very openly romantic with each other. And by that, I mean Hiro regularly alternates between the two of them in bed.

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Verdict: 6.85/10

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship! is relatively harmless, but it’s about as unremarkable as a garden variety isekai (hence why this review is stupidly short). I don’t see myself committing to this one unless I magically obtain some bonus time when future volumes release. But who knows? Maybe you’ll like this one more than I did.

A VERY BELATED Review of Amphibia’s Second Season

To Season 1 Review


I hate streaming sometimes. I don’t know if the whole season is out on Hulu right now, but for some unholy reason, it definitely wasn’t back when the season two finale of Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) aired. I had to wait for it to come out on Disney+ to watch it! In any case, with all the pieces in place, it’s time for the show to begin in earnest. Let’s FINALLY get to it! Oh, and uh, spoilers from last season.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Anne had a brief but tumultuous reunion with her friend Sasha, who is now buddy-buddy with an army of power-hungry toads. They fought, Anne stood up for her beliefs, and ‘Lean on Me’ ensued. Now separated again in good old Naruto and Sasuke fashion, the only thing left to do is haul ass to Newtopia and find out what to do with the MacGuffin that got Anne to Amphibia in the first place.

Right off the bat, season two is a major improvement. Since the crew is on the move, there is a much wider variety of setpieces. From sketchy inns, to a desert, and… Grunkle Stan?! If that wasn’t an indication of how creative the show gets, then I don’t know what is. In any case, the real treat is Newtopia itself, the biggest and most beautiful setting yet. It’s so big, that a hotel is enough for an entire episode. It is a vibrant and culture-filled location, which sadly lasts a mere five episodes before they must go a’questing again.

Just because there’s more cohesion doesn’t mean that there aren’t Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. Like Avatar, their travels take them on random detours, each with a self-contained conflict, most of which have no bearing on the plot. Even in Newtopia, they manage to cleverly find an excuse to put in filler episodes; stuff like waiting for someone else to analyze the important MacGuffin for them. There is also an issue of episode chronology. Exactly one episode was aired last October, outside of the proper order, just for them to work in a Halloween special. And to rub salt in the wound, subsequent episode broadcasts were delayed until March of this year right after that episode (I’ll give you three guesses why). It’s kind of stupid that it’s the one time that Amphibia goes out of chronological order (at least as of now). 

The characters have improved greatly since last season… to a point. Anne does get some huge growth as things get intense throughout this season, but she’s the same smooth-brain that she usually is. In fact, the characters don’t just continue to make poor judgements; it gets so bad that they start to become self-aware of it. Hop Pop eventually has to face the consequences of his hiding the MacGuffin in the garden at home (watched over by the guy who grows tulips), which leads to great development on his part. Sprig and Polly remain relatively unchanged, with the former being about as much of an ignoramus as ever.

Let’s finally discuss the other teenage girls who ended up in Amphibia along with Anne. As you know, Sasha ends up with the toads, the arch nemeses of the frogs. She aids their captain, Grime, and hits it off with him. Sasha seems like an abusive friend, but it also feels like she genuinely likes Anne and is only pushing her because of weird friend morals (at least through her perspective). As a small aside, Grime ends up being quite the likeable guy, and his chemistry with Sasha is some of the best in the series.

The other friend is Marcy Wu. She’s a strange combination of complete ditz and galaxy-brained, and is immediately way more likeable than Sasha. Similar to Sasha, Marcy ends up netting a fancy military job in the Newtopian Army. Good thing their King isn’t sus, or else we’d have something to worry about! All three girls’ character arcs get the bulk of this growth in the form of three temples, conveniently catered to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Verdict: 8.65/10

Amphibia clearly reinvents the wheel in every way. But for some reason, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. This season was a big step up, and at least leaves me very much anticipating the next (and final?) season. Of course, I won’t be watching ANY of that season until the whole thing airs!

Danganronpa Meets… Soccer?!: Blue Lock First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Most sports manga tend to be the same from beginning to end (even if Haikyuu!! was VERY different toward the end but that’s only like 15% of the story). It’s the usual thing: school is in the dumps, some special kids meet up at said school, bonds form, and in an inexplicable upset, said school is fighting the world champion team. But if you couldn’t tell from the fact that the cover of today’s manga, Blue Lock, shows characters with an eerie blood lust in their eyes, along with cuffs around their necks… this one’s a bit different across the board.

In Blue Lock, Japan’s soccer team has suffered a crippling loss at the 2018 World Cup. Since sports arbitrarily govern a nation’s entire dignity, we can’t have that crap anymore. So, in an act of desperation, an eccentric coach named Jinpachi Ego is hired to lead the final charge. But if you couldn’t tell from his name, Ego’s approach is pretty unconventional. He builds a brutal training facility, the titular Blue Lock, and hires three hundred promising strikers. In this facility, they don’t train together, but against each other, and only one of these kids can graduate from Blue Lock as supposedly the world’s greatest striker. Our main protagonist, Yoichi Isagi, is one such striker. And after experiencing a brutal loss because he chose to pass to a teammate at a critical moment, he kind of picks up what Ego is putting down.

Just one thing I need to get out there first: I love and hate this premise. I love the premise because, from a storytelling standpoint, it’s a pretty awesome idea. Soccer is the perfect sport to tackle this mindset of playing, since there really is no need for anyone but someone who can score points. The manga quotes real soccer players such as Pelé, who bizarrely enough, support this idea (unless this is an alternate universe where Pelé didn’t actually say that at all). On the flipside, I hate the premise because it’s cynical. I don’t need to read another review of Blue Lock because I know people enough to know what they’re gonna say: “This manga is so much better than other sports manga because it’s darker, which is more realistic, since there is never ever any happiness in real life.” Good thing I abandoned MyAnimeList when I did!

So far, Blue Lock does a great job at building anticipation, probably better than any sports manga I’ve read. This is done in Ego’s relatively quick exposition dump on how Blue Lock is set up. It’s divided into five wings, each of which have five groups of eleven kids who are on the same team. It seems that, over the course of the manga, these teams will compete with other teams within their wing, and eventually with the top teams from the other wings. And if my context clues are correct, this will eventually lead to some kind of knockout round between the team of eleven that comes out on top of that kerfuffle. By that point, those characters will have been fighting side-by-side the whole time, and now have to turn on each other. Of course, this is all speculation, since the manga’s barely even started.

So far, Blue Lock’s weakest aspect is its characters. Normally, sports mangas’ casts start off as pretty basic, but become super likeable down the road. However, due to the whole “ego” theme, I do not see the cast of Blue Lock being very likable in the typical sports manga fashion. Of course, with me being the lunatic that I am (what with loving narcissists like Senku), I see the possibility of Blue Lock having my favorite sports manga cast of all time. Yoichi, so far, is sadly the generic character who has the ability no one else has for no reason. The others also seem kind of generic, but time could easily mend that. I anticipate the fan-favorite to be Bachira. He’s the eccentric, mysterious character who takes a liking to the main protagonist (so, basically, he’s Nagito). I also like Coach Ego, for obvious reasons.

No sports manga is worth its salt without awesome art, and Blue Lock does not disappoint. Like the cover art, it’s full of insanity and bloodlust. As with any edgy, psychological series, there is no shortage of exaggerated, creepy faces. The action shots are spectacular, as expected from a manga like this.

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Current Verdict: 9/10

As cynical as it is, Blue Lock is shaping up to be a fantastic sports manga. In fact, I’d already consider it my favorite since Haikyuu!! And if it continues to grow at its current rate, I think it could surpass even that. I recommend it if you’re a critic of sports manga and like psychological stuff.

Time Castaways: Steins;Gate but for Kids!

We all know time travel is iffy. It’s especially iffy in literature, since it’s something that could get needlessly convoluted very quickly. Despite all that, I looked at Liesl Shurtliff’s Time Castaways book series and thought: “This actually looks good.” Let’s see (and hope) if I was right.

In Time Castaways, three siblings by the names of Matt, Ruby, and Corey Hudson, take the subway to school and end up on the Vermillion, a time machine. Yeah, I don’t get it either. They join the crew, led by Captain Vincent, for literal shits and giggles, and they go on various time missions through time-space. 

This story sounds like one of those “edutainment” series, where the whole point is showing how much random historical trivia the author knows. Fortunately, about halfway into the first book, things escalate rather quickly. The established rules regarding time travel are quite simple, and it never goes to complete and utter BS territory, even towards the end where things would normally get out of hand.

And, well, that’s because the plot is extremely simple. Time Castaways more-or-less follows all the usual clichés of the time travel subgenre. Even the biggest revelation, shown at the end of book two, is incredibly obvious from the start. If you have experience with this kind of stuff, it’ll likely feel very cringe-worthy.

What makes Time Castaways stand out, however, is the power of family. Normally, the parents are like “Time travel? You kids need to go to the place with the nice guys in white suits for a while!” and the mom steals some MacGuffin from the main protagonist as punishment for sneaking out of the house so often. But here, the whole family ends up deeply involved in all the mumbo-jumbo, earning their spots as plot-relevant supporting protagonists.

The second book, unfortunately, suffers the same curse that most midpoints in trilogies have. It’s more-or-less a wild goose chase. It introduces the main MacGuffin of the trilogy, sure. But other than that, there aren’t any real developments until the climax.

Fortunately, unlike many-a YA novel, the final book is insane. It’s slow at first, but things go absolutely off the rails as everything comes together. If you find yourself emotionally invested in the cast, your heart will break into a million pieces at many points in the final book.

However, becoming emotionally invested in the cast is quite difficult. Matt’s only real trait is that he has seizures, and being adopted. His level of suffering is about on par with Okabe in Steins;Gate. But unlike Okabe, who has a whacky personality, Matt is… a kid. RELATABLE (*sarcasm*).

His siblings aren’t much better; in fact, they’re arguably worse. Ruby pretty much exists for an unfunny meme where she arbitrarily gets tossed around by the Vermillion, and that’s pretty much it. Corey, meanwhile, is a turd. He’s both the comic relief, and the “always jumps to conclusions” guy. Pretty much every rift in any relationship in the trilogy has him involved, and it’s annoying.

I think boringness runs in the family, because I didn’t particularly care for ANY of the Hudsons. They’re, well, family, I guess. As cool as it is to have the family be important, the characters themselves aren’t really that fun. I dunno, I’m probably spoiled by the utter god-tier level of Spy X Family’s wholesomeness.

Wow, half of this review is the cast! In addition to the Hudsons, we have the crew of the Vermillion. The only one who matters is Jia. She’s the waifu. It’s not even a spoiler that she turns Matt from a boy into a man. That’s about it. Brocco and Wiley are pretty much there. Albert exists to be an utter ass. His motive is supposed to be that he’s a British kid from the late 1770’s, who would naturally hate Americans, but that never comes up again in his character arc. Lastly, there’s Pike, who’s basically a wild card that they tease as someone super mysterious, but she’s more-or-less forgettable.

Finally, we have the main antagonist, epically named “Vincent.” Okay, so technically, saying he’s the villain is a spoiler for book one, but it’s extremely obvious that he’s the villain (he has a pet rat for one thing). He’s not a well-written antagonist. He’s one-dimensionally evil, with no strings attached. His motive for everything is literally him being jealous of someone else dating the same girl that he liked; what a brat! I’m not like those who think that EVERY villain MUST be complex and layered, but I like some fun personality to make up for it, and Vincent has none of that.

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Final Verdict (Whole Series): 8.5/10

Time Castaways is great. It sucks that it’s not that popular, since it’s so much better than what actually IS popular. The books have flaws, but they’re very fun, emotional, and full of family wuv. I recommend it to anyone who likes time travel and actually wants to see it done well.

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero: More Like “The All-Caps Hero” (First Impressions, Volumes 1 and 2)

I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger. 

In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede). 

The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot. 

There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.

Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.

The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.

Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?

Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.

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Current Verdict: 6/10

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.