For every happy-go-lucky isekai, there’s one that tries to be all dark and brooding. One example is The Eminence in Shadow, which I recently covered. There’s also, of course, Overlord and Torture Princess. Despite their wild variance in quality, they all seem to have one thing in common: they’re not really that dark at all. I’m fine with that, but it would be nice to have something that’s truly effed up. Maybe this new series from Seven Seas, *takes deep breath* The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen, will be dark enough.
In Sorcerer King, a dude is summoned to another world. He finds some books, and realizes that the purpose of his summoning is to become the titular Sorcerer King of Destruction and destroy the world! Ignoring that last part, he practices some spells, such as summoning golems. When he actually manages to make one that lasts, he loses all of his memories of the real world.
What is immediately made apparent is that this thing starts off slow. And I mean real slow. To put it in anime terms, it fails the “Three Episode Test”, which judges anime under the pretense that it’ll pick up during the third episode at the latest. It takes almost a quarter of the volume for the guy to create the other protagonist, his golem, Goltarou. However, it doesn’t become the strapping she-golem that probably made you want to read this light novel in the first place until about halfway through.
And as far as tone is concerned… Sorcerer King is- surprise, surprise- edgy, instead of dark. Even if the protag has no memories of himself, he still has memories of Japan and various otaku terminology, which is as out-of-place as it usually is. But if anything is dark, it’s the world itself. This is the sorriest state I have ever seen an isekai setting in; even more so than Torture Princess, which is definitely saying something. There’s no need for a Sorcerer King of Destruction; it seems the world is already destroyed.
When it comes to the characters, it’s just our main protagonist and Goltarou. He’s as generic as you can expect. In fact, without his memories, anyone can project themselves onto him, hooray! The real point of contention is Goltarou. One aspect that stands out is the possibility that she’s transgender, which to me, is a first in isekai (ps: if trans is the wrong term for this, then please correct me). However, they’re still clearly pushing for a heterosexual romance between her and the main protagonist, so it’s kind of up to interpretation. Due to the fact that Goltarou is silent, has no personality, and does whatever the main protagonist says, her being 100% female would make this LN come off as hardcore sexist.
The art is mixed. While the cover art is fine, the inside illustrations are very rough and sketchy. Everything has a dark toner that makes a lot of stuff blur together, and I’m not entirely a fan. But hey, what’s important is that Goltarou is very *makes cat noises*.
So far, Sorcerer King is very… okay. It could go either way from here, so I can’t definitively say what I think. For the time being, I recommend it if you like those anime waifus who walk around like robots and call you “goshujin-sama”.
If you know my blog, you know I tend to like a good sociopath. As a critic, I don’t like Mary/Gary Sue; sometimes I want a protagonist like Light Yagami, who smirks and says “All according to keikaku.” However, I know not everyone feels that way, and that’s why I anticipate that The Eminence in Shadow (published in English by Yen Press) is going to become one of the most contentious new isekai.
Our protagonist idolizes those who operate from behind the scenes, and he dreams of being a puppet master himself. The biggest thing standing in his way is the fact that magic isn’t real in our world. After years of training, he gets hit by a truck, and is reborn in a fantasy world as Cid Kagenou. With his wildest dreams now in his grasp, he (very quickly) builds a harem of cute girls, and calls said harem the Shadow Garden.
The Eminence in Shadow reeks of shallow wish-fulfilment, and not just because of the harem. Similar to the Secret Organization LN I reviewed (that got axed apparently), Cid pulls a non-existent enemy out of his ass by fabricating the Cult of Diablos. The women he meets fall for it hook, line, and sinker. Or at least… I think that’s the case? The opening lines in the volume are as follows: “The Cult of Diablos… That’s our enemy. Well… it’s not like they actually exist.” However, from pretty much the get-go, they’re already fighting evil scientists who seem to very much be real Diablos Cult members. I don’t know if it was implied that Cid bribed them into doing it or something, or if it was an oopsie on the author’s part (or option C: I didn’t notice it because I’m a dimwit).
Putting that logic issue aside, Eminence is pretty entertaining. It has a dark sense of humor, and that stupid level of teen angst that’s fun to cringe at. The story reads fast, and there’s plenty of gore and over-the-top action. There’s also some funny romcom-like antics that ensue as Cid tries to blend in as a side character at his school.
Speaking of characters, Cid is my favorite thus far; he’s a clever, conniving little sociopath. He’s also a pretty unique take on an overpowered protagonist, since he’s overpowered at techniques rather than, well, power. But other than him, everyone else is quite forgettable. His entourage of women are your typical tropes, and they’re all Cid’s lapdogs. The only other remotely likeable characters are this sadistic princess, Alexia, and Gamma, one of Cid’s women who is somehow both a mastermind and a ditz at the same time.
The art in Eminence is great. It has an edgy color palette which fits in perfectly with its image, and the characters at least look cool, even if they aren’t particularly enjoyable. I’ll definitely be looking forward to what the future volume covers look like.
Although it’s a bit confusing at times, The Eminence in Shadow is off to a great start. It’s edgy, trashy, and scandalous. For now, I recommend it to fans of similarly edgy franchises, like Persona.
My job will have fully opened by the time you read this, but at the time of this writing, it was only partially opened. This gave me the chance to squeeze in one more Western animated series while my shift is substantially reduced. But what to pick? Steven Universe was a very emotional show, and I’m still caught up on DuckTales and The Dragon Prince, waiting for new episodes. Since I didn’t find the CG of the latter to be so bad, I thought I would watch a more… (in)famous CG series: Rooster Teeth’s RWBY. Even from beneath the rock I’ve been living under, I’m aware of the heated debates that occur over this franchise. So, because I love controversial media (for some reason), I thought I’d give the show a whirl to see what the hubbub is about.
In the world of RWBY, people rely on some magic junk called Dust (which is basically Sepith from Trails of Cold Steel), and that’s their only way to fight these monsters called Grimm. One night, a girl named Ruby Rose takes on some criminals with a crazy scythe-gun, and is sought out by Ozpin, the headmaster of Beacon Academy. He decides that “you’re a wizard, Ruby!” and instantly bumps her into the prestigious school, two years in advance. There, she meets three more color-coded girls (her older sister, a tsundere, and an emo girl) and they go on adventures together.
Like with Dragon Prince, I must discuss the visuals of RWBY first and foremost. “The Dragon Prince looked great,” I thought. “RWBY shouldn’t be so bad,” I thought. Oh, how wrong I was. I understood that The Dragon Prince was made with the backing of Netflix, one of the biggest entertainment distributors in the world, and also five years after the premiere of RWBY. But even with that in mind, RWBY takes some time to get used to. While the character designs are fine, everything else about the visuals is horribly wrong. I complained about The Dragon Prince’s choppy and inconsistent frames, but RWBY showed me that the smoother framerates of its animations look more stiff, unnatural, and awkward than in The Dragon Prince.
Fortunately, the visuals improve substantially over time, with it finally looking legitimately good by season 4. The fight scenes in RWBY are when it’s at its best… sort of. The camera swings too wildly for humans to possibly keep an eye on, and it relies entirely on pure spectacle. However, as a fan of over-the-top battle shounens, I love it. The animation is at its most fluid and impactful here. Also, the show is truly anime for one reason: everything is a gun. Scythes, gauntlets, even suitcases; they’re all guns.
To be honest, the visuals served to make RWBY one of the funniest battle shounen I have ever experienced. The humor was legitimately on point in the show, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had influence from the best of Weekly Shounen Jump. It’s the kind of stupidity that I’ve grown to love ever since I started reading manga all those years ago. The awkward movements made it even funnier for some reason.
However, despite the anime influences, RWBY is still a Western fantasy, and a modern one at that. And if you couldn’t tell, it is qualified to fall into the Harry Potter knockoff category. In the early seasons, the plot is mind-numbingly simple, with typical gag-shounen-meets-school-drama antics coupled with some YA awkwardness; a very difficult combination of tropes to get used to.
Being a modern fantasy, RWBY does another common thing: making its world an overly obvious mirror to our society, i.e. racism. The people who get targeted for discrimination are the Faunus. They are essentially furries, which ironically, adds another layer of social commentary. Anyway, the big problem with the Faunus is the White Fang, a terrorist organization that has resorted to rather… harsh methods of ending racism (which isn’t at all ten times more relevant in 2020 for any specific reasons). Honestly… I didn’t really care much for this line of narrative. It’s a topical topic for a reason, but this is one of the things I enjoyed The Dragon Prince for not having. I like adventure fantasies the best, and there really aren’t enough of them in this day and age.
Like any gag shounen, RWBY inevitably makes the transition to a more serious and plot-driven story. However, it’s not that simple. During production of the third season, the original creator of RWBY tragically passed away. The rest of the team has been carrying on with the series since, but it’s at this point where the show became the divisive debate-starting show it is today. It makes a transition that’s extremely risky for the genre: from gag shounen to straight-up seinen.
There are a couple of issues with this. One is that the transition is not at all organic. Normally, most shounen start out with short arcs, some of which last only one volume. Then, an arc goes for two volumes to make the reader think, “Finally, they’re actually doing something substantial with these characters and ideas.” Then, there’s an arc that’s really long and is generally considered the best, followed by a unanimously hated slog to the end. I get that not all battle shounen are like this, and RWBY definitely does not follow this pattern either (but in a bad way). There is a very visible instant in which the show completely changes with no build-up whatsoever: Season 3 Episode 6. After that, it packs on the emotional baggage to no end, and it becomes very hard to take seriously if you’re not super-emotional.
Also, Eastern angst and Western angst are two completely different things, and if you’ve read any of my YA novel reviews, you’d know I don’t entirely enjoy the latter’s company. While a lot of edgy stuff from Japan can tackle some uncomfortable themes with surprising elegance (Chainsaw Man, Torture Princess, Tokyo Ghoul, Monster, etc.), I’ve found a lot of the same from Western culture to be pretentious and heavy-handed. Additionally, some of the voice acting has enough gravel to pave a whole interstate highway. At the point I’m at, the few gags they do use feel jarring instead of something meant to break the ice. But in all honesty, it’s not terrible. The show is still enjoyable, and if I had liked the characters better, the feels would’ve actually struck a chord with me. However, due to the fact that it gets more and more controversial from here, I can’t guarantee that my opinion isn’t going to sway drastically in later seasons.
Regardless of the narrative, there is a somewhat great cast of characters to motivate you to keep watching. Each of the four girls are typical tropes: Ruby, ditz; Weiss, tsundere; Blake, YA protagonist; Yang, brash. But they all have genuinely good interactions with each other, and overall truly feel like a ragtag team of young’uns. They go through a lot of character development, even if it makes them come off as typical YA drama queens. Unfortunately, their fellow peers are similarly tropeish but with less… interestingness. A boy named Jaune is a typical underdog, a girl named Pyrrha is a typical hyper-justice-girl, a girl named Nora is Ruby but with a hammer, etc. Even when they all go through big emotional crises in season four, I didn’t care for any of the kids besides the four main ones.
However, the adults make up for it. My favorite character ended up being Ruby’s uncle, Crow. He’s your typical bad-ass, trollish, yet down-to-earth father figure guy, and it’s hard not to like him. There’s also a fast-talking professor named Oobleck, but he’s- sadly- a pretty minor character. Also, this one guy named James Ironwood has the best worst name (I’ll leave society’s many euphemisms to explain why).
I can’t say the same for the villains, though. As much the show really tries to do a moral ambiguity angle, the major antagonists fall under the typical Saturday morning cartoon villain category, at least up to where I’ve watched. This one swindler named Roman Torchwick is entertaining enough, but it’s not the case for the people he’s getting his fat stacks from. He reports to this woman named Cinder, who is literally Azula from Avatar. Her two minions, Mercury and Emerald, are just about as uninteresting. Cinder reports works under the true mastermind of the series, some alien(?) named Salem, but there’s not yet enough information to really say anything about her.
Before I get to my current score, I must clarify that I’m not criticizing RWBY because it stopped being what I wanted it to be; it’s just that the show felt more generic after the tone shift. I wholly understand that not everything can be original, but a lot of the content felt like it was ripped right out of How to Make Your Audiences Bleed Tears in Five Easy Steps with no finesse or variation. Compare the portrayal of the Faunus- which is the same exact allegory to American history that’s been done eleventy other times- to something like Eighty-Six. Both are commentaries on the exact same topic, but Eighty-Six does it in a way that feels much fresher than what RWBY does.
Television is also a deceptively limiting medium for visual storytelling. Once in a blue moon, you’ll have someone like Satoshi Kon who can do something interesting with film as an entertainment medium, but RWBY is not a Satoshi Kon film; a lot of it had bog-standard cinematography, such as those “hard-cut-to-black-with-some-kind-of-distressing-sound-effect-cliffhanger” techniques. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by manga, which have billions of combinations of panel layouts that all subtly contribute to the mood of a scene, or books, which can use the written word to at times convey more emotion than an image ever could. Also, Legend of Korra taught me that I should be examining television through an entirely different lens, as a lot of things I find typical are less common on TV. I’m even willing to bet that RWBY wouldn’t even have been allowed to air on network television, and could only exist as an indie program, for whatever dumb bureaucratic reason.
Current Verdict: 8.35/10
RWBY is a typical battle shounen in presentation and plot structure. It is great mindless entertainment, and I honestly don’t see why so many people take it so seriously. The food fight at the start of season two shows what I believe RWBY is at its best: over-the-top action with goofy slapstick. Unfortunately, I don’t entirely like the darker turn it took, mainly because it took it too fast. RWBY seems to be trying to be a fantasy epic on the scope of something like Trails of Cold Steel, but without the foundation that those games took time to build. Overall, the show is pretty middle-of-the-road, and I do not understand either side of the arguments with this show (but like I said, that could change). These seasons are stupid short, so I should be able to see RWBY through to the end without much hassle.
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.
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!
Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, an unnamed protagonist got reincarnated as the queen of the evil Arachnea race in another world that’s similar to her favorite RTS game. While gathering intel, she saves an elven village from poachers, and enslaves one of them with a parasite swarm. She also travels to the town of Leen where she buys new clothes. However, criminals kill one of her spider friends, and she responds in kind by slaughtering their whole organization. The king blames the elves for the incident, and they send an army to attack the village. The Queen defends them and declares war on the kingdom. With the help of her growing swarm, and the spider knight, Serignan, she lays waste to the nation and destroys everyone in the capital city of Maluk (well, except for the princess whom she enslaves). The elves gladly put themselves under her custody, afterwhich she names herself Grevillea. Oh, and some elf girl turns herself into a spider as well. That’s pretty cool I guess.
So… Her Majesty’s Swarm is really starting to teeter on the brink of becoming Overlord. The previous volume set the tone for the series; that Grevillea is a cold-hearted killer set on world conquest. And in this volume… she wants to keep her humanity to some extent (Ainz, is that you?). She goes with Serignan, and her new minion Lysa (the elf girl) to join the adventurer’s guild (just like in Overlord volume 2). Fortunately, things do ramp up a lot faster than in Overlord.
Also, Grevillia immediately makes it clear exactly who she is: the Queen of the Arachnea. This means we don’t have the whole sitcom-like double life that Ainz had to live in Overlord. Even then, she does try to politics her way to success. Fortunately, this also goes by much faster than in Overlord, saving on the nonsensical bush-beating.
Minor spoiler here, but once more like in Overlord, politics will not let Grevillia have her way. She tries, but inevitably ends up having to kill and pillage again, making the politics seem like padding. As in the previous volume, the writing in Her Majesty’s Swarm is at its best when it comes to senseless violence, so I’m not complaining here.
But what I am complaining about are the characters. While Grevillia is beautiful and sadistic as usual, her cohorts are about as one-dimensional as Ainz’s. Serignan is basically Albedo except more powerful. Lysa, the new recruit, is also useful, but she’s kind of just there. These guys have a distinct disadvantage to Ainz’s team, because there’s no Demiurge or Shalltear equivalent among them. Grevillia also has the same contrived moral conundrum as Ainz, but developments in this volume seem to imply that there’s actually a bigger force at work here, a development that was never explored once in Overlord, even with how far I got before dropping it.
Her Majesty’s Swarm looks like it’s gonna be the Overlord Comparisons Drinking Game. It’s so similar, with the only real difference being the pacing. I’m still willing to follow Grevillia’s campaign, so let’s hope it stays good.
Last time on Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, Agent Six’s group is sent to negotiate with the kingdom of Toris for some water crystals. They fail miserably. So now, Toris sides with the Demon Army and prepares to attack his kingdom, Grace. Six’s party is then sent to some mysterious ruins to obtain a weapon hidden in them. They follow two Demon generals; Heine from the last volume, and a new face named Russell, so that Six doesn’t have to do any of the dirty work. Russell finds the weapon, which is of course, a giant mech. Six holds it off long enough for Alice to summon Kisaragi’s strongest machine, the Destroyer. She wrecks it (as well as the Destroyer) and they capture Russell, whom- after some persuasion from the creepy Tiger Man- uses his water magic to create water for the kingdom.
There are two major plotlines in this volume. First, the loss of the Destroyer puts Six in super debt. And as a result, he must build a new base with Alice using minimal resources. Also, he has to jack up his Evil Points by doing even more perverse things. So much for him being more heroic this time around… Not that I’m complaining. Scummy Six is Best Six!
Snow is also in debt, and basically a slave to Alice. This relationship is hilarious and I love it. Snow completely loses her shame, and sometimes tries to sell her body just so she can have a roof over her head. Alice is a hoot as always, especially now that she has complete control over a person’s life.
In addition to that… Six and Rose have to help Grimm prepare for the Undead Festival. Grimm is Best Girl as always, even if she still kills herself about as often as Megumin uses Explosion. She gets some great new character development, and I love every minute of it.
Overall, it’s the same antics as usual, and that’s my only issue with Combatants thus far. I still love reading it, but as a writer, I need to talk about enough stuff to constitute as a post. Konosuba’s got this issue too; it’s so consistent, that it’s not getting better nor worse over time. Since I’m a spoiler-free reviewer for the most part, I can’t exactly comment on specific scenes that I enjoy. In fact, I wrote this whole paragraph just because I literally ran out of things to say about the volume in the previous one!
Combatants Will be Dispatched! is still good, but like I said, it hasn’t really evolved much. I’m either going to have to rethink my blogging format or completely abstain from covering Combatants volume-by-volume, and instead make a megapost once the whole thing is finished. What would you suggest? I’d love some feedback!
Aaaah, you gotta love a good Jump manga. Unfortunately, a lot of them have similar running themes, such as having a goody-two-shoes main protagonist; a privileged young man that anyone can relate to. But a new series, Chainsaw Man, published in English by Viz, looks to be attempting to tell its story with an utter turd of a protagonist instead.
In Chainsaw Man, a dreg named Denji makes a living by hunting devils, with the help of a chainsaw-dog-devil named Pochita. But “makes a living” can be read as “barely scraping by”, for he’s shouldering a serious debt from his late father. However, when he’s almost cut to pieces, he fuses with Pochita and becomes a chainsaw man, after which he is taken under the wing of Makima, a beautiful girl from an official team of devil hunters.
Normally, I’d go over the overarching plot as it is. However, Chainsaw Man’s appeal seems to revolve entirely around the characters and their interactions. Otherwise, it’s the standard Jump fare; bad thing appears, kill bad thing, get stronger. There is some strange fascination with Denji shared between Makima and some of the other devils, but that’s likely going to be an endgame reveal.
Like I mentioned before, Denji is a very unusual protagonist for Jump. He’s a guy who’s down on his luck, who gets lucky when he gets to work for the devil hunters. However, a lot of people there treat him poorly. It’s even made very apparent that Makima only sees him as a dog. But hey, he takes it because it’s all he’s got. He’s not someone who has a lofty goal, like becoming the #1 Pirate Devil Hunter King of the Hokage Wizard National Volleyball Basketball Baseball Champion; no, he just wants to… er… touch a breast. Thing is, he does get that very early on in the story, but he realizes that it was a shallow dream. He’s still as relatable as any Jump protag, but instead of throwing women on his lap and expecting the reader to pretend to be him, Chainsaw Man shows the more vulnerable side of the emotionally insecure target demographic in Denji.
Denji is treated like crap at first, but he starts to grow closer to his squadmates over time, all of which have devil powers like him. Most of them aren’t too interesting, except for Best Girl Power (Power’s her actual name). She’s a fiend- a devil that’s possessing a corpse. She’s awesome, and her interactions with Denji are some of the best moments throughout the entirety of the manga.
Makima is very beautiful and mysterious. Denji’s whole MO is to kiss her, but we- the readers- get an exclusive sneak preview of what kind of a person she is. A lot of bits and pieces of intrigue regarding her pop up every now and then, and I’m curious as to what’s going on with her.
The art is also pretty good. It has a very rough and gritty style. The devils’ designs are very unsettling, and there’s an uncharacteristically large amount of gore. The action is great as well! And most importantly, the girls are very cute.
Current Verdict: 8.15/10
Chainsaw Man has a lot of great ideas, but at this time, I’m a bit underwhelmed. It has a number of risque tropes that wouldn’t normally be in Jump, but are prevalent in Jump Plus or any seinen magazine. And that’s why Chainsaw Man stands out; because it’s in Jump. I gotta admit that I’m curious about the direction it could head in, so I’ll keep my eye on it for a while (let’s see how much sooner this ends than Kimetsu no Yaiba, which’ll likely run for ten more years at least).
What if you had complete control over someone’s body and mind? Their movements, their thoughts, their own souls… are yours. Would you do something like that to a living, breathing human? Although that’s part of the premise of Outer Ragna, the latest Overlord wannabe published in English by J-Novel Club, that train of thought isn’t even remotely explored in the plot. I just wanted to make an interesting intro paragraph *smirks*.
In Outer Ragna, a (presumably) Twitch streamer by the username of PotatoStarch plays the new deluxe edition of Dragon Demon RPG on stream. This game is supposed to be Dark Souls of JRPGs (if Xenoblade Chronicles X wasn’t already that), and your race and abilities are all randomized. He ends up with the worst possible role: a human slave girl. But for some reason, the whole game world is an actual fantasy world (of course), and he’s controlling this girl, named Kuroi. Thanks to his veteran gamer skills, the humans actually have a shot at survival in the ongoing war of the elves and vampires that normally wipe humanity clean in a normal playthrough.
Confused? Despite the simple premise, I found Outer Ragna to be kind of hard to follow at first. The structure felt very disorienting to me for some reason… I actually took my darn time to read through this volume, yet I was still confused at times. A lot of scene transitions felt very abrupt.
The author definitely put a lot of effort into the game mechanics, which is good. But it’s only introduced in chunks of exposition dump from Starch, and scattered throughout the book. What you need to understand is that elves get magic from the Dragon God, Vampires get magic from the Demon God, and humans- who can only learn lousy fire magic- have no god. Or so they thought. In the deluxe edition, the humans have the Devil God on their side, who is presumed to be Starch himself.
“Hang on!” you exclaim, “This guy can’t play this game 24/7, right?” Don’t worry; strange circumstances occur in the world that force him to play it, such as being given an indefinite paid vacation from his job. Obviously, this doesn’t make a lick of sense, but them’s the brakes with the genre.
The biggest problem so far is that I’m not a fan of the writing style. The descriptions are lacking in detail, and the many “torture porn” segments feel underwhelming (keep in mind that yours truly’s standards of torture porn have spiked recently, thanks to Torture Princess). I also had no sense of where anyone or anything was in 3D space. The writing is at its best when it strictly comes to action sequences, but those occur in rather low abundance.
Among the characters, Kuroi is the one most worth mentioning. It’s hilarious to see NPCs react to her doing repetitive tasks from their perspective, while we as an audience know that it’s merely Starch grinding stats a la Quest 64. But otherwise, she’s just your typical deadpan loli. The other interesting character is the sorcerer, Odysson, who has cool fire magic, but is implied to have Ted Bundy’d a bunch of people in the past. But seriously… they introduce way too many characters to keep track of right off the bat. In addition to the characters I mentioned, there’s… *deep breath* The priest Felipo, the knight Agias, his brother Origis, some merchant lady, a loli named Sira, and more! What they all have in common is being boring dullards.
Outer Ragna is yet another LN with only cover art. While it is a step down from Isekai Rebuilding Project, it still has a nice, edgy style to it that makes it visually appealing all the same. Let’s just hope the series will get as intense as it looks on the cover moving forward.
From the first impressions, Outer Ranga doesn’t seem to be anything spectacular. It sets up some good groundwork, but to what end? The structure felt very wonky, and the characters are bland. I’d recommend it to fans of Overlord and Sword Art Online. But otherwise, I might end up quitting while I’m ahead.
Speculative fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but I can appreciate its importance. It’s important for people’s ideas to be challenged. Some of the best speculative works I’ve ever read are Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Chinese SF author Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem. But for some reason, putting out something truly speculative for younger audiences seems to be much harder than for adult audiences. Works like The Giver and Chronicle of the Dark Star set the groundwork to challenge young minds into questioning the world around them, but fall short and end up ham-fisting easy answers in the end. The Arc of a Scythe trilogy, written by Neal Shusterman and published by Simon and Schuster, seems to try to challenge the young mind as well. But does it succeed?
Arc of a Scythe is set in a world where humanity has achieved total bliss; all knowledge has been learned, and anyone who dies instead comes back in fresh new bodies at a clinic. However, the population is still a thing, so they hire people called Scythes to off folks, which results in what is called gleaning: the true, final death. Two plucky teens named Citra and Rowan are recruited as apprentice Scythes, and go on adventures in life and death.
Immediately, this idea is really neat. Scythe‘s premise could’ve asked a lot of questions about morality and the greater good. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case in execution. Murder is a horrible act, and the idea of hired killers being able to arbitrarily murder whomever they want is inherently scary, but the world in Scythe could’ve been a genuinely good solution for mankind. However, Scythe doesn’t reach that potential, at least not from what I could GLEAN off of the dialogue and worldbuilding.
The way the world is put together comes off as Shusterman going out of his way to make it as corrupt as possible, so that it can’t be interpreted in any way other than “bad”. First off, the fact that TEENAGERS become apprentice Scythes is utter bullcrap. Of all the people to give the power to commit murder willy-nilly, teens aren’t the best choice. Secondly, how come this world lacks that real-world thing called background checks? Maybe some like that might be important when hiring someone to ARBITRARILY COMMIT MURDER. And don’t get me started on the Thunderhead! This thing was built to oversee everything that happens in the world and run all machinery. It does its job well enough, except for Scythes; it is forbidden to interfere with them. You’d think that maybe, just maybe, it should do just that, especially when someone gets a BIT drunk with power?
Speaking of drunk with power, the biggest disappointment in Scythe is the main antagonist, Scythe Robert Goddard. It’s natural to think that anyone who has the power to murder without punishment (among other ludicrous perks of being a Scythe) would be a raving lunatic, and Goddard is said lunatic. He and his lackeys save all their gleanings for the last day of their quota so that they can perform literal acts of terrorism just for fun. Like in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, he has no motive, and he apparently doesn’t need one because “Absolute power corrupts absolutely herpaderpderp.” They wait until the third book to give him any real backstory, but it doesn’t help much.
The other characters aren’t that much better. The two leads are just classic YA tropes; Citra’s the brat, and Rowan’s the edgelord. Their relationship is a load of bullcrap because they inevitably get romantically involved despite the fact that they spend more than 80% of the story separated. I don’t mean a long-distance relationship; I mean that they hardly even communicate with each other! Introduced in book two is Greyson, who is basically the emo. Unfortunately for him, all he does is join some cult and have conversations with the Thunderhead that aren’t really that interesting IMO (at least until the third book). In fact, at least half of the series is uninteresting conversations.
So what are the positives? It’s entertaining. The writing is solid, and when the story gets going, it gets going. There are also some good one-liners as well, and some parts that are unintentionally funny. And even though Goddard ruins all sense of moral ambiguity in the story, he’s still got some charisma as a try-hard, edgy villain.
Most of book two, Thunderhead, was a boring blur for me, except for the climax. It was a really intense string of events, and the author had done something genuinely ballsy. Unfortunately, 95 pages into book three, The Toll, he once fails to commit to that risky move. But other than that, The Toll is actually a [somewhat] satisfactory finale. It still fails to touch upon any speculative narrative themes (it damn well tries, though), but it’s definitely the best of the three.
Final Verdict: 7/10
I wanted to give Arc of a Scythe a 5 or lower, but I couldn’t. It’s my fault for expecting something more intellectual, when that might not have been the author’s intent. But for what it is, Scythe is decent at best; not the worst YA book series out there, but be wary that it will not explore any gray areas whatsoever.
Edgelords are a really popular market no matter where you’re from. Regardless of how kids are raised, a primal urge that goes back to when people would pay to watch Romans slaughter each other makes us yearn for media with wonton violence, gratuitous sexualization, and morally incorrect protagonists, all against our better judgement. It’s such a big market that I feel like I’ve tagged at least twenty of my posts as “edgy”, and I’m running out of insightful ways to describe the genre. So let’s turn off our lights, put up our hoods, and dive into Dead Mount Death Play, the newest manga by the creator of Durarara!!, published in English by Yen Press.
In Dead Mount Death Play, a powerful necromancer called the Corpse God is engaged in battle with his enemy. Right when Mr. Corpse is about to be slain, he uses reincarnation magic to be reborn in the body of Polka Shinoyama, a boy in modern Japan who has just been murdered. The new Polka has a run in with his killer, Misaki Sakimiya, and after killing her and turning her into a zombie, he joins her in her exploits (i.e. killing people for money).
Well, what else can I say? We have literal villains as the main protagonists; it doesn’t get edgier than that. Sure, they have tragic backstories, but who doesn’t these days?
Unlike Durarara!!, DMDP seems to have a more focused narrative so far. But at the same time, I don’t know what the author wants to do with it. The main conflict revolves around issues in Polka’s family, as well as the exploits of various criminals, such as the bandage-covered Lemmings. It’s a pretty simple plot, but I found it really difficult to tell who’s working for whom (maybe that’s the point?). The intrigue ramps up at the end of volume 3, so maybe it’s just hit its turning point.
But hey, this is our boy Narita, the creator of Durarara!!, here. That means the best part of DMDP is the cast, right? Eeeeeeh… sadly, not quite. Corpse God/Polka is basically your generic, emotionally insecure edgelord, who only stands out thanks to the slit in his throat. I forgot most of the other characters’ names, such as Occulus-wearing guy who is basically the brains of the people that Misaki works for, and these two police officers who are kind of just there. Misaki’s supervisor, Clarissa, is basically your fanservice character (who sometimes has uncensored sex with some of her other employees. Watch out for that). The best character is definitely Misaki herself. She is both ditzy and insane, with by far the best character design out of the lot. Also, she’s a zombie, which makes her extra appealing for those with a monster girl fetish.
The art varies a lot. Most of the time, it’s your standard manga art. But sometimes, it’s like, “Oh hey, here’s something with a lot of linework in it!” Overall, it looks good, but I’ve definitely seen better.
Current Verdict: 7.6/10
No writer has to worry more about topping a popular series than that series’ own creator. I likely expected a bit much from Narita, especially given that he’s working on other stuff at the same time as this. Furthermore, Durarara!!‘s greatest strength is in it’s prose, which naturally, would end up being lacking in a manga. DMDP is your typical edgelord fare. You’ll know if you’d like it just by looking at the cover art.