Mission: Yozakura Family is Literally All About the Waifu (First Impressions, Chapters 1-30)

Spy X Family is a manga about a spy who makes a fake family, and that’s all well and good. But they’re not the only ones on the block. Mission: Yozakura Family has a family made entirely of spies. It’s managed to last a year in Jump’s ruthless gauntlet, so that means it must be doing something right. 

In Mission: Yozakura Family, a shy boy named Taiyo Asano has been coping with the abrupt death of his parents and brother (which is not at all a cheap emotional hook). His only friend is this girl named Mutsumi Yozakura, the adorable school idol. When Taiyo is attacked by Mutsumi’s overprotective brother, Kyoichiro, he is introduced to the Yozakura family (of spies). Because he’s the ultimate husbando (and because he doesn’t want to get assassinated), he marries into the family and vows to protect Mutsumi with his life.

I don’t know of many manga attempting to combine gag shounen with battle shounen (apparently, Katekyo Hitman Reborn! is one example, but SOMEONE (*cough* Viz *cough*) doesn’t have the manga licensed), but Yozakura Family has been a real fun time. Of course, there really is no narrative to speak of. The death of Taiyo’s family is pretty much glossed over until it gets to the designated “It wasn’t really an accident” plot development (which, honestly, isn’t a spoiler because that pretty much always happens).

The sillies are what matter, though. Yozakura Family is loaded with bombastic, over-the-top comedy that completely disregards realism, including a literal spy magazine and social media group. I also have to post a trigger warning: there are cases of minors (and adults) carrying firearms to school, so if you have any memories tied to an actual school shooting, then this manga might not be for you. There haven’t BEEN any school shootings so far, but I doubt that’ll stop you from being triggered. Also, as of where I left off, the manga hasn’t gone straight-up full battle shounen, like many gag series do. 

Unfortunately, Yozakura Family fubars one of the most important aspects of shounen: training. They show some of Taiyo’s training early on, but it’s gone over super-fast. It’s so abrupt that he goes from wimp to Bruce Willis overnight. Since this is primarily a gag shounen, I’m not too butthurt about it, but I’m definitely the minority in that.

This manga has a great cast of characters (for once). Taiyo is kind of that generic guy, like always, but the series isn’t called Yozakura Family for nothing. While Mutsumi herself is that “waifu” type, her siblings are where the personality comes in. Kyoichiro might (read as: “will”) annoy some people, but I think his ludicrous devotion to Mutsumi, plus his overly lacking subtlety of how much he hates Taiyo is hilarious. Her other siblings have very distinctive character design and memorable personalities, but sadly, they don’t have too much screentime. In any case, the antagonists are all fun, even if a lot of them (so far) have been in the throwaway category. 

The art is great. It’s simple, but effective. The action scenes are swift and packed with line work, while the facial expressions are on point. It’s what you’d expect from a shounen manga.

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Current Verdict: 9/10

Mission: Yozakura Family is starting off strong. I have no idea how popular it is, so I don’t know if it’s going to be ending soon, but I hope it has a solid run down the road. Of course, you can never truly know with a Jump manga.

Jujutsu Kaisen is at least Better than Kimetsu no Yaiba (First Impressions, Chapters 1-75)

Weekly Shounen Jump has had some really great manga, and it’s had some not so great manga. While they have a system to weed out the latter, cases like Kimetsu no Yaiba show that it’s not perfect. A little manga called Jujutsu Kaisen (published in English by Viz) has risen to a pretty high level of popularity, without the need of a successful anime adaptation (even though the anime will no doubt make it quite popular overseas). Let’s see whether or not it deserves its popularity.

In Jujutsu Kaisen, a high-schooler named Yuji Itadori has a run-in with Megumi Fushiguro, a student from the curse-fighting Jujutsu Highschool, when he seeks a cursed object that Yuji’s classmates have come across. Yuji helps him fight back the curses that attack them, but things get hairy. Yuji ends up eating the cursed object- a severed finger- and becomes more than powerful enough to fight the curse, but is nearly possessed by the finger’s owner, Ryomen Sukuna. Due to Yuji’s strange ability to suppress its power, he’s recruited as a new student of Jujutsu Highschool in order to collect and consume the rest of the fingers… after which he will be executed. 

Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it; this is a First Impressions, after all. I had thought, based on Chainsaw Man, that Jump is trying to become more mature in order to recover from the slump it’s been in lately (a lot of series from 2019 onward have sold poorly), but alas, it seems that Chainsaw Man is an exception and not the rule. Despite how often it waxes poetic about life and death, Jujutsu Kaisen is a pretty typical shounen manga. 

As expected of most Jump manga, Jujutsu Kaisen starts by getting us acquainted with the main characters as they fight random enemies in self-contained mini-arcs, followed by a training arc. For the most part, the ideas of cursed energy and techniques are pretty generic, but the neatest aspect of the combat in Jujutsu Kaisen is the domain techniques. These are basically field effects that look really cool, and add a bit of spectacle to the fights.

The manga picks up after twenty-odd chapters, which is when the first major arc starts. It introduces the main antagonist (who will likely get replaced by someone less memorable if the manga ends up running for eight more years), and ups the ante by a lot. And I mean A LOT.

Typical shounen manga means a pretty one-dimensional cast. Yuji is a pretty generic, brash idiot, and the thing with Sukuna seems more like something to make him edgy than to give him a moral crisis. His classmates, Megumi, and the female lead, Nobara, aren’t that interesting either outside of their fighting abilities. Fortunately, Jujutsu Kaisen at least tries with some of its characters. Yuji’s teacher, Satoru Gojo, has got a pretty good sense of humor, for instance. There’s also some other students in other classes who are pretty wild, such as a literal panda bear, as well as some interesting folks from their rival school in Kyoto (such as mah boy Toto). 

The art of Jujutsu Kaisen is where it shines. It’s sketchy and dirty, but full of personality. The fight scenes are fast and spectacular, and really help the manga shine. The character design is also excellent, with a plethora of good-looking women.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Jujutsu Kaisen is indeed a very mainstream manga. However, with great art, and a number of admittedly creative ideas (such as a decrepit old geezer who fights with an electric guitar), it stands out from the rabble. I recommend it to any battle shounen fanatic.

WATARU!!! The Divisive New Gag Isekai! (Volume 1 Review)

Sometimes, I think the stuff I’ve read has caused me to lose brain cells. I used to be pretty good at handling some mature and complex themes, but nowadays, I want simple, dumb stuff. The new J-Novel Club publication, WATARU!!! The Hot-Blooded Fighting Teen & His Epic Adventures After Stopping a Truck with His Bare Hands!, is one of those braincell-killers. I am pretty damn sure that a monumental amount of people would hate this LN, and yet… I LOVE IT!

In WATARU!!!, the titular Wataru Ito is about to be hit by the Truck-kun that has sent many-a clueless adolescent male to another world. Due to his insane strength, he stops it with his bare hands. However, as to not kill the driver from the forced deceleration, he lets the truck hit him. Wataru is brought into another world, and sets off to fight the strongest opponent: the Demon Lord, Deus!

This… WATARU!!! is just something else. Okay, so if you’re looking into reading this, I recommend you watch two completely unrelated television shows. The first of which is The Legend of Korra. I made my case about how much of a hot mess it is, but the radio announcer guy who does the recap has a really good voice for reading WATARU!!! You see, ninety percent of the sentences are written with exclamation points, enough to put Elaine Benes to shame. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, but I love it. The narrator even tells you how you feel, which I would normally find pretentious, but it’s done in a way that’s perfectly in tune with the LN’s personality. There’s also references to fake-real-world martial arts techniques, which the LN adds its own footnotes to. I recommend reading those in Siri’s voice to make it sound funnier.

The second show I think you should watch is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Not only is it one of the few anime so good that I enjoy watching without reading the source manga (because half of it is unlicensed in English at this point), but it also has a sense of its own ridiculousness. The dramatic reactions to everything, plus the appearance of onomatopoeia onscreen, have been my reference for visualizing the cinematics of WATARU!!!, and I recommend you do the same.

In case you couldn’t tell, WATARU!!!’s sense of humor boils down to being dumb and overly meta while spamming exclamation points. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll know whether you like it or not within five seconds. It relies entirely on the quirky writing style which makes a big deal out of everything. And another tongue-and-cheek thing that WATARU!!! does is having modern facilities in a fantasy world. They have rock concerts, 1950’s-style diners, and even a gothic shop called “Tot Hopic”. Half the time, Wataru ends up fighting enemies through rap and cooking.

The characters are surprisingly enjoyable. Wataru himself is Gary Sue on steroids, and it makes the over-the-topness of the whole series feel complete. However, he doesn’t beat Best Girl Aria. She comes off as a typical heroine, but ends up playing the straight-man role (while frequently getting stabbed in the forehead). Aria also has weird quirks, such as completely disregarding her parents getting kidnapped by the Demon Lord in favor of knockoff Beyblades, and playing drums with her feet.

Along with them is Résistance, one of Deus’s minions who gets the Piccolo treatment and joins Wataru’s party. She’s not as great as Aria, but she’s still a fun character. Deus himself is hilarious; he just eats his pudding. The problem with him is that he has diabetes, and yet he keeps eating his pudding despite it. I have no idea if it would offend someone with diabetes, but knowing today’s culture, it probably would.

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Verdict: 9/10

WATARU!!! is stupid, extremely stupid. And yet… it’s a masterpiece. This is starting out as one of the best gag isekai I’ve read, and it could become one of my favorite light novel series of all time. Reading WATARU!!! is truly an experience, but it’s not for everyone. I can only recommend it to fans of stuff like Konosuba and Cautious Hero.

The Dragon Prince is as Epic as it is Choppy (First Impressions, Seasons 1-3)

I’ve been using the extra free-time from COVID-19 to watch some TV shows for the first time in my life. I just finished watching stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe, and those had some pretty emotional baggage. I’m caught up to DuckTales, and I needed something “dumb and fun” to watch after the tumultuousness of Steven. So, I turned to the first and last Netflix Original I’ll ever watch, The Dragon Prince. Made by some of the original creators of Avatar, I hoped that it would be as dumb and fun as I wanted it to be (for the record, it’s apparently really popular but I only heard of it when Netflix recommended it to me after I started Avatar. Hooray for my patented living-under-a-rock powers!). I thought I had watched 75% percent of the show after the first three seasons; but apparently, there’s going to be seven. So, let’s see if the show is worth the big investment.

The Dragon Prince starts out with a truly draconic exposition dump. Basically, there was this land of Xadia that had all this cool magic and stuff. But once one single person discovered evil dark magic, the elves took it out on the ENTIRE human race and forced them to move west. A powerful dragon named Thunder guarded the border, but everything changed when the Human Nation attacked (had to; it’s supposed to be comparable to Avatar). They used dark magic to slay Thunder, and killed his little egg bearing his heir, the Dragon Prince. War between the two halves of the world was just a shot away.

In the present day, we have two princes who live in a fancy schmancy palace by the name of Callum and Ezran. Life is all well and good, but everything changed when the Moonshadow Elf Nation attacked. So, they get sent away for their own protection. Meanwhile, an Elf girl named Rayla whiffs the chance to kill a human and now all of her friends hate her. The three kids inevitably cross paths, and it is revealed that the Dragon Prince is miraculously still alive. I guess we’re hoofing it to Xadia, then!

Before we can discuss the content of the narrative, this is one of those shows where it’s important to discuss the visuals first. The Dragon Prince is a fully CG show, similar to RWBY, and that tends to put off a large number of people. As the first show of this type that I watched, I found it to be pretty tolerable. The backgrounds appear to be fully hand-painted, like with Avatar, and the lighting and particle effects really help the world pop. The real issue is the character design. They have a cel-shaded style that doesn’t look all that bad, but for some reason, everyone moves at a very choppy and inconsistent framerate. I imagine this must be a stylistic choice, since I figured Netflix being rich enough to allow for models to move at 60 fps (also the fact that most modeling software these days function at that rate as well). But regardless, it’s definitely better to look at than most CG I’ve seen in anime and stuff.

So, I wanted The Dragon Prince to be dumb and fun, and boy, did I get what I wished for! This show is a kind of adventure fantasy that just isn’t common enough these days; too many of them are busy being political, dark, brooding, and in a lot of cases, ripping off Harry Potter. But nope, The Dragon Prince is a good ol’, “ragtag team of kids against the world” kind of fantasy, just like Avatar, except with a more modern sense of humor. There are some politics, but it’s incredibly clear-cut as to what the correct solution is, and it’s very explicit as far as which figures are smart and which are manipulable idiots.

However, just because The Dragon Prince is both dumb and fun, that doesn’t mean the latter is enough to justify the former for some people. While I am enjoying the show a lot thus far, the story is simplistic on a near child-like level. While it does try to be morally ambiguous by having the war be kind of the fault of both races, individual characters’ moral structures are written all over their sleeves. They don’t even try to hide the evilness of The Dragon Prince’s main antagonist, which is definitely a turn-off to those who like those layer-caked villains. The show can also be hard to take seriously even when it tries to be serious. In fact, the episode loading screen on Netlflix shows a screenshot of the fully hatched Dragon Prince, which spoils that he survives almost dying of hypothermia at the end of season one.

I’ll at least give them some slack for even remotely original worldbuilding. Instead of the tired Four Good Ol’ Elements, the world of The Dragon Prince comes packed with the Six Primal Sources, such as the Moon and the Stars. But functionally, they really aren’t that much different from the same elements of Avatar. It’s similar to how Trails of Cold Steel calls dark magic “Time Magic” and stuff. Look, don’t expect super originality from this thing, okay?

Especially not the cast. The leading male protagonist, Callum, would be unremarkable if it didn’t sound like he was voiced by the voice actor of Sokka from Avatar (he even makes the same wry comments as Sokka at times). He’s the stepson of the king, which would normally make him the victim of many a bully, but the issue seems to have next to no plot relevance; I can at least be thankful that they didn’t paint by numbers THAT much. Meanwhile, his stepbrother, Ezran, is- despite being the youngest- the moral support of the trio. Whenever drama unfolds in the group, he makes things right, almost in an overly convenient, Steven Universe kind of way. Furthermore, Ezran gets some genuine growth starting in the third season.

The female lead is the elf, Rayla. She’s a typical tomboy, but she’s also a bit of Mary Sue, since her first revealed trait is the inability to take a life. She’s also tsundere to the max, and it’s almost too obvious that she and Callum are going to be lovers. But despite how brooding she can be, she has some cute interactions with the boys all the same.

But I don’t like the entire crew. My least favorite characters are the animals that tag along: Bait and Zim, the latter of which is titular Dragon Prince who is not at all named after a cult classic cartoon from the early 2000s. Bait is very inconsistent; he’s useful, thanks to his flash ability, but he also tends to be the direct cause of some conflicts. Zim is just ADORABLE, and I do not like him because of that. I can imagine that both of these characters have toys based off of them in shopping malls everywhere. And to top it all off, Bait and Zim sometimes engage in a shipping war over Ezran.

The main antagonist is a geezer named Verin, the king’s royal advisor. Spoiler alert, the royal advisor is a bad man! Never seen THAT before! Fortunately, he is actually pretty interesting, because all of the evil things he’s doing are out of an obsessive devotion to the kingdom, and he genuinely thinks it’s good. I do have some kind of theory about him that has not yet been confirmed, but if I’m correct, his whole character arc could be undermined and he’ll become a typical one dimensional villain.

Other antagonists include Verin’s kids, Sorin and Claudia. They aren’t inherently evil, but they are both very stupid, and end up being easily coerced into following the princes and “accidentally letting them die” without even knowing that it’s a bad thing. But despite their stupidity (or rather, because of it), they have some great spats with each other, which provides some of the best humor in the series, and plus, they are genuinely good kids at heart. Sometimes, I enjoy their scenes more than the main group’s. The second season also introduces an incredibly sexy villain named Aaravos, but there’s not much known about him at this time.

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Current Verdict: 8.65/10

I know, I know… I just scored The Dragon Prince .15 points more than Avatar. I’m sorry. I know that Avatar is definitely a better crafted fantasy epic, yet this show was more fun to watch for whatever reason. It has its flaws, but it’s definitely shaping up to be something great. I recommend it to any fantasy fans (unless you like the dark and brooding stuff, in which case, stay the heck away from this show).

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2 and Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12 Reviews

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2

Last time on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, a girl named Yuna logs into her favorite MMO, World Fantasy Online, during a new update. She is given some game-breaking bear-themed equipment as a gift for playing for a long time, and is sent to an unfamiliar part of the game world in said bear equipment, with her level reset to 1. She saves a girl named Fina from wolves, and the two of them head to the nearest town with the mob loot. They sell it at the guild, and Yuna spends her hard-earned cash at the inn. The next day, Yuna- guess what- registers at the guild, but only after- guess what- beats some red-shirted upstarts. She then buys a ton of throwing knives, along with a sword and butchering knife, as well as some normal-people clothes. She also acquires bear-themed magic, which she practices on some wolves. She beats enough of them for it to instantly promote her to E-Rank at the guild. Some of the friends of that guy who she beat up start slandering her, and as a result, she is forced to undertake a goblin-slaying quest with them. The required amount is fifty, and she offers to fight them all herself and give them the credit so they stay off her back. She goes with the female adventurer, Rulina, defeats them all herself (double the required amount and a boss), and earns respect among the other group. Over time, Yuna defeats so many monsters that she becomes D-Rank with no effort, and hires Fina to butcher the spoils. They go on a quest to fight tigerwolves, which go down easily. Lastly, Yuna spends a heap of cash on an empty plot of land, and constructs a bear house to live in.

The bear-themed antics are just as bear-themed and… un-antic-y (professional term) as last time. Honestly, I struggled to write anything of substance in this post, and that’s why I’m pairing it with a review of Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12. The second volume of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is almost exactly the same as the previous one.

At the current rate, it seems that it’s going to commit to being an episodic CGDCT isekai, which for some (many) people, is enough (especially with the bear onesie). Yuna visits some noble guy, which- I’ll admit- her apprehensiveness to the request was actually kind of funny. But afterwards, Fina’s mom is sick, and Yuna- being the OP protagonist she is- restores her to perfect health almost instantly. Everything happens so unceremoniously that it bores me to tears. Furthermore, the “let’s tell you the same chain of events you just saw but from Fina’s perspective” thing does not die down in this volume.

The issue really is the bland and basic writing style. While there comes a point where TOO much finesse can make you sound like a pretentious hack, not enough will make your work seem lifeless. I couldn’t be immersed in any fashion, and I could barely visualize anything besides Yuna.

You know what, Yuna really is the only thing that matters, isn’t she? She doesn’t just look adorable, but she also helps people for no reason. WHAT AN AMAZING AND NOT-AT-ALL IDEALIZED PERSON. I feel like the author expects people to love her because of how good she is. Well, us critics got a name for girls like her: Mary Sue.

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Verdict: 6/10

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is so superficial. It’s cute, it’s relaxing, but it relies entirely on Yuna’s cuteness. If she didn’t have a bear onesie this thing would not sell. All of her powers are typical stuff, but they just have the word “bear” tacked on to them; they aren’t even puns! Compare it to Invincible Shovel, which actually uses shovel-like properties, such as “digging” through people’s memories, or “burying” entire castles. My chances of reading more Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are next to nil. I’m going to be so salty when the anime airs because I KNOW that people are gonna be all over Yuna’s bear suit and her good will, WHILE SOMETHING LEGITIMATELY GOOD AND ORIGINAL LIKE TO YOUR ETERNITY WILL GET SHAFTED BECAUSE FUUUUUUUUU-! Anyway, if you like CGDCT and isekai, then Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear will do just fine.


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12

Last time on Infinite Dendrogram (volume 10), Ray goes to college while also having a new accessory made for him that would help him resist poison. That’s it for him. In Caldina, Hugh Lesseps gets involved with some crazy woman named AR-I-CA on a quest to find a bunch of sealed boss monsters that were stolen from Huang He. A powerful mafia called Mirage goes after them, but they become a non-issue real fast when Dancing Princess Hiuli defeats them all by herself. Gerbera, in the Gaol, also gets stronger as she trains with her new friends in Illegal Frontier, led by the King of Crimes, who is incidentally involved in what is going on at Hugh’s end. Things are looking intense, AND WE FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Er, well… not quite? The stuff that happened last time felt like setup, and this volume feels like… more setup. The developments last volume end up being ignored in favor of some new ones. First off, Figaro’s yandere girlfriend, Hannya, is released from the Gaol. She hates couples… which is why it’s so perfect that she was released during the time of a lovey-dovey festival in Gideon.

There’s also some new political developments, mainly this arranged marriage with Princess Elizabeth and one of Huang He’s princes. In order to butter them up, they hang out during the aforementioned festival. They also hint at a potential alliance with Caldina in the future, but nothing seems to come of it yet. 

The volume starts with some more insight on Kashimiya, this iai-fighting dude that we only got to see a blip of once upon a time. But after that, the bulk of it is the lovey-dovey festival. And yeah, it kind of feels like a filler volume, even moreso than the Gloria prequel fight. The interactions between the characters are genuinely cute, but this is the first time I’ve seen the overarching story get backseated this violently in Dendro

Things do ramp up toward the end; Dendro always has to have a crazy fight scene or two. But as far as character development goes, it’s really only Figaro and Hannya who get it. We do get introduced to some new Dendro A.I. but we’re still kept in the dark; in fact, the prequel volume told us more than this one did! And as usual, we still don’t get to see any of Legendaria nor Ray’s sister. 

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Verdict: 7.5/10

I don’t know what it is, but this is probably my least favorite Dendro volume so far. It’s a cute little mini-arc that set some stuff up, but it’s been a long time since something intense happened. Something big needs to happen, and fast, or this great series could REALLY become the next SAO (and I mean that in a bad way).

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Full Game Review

PREFACE: In case you do not already know, I should warn you the Trails of Cold Steel Franchise is explicitly designed to be played in chronological order. No, it doesn’t have a stupidly convoluted plot like Metal Gear or Kingdom Hearts, but this is nonetheless a direct continuation of the first game. As such, this review will contain unmarked spoilers of the first game. I will also not explain any basic mechanics of the first game, as you are expected to know already from playing it. If you are interested in this franchise, click on this link to read my review of Trails of Cold Steel I.


Intro

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it was never meant to be a full game; no, it exists solely to lay down the groundwork for a truly epic tale, spanning four massive games. I was more engaged in the story of Cold Steel than any JRPG I’ve ever played, and it was definitely one of the best turn-based JRPGs in terms of gameplay. With that ridiculous ending- Crow being one of the main antagonists, mechs existing, Crossbell’s declaration of independence, mechs existing, Ouroboros and Fie’s old squad have been helping the Noble Alliance pull all the political strings, MECHS EXISTING- my body was beyond ready for the sequel. The first Cold Steel set the expectations, now it’s up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, to meet said expectations.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he- in his mech, Valimar- was forced to leave his buddies in Class VII behind during a losing battle against Crow, the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. A month later, Rean wakes up on a mountain range with Emma’s mysterious cat, Celine. Now it’s time for him to make like a battle shounen protagonist and pick himself back off the ground and find what’s left of Class VII! 

Same World, New Problem

Immediately, the game starts off way sadder than Cold Steel I (even if the opening sorta ruins it a little by showing that EVERY student in Class VII is still alive). As soon as you start the game, the familiar title card appears dark, with the words singed by fire. A minor-key remix of the original game’s titlescreen music plays, and zooms in on Rean’s unconscious body. His voice actor sounds much more distraught than usual at first, and his portrait in the menu looks like someone who’s been through hell and back. Then, mere minutes after you find respite in his hometown of Ymir during the prologue, the town gets attacked. In most JRPGs, I’d say that an opening like this would constitute little more than shock value. But since this is a continuation of an existing story, it’s actually more effective, since you’re likely to be invested in the story if you’re picking up this game up after playing the previous one.

If you’re still new to the series, and you’re STILL reading this review anyway, I should SERIOUSLY warn you that the game basically gives you the finger for not starting from the beginning. There are two reasons why it’s seriously important to start from Cold Steel I, and the first of which is merely because it will be way too overwhelming if you don’t. The title screen does have a menu to read a recap of the first game, but honestly, the first game is so involved, you’d spend hours of Cold Steel II trying to memorize everything while trying to follow the present plot. 

But even for a returning player, it can be confusing knowing who’s on what team. So here, I’ll remind you. The Imperial Liberation Front is in cahoots with Fie’s old jaeger squad, Zephyr, who both report to Duke Ceyenne, the leader of the Noble Alliance. Ouroboros is with them as well, but Sharon seems to be a double agent; someone on both our and their side. Vita, the sexy sorceress lady, seems to be in a third group, containing space wizards (or something) who’ve been working on a completely separate thing. 

I pointed out that you need to keep in mind that Cold Steel I is the start of a larger story in order to enjoy it. In Cold Steel II, you need to keep in mind that it’s a continuation of a larger story. As a result, there are a lot of reused assets. While the world is big enough that you do get to visit areas that have only been mentioned, there are times where you return to old places. It really plays on your nostalgia bug, like at the start of chapter one, which has you go through a previous Field Study dungeon backwards.

Unfortunately, playing this game has kind of broken my immersion when it comes to Erebonia itself. Cold Steel I was split into multiple, self-contained areas, connected by long train rides. This was an effective way to make you use your imagination, and imagine the grandiose scope of the world. However, in Cold Steel II, you end up taking the roads that connect various areas in foot… and this is where the immersion breaks. It’s as soon as you set foot into Trista Highway for the first time that it’s made apparent; those train rides that took hours of in-game time were the alternative to roads that took minutes to traverse. It’s a nitpick, I know, but Erebonia definitely feels less Tolkienian since the world feels so much smaller now.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s actually… kind of lacking for a direct continuation, especially after an ending like Cold Steel I. Similar to how the first game’s purpose is to acquaint us with the world of Erebonia and all who inhabit it, Cold Steel II starts by reacquainting us with it, and seeing how much has changed as a result of the war. But even after the point where the story is supposed to ramp up, most of the game boils down to reclaiming areas from the first game, and gaining more support. It’s satisfying to do, but you don’t learn much about the core narrative, at least not until around the 75% point of the game, when it vomits information at you like any JRPG would.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that it never ends. After you defeat what is very much intended to be the final boss (which took me two and a half hours by itself because there’s, like, five phases), you end up playing a side section that serves no purpose other than to get players interested in another franchise set within the same universe (which, I’ll admit, was pretty darn effective, even if those games aren’t released in the U.S.). And then, you get an entire in-game day’s worth of content to do. AND AFTER THAT, the true final dungeon appears for no discernible reason. It got so annoying. The issue is that this game hypes itself up to be the conclusion of Cold Steel, and while it does a pretty good job at conveying that on an emotional level, it is very watered down by the known presence of two more games.

Same Faces… Plus a Few New Ones

Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to learn from the characters. We get closer looks at characters like Claire and Sharon, and even deeper looks at the students of Class VII. I love them even more than I did before. To think that I brushed most of them off as bland anime tropes at first… that’s character development at its finest. I’ve grown so attached to them, that I even gave some of them nicknames, such as “Reany-Beany” and “Useless Jusis” (even though the latter is my favorite of the supporting male characters).

We also get more development on the antagonists, such as Crow. Plus, there are some interesting new antagonists with quirky personalities, such as the cocky yet socially awkward Duvalie, and the sleepy McBurn. Unfortunately, Duke Cayenne proves to be a pretty one-dimensional villain for the post part.

Audiovisuals

Unsurprisingly, Cold Steel II‘s graphics aren’t too different from the first game. I shouldn’t have expected them to be since it’s both the same system and the same world, but I still had to mention it. But one thing I didn’t acknowledge in my review of the first game is that a lot of the animations for attacks, especially S-Crafts, have aged very well. They look soooooooo animeeeeeee!

The soundtrack is also more-or-less the same. A lot of tracks are reused, but there are also some new, updated battle themes. Unfortunately, a lot of tracks overstay their welcome. One bad example is that there’s a point where you tackle four dungeons in quick succession, and music for all of them is some really grating opera. Furthermore, the previous game’s issue of “having the dungeon theme play over the battle theme because it’s INTENSE” comes back even more in this game. And similar to the other example, those themes get reused as well.

Gameplay (Intro)

For the gameplay section, I will still split it into Daily Life and Deadly Life. But like I said before, I will go over mechanics as if you’re already familiar with the first game. I will also bring up the fact that this version of the game, Relentless Edition, SPOILS you. First off, the amazing Turbo Mode feature is still present. Second off, you get WAY more items in the DLC than last time, including 99 U-Materials. 

Before we start, I must also bring up the other important reason to play Cold Steel I first. When starting a new game of Cold Steel II, you will be asked if you want to load Clear Save Data from Trails I on your system. Doing this will give you items based on Rean’s previous Academy Rank, and change dialogue based on various accomplishments, as well as the person you chose to dance with at the end of Cold Steel I (G.G. for anyone who chose Crow). It felt really satisfying to have my actions acknowledged, and it helped maintain a sense of continuity.

Daily Life

JRPGs Always Need an Airship

So, the first question I- and probably a lot of people asked- going into Cold Steel II was, “Without Thors, how’re we gonna have the same school mechanics?” Well, the answer is a minor spoiler, and one that is spoiled in the game’s intro at that. After a certain point, your main base of operations is on the Courageous.

But the problem with the Courageous is that it needs some help. Fortunately, scattered throughout the world are your fellow peers from Thors. Whenever you see them, it is encouraged to recruit them to the ship, as many of them unlock new facilities. Most of these are carry-over mechanics from Cold Steel I, so I will only discuss new things here.

For starters, there’s new training facilities. These are basically your Practical Exams from Cold Steel I, except you can do them whenever. They are split into Melee, Range, and Arts, where you are locked into using characters who are built around those fighting styles. The biggest issue with them (other than how stupid hard they get) is that you don’t get to prep anyone before the fight itself like you can in the first game. Furthermore, you don’t get to see the conditions until the battle starts, which can be annoying.

There’s also the new Triple Tri- I mean- Blade II. This game plays like the first one, but with meaner trap cards: Blast and Force. Blast Cards allow you to destroy a card in your opponent’s hand (but you can’t look at it), and Force Cards double your total. Even with how game-breaking these new cards are, I still lost 95% of the time because I suck. 

Once you recruit Munk, you are able to bribe him to apply to radio contests on your behalf. There’s a cheap one where you win a modest prize, and a high-risk, high-rewards one. The results come in after five battles (excluding the training facilities in the Courageous), so make sure you use it before you go out into a combat area.

“Hey, Rean! Have you finished those errands?”

Quests are pretty much unchanged, except with the added feature of reporting manually by Skyping Olivert. And despite the hard times, people can afford to pay up. In addition to the usual rewards for completing a quest, you get a monetary donation for reporting it. There are still hidden quests, and they are sneakier than ever. Some require you to have or not have certain people in your party (but I have no idea if the game indicates it to you because I was always lucky enough to already have met the conditions).

But unlike the first game, you cannot miss ANY quests if you want to max out your Academy Rank. Last time, I missed three and still barely got it. But now, even after doing every quest (with the trophy to confirm it), I ended the game with only ONE excess AP. There is only a sliver of leeway, as I didn’t get all S-Ranks despite getting all quests. I guess some of them had more favorable outcomes and I didn’t realize it. Fortunately, due to the game’s circumstances, there are no exams this time! Yay!

You Never Have Enough Sepith in This Game

One thing I noticed in Cold Steel II was that everyone’s Arcus slots are still fully opened. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In this game, you spend Sepith to UPGRADE your slots, and I blew through most of my DLC Sepith just to be barely close to maxing out one character. If you don’t do this, you can’t equip rare quartz. It’s annoying, but they had to change it up somehow. As a side note, you eventually get the ability to create EX Orbs, which are equipped to Valimar to boost its stats.

Wow, this game has an actual overworld!

The most standout improvement in Cold Steel II is the ability to go to older areas at will. The Courageous makes it really easy to do so, and you can leave from almost any point on the map. There are times where you will be asked for specific party members, but fortunately, summoning the Courageous from the overworld allows you to reorganize your team without having to leave and come back.

So, what did Cold Steel II do to replace the Old Schoolhouse? Peppered throughout the world are these strange shrines. Gameplay-wise, they’re the same as the Old Schoolhouse; do the floor, beat the boss. You can’t complete them at first, but you obtain bonus AP for knocking out what you can early on (plus they got good loot in them).

The whole Courageous thing is the best and worst aspect of the game. It does open up a lot stuff, and adds much variety when you’re running errands for people. One thing I noticed is that there aren’t as many hidden quests once you obtain the Courageous (in fact, I only had one in Act 2 Part 4 and one in the Final Act), which is nice. However, this new level of accessibility makes it so that you can get said missable items out of sequence. And it’s not based on the order that the areas come up in the story; for example, a single shop can have both the first recipe and last book chapter of that particular time bracket. As a result, I think I spent even more time repeatedly talking to the same NPCs over and over again than I did last time.

Saving the World? Nah, I’d Rather Fish and Cook

Cooking and fishing have both been buffed since last time. While fishing is mechanically unchanged, fishing spots get marked on the map after being used once, which is nice. And due to the ability to travel to older areas, you get a lot more respawning fishing spots that you can use. Unfortunately, this also means completing the fishing is a nightmare. In Cold Steel I, all fish eventually end up in Trista. However, that’s not the case here. Furthermore, the fishing locations don’t respawn as quickly as they should, meaning that you’ll need more groundbait than ever (or save-scumming) if you want to get all the fish… on top of having to try each and every location without knowing which one has a fish you missed. In fact, I resorted to looking up the fish just to save time. But hey, at least recipes are only cooked by one character now, which simplifies the process of getting a specific type of dish.

Nakama Power, the Most Important Superpower in Any Anime

Bonding Events are much more important in this game. While there are some Bonding Events early on, the bulk of them take place on Stopover Days that occur at the end of a chapter once you obtain the Courageous. Unlike the first game, EVERY party member, as well as Alfin and Towa, are available to spend time with. While you get more Bonding Points than last time, it’s not enough to make it easier to decide. “We’ll, it’s not gonna kill me if I don’t know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY,” you think. We’ll, you might just want to save-scum to view every event, because Bonding Events have a new and trollish effect. Some SPECIFIC events will allow a character to learn new abilities earlier than they would’ve from levelling up, which is kind of annoying. I only saw one of these particular events, and the game doesn’t even tell you about them in the first place.

There’s also the case of Final Bonding Events. These are exclusive scenes between Rean and assorted characters towards the end of the game. In order to unlock a character’s Final Bonding Event, you must get their link level to its second-highest level, which is now six out of seven (technically, it only needs to be up to five and a half or so since finishing Act 2 boosts everyone’s links by 1000), as well as fulfill specific other conditions. You can also have Towa and Alfin in line for this, but you will need to do every single Bonding Event with them in order to be able to satisfy the conditions with them. Fortunately, the game will tell you when you have an opportunity to satisfy one of said conditions, which is something much appreciated that most JRPGs don’t bother doing. Also, once you recruit Beryl, you can use her services to confirm with whom you have met the conditions for. Unfortunately, when the time comes, you can only do one per playthrough, so save-scumming at that point is essential. It is also impossible to meet the conditions with everyone at once. This means that you will have to play through again in New Game+ to see everything (which you would’ve had to do anyway to complete the character notebook entries).

What is this, Sonic Adventure 1?

A new mechanic is snowboarding. Throughout the story, you unlock new courses to snowboard in. Beating these gets you great prizes, but like in any videogame, it gets really difficult late on.  In addition to snowboards, you also get to ride Angelica’s bike. It can be used almost anywhere and greatly makes up for the lack of fast travel points on highways.

Deadly Life

A Steep Learning Curve Just got Even Steeper

Here’s the final reason as to why Cold Steel II does not like newcomers: All the combat mechanics learned over the course of more than half of Cold Steel I… is taught all at once during the Prologue. So seriously… if you’re somehow still reading this and not familiar with the series. FOR THE LOVE OF AIDIOS, PLAY COLD STEEL I

For returning players, this brings some immediate positives. In Cold Steel II, every character has all their Craft and S-Craft from the first game. Your Link levels are also higher at the start, with Rean starting at Link Level 2 with everyone. This at least makes it easier for returning players to get reacclimated to the game.

A new mechanic is Overdrive. Use this between a pair of Linked characters to give them a free heal, and a set of three free attack turns with no delay. This also guarantees Unbalancing. The gauge fills by doing things in battle, but it fills up much faster based on your tactical bonuses at the end of a battle. Unfortunately, only people paired with Rean can do it…

…at first. New to Cold Steel II are Trial Chests. These chests make a set pair of party members fight a tough battle. But as a reward, you get great items, a heap of Link XP for that pair, and unlock the ability for them to use Overdrive together. It’s a great way for characters that aren’t Rean to get large amounts of Link XP, since the bonding events from Cold Steel I kinda threw off the balance of everyone’s link levels (but it still ends up being way off-balanced).

Mech Battles Before Xenoblade X Made it Cool

My biggest concern when it came to combat was how Cold Steel II would expand on the Divine Knight (a.k.a. mech) battles. Introduced during the final boss of Cold Steel I, mech battles felt very stressful and iffy. Basically, mech battles were a game of rock-paper-scissors, where you had to attack a section of the target that was weak- the head, the body, or the arms. Attacking a weak point resulted in a crit, which allowed you to press X for an immediate Follow-up, and after obtaining three Bravery Points, you could use a powerful Finisher (basically an S-Craft). The catch is that the weakness changed based on the enemy’s stance, which resulted in having to memorize a lot of combinations. Attacking the wrong spot could result in getting the attack blocked, or worse, evaded. This, as always, gives enemies the chance to counter. You also couldn’t Impede attacks that enemies were charging up last time, even if you inflicted a crit, so you were basically screwed.

Fortunately, Cold Steel II greatly fixes some of these issues. The game adds a Defend command, which allows you to greatly reduce damage and recover a small chunk of HP. But one of the best additions by far is the fact they show the Unbalance Efficacy of each piece- in each stance- after you attack it once. THANK YOU.

Although Rean is on his own in mech battles, his buddies can at least help with EX Arts. Basically, you have another character who takes their own turn in the fights. When it’s their turn, you can have them cast some EX Arts, the nature of which are determined by the person. This greatly fleshes out the mech battles, plus every person has a charge function to restore Valimar’s EP (which doesn’t really justify the parts of the game where you wait for him to recharge…). You also have a Unity Attack that you can do with five Bravery Points.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Rean also gets some significant boosts in this game. After a while, he is able to summon Valimar to regular battles for three turns, and is able to activate his Super Saiyan form at will. These can be very useful in some super-tough battles, especially if you play it on Nightmare difficulty.

One new feature is the optional bosses, the Cryptids. These enemies appear throughout the world after certain points in the story. Defeating them nets you a rare quartz containing a Lost Art. These Arts are really powerful, but consume all of a character’s EP. Fortunately, they are affected by the Zero-Arts turn bonus, which can seriously save your bum. I didn’t use them too often, but I imagine they are essential in Hard and Nightmare difficulties.

Either This Game is Hard… or I Suck

If it wasn’t obvious enough that this game alienates newcomers, they also make it much harder than Cold Steel I. I died way more often than before, and in this game I actually knew what I was doing. They really expect you to have mastered the turn order system, along with all the other mechanics, ‘cuz the kid gloves are off this time! The game also introduces a rare case of enemy attacks that ignore and remove all buffs, and some of these attacks happen to be their strongest attack. The Zeram Capsule + Moebius setup I utilized in the last game made its final dungeon a joke, but that same setup was a necessity in this game. If I hadn’t gotten forty of them as DLC, I would’ve been sunk.

Fortunately, I learned some important things about the series that I didn’t know last time. Stat changes do stack in Cold Steel, which I honestly should’ve noticed before. Also, Evasion is a broken stat in this series, especially if you give your most dodgy character (preferably Fie) the Wrath Quartz, which makes all counterattacks crit. I also had her paired with the Master Quartz, Mirage, which adds a good chance of evading magic. This game was my first time trying an Evasion build on a character; I’ve always prioritized defense in JRPGs in the past. Furthermore, Speed is immensely important, as it reduces characters’ Delay between turns, which again, is something I should’ve known last time.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel II is a massive improvement over the first game in almost every way (except strictness, and knowing when to roll credits). At this point, I am hooked on this story and I fully intend to see it to its end (and pray that I get the True Ending of the fourth game). However, I am concerned about the third game. Based on the one thing I know about it, it feels like it will be a step backward for the series. Well, with my job opened back up, you won’t know how I feel about it for a while. Anyways, as far as recommendations for Trails of Cold Steel is concerned, I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot, even if you are uncomfortable with missing things. The game is good at letting you know when you’re at a cut-off point, making it a lot less stressful than most JRPGs.

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2, Her Majesty’s Swarm Volume 3, and Invincible Shovel Volume 2 Reviews

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2

Last time on Last Round Arthurs, Rintaro transfers to Camelot International High School, where he joins forces with Luna Artur to help her win the King Arthur Succession Battle. He immediately sees Luna’s Jack, Sir Kay, being used as an idol at the school, and it’s thanks to Luna- the student council president- that it could happen. This aggros the head of the Ethics Committee, Tsugumi Mimori, and the campus turns into an all-out battleground. After school, he meets her on the roof, where she lets him join her in the succession battle! The first thing they do is… break into their own school’s fantasy office to steal the answers to their midterms. But then, they’re attacked by the Ethics Committee, and someone casts a spell that sends them to the Netherworld. Luna summons Sir Kay, who goes off with Rintaro to find the spellcaster. They find Luna’s rival, Felicia, and Felicia’s Jack, Sir Gawain, waiting for them outside the school. Gawain beats Kay easily, but Rintaro is really confident that he can take on the knight. And guess what, Rintaro beats Gawain like it’s nothing, since Gawain is only at peak performance in the daytime (and it happened to be nighttime then). However, Felicia uses her Excalibur to create a dazzling light that freezes Rintaro and Kay in place, while giving Gawain his special boost. But then, Rintaro transforms into a mythic creature, which is apparently called a Fomorian (look it up). Rintaro is crazy powerful in this state, and thus Felicia undoes the Netherworld spell and flees with Gawain. Luna had apparently been watching the whole time, but surprisingly, she thinks the Fomorian transformation was super cool. Later, Felicia is attacked by the strongest candidate, Gloria. After selling some bread with a skimpy prize inside, Luna and Rintaro go out… on a date… and we learn of the real goal of the succession battle: whoever wins must stand against the Catastrophe, an event where reality and fantasy collide sometime in the future. But then, they stumble upon Gawain, who was fleeing from Gloria… a.k.a. Luna’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Kujo (and his Jack, Sir Lancelot)! He demands that Luna meets at the Central Park Hotel at midnight, or else Felicia’s life will be forfeit. While Gawain divulges his tragic backstory, about how his jealousy for Lancelot caused the fall of King Arthur, we learn that Rintaro is actually Merlin! Unfortunately, drama unfolds between him and Luna, and he quits being her vassal. Luna infiltrates the hotel with Kay and Gawain by her side. At the top floor, they end up in an illusory replica of Camlann Hill, where Kujo confronts them. Meanwhile, Rintaro has a talk with Nayuki, one of the girls from school, and learns that Luna sold her Excalibur as a bribe to protect her school from some corporation. Back at the hotel, when Luna is about to lose, Rintaro appears and hands over her Excalibur, which he stole from that company. He fights with Kay, Gawain, and Felicia to hold Lancelot and Kujo back while Luna charges up her Excalibur, but it gets ugly when Kujo wields his own, exponentially powerful Excalibur. But once Luna activates her Royal Road, based on trust between her and her vassal, it’s G.G. for Kujo. In the aftermath, Kujo awakens in a room with a strange robed girl (the same one who compelled Rintaro to join the battle in the first place)… who turns out to be Tsugumi, a.k.a. Morgan le Fay, the evil sorceress from King Arthur’s era. Meanwhile, Rintaro and Felicia’s teams form a truce for the time being.

This volume shows us a little more of the Dame du Lac, the organization behind the entire King Arthur Succession Battle. Since they created the Curtain of Consciousness that protects everyone from the illusory world, they kinda have authority over the whole world. But before we can ponder how likely they are to be totally-not-evil, our Motley crew is ordered to take out some Rifts in the Curtain.

We’re introduced to some new characters: Emma Michelle, another King, and her Jack, Lamorak. Emma knew Rintaro way back when, and she’s all over him. Meanwhile, Lamorak is literally Eris from Mushoku Tensei: red hair, loli, brash. 

Most of this volume ends up being about Emma. Emma, Emma, Emma. The main conflict is not a bunch of deadly Rifts, but a shipping war, because EVERYONE loves those. It’s annoying, but at the same time, the antics that ensue are pretty funny.

But things ramp up in the volume’s second half. We get a ton of character development for Emma. Unfortunately, she ends up being another marketable waifu, but her character arc doesn’t quite resolve in the way that it usually does with girls like her. I can appreciate that much, at least.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Last Round Arthurs is still a great light novel, and more proof that there is a lot of good in modern light novels; they just don’t get anime adaptations. I’m very hyped for what this franchise has in store moving forward.


Her Majsety’s Swarm Volume 3

Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, Grevillea decides to infiltrate the Dukedom of Schtraut. With a Masquerade Swarm by their side, they head into Marine, the first city in Schtraut, disguised as refugees from Maluk. Their investigations show that Schtraut and Nyrnal don’t see eye to eye, and that adventurers are being sent to spy on Maluk. They join a guild to form connections. Eventually, Grevillea is invited to a party by Count Basil de Buffon. At the party, they have a run-in with a whiny noble, after which the Duke of Schtraut, Caeser de Sharon, appears. Serignan lures him over to Grevillea, who straight-up tells him that she was the mastermind behind the Maluk incident. They talk, and she tries to persuade him to let her Swarm through Schtraut to invade Frantz, and that she’ll defend his country during the inevitable war with both Nyrnal and Frantz that’s about to unfold. He leans toward her proposal, and even has her attend the International Council as a noble of Maluk… or rather have Maluk’s princess attend while controlled by a Parasite Swarm. The politics go as planned, and while the different countries are bickering, she’ll destroy them both. In order to stand up to the new threats, Grevillea makes some new heavy artillery. Meanwhile, Caesar forms an alliance with the Arachnea… if he wasn’t impeached by Leopold de Lorianne, the same mud-slinging S.O.B. from the party. Now, they have to fight Schtraut straight-up. They arrive in Marine, which has been completely destroyed. Out of a bizarre sense of respect, they harvest their bodies as meat for the Swarm. They destroy some peeps, but Grevillea ends up drinking poisoned well water, and wakes up back in the real world. She plays the game for a while, but ends up wanting to go back. Some girl appears, saying that the other world is a Devil’s Game, and swears to save Grevillea from it someday. She returns, and takes a while to remember everything. After that, they continue to destroy, further reducing Leopold the whiny noble to tatters. An army led by his younger brother, Roland, attacks next, but they too are quickly destroyed. Roland hates what Leopold did, so Grevillea offers to make him a Swarm to exact revenge. Meanwhile, Leopold’s last ditch effort is to get the Swarm on the bridge to his base, and blow it up with them on it. Fortunately, Roland knows how to steer a ship, and by extension, the Swarm now knows as well. With this, they are easily able to invade the city. They make their way to Leopold, but a basilisk comes out of the wine cellar! They destroy it easily, and proceed into the cellar to find him cowering in a secret room. Grevillea uses a Parasite Swarm to make him destroy himself. But then, she ends up back in her “room” again. That girl is here, and her name is Sandalphon. Another girl, named Samael, appears as well. They argue, and imply that Grevillea did something in her human life that resulted in her having to be judged in the game world? Well, whatever, she goes back and everything’s fine.

This latest volume shows that Her Majesty’s Swarm may be starting to enter a rut. Similar to the previous volumes, we are introduced to a new character whom Grevillea hits it off with, but then bites the dust. And just like the previous two times, she becomes a sociopath almost instantly. It was cool at the beginning, but when you have three red shirts pop up three times in a row in similar circumstances, it gets harder and harder to take seriously, kind of like Goblin Slayer.

But hey, at least sociopath Grevillea is the best Grevillea. With her sights set on the Popedom of Frantz, she’s just as conniving as she always is. The volume really ham-fists how corrupt Frantz is, and some of the things they show are pretty brutal. The plot thickens even more as far as the reason why Grevillea is in this world is concerned.

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Verdict: 8.15/10

Currently, this is the shortest individual review I have ever written. I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything else about this volume of Her Majesty’s Swarm without spoiling stuff, and even then, it would be difficult for me to make this post more verbose. This is one of those franchises where it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. This isn’t the only case, but others at least have some variety that warrants discussion. Her Majesty’s Swarm has next to no variety as far as content is concerned. It’s going to need to answer some of the questions it asks fast, or else there’ll be some trouble.


The Invincible Shovel Volume 2

Last time on The Invincible Shovel, the legendary miner, Alan, saves a princess named Lithisia using the power of his shovel. According to her, a demon named Zeleburg is threatening to take over her country. The only way to fight him back is to recover the seven Orbs, so the two of them set off to grab them. On the way, they run into Lithisia’s incapable bodyguard, Catria. But she attacks Alan, so he puts her in a hole. He convinces her about his shovel by beating her, and a team of thirty other knights, with it… and thus, she joins his party. They arrive in an elven forest that’s been ravaged by Dark Beasts, and Alan saves an elf girl named Fioriel. She’s a descendant of an old friend of his, so he helps her, which takes only thirty seconds. He also whips up a massive fortress to protect the forest. After that, Fioriel becomes Lithisia’s friend. But they leave her alone in her castle so they can go through their first dungeon: the Ancient Castle of Riften. Thanks to some extensive info gathering and remodeling, they have an easy time reaching the Blue Orb. After the boss, Alice Veknarl, flees, Alan swipes the orb and destroys the castle after they leave. She attacks again, but Alan captures her easily. After some torture, he saves her from the demon’s curse, and she tags along. Now their next destination is the desert! They head to Desertopia, where Alan saves a space girl named Julia, who has water powers. When discussing her backstory, Alan surmises that her ritual was sabotaged. When they get to her village, Alan attacks the village elder, who turns out to be a Doppelganger working for Zeleburg! But of course, Alan takes care of it, and gains new followers in the process. They infiltrate the pyramid easily, but have to contend with the dragon. Alan defeats while nearly destroying the universe. With the Red Orb in hand, the motley crew looks toward a neighboring country where they can spread Lithisia’s cult religion…

Today’s next victim is the Ice Nation of Shilasia. It doesn’t take long for the story to immediately bury itself in its shovel memes. And guess what, it gets even deeper. In this volume, Alan digs up an international embassy, a house made out of avalanche, rewrites the law, and more.

We are also introduced to a character who- finally- is about as good as Lithisia. The latest beholder of Shovelism is the Ice Sage/Witch, Riezfeld. She’s a riot. Riez has a massive ego, but it gets buried deeper and deeper every time Alan performs one of his massive feats. Like everyone else, she just has to accept that he’s too powerful. Another new face is Lucrezia, a young noblewoman. Unfortunately, she’s not as likeable as Riez, which stinks, because it looks as if Riez is a one-off character for just her specific arc.

Other than that, it’s the same shovel antics as usual. This is exactly what I was worried about after reading the previous volume; that the series would get extremely repetitive. Plus, it gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief over the ridiculous things that Alan is capable of. It’s not stale yet, but that entirely depends on how much longer it’s going to go.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

The Invincible Shovel is still a fun, mindless screwball comedy. Lithisia makes the story pop, as always, and overall it’s very funny. Let’s see how long it would take for it to overstay its welcome.

Levius/est First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

PREFACE: This manga is a sequel series. As such, there will be unmarked spoilers of vanilla Levius in this review. Click this link to read my review of Levius if you are interested in this franchise.


The sci-fi boxing manga, Levius, proved to be a hidden gem. With its cyberpunk themes, and phenomenal art, I was hooked from start to finish. But the story’s only just getting started. In Levius/est (published in English by Viz), we get into the real meat and potatoes of Levius

Set a year after the titular character’s battle with A.J., both people are hospitalized. But that’s the least of their issues; the return of Amethyst has caused a huge change in the world at large. War is on the verge of breaking out, and as a result, steam technology is banned… except in the Mechanical Martial Arts Ring. As such, whoever wins the Grade 1 bracket that Levius is now in… gets to decide the fate of mankind.

Right off the bat, Levius/est gives us much more context for, well, everything than the original series ever did. In addition to starting off with a more detailed flashback of Levius’ tragic backstory, we also get an explanation of how the steam technology actually works, as well as more information about the war. It helps flesh out the world of Levius a lot, and it’s very appreciated.

But as far as boxing goes, the first couple volumes of Levius/est are in the designated “drama” segment that comes before a lot of the fighting. Fortunately, this gives us a big chance for some major character development on Levius’ part. But sadly, this doesn’t really help offset his trope-ish, “dark and disturbed” personality. 

Sadly, the other characters aren’t so great. Zack is still the same old drunkard. Meanwhile, A.J. ends up becoming a classic amnesiac (which, thankfully gets resolved pretty quickly). There are some new additions, one of which is arguably the worst character in the series: Natalia Cromwell. I don’t remember if they foreshadowed her, but she’s apparently Levius’ childhood friend, who gets taken in by Zack, and wants to become an M.M.A. fighter like Levius. If you couldn’t tell, she loves him, and gets friendzoned. While she’s cute as all heck, her personality adds a lot of out-of-placed humor to Levius/est, and also forms a rather annoying love triangle between herself, Levius, and A.J. 

Another new face is Oliver G. Kingsley, the current champion of the M.M.A. Since he’s the champ, he’s incredibly important in the overarching narrative of Levius as a whole. But as far as personality is concerned, he’s a pretty typical “boxing champion”, i.e. a jerk. The real clincher, however, is that we finally get to see A.J.’s brother in action. And as you can expect, this helps launch the story into high gear.

As to be expected, the art of Levius/est is fantastic. The fights are spectacular, and the closeups are wrought with sheer emotion. The panel flow makes it fun and engaging to read as always, despite the reverse order of the pages. 

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Current Verdict: 9/10

I sounded like I was complaining a lot, but honestly, in terms of sheer entertainment value, Levius/est is looking to be the best cyberpunk manga since Battle Angel Alita. Sure, it’s edgy, and has some bland characters, but the series as a whole oozes a unique personality that makes it stand out. I recommend it to any boxing and cyberpunk fans.

Steven Universe Full Franchise Review (Main Series, Movie, and Future)

I have a confession to make. Steven Universe, which I only finished just recently, is the first Cartoon Network show I have ever watched. I never watched Dexter’s Lab, Powerpuff Girls, Pickle Rick… nothing! I didn’t even watch anime on Adult Swim. So, with that out of the way, let’s check out Steven Universe!

It seems that Steven Universe just throws you in, right from season one, episode one. Basically, the titular Steven is a half-human, half-gem-boy; a product of his late mother, Rose Quartz, and this fat old guy named Greg. He lives with three gem ladies- Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl (AND STEVEN! Sorry… had to reference the opening)- and they protect the world from monsters and stuff.

If you couldn’t tell, Steven Universe is confusing. In my process of watching the show, I realized that the episodes seem famously difficult to watch in chronological order. The episodes weren’t just aired slightly out of order, but streaming services additionally have a number of massive continuity errors with the way they’re listed. Fortunately, the wiki has an episode list (in addition to a very comprehensive Reddit post) that you can use. Hulu is by far the best place to watch it, because it has the episodes listed individually, and not in two-episode sets, which avoids a bulk of the ordering issues.

But even if you watch it in the proper order (which I presume I did?), it really does throw you right into everything with no context, like I said before. Speaking of context, it’s almost as if the show expects you to figure out what’s going on THROUGH the context of what happens. I feel like that’s too much of an expectation for a cartoon, especially since 2010s cartoons have more involved narratives. But hey, the first few episodes do a good job at establishing a basic aspect of the premise, and how the series works in general.

Disregarding the confusion with the watching order, how good is Steven Universe anyway? Well, for starters, it is perhaps the slowest burn that I’ve seen in a cartoon. The first season more or less has all my problems with season one of Avatar: The Last Airbender; a lot of self-contained narratives, and not a lot of core narrative. The first episode set with a real sense of plot progression is episodes 25 and 26, but after that, it’s business as usual for a while.

One thing I noticed in Steven Universe was that I didn’t exactly find it funny. A lot of the humor, other than stuff from the gem ladies, is kind of flat. Apart from a couple of blips of cleverness, I didn’t exactly laugh all that much. But maybe… the show was not meant to be funny.

The big surprise is that Steven Universe has a bizarrely engaging core narrative. When the show actually tries to ramp it up, it’s a darn good time. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that they build up to when it comes to Rose Quartz’s backstory, as well as the lore of the gems themselves. The show also builds a more and more involved narrative over time. My biggest problem with it is that the gem world ends up being this super-dystopian society where there’s no free will, and they end up being all like “Wow, Earth and humans are so special and wonderful, my world sucks!” It bothered me as someone who doesn’t want to believe that humanity is unique in the cosmos, but in the end, it’s not that big of a deal.

Steven Universe also tackles one of the most relatable themes in human existence: identity. The most interesting mechanic of the gems is their ability to fuse with each other, creating new and powerful gems with their own fused personalities. In addition to that, Steven is technically his own mother, whose past ends up getting… rather tumultuous. Plus, there are multiple of the same gems that exist at one time. The show begs asking questions about “what is the self” and all that pretentious junk, but Steven Universe kind of just shows the fusion for what it is instead of waxing its own poetic. 

More than in any cartoon I’ve watched, I was seriously caught off guard by the characters. Steven starts off as your typical, overly-optimistic kid. But after a while, he ends up involved in some of the best and most emotional scenes in the series. However, he is kind of a Gary Sue. One running theme with the show is that he resolves a lot of conflicts verbally. While it does fit with the core themes of the story, as someone who had finished Kimetsu no Yaiba– with its overly righteous main protagonist that everyone, even his enemies, loves- I was a bit bothered by Steven when he’d wax sentimental mumbo jumbo.

Steven’s father, Greg, is also a great character who’s constantly had to live with the loss of Rose Quartz. The lead female human is a girl named Connie. She initially comes off as that “outcast girl who has the main character walk into her life and BOOM! all girls want to be her”, but her relationship with Steven is a lot cuter than that contrived romance. She ended up growing on me more than I thought she would. There are also a wide variety of other townsfolk, from Ronaldo the conspiracy theorist, to the enigmatic Onion, who all have memorable personalities.

But the real gems of the show are, well, the gems. Pearl seems cool and collected, but she has some serious O.C.D. Amethyst is the fun, rambunctious one who also happens to be an outlier of the trio. And Best Girl Garnet is very deadpan, but sometimes has some of the best one-liners. However, underneath their hard outer shells (pun intended) are some surprisingly well-fleshed out characters. They go through some serious issues, and unlike other cartoons, it actually felt engaging to, well, engage in their character arcs.

But they’re not the only gems. After season one, we see some new faces, such as Lapis Lazuli and Peridot. Lapis is kind of the tortured waifu who needs to be taught happiness by the main character, and is probably my least favorite gem. Peridot is a typical tsundere, but it’s funny to see her misinterpret aspects of human culture. There are many other gems, but. I won’t mention them because they don’t show up until over halfway through the story.

When it comes to visuals, Steven Universe is very appealing. The fights are well-animated, and everyone has memorable character design. The one complaint I have with this aspect is that people’s nostrils look kind of like slits instead of nostrils. But hey, a nitpick is a nitpick.

And speaking of nitpicks, I’m about to destroy my reputation in one fell swoop. Steven Universe has a good amount of musical numbers. And to be honest… I’m not a big fan of most of them. I know I just said something awful, but hey, I said “most”. There were a couple of songs that I liked, but I won’t name them, specifically because I don’t know what any of their names actually are (for the record, at least one of the songs I do like is the fan-favorite in the series).

But if you noticed the title of this post, you’d know that Steven Universe is not over, even if you finish the final episode of the main series. Set two years after the finale (and thanks goodness it is; Steven’s voice doesn’t sound whiny anymore), Steven Universe: The Movie initially comes off as cash-savvy filler, but has just as much plot relevance as the main story. Overall, it’s a fun movie that also has some of the better (and more abundant) musical numbers in the series. It can theoretically be skipped, but one of its characters appears late in Steven Universe Future, the concluding mini-series of the franchise.

Following the movie, Future attempts to bring final closure to Steven’s character arc, and teaches a number of additional life lessons. It tackles a lot of his emotional insecurities as his powers start becoming as unstable as his mental state. It starts off kind of hit-or-miss, but it ramps up to the highest emotional state in the entirety of the series. It’s kind of stupid that (at this time) the only way to watch Future all the way through is to buy it on Amazon Prime Video, but it’s well worth spending, provided that you sufficiently enjoyed the main series.

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Final Verdict (Average of all Media): 8.5/10

Normally, I cannot stand narratives that deal with timeless, “relatable” themes like growing up and identity. But Steven Universe tackles them in a thoughtful and honest way that isn’t merely just mooching off of people who want to see themselves in a fictional setting. I’ve grown to be able to respect Cartoon Network because of their willingness to air a show like Steven Universe. And if it weren’t for the end of COVID-19, I probably would’ve tried watching stuff like Rick and Morty. But alas, it was not meant to be; TV isn’t my primary calling after all. Anyways, I recommend Steven Universe to those who want a different cartoon, one that isn’t there just to numb your children with fart jokes.

Last Round Arthurs Volume 1 Review

Pulling inspiration from the legend of King Arthur, and battle royales… these are two things that have been done A LOT in entertainment media. But what happens if you combine the two? The result is a light novel series called Last Round Arthurs: Scum Arthur & Heretic Merlin (published in English by Yen Press)… and one that I’m very late to reading.

In Last Round Arthurs, there is a magical, man-made island called Avalonia. Hidden here are four relics that have the power to revive King Arthur himself. One out of eleven of his descendants-called Kings- must fight and obtain the four relics in order to become the next Once and Future King. A boy named Rintaro Magami transfers to Camelot International High School to serve the weakest and most… morally incorrect King, Luna Artur. Together, they just might win this thing.

Right off the bat, Last Round Arthurs seriously commits to the King Arthur theme. The Kings’ swords are called Excaliburs (except that Luna sold hers off for money). Additionally, each King has a Jack assigned to them. Jacks are basically the spirits of actual Round Table Knights, and can be summoned at will (except Luna sells her Jack’s body for money). Even the writing of the novel is inspired off of the pretent- I mean- poetic Old English style from ye old days of Yore and Yesteryear.

The main purpose of this volume is to familiarize us with the rules of the succession battle, as well as the lore of the world itself. Last Round Arthurs is relatively sparing with exposition dumps, and does a good job of easing readers into the story. The fights are fast-paced and intense, but lean a lot more towards spectacle than, well, actual thought. It’s typical battle shounen stuff, which can be a deal breaker to some people.

But the most divisive deal breaker is in the cast. For some reason, critics seem to want this impossible Goldilocks Zone of morality in protagonists; if they’re too good, then they’re a Mary/Gary Sue self-insert character (like Tanjiro from Kimetsu no Yaiba), and if they’re too bad, then they’re an insufferable narcissist (like Ranta from Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash). If you couldn’t tell from the title saying Scum Arthur in it, this volume’s main protagonists fall into the latter.

Best Girl Luna is as scummy as her ego is large. Like I said before, Luna uses her Jack, Sir Kay, to extort money from the other students. Her eccentric, tomboyish personality makes her a blast to be with. Kay, unfortunately, exists to be the fanservice character. As the weakest of the Round Table knights, she doesn’t do much in battle, either.

But the same can’t be said for Rintaro Magami. They try to make him a subversion of the overpowered protagonist by having him be an outcast as a result of how good he is at everything. But as a result, he ends up being the “dejected guy who’s conveniently saved by the girl”. Fortunately, he has great chemistry with Luna. Plus, he’s got a great ego of his own.

I can’t say that the rest of the cast is particularly likeable. The only other character of interest is Tsugumi Mimori, the leader of the school’s Ethics Committee. She’s one of Luna’s many enemies, and it’s crazy to see how badly she wants Luna destroyed. But yeah… everyone else I’ve seen so far is kind of boring.

Last Round Arthurs looks a lot more like a manga than a light novel. The textures are simple, but the linework has a nice style to it. The coloring for the cover art is also pretty nice as well.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Last Round Arthurs starts with a great first impression. It’s mindlessly fun, with a lovable pair of anti-heroes at the helm. I recommend it to fans of battle royales and shounen.