The Adventurers Guild Trilogy: Social Commentary for Kids!

Sometimes, the title of a series is so generic and unremarkable that I almost feel like it’s a red herring. I ask myself, “It’s trying so hard to look boring, but does that mean it’s actually legitimately good?” That’s a gambit that I hoped would pay off when I read through The Adventurers Guild series, written by Zack Loran Clark and Nicolas Eliopulous.

A half-elf boy named Zed and a typical human named Brock are ready to join one of Freestone’s many Guilds. They are picked for the Mages and Merchants Guilds respectively; however, this series isn’t titled The Adventurers Guild for nothing. Alasabel Frond, the leader of the titular Guild, yoinks them right out of their respective Guilds and drafts them into the Adventurers Guild. Now they have to protect the world from monsters known as Dangers, and like true warriors, they get nothing for it!

The Adventurers Guild isn’t quite as generic as it looks (key words: “quite as”, but we’ll get to that later). They at least put some good effort into the magic system. Each element is tied to a specific spiritual plane (or something), and they all have a signature that Zed can detect. The writers also pull no punches when it comes to the Dangers’ designs; get used to tentacles coming out of faces and other areas. The prose is also all-around great, but V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic taught me that good writing and good storytelling are two completely different talents. 

A lot of things irked me about The Adventurers Guild. One is that—like every modern fantasy and its grandma—there’s social commentary on a lot of bad -isms in society (none of which are commercialism). In addition to my problem with how heavy-handed it gets, The Adventurers Guild makes it unrealistic. And while I normally don’t mind a lack of realism, this case isn’t merely “Ooooh, magic! What is physics again?”; it’s a clash with the human mind itself. 

You’d think that people’d get their sh** together to fight a one-dimensional evil alien threat to the whole species. And yet, the bad -isms are still in effect in the world of The Adventurers Guild! Every authority figure in Freestone tries to get Frond arrested because of sexism. And when a group of elves seeks refuge at the start of the second book, they’re treated with unconditional racism. It felt so arbitrary, that the bad -isms were only there for the sake of bad -isms. I’ll acknowledge that the hatred against Zed is justified to an extent. A half-elf warlock is what caused the Dangers in the first place, giving the whole race a bad rep. But that doesn’t excuse the cases of sexism or anything else, really. 

Alright, alright. For the sake of argument, let’s just take the bad -isms at face value: a conflict in the story that needs to be resolved. But what is there to talk about? The thing with The Adventurers Guild is that beyond the social commentaries, the main plot really isn’t that interesting. Dangers are out there, go kill ‘em. That’s really it. 

But it damn well tries to be different, that’s for sure. It succeeds to an extent in the two main characters, Zed and Brock. These two both have secrets that they keep from each other, and it’s all “Ooooooh” and stuff. Unfortunately, they have very plastic and flat personalities. The rest of the characters… are just as flat. They’re relatable, which—if you’re not anal about writing—would make them super-duper amazing and lovable. But besides the occasional dumb “kid-like” interactions they have with each during their down time, a lot of their dialgoue feels forced. For someone like me, who has grown to love narcissists like Senku from Dr. Stone, I couldn’t care less about the cast of The Adventurers Guild. I had to do ridiculous things like picturing a character as Lord Don’ator to not fall asleep! The third book does introduce a pretty witty new character, who exists for sarcastic comments, and shows up too late to offset everyone else. 

And speaking of the third book, let’s talk about it in the least spoilery way possible. Remember when I said “beyond the social commentaries, the main plot really isn’t that interesting”? Well, that shows. Night of Dangers completely does away with social undertones and becomes a tedious slog that’s just as cliché as anything else, despite how the trilogy desperately tried to avoid it. The only saving grace is the admittedly enjoyable climax, but saying that it offsets everything else is a stretch. One character even deflects from the main issue super intentionally and it’s never explained why. 

Speaking of intentionally, that word is everything wrong with The Adventurers Guild. Virtually none of it felt natural; each story beat was 110% deliberate. As much as having a plan for the narrative is good (in fact, it’s essential), you can’t plan literally everything. You need to have a stream of consciousness effect when writing, which allows some aspects of the story to tell themselves. And if you end up needing to pull something out of your ass, go back and edit earlier parts so that it has proper context. I can’t describe exactly why, but I just felt in my writer-brain that this whole series was… wrong.

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Final Verdict: 6/10

The Adventurers Guild tried a lot of things, and it all felt flat to me. In the end, I have no idea what the takeaway of this series is. Is it that racism is bad, or that you shouldn’t keep secrets? Whatever it is, there’s definitely something out there that’s conveyed it better. While this isn’t the worst series on the market, it is still just about as bland as its name implies.

The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 1 Review

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*. 

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Verdict: 7/10

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”. 

The Eminence in Shadow Volume 1 Review

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.

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Verdict: 7.65/10

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.

No Guns Life First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

An unspoken tradition in the world of anime and manga is to make things into guns. Swords are among the first weapons to become guns, for example. Even Western anime like RWBY honor the tradition by turning scythes, boots, and even suitcases into guns. Honestly, it’s surprising that it took until the manga No Guns Life, published in English by Viz, to turn an entire person into a gun.

In No Guns Life, people get all kinds of augments. The people with these augments are called Extended. Juzo Inui is so Extended… his freaking head is a gun! Although there is no war, things are not safe in the city, and he does all sorts of odd jobs to get by. But one fateful day, a dude hires him to protect a child named Tetsuro Arahabaki. Turns out that the dude was being remote controlled by Tetsuro due to a special ability called Harmony. Because of this, the megacorporation known as Beruhren tries to climb up Juzo’s ass. But that doesn’t matter; if the client pays, he’ll do the job.

At first, it seems that No Guns Life is a typical “cyberpunk starring a hard-hearted war veteran who was used as a tool, is outcast by society now that he’s obsolete, and is sucked into a massive government conspiracy while he comes to terms with his past and makes us wonder what makes us human”. And, well, that’s because it’s just that. Like Levius, there really isn’t anything particularly special about the manga in terms of ideas.

Fortunately, it does have a good sense of momentum. So far, No Guns Life has behaved similarly to Ghost in the Shell, where we observe Juzo take on various jobs, each of which tells us a little more about the world and the overarching story. The plot is engaging, and full of intrigue, even if it’s all stuff we saw in every piece of cyberpunk media ever published. 

Unfortunately, its cast is not too special. Juzo is the most likeable by far; he’s that nonchalant bad-ass type. There’s a number of parts where he gets livid just for someone messing with his favorite brand of cigarettes (as a small side note, there is a chance that the fact that it is implied that his smokes are essential for his Extended body to function could be interpreted as the manga endorsing substance abuse. But I’m the last person who wants to be “that guy” so I’ll leave it to your discretion). But other than him, we have some typical cyberpunk tropes. Tetsuro is basically a shounen protagonist disguised as a supporting character, and his personal engineer, Mary, is the sisterly figure who exists to tune him up while sometimes being a waifu.

The antagonists aren’t much better either. If you couldn’t tell from the rundown of the premise, Beruhren is the typical evil, monopolizing conglomerate that “symbolically represents Apple and Google and their massive conspiracy to take over all our personal data and allow the world to be controlled by Chinese censorship since they’re the biggest market in the world and all they care about is money” (side note: I’m being sarcastic and I personally don’t believe any of that). There’s also the organization, Spitzbergen, that is against the Extended (and guess what: they use Extended to kill other Extended which represents “the hypocrisy of the government and/or every organized religion”). And as far as individuals are concerned, at this point they’ve mainly been war veterans who got all cuckoo as a result of PTSD which “represents what Juzo could potentially have become which makes them morally ambiguous for some reason”.

At the very least, No Guns Life has great art. It has a rough style, with plenty of action. Even if the antagonists are lackluster, they at least have some legitimately creepy character designs. And speaking of character designs, Juzo definitely stands out as a protagonist given his unique head shape.

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Current Verdict: 8.4/10

I hate saying this as a sci-fi fan, but cyberpunk has definitely lost its luster since the 1990s. At the time, sure, it was cool to be like “Whoa, what if we’re living in a simulation?” or, “Does pimping ourselves up with machinery make us no longer human?” But now, in this day and age, questions like that are about as cliche as a hentai protagonist being popular among cute girls. Despite how much the genre brings to the table, it’s deceptively restrictive. Personally, I believe that sheer entertainment value is all that cyberpunk has left in terms of appeal, and No Guns Life delivers (took me long enough to get to the topic at hand). I recommend it to any cyberpunk fans, as well as edgelords who think having a gun-head is cool.

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Overview (Volumes 1-8)

This is a review of a light novel that I had abandoned around two years ago: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, one of J-Novel Club’s first publications. It looked great, then I read about two volumes and… just couldn’t get into it. I know that slow burns are a thing, but due to the sheer length of the series, plus me not yet having my IRL job at the time, I literally couldn’t afford to continue with it. But over the course of the last couple of months, I tried giving it a fair shot from where I left off.

In Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash, twelve people end up in this world- all Breath of the Wild style (including the amnesia). But unlike Link, they just go to the nearest town and GET A JOB. That’s basically about it; a perfect opening for a sandbox JRPG. That analogy is pretty apt, because this world is- of course- run on videogame physics.

Since it IS a JRPG world, Grimgar operates like one, specifically by having a slow and boring start. Most of the first volume is them just getting acquainted with the world. It is generic and boring, and shouldn’t have taken so much time to get acquainted with in the first place. Grimgar reminds me a LOT of Goblin Slayer, one of my least favorite LNs of all time (the group even gets called Goblin Slayers), and it could’ve even inspired that cesspool of D&D tropes. 

“Well, that’s only an issue for the first few volumes, right?” you ask. I thought that would be the case at first. But Grimgar is a “realistic” isekai. That means no lofty goals, no big bads to take out, no nothing. The whole point of the story is just… to survive. For some people (*cough* critics *cough*), this sounds like the greatest thing ever. And for some, the idea alone is enough, based on the positive reviews I’ve read. But the idea alone is never enough for me. The execution is more important, and Grimgar’s execution isn’t exactly on point.

At first glance, it seems the author really shows how ruthless the world of Grimgar is. Plot relevant characters do actually die, and it’s not always obvious who’s wearing the red shirt at any given time. Furthermore, it does a great job at showcasing the team’s struggles and shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are a ton of tone shifts. You know, have a story that takes itself SO DAMN SERIOUSLY and then suddenly throws in an ecchi scene. NO, you’re doing it wrong! Golden Kamuy and One Piece are rare gems that can mesh opposing attitudes all too organically, but Grimgar is no such gem.

The cast is ultimately what made me abandon Grimgar two years ago. Having twelve main characters immediately can be overwhelming in a book. In something like Danganronpa, sure, you’re introduced to sixteen main characters, but you didn’t have to worry about picturing them. I remember taking half an hour at the prologue just because I had to establish an image of all twelve people simultaneously. Fortunately, the author had the courtesy to split them up. The main MAIN group consists of Haruhiro (the leading protagonist), Ranta, Yume, Shihoru, Moguzo, and Manato, with the addition of Merry later on. 

Sadly, they aren’t that interesting. Haruhiro genuinely cares about his comrades, almost to a fault. But other than that, he’s a typical, bland self-insert. They try to justify this by having characters say something like, “He should be the leader because he’s the most ordinary” or something… but I still didn’t give a rat’s ass about him.

Ranta is the best and worst character in the whole series. He’s the best character because he has the most personality, memorable scenes, and feels the most fleshed out. Conversely, he’s the worst character because he’s a perv and is responsible for pretty much every tonal clash in the whole series (oh, and this person named Anna, who comes up later, is the female version of Ranta). Besides him, most of the others fulfill typical tropes like “deadpan loli” and “gentle giant”. There is some semblance of character development, which is enough for some (i.e. most) people, but for me, it falls flat in the face of their already boring personalities.

Visually, Grimgar has a true JRPG look. Watercolor paint style with desaturated but appealing colors give it an Octopath Traveler vibe. It also makes me wish that the quality of the art matched the actual story (oooooooh snap). 

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Verdict (Average of All Eight Volumes): 6.85/10

Although I can appreciate what Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash sets out to do, I’m not one of those people who gives A’s for effort. From its boring characters, to dialogue that’s so far out of left field that it circumnavigates the earth and ends up back in right field, it’s just too many negatives and not enough positives. Grimgar feels like something meant to be inherently appealing to critics above all else. Maybe I’ll revisit it, but for now, I just can’t. If all you care about is that it’s “realistic”, “human”, and “poignant”, then you’ll probably enjoy Grimgar more than me.

Kill Six Billion Demons First Impressions (Books 1 and 2)

I found 5 Worlds okay, The Witch Boy less than okay, and before them, I tried Amulet and Cleopatra in Space, to little success as well. I have been at my wits end to find a good Western graphic novel. But now, through a publishing medium that I didn’t know about until just recently, I might have just found a GN that I can seriously enjoy. And that GN, or webcomic rather, is Abbadon’s Kill Six Billion Demons.

In Kill Six Billion Demons, a young woman named Allison is enjoying some… er… quality time with her boyfriend when they are rudely interrupted by an assortment of demons. They kidnap her boyfriend, and stuff a weird thing into her skull, which transports her to another world. Yeah, it’s pretty simple.

First, in case you decide to read the original web version, I should give some pointers about the site to save you some headache. For some reason, when you select a chapter from the drop-down on the left, it displays all the chapter pages in reverse order. So unfortunately, you’ll have to scroll down to the very bottom of the webpage, and likely click to a second web page in the archive to view the actual beginning. It’s faster than going back to chapter one and clicking the chapter skip button over and over again! 

If you couldn’t tell from the intro paragraph, KSBD is a rootin’ tootin’ good time. It’s a bit expositiony at first, but it’s legitimately good exposition about Throne, the world it’s set in. It’s a very interesting and creative place, full of weirdos of all shapes and sizes. The creation story of Throne is very wild and complex, and it seems to integrate literally every religion known to man in its lore. It’s borderline overwhelming, and it makes a pretty straightforward plot seem more convoluted than it is.

One issue I did have- and it’s one that’s entirely my fault- is that I had a very hard time following a lot of the dialogue. For the most part, Allison’s portion of the story was fine. But whenever White Chain or literally anyone else came up, they pretty much spoke like the Bible met Shakespeare and had a kid. It is definitely very eloquently written, but like I said, it’s a SERIOUS mouthful.

My other issue ended up being with the cast. While they are by far the best graphic novel cast I’ve seen so far, they are high in abundance… and weird names. Allison starts out kinda whiny, but after the end of book 1, she stops messing around and becomes very spunky. White Chain is much more complicated… to the point where I don’t quite know what to think of him (or her?) yet. So far, my favorite character is Cilo, a blue devil who ends up tagging along with Allison and offers a lot of sass. Most other characters appear for about five seconds… and have some seriously weird names that went in one end of my brain and immediately out the other.

Overall, the story is seriously good. Just because my pea-brain was too small to comprehend it doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. The author really gave it their all when making this narrative and the world it’s set in. There is so much lore that it begs for rereads just so you can soak it all in. It can easily take over an hour just to get through half a book because of how much content there is.

Also, I finally read a Western comic with really good art. KSBD has an abstract and twisted style that suits itself perfectly. The character design is incredible, and much better than the other GNs I’ve read at this point. KSBD also seems to have a better grasp of actual PANEL FLOW than those others that I read. I don’t know why it was so much better, but it just was. While motion lines are still sparse, the illustrator uses perspective and gesture drawing to give the action scenes legitimate sizzle.

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Current Verdict: 8.5/10

It’s not perfect, but Kill Six Billion Demons is definitely the best Western comic I’ve read thus far. But since it’s a webcomic, updates will likely be sporadic, making it difficult to commit to the long haul. I’m willing to finish it; it’s just a matter of when. For now, I recommend it for fans of edgy stuff.

Tokyo Godfathers Movie Review

PREFACE: There might be a… slight difference in portrayals of certain things in the old Japanese audio and the new 2020 English dub of this movie. Being the weeb that I am, I watched it subbed. This is a review of the subbed version.


If there was any good part of my decision to watch Ride Your Wave, it was seeing the preview of Satoshi Kon’s 2003 film, Tokyo Godfathers. I traveled uncomfortably far from my home in the ungodly hours of night, because that’s where the nearest theater happened to be. Was it worth the hassle?

In Tokyo Godfathers, three homeless bumpkins go dumpster diving and *play Zelda jingle* find a baby. Since they’ve got nothing better to do, they set out to find the darn thing’s birth parents.

One thing that any viewer will notice, at least a viewer who’s used to current anime, is the movie’s rather unconventional portrayal of Tokyo. Instead of the bee-bopping, fun utopian metropolis, we are shown the less lawful underbelly of Tokyo that Japan’s tourism industry doesn’t want you to see. It’s much more “realistic”, which is something that you might enjoy over those battle shounens.

But Tokyo Godfathers is a satire, and that means it’s not all underbelly. In fact, no matter how dark or emotional the movie gets, it manages to never take itself too seriously. There’s tons of witty banter throughout this movie, but unlike most anime, the humor is much more- *Fmuh!*- nuanced (if you don’t know what that Fmuh means, check out the 1968 movie The Odd Couple). You’ll need to pay attention to the mannerisms of the characters, as well as crap happening off in the background in order to be able to understand how Tokyo Godfathers works its magic.

In terms of the narrative structure, Tokyo Godfathers follows these people throughout the crowded streets of Tokyo as they get involved in all kinds of antics with the baby. This includes getting invited to a party with the Yakuza, and narrowly avoiding a Terminator-style vehicular accident. But every so often, they break the ice with tidbits on their backstories, until they finally form a cohesive whole.

So who are these bumpkins anyway? Tokyo Godfathers stars Gin, Miyuki, and Hana. Gin is an old, cynical drunkard who became those things because he ran away from his life issues, Miyuki is a bratty and spunky teenage girl (and a loli, in case any of you modern fans cared), and Hana is a retired drag queen. These three have tons of Laurel and Hardy-esque banter with each other, but in terms of individual strength, Hana takes the cake. She is extremely eccentric, and behaves very flamboyantly, providing a bulk of the comic relief. But when something needs to be done, she’ll damn well do it. I can imagine that the animators had the most fun with her mannerisms.

The music also helps sell the screwballiness of the movie. The music pieces, when they’re not Christmas music, are intentionally dissonant and jarring, and sound like a song by King Gnu even though they didn’t exist at the time. 

It all comes together in the movie’s fantastic visual presentation. Normally, I’d write off great visuals as fluff, but here, it’s just as important to the plot as the plot itself. Most of us modern viewers have come to assume that anime are simply incapable of depicting themes like dreariness, suspense, and general negativity. But in Tokyo Godfathers, the desaturated colors and clever use of limited lighting effects conveys the mood wonderfully (it’s like they actually had funding to make it or something). Small details, like the various and creepily hyper-realistic adverts posted everywhere, make the underbelly of Japan feel otherworldly in its own way. Something so hideous has never looked so beautiful!

In addition, the animation is marvelous as well. Not a single frame is wasted to bring Tokyo Godfathers to life. It is most prevalent in the main characters, who tend to morph into completely different forms at times. This level of expressiveness is something that no live action actor can achieve.

There are TWO brief instances of… ahem… “nips” in the movie. You have been warned. 

Final Verdict: 9.4/10

If you wanna be one of those people who thinks that older anime are better than newer anime, then Tokyo Godfathers makes a great example. It’s a weird and wonderful movie that takes a bit of open mindedness to enjoy. At the time of this post, it’s the best anime feature film I’ve seen since Ghost in the Shell. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes satires such as The Odd Couple.

Phantom Tales of the Night First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Sometimes, there is a case where a knockoff of a popular series is better than said popular series. Phantom Tales of the Night, published in English by Yen Press, initially comes off as a knockoff of Clamp’s classic manga, xxxHolic. But upon further inspection, it’s something much better.

Phantom Tales of the Night stars the unnamed proprietor of the mysterious Murakumo Inn. He allows anyone to stay at his inn- from humans to monsters. The man asks only one thing from you in return: a secret. You don’t even need to be aware of your secret, such as the case of Tokihito Sasaki, a high school student who’s secretly been dead for quite some time.

This manga mostly contains episodic chapters that slowly contribute to a bigger story. One immediate advantage that Phantom Tales has over xxxHolic is that YOU DON’T NEED TO READ AN ENTIRELY SEPARATE MANGA IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT’S GOING ON. As a result, this manga has a much simpler plot. But just because it’s simple, doesn’t mean it’s not intriguing. After all, there’s the question of who the proprietor of Murakumo actually is.

The characters consist of three main protagonists: the proprietor of the inn, who’s merely referred to as Owner, and his two servants, Butterfly and Spider. Owner is, obviously, the Best Boy. He’s a cold, heartless man who doesn’t give a crap about anybody unless they have secrets for him to eat. Yet despite this, he’s a freaking badass, with plenty of epic shots all to himself. His secret is obviously going to be juicier than the Krabby Patty Formula, and I can’t wait to find out what it is!

His buddies are interesting. Butterfly is incredibly handsome, but ditzy, while Spider is the brute force guy. Their personalities clash regularly, and some great comedic scenes result, as out of place as they may be. Each chapter gives you bits and pieces of all three protagonists’ backstories.

There’s also a number of minor characters in Phantom Tales. Some, such as the aforementioned Tokihito, appear multiple times. But most of the time, these minor characters are just one-time visitors to the inn, ranging from regular humans, to assorted yokai, such as yuki-onna. If you’re no stranger to xxxHolic, you’d know that things generally don’t work out too well on their end.

Phantom Tales is one of those manga that relies on its visual presentation the most. It has a vividly detailed style that can go from beautiful to horrific at the turn of a page, and naturally, I love it. This is where the manga is the most similar to xxxHolic, but thankfully, the characters’ limbs aren’t spaghetti.

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Current Verdict: 9.45/10

Phantom Tales of the Night is amazing and underrated. Hopefully it’ll never get an anime adaptation, so it’ll stay perfect and pure forever. If you’re in the mood for a mind trip, then pack up your darkest secrets and stay a night at Murakumo Inn.

Dead Mount Death Play First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

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.

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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.

For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

It’s been a couple of years since I read the manga, Erased. But from what I can remember, it was a pleasantly surprising suspense manga with a supernatural twist (although I don’t quite get why people love it like SO much). “Why are you talking about Erased?” you ask. Well, the mangaka of Erased is publishing a new series, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams, which has recently been released in North America by Yen Press. So, I’m gonna talk about it for a bit.

In this manga, Senri Nakajou is the sole survivor of an attack on his family that results in his parents’ and twin brother’s deaths. His only memory of the killer is a series of scars on his arm that read “fire”, earning the killer the name Fire Man. Years later, he catches a glimpse of said man again, and begins a slow descent into madness trying to track the killer down.

Right off the bat, I can’t really tell what the author is trying to do with this manga. Similar to Erased, the main character’s goal is to track down a murderer… again! Also, there are abusive parents… AGAIN! I can’t fault someone for sticking with what they do best, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is a bit TOO much like Erased for those reasons.

Like the author’s previous work, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is best when it’s strictly being an old-school suspense manga. It doesn’t take long at all for the search for Fire Man to get really complicated, as Senri isn’t the only one who’s after his head, and Senri’s family aren’t his only victims. A development at the end of volume 2 adds a cherry even more to the top of the existing mystery cake.

Unfortunately, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams isn’t too great in the character department. Senri is just a generic angsty boy who slowly loses direction on his moral compass, and it’s not a particularly interesting instance of this character type. The female lead, Enan, seems to be someone who exists just to tell him that what he’s doing is morally incorrect (as if it weren’t obvious enough). Both kids have abusive parents in their lives, and between this and Erased, it seems that the author uses this trope to give us easily sympathizable characters. I hate assuming intentions, but that’s what my critic-brain tells me.

The art is no different from Erased, which is good or bad depending on how you feel about it. The girls still have those nice, full lips; your mileage may vary on that. Admittedly, this artstyle really isn’t the best for a suspense manga, but it at least has a distinct look.

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Current Verdict: 7.3/10

I don’t know what it is, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams just doesn’t quite seem to cut it for me. Maybe my standards for suspense have grown too high after reading some of Naoki Urasawa’s stuff? Well, if you love Erased as much as the next guy, then this manga should be just about as good.