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

Despite my love for JRPGs, story is ironically the one aspect of videogames that I care the least about. And yet, because of how much I enjoyed Ys VIII, I wanted to try another series by the same team, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. It is a single, mammoth, epic JRPG, spanning four entire games meant to be played in chronological order, and VERY story-driven. Let’s see if it’s good enough to stay in it for the long haul.

In Trails of Cold Steel, a boy named Rean Schwarzer begins his attendance at Thors Military Academy. But bizarrely enough, his uniform is different from everyone else’s. It doesn’t take long to find out that he’s in an experimental group called Class VII, the first class to have commoners and nobles both. Since this is part one of four games, it’s naturally going to spiral into something big.

By nature, the game can be slow at first, but it’s done thoughtfully, and tries to hook you. The game begins with a flash-forward that you play. It’s incredibly overwhelming, not just because you don’t know what’s going on, but because it gives you every party member at once, with every battle mechanic unlocked, with every characters’ abilities that they’ve learned at that point. This is to build anticipation of what’s to come in terms of both the story and the gameplay. Also, when it kicks into the proper opener, they make you do combat pretty regularly, so you can slowly become acclimated to your new life without being bored.

The story might have some common fantasy themes, such as “Ah, rich people crap on poor people. War is  helpful for the economy. Make America great again bwaaah!”, but they at least made the effort to submerge you neck-deep into it. There is a butt-ton of lore in this thing, and it shows in the various books you can read, which contain important foreshadowing for later, as well as in-universe fictional books (if you can find them).

The creators were also very thoughtful with the world from a design and visual storytelling standpoint. Early drafts of this review (I wrote it in bits and pieces as I played) stated the world felt small, compact, and segmented. The segmented style is, of course, an unavoidable consequence of the whole game’s structure, but the compactness is only early on. Each place you go to outside of the school is done in a specific order. You start out in small towns, then expand to bigger and bigger places (or at least, places that seem big thanks to out-of-bounds geometry). This further helps ease you into the world of Trails, as it starts small and gradually grows bigger and bigger. In this way, I am willing to claim that Trails is the most Tolkienian JRPG I’ve ever seen (yeah, I know a lot of poetic-waxers compare fantasy stuff to Lord of the Rings, but I think this is a somewhat fair comparison, since Lord of the Rings expands its scale in a similar way).

Unfortunately, the graphics don’t help. While I hate being a stickler, Trails is not the most visually appealing JRPG I’ve seen. While most of the towns appear pleasing enough, a lot of the combat areas are bland and samey. It’s similar to Ys VIII, but that game at least did more with angles and area continuity that made a lot better looking. Yeah, I get that this was 2013 and the game’s structure results in the whole thing being divided into segmented areas, but I digress. Also similar to Ys, the character designs are by far the most appealing, as they are very vibrant in color and have that classic anime style to them (except their hands look hideous). Fortunately, the soundtrack makes up some for the graphics’ shortcomings. While not as rocking as Ys VIII, it’s more than good enough. The towns all have their own unique atmospheres, and the battle music is pumping. 

As far as the overarching narrative is concerned, you can color me impressed. I’m used to having a ton of exposition dump forced down my throat in modern fantasy, but Trails is one that eases you into the plot organically. It’s pretty good at buildup, and maintaining interest, even when it’s boring school time. In fact, the boring school time tends to be a great change of pace, and doubles as a “calm before the storm”-type thing. Without spoiling much, the main narrative is divided into two main plot threads: one concerning the strange ruins of Thors’ Old Schoolhouse, and another involving a set of big political moves that slowly become more dire as the world moves towards collapse. How these two different things can possibly be connected is one of the many questions I anticipate to be answered in this series.

What you must keep in mind when playing this game is the fact that, like I said before, it’s not just the first installment of a series, but the first part of a bigger story. As a result, this game’s main narrative is all about laying the groundwork of the story and setting expectations for what’s to come. This means that it doesn’t quite rise to the fever pitch that most JRPGs would, even when you’re well past the halfway point, as well as the fact that some plot threads will be left unresolved at the end. But hey, the game does an excellent job at setting said groundwork, and this is honestly the most engaged I’ve ever been in a JRPG narrative. Now that I’m attached to the characters and the world, the later games will likely deliver the feels.

I was worried about the cast at first, because I figured that Class VII’s character development would only show during optional and limited social links. But no, they actually give a lot of time for these characters to grow on you (they better, since this is part one of four). While they do start off as typical anime tropes, the way that they’re slowly introduced is quite impressive. Also, the fact that it’s not a Persona game makes it relatively light on the teen angst. Just be wary that it has a LOT of the “I know important, plot relevant things, but I can’t tell you because reasons” trope (looking at you, EMMA).

But out of all those in this massive cast, the NPCs ended up surprising me the most. Due to how the game is structured, each and every NPC- from townsfolk to miscellaneous students- have their own character arcs that progress along with the plot, some of which even foreshadow future quests. I ended up liking a lot of these people, especially Best Girl Mint. The biggest issue with them is that there aren’t enough unique NPC models. That’s normally a given in JRPGs, but the fact that, for example, the sister of one of the Thors’ instructors who you meet late in the game doesn’t just look nothing like him, she looks like a lot of other generic women in the game.

My other issue is with the antagonists. The established villains of the game are a group of terrorists who, for some reason,only go by their initials. Their leader is incredibly generic, and his minions are, guess what: brainy guy, busty woman, and muscular idiot. Fortunately, the game makes it readily apparent that the REAL mastermind is operating behind the scenes, and the terrorists make up just a small part of those involved.

Story is all well and good. But what about gameplay, the most important thing in any videogame? Due to Trails’ nature, I will divide gameplay elements into “Daily Life” and “Deadly Life” segments, similar to Danganronpa games. But first, I must discuss one gameplay aspect that’s useful in BOTH school life and combat: Turbo Mode. This feature, exclusive to the PS4 port of the game (and pretty much the only one you can actually BUY these days), makes the game move twice as fast at the push of a button. It’s incredibly useful if you ever need to save-scum and rewatch a long string of cutscenes upon reloading the save.


Daily Life

Trails is set in a school, and like Chi-Chi always said in Dragon Ball: studying comes before saving the world. If you couldn’t tell, this series is structured very similarly to Persona, which was initially going to be a turn-off for me. I never played a Persona game, nor do I want to, simply because I’m anal about getting all the things done in a JRPG, and Persona is against that. In those games, you need to juggle your social life and actual combat, and you must plan an arbitrary route that can involve save-scumming in order to get everything, which ultimately makes the games extremely stressful. There are also some logic issues in Persona, such as, “Oh you chose to eat some ramen for lunch? Okay, BOOM! now it’s ten o’clock at night!”

Trails‘ way of doing it isn’t perfect, but it’s substantially better… or so it seems. First off, social links are triggered by spending Bonding Points on them. But in order to narrow down your inevitable dilemma between choosing which character to hang out with, a given day of Free Time only has set people available. Spending time with them does NOT make it instantly TOMORROW like in Persona, but you only get a certain amount of Bonding Points per day. These events get you a ton of Link Points, which are essential for a mechanic in battle. Furthermore, you are only allowed to have these events with plot relevant characters. This means that you won’t have to waste time hanging out with filler characters like in Persona (even if some of them are admittedly interesting), and if you feel uncomfortable about significantly older women taking a liking to the protagonist, that is also thankfully not the case in Trails.

Despite the fact that I played the game specifically because I figured it’d be more lenient than Persona, the social links are arguably far worse, not just compared to Persona, but Danganronpa as well. In those games, no matter when you started or continued a social link, it would be the same (except for some rare cases in Danganronpa). However, social links in Trails, while no different from a gameplay standpoint, are all unique BASED ON WHERE AND WHEN THEY ARE. It’s also not possible to view every event, as the game flips you a bird and consistently gives you one Bonding Point short of viewing all available events. If you really care about all the characters, you MUST save-scum in order to view all of them, and only save after the ones that you want the Link XP for. 

In addition, you have Academy Points. Most AP is done by completing quests, which comes naturally enough. Time doesn’t pass until you finish Required quests, and that’s one advantage Trails has over Persona. However, additional AP is earned for being an extra good pupil, and achieving an optimal outcome, such as riding a motorcycle without wrecking it. Advancing the story will IMMEDIATELY cause any incomplete optional quests and available events to expire, but the game is at least consistently good at warning you of these cutoff points.

However, this IS a school game, and that means being smart. And that means exams. Class VII has to take practical exams every month. These are basically mini boss battles that give you bonus AP if you meet certain conditions. The later ones can get pretty ridiculous…

…but even the hardest practical exam beats any written one. At first, I thought you could take pictures of every book in the library and you’d be fine. But no… it’s worse than that. Almost worse than Persona. In Persona, you merely had to remember any material gone over up to that point (which you can take pictures of as they come up), and then have your Academics stat above a certain threshold to get the highest grade. In Trails, you must make use of a special study day, which is a Free Day, but instead of Bonding Points, you spend Studying Points to go over test material with peers. Similar to Free Days, there are more events than what you could possibly view. HOWEVER, regardless of what NPCs actually imply as far as the relevance of what they’re studying, material from EVERY event WILL BE on the upcoming exam. Furthermore, you must also seek unmarked events that give you additional free knowledge (typically with instructors) in order to come out on top. As long as you save scum to view every event, and find the hidden knowledge blips, you should do fine…I think. The silver lining is that there’s only one of these exams in the game (excluding however many there are in subsequent games). But… you don’t know the exact outcome until after you’ve done the entire following Free Day, which includes your next run of the recurring monthly dungeon.

But just because you don’t need to memorize the books in the library for the exams doesn’t mean you don’t need to memorize them, period. Some quests result in you having to answer questions out of these books, so make sure you take time to jot down (or take pictures of) each and every page. Make sure you not only do the second floor of the library, but the recommended reading corner that gets updated every chapter. But even then it’s not enough. Some of these quiz quests require you to remember remote bits of dialogue from up to tens of hours earlier in the game (or from future chapters even). Fortunately, they’re few enough so that you can basically brute force those with save-scumming.

Save scumming might be dirty, but you should have no shame playing dirty because Trails does the same by giving you HIDDEN QUESTS. Not only will random, missable NPCs give random, missable items, but they can also give quests not marked on a given tasks envelope. Like I said before, since talking to every NPC at every opportunity is encouraged from a story standpoint, it’s not TOO bad. At least it’s not a Tails Of game which doesn’t even mark quests at all, regardless of if you found them, and some of them are the starts of chains but don’t continue until fifty hours later and by then you’ll FORGET you even STARTED it and- *huff* *huff* Just keep in mind that Trails does give a bit of leeway. You get 15 AP for beating the final dungeon, so you’ll need at least 415 by the time it opens up in order to get the highest rank at the end, which I BARELY got. 

In order to discuss other missable events, I must also briefly touch on combat, specifically the areas where it will occur. Most combat is fought in the Old Schoolhouse, which is literally Tartaros from Persona 3. As you progress the main story, more floors of this dungeon open up, and it’s encouraged to check it out (or grind). Just keep in mind that the day will advance to evening once you leave, so do it last. It pressures you to select a set team, but you can always change it by examining the exit of the dungeon.

While Trails proves to be just as stressful as Persona, it’s good to note that it feels much faster paced. Each chapter has one single Free Day, split into daytime and evening segments. So even though social links are just about as limited, you don’t have to worry about wasting 85% of them just to grind out enough personality stats to actually talk to girls. However, Trails still clocks in at eighty to a hundred hours of playtime, so it’s really just an illusion.

Similar to Persona‘s special story segments that happen on set dates (like the full moon, TV rescue, etc.), Trails has field studies. These are excursions to new areas with their own quests to do, along with new story developments. Finishing one gives everyone a heap of link XP (thank GOD). But as soon as you finish a story arc here, YOU CAN NEVER GO BACK. So make sure you do everything while you can.

The field studies locations can take a while to get to, even on express trains. This is plenty of time to… PLAY A CHILDREN’S CARD GAME. Fortunately, Blade is not even remotely as agonizing as Final Fantasy VIII‘s notorious Triple Triad (and the music is nowhere near as annoying). Blade basically plays like War, but with Trap Cards. It kinda sucks, honestly. I don’t entirely remember how War works, but Blade is basically decided entirely by the players’ starting hands. If you draw too many trap cards, not enough high value cards, and not enough 1 cards to counter one of the types of trap cards, you’ve pretty much lost. I’ve genuinely tried to win, but I’m pretty sure it’s impossible depending on the setup (obviously, the fact that I’m saying a card game is entirely reliant on luck means that I’m a filthy casual at card games, and lack the ability to read opponents and use basic logic to deduce their next move). Fortunately, you only need to fight every available character once to get link XP.

There’s a lot of things you can miss! Fortunately, the pawn shop in the main town can sell items from previous areas, including items found in the chests there, and book chapters. The pawn shop is also good if you have a surplus of crappy items that you can trade for a single better version.

Like in any JRPG, cooking and fishing are the most important things in the game. When it comes to cooking, you can somehow cook anywhere in the world as long as you have the ingredients. Depending on the skill levels of Rean and who you cook with, the dish could end up ranging from Regular, to Superb, to Peculiar, to Unique. Unique dishes can only be formed by someone who has a secret knack for cooking that particular item (but it’s always someone who shows a high likelihood for a good result). These are objectively the best, however there is an NPC who wants to see such dishes, so be frugal (and for the record, there’s someone who wants peculiar dishes as well). Most recipes can be learned by NPCs who will randomly give you one. And of course, these can be missed.

Of all the different school facilities, you’ll be visiting the Engineering department more often than any other. The guys here use variously colored Sepith earned from enemies and can mod your Arcus with them. You also earn generic Sepith Mass, which is exchanged at shops for actual money. Anyway, Sepith is used to unlock new slots on your Arcus, as well as craft new quartz (which I’ll get to later).

Fishing isn’t as exciting, though. Basically, you just fish and mash the prompted face buttons, and you get a fish. There are only a set amount of times you can fish per day, which means a finite amount of times you can fish total. You can use groundbait to make more spawn, but the only way to farm for it is to farm U-Materials off of assorted enemies, then trade them at the pawn shop for groundbait.

One final quip that I have in the Daily Life segment is fast travel. For some reason, fast travel is either excessively helpful, or nonexistent. Basically, if you’re in a town, you can fast travel to buildings that are, like, two feet from each other. But in a combat area, you can’t fast travel back to the hub. This becomes a big issue if you’re trying to talk to every NPC to find hidden quests (especially in chapter 3). 


Deadly Life

Combat is limited, but when it happens, it’s really good and really involved. Fortunately, Trails does a great job of easing you into all the different aspects as you go along. The main issue with it is the same issue as most JRPGs: that most characters have limited abilities and customization early game. But once you get more utility, it becomes incredibly rewarding.

For the most part, Trails operates like an old-school turn-based JRPG. Then turn order is displayed on the left, and it cycles through everyone. However, you will have to take Delay into account (which it’ll show on the turn order when selecting a target). Some attacks, mainly magic, will take a while to go through, and you will need to plan ahead in order to come out on top. There are also turn bonuses, which can give free heals and boosts just by it coming to your turn. Enemies can also get bonuses, requiring you to plan even harder. Sometimes, you’ll need to cast spells specifically to use the Delay to steel turn bonuses. The mechanics behind the turn order are very nuanced, and take a lot of self-teaching to figure out. It’ll make the difference if you desperately need to cast an Art in a pinch. 

For the first time since maybe Chrono Trigger, position matters. When using moves that have AOE, you need to carefully aim the attack in order to catch as many enemies in its range as possible. If you’re too far, you’ll have to waste a turn to move within range (which enemies might also have to do). Some attacks will also change a character’s position, and that must be taken into account as well.

What’s even more complicated is that you have two sets of special moves: Arts and Crafts. No, you don’t make paper peacocks by tracing your hand over construction paper; the different types are literally called Arts, followed by Crafts. Each consumes a separate stat, EP and CP. EP is traditional MP, and can easily run out if you get trigger happy. It can only be restored from turn bonuses or consumables. CP is like a Special gauge in an action game, and fills from dealing and receiving damage. Characters get 200 max CP that they can store. However, as abundant as it is, there are special S-Crafts that you learn over the course of the story. These take from 100 to all of a character’s CP, and are insanely powerful. It is more incentivized to use the 200, since it’s stronger. The most important part of S-Crafts is that they can be used out-of-turn. This causes an S-Break, which can be a lifesaver if used to steal a turn bonus that you don’t want the enemy to have. The issue with them is that recovering from them is ROUGH. For most of the game, the only good way to restore CP is with Alisa’s Blessed Arrow, which comes at the cost of some of her own. In a lot of boss battles, I’d end up having to whittle them down with regular attacks just to slowly regain it back.

The way each set of skills are learned is different. Crafts are learned by levelling up, and Arts are learned by setting quartzes to your Arcus thingy. First, you set a Master Quartz, which gives a set of stat boosts and bonus effect s. Each Master Quartz can be levelled up, and you’ll definitely be getting new ones to play around with. Additional quartzes can be set to learn new Arts, gain stat bonuses, or in rare cases, both in a single quartz. 

It’s generally a good rule of thumb to know your enemies in order to win, and it’s really important in Trails. By either battling a lot of the same enemy, or using an Analysis spell, you can find out a lot of stuff about them. The most important thing is not just their elemental resistances, but their status resistances as well. This is really useful when planning out attacks, especially with status ailments. Once you get the ability to inflict status ailments with your attacks, you will NEED them, for they will be your friend. Also, Trails is one of the few games where bosses are susceptible to status ailments, so make good use of them!

While the game is pretty good at holding your hand, there is one important mechanic that they don’t teach you, and that’s Impeding. Basically, certain specific Crafts will cancel an enemy when it takes a turn to cast an Art (indicated by a red glowy thingy). The game expects you to know about this, so just be aware of it. There are also quartzes that can give all a character’s attacks an Impede percentage, but the specific Crafts are guaranteed to do it.

The Ys series makes a crossover into Trails with the Unbalancing mechanic. Monsters can be staggered by hitting them with an effective weapon type, be it Slash, Thrust, Pierce, or Strike. Doing this allows for a Combat Link to work. Set a Link in the camp menu or during battle and linked characters can assist when the enemy is Unbalanced. After a certain time, you begin to earn Bravery Points through Link Attacks, and can spend them during an Unbalance to perform a stronger attack. Like in Miitopia, Link Abilities get better and better when you level up their link levels. Similar to Persona, crits will automatically Unbalance an enemy no matter what. 

If there is any flaw with the combat- and it’s moreso a nitpick than anything else- it’s that the difficulty is all over the place. You don’t need to grind in order to be able to beat the game smoothly, but it follows the JRPG rule of “equipment is everything” to the letter. When it comes to status ailments, any enemy that can inflict it WILL if you don’t have the equipment to make yourself immune to it. The early game is particularly rough because you won’t even have enough of this equipment to put on the whole active party. But when you do get the equipment, you’re gonna need it. A lot of bosses can wall you if you’re unprepared, and even if you are prepared, it can be rough. It’s also really bad that there are no multi-targeting healing items in the game without the use of a specific Master Quartz.

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Final Verdict: 9.15/10

It’s stressful, but Trails of Cold Steel is nonetheless a fantastic series opener. Since this is the first game, you have plenty of time to learn how it works. But as much as I’ve learned about the game, I don’t know how ready I am for the sequels.

One thing that I do know about this series is that Trails IV, the finale, has A TRUE ENDING. That is so mean… to make such a long story that people would need to spend at least 500 hours to see to its conclusion, just to troll them right at the end because they didn’t do enough stuff. It could be generous like in Ys VIII, but it could also require every single Academy Point in the game to get it. I could look up the conditions now, but I might spoil something for myself, which would be bad, since I actually LIKE this story so far.

Since this is just the hors d’oeuvres, and an incredibly stressful helping of hors d’oeuvres at that, I can’t recommend this series easily. I’m going to have to wait for Trails II, the first of a three-piece entree, to arrive at the metaphorical table first. For now, I recommend Trails of Cold Steel to any fans of Persona, Danganronpa, and Tails Of… since those fans are used to eighty hour games where you can miss a million things.

Isekai Rebuilding Project Volume 2 Review

Last time on Isekai Rebuilding Project, a salaryman named Eiji Kazama is summoned- by a strange woman known only as the Inspector- to a fantasy world that had recently been saved by a plucky, teenage boy. This turns into a mish-mash of various eras of Japanese history and begins to destroy itself as a result. When he gets there, he is partnered with a dragon named Tiamat, who proves to be a real hoot. In the first town, a disease that previously ravaged urban Japan is working its way here, all thanks to white rice! Fortunately, all Kazama has to do is introduce pork into the town’s diet. So, he prepares to hunt this world’s closest equivalent: the gagd (hey, I didn’t come up with this name myself). The hunting goes smoothly, and they bring a good load of gagd meat back to Lishua. He also cooks some Sunday mochi as a sweeter alternative. This, naturally, grabs the king’s attention, and Kazama and Tiamat meet with the guy. He’s the descendant of the hero, who was named Shizuru Mishima. The hero ends up being Kazama’s brother-in-law, who had committed suicide six years ago. But Kazama has no time to dwell on that when he dies of poisoned tea, courtesy of the king. Back in purgatory, the Inspector tells him that the king monopolized the knowledge of “gagd” and refined sugar for himself, and went to war with another country that suffered from the same disease. Millions of people died, but due to the declining economy, people settled back to brown rice, making Kazama’s project a success. He is disgusted at this development. But when he realizes that Tiamat was not only the actual person summoned to fix the world (with Kazama as her assistant), but his own fiance, Ayano, in dragon form, he is given one final chance to save that world again.

One thing I didn’t get at the start of this volume was that he was summoned to the point in time where he’s initially summoned to the castle. So, that means the war technically doesn’t happen yet (I think?). I just wanted to put that out there because I was confused about it at first. 

Anyway, the issue surrounding Azur gets resolved pretty smoothly; all it needed was a change of venue. But as we learned last time, the neighboring country of Noura has the same problem with beriberi. So, the natural thing to do is head over there. 

He’s accompanied by new faces, and by new faces, I mean existing faces who use magic to acquire new faces. Tiamat, Baze, and Hieronymus (the latter two of which are the Fenrir and Cait Sith that I didn’t mention in the recap because I thought they’d be one-time characters and not mainstays) all gain human forms. I didn’t like this because up to this point, I’d been picturing Tia as Wheezy from the REAL greatest isekai ever written: Dragon Tales (*sarcasm*). There’s also the Murdock troupe, a team of circus people led by a guy named Murdock (no sh*t, Sherlock). 

But hey, it’s not always politics here in Isekai Rebuilding Project. This volume’s main conflict is one that many-a fantasy character has had to deal with time and time again: goblins. The interesting thing about them is that the group of them is unusually good at various tactics that goblins wouldn’t specialize in. There’s an interesting possibility that another human was summoned to lead them… But regardless, it’s up to Eiji’s squad to stop them.

Unfortunately, the execution could be better. While the banter between Eiji and Tia is entertaining, the other characters are pretty boring. Also, the power of Eiji’s companions really don’t showcase any stakes whatsoever. Locations are still not given any personality or description, further baffling me as to how the illustrator was able to create such gorgeous art with no reference.

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Verdict: 7.75/10

Isekai Rebuilding Project isn’t bad, but it’s definitely looking to be another one of those low-key, feel-good fantasy series. It still has potential to become something bigger than what it is now, so I’ll keep it on my radar.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Overview (Volumes 1-6)

When I’m writing these blogs, I try to stray from the hyperbole that both fans and critics commonly use, and instead tell you exactly what you’re getting into. But sometimes, a work is just so spectacularly bad, and makes you so livid, that it’s almost impossible to not mudsling in a review. I will try my hardest to describe one of my least favorite light novels on the market, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (published in English by Seven Seas), as honestly as possible. But I cannot make any promises.

Mushoku Tensei starts out like any isekai: a NEET gets killed in the real world, awakens in a new one, and becomes insanely powerful with absolutely no effort. This one’s model is a thirty-odd-year-old man who gets reborn as a baby and grows up in real time. But even at a single-digit age, he- with his new name of Rudeus Greyrat- already has absurd levels of power.

This is one of the absolute worst instances of the isekai formula that I have ever seen in my life. I don’t inherently hate the formula; after all, almost all of my favorite light novels are isekai. What makes Mushoku Tensei so bad is that it exaggerates the overpowered protagonist aspect to galactic proportions, and does it with a completely straight face. It’s something that would work fine if handled as a parody or satire, but the execution feels like every decision that was made was made thinking it was a genuinely good one.

I’d jump into a paragraph saying that the characters are the biggest problem in this light novel. But although the characters are a big issue, the real problem is how everything is presented. First off, for some reason Seven Seas light novels seem to be typeset in the weirdest way possible, which is basically this: all paragraphs left aligned, with normal line spacing within paragraphs, but a double space in between each paragraph itself. Bizarrely, the fourth volume started to look normal, so it could be an issue with reading them on nook versus Bookwalker. Whatever the reason, I think it looks terrible when it does occur, and for some reason, it definitely seems to affect the reading experience. The other issue is the words themselves. Other than a few satirical remarks, the story is written in the emptiest, most bare-bone basic way. This feels like a rough draft, and not a final publication (especially not of something this popular). “Oh, how do YOU know what’s a rough draft?!” you snap. Look, I’ve written several web novels before starting this blog, and they all sucked just as badly as this. The only difference is that I didn’t publish them. Sure, Mushoku Tensei has some blips of neat lore here and there, but it’s not presented in a way that piques my interest. Keep in mind that this could be a translation issue.

In addition to the typesetting and potential translation issues, the story and characters are just about as bad. The reason why I didn’t mention an actual goal for Rudeus in the outline of the premise is because he doesn’t have one. Sure, he wants to learn magic and become powerful (which he practically already accomplished), but there’s no real point. This is a slice-of-life isekai, which isn’t bad (heck, Konosuba’s one as well), but it’s done poorly in Mushoku Tensei. While it admittedly lays the groundwork for an interesting overarching story by the end of volume 2, the aforementioned bad writing makes it so that I have no interest in said story whatsoever. 

As for the characters, they are walking tropes. Rudeus is a perfect prodigy, and everyone else in the world is at his mercy. The only character who seems remotely interesting is a loli named Eris, but that’s just relatively speaking; she’s still boring. Technically, there’s still development, but it feels empty and stiff. The only interesting thing about any character is that Rudeus seems to gradually come to terms with his NEETness and tries to be a better person, but it’s offset when his reward is just the continued perpetuance of his old fetishes. I don’t care about this cast, and I don’t see myself caring about them down the line. One thing I never understood is that people seem to think that any character development at all automatically makes them better characters, but that’s personally not how I roll. If you feel that way, then you’re more likely to enjoy the characters than I did.

The art is also one of the weakest I’ve seen. While it has more flourishes than, say, SAO, it’s still very bland. Eris is also the only interesting-looking character, but that’s- again- relatively speaking.

So, why did I read as much as I did? There is one reason alone: controversy. The anime for Mushoku Tensei is going to come out later this year, and it’s going to be a brouhaha. One thing that has been consistent in this series is questionable decisions. Series of minor spoilers ahead (skip to next paragraph if you want to avoid them): Rudeus falls in love with two different girls of single-digit age. “That’s not so bad, because he’s also eight, you idiot.” But recall… developmentally, HE’S STILL AND ADULT. So, essentially, a thirty-odd-year-old man grows sexually attracted to eight-year-old girls. There are also some cases of child abuse, children being naked (both of which include Rudeus), and adultery. Plus, he even gropes Eris’ breasts at one point, and she forgives him because it was his birthday. 

People are gonna be livid when the anime airs, but I think it’s better being someone who gets to laugh and watch the community engage in heated debates than to engage with them. The potential for how far down the rabbit hole this can go is what’s driven me to read as many volumes as I have. In fact, I might read even more (but I really should just drop it). 

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Verdict: 5/10

Mushoku Tensei is bafflingly bad. I cannot recommend it to anyone with a straight face. I suppose that if you love the wish fulfillment aspect of isekai, along with the ideas it presents over the execution of said ideas, then you could enjoy this. But why would you when there’s so much better (and cheaper) on the market? Why read this when you could read Konosuba, No Game No Life, Torture Princess, Cautious Hero, or Otherside Picnic? The only way I could recommend Mushoku Tensei is to cringe at all the controversial stuff.

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.

Log Horizon Volumes 5 and 6 Review

Last time on Log Horizon, Marielle and Co. get attacked by fishmen. But Naogutsu’s group also has some goblins to fight! In fact, there’s a lot of goblins. Oh, and these super important Knights of Izumo, who are supposed to protect everyone, decide to just disappear. According to Krusty, this many goblins can only mean that the Return of the Goblin King event has begun. Naogutsu and Marielle’s groups manage to meet up,but they notice a goblin unit making its way to the helpless village of Choushi. Shiroe also spills the beans on the memory loss thing, and Krusty confirms it, as it’s happened to him. Meanwhile, the kids manage to hold off some of the goblins attacking Choushi. While the politics heat up, Princess Raynesia breaks the ice by just offering to recruit people from Akiba herself. When they arrive, Akatsuki changes her into “proper” (a.k.a. fanservice-y) clothes. She and Shiroe give an epic speech, and a bunch of people join to fight back. Also, the twins arrive at Choushi and there is no goblin issue whatsoever, mainly because Marielle’s group already beat them to the punch. The group of 1,200 players splits into units and agrees to meet up at the Midrount Equestrian Gardens. The thumb-twiddlers are at odds with what Raynesia did, but Michitaka smooths them over (I think? I can’t understand any of this political crap…). While Shiroe is organizing stuff, a bunch of Fishmen appear in Choushi. They win, but they lose Rudy, who was a Person of the Earth, and can’t be revived… But Shiroe uses the power of Buddhism and his super-crafting skills to bring him back for long enough to have him sign a contract for him to join Log Horizon, making him an Adventurer who can’t die. Meanwhile, Raynesia and Krusty’s group are attacked by goblins and Dire Wolves, but they’re dealt with smoothly. In the end, the Goblin King was a scrub and never actually showed himself.

I’m sorry, but volume 5 was about as bad as I expected. The whole volume revolved around this Libra Festival thing, as well as the cliche love triangle between Minori and Akatsuki. There was no way for me to write a whole post about that volume alone, so that’s why I’m condensing these two volumes into one post.

The only interesting thing that occurs is what happens in the interlude at the end of the volume. The world of Log Horizon gets a lot bigger and scarier in one fell swoop, and it made me mildly interested in the story for the first time since volume 1. 

The layer cake of conflicts gets even thicker in volume 6. For the first time in the series, a murderer attacks Akiba in the dead of night, and somehow, no alerts go off. Also, the Goblin King returns, and since they didn’t kill him the first time, this raid’s gonna be a lot tougher. But as far as the former conflict is concerned… well, the guy’s only been targeting adventurers, who get revived… Yeah, as established ages ago, Log Horizon is not meant to be an emotional rollercoaster. In fact, every time something serious happens, it’s almost immediately followed up with something goofy. Chapter 1 of this volume ends on such an ominous note, and the first thing that happens next chapter is Henrietta trying to put Raynesia into a skimpy nurse’s outfit. 

If you couldn’t tell from volume 6 being titled Lost Child of the Dawn, this one’s all about Akatsuki. She deals with an existential crisis because she’s an Assassin. She devotes herself to protecting Shiroe (because she wuvs him or something arbitrary like that), but realizes that she can’t cut it. Her skills are great for stealth-killing single targets, but, naturally, that doesn’t help in big groups or head-on fights. Get ready to be constantly reminded that Akatsuki’s short, and that she’s sad, and weak! 

In fact, that’s been a running theme in Log Horizon’s writing: redundancy. For some reason, the author is telling you rudimentary aspects of the series over and over again. They repeatedly tell you that Adventurers are immortal, People of the Earth are not, Henrietta is a lolicon, and even that Raynesia is a woman. In addition to the boring characters, this is the biggest reason for my declining joy in Log Horizon. I assume that the anime would naturally be better because of the lack of writing, but I’m not so sure anymore, given that I’m not the biggest fan of TV anime.

Oh, and for the record, the climax of the volume has a REALLY abrupt ending. I read the last few pages like eight times because I legitimately couldn’t understand what was occurring. Maybe I was just sick of Log Horizon at this point…

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Verdict (Volume 5): 5.5/10

Verdict (Volume 6): 6.9/10

After the boring bonanza of volume 5, volume 6 at least shows some semblance of… er… being interesting? I’m at my wits end with this franchise. I tend to side with critics more often than not, but this is one time when I do not. What do you like about Log Horizon? Seriously, I desperately want to know. I’ve already acknowledged that I like the idea of the world, and Shiroe being a clever-leader-type guy as positives. But that’s not enough. I’ll try to give future volumes a shot, but I’d still love some input.

Log Horizon Volume 4 Review

Last time on Log Horizon, a whole slew of people enjoyed their own beach filler episode. Meanwhile, Shiroe actually does something important and heads to the Ancient Court of Eternal Ice, a castle where the important people of Eastal, the League of Free Cities, meet to discuss political bullcrap. But first, ballroom dancing, and assorted conspiring! During all that, the twins do some combat training in the dungeon known as Forest Ragranda. While they barely manage to survive against some skeletons, Shiroe and his buddies end up… having to attend various social gatherings (disgusting!)! One night, while Akatsuki is having an existential crisis over being a loli, some Li Gan dude shows up to discuss matters with her and Shiroe. This guy is some kind of powerful Sage who knows about the different classes of magic, including some seriously OP classes that can change the entire world in a single use. The Catastrophe that caused the players to be stuck in this world is world-class magic, a World Fraction, and this is the third time it’s been used. The first one involved these alv princesses from long ago who attacked mankind as revenge for their people getting wrecked, but they died too. This caused the demihumans to pop into existence, and take the world by storm. Even after creating the first Ancients, humans have been driven into a corner. Right at the end of their rope, the Second World Fraction occurred, but there wasn’t enough material left to actually know what happened. But after that, the third one occurred… and here we are. Based on the time scaling, Shiroe realizes that the second World Fraction was at the time of the open beta for Elder Tales (and also, that dying can apparently cause people to lose some of their memories). Back in the forest, the kids discuss the natures of their abilities, and- poof!- finally understand the basics of playing a JRPG! And it shows too; for they have a kick-ass expedition the next day. Oh, and the people at the beach get attacked by fishmen. That’s what you get for having a fanservice-y filler episode!

In this volume, the fishmen quickly end up becoming a less vexing threat than anticipated, mainly because they’re accompanied by a massive army of goblins. This is an in-game event called The Return of the Goblin King. Basically, this volume is about taking out this threat.

But it’s not so easy, thanks to politics. The League of Eastal has no choice but to hire the people from Akiba to fight back the goblins, but it gets complicated for some reason. It’s something about “them just exploiting the Adventurers” or something. Based on this, it seems that Log Horizon is no exception when it comes to fantasy politics that waste time more than build the world of the story.

There’s good news and bad news with this. The good news is that we get more character development regarding that Raynesia girl and Krusty (whom I didn’t mention in the recap because I figured that she’d be written out of the series after this arc). The bad news is that it’s boring. Raynesia is your typical “sheltered girl who can’t do anything, but then she meets ‘the one’ and he shows her ‘a whole new world in shining shimmering splendor’ and she comes out of her shell”. It’s cool if you like romance, but it’s not even as remotely interesting as the one player/tian relationship in Infinite Dendrogram, because those people are actual A.I., as opposed to the People of the Earth, who are humans.

At the very least, the twins and their group are now more than capable of defending themselves. The goblin battles end up going way to smoothly in this volume. I get that it’s still early, but even DanMachi had more serious situations going by the fourth volume. Normally, I don’t care if there is low tension, but here it felt very boring to read through for whatever reason. 

One issue I’ve been having is that Log Horizon doesn’t seem to be very good with giving its characters well-defined movepools. Sometimes, it feels like these characters have moves that they didn’t even have before. The writing is still wrought with exposition, and it’s getting to the point where it’s describing moves that have already been established, as if we were being shown it for the first time. 

Back to the low tension topic, the biggest issue with the volume is at the end. Something occurs that doesn’t just ruin the tension of the arc, but ruins any sense of tension for the entire remainder of Log Horizon. As established previously, crafting-based classes can use real-world experience to make something that isn’t originally programmed to exist in Elder Tales. This includes steam-powered boats, and food that actually has taste. Minor spoiler: Shiroe makes something that completely rewrites the established rules of the world, which makes him eleventy times more Kirito-ish than before, and he was already leaning far toward that extreme at this point. Sure, it’s still “technically” following an established rule, but that rule now seems to serve toward justifying any number of Deus ex Machinas that could occur moving forward. Plus, it undermines the worldbuilding that served as Log Horizon’s greatest source of appeal.

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Verdict: 7/10

Holy crap, these scores have been degrading over time. It’s now almost as low as my final score for Overlord… which I recently dropped. Things are not looking good on the horizon (no pun intended). Let’s see, the next volume’s called… Sunday in Akiba? Oh… that sounds like filler. Eff me.

Log Horizon Volume 3 Review

Last time on Log Horizon, the group returned to Akiba with Serera and Nyanta (while learning how to cook real food). But meanwhile, some old friends of Shiroe’s are in a bind: the twin newbs, Minori and Touya. They are kind of being held hostage by the guild, Hamelin, and forced to work their butts off. Shiroe responds by forming his own guild, the titular Log Horizon… and they raise money by selling food. Some clever negotiations help the business boom. But the real battle is when Shiroe attends a meeting with all the other guild leaders, and proposes that they form a governing body. Shiroe sways (i.e. blackmails) them by announcing that he purchased the guild center. Meanwhile, the operation to free the twins commences at the same time. While that goes down incredibly smoothly (as you’d expect), Shiroe brings up the secret to Snack Shop Crescent Moon’s success, as well as the revelation that anything can be invented by hand, such as steam engines and radios. He also proposes human rights laws for both players and People of the Earth. With this, his proposal for the new government- the Round Table Council- is approved with unanimous decision.

This volume tackles what I think is one of the hardest things to do well in the fantasy genre: in-universe politics. Most “plebian” folks will find politics, at first glance, to be absolute nonsense and rubbish, and writers can use that to justify wasting a lot of time in a fantasy narrative. There are times when fantasy politics can be good, like in One Piece‘s Reverie Arc, but most of the time, it’s just boring banter between unmemorable characters who will never appear again.

But hey, Log Horizon did have a great political meeting in the last volume. Shiroe was real clever buying out the guild center in order to sway the meeting, and it utilized an established mechanic of Log Horizon to boot.

Unfortunately, the politics in this volume are less than stellar. Basically, as a result of Akiba establishing a governing body, the Round Table, right next to the territory of Eastal, the League of Free Cities, Shiroe and others are invited (read as: demanded) to come to the Ancient Court of Eternal Ice to discuss their policies going forward. This was some seriously boring crap, and I was not engaged with anything happening at all.

But hey, there’s some action in here somewhere. While the politics are happening, Minori and Touya go with Noagutsu and some other people to a forest dungeon to train. Here, you see just how newbish they are in combat, and how long of a road they must traverse to not be baggage protagonists.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t too engaged by this stuff either. I get that the psychology of fighting with your physical bodies is much more intense than a traditional JRPG; that much was demonstrated in volume 1. But, in all honesty, the fear factor became a non-issue rather quickly, once Shiroe fought those PK’ers. So it stands to reason that it’ll be the same case for these kids, once the author decides to sprinkle on that nakama power. But to be fair, that’s kind of realistic with JRPGs in general, at least for me. A lot of times, I think I understand the rules, but then I notice some nuance, and I think, “Wow, I could’ve been doing this really helpful thing since the beginning of the game? Man, I’m an idiot!” But to be unfair, it just makes watching these kids struggle feel like watching a YouTuber’s blind playthrough of a game that you know really well.

As much as it sounds like I didn’t enjoy this volume, it still has some merits. The story goes from 0 to 100 towards the end, when this guy tells Shiroe the entire backstory of Elder Tales‘ world. This leads to a big revelation that’s, to be honest, kind of expected for Log Horizon, but no less important.

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Verdict: 7.15/10

Is there something wrong with me? I was so excited to finally get to read Log Horizon, and so far, I’m on a very gradual road towards ultimately disliking it. From what I had heard, it seemed like an intellectual and well-built isekai, which it is for the most part. But the characters are still as bland, and exposition is as heavy, as any isekai. Also, the fact that all the events in this volume happen in conjunction with a beach fanservice subplot really bothered me. I did not think Log Horizon would do something like this (even if the scene does segue into plot relevant content in the next volume). I know that I’m like a twelve-year-old inside, but I have been known to love some very non-mainstream stuff. Well, there’s still plenty of volumes left to convince me otherwise!

Outer Ragna Volume 1 Review

What if you had complete control over someone’s body and mind? Their movements, their thoughts, their own souls… are yours. Would you do something like that to a living, breathing human? Although that’s part of the premise of Outer Ragna, the latest Overlord wannabe published in English by J-Novel Club, that train of thought isn’t even remotely explored in the plot. I just wanted to make an interesting intro paragraph *smirks*.

In Outer Ragna, a (presumably) Twitch streamer by the username of PotatoStarch plays the new deluxe edition of Dragon Demon RPG on stream. This game is supposed to be Dark Souls of JRPGs (if Xenoblade Chronicles X wasn’t already that), and your race and abilities are all randomized. He ends up with the worst possible role: a human slave girl. But for some reason, the whole game world is an actual fantasy world (of course), and he’s controlling this girl, named Kuroi. Thanks to his veteran gamer skills, the humans actually have a shot at survival in the ongoing war of the elves and vampires that normally wipe humanity clean in a normal playthrough.

Confused? Despite the simple premise, I found Outer Ragna to be kind of hard to follow at first. The structure felt very disorienting to me for some reason… I actually took my darn time to read through this volume, yet I was still confused at times. A lot of scene transitions felt very abrupt.

The author definitely put a lot of effort into the game mechanics, which is good. But it’s only introduced in chunks of exposition dump from Starch, and scattered throughout the book. What you need to understand is that elves get magic from the Dragon God, Vampires get magic from the Demon God, and humans- who can only learn lousy fire magic- have no god. Or so they thought. In the deluxe edition, the humans have the Devil God on their side, who is presumed to be Starch himself. 

“Hang on!” you exclaim, “This guy can’t play this game 24/7, right?” Don’t worry; strange circumstances occur in the world that force him to play it, such as being given an indefinite paid vacation from his job. Obviously, this doesn’t make a lick of sense, but them’s the brakes with the genre.

The biggest problem so far is that I’m not a fan of the writing style. The descriptions are lacking in detail, and the many “torture porn” segments feel underwhelming (keep in mind that yours truly’s standards of torture porn have spiked recently, thanks to Torture Princess). I also had no sense of where anyone or anything was in 3D space. The writing is at its best when it strictly comes to action sequences, but those occur in rather low abundance.

Among the characters, Kuroi is the  one most worth mentioning. It’s hilarious to see NPCs react to her doing repetitive tasks from their perspective, while we as an audience know that it’s merely Starch grinding stats a la Quest 64. But otherwise, she’s just your typical deadpan loli. The other interesting character is the sorcerer, Odysson, who has cool fire magic, but is implied to have Ted Bundy’d a bunch of people in the past. But seriously… they introduce way too many characters to keep track of right off the bat. In addition to the characters I mentioned, there’s… *deep breath* The priest Felipo, the knight Agias, his brother Origis, some merchant lady, a loli named Sira, and more! What they all have in common is being boring dullards.

Outer Ragna is yet another LN with only cover art. While it is a step down from Isekai Rebuilding Project, it still has a nice, edgy style to it that makes it visually appealing all the same. Let’s just hope the series will get as intense as it looks on the cover moving forward.

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Verdict: 6.75/10

From the first impressions, Outer Ranga doesn’t seem to be anything spectacular. It sets up some good groundwork, but to what end? The structure felt very wonky, and the characters are bland. I’d recommend it to fans of Overlord and Sword Art Online. But otherwise, I might end up quitting while I’m ahead.

Monogatari Series Review, Part 2 of 3

In my review of the previous season of the Monogatari novels, I mostly praised its strange writing and its weird and complex characters, while showing disdain toward its slow-pacing and “smart-sounding” dialogue. But wow, this season is really where the series gets good.


Nekomonogatari: Shiro

I alluded to disliking Hanekawa in my previous review. So, naturally, I was DREADING a volume told from her perspective. Well, it turns out that I like her a lot more now. My problem with her last time wasn’t so much her personality as it was Araragi’s hero worship of her. Even when her tragic backstories and flaws came to light, he would unflinchingly maintain his preconceived image of her as Super Mary Sue 9000, and that made me resent her (and Araragi). But in HER head, we see a more down-to-earth and less pompous person than before. 

She is, in some ways, a better narrator than Araragi. The volume’s shorter chapters provide more places for readers to stop and process plot developments. Plus, her proactiveness makes it so that she tries to solve the volume’s conflict, as opposed to Araragi, who had to wait for Memelord or Kaiki or whoever to exposition dump the issue onto his clueless face.


Kabukimonogatari

Oh boy. Araragi again. Well, fortunately, he at least learned some lessons from Hanekawa. The chapters are still shorter and he didn’t take QUITE as long to get to the actual plot.

It sure jumps the shark by suddenly introducing TIME TRAVEL out of nowhere. And similar to 99.99% of time travel mechanics, it falls into modern fantasy’s “make up random inconsistent crap just for whatever would help the narrative” schtick. Not even NISI can match Steins;Gate.

The biggest issue with this volume is its ending, as it builds up to an epic confrontation that ends almost instantly. However, the suspense and tension of the scenario are enough to make Kabuki arguably one of the best volumes of Monogatari up to this point.


Hanamonogatari

I was told by my friend who’s been lending me this series that this is either their least favorite installment or widely considered to be the worst installment… I don’t quite remember. In fact, I properly remembered incorrectly, because this is not a bad volume at all!

It is, however- in good old NISIOISIN fashion- an unusual volume. Hana is the FINAL volume of the series, chronologically speaking. Starring Kanbaru for the first time, this volume is set after Araragi has graduated high school and moved to college. We get our first deep look at the weirdo as she tackles this volume’s conflict solo.

However, just because it’s not the worst or not bad, doesn’t mean it’s a straight-up masterpiece either. If actually read chronologically, this would’ve been a horrible way to “end” the series. Also, I don’t get the point of this examination of Kanbaru. Unlike with Hanekawa, where I actually started to view her differently as a person, I didn’t feel any differently about Kanbaru. Sure, we learn about an aspect of her past, but unlike with previously established characters, I didn’t understand what aspect of her insecurities was explored via this volume’s conflict. Maybe I brain-farted on this one or something. 

Nonetheless, NISI made a good call publishing the finale when he did, instead of actually publishing it at the end. He saved himself from a lot of salt that way! Unfortunately, Araragi’s presence in this volume gives him plot armor for the rest of the series. Great!


Otorimonogatari

Making her first appearance in what feels like forever, Nadeko takes the helm in the strangest installment in the series thus far. Did she always alternate between referring to herself with a lowercase “i” and her own name in the third person? I feel like I would’ve realized that sooner.

The premise is that she becomes possessed by a strange white snake, which is supposed to represent the guilt of her chopping up snakes back in the first arc. The theme seems to have something to do with how Nadeko is a horrible person who tries to victimize herself or something… I’m not quite sure. But regardless, Otori showcases just how much of a basket case she is!


Onimonogatari

A strange phenomenon threatens to engulf Araragi and the town, and it has something to do with Shinobu. The main appeal of Oni is the telling of Shinobu’s backstory with her previous thrall. 

Unfortunately, her story is kind of boring. It doesn’t really give her any meaningful character development, and the dude doesn’t even have a name. Plus, like the troll that NISI is, no information in the backstory actually contributes to solving the conflict of the volume. This is probably my least favorite volume of the second season.


Koimonogatari

I presume this is originally meant to be the final published volume, for it is set around Araragi and Senjo’s graduation; the date that the final boss is meant to kill them, which is established in a previous volume of this season. It stars Kaiki, of all people, who is hired by Senjo to trick the person into sparing our two lovebirds.

It was a great call making Kaiki the narrator for this one. For one thing, his personality and world views are so eccentric and fresh that it makes him one of the best characters in the series. The other thing is that using him saves this volume from being utter ass. The whole thing is basically Kaiki talking to the final boss over and over again until he can tell them that Araragi and Senjo already died. But at this point, I was no stranger to NISI creating big buildup just to have it culminate in the most anticlimactic way possible.

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Verdict (Average of All 6 Books): 8.45/10

Monogatari is still kicking butt. If all goes well, I should be posting the finale of this review series towards the end of this year or the start of 2021. Peace out!

Arc of a Scythe Full Trilogy Review

Speculative fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but I can appreciate its importance. It’s important for people’s ideas to be challenged. Some of the best speculative works I’ve ever read are Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Chinese SF author Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem. But for some reason, putting out something truly speculative for younger audiences seems to be much harder than for adult audiences. Works like The Giver and Chronicle of the Dark Star set the groundwork to challenge young minds into questioning the world around them, but fall short and end up ham-fisting easy answers in the end. The Arc of a Scythe trilogy, written by Neal Shusterman and published by Simon and Schuster, seems to try to challenge the young mind as well. But does it succeed?

Arc of a Scythe is set in a world where humanity has achieved total bliss; all knowledge has been learned, and anyone who dies instead comes back in fresh new bodies at a clinic. However, the population is still a thing, so they hire people called Scythes to off folks, which results in what is called gleaning: the true, final death. Two plucky teens named Citra and Rowan are recruited as apprentice Scythes, and go on adventures in life and death.

Immediately, this idea is really neat. Scythe‘s premise could’ve asked a lot of questions about morality and the greater good. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case in execution. Murder is a horrible act, and the idea of hired killers being able to arbitrarily murder whomever they want is inherently scary, but the world in Scythe could’ve been a genuinely good solution for mankind. However, Scythe doesn’t reach that potential, at least not from what I could GLEAN off of the dialogue and worldbuilding.

The way the world is put together comes off as Shusterman going out of his way to make it as corrupt as possible, so that it can’t be interpreted in any way other than “bad”. First off, the fact that TEENAGERS become apprentice Scythes is utter bullcrap. Of all the people to give the power to commit murder willy-nilly, teens aren’t the best choice. Secondly, how come this world lacks that real-world thing called background checks? Maybe some like that might be important when hiring someone to ARBITRARILY COMMIT MURDER. And don’t get me started on the Thunderhead! This thing was built to oversee everything that happens in the world and run all machinery. It does its job well enough, except for Scythes; it is forbidden to interfere with them. You’d think that maybe, just maybe, it should do just that, especially when someone gets a BIT drunk with power? 

Speaking of drunk with power, the biggest disappointment in Scythe is the main antagonist, Scythe Robert Goddard. It’s natural to think that anyone who has the power to murder without punishment (among other ludicrous perks of being a Scythe) would be a raving lunatic, and Goddard is said lunatic. He and his lackeys save all their gleanings for the last day of their quota so that they can perform literal acts of terrorism just for fun. Like in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, he has no motive, and he apparently doesn’t need one because “Absolute power corrupts absolutely herpaderpderp.” They wait until the third book to give him any real backstory, but it doesn’t help much.

The other characters aren’t that much better. The two leads are just classic YA tropes; Citra’s the brat, and Rowan’s the edgelord. Their relationship is a load of bullcrap because they inevitably get romantically involved despite the fact that they spend more than 80% of the story separated. I don’t mean a long-distance relationship; I mean that they hardly even communicate with each other! Introduced in book two is Greyson, who is basically the emo. Unfortunately for him, all he does is join some cult and have conversations with the Thunderhead that aren’t really that interesting IMO (at least until the third book). In fact, at least half of the series is uninteresting conversations. 

So what are the positives? It’s entertaining. The writing is solid, and when the story gets going, it gets going. There are also some good one-liners as well, and some parts that are unintentionally funny. And even though Goddard ruins all sense of moral ambiguity in the story, he’s still got some charisma as a try-hard, edgy villain.

Most of book two, Thunderhead, was a boring blur for me, except for the climax. It was a really intense string of events, and the author had done something genuinely ballsy. Unfortunately, 95 pages into book three, The Toll, he once fails to commit to that risky move. But other than that, The Toll is actually a [somewhat] satisfactory finale. It still fails to touch upon any speculative narrative themes (it damn well tries, though), but it’s definitely the best of the three.

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Final Verdict: 7/10

I wanted to give Arc of a Scythe a 5 or lower, but I couldn’t. It’s my fault for expecting something more intellectual, when that might not have been the author’s intent. But for what it is, Scythe is decent at best; not the worst YA book series out there, but be wary that it will not explore any gray areas whatsoever.