I don’t consciously try to read books about racism. But when I began Liselle Sambury’s new series opener, Blood Like Magic, I was greeted with a disclaimer that basically said: “This book is about racism.” Well, let’s see how soul-grinding this one is.
In Blood Like Magic, families of witches get magic by having their periods (and Westerners think anime should be banned?). A young’un named Voya Thomas just had her period, and the next step after that is to have her nigh-impossible-to-fail Calling. Assuming you’ve had experience with urban fantasy before, what do you think happens when it comes to the main protagonist attempting some sort of magic test that everyone else in the world could do just fine? If you think Voya fails, you’d only be half-right. She calls Mama Jova, who—of course—happens to be the Dark Souls of the Thomas family.
So, the disclaimer at the beginning implies that Blood Like Magic is even more heart-rending and brutal than any other urban fantasy out there. It’s not. There is one scene (arguably two?) where racism is referenced at all. The scene in question is brutal, but it’s extremely out of left field. The reason for it is because Blood Like Magic is set twenty-eight years in the future, and in this future, racism isn’t that prevalent. Voya says that she has never been called a racist slur, nor conditioned to feel ashamed of being Black.
However, the book is still—to some extent—about racism, or at the very least, the fancy term known as “systemic racism.” Despite it not being in-your-face like in Legendborn, it still abounds in society itself. An example is showcased by NuGene, a big genetics company with a lot of weight in society. Apparently, if your genetic code implies that you might have a violent personality, you’ll be treated like a serial killer without even committing any crimes (or something), and this just so happens to be more punishing when it comes up in a Black person. The company’s employees insist on doing the whole “use gender identity at the end of their names” thing, but it turns out they’re hypocritical homophobes, which is shown when Voya’s transgender cousin is given the wrong set of chromosomes in their official record.
The cherry on top is that Voya, as narrator, still uses those same race labels, despite the fact that they should be archaic given the context. In a way, Blood Like Magic more cynical than any other books of its kind. No matter how much progress we make, those in power won’t change. In that way, Blood Like Magic has left me emotionally distraught not in the moments of reading it, but when reflecting on it afterwards.
ANYWAY, let’s discuss the actual story! If you’ve read a YA novel, Mama Jova’s task will seem straight out of the edgiest urban fantasy ever: Voya must kill her first love. Fortunately for her, she joined a gene-matching program by the aforementioned NuGene, and was paired with Luc Rodriguez, the sponsor son of NuGene’s CEO. Of course, they hate each other as soon as they first meet. Key word: “first”.
After being given her task, Blood Like Magic becomes part-romcom, part sci-fi mystery as she juggles a classic tsundere relationship with Luc, and this weird stuff her family’s been hiding from her. It’s balanced surprisingly well, especially since YA novels this thick (just under five hundred pages) tend to drag. I read it with my butt clenched waiting for that inevitable conspiracy to be revealed.
Normally, I’d criticize the characters, but this time… I don’t actually hate them even though I should. By themselves, pretty much everyone is either unremarkable and/or very snarky. But together, their chemistry made them among the more tolerable YA casts I’ve seen. I loved Voya and her cousin, Keis, bouncing witty remarks at each other, or Granny—who basically runs the Thomases—asserting her absolute authority. Even what would be a cringe-inducing, formulaic tsundere relationship between Voya and Luc ends up seeming more legitimate and believable than “I hate you! I hate you too! *Proceeds to viciously make out*”.
Despite all its novelty, Blood Like Magic still has a lot of those annoying YA tropes. If you guessed that Voya falls in love with Luc and can’t kill him, then congratulations! You’ve read at least one YA novel! At the very least, the story manages to play out in a way that’s quite unexpected for the genre.
Final Verdict: 9.5/10
I’m probably wrong and off-base about a lot of what Blood Like Magic is trying to say. But regardless, the thing to be invested in is without a doubt the families’ relationships. And I use a plural possessive noun because I don’t just mean the Thomases; I’m referring to their relationships with each other, as well as with the other witch families. Overall, I’d recommend Blood Like Magic just for the emotional story of Voya’s family.
Preface: Guess what? I’m going to Disney again this year, not once but twice! The first of the two trips is in a couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the hiatus I took earlier has still backed me up by a lot. While I could schedule some posts to be published during the trip, I just didn’t want to think about it on Disney property, especially since this is a special year for my relatives. As such, you’re going to get a special treat: from tomorrow to May 1st—the week before the trip—I’m going to post every single day. All of these posts have been ready to go for a while, so don’t worry about them being crappy!
Just because I was on hiatus doesn’t mean I didn’t read new light novels on release! Unfortunately, by not posting a review of The Executioner and Her Way of Life within the first week it came out, my review is not exactly going to be relevant. Oh well, that’s just how I roll!
In The Executioner and Her Way of Life, a boy named Mitsuki is summoned to another world. However, he’s rejected faster than Naofumi from The Rising of the Shield Hero. Alone and without a home, he has a fateful encounter with a girl named Menou. She’s nice and sweet and loving, and SHE STABS HIM TO DEATH. Yeah, this story’s actually about Menou, a girl hired by the church of Faust to kill all Otherworlders before their powers cause untold destruction. Unfortunately, her next target is probably the most overpowered isekai protagonist of all time: Akari Tokitou, a girl who can reverse time whenever she’s mortally wounded, effectively rendering her unkillable.
“Plot hole!” you exclaim, “Why not kill her by poisoning her or torturing her slowly so that she begs for the sweet release of death? Since it only reverses mortal wounds, then you can hurt her as much as you want without killing her…” Actually, that gets explained in the story. The special powers that Otherworlders use are uncontrollable, and are really scary when they go haywire. Menou’s entire homeland—including its inhabitants—were turned to salt by one of these powers, with Menou as the sole survivor. She cannot risk anything that could set off Akari’s power, especially given that the power is literal control over time.
In terms of writing, well… Executioner is about as redundant as most light novels. They give good enough context for you to glean key information on the worldbuilding, but then explain it all in the next passage. However, this one is much more bearable just by being a damn good story. The main purpose of the volume is the journey to the capital of Garm, where the shit inevitably hits the fan. There’s an action sequence en route, but there really isn’t a point to it but to stir things up.
The key to this series is in the cast, and they are quite an interesting bunch. Menou’s problem is that she has to act all friendly toward Akari in good old Among Us Impostor fashion. As you could imagine, this will inevitably result in something similar to [name redacted] from Attack on Titan, who ends up getting so caught up in the role that they have an identity crisis. Unfortunately, all this psychological crap regarding Menou is just told to us instead of something that could be organically developed. Menou at least makes up for it by being kind of a badass.
My favorite character so far ended up being Momo. She’s this loli who’s yandere to Menou, and she’s very entertaining. As expected from most lolis, she is also quite adept in the subtle art of murder. Unfortunately, the two other major players end up being a weak spot. Akari is kind of a YA protagonist, who arbitrarily falls head over heels for Menou because of fate. She’s apparently the one Otherworlder who isn’t a sociopath, and it’s supposed to be a whole “moral ambiguity” thing. We also get to see the skimpily-clad princess, Ashuna, but she’s a typical fight-savvy lunatic.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life is starting off great so far. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the whole series will be great. For now, I recommend it to isekai and yuri fans!
P.S. with SPOILERS
Alright, so I’m kinda annoyed that the whole “church is bad” trope ended up rearing its ugly head again, despite how unique this series is. Fortunately, the crazy crap with Akari at the end definitely makes up for it. Apparently, she knows that Menou is trying to kill her, and is pretending to play along. Also, in the future, Menou’s mentor is going to try to kill them all in the salt place? Yeah, this one’s going to be very complicated moving forward.
As someone who’s been more into manga than anime, I’ve frequently heard people discuss manga that deserve anime adaptations. And in those discussions, Horimiya has consistently come up. It didn’t look too interesting to me, but when it actually got its anime adaptation confirmed, I read a bit in order to see what the hubbub was about.
In Horimiya, a girl named Kyouko Hori seems like a typical high school girl, but has a secret life where she has to take care of her entire house (baby brother included). Her life changes after a chance encounter with the seemingly stoic Izumi Miyamura, who is actually some kind of goth dude or something. Since they both have secrets, that gives them some sense of commonality, and they decide to become secret friends.
To be honest, I don’t get the big deal with Hori’s secret. Miyamura’s I get, because of the dress code and all that. But why does Hori have to keep her thing a secret? “Oh my gawd, she’s a responsible, upstanding citizen who cares for her family. How disgusting.” I’m not saying it’s easy for her to support her household while going to high school, but I don’t get why she has to keep it a secret.
Also, I have no idea if this is a romcom or merely a rom. The reason is that nothing in Horimiya is actually, you know, funny. There are definitely jokes, but a lot of it is really bog-standard. The manga uses a lot of the “text box tells you what’s supposed to be funny” thing; I have no idea what it’s called. It’s where the character is like “Why is this guy acting weird?” and the text box points at that person saying something like “Has no idea that they’re the reason why he’s acting weird”. Yeah, I dunno what it is. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle and Dragon Goes House-Hunting use this technique a lot better, mainly because those manga have actual comedy in them (Ohhhhh snap).
At the very least, they don’t beat around the bush with the romance. However, that doesn’t make their relationship any less cringe. They practically confess their love to each other as early as volume two, but try to pretend like they never said it. I guess the positive is that they are actually dealing with their own emotional anxiety instead of being like “Why did I feel weird holding his/her hand? I DUNNO MAN!”, but it still left me unwilling to give any of my spare rats’ asses to them.
What really made me not care about their relationship was Hori and Miyamura themselves. Like I said before, I have no idea why she can’t tell anyone about her family situation. I get that teens are judgmental, but she can’t even tell her teachers “Sorry, my grades kind of suck because I’m forced to care for my younger brother all by myself.” Miyamura is a bit more tolerable, since his tattoo thing can be a big deal. The running joke of his “feminine” traits don’t make him much better.
There are also other characters and I don’t like them either. From jealous Ishikawa to… also jealous Remi, everyone in Horimiya has basic romcom tropes, with little-to-no personality. “Eeeeeeh but that makes them realistic,” you argue. I’m sorry, I don’t understand why people think subdued characters are more human. In my experience, REAL teenagers are much louder and bombastic than the cardboard cutouts in most slice-of-life series. I’ve even seen grown men and women playing around like children (well, specifically on Twitch but it’s still an example), and I sincerely doubt that anyone can actually grow up to be THAT boring in real life (and if you do, I feel sorry for you).
The art of Horimiya is just about as flat and subdued as the people in it. If you told me that this was a redrawing of a web manga á la One Punch Man, I would not believe you. The characters are only distinguishable from each other due to their hair, but they would easily blend into a crowd of other series’ characters their age. The facial expressions feel like they’re from a how-to-draw-manga book, and have no impact because they’re all “realistic” looking.
Current Verdict: 6.25/10
This is something I could’ve only brought upon myself. Horimiya is probably good for a romance, but I simply hate romance with every fiber of my being. I wanted to check it out because of the anime hype, and now I know that I’m going to be very mad during the January 2021 anime season when everyone I follow is going to be Tweeting about how great the anime is and make me even more stressed out than I already am on social media—*huff huff* Anyway, I recommend Horimiya if you deeply care about human relationships.
Welcome to the first Weeb Reads Monthly post! If you don’t know how it works, I’ll explain it right here and now. Basically, all the light novel volumes I would’ve covered in a given month (with the exception of series debuts) will be covered here. The review of the individual volumes will be only one or two paragraphs each, but it’ll all be organized into this post. And don’t worry if you’re looking for a specific volume; each post will be categorized and tagged under the respective series covered, so you can just search for the tags. Without further ado, let’s see how good of an idea this was!
Eighty-Six Volume 5
We’re starting out strong with the newest volume of Eighty-Six, the game-changing military sci-fi epic that’s sure to become mainstream when the anime airs. Speaking of the anime, I really hope (even though it’s not going to happen) that it airs this fall. Given the core themes, the timing would be all-too perfect given the current circumstances.
Anyway, this installment continues the train ride of win that was started in volume 4. First and foremost, we get some huge revelations regarding the Legion’s origins. You will have to suspend some disbelief, because the new character, Vika, basically developed the Legion’s AI when he was just about done wearing diapers. It’s dumb, but you know what, Dreamworks made a movie about a baby who runs an entire business, so pick your battles.
Eighty-Six enters cyberpunk territory with the introduction of Sirins. These are androids made using similar design principles that contribute to the Legion, and they are not exactly well received by the main protagonists. This brings up the expected ethical issues, which are all discussed ad nauseum in the actual story, so… Look, subtlety has NOT been Eighty-Six’s forte, alright?
Overall, this volume was great as usual. Also, the one scene during the climax has gotta be iconic for the entire series. Just wow… the amount of despair was beyond anything that Re:ZERO could possibly offer. Eighty-Six raises the bar, that’s for sure!
Rascal Does Not Dream of Petite Devil Kohai
I did not particularly enjoy the previous volume, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. While it wasn’t baaaaaad, it was still kind of pretentious, as it was like “Oh look at me and how symbolic I am! I studied quantum physics, love me, WAAAAANT ME!” (Okay, now I’m referencing Seinfeld but you get the point). But you know what, I had to give it another chance because I’m a glutton for punishment!
If you recall from the previous volume, our buddy Sakuta enters a Groundhog Day-like time loop. This is, of course, another case of Adolescence Syndrome, and the perp is Tomoe Koga. But unlike Mika, whose issue was at least something legitimately terrifying from a sociological standpoint, Tomoe’s issue boils down to dumb teen antics. The plot structure is also very similar to the previous book: Sakuta has a strange experience, gets confused, talks to Rio, Rio vomits quantum physics, and Sakuta’s like “Okay now I get it.”
Overall, my problems with Rascal as a whole still have not changed. I do not like the application of quantum physics at all; to me, it serves no purpose other than to make the story feel more profound than it is(n’t). The other reason is more so a problem I have with popular culture as a whole. For reasons I don’t quite understand, general consensus seems to be that individual personal problems are an objectively better story theme than problems of a grander scope. And by complaining about it just now, I lose all my credibility as an adult human being. *Sighs* Look, Rascal at least has some semblance of good writing and forward momentum, so I’ll keep my eye on it for now.
Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 6
This is the first time I’ve covered this franchise on my blog. I didn’t want to review them volume-by-volume because, like with Cautious Hero, I’d have nothing of note to say. So now that I have this new formula, I can talk about it!
Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? (better known as Okaasan Online) is about a boy named Masato who gets to testrun a new VRMMORPG, but the twist is that his mother, Mamako, gets stuck with him! It gets a lot of criticism for being ecchi, but I love it. Mamako is a great twist on the overpowered protagonist, who- like any real mom- embarrasses her son nonstop. The supporting characters, like Best Girl Wise, are great as well. And after the previous volume’s introduction of this sort of Anti-Mamako character, named Hahako, I’ve highly anticipated this volume and how it might handle her character.
Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of her until towards the end. In fact, the first half of the volume is filler. But once we get past that point, the series is at its usual antics. We also get introduced to a new Best Girl named Mone. She’s pretty much the yandere; if Masato doesn’t dote on her, everyone dies. There’s not much else to say about the volume, and that’s exactly why I made LN posts like this now!
Full Metal Panic! Volume 4
This is also the first time I’ve ever discussed Full Metal Panic!, mainly because I didn’t know if I would be able to commit to finishing it. I’m only including it here because the new So I’m a Spider, So What? didn’t come out on August 18th like I thought it would, and this was one of the few options that I didn’t outright hate. As you can see, I’m also WAY behind on the volumes, and that’s because too much comes out too quickly. And I’m sure I’m going to make a lot of retro anime fans livid when I say this, but… I haven’t exactly been liking FMP! as much as a lot of more modern stuff. It’s fun, but this could easily be the last volume of the series I read, since I only have so much time and money.
Anyways, for the uninitiated, Full Metal Panic! is about a secret agent named Sousuke Sagara who is charged with keeping his eye on a girl named Chidori Kaname, who is established in the first volume to have some secret brain knowledge that could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. So far, it’s been a series of episodic, Saturday Morning Cartoon-like escapades where Sousuke fights some people and Chidori is baggage because it was the 1990s back then.
It could be because it’s been more than a hot minute since I last read FMP!, but I didn’t exactly enjoy this volume too much. Basically, they capture this dude, and there seems to be no real purpose for capturing him other than the fact that he was a bad guy in the previous volume. Things pick up a lot towards the end, and some nasty cliffhangers are thrust in our faces.
But even then, this series just has not grabbed me at all. A lot of critics would say that FMP! is automatically better than more recent stuff just because it’s not isekai, and while I do acknowledge that every one of the older series I’ve read has been radically different, I find that a of newer stuff- isekai included- are better (and before you accuse me of being a twelve-year-old, keep in mind that a lot of FMP! fans were twelve when it first came out). So far, I find Durarara! to be the only older series to still be really good to this day.
The first post of this series is pretty short, but that’s probably good; shouldn’t get too ambitious (it also doesn’t help that almost everything I covered came out in the second half of the month). Overall, this was a solid month of great reads, and I definitely prefer reviewing light novels in this manner. Leave me a comment on your thoughts of this new format!
I don’t get romance. At all. That’s not a surprise if you’ve read any of my posts in the past. But manga usually convinces me to like something I normally wouldn’t. One of the most popular romance manga in recent years is Quintessential Quintuplets, published in English by Kodansha Comics. Did it win my heart? Find out!
In Quintessential Quintuplets, the five Nakano sisters are seriously failing at school. Fortunately, their filthy rich dad hires a tutor for them: the smart-talking Futaro Uesugi. One guy, one house, five cute girls. What could possibly go wrong?
While I don’t understand romance, it’s easy to understand why Quintuplets is popular. Chapter one concludes with a teaser of the series’ ending: Futaro marries one of the five sisters. This single decision is undoubtedly why Quintuplets is so big (or was so big- I’ll elaborate on that in a bit). The author knows exactly how fandoms work; with a canon ship built, it’s up to the fans to argue and banter over whom Futaro plans to set sail with.
It just boggles me that people can become so invested in these ships. Social media networks and subreddits of all kinds get ripped asunder, all over a fictional boy’s relationship with a fictional girl. They act like the entire world depends on him picking the right person. But is Quintuplets still enjoyable for those who don’t spend their free time fretting over ships?
The story is actually darn entertaining… for the most part. Quintuplets operates like a sitcom; when it’s just the main characters goofing around, it’s a pretty heartwarming good time. But once the drama kicks in, it’s an annoying, eye-roll-inducing slog. It’s tough to bring drama into something like this without making it a cringefest. Since it’s fictional, we know that everything that happens is entirely decided by the author; it’s really hard to make this kind of stuff seem natural, so I’m not too salty about it.
Unfortunately, it goes up in smoke at the end. The author does one of those stupid things where the story goes through several “what if” scenarios, none of which end up being canon, even in the case of the girl who actually wins. And when Futaro makes his decision, it feels arbitrary; all five girls more-or-less equally inspire him, and thus it feels like a roll of the dice. I’ve read discussions, and it seems that people really got into the nitty-gritty on the logic (or illogic) leading up the final decision, and as someone who has a hard time understanding relationships (let alone relationships between five siblings), I can’t vouch for ANY of those statements.
So how about the characters? Futaro is incredibly generic and unremarkable, but that’s okay, since the manga is called Quintessential Quintuplets and not One Essential Onetuplet (i.e. we only care about the Nakano sisters). I am baffled that people are meant to pick one of them and love them unconditionally, and that’s because they’re all kind of equal. I didn’t really like or dislike any of them. One standout thing about all five girls is that they’re female characters in a harem manga that actually get character development. And since character development is arbitrarily one of the absolute objectively good things in literature, I can definitely understand the girls’ appeal. But like I said before about human relationships, I never understood the logic behind any of the girls’ actions, which added to my not caring about them as characters.
The art is marketable and inherently appealing. Cute girls with blush cheek, check. Clip Studio backgrounds, check. The girls stand out thanks to their hair, and they take advantage of that to disguise themselves as each other (except they actually have varied hair colors in the color art. OOPS). It’s what you’d expect of a light and fluffy manga like this.
Final Verdict: 6.5/10
As far as romcoms go, Quintessential Quintuplets is a decent com, but a viscerally terrible rom. Also, and I’m sorry for this, but I’m docking points for this manga encouraging one of the most toxic mindsets on the Internet in the form of a shipping war. If you want Quintessential Quintuplets, then go for it, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s many better manga out there.
Last time on Re:ZERO, everyone gets attacked by Satella the Witch of Jealousy. Subaru and Garfiel (of all people) have to stop her. Fortunately, she can’t pass through the barrier due to her being a half-elf, and the trial being incomplete. But that doesn’t stop Garfiel from getting unceremoniously slaughtered by her. As she advances toward Subaru, he rejects her, and in response, her shadow swallows him to get him to love her. Fortunately, Echidna had a contingency plan: making Petra’s handkerchief a magic handkerchief that ends up saving him from the Witch. Also, the handkerchief turns into a dagger, which he promptly uses to kill himself and restart the loop. Back at the sanctuary, he’s comforted by Emilia. While Ram distracts Garfiel, Subaru recalls the memories he absorbed while in the shadow, and uncovers a secret room containing the real Ryuzu’s body. Apparently, the true purpose of the Sanctuary was to make Ryuzu clones that Echidna was able to possess, and effectively achieve immortality as a result. He also finds out that both Garfiel and himself have become Apostles of Echidna. His next task is the sitch at the mansion. He’s able to get Frederica and Petra to evacuate without a hassle, but Beatrice- as always- isn’t so easy to convince. He steals her “not-a-Witch-Cult” book and sees that it’s entirely blank inside. Apparently, Beatrice is a spirit contracted by Echidna to watch over the forbidden books in the mansion until “That Person” shows up. The moving scene that follows is, unfortunately, interrupted by Elsa’s arrival. Not even Beatrice can stand up to her, but Subaru manages to survive. Back at the Sanctuary, it’s already snowing, and Emilia shut herself in the tomb when he left. He goes in and finds her, and she starts getting unnaturally waifu-y with him. He leaves and confronts Roswaal- again- but this time Roswaal murders Ram and Garfiel before implying that he knows about Return by Death, and showing Subaru that he has the other version of the gospel that Beatrice had! He is also the culprit behind the snowfall, and it was all to break and isolate Emilia (a plan that had been in effect since the beginning, of course). Their conversation is interrupted when the Great Rabbit attacks again, killing Roswaal, and making the others burn themselves to death. Subaru flees to the tomb, where Emilia gives him a kiss… right as he dies again. After respawning, he seeks Echidna, but ends up taking the second trial instead, which involves seeing the outcomes of previous routes after he died. After all that, he encounters a spirit of Rem. But he knows better, and immediately recognizes her as an imposter, who turns out to be another Witch: Carmilla, the Witch of Lust. After almost suffocating for some reason, he ends up with Echidna, just like he wanted to! She offers to form a pact with Subaru, and all the other witches except Satellla show up! In all the confusion, Echidna has a grandiose speech detailing how Subaru’s ability to experience an infinite amount of outcomes turns her on. After her schpiel, Subaru asks her who Beatrice’s Person is… and, of course, Echidna has no clue… because Beatrice had to decide for herself the whole time. Subaru refuses the pact with Echidna, and the Witch’s tea party is joined by one more guest: Satella.
If you couldn’t tell from that paragraph, volume 12 was full of revelations and turning points. Based on my past experience with Re:ZERO, the next several volumes will be pretty boring before it picks up again. Does this volume follow the same trend?
Well… yes and no. It’s not a constant pelvic thrust of pain and torture like the previous volume, but there are definitely some highlights. One important thing is that Subaru gets some much-needed growth. He gets another helping of waifu-speech, but this time, he gains some self-worth. This is a big improvement for him, because his whole “Hey look at me I’m a martyr herp-a-derp” has been annoying for a while.
Speaking of annoying, we finally get to resolve Garfiel’s character arc in this volume! And thank goodness too; I never liked the guy. He was a whiny brat who felt like he made the arc 1.5x longer than it already was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offset the fact that his personality is 100% abrasive and nothing else. But hey, backstory is backstory, and that’s what counts.
And speaking of backstory, we finally get some more background on Emilia. Unfortunately, that “some” is really “a bit”, since this volume loves Garfiel so much. Plus, the things we learn about Emilia only scratch the surface, and we are cliffhung right when we’re about to get the full serving.
Another issue is that Re:ZERO once again shows its bipolar identity. It tries its damndest to subvert the isekai formula, and ends up clashing with that mindset like it tends to. There’s an emotional scene between Subaru and Emilia in this volume, and similar to his scene with Rem, it’s ripped right out of the Book of Waifus. It doesn’t help that the climax of the volume is a one-v-one of Subaru against Garfiel that reeks of the “white knight” trope. Gotta love it when a series has a great idea that contradicts itself in its execution!
While not as turbulent as the last volume, Re:ZERO shows that it’s finally gaining momentum. This was a great volume, and it promises that the next one will be even better. If you’re reading ahead of the anime, what are your thoughts on this current arc and this volume? Re:ZERO is very complicated to evaluate, and I’d love to hear different perspectives.
My job will have fully opened by the time you read this, but at the time of this writing, it was only partially opened. This gave me the chance to squeeze in one more Western animated series while my shift is substantially reduced. But what to pick? Steven Universe was a very emotional show, and I’m still caught up on DuckTales and The Dragon Prince, waiting for new episodes. Since I didn’t find the CG of the latter to be so bad, I thought I would watch a more… (in)famous CG series: Rooster Teeth’s RWBY. Even from beneath the rock I’ve been living under, I’m aware of the heated debates that occur over this franchise. So, because I love controversial media (for some reason), I thought I’d give the show a whirl to see what the hubbub is about.
In the world of RWBY, people rely on some magic junk called Dust (which is basically Sepith from Trails of Cold Steel), and that’s their only way to fight these monsters called Grimm. One night, a girl named Ruby Rose takes on some criminals with a crazy scythe-gun, and is sought out by Ozpin, the headmaster of Beacon Academy. He decides that “you’re a wizard, Ruby!” and instantly bumps her into the prestigious school, two years in advance. There, she meets three more color-coded girls (her older sister, a tsundere, and an emo girl) and they go on adventures together.
Like with Dragon Prince, I must discuss the visuals of RWBY first and foremost. “The Dragon Prince looked great,” I thought. “RWBY shouldn’t be so bad,” I thought. Oh, how wrong I was. I understood that The Dragon Prince was made with the backing of Netflix, one of the biggest entertainment distributors in the world, and also five years after the premiere of RWBY. But even with that in mind, RWBY takes some time to get used to. While the character designs are fine, everything else about the visuals is horribly wrong. I complained about The Dragon Prince’s choppy and inconsistent frames, but RWBY showed me that the smoother framerates of its animations look more stiff, unnatural, and awkward than in The Dragon Prince.
Fortunately, the visuals improve substantially over time, with it finally looking legitimately good by season 4. The fight scenes in RWBY are when it’s at its best… sort of. The camera swings too wildly for humans to possibly keep an eye on, and it relies entirely on pure spectacle. However, as a fan of over-the-top battle shounens, I love it. The animation is at its most fluid and impactful here. Also, the show is truly anime for one reason: everything is a gun. Scythes, gauntlets, even suitcases; they’re all guns.
To be honest, the visuals served to make RWBY one of the funniest battle shounen I have ever experienced. The humor was legitimately on point in the show, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had influence from the best of Weekly Shounen Jump. It’s the kind of stupidity that I’ve grown to love ever since I started reading manga all those years ago. The awkward movements made it even funnier for some reason.
However, despite the anime influences, RWBY is still a Western fantasy, and a modern one at that. And if you couldn’t tell, it is qualified to fall into the Harry Potter knockoff category. In the early seasons, the plot is mind-numbingly simple, with typical gag-shounen-meets-school-drama antics coupled with some YA awkwardness; a very difficult combination of tropes to get used to.
Being a modern fantasy, RWBY does another common thing: making its world an overly obvious mirror to our society, i.e. racism. The people who get targeted for discrimination are the Faunus. They are essentially furries, which ironically, adds another layer of social commentary. Anyway, the big problem with the Faunus is the White Fang, a terrorist organization that has resorted to rather… harsh methods of ending racism (which isn’t at all ten times more relevant in 2020 for any specific reasons). Honestly… I didn’t really care much for this line of narrative. It’s a topical topic for a reason, but this is one of the things I enjoyed The Dragon Prince for not having. I like adventure fantasies the best, and there really aren’t enough of them in this day and age.
Like any gag shounen, RWBY inevitably makes the transition to a more serious and plot-driven story. However, it’s not that simple. During production of the third season, the original creator of RWBY tragically passed away. The rest of the team has been carrying on with the series since, but it’s at this point where the show became the divisive debate-starting show it is today. It makes a transition that’s extremely risky for the genre: from gag shounen to straight-up seinen.
There are a couple of issues with this. One is that the transition is not at all organic. Normally, most shounen start out with short arcs, some of which last only one volume. Then, an arc goes for two volumes to make the reader think, “Finally, they’re actually doing something substantial with these characters and ideas.” Then, there’s an arc that’s really long and is generally considered the best, followed by a unanimously hated slog to the end. I get that not all battle shounen are like this, and RWBY definitely does not follow this pattern either (but in a bad way). There is a very visible instant in which the show completely changes with no build-up whatsoever: Season 3 Episode 6. After that, it packs on the emotional baggage to no end, and it becomes very hard to take seriously if you’re not super-emotional.
Also, Eastern angst and Western angst are two completely different things, and if you’ve read any of my YA novel reviews, you’d know I don’t entirely enjoy the latter’s company. While a lot of edgy stuff from Japan can tackle some uncomfortable themes with surprising elegance (Chainsaw Man, Torture Princess, Tokyo Ghoul, Monster, etc.), I’ve found a lot of the same from Western culture to be pretentious and heavy-handed. Additionally, some of the voice acting has enough gravel to pave a whole interstate highway. At the point I’m at, the few gags they do use feel jarring instead of something meant to break the ice. But in all honesty, it’s not terrible. The show is still enjoyable, and if I had liked the characters better, the feels would’ve actually struck a chord with me. However, due to the fact that it gets more and more controversial from here, I can’t guarantee that my opinion isn’t going to sway drastically in later seasons.
Regardless of the narrative, there is a somewhat great cast of characters to motivate you to keep watching. Each of the four girls are typical tropes: Ruby, ditz; Weiss, tsundere; Blake, YA protagonist; Yang, brash. But they all have genuinely good interactions with each other, and overall truly feel like a ragtag team of young’uns. They go through a lot of character development, even if it makes them come off as typical YA drama queens. Unfortunately, their fellow peers are similarly tropeish but with less… interestingness. A boy named Jaune is a typical underdog, a girl named Pyrrha is a typical hyper-justice-girl, a girl named Nora is Ruby but with a hammer, etc. Even when they all go through big emotional crises in season four, I didn’t care for any of the kids besides the four main ones.
However, the adults make up for it. My favorite character ended up being Ruby’s uncle, Crow. He’s your typical bad-ass, trollish, yet down-to-earth father figure guy, and it’s hard not to like him. There’s also a fast-talking professor named Oobleck, but he’s- sadly- a pretty minor character. Also, this one guy named James Ironwood has the best worst name (I’ll leave society’s many euphemisms to explain why).
I can’t say the same for the villains, though. As much the show really tries to do a moral ambiguity angle, the major antagonists fall under the typical Saturday morning cartoon villain category, at least up to where I’ve watched. This one swindler named Roman Torchwick is entertaining enough, but it’s not the case for the people he’s getting his fat stacks from. He reports to this woman named Cinder, who is literally Azula from Avatar. Her two minions, Mercury and Emerald, are just about as uninteresting. Cinder reports works under the true mastermind of the series, some alien(?) named Salem, but there’s not yet enough information to really say anything about her.
Before I get to my current score, I must clarify that I’m not criticizing RWBY because it stopped being what I wanted it to be; it’s just that the show felt more generic after the tone shift. I wholly understand that not everything can be original, but a lot of the content felt like it was ripped right out of How to Make Your Audiences Bleed Tears in Five Easy Steps with no finesse or variation. Compare the portrayal of the Faunus- which is the same exact allegory to American history that’s been done eleventy other times- to something like Eighty-Six. Both are commentaries on the exact same topic, but Eighty-Six does it in a way that feels much fresher than what RWBY does.
Television is also a deceptively limiting medium for visual storytelling. Once in a blue moon, you’ll have someone like Satoshi Kon who can do something interesting with film as an entertainment medium, but RWBY is not a Satoshi Kon film; a lot of it had bog-standard cinematography, such as those “hard-cut-to-black-with-some-kind-of-distressing-sound-effect-cliffhanger” techniques. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by manga, which have billions of combinations of panel layouts that all subtly contribute to the mood of a scene, or books, which can use the written word to at times convey more emotion than an image ever could. Also, Legend of Korra taught me that I should be examining television through an entirely different lens, as a lot of things I find typical are less common on TV. I’m even willing to bet that RWBY wouldn’t even have been allowed to air on network television, and could only exist as an indie program, for whatever dumb bureaucratic reason.
Current Verdict: 8.35/10
RWBY is a typical battle shounen in presentation and plot structure. It is great mindless entertainment, and I honestly don’t see why so many people take it so seriously. The food fight at the start of season two shows what I believe RWBY is at its best: over-the-top action with goofy slapstick. Unfortunately, I don’t entirely like the darker turn it took, mainly because it took it too fast. RWBY seems to be trying to be a fantasy epic on the scope of something like Trails of Cold Steel, but without the foundation that those games took time to build. Overall, the show is pretty middle-of-the-road, and I do not understand either side of the arguments with this show (but like I said, that could change). These seasons are stupid short, so I should be able to see RWBY through to the end without much hassle.
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).
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.
I’ve seen tons of seasonal anime constantly being talked about while they air, but ultimately forgotten as soon as the season ends (which I personally call “post mortem”). Nonetheless, I must ask if anyone remembers an anime called Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. That one was a big cult hit. On the ol’ message boards, a lot of people said it was “deep” and “profound”. Almost two years later, Yen Press finally published the original novel in English, so now I get to see what all the hype was about.
In Rascal Does Not Dream, a boy named Sakuta Azusagawa sees his celebrity senpai, Mai Sakurajima, wearing a bunny suit. Bizarrely enough, he’s the only one who sees her. When he talks to her about it, he theorizes that she has Adolescence Syndrome, which in her case, is making her appear invisible as a result of her deepest fears (or whatever). And because you can’t have a male protagonist without a desire to help waifus, he wants to help her… because she’s his waifu I guess (it actually gets explained later but it’s a spoiler)?
If you couldn’t tell just from the name “Adolescence Syndrome”, Rascal Does Not Dream has social commentary written all over it. It’s not just a commentary on the emotional insecurities of teens, but on how easily lies can become the truth over social media. It’s not deep nor profound; it’s merely “topical”, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to understand this stuff. Literally every human who’s ever lived past age eighteen has experienced the turbulent times of teen years, and anyone who has a social media account would know the mental anguish it can cause.
But how good is the actual story, from an entertainment perspective? Well, as someone who has been known to not like slice-of-life and to SEVERELY dislike romance, Rascal Does Not Dream… is an experience. I tried to go into it with an open mind, but TBH, this is not the best series opener. The whole “What even is Adolescence Syndrome?” thing is cool, but it could easily end up being something that goes unexplained; a means to an end. I assume that in the subsequent volumes, Sakuta will have to help more girls than just Mai, which would make it similar to Monogatari in a way.
For the most part, it’s typical slice-of-life… slowness, with not much in terms of the supernatural. Factoring out the Adolescence Syndrome, it’s really just some boy helping some girl with her emotional problems. And like I said before, the commentary on the whole social media thing isn’t very interesting or insightful. Part of me wants to say that fans only said it was deep to justify their enjoyment of something that had the “taboo” of women in skimpy bunny suits (because apparently, what media you consume showcases who you are as a person). But that’s only my interpretation.
The character interactions also bored me, but it was mostly because of the characters themselves. They, for the most part, have no defining personalities. Sure, while Sakuta does have an explanation for why he’s the umpteenth “savior” trope, he’s still pretty unremarkable. Mai is definitely a tsundere, but that’s about it. She says some sassy things from time to time, but I don’t really feel anything for her. Also, Rio Futaba, who greatly contributes to plot progression, is literally Hanekawa ripped right from Monogatari, except less likeable. A lot of other characters, like Sakuta’s sister, Kaede, are kind of just there. One thing that I can at least appreciate is that they feel more like real teens than the highly stereotyped, angst-spewing things seen in most Western YA novels, but that seems to be something that most Japanese writers have a knack for over Western authors to begin with.
The artwork is average. It has a dreamy color palette (get it? Because it’s Rascal Does Not DREAM), but it’s kind of meh overall. The character designs are all your typical stock teenager designs as well.
I’m giving it some leeway thanks to sheer benefit of the doubt, but overall, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai is pretty mediocre. It has all the pretentiousness of Monogatari, but none of the charisma. If I didn’t “understand the profound, life-changing, cosmic message hidden in between its text and subtext”, then please enlighten me as to what I missed. Because as far as I know, this was just a typical “boy meets girl, boy helps girl with her problems, audience wants to be the boy who helps girl or vice versa, author makes fat stacks as a result” piece of media. But for now… I’ll give it one more volume to impress me.
I said in my 5 Worlds post that I haven’t had the best track record with Western graphic novels. But you know what, I’m still trying my best to understand the appeal of the medium. Today’s [hopefully not] victim is The Witch Boy series, written by Molly Knox Ostertag and published by Scholastic (the same publisher as Amulet… good sign already).
A boy named Aster comes from a long line of magic, demon-fighting wizards. The men of the family are good at turning into magic, the girls are good at literally everything else. Young Aster sucks at shapeshifting, but he happens to have a knack for girl magic. Too bad it’s forbidden.
The Witch Boy is an episodic trilogy where Aster hangs out until some conflict rears its ugly head, and thank goodness it is! If this was a stand-alone graphic novel, it would’ve felt rushed. While it does spend a decent amount of time setting things up, the plot suddenly kicks into high gear out of nowhere, and the entire conflict of the first book is resolved in a very anticlimactic matter.
It doesn’t get much better later on, though. The other two books, The Hidden Witch and The Midwinter Witch, are presented in a similar manner. There isn’t enough time to really grow attached to any characters before sh** hits the fan. Each of these arcs would’ve been two or three volumes in a manga. “They would be three or four volumes in a manga, because manga suck and waste time with filler,” you point out. That’s not an inaccurate point; I hate the stupidly long cavalry battle in Prison School as much as the next guy. But a truly good manga will give you the right amount of time to get immersed in the world and the characters in a way that feels organic.
To be brutally honest, I don’t think I would’ve grown attached to the characters even if The Witch Boy was three times longer. They’re all my least favorite character trope; normal human beings. And despite the series being called The Witch Boy, the titular witch boy’s entire arc is concluded in just the first book. The second and third books tackle the character arc of Ariel Torres. She’s better than Aster, but not by a wide margin. While she’s given the most development by far, there is a disconnect because it’s all from the perspective of Aster- an observer, so you never really get to see her tragic backstory in its full crotch-kickedy-ness (professional term). Maybe the series would’ve been better if Ariel was the main character the whole way through?
If there’s any character I disliked the most, it was freaking Charlie. She’s the embodiment of that slice-of-life equivalent of wish fulfilment fantasies: the magical, down-to-earth, hyper-supportive friend who just appears to “save” the depressed main character. In this case, she saves Aster in the first book, and Ariel in the second book, by just compulsively wanting to help them for an undefined reason. While it’s certainly possible for someone this compassionate to exist, it’s not likely- given how unstable most teens are- and as indicated in my Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki post, I don’t think it’s a good element for a narrative.
I don’t feel like there’s any substance put into these characters, but that’s- again- a consequence of how short the whole series is. Also, like with the other Western comics I’ve read, you don’t get any monologue to really know how they feel. “Monologues waste time, like in those stupid battle shounen manga,” you argue. Again, in a bad manga, monologues can get excessive. But sometimes, it’s necessary in order to really get in people’s heads. “How about understanding basic human emotions and non-verbal cues?” Well, in that case, I’m sorry for not being good at social skills.
I get that there’s some underlying theme with genders, given the whole “boys do this, girls do that.” I don’t mean to sound ignorant, but as someone who had a My Little Pony doll for each of his LEGO sets, I couldn’t take such rigid labeling seriously, despite the fact that I do know it’s sadly commonplace. But due to Ariel’s priority over Aster, the series doesn’t even explore that theme in much depth to begin with.
In the end, my biggest issue- like with the other GNs I’ve read- lies in the artwork. I don’t really mind the simplistic, cartoony character designs, but I do mind the sparse use of motion lines. There are some motion lines, but they’re used for very trivial things, like hand gestures, and not during more urgent scenes, such as- you know- fighting a demon or something. “Use your imagination, you piece of crap,” you assert. Look, I read regular novels- which are almost entirely words- every day, and provided that the writing is good enough, I can paint a pretty vivid picture in my brain. The Witch Boy is targeted toward elementary schoolers, and going off of my experience as one, no kid would have the capacity to just “imagine” stuff with so little visual information.
My biggest issue with the art is how it’s used to tell the story, or lack thereof. I could’ve downed each volume in under an hour, but I took my sweet time and really tried to understand how the composition was supposed to, you know, work. But even with how much I stared at pages of this thing, I just couldn’t see it.
Like with other GNs, The Witch Boy uses half a page- or even an entire page- with a mere establishing shot. Otherwise, most panels are rectangular and arranged in uninteresting patterns. But the author at leasts goes a couple of extra miles; by changing the negative space around the panels to black when it’s dark, and by having “slime-shaped” panels whenever something eerie is occurring. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t get immersed in the story, its characters, or its world.
Final Verdict: 5.75/10
I didn’t enjoy The Witch Boy. I don’t know what it is, but trying to understand and appreciate these comics has been an absolute hassle for me. I exited my comfortable zone of Japanese culture and busty waifus, tried something unfamiliar, and it didn’t pay off. I’ll admit it, this negative review is entirely my fault. I apologize to the author for insulting something that they poured their heart into. Maybe someday, if I ever can enjoy a Western comic, I’ll come back to The Witch Boy, and realize just how great it truly was.