Weeb Reads Monthly – August 2020

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!

Verdict: 8.65/10


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.

Verdict: 7.5/10


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!

Verdict: 8.45/10


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.

Verdict: 7.75/10


Conclusion

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!

A Shipping Battle Royale for the Ages – The Quintessential Quintuplets Full Series Review

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.

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Volume 13 Review

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!

~~~~~

Verdict: 8.65/10

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.

RWBY First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~

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.

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Novel Review

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.

~~~~~

Verdict: 7/10

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.

The Witch Boy Full Trilogy Review

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.

Karneval First Impressions (Omnibus Volumes 1-4)

I’ll never get the manga magazine industry. I do understand that whatever manga stays and goes depends on popular vote, but sometimes, it’s really astonishing when something that isn’t all that popular somehow manages to survive for a long time. Seraph of the End and Twin Star Exorcists come to mind. But what about Karneval, published in omnibus form by Yen Press?

In Karneval, a boy named Nai is captured and almost sexually assaulted by some rich woman (who is, apparently, also a mutant of some kind). He’s saved by a dude named Gareki, who notices a necklace on Nai’s person: an I.D. bracelet of someone in the secret service known as Circus. According to Nai, a friend of his, named Karoku, possessed this bracelet (somehow), and wants to find him. So, the two boys team up to seek out this dude, and inevitably get involved in a whole bunch of stuff along with Circus themselves.

Karneval is basically a battle shounen manga that tries to be story driven. There is a lot of plot that gets covered in each chapter… almost too much at once. If I may touch on the artwork early, the panel flow is very wonky, as it cuts away to scenes more abruptly than Family Guy. A lot of times, there’ll be a fight scene happening, and then suddenly, two completely separate people will talk about something that has nothing to do with the fight at all!

Despite the weird cuts, Karneval has a pretty standard issue story. Most of the intrigue revolves around Nai’s strange hearing ability, among other things, as well as what Karoku’s deal is. It progresses towards answering these questions, while asking new ones, at a pretty steady pace. The Circus spaceships are also pretty cool. They’re basically flying mansions that are managed by robot bunny rabbits. Karneval also has a cool explanation for how they get their fantasy superpowers.

The characters are, sadly, pretty unremarkable. Nai is the worst of the bunch, as he is just a weak kid who only exists for his plot relevance. He’s obsessed with Karoku, to the point where it gets super annoying, and he’s also just… dumb; not in the fun way. Gareki is just the designated cool dude, with no real personality. These two protagonists are also lacking in the power progression department. Gareki doesn’t even start his first training arc until the fourth omnibus (volumes 7-8), and Nai is pure baggage, who is incapable of defending himself in any capacity whatsoever.

The people in Circus that they meet are basically just various character tropes. Yogi is the aloof guy, Tsukumo is the loli, Eva is the busty older sister, Hirato is the nonchalant guy… It’s an understatement to say that you’ve likely seen this before.

As for the art, Karneval looks kind of like a shoujo manga when it comes to the shapes of the characters’ faces. Fortunately, they (at least the ones in Circus) are VERY well-dressed. The mangaka creases the clothes so much that your mother will want them to put their clothes back in the dryer. The only issue with the clothing choice is that there are at least three guys in tuxedos and top hats, and I get them very easily confused with one another.

~~~~~

Current Verdict: 6/10

Is there something I’m not getting? Karneval has been running for thirteen years and counting, yet it’s kind of meh. It’s not the worst manga ever, but that doesn’t make it a masterpiece. If you just want to kick back and relax with a whacky battle shounen manga, then Karneval is there for you.

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.

~~~~~

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!

Bakuman Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

I know that working in the manga world can be harsh; I’m even aware of how it’s literally killed people. That’s why I never read through Bakuman (published in English by Viz) until just now. And wow… where has this been all my life?!

Bakuman stars Moritaka Mashiro, whose uncle died from overworking during his manga career. However, when he leaves his notebook at school one day, a starving writer named Akito Takagi sees it, and says that they should make a manga together. He refuses until the girl he likes, Miho Azuki, who’s trying to become an anime voice actor, promises to star in the anime of their manga. And just like that, boom! End goal established!

Despite my dislike of slice-of-life manga, I have to admit Bakuman does pretty much everything right. The story is fun and engaging, plus the characters are very expressive and have great personalities (more on that later, though). Despite the fact that Mashiro’s uncle died from overwork, which is a real life problem in Japan’s society, the manga is pretty lighthearted for the most part.

Naturally, the big appeal of Bakuman is its theme: manga publishing. This is one time where I’ll admit that I enjoyed something because I related to the characters, even though I hate factoring that into the actual final score of the story. Since they’re publishing manga, the characters of Bakuman spend a lot of time talking about all the topics that I think about everyday: tropes, marketing, mass appeal, and taking risks.

The cast is also surprisingly good. One of the biggest problems I have with slice-of-life is that writers seem to think that characters need to have dull expressions and no interesting personality quirks in order to seem more “human,” which isn’t really true. The characters in Bakuman are “human” done right. While Mashiro is a bit generic, he’s at least very expressive, along with everyone else. I knew that Takagi was going to be my fav the moment I saw him; he’s just so aloof yet driven. They work with one of two editors at any given time: Akira Hattori and Goro Miura. Although the latter is inexperienced as an editor, they both genuinely care about Mashiro and Takagi’s careers. 

There are also a number of rivals in Bakuman. My favorite is Eiji Nizuma, who is a true prodigy, but is a total eccentric. He doesn’t seem to take his job seriously, or even know how Jump works, and he just draws whatever he wants and leaves the pages neatly lying on the floor. He also walks in Jojo poses, which you need to see in order to believe. Along with him are the brash Fukuda and the terminally antisocial Hiramaru, among other people. Although they’re competitors, they’re also good friends, and their chemistry with each other brings out the absolute best in all of them.

My least favorite characters are probably the two main characters’ love interests, the aforementioned Miho, and Takagi’s girl, Kaya Miyoshi. They’re good girls (Miyoshi’s the better of the two, though), but they kind of exist just for moral support. Sure, Miho has plot relevance, but you don’t really get to see her progress that much; you only see the results.

Now for the art. Holy crap. I think that is the best art Obata has ever provided. Sure, Bakuman isn’t as detailed or complex as Death Note or *shudders* Platinum Freaking End, but it brings the atmosphere of Bakuman and it’s characters to life. Also, he has to draw his own characters’ manga, which each have their own styles. This really showcases what an absolute mastermind of art Obata is, and I have the utmost respect for him. If you’re a fan of more chill, CGDCT-type stuff, then Bakuman’s cartoony art style will likely be a turn-off for you.

My one real complaint with Bakuman is the fact that the protagonists want an anime so badly. I get that there’s a specific context behind why they want to get an anime of their manga, but as someone who’s seen so many great works get horrible anime adaptations, I couldn’t help but cringe, especially since their storytelling style is just the kind of unconventional stuff that can only work in the manga medium. This whole thing is a big nitpick of mine, which is why it won’t affect the final score at all.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.75/10

Bakuman is the best manga by the Ohba-Obata team. Yeah, I just said that. Everything about it is top-top-notch. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves manga in general, and heck, probably those who love anime too.