If you’re an anime nerd, you’ve probably heard of Taiyo Matsumoto’s classic manga Tekkonkinkreet; it was made into a critically acclaimed movie after all. Of course, me being me, I instead gained an interest in No. 5, a sci-fi manga of Matsumoto’s that I doubt any Westerner would’ve even heard of if it weren’t for Viz’s recent omnibus publication; it didn’t get adapted, so it might as well not exist over here. I don’t even know what it’s about, except that I should expect it to be weird because Matsumoto is famous for weirdness. Well, when it comes to Japanese literature, I shouldn’t expect anything less, should I?
No. 5 is set in the distant future, where the peace is protected by the Rainbow Peace Brigade, an elite squadron of genetically modified soldiers. The best of the best are designated under the numbers one through nine, and they all answer to an old man in a pair of bunny pajamas. Things aren’t so peaceful, however, when the titular No. 5 kidnaps and flees with a strange woman for no apparent reason. He travels with her as the rest of the Rainbow Brigade hunts him down.
Lemme tell you, this manga is as weird as it looks, if not weirder. Matsumoto’s art is strange and extraordinary, operating under no rules whatsoever; sometimes it’s detailed, sometimes it’s cartoony, and sometimes you don’t even know what you’re looking at. What’s even better is that panel changes tend to jump from POV-to-POV several times per page, all to maximize your confusion.
To add to that confusion, No. 5 doesn’t exactly give you exposition dumps. All the characters talk as if you—the reader—already understand how the world works, and you have to adapt fast. Everything is context-sensitive, and I’m sure as hell I missed a lot of important nuances during my read-through of the manga. There was probably some allegory to the true meaning of being human in there somewhere, and it flew right over my head.
Fortunately, this is a case where you don’t really need to know what’s going on. I was pretty damn engaged with the story despite being confused the whole time. The reason is all in the aforementioned art. Matsumoto really knows how to keep an audience on their toes no matter what’s happening, and there’s always something happening. The plot is followable on the most basic level, but good luck figuring out the purpose of any of it.
Because of how confusing the manga is, I don’t exactly know what to think of the characters in No. 5. The titular character is a very hard-boiled ex-cop-type, who doesn’t seem capable of any emotion except hard-boiled-ness. Unfortunately, we don’t exactly get the full details on why he wants to protecc the woman, Matryoshka, like an anime nerd’s favorite waifu; when we get the full backstory, it actually skips(?) the time between No. 5 first meeting her and ultimately kidnapping her.
It’s also not easy to tell why he loves Matryoshka so much, or rather, why everyone in-universe seems to loves her. You could argue that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, since she’s not the stereotypical ideal woman in terms of physical features. However… she’s kind of awful? She acts like the perfect picture of innocence, exclaiming everything she sees like a child, but it seems like she just follows whoever gives her food, as evidenced by a part where this one guy grabs her and she doesn’t resist at all.
The rest of the Rainbow Brigade are even more confusing. We get into the heads of every one of the numbered people. It’s natural to assume that the ones who die earlier are less impactful, but it doesn’t really matter. I don’t get No. 9, who dies first, any better than any of the others. I feel like the most impactful ones are the No. 4s, two twins who create hallucinations, and No. 1, who is… well, I probably shouldn’t spoil him.
Final Verdict: 8.75/10
No. 5 is really something. It’s surreal and intense, and always leaves more questions than answers. If you want to experience a weird, old manga, then No. 5 will serve that purpose well.
I have the longest story with this book. I’ve been battling serious depression over the past two years (longer than that by the time the post actually goes out) because it feels like human civilization is falling apart. Heck, you could argue it’s been happening longer than that; since the #MeToo movement in 2017, it feels like violent protests have been a way of life. Of course, 2020 set a new precedent of despair, when COVID took the world, and simple matters of health became political. That same year, George Floyd was murdered, and divided the human race amongst itself overnight. 2021 began with a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, organized entirely by American citizens with a political agenda. At the time of writing this paragraph, Russia is invading Ukraine, laying the groundwork for World War III. To top it off, earth is being ravaged by climate change, at a rate that keeps increasing at an exponential rate despite all the efforts that have been put in to delay it. As of completing the book, Ukraine is still at war, and abortion is now illegal on a constitutional level following the result of Roe v. Wade, not to mention a spike in mass shootings.
This is where Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes in. I was at a point when I finally figured out how to enjoy life, but now I’m drowning in despair. I can’t begin to list the violent emotions and twisted thoughts I’ve felt. To give you an idea, my mother has considered sending me to the psych ward numerous times. After some intense discussions with her, she offered up Atlas Shrugged. According to her, it would—at the very least—expose the media and these new-fangled activists as the BS-spewers that they allegedly are. I was skeptical, but Atlas Shrugged is apparently one of the most influential novels of all time; second only to The Bible.
Atlas Shrugged, however, is massive. This is the kind of book that I can only read with the new purging of pop culture media that I have committed to. One chapter can take about an hour, and there’s a lot of chapters; over a thousand pages’ worth. I started the book in February 2022, and you’re reading this post not long after I actually finished the book. That’s how much of an investment it is.
Like any hard SF novel, completing it is a monumental task. One aspect of these kinds of books is that merely figuring out the basic premise is a headache that you’re meant to experience, and thus, it feels like discussing any aspect of the novel is spoiler territory, even though it’s super old. So… Here’s a spoiler warning then. Read on if you wish.
Right off the bat, Rand’s prose feels like what a lot of modern writers, whom I consider pretentious, try to be. A lot of Atlas Shrugged is very verbose, and at first, it feels like nothing is happening. However, unlike books such as Monogatari, I wasn’t mad. A lot of passages give you hints pertaining to the book’s worldbuilding and how characters think and feel. The writing is also very poetic, describing things metaphorically but in a way that can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language; unlike a lot of YA and light novels that vomit nonsensical similes at everything.
You are given your first signs of how messed up the world of Atlas Shrugged is with the initial conflict centered around Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company. The organization has always been run by Taggarts, and this generation is brother and sister James and Dagny Taggart. When one of their lines desperately needs fixing, Dagny is literally the only person to do anything about it. She orders an untested metal from a company that James doesn’t trust, while his “trusted” metals haven’t been delivered in over a year since being ordered. What jumps out is that she is the only one in the whole organization who’s proactive; everyone else, except a guy named Eddie Willers, sucks.
The story also involves the creator of the aforementioned untested metal, Hank Rearden. He went from slaving away in the mines to owning his own steel plant, an achievement that he knows he’s damn well earned. Dagny’s order for his metal is the first big order his company has ever received. The reason for this is because everyone else is afraid to risk using it.
Right off the bat, Atlas Shrugged should resonate with just about anyone alive, especially these days. Heck, a lot of the stuff brought up in this book is stuff I’ve had internal debates about for years. I one hundred percent relate to Dagny and Hank, who feel like they’re surrounded by morons at all times. Well, I say morons, but a more literal term would be sheep; they just stick to doing what they’re told, with no drive to make anything better. This isn’t even remotely a new trope, but in Atlas Shrugged, it feels more grounded and real. Every writer and their grandma these days would chalk this up to how humans are wired to behave and there’s nothing we can do about it. Good ol’ Ayn Rand, however, presents this behavior as an unnatural, conscious choice that most people—unfortunately—decide to make.
Words cannot describe just how vindicating Atlas Shrugged is. Every other scene, there’s something that feels like Rand literally wrote for me specifically. The inane ignoramity (professional term) of mankind feels like every day of my life since Donald Trump ran for President. On a side note, Atlas Shrugged is significantly easier to digest than what I thought going in. It’s lengthy, sure, but the actual content of the book is incredibly straightforward. If you could get through crap like Of Mice and Men in high school, then Atlas Shrugged will be no problem.
The plot starts off in earnest at the end of part one. Dagny and Hank go on a road trip and stumble upon a mysterious machine, abandoned in a junk heap in an equally abandoned factory. Turns out that this device, if seen through to the end, would literally solve all of humanity’s energy problems and save the world. However, its creator is unaccounted for, and she scrambles to find that creator or reverse engineer the machine, all while surviving the ignorant world she lives in. Survival is not easy, especially when the few smart people that remain start abandoning their businesses unannounced.
Of course, you could look at the publication year saying “1957” and chalk Atlas Shrugged up for yet another McCarthy-ist novel written during the Red Scare. The thing is, due to everything discussed up to this point, I would’ve never guessed this was a Red Scare book because it sure didn’t feel like it at all. Despite the difference in eras, I could attribute so much more about Atlas Shrugged to real life in this day and age than any other cyberpunk I’ve ever experienced. However, the fact that Atlas Shrugged feels even more relevant than it did at the time isn’t exactly a good thing.
If you couldn’t tell, Atlas Shrugged is meant to have only two likable characters, and they are Dagny and Hank. Let’s talk about Hank first, since I’m saving the best for last. He loves his career with Rearden Metal, especially more than the stupid people he’s surrounded by, including his stupid wife. He doesn’t let other people’s thoughts get in his way, including those in the media. It’s ironic that someone who cares so little about people contributes more to their lives than most… or at least he would be if there weren’t politically correct idiots trying to ruin his business.
Meanwhile, Dagny… ho-hoh boy, lemme tell you. I daresay that she is the Best Girl in all classic literature. She’s like Hank in not caring, only better. Her proactive personality feels so modern compared to any other character of classic literature. Dagny is unimaginably badass, and if you told me that girls like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind or anyone from Little Women were better, I would absolutely not believe you.
Among these two awesome protagonists whom you’re meant to love, and these wingnuts that you’re meant to hate, there is an anomaly named Francisco d’Anconia. You could argue he’s the main villain of the book, despite him definitely not being an ignoramus like the rest of mankind. He has iconic and inspirational moments that feel amazing, like he really understands how life works, yet he seems to be working against the human race with most of his actions. I’d say he’s the extreme end of Dagny and Hank’s personalities, but at the same time, he could just be a massive troll.
If there are any flaws in the book’s writing, it’s that I always had trouble telling where anyone was in 3D space. The dialogue is the heart and soul of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s so easy to get absorbed in it that they can seemingly teleport to another location. You could also argue that some of the big long passages that convey the book’s themes get redundant (including a seventy page speech that is more-or-less a summation of all the themes explored), but the way Rand thinks is so unconventional, that you kind of need to see it multiple times to really process the full weight of her words.
Final Verdict: 10/10
Why does anyone bother with any classic literature other than Atlas Shrugged? I’ve read crummy books with blurbs that say “I’ll be thinking about these themes for a long time”, but Atlas Shrugged is the first time I truly feel that way about a book. It’s so insane that—scratch that—it’s saner than almost anything else out there. If Ayn Rand wrote and published it today, it would get canceled ten times over. Heck, the FBI would’ve personally hunted her down. Atlas Shrugged would be considered by many to be pure evil, and that’s precisely why it’s a must-read. Just keep in mind that it will not give you hope for mankind; it’s only meant to give you hope for yourself.
I didn’t think I’d have to lump multiple months together AGAIN. Geez! Only two volumes (excluding debuts) piqued my interest in January; nowhere near enough to put it in a Weeb Reads Monthly. So, here we are. Hooray for being relevant.
WATARU!! Volume 2
Holy crap!!! Another volume of the masterpiece, WATARU!!! …said no one except for me. MyAnimeList doesn’t exactly have a page for this series, and I haven’t read any reviews on WordPress, if there are any. But honestly, I can say with full confidence that I’m in the minority in loving WATARU!!! I mean, it’s so simple and superficial with no story; all violations of the arbitrary rules of good literature!!!
But if you are one of my fellow uncultured swine and love the first volume of WATARU!!!, then the second volume is just as good. There’s more insane hijinks and meta-humor than ever. They also introduce a new character named Elphabell. It seems like she could become a yandere in the future, but she’s not even remotely as insane as Best Girl Aria. According to the afterword, WATARU!!! isn’t too successful, which kinda sucks. Light novels can get axed just as easily as manga, so there’s a chance that this could be the end.
The Bloodline Volume 2
“Wait, why’d you use the first volume’s cover as the thumbnail?” you ask. Well, for whatever reason—be it the licensing or the artist being lazy—the cover of the second volume is just a zoom-in of the first cover!
In any case, my feelings for the volume are mixed. The first half is slow and boring, with a lot of uninteresting dialogue. There’s a really contrived development, thanks to Nagi being smooth-brained, and a ridiculously predictable Top Ten Anime Betrayal. The ending of the volume has a clever twist, but… there’s a chance that this is the end of the whole series. BookWalker doesn’t say “Completed” or anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the series is ongoing. I admit I’m curious about what could happen moving forward, but it’s just as likely that it’s over. If it is, then I’ll just say that The Bloodline had some good ideas marred by boring writing.
Konosuba Volume 13
I was concerned about Konosuba slowly falling apart, and honestly, I might be correct. The first half of this volume is almost the same as the first half of volume twelve: more shipping war stuff. As much as I love these characters, their interactions are getting incredibly redundant, and this is coming from someone who loves One Piece. The second half of the volume concerns Wiz, and this guy stalking her. The way it turns out is as silly as you can expect. But at this point, it’s obvious that the endgame plot is looming and it’s just a matter how long the author can beat around the bush leading up to it.
Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?! Volume 8
The first thing you see when you open up this volume is a group of idol moms. Despite how silly that first impression is, this is actually the most emotional volume yet! If you recall from last time, we learned that Porta is the Fourth Heavenly King of the Libere Rebellion. To be honest, it should’ve been obvious, since we’ve strangely never seen her mother.
Fortunately, that gets rectified in this volume! The mastermind behind the whole thing is actually Porta’s mom, who is also one of the key devs behind the game world. Porta feels obligated to join the Libere Rebellion, despite the fact that her mom seems to be a real b****. Ahhhhh, familial bonds!
The theme explored today is independence. In fact, that’s the whole reason behind the Libere Rebellion itself. Porta’s mom hardcore believes in the philosophy of letting the child grow entirely on their own. And as such, we learn of the point that every mom has to deal with: when to let their kids go. Overall, it’s a perfect storm of emotion and humor, making this my favorite volume up to this point. One concern I have, however, is that this is pretty much the end of the Libere Rebellion plot thread, yet the series is confirmed to have three remaining volumes. After the cliffhanger ending, I can’t imagine how it would go beyond a ninth volume.
ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 2
This volume immediately begins with a discussion between several high-ranking demons, where we get more context for the series’ lore and the purpose of those crazy Uzumaki things. After that, Flum stumbles upon some strange child named Ink, who raises even more intrigue.
The main conflict of this volume revolves around Dein Phineas being an ass, as well as the church’s latest monstrosity attacking the town. I’m not even going to describe this calamity, but it follows in the last volume’s footsteps by being incredibly effed up and gruesome. The ridiculous part of the scenario is that the church’s evilness is so well known that even the nuns acknowledge it. This series is really ham-fisted on dissing Catholicism, which I’m okay with as an agnostic, but some subtlety would be nice.
When it comes to light novels, this is definitely a great start to 2021 (*insert pretentious and not-at-all overstated comment about how it’s better than last year even though nothing’s changed here*). Since I’m going to take a month’s hiatus in early March in order to avoid Attack on Titan finale spoilers, I’ll be lumping March and April’s posts into one. Hooray for that!
Sometimes it’s hard to write an intro. As I said in my review of Unnamed Memory, I’ve been disappointed with the new light novel releases pretty much all year. No one seemed to look forward to The Bloodline, published in English by J-Novel Club. And as someone who rarely posts about something popular, it seemed like a fitting choice for me.
In The Bloodline, the world is ruled by vampires who feed off the common people’s blood. In the middle of some festival or whatever, a boy named Nagi breaks into some house and finds a girl named Saya. He saves her for no particular reason, and chaos ensues.
Sadly, there’s not much to say about the story thus far. The Bloodline is very generic across the board. Not only is it a typical “rob from the poor to feed the rich” dystopia (complete with vampires as if this was some YA novel), but it’s also a wish fulfilment fantasy. In about 30 pages, Saya thinks to herself: “I want to be with this boy.” I mean, sure, he saved you. But to be in love with him so impulsively? Not even Disney does it this fast anymore.
Time for me to sound like a broken record again. I don’t like the characters, not a single one of them! So far, Nagi is a typical whiny self-insert, and Saya is a typical damsel in distress. Keele is Nagi’s snarky brother, and this girl named Tess is the third wheel. I don’t even remember the names of everyone else, but they’re about as plastic as the rest of the cast.
But even with all these issues, The Bloodline is at least better than what I have read recently. Although the writing is about as negligent at describing people and places as a lot of light novels, the pacing and momentum is solid. There is some good entertainment value here, and honestly, that’s all I could ask for these days. Also, they don’t dump all of the lore on you at once in the beginning.
Maybe I’m just desperate, but I actually have hope for The Bloodline. As bland as the story is idea-wise, it still appeared to be pretty well thought out by light novel standards. It’s no masterpiece at this juncture, but it could become close to one if it’s given enough love over time. If you like edgy dystopian novels, then this one’s for you.
Different ethnicity, different religion, different species, body swapping, homosexuality, transgender, not actually being organically alive… with these, and other factors, many writers have tried- and failed- to make the romance genre anything besides a series of cringefests (at least for me). Could different gravity fields actually make it interesting? Let’s watch Patema Inverted and find out.
In Patema Inverted, the titular character dreams of visiting another world. So, she heads on the highway to the Danger Zone and ends up in the world of Aiga, some kind of Brave New World-type society. There, she meets an adolescent boy named Age, and they literally turn each other’s worlds upside down, because- well- their gravitational fields go in opposite directions.
Well, astonishingly enough, the opposite gravity means almost nothing. The only thing that the opposite gravity does is establish the forbidden romance factor that governs the film. It does build a sense of anxiety, just by them walking around, because both directions lead to a bottomless pit of death. Unfortunately, Patema Inverted plays out so cardboard-cutout-y that it doesn’t even matter. Maybe I shouldn’t be so harsh, since Kanopy considers it a kids movie, but I’m writing this post, so I’m gonna be harsh!
The romance comes from out of left field, as it almost always does. The sh*t hits the fan no more than five minutes after they meet, and while I appreciate the not-beating-around-the-bush, it doesn’t help build their relationship at all. At least Ride Your Wave did something to actually get you to grow attached to the two lovebirds (as much of an obvious red flag it was).
I shouldn’t even mention the characters… yet I am anyway. If you’ve seen E.T., then you’ve watched Patema Inverted already, as it’s all about the powers-that-be being scared of something that they can’t understand. Age is a typical “I’m-sad-because-my-dad-is-dead” boy, who literally has no personality other than the fact that he’s sad because his dad is dead. Patema is just… a girl. There’s nothing to even say about her. The bad guy is a typical SAO villain, complete with one-dimensional evilness and wanting to sexually assault a teenage girl.
I’ll admit that some of the movie caught me off guard. Towards the end, there are a couple of interesting twists, but they end up being left with next to no explanation. A fan would say that it’s a nuance that requires some interpretation, and a critic would say it’s a plothole. Guess what I think it is.
Visually, this is perhaps the weakest anime movie I’ve seen. I don’t know if it was a stylistic choice, but the character textures are flat, and the background art- while somewhat beautiful- doesn’t get much better than a AAA-produced TV anime. There is also a remarkable lack of actual animation throughout the movie. This is the first anime I’ve watched since Tokyo Godfathers, which looked way more impressive despite having come out a whole decade sooner.
Final Verdict: 5/10
I didn’t think I was going to like Patema Inverted that much going into it, but it couldn’t even meet my low expectations. This movie was about as empty-feeling as it could get. As much as I didn’t like Ride Your Wave, it at least has a sense of whimsy with its art style, and much more personality to boot. I’d recommend Patema Inverted if you like the very inorganic romance that’s plagued the genre since the dawn of entertainment. I’m sorry for writing such a harsh review, but them’s the breaks sometimes. I admit that I only watched it as a test to make sure Kanopy was reliable. I’ll be covering a review of a different anime movie that will very likely be much better in the very near future.
Speculative fiction isn’t my favorite genre, but I can appreciate its importance. It’s important for people’s ideas to be challenged. Some of the best speculative works I’ve ever read are Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles and Chinese SF author Cixin Liu’s Three Body Problem. But for some reason, putting out something truly speculative for younger audiences seems to be much harder than for adult audiences. Works like The Giver and Chronicle of the Dark Star set the groundwork to challenge young minds into questioning the world around them, but fall short and end up ham-fisting easy answers in the end. The Arc of a Scythe trilogy, written by Neal Shusterman and published by Simon and Schuster, seems to try to challenge the young mind as well. But does it succeed?
Arc of a Scythe is set in a world where humanity has achieved total bliss; all knowledge has been learned, and anyone who dies instead comes back in fresh new bodies at a clinic. However, the population is still a thing, so they hire people called Scythes to off folks, which results in what is called gleaning: the true, final death. Two plucky teens named Citra and Rowan are recruited as apprentice Scythes, and go on adventures in life and death.
Immediately, this idea is really neat. Scythe‘s premise could’ve asked a lot of questions about morality and the greater good. Unfortunately, it’s not so much the case in execution. Murder is a horrible act, and the idea of hired killers being able to arbitrarily murder whomever they want is inherently scary, but the world in Scythe could’ve been a genuinely good solution for mankind. However, Scythe doesn’t reach that potential, at least not from what I could GLEAN off of the dialogue and worldbuilding.
The way the world is put together comes off as Shusterman going out of his way to make it as corrupt as possible, so that it can’t be interpreted in any way other than “bad”. First off, the fact that TEENAGERS become apprentice Scythes is utter bullcrap. Of all the people to give the power to commit murder willy-nilly, teens aren’t the best choice. Secondly, how come this world lacks that real-world thing called background checks? Maybe some like that might be important when hiring someone to ARBITRARILY COMMIT MURDER. And don’t get me started on the Thunderhead! This thing was built to oversee everything that happens in the world and run all machinery. It does its job well enough, except for Scythes; it is forbidden to interfere with them. You’d think that maybe, just maybe, it should do just that, especially when someone gets a BIT drunk with power?
Speaking of drunk with power, the biggest disappointment in Scythe is the main antagonist, Scythe Robert Goddard. It’s natural to think that anyone who has the power to murder without punishment (among other ludicrous perks of being a Scythe) would be a raving lunatic, and Goddard is said lunatic. He and his lackeys save all their gleanings for the last day of their quota so that they can perform literal acts of terrorism just for fun. Like in Marissa Meyer’s Renegades, he has no motive, and he apparently doesn’t need one because “Absolute power corrupts absolutely herpaderpderp.” They wait until the third book to give him any real backstory, but it doesn’t help much.
The other characters aren’t that much better. The two leads are just classic YA tropes; Citra’s the brat, and Rowan’s the edgelord. Their relationship is a load of bullcrap because they inevitably get romantically involved despite the fact that they spend more than 80% of the story separated. I don’t mean a long-distance relationship; I mean that they hardly even communicate with each other! Introduced in book two is Greyson, who is basically the emo. Unfortunately for him, all he does is join some cult and have conversations with the Thunderhead that aren’t really that interesting IMO (at least until the third book). In fact, at least half of the series is uninteresting conversations.
So what are the positives? It’s entertaining. The writing is solid, and when the story gets going, it gets going. There are also some good one-liners as well, and some parts that are unintentionally funny. And even though Goddard ruins all sense of moral ambiguity in the story, he’s still got some charisma as a try-hard, edgy villain.
Most of book two, Thunderhead, was a boring blur for me, except for the climax. It was a really intense string of events, and the author had done something genuinely ballsy. Unfortunately, 95 pages into book three, The Toll, he once fails to commit to that risky move. But other than that, The Toll is actually a [somewhat] satisfactory finale. It still fails to touch upon any speculative narrative themes (it damn well tries, though), but it’s definitely the best of the three.
Final Verdict: 7/10
I wanted to give Arc of a Scythe a 5 or lower, but I couldn’t. It’s my fault for expecting something more intellectual, when that might not have been the author’s intent. But for what it is, Scythe is decent at best; not the worst YA book series out there, but be wary that it will not explore any gray areas whatsoever.