The Emerald City of Oz: Somehow, a Volume with a Literal War in it Has Next to NO Action

L. Frank Baum’s Oz books had been steadily getting better, up until the fifth book, The Road to Oz. I really hope that it was just a fluke. Well, the only way to figure out if the series is getting better or worse is to continue it! Let’s jump into book six: The Emerald City of Oz.

In this installment, Dorothy’s aunt and uncle are S.O.L. And while a good therapist would tell you not to run away from your problems, Dorothy suggests to do just that! She has Ozma invite them to live in Oz forever. And what a time to move in, as the Nome King is planning to invade.

Up to this point, the government of the Emerald City has been well-established. However, when Baum gave us the recap of how it worked, I realized another prophecy of Baum’s. But this one, er… Well, to sum up, everyone has equal money in the Emerald City. Oz is a Communist kingdom. Aaaaah, American culture, you never cease to baffle me.

Anyway, the basic structure of this volume alternates POVs, from Dorothy showing her relatives around Oz, while the Nome King’s general recruits followers for his cause. I initially looked forward to this, because I thought, “Hey, we can reintroduce some of the minor antagonists from earlier in the series! Continuity!” However, I was once again an ignoramus for having hope in Baum. Instead of doing that, we are suddenly introduced to a number of one-dimensionally evil races, one of which is a literal race of furries (different from the ones in The Road to Oz). 

Not only are there new bad guys in this volume, but there are also brand new denizens of Oz. Classic Baum, constantly adding new things instead of expanding upon existing things. Because it’s whacky! The new races are as imaginative as usual, such as a race of people made out of puzzle pieces. There’s also a race of paper people, all created by a single girl—once again, Baum unwittingly stuffs sacrilege into kids’ brains. At least he has balls. 

But no matter how creative Baum gets, it seems I just cannot get immersed in this world. Everything in it is just distributed, and doesn’t feel… like anything. People still love this series so much? How? I can only see this being good at the time, before Tolkein raised the bar (a bar that is definitely not met even these days). It takes so much more than ideas to have good worldbuilding, and I expected more out of such a beloved series. I guess that’s one thing that it has in common with most modern stuff (Oooooh snap).

Honestly, I have nothing else to say. The climax is boring and rushed, possibly shoehorning in a new plot device that I’m supposed to have believed was in the Emerald City from the very beginning (I say “possibly” because it could’ve been mentioned and I forgot because I was bored). Oz researcher Peter Glassman, once again, acts as if this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But this time, his reasoning seems to entirely rest on the fact that Emerald City has alternating POVs. This is what I hate about classic literature as a whole. People just laud them for being the first at doing something, as if that makes it better than any later stuff that does the same thing better. By comparison, I can at least say that Dracula is one of the best vampire stories ever. It was a no-nonsense thriller, where the vampires were real monsters that didn’t glow with shoujo sparkles. Oz is not Dracula.

It’s not all bad, though. There were a couple of interesting bits that I feel like should be brought up. First off, there is a place (I forgot what location was called), where its people had anxiety attacks over literally every possible negative eventually, even the super improbable ones. Baum, arguably, predicted the slowly deteriorating mental health of America. It’s exaggerated, but I actually related to these people, since I’m living in a world where the media will make everything out to be the end of days. There is also another case of Glinda the Good being not-so-good. They meet these rabbits who have been forcibly evolved to a civilized state completely against their will, and only because Glinda felt like it. That final book looms ever ominously before me, man.

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Final Verdict: 6.7/10

Emerald City of Oz gets a slightly higher rating since it has some of the more inventive ideas (even if they are superficial). Overall, this book sucks. I would be glad to be finished with it, as it was meant to be the final Oz book. However, we are not even halfway. I’m suddenly Han Solo, because I have a bad feeling about this.

The Last Fallen Star: My First Ever Impression of Korean Culture

As someone who’s been alive within the last ten years, I have borne witness to the sudden rise of South Korea’s influence on the world’s entertainment industry. And considering I’ve been into Japanese culture for a long time, I’ve basically been jealous of Korea to this day. Anime have been out internationally for decades, and only a handful of them are accepted by your garden variety “all-American”. In my experience, it feels like Japan has only gotten more disdain as facets of their culture continue to come into the fold. And yet, all it took was ‘Oppa Gangnam Style’ for South Korea to be welcomed with open arms. Nowadays, manhwa and webtoons seem to be eclipsing Japan’s manga industry, and BTS the biggest active music group in the world, with their other K-Pop compatriots not far behind. Eventually, I just lost it, and absolutely HAD to know if I was missing something. And my voyage into Korean culture begins with Graci Kim’s novel, The Last Fallen Star, one of two Korean I.P.s from Rick Riordan Presents.

In The Last Fallen Star, you have your usual secret coven of witches. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the main protagonist, Riley Oh’s, problem is. …Did you guess that she has no magic? Yep, that’s exactly the case. The other old beans in the clan try to act like they don’t think she’s just baggage, but it’s not a particularly good facade. So, what does Riley do? She and her sister, Hattie, perform an illegal spell that has a chance to give Riley temporary powers. I’ll give you three guesses as to what results.

If you guessed that it goes horribly wrong, then that would be correct, but also an understatement. In fact, Riley’s parents end up in a position where they decide if they or Riley get permanently ejected out of the clan. Riley decides for them, and boots herself out, afterwhich the sisters perform ANOTHER illegal ritual that puts Hattie’s life at stake. Of course, the solution is for Riley, and her friend Emmet, to find a MacGuffin. Why wouldn’t it be?

Positives first. The story, unlike other Presents books, doesn’t waste time. The premise being entirely centered around MacGuffin-finding screams padding, but it’s actually relevant to a much bigger plot. It’s much more dialogue-driven than other Presents books, but not having random Korean monsters attack just for the sake of action is another plus for the pacing.

Sadly, that’s about where the positives end. The Korean-mythology-based worldbuilding is pretty typical. It’s your garden variety urban fantasy, with the different portals to witch-land in the middle of unassuming public areas, various rituals, and really dense-headed coven bigwigs. The specific legends used in the story, such as Korea’s creation legend, are… alright, I guess. Even taking my Shinto bias in mind, it’s your usual “the world is created perfectly and then someone does something stupid.”

The cast also leaves something to be desired (big surprise coming from me). Riley, being adopted, magicless, and wanting to be included in social circles, ticks all the boxes on the “relatable” checklist. I also dislike her for using the word “amazeballs”. The male lead, Emmet, is your typical best friend, and his arc revolves entirely around his response to the inevitable big plot twist reveal. We don’t get to see many gods—in fact, we only see one—and she is not as memorable as she could’ve been.

The only other issue I have is with the climax. It’s a good climax from a sheer entertainment standpoint, but I feel like some stuff happened solely for shock value. Also, the final twist feels like Kim trying to make readers feel that participation-trophy-specialness, which—according to Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck—leads to mental health disorders.

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Final Verdict: 8/10

The Last Fallen Star is the second best Rick Riordan Presents book I have read thus far, which is not saying much considering that I don’t like most of them. And even then, I still didn’t love it like I do that one series I will be covering at some point. I’m willing to finish this series, but I don’t think I’m going to learn why people like this particular brand of mythology.

Take a Drink Every Time I Compare This Band to Sojourner: Stormruler — Under the Burning Eclipse Album Review

I have a story about the subgenres of black and death metal. To sum up, I tried Behemoth (who are both subgenres at once), who—hot take—I didn’t enjoy. But then, I found out that Christopher Bowes’ new band Wizardthrone would be a death metal band, and I would be inspired to try some black metal to get myself wanting to try Wizardthrone. I tried Sojourner before this band, and I actually really liked it. Unfortunately, they were bizarrely soothing, and not a good gateway to the super extreme stuff. Meanwhile, I had some interest in the brand new black metal band, Stormruler, most of which is the fact that they’re signed to Napalm Records, who have a great taste in bands. So yeah, if you’re reading this review of Under the Burning Eclipse, then that means I at least liked Stormruler enough. 

The hardest part of reviewing these bands is knowing enough about them to even post an overview of who they are! I’m starting to consistently listen to bands that don’t have Wikipedia pages. Thank Facebook (even if their page is unverified)! Stormruler consists of Jesse Schobel and Jason Asberry, straight from the U.S. of A. They’ve been in so many bands before Stormuler, that you can literally say that the lineup features members from three or more bands; more than the amount of members! 

Most black metal album covers look so intentionally fuzzy that I can barely define what’s on them. Sojourner subverts that trope, but Stormruler is more keeping in tradition. Fortunately, it’s not to the point that I can’t identify the artwork, and Under the Burning Eclipse has some great artwork. Simply put, it’s a badass knight on a… lizard? Horse? Lizard-horse? Well, whatever it is, it’s cool looking.

Upon starting the album, it is readily apparent that Stormruler and Sojourner are absolutely nothing alike. That does mean, however, that Stormruler is—at the very least—the band I needed to train me for Wizardthrone. They’re faster and do not incorporate clean vocals nor woodwind instruments like Sojourner does. But then comes the million dollar question: who is more accurate to black metal? The Wikipedia page for the subgenre mentions fast tempos and atmospheres, but Stormuler and Sojourner only check out for the former and latter respectively. Subgenres, man. SUBGENRES.

Rant aside, Under the Burning Eclipse is… a record? I figured that black metal is supposed to have intentionally bad sound mixing, but this has REALLY bad sound mixing. It’s almost impossible to hear the vocalist at all, let alone what he’s saying. Even Sojourner’s records are crisp and clear by comparison. 

And you know what, sorry to say this but, it’s almost good that you can hardly hear this guy. Whether it’s Schobel or Asberry doing it… I just… look, he’s not very good. I get that it takes talent to be able to dedicate yourself to growling (or screeching as it seems here), but—I sound like a broken record here—he’s not that good at it compared to other growlers I’ve heard. Based on the lyrics listed, some of the stuff he says doesn’t seem to match at all. Apparently, all vowels are the “AH” sound, and whether or not some syllables even need pronouncing seems to be a case-by-case basis. Is this normal for black metal? Sojourner’s Emilio Crespo doesn’t sound like this, and he sings the same style. Furthermore, guys like Gg6 and Mark Jansen from Amaranthe and Epica respectively sound perfectly fluent.

I sound like I’m complaining a lot, but Stormruler did end up growing on me. The songs are wild but not to the point where it’s straight-up death metal. The lyrics are also themed after fantasy and mythology, as opposed to your usual themes of violence and Satan. They also have a plethora of atmospheric interlude tracks to break up the action and make the album stand out. But to add one more complaint—which might just be something in character with the subgenre—the beginning of every song feels exactly the same, with the same fast drum beat and the “dudololololola-dudolololola” sound of the guitar. Wait, why did I bother trying to write onomatopoeia for the guitar if I was going to put the MV in the post anyway?

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Final Verdict: 8/10

Under the Burning Eclipse is a good album, but it’s not the most promising debut compared to others I’ve heard. Most black metal fans would probably tell me to try older black metal bands instead of one of the newest, but to clarify, I avoid the older black metal bands specifically because I figure that newer bands would’ve worked out the kinks by now. Plus, Stormruler is signed to Napalm Records, who are pretty close to my wavelength, meaning that I had a better chance of liking them than any of the “classics”. As far as recommendations go, I have no idea if a black metal fan would like Under the Burning Eclipse because I have nothing to compare it to. But if you’re thinking of getting into black metal for the first time—sorry, but—I recommend Sojourner over this (at least for the time being).

Miitopia (Switch): Your Most Insane Fanfic Come to Life

If you’re reading this, then I’m a time masochist. When you’re working a full-time job along with running a blog, you don’t exactly have much time left. All of the precious recreational time I have is spent working on the blog. Every single piece of media I select must now serve some purpose for it. It’s hard. I’ve had to veto a lot of stuff. There are a lot of videogames that I’ve been juggling, and instead of playing them based on mood, I play them based on a number of factors too convoluted to go into right now. But a wrench was thrown in when Nintendo re-released the insane 3DS RPG, Miitopia, on Switch, with an improved character creator and FREAKING HORSES. I loved the crap out of the old one, but I was hesitant to play this new one ONLY because I never had raw desire take hold. So of course, this post (with an overly long preamble) is my only justification for playing Miitopia AGAIN. On Switch.

In Miitopia, the Dark Lord steals the faces from everyone in the titular kingdom of Miis. You, along with a vast number of intrepid heroes, set forth to whoop his butt and get everyone’s faces back. 

If you know RPG basics, then you know that this game has a simple and predictable plot. But unlike most RPGs, which pretend to be something they’re not, Miitopia spoofs them up. It is chock full of hilarious, tongue-and-cheek dialogue. The charm oozes out of every pixel, and we’ll get to more on that when we cover some of the gameplay elements.

I’d normally discuss the cast of the story here. However, every copy of Miitopia is kind of like a snowflake; no two are alike. This is because of the game’s main selling point: the Miis themselves. The identity of literally every character is decided by you. They can be your closest friends, or—if you’re like me and have no friends—fictional characters. You can be a light novel protagonist and insert yourself into the story, fighting alongside your favorite waifus. You can ship Arin and Dan from Game Grumps, or ship either of them with Markiplier and PewDeePie. You can even dictate the villain; take out your hatred on your most hated person by making them the Dark Lord. Hate mainstream culture? Then make the Dark Lord Billie Eilish. You also get other allies, like the Great Sage and the three Fairy Sisters. Just keep in mind that—SPOILER ALERT even though it’s a common RPG trope—whoever your Great Sage is will end up being the true final boss. If you didn’t have online in the original, you’d be given some lousy presets for non-plot-relevant characters. But in this version, you can freely dictate their identities as well, but you’d have to take the time to make them from scratch (or, you know, have an online subscription). Although the game doesn’t tell you this, you can preemptively add Miis—complete with makeup and wigs—from the Mii Characters database on the title screen. Use this if you have a plan on who to include in the story. Oh, and when it comes to your party members, you can change their in-battle phrases. 

For some reason, however, it doesn’t quite work in the Traveler’s Hub area. Every visit spawns a random, non-plot-relevant set of NPCs, and ideally, these would pull from Miitopia’s save data just like anyone else.  You can still go into the record menu and change that, but you’d have to do it every time the area reshuffles, and it kind of gets annoying. I’ve noticed that it has higher odds of pulling from the data if you have more characters with no assigned roles already made, but if that was the case, you’d have to make a LOT of Miis for it to pull from there every time.

Regardless, improvements to Miitopia’s customization mechanic are, well, massive. The Mii making system seems pretty normal at first. But when you go to the Mii Characters tab on the title screen, you can add makeup and wigs. With these, the sky’s the limit. You can make an anime character, and have it be accurate for once. Just a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, the sky isn’t quite the limit. For instance, there are no pompadours, nor any hairdos that defy gravity. More importantly, the quiz NPC doesn’t take makeup or wigs into account during the minigames. This means if you have an advanced character, like Darth Vader or something, it’s going to be tough to recognize him.

The icing on the cake is the amount of personality that oozes out of Miitopia. There are so many little charming details that make it hilarious and fun. One example is this derpy tuba-like jingle for literally EVERY new character as they show up. When the Dark Lord first appears, you hear this ominous choir, abruptly cut off by that sound, causing intentional tonal whiplash. Beyond that, there are too many examples to list, like the occasional Psycho bit after character interactions or the fact that every ability has this fancy, anime-like cinematic for it when it’s used for the first time.

The personality is also present in the game’s visual and audio presentation. Miitopia has a quirky and cartoony vibe, which is basic yet appealing. The Switch’s superior power adds lighting effects that help give it a more whimsical vibe. The soundtrack is also surprisingly fantastic. The battle theme and the titlescreen music are unique to each area in the game, and the boss track is a real bop that still lives in my head rent-free.

Although combat would be an afterthought in a game like this, Miitopia manages to have legitimately fun combat. The battles are your basic JRPG turn-based formula, but there are a number of factors to add spice (and chaos) to this formula. First off, you get to choose everyone’s personality quirk. They all have advantages and disadvantages, that range from free evades to refusing a much-needed heal. They trigger randomly, and as a result, a lot of battles end up being luck-based to an extent. The game is balanced enough around this fact… well… to a point (we’ll discuss that later).

A much more important factor is Affinity. Characters can build relationships through various, self-explanatory methods, from battle, to being roomies at the inn, as well as other means. Levelling Affinities up can cause some powerful effects to happen, some of which can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Of course, these are also luck-based, but they feel awesome when they happen. However, random events, as well as certain moves and personality traits, can cause a rift in two characters’ relationship. When this happens, you need to keep them together until they make up, or use the Popstar’s insanely powerful skill that instantly resolves their argument (this doesn’t work if the Popstar is involved in said rift; something that happened to me way too often in my playthrough).

Exploration in Miitopia is divided into automated traveling courses. If a path splits off, you get to dictate where they go, and you’ll need to take EVERY PATH if you want to get everything. It can get repetitive, but using the ZR button speeds up gameplay and saves BUTTLOADS of time. It even works in cutscenes! Random events occur, from stumbling upon loot to characters suddenly being fed up with each other. It’s generally rare for these events to lead to an unfair game over, but it can happen in VERY specific circumstances.

In between each course, the party rests up at the Inn. Unlike most JRPGs, this is where the action occurs. Here, you arrange characters’ living spaces so that they can bond with one another. While in the Inn, you can feed characters food obtained throughout the adventure to permanently increase their stats. They have very random tastes, and more often than not, they will hate the food most tailored to their build. You can also gamble any Arcade Tickets found from adventuring to get money or items. I always did the latter, since you will always get something from the item roulette. These range from a random equippable item, to rare food, to a boost of XP or Affinity between two people. Spending money is another mechanic based on luck. You need to see if a character wants something, and give them the money to grab it. Equipment for characters come in tiers, which means that if a chest contains equipment, it will always be the next step up from whatever you have. Oh, and keep in mind that characters will sometimes fail to buy the equipment that you loaned them the cash to buy. New to the Switch version are Outings. These are fun little events that give sizeable Affinity boosts and are quite charming as well as varied. Also new to the Switch version is the Horse. This adorable, customizable companion is basically a fifth party member. By raising Affinity between your Horse and other characters, you can trigger new, unique assists in battle. These are insanely helpful! One of them is basically an ultimate move. It requires all MP, and has a unique effect depending on the class of whoever uses it. However, there’s one unwritten nuance that I learned the hard way: the horse will only assist as long as a character is in the stable with it, regardless of Affinity and if it accompanies you to battle.

Well, I ended up deviating from battle for a while. Anyway, though the amount of luck in this game appears daunting, Miitopia does allow some divine intervention. Sprinkles can be used to restore HP, MP, to revive a party member, and more. Your carrying capacity with these Sprinkles increases as you defeat enemies, but keep in mind that they don’t refill until after a course is done. There is also the Safe Spot, where one character can use their turn to rest and heal a percentage of HP and MP as well as cure any debuffs. Of course, this puts your party at three, so careful planning is needed.

I talked about pretty much every element in battle before the bread and butter of RPGs: classes! You can assign a class to each new party member, and after a certain point in the story, can freely change said class. They range from your usual Mage and Cleric, to the unusual Popstar, Chef, Cat, Flower, etc. For the most part, they all have good enough strengths to win no matter what. The exception is the Tank. I don’t mean the high-aggro defensive class; I mean a literal Tank. This class has high defense and high damage, but most of the latter are used at the detriment of the Tank’s Affinity. Its low base MP doesn’t help either. 

In terms of difficulty, Miitopia is surprisingly balanced. Like with any JRPG, you’ll be pretty frail at the beginning, but be relatively okay at taking control as the game goes on. Bosses, and this one type of enemy with an insta-kill attack, are pretty much the only real challenges in the main story. Unfortunately, Miitopia is one of those annoying games where three party members are A.I. despite the fact that this is a turn-based RPG and that A.I. shouldn’t be necessary. They don’t spam useless moves like Marin Karin, at least. In fact, the A.I. is pretty good at making choices that a real gamer would make. Unfortunately, the A.I. fails to take turn order into account, and will use HP Bananas even if a healer was going to go immediately after them.

The real difficulty is in the post-game. In addition to new and tougher quests, the post-game unlocks three secret areas, two of which have the secret Vampire and Elf classes (for all I know, there could be a third one because I still have yet to do everything in this game). I usually like to make new party members dedicated to these, but keep in mind that they’ll have a whole game’s worth of Affinity, equipment buying, and permanent stat building to catch up to!

The third and most involved post-game area is a massive city, split into EIGHT sectors, teeming with the most powerful mobs in the game. Each sector has a stronger version of a previous boss, all of which HURT. This place sucks, and is probably the one place where Miitopia’s chaoticness loses its novelty. It’s hard enough on its own, but when you have to worry about relationships failing, or a Stubborn character refusing to be healed, it becomes beyond irritating. And don’t get me started on the U.F.O. enemies! They can use an attack that steals all of a character’s HP Bananas, which cannot be evaded no matter what. You also don’t get the Bananas back when defeating them. This causes your coffers to be sucked DRY,  to the point where you can’t organically regain them within the game’s parameters as long as you proceed through that area; you actually need to grind for them. I can’t even imagine how it feels when you get to the end of the boss rush tower, just for a few, RNG-based boo-boos to kick in and cost the whole run. And according to the Medal list, there’s a second tower that I actually have never seen before. Who knows what that could be!

The post-game has one more nice unlock: the villa. With this, you can house a massive number of party members all at once, and freely create new ones. This helps alleviate the issue of there being more classes than party members in the main story. Unfortunately, the inn capacity doesn’t account for the addition of the horse stable, meaning that one person will always be alone if you want to build Affinity with the horse.

Oh, and one warning for true completionists: the Medals. These are in-game achievements, and the Traveler’s Hub guy tracks your progress with them. Getting all of these requires getting every class to the max level of fifty, maxing out Affinities, getting all of the different equipment items for every class, and more. This is where grinding becomes a must, and that kind of sucks. But to be honest, you’ll probably need to do it anyway to take on the aforementioned boss rush. I have never completed Miitopia, but I might make an attempt if I ever feel the need to veg out with something mindless. But if you undertake this task, do it with some music or Twitch streams in the background.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

An already great game is better than ever on the Switch! Miitopia is a quirky, fun adventure, perfect for relieving stress (as long as you don’t try the really BS stuff). I recommend it to anyone who just wants to be happy.

Villainess Reloaded Didn’t Blow ME Away, That’s for Sure!

Perhaps my least favorite subgenre of light novels—even more than the notorious isekai—is probably whatever you call “the main protagonist is suddenly inside a visual novel for no reason”. Events tend to happen exactly like in the game, so the main character ends up being more overpowered than any isekai protag simply by knowing the future and avoiding all the problems that they already knew about. More importantly, their appeal lies in a very neurotypical fascination with realistic human relationships, as well as for you to be easily invested in whether or not two fictional characters do it. I hated pretty much every single one of these I’ve ever tried to read… but one title by the author of Her Majesty’s Swarm, which I’m assuming got axed or J Novel-Club lost the licensing or something, caught my eye: Villainess Reloaded! Blowing Away Bad Ends with Modern Weapons.

In Villainess Reloaded!, a college student whose name is never mentioned is reborn in an otome name as its main antagonist: Astrid Sophia von Oldernberg. Despite having been forced to play it by a friend, she nonetheless got every ending, and knows that Astrid is fated to die. As such, she plans to use her military knowledge to create this game world’s equivalent to modern weapons.

The appeal of this is seeing a loli unloading an AK-47 on people with no remorse. Coming from the author of Her Majesty’s Swarm, this is no real surprise. Even at age four in the game, she wastes no time learning magic and producing her own guns. At age four. Here’s the thing, though; since guns weren’t invented yet, there are no gun laws in this game world! So, technically, what she’s doing is entirely legal. 

The immediate problems, however, rear their ugly heads right off the bat. For starters, she asks her father for permission on early magic lessons, and the way she convinces him isn’t by giving him a kiss on both cheeks, but by listing several sociopolitical reasons why it’s for his benefit, all while using words that a four-year-old couldn’t possibly know. Of course, this is a fantasy world with no regard for realism, so I could let that slide.

However, it doesn’t end there. When Astrid gets her magic tutor, he just nonchalantly teaches her subjects magic that only the most advanced wizards are supposed to learn. This includes blood magic, which is the equivalent of dark arts and something a child—in the context of this world—shouldn’t be allowed to learn. Being an LN protagonist, Astrid does all this pretty much perfectly. And the cherry on top is that everyone is just casually okay with it! Even when someone does show concern, it’s very swiftly swept aside.

This volume consists of the usual slice-of-life stuff that happens in pretty much every LN of this kind that I have read. It’s no different from those LNs except with the occasional use of guns. I guess this is supposed to be a slow burn, since the flash-forward prologue implies that Astrid gets three fairy familiars before wrecking stuff, and at this point she only has one.

The characters are pretty much the typical, grounded shoujo tropes you’d see in your garden variety visual novel. Astrid, despite being a sociopath, isn’t that fun to enjoy, even with her crazy monologuing. The others are, well, I don’t like them.

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Verdict: 5/10

Villainess Reloaded! did not at all get me to like this subgenre of light novel any better than before. It was boring and unremarkable, and the gun gimmick seemed like a marketing hook more than anything. I guess if you like romance and visual novels, then you’ll like this as well.

And with that, I kind of have some lousy news for my blog moving forward. For whatever reason, I’ve been very close to being in the red when it comes to my money. In fact, I can barely afford to buy the light novel volumes of the series I actually care about. So, for the time being, I will not cover any light novel debuts no matter what. This will last until I finish a good enough number of the ones I’ve been currently working on. Hopefully that’ll be sooner rather than later, since light novels are kind of what I started this blog on!

Weeb Reads Monthly June 2021

Welcome to what is most definitely the shortest installment of Weeb Reads Monthly yet! There are only three titles here today, and at the time of writing this, there aren’t many light novels I’m looking forward to in July either. So, let’s get right to it I guess!


Konosuba Volume 14

Three volumes left after this. I’ve already been feeling like this series is running out of steam, but that could still be a placebo effect from me worrying. Is Konosuba going to end on a good note? Can’t exactly answer that question today, can we?

Fortunately, this is the best volume in a while. And the main reason is that it’s back to the Crimson Magic Clan! This is my favorite setting in Konosuba because literally everyone in it is some form of smooth-brain idiot. We also get to see more of our resident snarky armor, Aigis.

The antics are more-or-less the same, but they are much funnier than recent volumes. As always, we get more shipping war time, as Kazuma once again has a heart-to-heart with both Megumin and Darkness. Also, it looks like the final arc will FINALLY start in the next volume!

Verdict: 8.5/10


Re:ZERO Volume 16

Finally, a new arc, and it’s after a TIME SKIP?! That implies there was a whole year of no tragedies; unusual for Re:ZERO. Well, something awful is going to happen in this volume, it’s just a matter of what and when.

Unfortunately, because of how tonal whiplash works, this is moreso an establishing volume than anything else. I wouldn’t normally mind that, however… this is a dummy thick establishing volume!  Most of it is a reintroduction to a myriad of previous characters, and—to me—it shows how clumsy this cast is, because I forgot a lot of them. At the same time, it’s kind of arbitrary how many characters are brought back; even one of the random thugs from the VERY BEGINNING of the series is included in this pot. Why? 

Reinhard’s dad appears at some point, but whether he’s actually going to be relevant remains to be seen. The actual plot doesn’t start until the last twenty pages of this three hundred page volume. We are introduced to a new Witch Cultist then, but I won’t spoil what happens since that’s not how I roll.

Verdict: 7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE! Volume 4

Geez, that took no time at all, did it? Well, here it is; more insanity. The royal army has been assimilated by the Church, which basically means that the Church controls all of society. That’s not exactly good, is it? 

In any case, Flum’s former party is in even more disarray, with Cyrill now going AWOL. Also, the Children are just going on a rampage, Flum gets an ominous warning about something that’s going to happen in four days, and Chimera is still at large. Oh, and Maria is an Uzumaki thing now, but since she’s still herself despite her face being messed up, Linus gives her a chance (right, those two are AWOL as well. Is Jean the only one left at this point?). 

Most of the plot is focused on fighting the already-established antagonists. There are some weird developments about the world here, but a lot of it is swept to the side. I had mixed feelings toward Cyril in this volume because she meets one of the Children, but has trouble killing it after having seen said Child will thousands of people to commit suicide in gruesome fashions for no reason. ROLL OVER AND DIE! does fall for a lot of clichés, and sadly, the “I can’t kill the mass murderer because I’ll be just as bad as the mass murderer” thing rears its ugly head. I guess Cyril’s degraded mental health is supposed to justify it? I dunno. To be honest, character development is all over the place. The nonsensical suspense is what’s been carrying this series for me. Overall, it was another smashing installment with an insane climax.

Verdict: 9.45/10


Conclusion

Well, there weren’t many volumes I cared about this month. But at the very least, they were more than adequate. It’s like quality supersedes quantity or something. Let’s hope next month will be just as good!

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: Read it Before Ragnarök

Lately, I’ve been questioning my admiration toward Rick Riordan, the author of Percy Jackson, a.k.a. “The Storyteller of the Gods”. I read Percy Jackson over ten years ago, and needless to say, it helped me become who I am today. I would’ve never wanted to study Japanese culture to the Nth degree if it weren’t for Percy. But I haven’t reread Percy to this day. In 2017, I attempted to read Trials of Apollo—completely skipping over Heroes of Olympus—and I never finished it. With every Apollo book, I liked it less and less. Furthermore, I kept getting disappointed at the books published under the Rick Riordan Presents imprint; books that all had to get his seal of approval. With me questioning the tastes and talents of one of the most defining people in my life, I was tempted to do a Percy Jackson retrospective. However, that series is five stinking books long, and I had so much crap to do as it was. Instead, I turned to another series of his: Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard. It was only three books, so it was doable. Although Norse mythology is the second most overused template for fantasy worldbuilding, I at least had some vague familiarity with some of its more nuanced aspects, thanks entirely to one of my new favorite bands, Brothers of Metal. Without further ado, let’s see if I can like something by Rick Riordan!

In Magnus Chase, the titular character has been homeless ever since his mom died in a fire. After living in the slums of Boston, he gets your typical visit by a long-lost, mysterious relative. This time, it’s his Uncle Randolph, who tells him the usual: he’s the son of a Norse god. Magnus gets this fancy sword thing that’s been lying in the Charles River, but then he dies. He awakens in Hotel Valhalla, where he must join the other halfbloods on adventures.

Rick Riordan is at least good at jumping into the action. All that I just described happens in the first forty-seven pages, when most books would take almost a hundred to start in earnest. And like in Percy Jackson, you get acclimated to Hotel Valhalla while everyone there shits on him and his Valkyrie friend, Sam. As expected from Riordan, he does a great job of blending Norse folklore with the modern day in his own signature style. Riordan’s snarky sense of humor is also very prevalent.  

While there are a number of obvious similarities to Percy, Magnus Chase is a bit different. Due to the power of red herrings, it’s never clear who’s on whose side. All we know is that Ragnarök = Bad, and that some people want it more than others. Sam ends up being the daughter of Loki, who’s supposed to be the bad guy, and she gets ejected from Valhalla for bringing Magnus in. Is she sus and working for Loki? Is Loki sus? Whoooooo knooooooooows?!

In terms of writing, Magnus is actually not bad. Riordan is about as talented of a storyteller as I remember, even if I didn’t take the story as seriously as my younger self did Percy. I could easily visualize everything as it appeared, which most authors fail doing. One thing I noticed is how wordy the books are most of the time. Well, it’s kind of a thing I’ve noticed in most Western literature, and it kind of fascinates me for some reason. I know that flavor text can bring more life to the story, but sometimes it feels excessive. As an aspiring writer, my problem ended up being that my stuff was too short. I’ve taken inspiration from the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which Leonard Maltin described as “understatement and restraint.” That’s why I try to not go for BS hyperbole on my blogs. Anyway, sorry for that tangent; let’s get back to the review.

Since middle grade books have to be dummy thick, Riordan does have a number of scenes that don’t seem necessary. I had problems with this in The Storm Runner and a certain other Percy-influenced franchise that I’ll be reviewing in the foreseeable future. Fortunately, Riordan at least has the ability to make the filler fun in its own right. Instead of dumb, arbitrary trials that tell stuff about the characters that we already knew, Magnus has more fun and varied activities, like fishing up Jormungandr and bowling with giants.

If there was another thing I could always trust Riordan for was his research. Readers are expected to recognize Thor and Loki (thanks to the M.C.U.), and perhaps Yggdrasil and stuff since everything in every JRPG series is named after Norse mythology. But me, I had Brothers of Metal. I recognized the Norns, Heidrun, and more. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t help me pay attention to the story when they come up. I know it sounds bad, but I couldn’t help it. A lot of the time, I was just thinking of this:

And I may or may not have come up with the post just to plug the band.

Like with more-or-less everything I’ve ever experienced, the characters—once again—don’t quite win me over. There’s nothing particularly wrong with them. If you’re familiar with Percy Jackson, then you’d probably like them just fine. But that’s the thing; they pretty much are Percy Jackson characters in every way. I don’t 100% recall how the Percy characters were, but at least going off of my nostalgic memory, the cast of Magnus is inferior in a number of ways. Magnus himself is that typical wish fulfilment character, with his initial homelessness as an added bonus. At least he’s appreciative of being whisked away to the lap of luxury, for once?

Sam is pretty much Annabeth, which I suppose is inaccurate, since Annabeth herself is actually Magnus’ cousin (apparently, every religions’ gods coexist in the same universe?). Basically, she’s a tomboy and has not much else going for her. Sam’s sibling, Alex Fierro, ends up packing much more sass. As the offspring of good ol’ Loki, their whole character arcs revolve around getting over their abusive pa. Magnus’ other main cohorts end up being Blitz and Hearth, a dwarf and elf respectively. They’re good dudes.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t fond of everyone. There are several other kids in Magnus’…  er… class(?), but they have no presence at all. They crap on him super early on, but they just suddenly stop doing that, and I can only assume Riordan did that initially for shock value. Even with more of a role in the final book, they feel like half-assed characters, especially by Riordan standards. 

The assorted Norse mythology characters, as expected, end up being the cast’s strong suit. They’re full of sass, as well as having the duality of being ancient characters who are in touch with the modern world (something that would lose its novelty if someone were to write a series based on Japanese mythology, since that duality is already part of their culture). Sadly, I was the most disappointed in Loki. SPOILER ALERT, the god of tricksters is—in fact—the main antagonist. While he is an entertaining villain, his role doesn’t exactly shed a new perspective on Norse mythology in the way that other series try with their villains (even if those books fail at the attempt). The only attempt in Magnus’ case is made towards the end of the series, where Loki just says the same old “there’s no real good and evil” schtick that I’ve only seen in stories that fail to actually convey that through context. I’m sorry, but wanting to jumpstart the end of days for no reason seems to be pretty close to one-dimensional evil, just saying. 

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Final Verdict: 8.5/10

I don’t think Rick Riordan deserves to be hailed as the Storyteller of the Gods, but he is a very capable writer (even if his references are pander-ously mainstream). Magnus Chase isn’t life-changing, nor(se) does it subvert Viking culture, but it’s nonetheless a solid action-adventure trilogy. It’s also taught me how shallow a lot of the Rick Riordan Presents books feel by comparison, where they merely seem to emulate what people find appealing in Riordan’s books instead of finding their own voices. I recommend Magnus Chase if you like Percy Jackson, or if you want an actually good urban fantasy for once.

Luca: Kaiju Plus Italian Food Equals Success!

By this point in human history, most of the United States will have been freed from the pandemic that definitely warranted EVERY SINGLE mandate taken against it. Theaters are open, but despite that, Pixar once again elected to squander the chance to actually profit off of one of their movies. Yep, their newest film, Luca, is included with a simple Disney+ subscription, just like with Soul. At least one good thing came from that whole incident!

In Luca, the titular sea monster (or as I would prefer to call it, Kaiju) boy is having a crap life herding fish-sheep with a dream to see the human world. Naturally, he’s forbidden to live said dream. Fortunately, all it takes is a chance encounter with a sassy teenage Kaiju named Alberto for him to completely disregard his parents and head there anyway.

The first interesting thing about this movie is the setting: Italy. This is, to my knowledge, Disney’s first movie to represent Italian culture, and as an Italian myself, it feels… underwhelming? From what I understand, kids of different heritages are supposed to feel some sort of solace in learning about where they came from. And before you tell me that my apathy is because Italians are White, allow me to tell you that Italians were just as much victims of racism in the early 1900s as any minority group. In any case, you can probably chalk up my lack of an existential and cultural awakening to my neuro-atypical brain. If you’re Italian (and not me), you’ll probably fan-gush your butt off at this setting.

What brings said setting to life is Pixar’s long-running expertise in visual presentation. Outside of a few dream sequences, the movie isn’t as abstract as Soul, but it still looks beautiful. It blurs the line between cartoon and realism thanks to its noodly characters contrasting against the extremely detailed environments. The devil is in the detail as usual, especially when it comes to those quintessentially Italian hand gestures.

Also expected from Pixar is Luca‘s very simple plot. The main conflict is that Luca and Alberto want to obtain a motorcycle to travel the world with, the problem being that they need cash. The best opportunity to get cash is to win the Porto Rosso Cup, and luckily enough, they meet a human girl named Giulia who wants to win the Cup as well. Of course, the whole Kaiju thing complicates matters.

For me, the movie’s biggest strength is in its cast of characters. Luca is kind of generic, but he develops some interesting relationships with Alberto and Giulia. Alberto is an interesting case. He has an assertive policy that inspires Luca to explore the human world, but he does it a bit to the Nth degree. This is shown throughout the movie, and is—in recent memory—one of the few organic buildups to that classic “Disney argument”. Giulia is that best friend type who’s proactive and ambitious; she’s not complex but it’s hard not to like her. I have a strange feeling that, given the month that this movie came out in, people will not be pleased at how Luca and Alberto’s relationship turns out in the end.

The parents—for once—manage to both have proper arcs and not die. Luca’s parents are dense as you can expect at first, but eventually have to acknowledge that their little Kaiju’s grown up. In the meantime, they eventually head to the surface to search for him and have some hilarious escapades. Luca’s grandma is much more likable, but she doesn’t get significant screentime. Fortunately, Giulia’s awesome dad makes up for that lack.

The weakest character ends up being the main antagonist (whose name I’m probably spelling wrong), Erkele. He’s the first Disney “villain” in like a decade, and he kind of shows that maybe they should stick with not having villains. He’s very expressive and funny, but he gets no real arc other than to be a jerk and impede the protagonists.

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Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Luca is a great Pixar movie as usual. I don’t quite think it’s as good as Soul, but it’s definitely easier to rewatch since—for the time being—everything from last year is kind of cursed. In any case, Luca is great, and I want to stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort now.

A VERY BELATED Review of Amphibia’s Second Season

To Season 1 Review


I hate streaming sometimes. I don’t know if the whole season is out on Hulu right now, but for some unholy reason, it definitely wasn’t back when the season two finale of Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) aired. I had to wait for it to come out on Disney+ to watch it! In any case, with all the pieces in place, it’s time for the show to begin in earnest. Let’s FINALLY get to it! Oh, and uh, spoilers from last season.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Anne had a brief but tumultuous reunion with her friend Sasha, who is now buddy-buddy with an army of power-hungry toads. They fought, Anne stood up for her beliefs, and ‘Lean on Me’ ensued. Now separated again in good old Naruto and Sasuke fashion, the only thing left to do is haul ass to Newtopia and find out what to do with the MacGuffin that got Anne to Amphibia in the first place.

Right off the bat, season two is a major improvement. Since the crew is on the move, there is a much wider variety of setpieces. From sketchy inns, to a desert, and… Grunkle Stan?! If that wasn’t an indication of how creative the show gets, then I don’t know what is. In any case, the real treat is Newtopia itself, the biggest and most beautiful setting yet. It’s so big, that a hotel is enough for an entire episode. It is a vibrant and culture-filled location, which sadly lasts a mere five episodes before they must go a’questing again.

Just because there’s more cohesion doesn’t mean that there aren’t Saturday morning cartoon hijinks. Like Avatar, their travels take them on random detours, each with a self-contained conflict, most of which have no bearing on the plot. Even in Newtopia, they manage to cleverly find an excuse to put in filler episodes; stuff like waiting for someone else to analyze the important MacGuffin for them. There is also an issue of episode chronology. Exactly one episode was aired last October, outside of the proper order, just for them to work in a Halloween special. And to rub salt in the wound, subsequent episode broadcasts were delayed until March of this year right after that episode (I’ll give you three guesses why). It’s kind of stupid that it’s the one time that Amphibia goes out of chronological order (at least as of now). 

The characters have improved greatly since last season… to a point. Anne does get some huge growth as things get intense throughout this season, but she’s the same smooth-brain that she usually is. In fact, the characters don’t just continue to make poor judgements; it gets so bad that they start to become self-aware of it. Hop Pop eventually has to face the consequences of his hiding the MacGuffin in the garden at home (watched over by the guy who grows tulips), which leads to great development on his part. Sprig and Polly remain relatively unchanged, with the former being about as much of an ignoramus as ever.

Let’s finally discuss the other teenage girls who ended up in Amphibia along with Anne. As you know, Sasha ends up with the toads, the arch nemeses of the frogs. She aids their captain, Grime, and hits it off with him. Sasha seems like an abusive friend, but it also feels like she genuinely likes Anne and is only pushing her because of weird friend morals (at least through her perspective). As a small aside, Grime ends up being quite the likeable guy, and his chemistry with Sasha is some of the best in the series.

The other friend is Marcy Wu. She’s a strange combination of complete ditz and galaxy-brained, and is immediately way more likeable than Sasha. Similar to Sasha, Marcy ends up netting a fancy military job in the Newtopian Army. Good thing their King isn’t sus, or else we’d have something to worry about! All three girls’ character arcs get the bulk of this growth in the form of three temples, conveniently catered to their strengths and weaknesses.

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Verdict: 8.65/10

Amphibia clearly reinvents the wheel in every way. But for some reason, I still find myself thoroughly enjoying the show. This season was a big step up, and at least leaves me very much anticipating the next (and final?) season. Of course, I won’t be watching ANY of that season until the whole thing airs!

Weeb Reads Monthly May 2021

Another month, another delve into the light novel hole! Just for the record (which applies with all of these), the stuff I cover is less than 1% of what comes out each month. And yet, it’s still somehow less than the amount of anime that comes out every season. Geez laweez, this hobby is not easy!


Torture Princess Volume 7

This is it. Usually, when we have a perfect ending to a series, yet the series continues, it falls apart. For all intents and purposes, Torture Princess ended when Kaito sacrificed himself to seal away God and Diablo, all because he wanted Elisabeth to live. As the new main protagonist, Elisabeth comes across a strange man who tries to create an artificial Torture Princess. This guy, however, realizes that the person needs to be from another world for the whole thing to work. And it just so happens that he—somehow—has a girl who fits the bill.

This is mainly a dialogue-driven volume, a very different change of pace from killing two of the main protagonists. It boils down to Elisebeth having confrontations with these new villains and trying to figure out their motivation. The big thing is that Elisabeth going along with their plan would allow her to reunite with Kaito.

Speaking of these new villains… hoo boy. The ringleader, Lewis, is a pretty typical edgy villain guy; sadly, the weakest antagonist thus far. Fortunately, Alice Carroll more than makes up for it (get the obvious symbolism yet?). She’s royally effed up. Like, beyond belief. She acts all happy when she’s walking on guts or ripping butterflies, yet you can tell that she’s been through things. She has this trauma associated with having to apologize to people and it’s really messed up. Lewis, well, he did a good job making a Torture Princess, that’s for sure!

Overall, it’s a tense volume, with some action on the side. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as others, but that could be because of the drastic change in insanity from the previous volume, as well as my worries that the series will suck by going into a second act. But for the time being, Torture Princess has yet to disappoint!

Verdict: 8.9/10


Dungeon Busters Volume 2

It’s been too long since we’ve had a new volume of this pleasant surprise of a political fantasy. I loved how JRPG mechanics were integrated into real life ethics and economics in the previous volume of Dungeon Busters. We only got the tip of the iceberg then. Hopefully, with the groundwork laid out, the LN can start in earnest.

After getting an infodump on the various world events associated with the Dungeon phenomenon, Ezoe celebrates his first Dungeon clear. This accomplishment makes him quite notorious, and helps further the development of Dungeon Busters, Inc. Things around the world get shaky as well, with countries that aren’t Japan making pretty much no progress. There’s also a preview of someone with their own waifu card abusing their dungeon powers and causing mayhem in South America.

The problems I had with the first volume look like they’re going to stick. As before, Dungeon Busters seems to take its sweet time. It’s necessary, sure, but it doesn’t help someone whose schedule is as tight as mine is. The characters are also quite unremarkable, with the exception of Ezoe, and this bland cast is only expanding. We get a large number of new faces thrown at us, and the end of the volume teases SIX new, plot-relevant characters to be introduced.

My other issue is with the politics, especially now that this aspect has gotten fleshed out drastically. I have no real authority to vouch for the accuracy of these politics. It feels accurate, but that’s only because of the negativity that I experience around me. Sometimes it feels mature, and sometimes it feels like a twelve-year-old with a false understanding of politics.

Because of how heavy the political aspect is getting, I see Dungeon Busters as a source of anxiety for me moving forward. I seem all cool and stoic on this blog, but in real life, I’m a basket case struggling to merely feel like I have a right to my own existence. I am pounded by so much contradictory information, and I am currently unsure how to even live my life. While this is an alternate universe, it still feels very true to real life, and some stuff in here is not helpful for someone who’s trying to make sense in the midst of all the noise.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 9

It feels like there shouldn’t be much more to this series. After all, we beat the Libere Rebellion. And yet, there’s still more. What new plot thread could be woven now?

If you couldn’t tell from the cover, this is the Christmas special. In an attempt to give the three remaining Kings a redemption arc, they turn the Kings (along with Masato because of lolz) into babies. They must forge new memories with Mamako and Hahako as they experience the classic Christmas spirit.

The conflict in this volume revolves around our resident spoilsport, Mone. She goes a little bit crazy and ends up causing a big ruckus. The young’uns will have to reexamine the relationship between mother and child once more in order to resolve this one. Other than that, the ending teases the finale. However, the author’s plan to end this eleven-volume series at volume ten is worrying.

Verdict: 8.7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 3

So, the last volume was insane. How are we going to top eyeballs that absorb into people’s skin and turn them into mangled scabby flesh blobs? The only way to find out is to read the third volume of one of the best yuri LNs on the market!

As usual, this volume starts off slow and dialogue-driven. We learn about Gadhio and his motive for trying to take out the Church. We also see some chemistry between Sara and Neigass, even if it’s for all of five seconds. 

The real premise of this volume is the Church’s Necromancy project. Plain and simple, their thing is using Origin cores to bring people back to life as their actual selves, as opposed to, well… you know. Of course, in keeping with series tradition, that goes in the direction you’d expect. I.e. Spoilers which aren’t really spoilers, the people brought back to life aren’t really their actual selves. WHO’DA THUNK IT. Anyway, this volume easily tops the previous one during the insanity and heightened emotion of the climax. The ending shows some big changes coming to town, none of which benefit our protagonists. I can’t wait for the next release!

Verdict: 9.8/10


Conclusion

Well, I barely got this done in time. I literally just finished that Dungeon Busters volume yesterday. And oh boy, it looks like everything I care about in June will be coming out within the last ten days of the month. Hooray!