Eighty-Six Overview (Volumes 1-3)

Covers of volume 1-3

I’ve been reading Eighty-Six since its English release courtesy of Yen Press. Due to the fact that volumes 2 and 3 all happen during the epilogue of volume 1, I decided to cover all three of them in one blog post because it’s technically still a review of volume 1(?).

Eighty-Six is set in the Republic of Mongolia, in a world at war with the Legion: surviving robot weapons of an empire long gone (supposedly). The pale-skinned people of Mongolia live in paradise within the 85-sector city, leaving the dark-skinned people in the 86th sector to fight the Legion. It’s justified because the Eighty-Six (the derogatory term for this people) are considered pigs, and nobody cries when pigs are killed. …Yeeeeeeah, this is a light novel about racism. 

Racism is such a universal issue that it can also be used, in writing, as an easy emotional hook to make something that sucks seem good. However, the portrayal of racism in Eighty-Six is executed really well. The writing is so evil and devious, it’s as if each passage is like firing a railgun bullet straight into your throbbing aortic pump.

The biggest strength of Eighty-Six lies in the main protagonists.. Like in classic forbidden romance fashion, the lead female is a white girl in the military- Lena- who is assigned as an operator who corresponds via some kind of brain-Skype to a squadron of Eighty-Six soldiers, captained by the male lead Shin. The experiences that they have with and away from each other are very engaging, and makes their relationship one of the better romances, despite how they don’t communicate in person (at least not yet). 

Unfortunately, they are marred by a lackluster supporting cast. It seems you need to be SERIOUSLY emotional and not analytical, because the rest of the characters are either blatantly wearing red shirts, or are of almost no consequence. These people tend to be really one-note and forgettable. The only character I liked besides Shin and Lena was Frederica, a military loli introduced in volume 2, but that’s only because she actually has plot relevance. You’d think that the characters who are higher-ups in command, such as *takes out notes* Lena’s supervisor, Karlstahl, or Ernst Zimmerman from the city introduced in volume 2, would be very important. However, these people just end up twiddling their thumbs, stalling out the story discussing different strategies when we KNOW that Shin’s squad is going to just tackle any given conflict head-on because Shin is a lead protagonist. If that’s meant to be a commentary on the actual military’s competence, then I applaud the author on that one. 

Due to this miserably sad cast (both in the emotional sense and the writing sense), a lot of Eighty-Six really drones on. The basic formula seems to mainly be slice-of-life and drama, followed by actual battles. However, since I didn’t grow emotionally attached to these characters, I got bored fast, especially in volume 2, which didn’t even have a fight. There isn’t much character development outside of Shin either; most of his squad complains about how miserable they are, while other people complain about how unjust it is for kids to be in the military (yet Shin ends up getting sent out anyway). In a manga very similar thematically, Attack on Titan, I could at least grow attached to the characters because there were more defining traits, and instead of Shin being the only one who matters, everyone in Attack on Titan (well, mostly everyone), has some important role to play in the story. Shin could literally be a one-man squad and nothing would change in terms of what actually goes down on the battlefield.

The art is middle-of-the-road for me. The characters look okay, but the real juicy stuff is in the schematics of various Legion and other machines as well as maps of the areas where strategies are being planned. The color art’s also great.

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Verdict: 8/10

Eighty-Six is torture porn, but damn good torture porn. Despite the low quantity of good characters, the series has great worldbuilding, and great tryhard writing to boot. Now that volume 3 has contextualized volume 1’s epilogue, maybe we’ll FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT IN VOLUME 4!!

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 12 Review

Cover of volume 12

Last time on DanMachi, we finished off the Xenos Arc. All kinds of chaos ensued (including a gripping fight between Bell and Aiz) as Hestia Familia tried to help the Xenos escape from Orario. However, Hermes created a fake notebook to trick them and force Bell to kill one of the Xenos. Double however, Freya had other plans. She had Ottar direct Asterios, the black minotaur that Aiz injured earlier, to Bell. Turns out that Asterios is a reincarnation of the very first minotaur that Bell fought all that time ago. Their battle is enough of a distraction for the Xenos to escape into the Dungeon, but Bell gets his ass handed to him by Asterios. After the battle, the beast returns to the Dungeon, to train up for the last of their best-two-out-of-three-match. Bell cries for a bit, but continues to move forward as usual.

So, guys, did you know that there’s a massive, underground labyrinth called the Dungeon right underneath Orario? It’s kind of been a while since the story actually involved going there. After the incident, Bell’s rank increases to Level 4, which brings Hestia Familia’s overall rank to D. At this rank, the Guild will now send them off on regular expeditions in the Dungeon, with each ending off on a floor that they haven’t been to before. Finally! But here’s the thing, floors 25 and onward are called “the New World” (*cough* not a ripoff of anything *cough*), and this is where the Dungeon takes the kid gloves off.

The main narrative of this volume is that they end up discovering a rare monster that has grown stronger  by gaining XP from other monsters. Although it’s not Asterios, it ends up proving to be quite a challenge because it’s also much smarter than most monsters that aren’t Xenos.

Overall, it’s a good volume, but the biggest issue with this volume is the lack of further character development. It’s undeniable that the characters have grown immensely throughout the series; Bell has better judgement, Lily and Welf are better fighters, Haruhime even gets a new move, and more. The character arcs for most of these people feel more or less complete, which is both good and bad. Good because the series can focus primarily on the Dungeon like it was meant to, and bad because there’s still a lot of story left but it needs chutzpah to stay interesting. Hopefully the new development at the end of the volume will give it that chutzpah.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Sorry for the short post today, but there really isn’t much to say here. This is a good breather volume, and one that we really needed. It doesn’t have a huge revelation or anything, but it’s still DanMachi.

Infinite Dendrogram Volume 10 Review

Cover of volume 10

Last time on Infinite Dendrogram, Ray fought a lot of people (like he always does). This time, he uses the pent-up powers of his Miasmaflame Bracers to summon the true form of Gardranda, the first boss he ever defeated (which is a cute girl, of course), and she helps him defeat Hell General Logan Goddhart (who lost because he’s a whiny brat who doesn’t actually know how to play the game). But it’s not over yet, for the ancient weapon Arca-Vesta has rebooted itself and is about to destroy Quartierlatin! The strange Tom Cat guy he met before heads down into the ruins to fight it. Turns out, he’s actually Chesire, the A.I., and the Incarnations that the ancient weapons were created to destroy are actually the A.I.’s of Dendro itself. Cheshire uses his power to make infinite clones of itself to fight, but it doesn’t do crap because Arca-Vesta is comprised of two machines: A ground-based one which constantly gets healed by the other, flying machine. Arca-Vesta sets out to destroy the town, but Ray and Azurite try to fight it. The obvious solution is to destroy both parts at once, but how? It doesn’t help that the flying one has an ability to distort space and expand the distance between itself and the ground so it’s much further than it appears. But fortunately, Ray has the Shining Despair he got from Monochrome, which travels at the speed of light. So, with the help of Azurite (and his horse, Silver, using one of its hidden skills for the first time), they’re able to defeat Arca-Vesta. Oh, and fun fact: Azurite is actually the Princess of Altair. OH MY GOD I DIDN’T SEE IT COMING (sarcasm).

So, this volume… I knew that this was inevitable, but here it is: the first volume to contain nothing but side stories. Normally, in something like SAO or Overlord, this feels like the author saying, “Hi, I don’t actually know what the plot moving forward is going to be, so here’s some crap to tide you over,” and it ends up being equatable to the filler arcs of anime of old. But Dendro has proven its side stories to be not just wholly entertaining, but also essential for the overarching plot.

This volume has two types of chapters, episodes and side stories, and both are important. Ray begins his juggling performance, with college and Dendro as the balls. We also get to see Gerbera’s character arc progress down in the gaol with Sechs Wurfel, the King of Crime. Plus, this volume introduces two new and incredibly rare types of Embryos.

There are several chapters, but I need to focus on the one that isn’t like the others: Pallid Pages Part One. In it, we get some Hugo action for the first time since Franklin’s Game IIRC. He ends up getting caught up in a MacGuffin fetch quest, with a strange lady named AR-I-CA, that appears to be a setup for possibly the next big arc. AR-I-CA is some wild bi lady who has what is perhaps the most broken Embryo thus far, and she’s a real hoot.

The one issue with this volume is that we get to see at least a taste of every region in Dendro, except for the one that they’ve been teasing since volume 1: Legendaria. To add salt to the wound, we still don’t get to meet Ray and Shu’s superhuman sister.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Like DanMachi, Dendro knows how to make really enjoyable side stories that are actually plot relevant. While I’m so ready for what happens next, the author stated in the afterword that volume 11 is just gonna be Shu’s fight with Gloria. Sure, it’ll be really cool to see the battle that everyone keeps talking about ad nauseam since volume 1, but man… I rrrrrreally wanna know what happens next!

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Anime Reaction Prediction: Heavily Criticized, but Popular

You know that the SAO critics are gonna hit the Dendro anime like trucks, and there’s no stopping them, especially if it airs on Crunchyroll, where the shows that cause the major hubbub normally end up. Also, LN fans, like myself, will notice everything wrong with it (which looks to be a lot), and characters like Gouz-Maise will likely be marred by bad CG. However, since Dendro is one of the better of its ilk out there, SAO fans will probably eat it like Nemesis eats, period, regardless of the production issues it inevitably will have and the criticism it will inevitably receive. Of course, since there will be stuff like the new season of Haikyuu!! and Quintuplets airing during the same season, it might not get that much recognition (which, to preserve the sanctity of the source material, would be good).

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- Overview (Volumes 1-11)

Cover of volume 1

What happens when you read a story that cares more about its characters than its narrative, but YOU end up caring more for its narrative than its characters? Well, for me, that’s how I feel with the immensely popular and subversive Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, published in English by Yen Press. Even after eleven volumes, I am just at odds with this.

As much as I enjoy the story, I must preface this by vehemently saying that this is NO Steins;Gate. Steins;Gate was- and still is- a brilliant sci-fi thriller with weird characters, fascinating mechanics and powerful tension building. Why did I mention Steins;Gate? Well, that’s because our protagonist, Subaru Natsuki, is sent to an alternate world. But instead of being overpowered, all he can do is repeat events within a set time frame by dying and respawning, with a power called Return by Death. His incentive to actually use it is to help a cute waifu named Emilia (Oh Emilia…). Hence, the Steins;Gate comparison that I’m pretty sure EVERYONE’S made.

Anyhow, with a premise like this, there is plenty of time for the amazing and mature (and not at all try-hard) sensations of torture and despair, since- after all- our boy Subaru must retry the same events several times. Back when I had started this series, a year before I got into the superior Steins;Gate, I thought that this was a brilliant idea.

In execution, there is a rather big flaw. It’s not so much at the beginning, but the Return by Death premise has more and more come off as a devious plot to pad out the narrative to me. Not that there aren’t arcs where we gain valuable information about the world (such as the agonizingly long one that spans volumes 5-9), but a lot of times, the deaths of Subaru are really cheap. Oh, you didn’t know about this serial killer running around town? Sorry, die and try again. At least in Steins;Gate, it was  obvious what points in the story caused the conflict to fester, but here it’s basically like playing an old-time videogame: Keep dying over and over again until you have the whole thing memorized.

I guess I’m not being fair because the two series’ have vastly different plot structure, but it’s just that Re:ZERO does seriously drag on. The worst example so far is having an entire mid-boss fight across ALL of volume 7, then when you think everything is resolved in volume 8, suddenly it throws in an extra wrench just to kill Subaru again and drag the arc a whole extra volume. 

But when Re:ZERO actually feels like firing on all cylinders, it is a real pleasure to read. Well, at least in terms of the overarching plot. The first nine volumes are very psychological, and cover a theme that’s very unconventional for isekai. After that… well, I’ve only read two volumes of what I call the “season 2 material”, but it’s definitely a LOT different (but still really slow).

But as great as a plot can be, the cast ends up having a more lasting impression in most cases, especially in a character study like this. The characters of Re:ZERO are often a subject of very long and very heated debates. For me, I’m either in the middle with them or I don’t care about them whatsoever. 

Subaru is okay. Sometimes. He has great character development (though it’s slow, like everything else), and there are times when he exudes some genuine badassery. But for the most part, he’s naive and annoying. The others don’t fare much better. Emilia is the textbook “perfect girl”, and like the textbook “perfect girl”, she has the fatal flaw of no substance whatsoever. She SOMETIMES has interesting interactions with Subaru, but those are few and far between. 

Besterestereresteresteresterest Girl Rem is… well… not the best. She is the best, relatively speaking (within Re:ZERO itself), but I feel like she gets too much credit. To make another Steins;Gate comparison, she’s basically an inferior Kurisu but with a morning star.

The others aren’t  worth discussing in depth. Ram only exists to mispronounce Subaru’s name, at least for the first couple of arcs, which stops being funny after a while. Roswall is cool, but he goes out of his way to contribute as little to the plot as possible, and even consistently manages to mar its progress. There are many other characters, but I won’t mention them due to spoilers. I will say that the antagonists have been interesting so far, though. In fact, I’ve basically been continuing this series just to behold the main antagonist whom they’ve been building up to since volume 1. But in all honesty, it’s a BIG problem when a primarily character-driven story has such forgettable characters. It’s one thing if you can give all their motivations the proper context so that it actually makes sense in some way, but if your reader is so bored that they won’t be able to appreciate it because they’ll probably have drifted off to sleep, then it kind ends up preaching to the choir. I even have notes that I always use for reference in any non-manga material I read, and I’ve rarely had to refer back to them as often as I had to for Re:ZERO. You gotta be REALLY sensitive in order to grow as attached to them as you’re expected to.

The art is very visually pleasing. The girls are all drawn in this cutesy-wutesy style, with very unique eyes and facial proportions compared to most anime girls, that likely serves to lure readers into a false sense of security before the sh** hits the fan (kinda doesn’t work anymore now that the series has gotten so notorious). The illustrations convey a lot of emotion in each given scene, whether it’s just a girl being cute or someone (namely Subaru) breaking down in despair.

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Verdict: 8/10

Overall, Re:ZERO is nonetheless a great LN. Better than most on the market, at least. It’s slow in terms of plot progress, but it’s at least THERE as opposed to something like Overlord. I’ll definitely try to finish Re:ZERO for now. As far as recommendations go, while there are still a number of superior isekai series, Re:ZERO is still a great psychological drama with plenty of waifus.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Overview (Volumes 1-11)

How did this seemingly stupid series- titled Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (published in English by Yen Press)- utterly sweep me off my feet and win my heart?! It’s a silly ecchi series with an overpowered, self-insert protagonist has no grounds through which to actually be taken SERIOUSLY. Yet here we are, after eleven volumes, and DanMachi has become one of my favorite light novel series of all time.

DanMachi‘s premise is dirt simple. Bell Cranell, the self-insert boy, has moved to the Dungeon City of Orario to become an adventurer for the sole purpose of picking up girls. This little fart of an idea would somehow spread into a massive cloud that covers the light novel market and never goes away no matter how much you wash it.

The backbone that forms DanMachi is its worldbuilding, or rather, citybuilding. But hey, Orario alone has more engaging worldbuilding than most entire WORLDS in modern fantasy. This city is built on top of the Dungeon, a sprawling labyrinth full of monsters that are constantly birthed from inside its walls. It’s dangerous as heck. Prep work is everything when going into that place, and it shows in the series’ opener when Bell almost gets gutted by a Minotaur. 

Fortunately, people have the gods on their side. There are a myriad of gods who run little clubs called Familias, and they use a special power to record markings, called Falna, on their members’ backs. DanMachi runs on JRPG physics, and this is literally how they explain the existence of stats. The important thing to note is that characters can only gain stats by reporting to their god after gaining all the experience. There is a lot of depth to this system- including the rules and regulations regarding Familia themselves- and not letting you experience it all for yourself organically would be a disservice to DanMachi. Just note that it’s very intuitive and explained in a very engaging way compared to most other fantasy novels.

The city of Orario itself is insanely fascinating. The city has a lot of setpieces that help make it memorable. The best part is that it’s all introduced gradually; just when you think you’re familiar with the Orario, it throws you a curveball that hits you square in the bottom jaw.

But like in any city, the most important aspect of it is its people, which is my segue into discussing the large and amazing cast of DanMachi. Bell, as previously mentioned, is kind of a generic, “gotta-save-the-waifus” guy who has plot armor. However, due to the fantastic prose of the author, his nakama power actually feels like genuine accomplishments and moments of utter catharsis.

Meanwhile, we have Hestia. She’s one of the gods of Orario, and one of the worst in terms of social class. In fact, at the start of the series, Bell is the only member of her Familia! But not that far behind are Lily and Welf. Lily starts off as kind of damsel in distress, but her analytical nature makes her very resourceful when it comes to dungeon crawling. Welf is a blacksmith whose family is stained with tragedy. Naturally, both of these people enter spiritual awakenings when they meet up with Bell.

Outside of the main cast is a whole slew of important side characters. Notable characters include Eina, an elf who is charged with looking after Bell and making sure he doesn’t get killed. There is also Aiz Wallenstein, one of the strongest adventurers in Orario and Bell’s idol, as well as Freya, the goddess of beauty who is Bell’s stalker. The reason why someone like her is obsessed with Bell is actually contextualized as the narrative progresses. There are a ton of other characters but I won’t spoil them for you.

The art is the weakest aspect. It’s kind of bland and the character designs lack detail. When it comes to light novel art, I want more detail, mainly because they’re much more sparse, thus the illustrator has the time to make it stellar. But due to that sparseness, it’s not really an issue.

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Verdict: 9.25/10

DanMachi is a series that’s meant to ease you in and let your guard down before it goes for the jugular. It begins as a decent, light-hearted comedy fantasy, but starting from around volume 5, it becomes so much bigger and more intense than ever before. If you love fun fantasies that also have great worldbuilding, then I HIGHLY recommend DanMachi, provided that you can get used to some of its tropes.

Overlord VS TenSura VS So I’m a Spider, So What?

Cover of each book's first volume

Prior to starting this blog, I had already written three separate reviews for Overlord, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and So I’m a Spider, So What?, all of which are published in English by Yen Press. However, I realized that my feelings regarding all three of these are very similar. So, in this unusual blog entry, I’m going to review all three of them… simultaneously. For reference, I have read the following volumes at this point; 10 for Overlord, 6 for TenSura, and 6 for Spider.

All three try to subvert modern isekai conventions, and whether or not they succeed changes depending on who you talk to. The main characters of each are transported to the series’ respective worlds in unusual forms: Overlord‘s Momonga in the form of his lich-like avatar from a dead MMO, TenSura’s salaryman who gets named Rimuru upon his reincarnation as a slime, and Spider‘s unnamed main protagonist in the form of a spider. All three end up revolving around these characters exploring their worlds and becoming stronger over time. 

On paper, they have their own satisfying, JRPG-like progression system, where you feel genuinely cathartic once they have entire nations at their whim. But in practice, it doesn’t work out so well. In Overlord, Momonga- a.k.a. Ainz’s- avatar is already at maximum power, and all the custom monsters that his minions created are already devoted to him with every fiber of their being. The problem is that the author tries to have Ainz in a struggle of ideals, where he doesn’t want to kill anyone, but also doesn’t want to disappoint his minions. The latter is a moot point (because his minions already love him no matter what), and the former is kind of toggled on and off like a switch. As often as he tries to be “diplomatic” to gain new allies, he mostly ends up just brute forcing it and killing people violently and theatrically in spite of himself.

TenSura is similar, but more light-hearted. Rimuru at least has more interesting powers in that he absorbs creatures and learns their abilities, but when he gains the ability to assume a human shape, he uses it all the time and defeats the purpose of the Slime gimmick. In the end, though, the light-hearted nature of TenSura backfires. Rimuru is written as an utter saint and is never questioned when he murders in cold blood; at least Overlord TRIED to have an existential crisis, as moot as it was given its context.

So I’m a Spider, So What? had the best potential. The main character is reincarnated in a dungeon filled with powerful enemies that could kill her in one hit. As a result, she has to use clever strategies and status attacks to chip away at big enemies’ HP and kill them very unceremoniously. By the time the second arc starts, she conforms to the OP protagonist trope, but it feels like she earned it.

My ultimate complaint with all three of these series is their characters. Ainz is likable when he’s a super badass, but that’s very rare. As cool-looking as his minions are, Shalltear is the only one whose company I enjoy. The rest of the characters in Overlord are villagers and warriors who end up on the receiving end of Ainz’s boot. They exist to have you sympathize with them in order to push the moral ambiguity angle, but the characters themselves are incredibly unremarkable. 

TenSura isn’t much better. The only character I liked is Milim, a character that shows up in volume 3, but- of course- tends to spend a lot of time offscreen, at least up to where I left off at volume 6. Everyone else is just as boring as Overlord, sometimes even more so.

Out of the characters in Spider, the titular protagonist is by far the best. Despite how her chapters are written in monologues, she has a sassy personality that makes Spider a joy to read. However… notice how I said “her chapters.” The story alternates between her and her classmates, who also got reincarnated. In particular, the human chapters focus on Shun, whose new name is Schlain. Schlain is a straight-up human, which defeats the subversiveness of the spider gimmick. He’s at least not overpowered, but that ends up turning him into a whiny YA protagonist who basically has to passively do what his reincarnated class teacher says. The others are almost worse. A male classmate (forgot his name) gets reincarnated as Katia, a girl, which seems like a ham-fisted attempt to comment on gender identity without actually commenting on gender identity (sort of like in Levithan’s Every Day, my second least favorite novel of all time). Hugo is one of the first major antagonists, and basically a clone of Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII. The biggest problem with these characters is that they are introduced poorly. The prologue immediately starts with the class getting blown up and reincarnated, thus you do not get to see any of what they were like prior. As a result, the story expects you to feel the emotions of Schlain as he sees his classmates’ new forms without ever seeing their original forms. If you have that level of sympathy, cool. I don’t.

The writing styles of these light novels are vastly different from each other. Overlord has a very poetic D&D quality to its writing. However, it only gets good when SOMETHING ACTUALLY HAPPENS. A lot of it is other kingdoms discussing various politics that you know mean nothing because Ainz is just gonna smash everything, and it bothers me so much. On the flipside, it makes the few good sequences feel cathartic. TenSura, however, is the most boring. Action scenes could be good, but go by quickly and unceremoniously, which sucks because the author is actually pretty good at building up to major fights, and it all goes to waste. I don’t need tension, especially not for isekai, but novels like Cautious Hero are able to be enjoyable despite having no tension thanks to straight-up great writing. Spider is polarizing to read, because it feels like it’s by two different writers. As previously discussed, the spider’s chapters are great, and Schlain’s are tedious beyond all reason. Most notably, Spider‘s plot is structured to where the spider’s events happen decades before Schlain’s, but it doesn’t seem to serve any real purpose. In fact, the structure almost backfires; we get what I presume to be a preview of the climax of the entire series at the end of volume 5, which makes everything in the subsequent volumes feel like padding since we all know how it’s going to unfold in the first place. Well… it’ll only be a problem if this thing publishes into the double digits.

Lastly, let’s compare the art. The illustrations for all three books are incredible, in their own unique ways. Personally, I think the illustrations of Overlord take the cake, though, as they are gloriously detailed and look almost hand-painted. Spider’s is a more vibrant take on Overlord’s, and TenSura’s is super charming and cartoony.

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Verdict: Overlord 7.65/10, TenSura 6.5/10, Spider 8/10

These three light novels have taken the community by storm over the years, and I personally don’t understand why. While I think So I’m a Spider, So What? is by far the best of them, it has its own glaring issues. Overlord and TenSura could’ve been really good, but their authors just seem to be at a crossroads with committing to the best ideas they had for them. I don’t think they’re the worst, but I think they are easily outclassed by other isekais that I’d recommend, like Cautious Hero, Torture Princess, and Otherside Picnic. If you enjoy power fantasies in general, then there wouldn’t be any harm in giving them a try.

Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 2 Review

Cover of volume 2

Last time on Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen, Kaito Sena is strangled to death by his father and summoned to another world in the body of a golem. He is forced to serve Elisabeth Le Fanu, a young girl who has killed a LOT of people, and must hunt thirteen powerful demons as punishment. After a fun frolic through a creepy guy’s slaughterhouse for kids, Kaito finds Hina, an autonomous doll that ends up joining the crew. Later, they fight a demon disguised as a corrupt clergyman, and encounter Elisabeth’s father, Vlad. When they go to Elisabeth’s old hometown to find him, they fight Elisabeth’s estranged nanny, Marianne. During the fight, Vlad captures Kaito, and says that he’ll summon Kaito’s dad to this world and allow him to torture the man if he abandons Elisabeth. Edgelord that he is, Kaito agrees. But when his dad is summoned, he sees a drunken old fart, and calls the deal off. Thanks to a teleportation sigil drawn on his torso, she appears in Vlad’s room and destroys him. Well, so much for the main antagonist!

Waiting for this volume was really hard for me. After all, so many other “edgy” series, like Elfen Lied and Goblin Slayer, had traumatizing openers that made it look as if they were going to be incredibly dark, only to wind up being light-hearted and boring. Torture Princess started out so elegantly angsty, but-

OH WHO AM I KIDDING?! THIS VOLUME WAS FREAKIN’ LIT!

The first question that would be raised is, “Well, we basically killed the final boss, Vlad and the Kaiser. So, what now?” Just because that guy was the strongest doesn’t mean he’s the final boss! In fact, a new Demon, the Grand King, lures Elisabeth and Co. into a trap that causes a mana-sapping affliction to be, well, afflicted on Elisabeth. However, the church waits for no one as she is still dispatched to, well, dispatch other Demons. KAITO, it’s your turn to protecc her!

And that’s exactly what happens. When investigating Vlad’s HQ for information on other Demons, Kaito pockets a strange orb that contains Vlad’s spirit. He colludes with Vlad and starts to learn magic, so that he can fight people on his own for a change. I can see him developing into an overpowered main protagonist…

When it comes to character development, Hina and Kaito are the ones in the spotlight this time. Their one-sided relationship gets tested thanks to Kaito’s new secret, plus we get some of 2nd Best Girl Hina’s presumably week-long backstory.

Other than that, the utter angst is still in full swing. As soon as I started this volume, with that flesh-coffin that had mangled up human arms for wings, I knew that this volume of Torture Princess would live up to its predecessor. However, it concerns me that the author could inevitably run out of ideas for terrifying situations… but we’ll cross that bridge (probably made out of the corpses of women and children) when we come to it!

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Verdict: 9/10

If you’re looking for an intellectual, subversive isekai that questions moral values and explores the inner recesses of people’s emotional insecurities, then Torture Princess isn’t for you. However, as long as it follows through with its exquisitely well-written angst and disturbing imagery to the bitter end, then it will remain one of my favorite light novel series of all time, just for the sheer entertainment value. With Kaito as a to-be-overpowered protagonist, his yandere girlfriend in Hina, and a waifu he must protecc in Elisabeth, this series may seem to be generic, but it’s incredibly enjoyable. As someone who’s been disappointed time and time again by “edgy” YA novels and stuff that just end up copping out for whatever reason, Torture Princess is a repugnant breath of fresh air! I still recommend this series to anyone who loves wanton violence and gore!

Sexiled Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

Looking back on human history, I’d say that women’s rights have made some good headway over the years. Now that it’s the 21st Century, their universe is no longer the diameter of the kitchen! But as we close in on the second decade of this century, feminism has once again become a very controversial topic, especially in art, where creators get crap either for including any amount of men at all, or for including only women. Why am I bringing this up? Well, let me tell you. Sexiled: My Sexist Party Leader Kicked Me Out, So I Teamed up with a Mystical Sorceress!, published in English by J-Novel Club, is aaaaaaaaaaaaaaall about the infallible greatness of women! Men SUCK.

So, here’s what happens. Tanya Artemiciov is a young mage who is removed from her squad, which is led by the misogynistic Ryan Daars. Enraged, she fires off more Explosions than Megumin could ever hope to imagine, and frees Laplace, an all-powerful Sorceress who had been sealed for three hundred years. The two agree to extract their revenge on Ryan, and presumably, every man on the planet.

The elephant in the room is obviously the ham-fisted feminism, and that’s emphasized in the extremely biased cast of characters. As you’d expect, the female leads are the main selling point of the series thus far. Tanya is insane, perhaps even more so than a certain loli in the military. She doesn’t just pack a ton of powerful magic, but a powerful vocabulary as well. She curses her goddamn motherf***ing sh**ty ass off (like in this demonstration), and it’s f***ing hilarious for some reason. The writing is so tryhard and I love it!

Laplace is the Best Girl. With her being so powerful, she’s got a massive ego. She can’t stop reminding everyone that she’s an all-powerful Sorceress, even though she’s not supposed to reveal herself as one to begin with. Nadine is the weakest link. She’s a super-low level and is solely recruited because Tanya and Laplace’s average levels were too high for them to be allowed to enter a tournament. Laplace and Tanya are definitely the “Emilia or Rem” of this series (wow, what a comparison to make).

The guys are the actual scum of the Earth, especially the aforementioned Ryan Daars. Most guys in Sexiled don’t have names, and they all have the exact same personalities as Ryan himself; they’re all one dimensionally sexist and don’t think women are ever capable of anything. In fact, the explanation for Sexiled‘s use of the JRPG trope of skimpy female armor is literally because men designed it to be that way. The biggest source of catharsis in this series is seeing Tanya and Laplace continuously one-up the different men of this world and remind them that women are phenomenal and far better than men.

Along with all of that glorious feminism, there is also some lesbianism as well, a.k.a. yuuuuuuuuuuri. Well, at least according to the genre tags. Despite this being a yuri series, this volume of Sexiled only has three smooch scenes and nothing else. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if these girls form their own lesbian brothel and completely boycott men from existence, or better yet, start enslaving men (since that would be so controversial, the reaction would be priceless). But the thing is… this could be a case where the author has the characters vomit feminist dialogue ad nauseum, but use it as a red herring to get women to enjoy a series that will live entirely off of male titillation. I heard that was the whole marketing technique behind Wonder Woman (key word: ‘heard!’ I don’t actually know if it’s true, so don’t quote me on that), so it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if it was the case for Sexiled as well.

The art for Sexiled seems to have more manga-y style despite being a light novel. It’s good, but since this IS yuri, it’s not gonna hold any water until they start illustrating some of said yuri.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

Sexiled is shaping up to be a very controversial light novel series. Probably. Even though the actual writing and the setting aren’t too remarkable, the over-the-top feminism, Tanya’s putrid vocal chords, and Laplace’s narcissism make it hilarious just the same. I can’t tell if it’s by an actual feminist, or by someone who wanted to comment on society’s current state of affairs. Regardless, I whole-heartedly recommend Sexiled if you want to see some actual, legitimate girl power, and not YA’s pretend girl power.

PS: If they actually have Tanya and Laplace fall in love with guys later, I’m going to drop this series like a brick.

Combatants Will be Dispatched! Volume 1 Review

Cover of Combatants Will be Dispatched! Volume 1

To those of you who have read my first two reviews, thanks for coming back. I’ve been busy reading and planning my next couple of reviews. I hope you enjoy this one!

Since I have not covered Konosuba on this blog yet, let me give you a quick preview of my thoughts on it, as I will- naturally- be comparing it to this light novel, Combatants will be Dispatched! (written by the same author and published in English by Yen Press). Konosuba is an utter masterpiece that parodies isekai, right at the point where it was starting to become popular, with a morally ambiguous main character and a harem of attractive, but unruly girls. Those same attributes are present here in Combatants, but in a way that still feels fresh.

As stated in my clickbaity Twitter post promoting this entry, Combatants‘ premise is like a Konosuba-y Overlord. With the powers of big business, the Kisaragi Corporation has achieved near total domination over humanity. With the Earth conquered, the heads of this company have their sights set on a fantasy world. Combat Agent Six is sent to gather information on this world and establish a portal for the Kisaragi army to follow up with the real attack. And like in Konosuba, everything acts against the main character’s intentions.

In order to talk about the bread and butter of Combatants, I need to talk about the main characters introduced in this volume. Agent Six is Konosuba‘s Kazuma, if he was actually powerful for once. Throughout his exploits in the fantasy world, you’ll recognize the same arrogance and perverseness that was ever-present in Kazuma. The other interesting thing to note is that although his life at Kisaragi has definitely influenced how he behaves, he’s not entirely happy with his job. That shows in this volume and could have repercussions moving forward.

The harem is as lovably loathsome as ever in Combatants. I grew attached to Best Girl Alice very quickly. She’s a high-spec pretty-girl android, which sounds as useless as you think. Her skills in battle basically amount to using microtransactions to send Six some Kisaragi equipment from our world (in a very Wile E. Coyote and ACME fashion). Most of the time, she’s roasting Six (and everyone else too) with every chance she gets, and I love her for it. She has so much personality it really makes you forget that she’s a robot.

Snow is a denizen of the fantasy world. She comes off as the righteous and morally correct royal knight at first, but since this book runs on Konosuba rules, we know that isn’t the case. As expected, she turns out to be very pretentious and not as morally uptight as she seems. She later recruits two rejects, Rose and Grimm, into Six’s party. Rose is my least favorite character so far, as she seems to merely be a cute monster girl who only thinks of eating. This is only volume 1, so she still has a chance. Grimm is great, though. She comes off as a real asset to the team with her assortment of dark magic and curse abilities, but due to her terrible sleeping habits, she ends up nodding off 99.99% of the time.

The overarching story has more focus and purpose than Konosuba, at least for now: The main cast’s goal is ultimately to defeat a Demon army, but this time it’s to wipe out competitors as opposed to being able to live a leisurely life. The writing is just as strong as Konosuba as well. The only real flaw so far is that it seems to switch POVs without any indication, so be wary of that.

The art is alright. It’s got nice textures and expressive faces. Although different in style from Konosuba, the two could go hand-in-hand.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

It is incredibly simple to recommend Combatants will be Dispatched! to someone. I can’t logically see how anyone who loves Konosuba wouldn’t also love this. And if you haven’t read Konosuba at all, then I will have a confused look on my face, followed by a strong recommendation to read both it and this!

And who knows? Maybe Combatants will SURPASS Konosuba someday.

Ascendance of a Bookworm Volume 1 Review

This is my first volume-by-volume review of a light novel series. Therefore, this review will be much shorter and simpler than the review of Dendro.

It seems you can’t be a member of an online anime community without coming across heated discussion over the quality of the isekai genre. Particularly the relatively new trend of fantasy isekai that have been the subject of controversy due to a one-dimensional, overpowered male protagonist, flanked by dozens of one-dimensional cute girls. A lot of isekai, such as Overlord and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, do try to subvert the established tropes of the genre, but end up falling right back into the rut. However, Ascendance of a Bookworm– published in English by J-Novel Club- might actually have succeeded.

The premise for this series is simple. A bookworm named Urano gets crushed under a collapsing shelf of books and dies. She is reincarnated as Myne, a sickly little girl living in- surprise, surprise- a fantasy world. The catch is that her family has no books because they’re poor, and thus she resolves to make books herself with what little resources she has.

Right out of the gate, it is impossible not to notice the almost complete lack of modern isekai’s tropes. I’ll list off some examples.

First, the setting is REALISTIC. Similar to actual ancient civilizations, commoners don’t just lack money, but also education and health. Myne is constantly getting sick all the time, plus nobles are the only ones who actually know how to read and write. I’ll admit that there really isn’t much consequence to being poor in most other fantasies; it’s just a means of mass appeal, if anything. But here, it’s the entire crux of the main conflict.

Second, the main character can fail. Although she is technically still overpowered due her retaining her modern knowledge, she has trouble trying to create makeshift writing materials. Plus, her frail body makes it all the more difficult.

Third, there is almost no sexualization at all. Almost. There is no fanservice or ecchi as of volume 1. However, Myne does have sort of a reverse harem in the form of these three boys that she’s friends with. Since they’re kids at this point, there is zero sexual tension between them. But zero sexual tension has not stopped any fandom’s overly active imagination before and it probably won’t now.

As far as the overarching narrative goes, there really isn’t much to say except for the epilogue. There is a development brought up in the epilogue that causes a huge tonal shift. Whatever it is, it seems like nothing more than shock value. But hey, this is only volume 1.

My biggest problem with modern isekai in general has always been the abundance of boring characters. I don’t mean one-dimensional, I just mean boring. That also includes characters who are very chill and behave like regular people. In Bookworm‘s case, that’s almost the entire cast of characters. Myne is the only exception. Due to Urano maintaining her teenage brain, she still has that sass when she’s reborn as Myne. She’s very driven and diligent, and her exasperation when things don’t go her way actually feels fun to read. The others, however, are very down-to-earth to the point of being wholly unremarkable. I can’t really describe them other than that they’re just normal, average Joes. There is appeal to characters like this, but they’re just not my type.

The art is pretty average too. It’ll probably be leagues better than the anime, as you’d expect, but most other light novel illustrators have this one beat.

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Verdict: 7/10

Depending on how you feel about the isekai genre as a whole, you will probably know right away if you like Bookworm or not. Once I upload more reviews, you will see that I can enjoy “traditional” modern isekai at times. So… I feel a bit mixed about this for now. It’s pretty charming to say the least.

Although this one isn’t quite my cup of tea, I’ll at least finish the first arc of the story. However, before I do… if you’ve been following English light novel releases, then you know what just launched today. Expect a review of THAT to be dispatched this Saturday!

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Anime Reception Prediction: Divisive

I’m new to this blog thing, so I’m trying stuff out. Since this light novel’s anime adaptation is coming out next month, I thought I’d try to predict what the anime community will think about the adaptation when it airs. Although I have no proof of the following claim, I was VERY accurate in predicting the reaction to Goblin Slayer after reading the novels.

Bookworm, due to how much the source material deviates from isekai tropes, seems like an anime that will be mostly ignored by the general community but loved by a small circle of people who resent a lot of the isekai that end up becoming the most popular anime of a given season. This will probably cause a bigger fight between the general community and critics than ever before due to how different it is.

What do you think about the idea of me predicting the community’s reception to upcoming anime? What do you think will happen when the anime airs next month?