Time travel is always a contentious topic, both in real life and in writing. While scientists debate whether or not it’s possible, writers explore its ramifications. The results of the latter, well, vary wildly. But sometimes, you don’t need to travel in order to change the past, which is the case in May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, published in English by Yen Press.
In May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, two nations- one in the east and one in the west- are at war, with the latter on the winning side. For a cadet named Rain Lantz, everything changes when the Fire Nation atta- I mean- when he meets a girl named Air Arland Noah. The bullets she fires are special; a killshot from these bullets results in the target’s erasure from past, present, and future.
While not a particularly interesting concept, Leaden Battlegrounds is essentially Steins;Gate but in a military setting. It’s pretty easy to suspend disbelief, since it’s set in a sci-fi fantasy world. All bullets have magical properties, but Air’s are one of a kind. They are called Devil’s Bullets, which will henceforth be known as D-Bullets, since it would be way too coincidental if they weren’t an intentional reference to Steins;Gate‘s D-Mail.
And similar to Okarin, Rain spams the D-Bullets like a Smash player using Kirby’s Down Special. For the time being, there doesn’t seem to be many cases of time-f***ery like there usually is. That’s kind of bad because it makes the light novel have no stakes, given how serious it takes itself. The D-Bullets are almost an excuse for Rain to never have to face any form of consequence.
There are also a couple of issues that tend to plague most light novels, especially isekai (even though this isn’t one). There is some tonal whiplash, an example being a whole chapter of typical school antics (i.e. ecchi) that have no place in the story whatsoever. The author also gets exposition-happy, oftentimes reminding us that the D-Bullets erase people from existence at least once per chapter. There are also some examples of cheap shock value that appear to just arbitrarily elicit an emotional response.
But all things considered, Leaden Battlegrounds has some solid momentum. Other than the stupid ecchi chapter, there’s always some kind of new development and intrigue. Of course, being somewhat of a time travel narrative, it could fall apart quickly. But for now, I’m curious as to how things can play out from here.
Unfortunately, it has the usual crapshoot of bland characters. Rain is a pretty generic teen who sometimes feels like he’s better suited to be in a gag shounen (which may be symbolic of militarism or something but I digress). Air is basically the highest selling point of the book; a cute loli with the out-of-left-field trait of wanting to show Rain her panties. Everyone else is kind of just… there.
The art is middle-of-the-road. It’s appealing enough to make someone at least look at it, and that’s really enough when it comes to selling a light novel. I’ve definitely seen better, but Leaden Battlegrounds still has respectable visuals.
May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace is off to a better start than most light novels I’ve read lately. But like I said before, there’s no telling where this story will go. For the time being, I recommend it to time travel and military science fiction fans. What are your thoughts on this volume? Leave a comment if you’d like!
I tend to have a soft spot for manga that would profusely offend the average folk. So naturally, I’d be curious about a manga that has to have part of its title censored! Let’s check out the bizarro romance manga, Watari-kun’s ****** is About to Collapse, published in English by Kodansha Comics.
Okay, so this manga’s premise is way more complicated to describe than actually experiencing it for yourself. Basically, a young lad named Naoto Watari lives with his aunt and dotes on his little sister, Suzushiro Watari. His life is pretty good, until a girl named Satsuki Tachibana appears. Six years ago, she destroyed his family’s garden (for some reason), and now, she comes on to him. And apparently, this destroys his life.
My best guess as to what was about to collapse is “sanity”, because that’s what was about to collapse for me as I was reading this. The plot of Watari-kun’s is off the wall… sort of. Basically, it’s a typical romance that tries to be a twisted, tragic love story (I think?). The idea of it is that Naoto forms these relationships with Satsuki, as well as Yukari Ishihara, one of his classmates, and his sister is super-psycho against it. He wants to dote on his sister for all eternity, and before long, it becomes evident that Suzu is pretending to be an utter ditz just to perpetuate that doting.
But despite his whole sister thing being in the product description, the real plot is… a shipping war. The main combatants are Satsuki and Yukari, and it’s about as entertaining as it sounds. A lot of times, I feel like that Watari-kun’s is trying to be a dark, psychological tragic romance… but it fails miserably. The main reason is because it’s a pretty typical romance, with only a couple of blips of grittiness.
And the grittiness is only relative. I was expecting it to be super-controversial, given the censored title. But as far as I got, the most controversial thing was this one scumbag guy who tried to overly assert his “male dominance” on one of the girls. Other than that, there’s nothing that special about this manga.
Speaking of not special, the characters match that description as well. It absolutely astonishes me that every single character can have a genuine psychological issue, and yet still be as boring as cardboard. The only even remotely interesting character is Satsuki, who is kind of a yandere I guess? I dunno… I didn’t like ANYBODY.
The art is also painfully average. While there are some shots that seem to go for the psychological atmosphere, Watari-kun’s looks typical even then. The characters look like they came from a How to Draw Manga book, and the backgrounds scream Clip Studio assets.
Current Verdict: 4/10
Watari-kun’s ****** is About to Collapse collapses in on itself mere minutes after starting it. I’m doubly disappointed in it because I at least thought it would profusely offend me. But no… it couldn’t even do that. I’m sorry, but this is probably one of the worst manga I’ve ever read. I don’t recommend it to anyone, even to people to enjoy shipping wars.
My whole life, I’ve lived with the baseless impression that Western culture- specifically that of the United States- looks upon Japanese culture with disdain. Part of this is from the factual translation and- in some cases- censorship issues that plagued Japanese media when it first came overseas (for example, the One Piece dub that shall not be named). For these reasons, I completely ignored Nickelodeon’s fantasy epic, Avatar: The Last Airbender, despite it being lauded for the past fifteen years- by devout anime fans- as a true bridge between Eastern and Western animation. Well, it’s on Netflix now. I have no more excuses.
The only thing I knew about this show going into it was its simple premise. Four nations, each of which control the elements of Water, Earth, Air, and Fire, have existed together just fine. Then- to quote the show’s intro- everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked. The only one who could save the world was the Avatar, but he apparently disappeared because that ALWAYS happens in these kinds of fantasy series. Then everything changed when the Fire Nation- I mean- when two Water Tribe siblings, Katara and Sokka, found a balding boy named Aang, and his- giant pet platypus?- inside of a block of ice. Spoiler alert, he’s the last Airbender, and he embarks on a quest to become the Avatar and beat up the prepubescent prince of the Fire Nation, Zuko (among others). It’s pretty simple, tbh. I don’t know why they need to remind you in every single episode.
I guess it was a precaution for any kids who came into Avatar mid-season, but since it follows anime traditions, it has to be watched in chronological order (I get that newer cartoons have similar continuity, but I’m pretty sure that no other cartoon at THIS point in time had a continuous story). Wow, that was all one sentence. Anyhoo, the thing that’s impressive right off the bat is the fact that a large number of kids were able to put up with Avatar as it aired. It takes two episodes for any real action to occur, and for a kid, that’s like a year. I definitely would’ve turned away if I had seen the pilot episode on launch date. But at the same time, DBZ and Naruto were also airing, so relatively speaking, Avatar had to have felt like a rollercoaster ride.
Enough rambling! Since Aang needs to know all four elements to actually BE the Avatar, he’s gotta go to the other locations and learn them all! As such, the show is neatly split into a single “book” (season) for each remaining element to learn. The basic structure of Avatar is to go from Point A to Point B, train in Point B until he learns the element, fight something, and move onto the next one. Simple, right?
No, actually, it’s not. Appa Airlines (patent pending) is not a very efficient transportation service. And as such, the crew needs to make a number of stops along the way. This results in some episodes being less-than plot relevant. I can imagine that this was done with the intention of meeting viewers halfway, by marrying both the episodic and continuous narrative story structure of Saturday morning cartoons and anime, respectively. Look, I get that something like this had never been done before, but the execution still results in a very unfocused narrative. Sure, some of these stops are worthwhile, either for actual plot relevance, or giving us insight on one or more of the characters. But much of the time, it’s a series of self-contained, uninteresting plots.
Like any fantasy epic, Avatar doesn’t fire on all cylinders right away. My expectations for the show were shot by the end of season one. I’d even say that season one was straight-up bad overall. Fortunately, once season two starts, the show gets significantly more involved, with almost every episode having legitimate plot relevance.
The key word here is “almost”. While the story does follow a more coherent narrative after season one, there are still blips of those Saturday morning cartoon trappings. Due to how much more infrequent the filler gets, it stands out way more when it actually decides to rear its ugly head. These episodes can contain cute interactions, but break the pacing of the plot, especially when they occur immediately following a super intense episode with a cliffhanger (btw, who was the GENIUS who decided to put one of these episodes IMMEDIATELY before the FINAL ARC?! (but for the record, it was actually a pretty great episode)). But you know what, I’ll take even the worst episode of this series over the entire seasons’ worth of filler from the long-running anime that had been airing at the time.
I must say that the show’s worldbuilding surprised me a little. While I didn’t really care much about the lore, they do some cool, clever stuff with the elements. It’s simple enough for kids to understand, but flexible enough so that it doesn’t become repetitive. If there’s any problem I have with the world of Avatar, it’s the fact that the evil Fire Nation is likely to be based off of Japan (maybe my baseless impressions were right after all…).
My biggest concern going into Avatar was if I’d laugh at the comedic bits. After all, it’s been a decade and a half; our sense of humor has changed a lot, especially compared to the 2010s cartoons I’ve seen lately. Overall, I found the humor to be kind of hit-or-miss. While I acknowledged a lot of the humor as funny, I didn’t laugh out loud anywhere near as often as, say, Gravity Falls.
Another concern was that the cast wouldn’t be so great. I figured that it would take a while to get me warmed up to most of the characters, but I was afraid it wouldn’t be enough. While most of the cast did end up growing on me, the attempt wasn’t exactly as successful as with Gravity Falls or DuckTales.
I’ll admit that they did a good job making Aang conform to shounen protagonist tropes; he’s very aloof, and tends to let his body move ahead of his brain. Furthermore, the show consistently reminds you that he’s just a kid, and that he’s been forced to do something much bigger than what his bald head can comprehend. Conversely, the Western aspect of the show makes him fall for some of the sitcom-like tropes of cartoons, such as the classic “hears negative things from his peers, leaves the room, said peers immediately say a positive flipside to those negative statements, but since he didn’t hear that particular part, he does something stupid”.
The Water Siblings are worse. Sokka is the better of the two, since he brings the bulk of Avatar’s humor to the table, and is ironically the most rational of the group. But the biggest issue with him is how they handle his character arc. Everyone has their own shortcomings to work through, but Sokka’s issues feel the most arbitrary. The first big moment in his arc rides entirely on a ship that was intentionally built to sink, and it’s pretty uninteresting during the brief time that it stays afloat. I’m sure that Sokka must’ve felt like a pitiable, tragic hero to the ten-year-olds who all related to him back when the show aired, but once you get to my age- and more modern times- the telltale signs of a NOTP are too obvious to ignore. Fortunately, it becomes a non-issue by season three.
And Katara… I don’t know what they were trying to do with her. I feel like they wanted to make her into a tsundere, but had a hard time because they weren’t allowed to use ecchi in their relationship. I appreciate that she has multiple sides- from being an absolute b**** to a complete waifu- but overall, I didn’t really enjoy her company for some reason, making her my least favorite character overall.
If I was spoiled by anything in Avatar, it was the addition of a loli to the main troupe. I gotta say I’m impressed that they hit that particular anime nail on the head, since it’s more so a niche community trope than something prevalent in the mainstream battle shounen anime at the time. Anyways, said loli- introduced in season two- is named Toph, and she’s a real wild card. With sassy one-liners and the perfect height, Toph is easily the best of the main protagonists… at least after the others work out the major kinks with her at the start of their relationship.
Then there’s Zuko. Hoo boy. First off, I reaaaaaaally didn’t like how his voice actor portrayed him; I used the word prepubescent to describe him for a reason. As a result, I may be biased in my criticism of the boy. He beats your face in with his one-dimensional irritability. But me, I put up with Bakugo… so, I had a feeling that I’d eventually like him better over time. And that feeling was correct. By season two, there’s a lot of big turning points in his character arc that show he’s much more emotionally distraught than what it looks like at first glance.
Abrasiveness seems to run in the Fire Nation’s royal family. Introduced in season two is Zuko’s sister, Azula. She’s rude, but unlike Zuko, who’s misunderstood, she’s fully aware of it, and enjoys it. Azula also has help in Aang hunting with her buddies, Mei and Tai Li. These two have fun spats with each other, but other than a certain scene late in the series, they aren’t too remarkable.
I saved the best character for last. Out of all the characters, I grew attached to Zuko’s uncle, Iroh, faster than just about anyone else. Most of my favorite scenes in the series are, tbh, interactions between him and Zuko. He supplies some of the best humor, but he’s also great when it comes to being serious.
If there was one thing they got right when it came to anime, it was the following mindset: spend money when it counts. Similar to anime, a lot of the animation in Avatar is kind of lacking. But when actual fights are happening, it looks excellent. Battles are incredibly well choreographed, especially for a kids show, and they pretty much always use the environment in some way. I can imagine that parents got angry over this show when it was airing, and I probably would’ve killed myself pretending to be a bender if I had watched Avatar as a kid. The hand-painted backgrounds also have a weirdly nostalgic look to them. The biggest issue with the art style is that although the character design is memorable, it is a bit bland. They could’ve done a lot more combining cartoon and anime styles; in fact, a lot of manga out at the time- such as One Piece– did a great job in that regard. Oh well, it’s just a nitpick anyway. Overall, the show still looks great, even when watching it in 480p and 4:3 aspect ratio.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
It’s predictable. It’s corny. Its sense of humor is dated as all heck, and it spews sappy lessons of friendship just as about as often as any battle shounen series. But despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed watching Avatar: The Last Airbender for the first time (even if I must respectfully disagree with anyone who calls it one of the greatest fantasy epics of all time; One Piece is still higher up there). I must also give the team appreciation for creating what was perhaps the most loving marriage of cartoon and anime at the time. It must’ve been mind-blowing for kids watching this while it aired, since I’m pretty sure it was the first cartoon of its kind. As much as I don’t like saying America is better at something that originated in another country (what is this, Beat Bobby Flay?), I must concede that Avatar is among the better “anime” I’ve seen. I recommend it if you like battle shounen anime, and/or youthful, silly fantasy with a number of wholesome life lessons.
Normally, light novels get manga adaptations at some point after publication. However, the inverse is true for Buck Naked in Another World, adapted from a web manga (at least according to MyAnimeList). Seven Seas has had a great track record of publishing… divisive content (to the point where they have their own imprint for it), and this might (key word) be their most controversial release yet.
The premise is as simple as it gets. A thirty-two year-old part-timer named Shuta Yoshida is mysteriously reincarnated in another world. He’s in his full adult form, with all of his memories. However… he’s naked! As such, he has to do hard labor for scraps… while having his wee-wee barely blocked from view by a loincloth.
So… I got something to say. I always talk about how certain gimmicks don’t really bring any sort of interest to the table, such as the upside-down mechanic in Patema Inverted. And astonishingly, the naked gimmick is next to meaningless here in Buck Naked. Despite this, there still is a bit of controversy, laid bare for us to see. For example, Shuta is quickly forced to marry a girl who’s only in her teens that he’s just met minutes before. Other than a few unfunny jokes regarding “Shuta Jr.”, his nakedness doesn’t play into the plot whatsoever.
Buck Naked is yet another slow-paced, tensionless, slice-of-life isekai with not much of interest. There is a whole thing where the villagers have some arbitrary prejudice towards hunters (which Shuta ultimately becomes), but I see it becoming a non-issue in the future. The first half of this volume is basically hunting stuff. Seriously, if I wanted that, I would’ve read Cooking With Wild Game instead! (P.S. is Cooking With Wild Game any good? I’d love to hear some comments.)
Admittedly, it picks up a bit in the second half, but not by much. They end up going to the big city, where a number of more controversial things, such as slavery, and Shuta bathing with a girl that isn’t his wife, happen. However, that stuff’s also synonymous with almost every isekai on the market, which once again renders the naked aspect inconsequential.
Also synonymous with almost every isekai on the market, the characters aren’t so great. Shuta is basically Rudeus from Mushoku Tensei; sometimes has funny, snide remarks, but is overall a cardboard box. Most of the other characters are basically just there, especially the women. The only remotely entertaining character is this girl named Nishka, but that’s just because she’s the busty, drunk type.
The art is as painfully average as the story. While the cover art looks nice, the illustrations inside have a lot of simple gradients and not much linework. But hey, it’s still better looking than anything I could whip up.
I expected Buck Naked in Another World to be one of the most controversial new isekai, but it’s not even that; it’s just a typical, boring isekai with next-to-no substance. At least Mushoku Tensei managed to be consistently offensive in each volume! Well, my chances of continuing this thing are next to nil, so let’s hope Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is better!
So, Buck Naked in Another World failed to capitalize on its gimmick so hard that I couldn’t even be minutely offended by it. Let’s see if slapping bear motifs onto everything is enough to change the isekai formula in Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, also published in English by Seven Seas.
In Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (protip to fellow bloggers: DO NOT abbreviate the title of this series if you want your American audience to like you), a young lass named Yuna has mastered the stock market, earning her enough money to live as a NEET and to bribe her parents to eff off. This enables her to play her favorite VRMMO, World Fantasy Online. In a new update, she receives some overpowered bear-themed equipment, and is sent to another world in said equipment.
The million dollar question is, once again, does this gimmick make it any different from your typical isekai? The answer is still a surprising “NO!”. Although Yuna starts at level 1, her bear suit is insanely OP, and gives her basically everything she could need and then some. She has no problem beating overleveled enemies in seconds, and as a result, she grows rather quickly. It bothers me because, as someone who looks at things from a marketing standpoint, having a cute loli in an animal onesie is somewhere in the book How to Make Tons of Money with no Effort.
But what Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear has that Buck Naked lacks is much more competent writing. The pacing is much tighter, and there is some decent humor, which makes it enjoyable for sheer entertainment value. It’s a lot more fun, and doesn’t beat around the bush, except in certain chapters that just retell what just happened from another person’s POV.
This is about the umpteenth time I’m saying this: the cast is lackluster! While Yuna is kind of funny at times, everyone else might as well be made of cardboard. Fortunately, the fast pacing makes it so that you don’t have to BEAR with them for too long.
The art is kind of average, but it suits the theme. Yuna looks very “cute” in her bear suit. But otherwise, it’s pretty typical stuff tbh.
While substantially better than Buck Naked, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is merely a decent-at-best isekai. Geez, laweez, I can’t seem to catch a break with the Seven Seas light novels AT ALL… why is that? Anyways, I’d recommend Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear if you’re willing to sell your soul to the nearest onesie-wearing loli on your block. Otherwise, there’s plenty of other, better isekai out there.
So, it’s St. Patrick’s Day, and I wanted to make a post that would fit the theme. Seven Seas says that this manga, called Nicola Traveling Around the Demons’ World, felt like a European children’s picture book. European folklore > Irish folklore > St. Patrick’s Day… that’s close enough, right?
In this manga, the titular Nicola is found in the middle of the Demon World by some dude named Simon. They then decide to travel together.
That’s it. That’s the whole premise.
Nicola is basically Yotsuba&! meets Somali and the Forest Guardian. It’s more like the latter, what with humans being discriminated from literally everything else in the world, but it has the much lighter tone of the former.
Each chapter is a short story, which usually involves antics between Nicola and Simon, and Nicola doing good deeds without even trying. It’s a very sweet and heartwarming manga, in a way that’s not as superficial as If It’s for my Daughter, I’d even Defeat a Demon Lord.
Since Nicola and Simon never stay in one place for too long, they end up being the only characters that show up consistently. Nicola isn’t anywhere near as much of a liability as Somali, plus she has the spunk of Yotsuba. Most notably, she can use magic, which is rare, but can only produce flowers.
If Nicola is Stan Laurel, then Simon is Oliver Hardy. He spends most of his time making sure she doesn’t do anything stupid, and that’s about it. He is a merchant of some kind, but his heart isn’t quite a golden idol, given the fact that he’s babysitting a kid with no pay.
The art is what makes Nicola very appealing. There’s hatching everywhere, and the characters are all very cartoony and expressive. It’s basically The Girl from the Other Side‘s general idea for a style, but used in a way that’s not as unsettling.
Current Verdict: 8/10
Nicola is no Yotsuba&!, but it’s definitely a good, cute read. It doesn’t have any fanservice, so even little kids can enjoy it. If you want a jolly fantasy romp, then join Nicola on her travels through the Demons’ World.
In this turbulent age of “gotta-go-fast-gotta-go-fast-gotta-go-faster-faster-faster-faster-faster-Sonic–X“, we all appreciate an opportunity to just lay down, cozy in bed, and sleep. The main character of Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle, published in English by Viz, clearly appreciates it, and not even being a hostage of the Demon King will stop her from accumulating a world record breakin’ quantity of Z’s!
The aforementioned main character is a deadpan, loli princess named Aurora Syalis Goodreste, and as discussed, she is the Demon King’s prisoner. However, she doesn’t really give a crap as long as she can nod off to sleep. But the castle isn’t really the best place to sleep, so she goes off in search of things to make her own accommodations. Simple.
When it comes to characters, Syalis herself seems to be the entire selling point of this manga. It doesn’t take long to ask yourself if Syalis is the demons’ prisoner, or the other way around. She ruthlessly rips and tears demons apart with a nifty pair of scissors, and ends up making quite a name for herself. And since she’s a hostage, the demons can’t really do much to her besides carry her back to her room.
The other demons are perhaps the weakest aspect of the manga. Each and every single one of them, from a random mook, to the Demon King himself, basically play the straight men who react to all of Syalis’ actions. The interactions are entertaining, but they don’t get much personality themselves. If anything, you just end up liking them out of pity more than anything else.
The true charm of Sleepy Princess is in the art. Not only do the panels flow well, but the main character looks super adorable (which is the most important aspect, by far). A lot of the other demons, even the ones who show up for five seconds, have great designs as well. The manga also has a lot of videogame meta-humor, as dialogue boxes straight out of a retro JRPG pop up often when Syalis accomplishes tasks.
Current Verdict: 8.5/10
Sleepy Princess is pretty darn good so far, but it’s another case where it could get boring if it runs for too long. Without any clearly defined story arcs, at least not yet, most chapters are self-contained and don’t have the continuity of other comedy manga, like Kaguya-sama. Nonetheless, it’s a great manga, with a great loli (always important), and I recommend it to anyone who wants a modern twist to those old-fangled fairytales.
Anime Reception Prediction: Sleeper Hit (no pun intended)
I don’t know when the recently announced anime for Sleepy Princess is going to air, but when it does, it will probably be well-received. However, it could get overshadowed by whatever the “next big thing” is, especially if another battle shounen or isekai comes out that season.