Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz: In Which Baum Tries to be Jules Verne

The afterword of the previous Oz book stated that L. Frank Baum had finally gotten his act together and fully intended on making a whole franchise of Oz. Since they had been, weirdly enough, gradually getting better, I had a vague sense of hope. Let’s see what the fourth book, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, has in store for us.

In this installment, Dorothy visits California to see some other uncle of hers. However, she, her cat Eureka, and some kid named Zebediah (and his horse, Jim) get caught up in an earthquake. Said earthquake sends them falling straight to hell, which in Baum’s mind is apparently a glass city inhabited by vegetable people called Mangaboos.

Starting out, Wizard in Oz is actually not too bad. The setting is relatively creative, for starters. Plant people aren’t a remotely new concept, but it’s done so literally that it gives these plant people a complete disregard toward death; after all, you can just plant a new version of that person. 

To be honest, most of the book stays enjoyable. There’s no jarring smooth-brain plays nor outstanding cases of sexism and the like. Unfortunately, it still has Oz’s ongoing problem of having nonsense worldbuilding. While the setpieces are certainly imaginative, especially for the time, I don’t feel immersed or engaged in any of it. Sadly, I have a feeling that this issue will not be resolved, since Tolkein is the one credited for making the first believable fantasy world, and that wouldn’t be for forty-odd more years. 

Bizarrely enough, the characters are a bit more tolerable, and by “characters” I mean “the Wizard and literally no one else.” For some reason, it was weirdly cathartic to see him swoop in on his balloon, seeing him for the first time since the original classic. He’s quite the resourceful fellow, full of all kinds of tricks, and he comes off as more of a badass this time around. 

Of course, no Oz book can be flawless, and this one falls apart at the end. After their adventures in Baum’s version of hell, we see the first instance of some new plot armor: Ozma’s magic belt, which warps them out of danger and into Oz. And when they regroup, the book basically pads itself out. Baum throws together a contrived climax, which basically plays out like one of those Ace Attorney trial days where you spend ninety minutes figuring out something that the witness already knew the whole time. 

Lastly… Well, actually, it’s something about all the Oz books I’ve been hesitant to put out since it’s a referral to someone who might be still alive. The afterwords for these reprints of the Oz books have all been written by a Peter Glassman (whoever he is), with retrospective commentary on the corresponding book. And going off these, he seems like… kind of a Baum elitist. I first got pissed at him in the afterword for Ozma of Oz, when he referred to TikTok as literature’s first robot. That is wrong, for Frankenstein’s monster is literature’s first robot (thanks, Asimov). For Wizard in Oz, he starts by listing off the setpieces and acts like they are one-of-a-kind and could never be reimagined by someone else. How hero-worship-y must someone be to claim something like that, when you can’t possibly take into account the thousands of media that exist out there? Surely one of them must have something similar. In fact, the Koroks from Zelda are similar enough to the Mangaboos, the only difference being that they’re better (Oooooh snap!). The most elitist line yet is at the end of the afterword. During their recap of Ozma’s origin story, Baum—either by accident or design—retcons the story; he changes key points of it and acts like nothing changed whatsoever. And Glassman, well, he praises Baum for being inconsistent. It’s one of those go-to defenses against any sort of criticism: “You just don’t understand the genius at work!” 

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Final Verdict: 6.98/10

For all intents and purposes, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz is the best Oz book yet, and should be rated a 7. However, most of my enjoyment of the Oz books has been ripping into insignificant details as well as Baum’s unintentional power moves, such as Ozma’s gender-fluidity. And as such, I didn’t enjoy this one so much because it wasn’t “wrong” enough. To be honest, I can’t believe I made it this far. Let’s see how much longer I can go.

Wings of Ebony: I Can’t Come up With a Clickbaity Headline because it’s SO DARN GOOD

It takes a lot for me to pick up a YA novel. What compelled me to pick up J. Elle’s Wings of Ebony was not because of the main character being Black, but because the cover looked badass as f***, and the title wasn’t just “Noun of Other Noun and Other Other Noun”. The irony in my saying that is because I JUST SO HAPPENED to have read it during Black History Month, which I swear is a coincidence!

In Wings of Ebony, a girl named Rue is forcibly removed from her family through two methods. 1) Her mother is brutally shot to death, and 2) her dead-beat dad whisks her away to some magic continent, and away from her little sister, Tasha. Rue is—you guessed it—a special snowflake, who has magic genes and is the only Black girl on campus. You can probably imagine how things will play out…

…But you wouldn’t be entirely correct. I don’t normally go over character first, but Rue is what makes Wings of Ebony stand out amongst its massive ilk. She’s more-or-less unbreakable. Now, normally, when you have these YA girls who make like Melissa Bonny and be all “I Am the Storm”, they tend to break out into tears the minute something goes awry; just in time for the love interest to get them back into shape! That’s not the case for Rue, however. Ain’t no mountain high enough, and no valley low enough, ain’t no river wide enough! She’s fierce, angry, driven, angry, steadfast, ANGRY… Oh, and she loves Tasha. More on Rue later.

Another plus is that Elle knows full-well that we’ve seen this song and dance hundreds of times. As a result, she cuts out all the middlemen. The book opens after Rue’s first year in magic-land, with her having broken out to contact Tasha. Normally, this sequence would just be the first chapter; get us all confused, and then spend the bulk of the first book showing us how she got to her current situation via flashback. But nope, that doesn’t happen either. We get a few flashbacks, they’re all short and exist to introduce specific story beats when necessary. By cutting out all the stupid “high school drama” crap, we get right to the good stuff.

Unfortunately, nothing’s perfect, especially not in a YA novel. There are a fair number of grammatical errors and typos. I know that happens to be best of us, but it felt like there were more than usual. I also noticed at least one instance of an inconsistent character description. The n-word ends up presenting itself a lot, but Rue ends up being the one who uses it the most often.

Minor flaws aside, the writing in Wings of Ebony is some of the best I’ve seen in a YA novel. It’s fast, it’s impactful, and it hurts. It has a lot of the same clichés that most YA novels have, but the prose greatly offsets it. Even the death of some random red shirt has genuine emotional impact.

The characters are also some of the better I’ve seen in YA… at least for the most part. Rue, as discussed earlier, is a legitimately headstrong YA protagonist. At first, I thought she’d be so empowered that it would be pushed to the Nth degree. But don’t worry; she has a couple of breakdowns to show that she’s just a teenage girl. And these are real, necessary breakdowns, not the stupid “Oh my God, this palace is so luxurious! Trash like me doesn’t deserve this crap! Look at me I’m definitely not a self-absorbed brat!” which permeates most YA novels. Rue’s dad, Aasim, is also more than just the “lousy dad who abandons his kid so that kids with divorced parents can relate to the main protagonist”; he ends up being a pretty chill guy once you get to know him.

Unfortunately, that’s about it for the good characters. Most of the others are plot devices. Tasha exists to motivate Rue, some old lady from Rue’s neighborhood exists to hide Tasha, Rue’s wizard friend Bri exists to supply helpful gadgets, etc. The main antagonists are more-or-less your textbook racist White guys, and they don’t get any real characterization nor substance because we all know we’ll automatically hate them because racism.

And speaking of racism, the worldbuilding is perhaps the biggest disappointment. The secret magical continent of the week is called Ghizon, and it’s… there. They’re super racist against regular humans, the reason of which I don’t even recall being addressed. Furthermore, the big “secret history” of the place is extremely predictable through various context clues. I get that a lot of this stuff is meant to be this way for the sake of social commentary, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s been done about eight hundred times before.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Wings of Ebony was a pleasant surprise. Luckily for me, there’s at least one sequel coming up. While I would normally post single reviews of the whole kit and kaboodle for these kinds of series, I think I’m going to take a risk and post a review of Wings of Ebony by itself. I have a feeling that the sequel will be very different, for better or for worse (hopefully, it’s different enough for at least six paragraphs). I recommend this book if you’re a young person who needs empowerment, or to anyone who actually wants to experience a legitimately great YA novel.

P.S. which has spoilers of the ending

Okay, I love this book, but screw Jehmal. Rue knows him for about ten minutes, and yet, she’s practically having sex with him at the end of the book. I hate it when they introduce a character who isn’t a love interest just to make them into a love interest at the last minute because “sex sells”. This is probably going to color my impressions of the sequel by quite a lot.

Shades of Magic: More Londons, More Fun. Four Londons!

I’ve never had an interest in adult Western fiction, and I still don’t, mainly because a lot of it looks the same. I don’t know why people bother taking out books that all have the same back of a car, front porch of a house, or topless man enveloping a busty woman on the cover. But if one set of grown-up books stands out, it would have to be V.E. Schwab’s fantasy trilogy: Shades of Magic. I’ve actually known about its existence for a while, but it took me until the production of the movie for me to actually read through it. Go figure.

In Shades of Magic, a young magician named Kell is an errand boy who delivers mail to different versions of London in parallel universes. One day, he ends up with a very powerful and illegal magic stone. His fate then becomes intertwined with the tomboyish thief, Lila Bard, who goes on adventures with him to stop whatever inevitable mass conspiracy theory is threatening to tear the multiple Londons apart.

The big appeal in Shades of Magic is the worldbuilding. The four Londons are color-coded, based on various properties: Magicless Grey London, Relatively Okay Red London, Dystopian White London, and the source of all the trouble, Black London. The drawback with these worlds is that none of them is particularly interesting by themselves. Grey is just our world, Red is the Harry Potter world, and White is the Game of Thrones world. Black is by far the coolest, but it’s explored the least. In fact, the potential of the multiple Londons schtick is undermined by the fact that more than half of the story is set in Red London. I hate assuming the author’s intentions, but the worldbuilding feels like they just combined two inherently appealing things—parallel universes and the United Kingdom—just because those things are inherently appealing.

Fortunately, the writing is very elegant and makes the books addicting to read. If you’re intimidated by their length, they’re broken up into pretty short chapters, with many shorter subchapters in each. The action scenes are, for the most part, pretty darn good too.

But even with great prose, the characters leave something to be desired. They don’t really have much personality beyond their established archetypes. Kell is just… a dude, and Lila is just… a dudette. Sure, Kell has some kind of battle of temptation with the MacGuffin in book one, but it’s not particularly interesting. Lila has that YA protagonist trope of being a special snowflake for no reason, AND IT’S ANNOYING. Many reviews on Goodreads have riffed on her enough, so I’d only be repeating them if I elaborated on Lila in detail. Just know that she’s a pretentious, obnoxious brat. Of all the characters, Kell’s rival, Holland, is by far the most fleshed out, but he’s not quite enough to offset everyone else. If it wasn’t for the great writing of the actual story, these people would’ve made reading Shades of Magic very tedious.

Also be wary that Shades of Magic follows the tradition of “the second book being awful” very faithfully. A Gathering of Shadows was an absolute slog to get through. The whole thing revolved around some tournament that wasn’t even plot relevant in the first place, and was chock full of rushed and unexciting fights. Only the last sixty pages or so are important, as they lead into the events of the final book.

While the final book, A Conjuring of Light, is definitely an improvement, it isn’t that much better. Despite the urgency of the situation established at the beginning of the novel, a lot of it is spent wasting time with inconsequential characters that I didn’t even remember. One thing that blows my mind is how some authors are able to write entire chapters that serve no purpose to the main story. Fortunately, Shades of Magic is nowhere near as bad as Keeper of the Lost Cities, whose seventh book spends FOUR HUNDRED PAGES IN THE INFIRMARY, but it’s noticeable.

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Final Verdict: 7/10

I really wanted to like this series. But as the old saying goes: Quality over quantity. What’s the point of having four Londons, when they each have such empty design and worldbuilding? I’d rather read Lockwood and Co., which is set in one, fleshed-out London. Shades of Magic is an example of the sheer idea behind it being what sells, rather than the execution of that idea. It’s not the worst fantasy out there, but it’s VERY overrated and outclassed. You know what, the movie might end up being a better alternative, since it’ll probably only adapt the first book; the only one that matters.

I Risked My Life to Watch Earwig and the Witch! Was It Worth It?

As someone who suffers from anxiety and an inherent fear of physical contact, and as someone who follows a number of public figures who think COVID is the threat that the media says it is, I was—and am—a nervous wreck. Even at this point where people are just tired of it, I’m still scared for my life. I was forced to see Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch in theatres (since my family doesn’t have HBOMax) as a way for me to face my fears, and I truly did feel afraid for my life. Was I able to enjoy the movie despite all that was going through my head? Also, is the movie itself enjoyable? That’s the more important question! Oh, and of course, I never read the source novel for it!

In Earwig and the Witch, the titular Earwig (a.k.a. Ayatsuru if you like subbed) is left at an orphanage. After living most of her young life there, she is adopted by the titular witch, Bella Yaga. Since she’s empowered and all that, Earwig is determined to own her new home.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is Ghibli’s first CG movie, and I wanna talk about the CG. It’s not Pixar to where they individually rig every single hair follicle, but everything else checks out. The lighting is good, the style is faithful to 2D animation while still being 3D, and the characters are very emotive. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least better than some of the horrid TV anime CG.

Sadly, that’s really all that makes this stand out from Ghibli’s filmography. Well, I say “sadly” as if it’s a bad thing. Ghibli sets a high standard for Japanese animation for a reason, after all. Earwig is full of the same charm and homeliness you’d expect out of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. It’s simple, to the point, and has a lot of wholesome charm.

Unfortunately, this also means Earwig has the same problems as most Ghibli flicks. The pacing is abysmally slow, despite its short length. It’s also structured like most Ghibli movies, to where more than half of the core narrative isn’t tackled until the last ten percent of the runtime. A lot is also left up to interpretation, assuming Ghibli even bothered to leave subtle clues in the first place.

The cast consists of four main characters, and literally no one else. Earwig is an unusual subversion of characters of her ilk; she enjoyed her life at the orphanage, and is incredibly headstrong and feisty when at the receiving end of Bella Yaga’s… er… parenting. As someone who tends to like control freak types, I was initially drawn to Earwig’s character arc. But with this being a family-friendly coming-of-age story, I’d thought they’d try to give her a redemption arc, which ends up not happening. Her adoptive mother, Bella Yaga, has a fetish with worms, but other than that, she’s your typical lousy foster parent character. 

Also living in the same house is Thomas, a black cat who tries to be comic mischief (key word: “tries”). The movie’s tragic hero is the owner of the house, known only as the Mandrake. He comes off as super sketchy, but different elements about him are organically divulged over the course of the movie, making him the most complete-feeling of the cast.

In a completely spoiler-free manner, I warn you about the ending. Honestly, we [the anime community] have seen this often enough to know that it’s just Ghibli being Ghibli.  Even the ones that aren’t as, well, Earwig-ish, have left me with a sense of… lack of accomplishment. I dunno, maybe it’s the uncultured swine in me talking. 

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Final Verdict: 7.15/10

To be brutally honest, the fact that Earwig and the Witch is CG is the only incentive to watch it. It is bog standard Ghibli in every other sense, and it’s still outclassed by stuff like Spirited Away and Kaguya. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of Ghibli and the art of animation itself.

Unnamed Memory is as Shoujo as it Gets (Volume 1 Review)

I feel like the light novel game hasn’t been strong lately, at least from the English-publication perspective. To be honest, WATARU!!! is the only new series that got me excited. And while I don’t mind having less titles to worry about, I still enjoy having new ones to look forward to. There are two new titles left on my list this month that seem promising, and today’s post covers the first: Unnamed Memory, published in English by Yen Press.

In Unnamed Memory, a Prince named Oscar Farsas has been cursed to where his boys can no longer swim without drowning. Since he’s an only child, he has to alleviate the curse or his family line ends. To do this, he visits Tinasha, the Witch of Azure. She says that she can’t undo the curse, but a woman with a uterus immune to the curse (apparently?) can birth his kid just fine. Oscar immediately proposes to Tinasha, and is rejected. But since he climbed her tower, she has to do something, and that something is to live with him while pretending to be an apprentice.

Does this light novel seem shoujo to you? Well, it is. This is one of those where the strapping young man sweeps the tsundere girl off her feet. However, this one takes its sweet ol’ time. That sounds all well and good, but there’s still a lot of the dumb shoujo clichés that make me want to rip my hair out.

This volume is all over the place, as it tries to set up multiple things at once with no rhyme or reason. For example, the second chapter is a literal murder case, and there are these very blatantly suspicious people at the scene of the crime (who, of course, knew that the crime was going to be committed before it even happened). The case itself is resolved very lackadaisically, as if it was just a Saturday morning visit to the park.

Because of this, I have no idea where the priority lies with the story. The murder case isn’t all that’s resolved super fast. They build up to this big ancient demon from a war that suspiciously happened at the same time that the Farsas family got cursed, and they just do away with it like it’s no big deal. It almost reminds me of Sailor Moon, which is actually a bad thing because I wholeheartedly dislike that series. 

Surprise, surprise, guess who didn’t like the characters whatsoever? Me! Oscar felt like a weird combination of genuinely caring for Tinasha while also being sexist? Based on the premise, you’d think she’d be the dominant member of the relationship, but nope, he still has to think he needs to swoop in and save her ass (but it doesn’t matter because their both overpowered protagonists). And to top it all off, he proposes to her on a daily basis and it’s ridiculously annoying. 

Tinasha is, so far, a cookie-cutter tsundere. Her identity gets revealed super early, which I can at least appreciate, but the fact that she’s accepted by everyone quite easily makes the whole thing seem pointless. The other characters are as “kinda just there” as any peanut gallery, and a lot of them are introduced quite suddenly.

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Verdict: 6.75/10

Unnamed Memory is a decent shoujo series I guess, but as someone who really doesn’t like shoujo, I can’t say I enjoyed even a lick of it. I’m not likely to commit to this series, but maybe you’ll like it if you’re a romance junkie.

Two Muscular, Magical Reviews in One Post!

I had every intention of reading Mashle: Magic and Muscles since its debut in Weekly Shounen Jump. But then, Seven Seas came out of nowhere and licensed a light novel with an extremely similar title: Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Since they seemed so identical, I decided to review them both in this post. Although Mashle came out in the U.S. before Muscles, the latter actually predates the former by three years. So naturally, I’ll go over it first!


Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Volume 1

In Muscles Are Better Than Magic!, a boy named Yuri lives in the forest alone. He has managed to train himself to the point where he’s super ripped, and can take on anything. When he finds an elven girl named Filia Windia, he decides to go on adventures with her, for no reason whatsoever.

If Muscles appears to be a run-of-the-mill, typical shounen fantasy light novel to you, that’s because it is! The whole darn thing is the two of them hanging out. A lot of the interactions are just him using his muscles and freaking people out. And like I said in the premise, there’s no purpose to anything that happens. They just go on adventures that are no different from your typical slice-of-life fantasy with no real spice beyond Yuri’s muscles.

The mostly boring cast doesn’t help either. While Yuri and Filia have some legitimately cute and funny interactions, they are surrounded by idiots. All the other characters are inconsequential NPCs who have no personality other than being shocked by Yuri’s muscles. That’s literally it! But even then, Yuri is also incredibly bland, with Filia being the only remotely likeable character.

The biggest issue is the writing. Muscles is one of those light novels that feels like a rough draft and not a publication. Although the action scenes are pretty good, descriptions of locations are as bare minimum as they typically are in these series. I get that writing is really hard but that doesn’t excuse when it’s bad in a published work!

Verdict: 5.75/10

Muscles Are Better Than Magic! is no better than your typical blazé fantasy. Similar to Buck Naked in Another World, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, and others, it uses some defining character design trait to pretend that it’s subversive. My chances of reading more are pretty low. But let’s see whether or not it’s the lesser of two evils when I review Mashle!


Mashle: Magic and Muscles First Impressions (Chapters 1-15)

In Mashle: Magic and Muscles, a boy named Mash Burnedead lives in the forest with an old wizard guy. He was born in a world of magic, but has no magic himself, making him an easy target of the police. When he bests the police with his bare hands, he is given a deal: enroll in Magic School and graduate at the top of his class or be pursued by the law forever. He accepts the deal, and attends the school with no magic power whatsoever.

I made a big deal about how Muscles and Mashle are the same, but… it turns out that Mashle resembles Black Clover more than anything else (oops). In any case, Mashle already shows greater personality than Muscles. Not only is the humor (and its delivery) much more substantial than in Muscles, but there’s also a purpose to the shenanigans that ensue.

So far, Mashle’s biggest issue is its simplicity. While I love a good, clear-cut Jump manga, a lot of [very vocal] people don’t. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the magic that gets used; they don’t even bother to explain the rules. And of course, let’s not forget the magic word, “unrealistic”, because of how impossibly strong Mash is for a teenager.

Mashle has a similar issue to Muscles: everyone other than the main character exists just to react to how swole said main character is. Furthermore, the lead girl is less remarkable than Filia, to the point where I already forgot her name. But unlike Yuri, Mash is a significantly more likeable character. In fact, he’s the bread and butter of this whole manga. While he’s completely devoid of personality, the author somehow makes that lack of personality into its own personality quirk. Also, his inane obsession with cream puffs makes him even more hilarious.

The art doesn’t look like much, but it’s more than enough. The panel composition expertly sells the humor, while also delivering the appropriate amount of punch to Mash’s attacks. If there are any issues, it’s that the black wizard robes make a lot of the foreshortening shots look kind of weird.

Current Verdict: 9.35/10

Muscles might be better than magic, but Mashle is far better than Muscles. It’s a risk investing in a new series when you don’t know whether or not it’ll get axed, but here’s hoping that Mashle stays for a couple of years at least. I recommend it to people who like battle shounen and fun (i.e. not cynical).

I’m In Love with a Villainess Killed My Love for Yuri (Volume 1 Review)

One genre I did not expect to consistently blow me away was yuri; a genre that mainly focuses on a romantic relationship between two women. I just kept getting bombarded by these super entertaining and engaging stories. Murcielago, Otherside Picnic, Sexiled, and ROLL OVER AND DIE! have been real pleasures. So when Seven Seas published their edition of I’m in Love With the Villainess, and it became a #1 bestseller on Amazon and BookWalker, I was excited. However, like with virtually all media I’ve consumed other than One Piece

I CANNOT LIKE ANYTHING POPULAR.

In I’m in Love With the Villainess, a girl named Rae is transported into the setting of her favorite otome game, Revolution, with literally no explanation. She can date anyone she wants, but chooses the main antagonist, Claire Francois. Since Claire is a conceited noble girl, “tsundere” doesn’t even begin to describe her relationship with Rae.

From the first chapter, all the way to the end, I was flabbergasted. First off, the writing was abysmal. They don’t even go out of the way to describe the setting, not even in enough detail for you to get a sense of 3D space. Heck, I couldn’t even find a description of what Rae looked like; you literally have to take the part where it says Clair is blonde, and deduce that Rae has black hair by looking at the cover art and using the process of elimination! And despite being yuri, I felt no sexual tension between them, even when they’re naked.

And boy, the relationship between those girls was just lacking in… everything! Most of their interactions consist of Rae showering Claire with compliments, who responds by shouting witty comebacks. I understand that this comedic style is common in Japanese media, but it was so frequent that it literally felt like 19/20 of their interactions. Not even D-Frag!, which makes fun of it, was that bad.

The other bad thing was that the entirety of I’m in Love With the Villainess is Rae being in love with the villainess! “Well, duh,” you say, “it’s yuri.” No, you don’t understand. The other yuri I’ve read up to this point have something more. Murcielago had over-the-top gore and visual spectacle, Sexiled was crazy committed to Feminism, and both Otherside Picnic and ROLL OVER AND DIE! had high-tension suspense and action. Rae does kind of resort to tricks, like making up ghost stories just so Claire can cling to her, but compared to the sociopaths I’ve seen, that amounts to mere childish pranks. The only real scheme I could gather from I’m in Love With the Villainess was that Rae tries to build a ship between Clair and some guy. I’m anticipating that she’s doing this just to break them up, then swoop in and take Claire for herself while her guard is down. Even if that does happen down the road, it still leaves much to be desired compared to the other examples. 

Do I even need to discuss the characters? They’re all as flat as boards. Rae’s doting on Claire comes off as childish and annoying instead of seductive and sexy, plus she has no other personality quirks to speak of. Claire is just a boring tsundere; Rae even says that she never goes over-the-top. There’s also these three princely brothers, and why are they even in this LN at all?! This is yuri for crying out loud!

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Verdict: 5/10

I’m in Love With the Villainess is an empty husk of ideas, none of which are executed well. I am absolutely astounded that something like this has been so commercially successful compared to the other yuri series I mentioned. At this point, I have come to question the genre’s sense of quality. Was this series the exception, or the rule? In any case, just save yourself the pain and read any yuri series other than this one!

Jujutsu Kaisen is at least Better than Kimetsu no Yaiba (First Impressions, Chapters 1-75)

Weekly Shounen Jump has had some really great manga, and it’s had some not so great manga. While they have a system to weed out the latter, cases like Kimetsu no Yaiba show that it’s not perfect. A little manga called Jujutsu Kaisen (published in English by Viz) has risen to a pretty high level of popularity, without the need of a successful anime adaptation (even though the anime will no doubt make it quite popular overseas). Let’s see whether or not it deserves its popularity.

In Jujutsu Kaisen, a high-schooler named Yuji Itadori has a run-in with Megumi Fushiguro, a student from the curse-fighting Jujutsu Highschool, when he seeks a cursed object that Yuji’s classmates have come across. Yuji helps him fight back the curses that attack them, but things get hairy. Yuji ends up eating the cursed object- a severed finger- and becomes more than powerful enough to fight the curse, but is nearly possessed by the finger’s owner, Ryomen Sukuna. Due to Yuji’s strange ability to suppress its power, he’s recruited as a new student of Jujutsu Highschool in order to collect and consume the rest of the fingers… after which he will be executed. 

Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it; this is a First Impressions, after all. I had thought, based on Chainsaw Man, that Jump is trying to become more mature in order to recover from the slump it’s been in lately (a lot of series from 2019 onward have sold poorly), but alas, it seems that Chainsaw Man is an exception and not the rule. Despite how often it waxes poetic about life and death, Jujutsu Kaisen is a pretty typical shounen manga. 

As expected of most Jump manga, Jujutsu Kaisen starts by getting us acquainted with the main characters as they fight random enemies in self-contained mini-arcs, followed by a training arc. For the most part, the ideas of cursed energy and techniques are pretty generic, but the neatest aspect of the combat in Jujutsu Kaisen is the domain techniques. These are basically field effects that look really cool, and add a bit of spectacle to the fights.

The manga picks up after twenty-odd chapters, which is when the first major arc starts. It introduces the main antagonist (who will likely get replaced by someone less memorable if the manga ends up running for eight more years), and ups the ante by a lot. And I mean A LOT.

Typical shounen manga means a pretty one-dimensional cast. Yuji is a pretty generic, brash idiot, and the thing with Sukuna seems more like something to make him edgy than to give him a moral crisis. His classmates, Megumi, and the female lead, Nobara, aren’t that interesting either outside of their fighting abilities. Fortunately, Jujutsu Kaisen at least tries with some of its characters. Yuji’s teacher, Satoru Gojo, has got a pretty good sense of humor, for instance. There’s also some other students in other classes who are pretty wild, such as a literal panda bear, as well as some interesting folks from their rival school in Kyoto (such as mah boy Toto). 

The art of Jujutsu Kaisen is where it shines. It’s sketchy and dirty, but full of personality. The fight scenes are fast and spectacular, and really help the manga shine. The character design is also excellent, with a plethora of good-looking women.

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Current Verdict: 8.75/10

Jujutsu Kaisen is indeed a very mainstream manga. However, with great art, and a number of admittedly creative ideas (such as a decrepit old geezer who fights with an electric guitar), it stands out from the rabble. I recommend it to any battle shounen fanatic.

The Dragon Prince is as Epic as it is Choppy (First Impressions, Seasons 1-3)

I’ve been using the extra free-time from COVID-19 to watch some TV shows for the first time in my life. I just finished watching stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender and Steven Universe, and those had some pretty emotional baggage. I’m caught up to DuckTales, and I needed something “dumb and fun” to watch after the tumultuousness of Steven. So, I turned to the first and last Netflix Original I’ll ever watch, The Dragon Prince. Made by some of the original creators of Avatar, I hoped that it would be as dumb and fun as I wanted it to be (for the record, it’s apparently really popular but I only heard of it when Netflix recommended it to me after I started Avatar. Hooray for my patented living-under-a-rock powers!). I thought I had watched 75% percent of the show after the first three seasons; but apparently, there’s going to be seven. So, let’s see if the show is worth the big investment.

The Dragon Prince starts out with a truly draconic exposition dump. Basically, there was this land of Xadia that had all this cool magic and stuff. But once one single person discovered evil dark magic, the elves took it out on the ENTIRE human race and forced them to move west. A powerful dragon named Thunder guarded the border, but everything changed when the Human Nation attacked (had to; it’s supposed to be comparable to Avatar). They used dark magic to slay Thunder, and killed his little egg bearing his heir, the Dragon Prince. War between the two halves of the world was just a shot away.

In the present day, we have two princes who live in a fancy schmancy palace by the name of Callum and Ezran. Life is all well and good, but everything changed when the Moonshadow Elf Nation attacked. So, they get sent away for their own protection. Meanwhile, an Elf girl named Rayla whiffs the chance to kill a human and now all of her friends hate her. The three kids inevitably cross paths, and it is revealed that the Dragon Prince is miraculously still alive. I guess we’re hoofing it to Xadia, then!

Before we can discuss the content of the narrative, this is one of those shows where it’s important to discuss the visuals first. The Dragon Prince is a fully CG show, similar to RWBY, and that tends to put off a large number of people. As the first show of this type that I watched, I found it to be pretty tolerable. The backgrounds appear to be fully hand-painted, like with Avatar, and the lighting and particle effects really help the world pop. The real issue is the character design. They have a cel-shaded style that doesn’t look all that bad, but for some reason, everyone moves at a very choppy and inconsistent framerate. I imagine this must be a stylistic choice, since I figured Netflix being rich enough to allow for models to move at 60 fps (also the fact that most modeling software these days function at that rate as well). But regardless, it’s definitely better to look at than most CG I’ve seen in anime and stuff.

So, I wanted The Dragon Prince to be dumb and fun, and boy, did I get what I wished for! This show is a kind of adventure fantasy that just isn’t common enough these days; too many of them are busy being political, dark, brooding, and in a lot of cases, ripping off Harry Potter. But nope, The Dragon Prince is a good ol’, “ragtag team of kids against the world” kind of fantasy, just like Avatar, except with a more modern sense of humor. There are some politics, but it’s incredibly clear-cut as to what the correct solution is, and it’s very explicit as far as which figures are smart and which are manipulable idiots.

However, just because The Dragon Prince is both dumb and fun, that doesn’t mean the latter is enough to justify the former for some people. While I am enjoying the show a lot thus far, the story is simplistic on a near child-like level. While it does try to be morally ambiguous by having the war be kind of the fault of both races, individual characters’ moral structures are written all over their sleeves. They don’t even try to hide the evilness of The Dragon Prince’s main antagonist, which is definitely a turn-off to those who like those layer-caked villains. The show can also be hard to take seriously even when it tries to be serious. In fact, the episode loading screen on Netlflix shows a screenshot of the fully hatched Dragon Prince, which spoils that he survives almost dying of hypothermia at the end of season one.

I’ll at least give them some slack for even remotely original worldbuilding. Instead of the tired Four Good Ol’ Elements, the world of The Dragon Prince comes packed with the Six Primal Sources, such as the Moon and the Stars. But functionally, they really aren’t that much different from the same elements of Avatar. It’s similar to how Trails of Cold Steel calls dark magic “Time Magic” and stuff. Look, don’t expect super originality from this thing, okay?

Especially not the cast. The leading male protagonist, Callum, would be unremarkable if it didn’t sound like he was voiced by the voice actor of Sokka from Avatar (he even makes the same wry comments as Sokka at times). He’s the stepson of the king, which would normally make him the victim of many a bully, but the issue seems to have next to no plot relevance; I can at least be thankful that they didn’t paint by numbers THAT much. Meanwhile, his stepbrother, Ezran, is- despite being the youngest- the moral support of the trio. Whenever drama unfolds in the group, he makes things right, almost in an overly convenient, Steven Universe kind of way. Furthermore, Ezran gets some genuine growth starting in the third season.

The female lead is the elf, Rayla. She’s a typical tomboy, but she’s also a bit of Mary Sue, since her first revealed trait is the inability to take a life. She’s also tsundere to the max, and it’s almost too obvious that she and Callum are going to be lovers. But despite how brooding she can be, she has some cute interactions with the boys all the same.

But I don’t like the entire crew. My least favorite characters are the animals that tag along: Bait and Zim, the latter of which is titular Dragon Prince who is not at all named after a cult classic cartoon from the early 2000s. Bait is very inconsistent; he’s useful, thanks to his flash ability, but he also tends to be the direct cause of some conflicts. Zim is just ADORABLE, and I do not like him because of that. I can imagine that both of these characters have toys based off of them in shopping malls everywhere. And to top it all off, Bait and Zim sometimes engage in a shipping war over Ezran.

The main antagonist is a geezer named Verin, the king’s royal advisor. Spoiler alert, the royal advisor is a bad man! Never seen THAT before! Fortunately, he is actually pretty interesting, because all of the evil things he’s doing are out of an obsessive devotion to the kingdom, and he genuinely thinks it’s good. I do have some kind of theory about him that has not yet been confirmed, but if I’m correct, his whole character arc could be undermined and he’ll become a typical one dimensional villain.

Other antagonists include Verin’s kids, Sorin and Claudia. They aren’t inherently evil, but they are both very stupid, and end up being easily coerced into following the princes and “accidentally letting them die” without even knowing that it’s a bad thing. But despite their stupidity (or rather, because of it), they have some great spats with each other, which provides some of the best humor in the series, and plus, they are genuinely good kids at heart. Sometimes, I enjoy their scenes more than the main group’s. The second season also introduces an incredibly sexy villain named Aaravos, but there’s not much known about him at this time.

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Current Verdict: 8.65/10

I know, I know… I just scored The Dragon Prince .15 points more than Avatar. I’m sorry. I know that Avatar is definitely a better crafted fantasy epic, yet this show was more fun to watch for whatever reason. It has its flaws, but it’s definitely shaping up to be something great. I recommend it to any fantasy fans (unless you like the dark and brooding stuff, in which case, stay the heck away from this show).

The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 1 Review

For every happy-go-lucky isekai, there’s one that tries to be all dark and brooding. One example is The Eminence in Shadow, which I recently covered. There’s also, of course, Overlord and Torture Princess. Despite their wild variance in quality, they all seem to have one thing in common: they’re not really that dark at all. I’m fine with that, but it would be nice to have something that’s truly effed up. Maybe this new series from Seven Seas, *takes deep breath* The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen, will be dark enough.

In Sorcerer King, a dude is summoned to another world. He finds some books, and realizes that the purpose of his summoning is to become the titular Sorcerer King of Destruction and destroy the world! Ignoring that last part, he practices some spells, such as summoning golems. When he actually manages to make one that lasts, he loses all of his memories of the real world.

What is immediately made apparent is that this thing starts off slow. And I mean real slow. To put it in anime terms, it fails the “Three Episode Test”, which judges anime under the pretense that it’ll pick up during the third episode at the latest. It takes almost a quarter of the volume for the guy to create the other protagonist, his golem, Goltarou. However, it doesn’t become the strapping she-golem that probably made you want to read this light novel in the first place until about halfway through.

And as far as tone is concerned… Sorcerer King is- surprise, surprise- edgy, instead of dark. Even if the protag has no memories of himself, he still has memories of Japan and various otaku terminology, which is as out-of-place as it usually is. But if anything is dark, it’s the world itself. This is the sorriest state I have ever seen an isekai setting in; even more so than Torture Princess, which is definitely saying something. There’s no need for a Sorcerer King of Destruction; it seems the world is already destroyed.

When it comes to the characters, it’s just our main protagonist and Goltarou. He’s as generic as you can expect. In fact, without his memories, anyone can project themselves onto him, hooray! The real point of contention is Goltarou. One aspect that stands out is the possibility that she’s transgender, which to me, is a first in isekai (ps: if trans is the wrong term for this, then please correct me). However, they’re still clearly pushing for a heterosexual romance between her and the main protagonist, so it’s kind of up to interpretation. Due to the fact that Goltarou is silent, has no personality, and does whatever the main protagonist says, her being 100% female would make this LN come off as hardcore sexist.

The art is mixed. While the cover art is fine, the inside illustrations are very rough and sketchy. Everything has a dark toner that makes a lot of stuff blur together, and I’m not entirely a fan. But hey, what’s important is that Goltarou is very *makes cat noises*. 

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Verdict: 7/10

So far, Sorcerer King is very… okay. It could go either way from here, so I can’t definitively say what I think. For the time being, I recommend it if you like those anime waifus who walk around like robots and call you “goshujin-sama”.