Ugh, light novels. As you might’ve read in my “There’s Too Much” post, I’ve been getting burnt hardcore by these things. I’ve even dreaded the ones I truly enjoy and really want to finish. Every time I go through the Pre-Orders at BookWalker, I feel sick to my stomach at all the stuff I have to veto (also, I’ve become way less tolerable toward ecchi and hentai, so now I have a better moral compass I guess). I should probably make use of the BookWalker notifications. Anyway, let’s see if it’s colored how I read these newest volumes, consisting of ONLY favorites… and Re:ZERO.
Cautious Hero Volume 7
This volume continues the Warped Gaeabrande Arc! And it begins with Seiya being controversial as usual. He trains Rosalie, but is extremely abusive to her, his justification being that she isn’t real. Of course, this won’t stop Rista (or you) from being triggered. Hooray, antiheroes!
However, if you’ve somehow managed to put up with him for this long, then you’ll finally get your reward. This volume is where Seiya and Rista’s values come to a head, and it’s actually quite powerful. He actually learns a lesson for once! Seriously, every time I think this series is going to get stale, something crazy happens. Hopefully, it can stay that way.
Re:ZERO Volume 17
Okay, so what happened last time? Without context, it looked like the mummy-cult-person kidnapped a child, and used her powers to make people happy at the fact that she threw said child off of a skyscraper. And as soon as the kid died, everyone in the crowd exploded. Literally. And Subaru’s checkpoint is only minutes from that mess, meaning that he doesn’t have much time to think (not that he’s ever figured any of these plot points out on his own before).
With next to no time to plan things out, the volume had some of the tightest pacing in a while. In addition to that, some of the previously introduced Archbishops make an appearance as well. But as far as the newcomer, Sirius, is concerned, I’d say she’s one of the better villains. She’s cartoonishly evil as expected for an isekai, but that personality coupled with her mummy-like look will probably make her pretty iconic if this arc ever got animated. Also introduced is Capella, the Archbishop of Lust. She’s also very cartoonishly evil, with no shortage of personality as lewd as her character design.
This arc is off to a great start! The fights are still kind of meh, but at least they go faster than they did before. For the first time in a while, I actually find myself excited for the next volume.
Konosuba Volume 15
The main conflict of this volume is to deal with Seresdina, a dark priestess under orders from the Demon King. She has an uncanny ability to control people, and gains a large number of followers… including Kazuma! However, due to Kazuma being Kazuma, Seresdina ends up regretting her life choices.
It’s another straightforward volume, with a lot more drama than laughs. I admit I’m getting burnt out with Konosuba, which is a shame since I’ve loved it for such a long time. I’ll try to make a push for the remaining two volumes, but I’m not making any promises.
Infinite Dendrogram Volume 15
This volume is set at the same time as the previous volume. In case you forgot, another war against Altar has broken out, with the summit and Altar itself being attacked at the same time. We finally get to know what happened with the latter in this volume!
For the most part, this is a pretty standard Dendro volume. Not to say it’s bad of course; there is no shortage of high-octane battles and even more ridiculous Embryo abilities, in addition to a great fight where Tian soldiers take on a Superior player. The most important thing in this volume is that we establish, of all things, the final boss of the series. It’s a very unexpected twist, however, it’s a very light novel-y twist. To say it in the least spoiler-y way possible, the final boss is in a dormant state, which basically means the author can pad out Dendro as long as they want. Hooray… Overall, it’s a great volume.
Otherside Picnic Volume 6
This volume starts with the tired trope of amnesia. Fortunately, Otherside Picnic doesn’t sell out like that. Sorawo’s amnesia ends pretty quickly, but this volume is about dealing with the guy who caused it: a boy who calls himself Templeborn.
With only one big chapter, this is the most focused volume thus far. While it sounds like bad pacing to spend the entire volume hunting down one guy, don’t worry; Otherside Picnic does it right. There are plenty of twists and turns, ending off in a climax that meets the series standard. Every time I finish a volume, I want the next volume immediately!
Light novels are hard. But somehow, I managed to work in these volumes. One pro-tip is that it’s a lot less stressful when you handpick only the ones you actually care about. I am aware that I failed to notice the impending release of The Executioner and Her Way of Life Vol. 3, so I’ll have to cover that later. With all said and done, see you next month!
Escapist fantasy is often panned by critics and cynics as “childish crap for babies who want to avoid their real life issues.” But, you know, sometimes it’s important to just turn your brain off and stretch your neural legs in some fantasy world. The Map to Everywhere series, written by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and published by Hachette Book Group, is just that; escapism at its finest.
On paper, Map to Everywhere is a pretty generic isekai. Marill Aesterwest is worrying about her sickly mother when she follows her cat to an abandoned drug store. In the parking lot is a magic body of water called the Pirate Stream, and she ends up going on a journey with a cool wizard guy and the unremarkable Fin to find the pieces of the Bintheyr Map to Everywhere. And even when they complete the it, that’s only the beginning.
If you couldn’t tell from the names I mentioned, the Map to Everywhere has a lot of clever word puns in it. It doesn’t stop at the words either; the multiverse of this series is one of the most imaginative that I’ve seen in a while. The Pirate Stream connects a whole mess of different worlds together, and they’re all very interesting setpieces, including an ice cap that’s so cold your breath will freeze into the words you say, and a sinking city that’s constantly reconstructing itself. Additionally, the Map itself is also more than just a couple of MacGuffins. The pieces of the Map actually have very meta functions, such as the compass rose finding other pieces, or the margins being able to hold impossible structures together.
The characters are also pretty darn good. I’ll get to Marill later, so let’s discuss Fin first. Fin is generic, but the authors twist the trope by making his genericness into a superpower; everyone he sees forgets about him. However, Marill doesn’t forget about him because… of love, I guess (their dynamic is my least favorite in the entire series). Supporting them is the wizard Ardent, shipwright Coll, and eventually the sassy Naysayer. But out of the bunch, my favorite character is Remy, introduced in the second book, City of Thirst. Remy is Arizona’s best babysitter, and she ends up tagging along on the Pirate Stream. She is the only other person who remembers Fin, and it’s simply because she’s a babysitter and not something as contrived as love.
The writing is pretty solid, with a lot of dynamic font style changes to represent different things. However, the multiverse of Map to Everywhere also shoots itself in the foot. While the setpieces are inventive and descriptive, sometimes they’re just too insane to describe in human language. One of the worst offenders is a place that has chunks of land literally getting sucked into a whirlpool, and the gravity fields there make Super Mario Galaxy look logical.
The multiverse of Map to Everywhere itself also has issues. Magic in modern fantasy often violates its established ruleset, and they end up expecting you to suspend disbelief because “it’s magic.” Map to Everywhere constantly tells you that the Pirate Stream behaves however it feels, and this enables the authors to kind of do whatever they want and get away with it.
But the biggest problem is freaking Marill! She’s not just generic, she’s also annoying. Her entire driving force in this series is to be able to cure her dying mother’s sickness, but her drive gets way out of hand. There are a lot of times where she argues with Fin over whether or not the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and it’s as contrived as heck. It only gets more ridiculous in the final book, along with an additional Mary Sue stipulation, and ultimately solidifies how much I didn’t like her.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
The Map to Everywhere is a flawed, but fun and corny fantasy romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s sure a heck of a lot better than stuff like Five Kingdoms! As long as you don’t require any insightful, intellectual life message to enjoy something, then there should be no harm in picking up the Map to Everywhere series.
Before I get into this post, I should remind you that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is one of the most popular franchises in the world. And popular means marketable. Therefore, many other authors have tried to duplicate the series’ success. Some of these Harry Potter wannabe cases have resulted in book series such as Keeper of the Lost Cities and The Unwanteds, which are only appealing on extremely superficial levels. But sometimes, a little touch of a thing called “thought” can actually give a Harry Potter knock-off some of its own merits. Let’s see if that’s the case with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series, published by Scholastic.
In the modern world, magicians select random adolescents to test for magic potential. Anyone who tests positive is taken to Magisterium to learn to fight the Enemy of Death and his Chaos magic. Callum Hunt is taught to fear Magisterium, and is compelled to throw the examination. But he doesn’t just fail; he fails so spectacularly, that he passes with flying colors, and it’s off to Magisterium for him!
As much as he’s told to resent Magisterium, it doesn’t take long at all for that Stockholm Syndrome to set in, for the school isn’t just “Hogwarts-again”. While it’s not as defined in terms of its layout, Magisterium at least has a well defined (and simple) system. The years are labeled Iron, Copper, Bronze, Silver, and Gold, in that order, which also happens to be the order of the books, making it easy to remember.
There is also the magic system: Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Chaos (spoiler, the fifth one is evil magic). It’s not very inventive, but it’s at least not like Keeper of the Lost Cities‘, “Hey, let’s have five billion different types of magic at once, because Sophie needs to be POWERFUL so that all the teenage girls will be inspired to be like her or whatever.” As you can expect, Chaos magic is the dark-type magic that can corrupt souls and junk.
The final decisive advantage that Magisterium has over the rabble is… that it’s SHORT! Hallelujah, holy shit! There are only five books in the series, at approximately 250 pages apiece, much better than Keeper’s “Lord of the Rings x10” length. This means that it can focus on just plot progression (i.e. what we actually care about), and not stuff like Keeper‘s stupid Sophitz Vs. Foster-Keefe drama, or Harry Potter‘s own #SaveTheDobbies subplot. And it’s actually a good plot to boot. The writing wasn’t the best, but it was at least enough to keep me wanting more.
Unfortunately, the short length also means that things end anticlimactically. Harry Potter had an epic final battle, involving so many characters that we’d seen since the very beginning finally duke it out with Voldy’s Death Pimps. But since the Magisterium books are so short, climaxes are here and gone. It’s not like Monogatari where they talk for so long that they forget to fight in the first place. There are battles, they’re just short and unceremonious. This also includes, sadly, the final battle, which I calculated to be around 15-20 pages in total. But hey… silver lining. Being short is still the better outcome.
In order to discuss the characters, I must spoil a reveal about our boy, Callum. This is a spoiler for the climax of the first book, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t wanna read it. The thing about Callum is that he does not exist. At the end of book one, he is told that he is harboring the soul of Constantine Madden, who happens to be the Enemy of Death. This puts him through quite the moral conundrum; something that not even Harry Potter had to go through. Being the “bad guy” would seem to make him super unrelatable, since the kiddies want to project themselves onto the “righteous hero”, but he’s actually relatable in a different way, as he’s constantly suffering an identity crisis (typical of most kids as well).
We also have Aaron, who isn’t actually a Ron Weasely clone. Aaron ends up being a Makar, which is not the guy from Wind Waker, but instead the term for a Chaos magic user. The policy in Magisterium is “fight fire with fire,” as only another Makar can fight the Enemy of Death (I guess?). Call has to be his counterweight, which basically means that he has to make sure Aaron doesn’t get consumed (easier said than done).
The female lead is Tamara, and she’s basically Hermione, minus being smart. She’s kind of a typical tomboyish girl who doesn’t really have anything interesting going for her. The final main character is Jasper, who is basically Malfoy, except he actually becomes an ally after a certain point. But other than his frequent, unfunny jabs at Call, he’s not too interesting either.
In the end, the moral conundrum that they try with Callum falls flat. Sure, he has to deal with his whole crisis, but there’s always a defined antagonist to make him look good. Like I said in my review of Arc of a Scythe, not having a villain that the readers can sympathize with makes writing morally gray narratives really hard. Because of this, it never really feels like Callum has any issues whatsoever. I’ll admit that they do some stuff with Aaron later that’s pretty interesting, but it feels meh in the long run.
The only reason why there’s a moral conundrum is because Magisterium is run by twelve-year-olds. I get that it’s intentional, but it’s still dumb how the faculty are next to worthless. When Callum’s issue is inevitably revealed, at least half of them are like, “He’s a murderer, throw him in jail, arrgh!” with no hesitation. It makes sense for other students to be jerks about it, but the adults should’ve had a more rational approach because they’re… ADULTS. There’s also the policy on the Devoured, which is when a person gets too into their element. The Magisterium says that being Devoured turns you into a rampaging monster, yet EVERY SINGLE Devoured that appears in the story is WELL in control of their humanity. I get that’s also intentional… but that just makes it arbitrary.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Despite all its flaws, Magisterium is still the best Harry Potter knockoff I’ve read to date. The authors try some interesting ideas, but once again, it seems that teaching young’uns about moral ambiguity is impossible. No! Kids must be raised believing that there’s only one-dimensional good and one-dimensional evil in the world! Well whatever… Magisterium has decent entertainment value. If you were threatened at gunpoint to read through all of a Harry Potter knockoff, then pick this one.
It’s been a couple of years since I read the manga, Erased. But from what I can remember, it was a pleasantly surprising suspense manga with a supernatural twist (although I don’t quite get why people love it like SO much). “Why are you talking about Erased?” you ask. Well, the mangaka of Erased is publishing a new series, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams, which has recently been released in North America by Yen Press. So, I’m gonna talk about it for a bit.
In this manga, Senri Nakajou is the sole survivor of an attack on his family that results in his parents’ and twin brother’s deaths. His only memory of the killer is a series of scars on his arm that read “fire”, earning the killer the name Fire Man. Years later, he catches a glimpse of said man again, and begins a slow descent into madness trying to track the killer down.
Right off the bat, I can’t really tell what the author is trying to do with this manga. Similar to Erased, the main character’s goal is to track down a murderer… again! Also, there are abusive parents… AGAIN! I can’t fault someone for sticking with what they do best, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is a bit TOO much like Erased for those reasons.
Like the author’s previous work, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is best when it’s strictly being an old-school suspense manga. It doesn’t take long at all for the search for Fire Man to get really complicated, as Senri isn’t the only one who’s after his head, and Senri’s family aren’t his only victims. A development at the end of volume 2 adds a cherry even more to the top of the existing mystery cake.
Unfortunately, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams isn’t too great in the character department. Senri is just a generic angsty boy who slowly loses direction on his moral compass, and it’s not a particularly interesting instance of this character type. The female lead, Enan, seems to be someone who exists just to tell him that what he’s doing is morally incorrect (as if it weren’t obvious enough). Both kids have abusive parents in their lives, and between this and Erased, it seems that the author uses this trope to give us easily sympathizable characters. I hate assuming intentions, but that’s what my critic-brain tells me.
The art is no different from Erased, which is good or bad depending on how you feel about it. The girls still have those nice, full lips; your mileage may vary on that. Admittedly, this artstyle really isn’t the best for a suspense manga, but it at least has a distinct look.
Current Verdict: 7.3/10
I don’t know what it is, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams just doesn’t quite seem to cut it for me. Maybe my standards for suspense have grown too high after reading some of Naoki Urasawa’s stuff? Well, if you love Erased as much as the next guy, then this manga should be just about as good.
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.
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.