Atlas Shrugged: The Sci-Fi Dystopia Novel That’s Also a Self-Help Book

I have the longest story with this book. I’ve been battling serious depression over the past two years (longer than that by the time the post actually goes out) because it feels like human civilization is falling apart. Heck, you could argue it’s been happening longer than that; since the #MeToo movement in 2017, it feels like violent protests have been a way of life. Of course, 2020 set a new precedent of despair, when COVID took the world, and simple matters of health became political. That same year, George Floyd was murdered, and divided the human race amongst itself overnight. 2021 began with a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill, organized entirely by American citizens with a political agenda. At the time of writing this paragraph, Russia is invading Ukraine, laying the groundwork for World War III. To top it off, earth is being ravaged by climate change, at a rate that keeps increasing at an exponential rate despite all the efforts that have been put in to delay it. As of completing the book, Ukraine is still at war, and abortion is now illegal on a constitutional level following the result of Roe v. Wade, not to mention a spike in mass shootings.

This is where Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged comes in. I was at a point when I finally figured out how to enjoy life, but now I’m drowning in despair. I can’t begin to list the violent emotions and twisted thoughts I’ve felt. To give you an idea, my mother has considered sending me to the psych ward numerous times. After some intense discussions with her, she offered up Atlas Shrugged. According to her, it would—at the very least—expose the media and these new-fangled activists as the BS-spewers that they allegedly are. I was skeptical, but Atlas Shrugged is apparently one of the most influential novels of all time; second only to The Bible.

Atlas Shrugged, however, is massive. This is the kind of book that I can only read with the new purging of pop culture media that I have committed to. One chapter can take about an hour, and there’s a lot of chapters; over a thousand pages’ worth. I started the book in February 2022, and you’re reading this post not long after I actually finished the book. That’s how much of an investment it is.

Like any hard SF novel, completing it is a monumental task. One aspect of these kinds of books is that merely figuring out the basic premise is a headache that you’re meant to experience, and thus, it feels like discussing any aspect of the novel is spoiler territory, even though it’s super old. So… Here’s a spoiler warning then. Read on if you wish.

Right off the bat, Rand’s prose feels like what a lot of modern writers, whom I consider pretentious, try to be. A lot of Atlas Shrugged is very verbose, and at first, it feels like nothing is happening. However, unlike books such as Monogatari, I wasn’t mad. A lot of passages give you hints pertaining to the book’s worldbuilding and how characters think and feel. The writing is also very poetic, describing things metaphorically but in a way that can be understood by anyone with a basic grasp of the English language; unlike a lot of YA and light novels that vomit nonsensical similes at everything. 

You are given your first signs of how messed up the world of Atlas Shrugged is with the initial conflict centered around Taggart Transcontinental, a railroad company. The organization has always been run by Taggarts, and this generation is brother and sister James and Dagny Taggart. When one of their lines desperately needs fixing, Dagny is literally the only person to do anything about it. She orders an untested metal from a company that James doesn’t trust, while his “trusted” metals haven’t been delivered in over a year since being ordered. What jumps out is that she is the only one in the whole organization who’s proactive; everyone else, except a guy named Eddie Willers, sucks. 

The story also involves the creator of the aforementioned untested metal, Hank Rearden. He went from slaving away in the mines to owning his own steel plant, an achievement that he knows he’s damn well earned. Dagny’s order for his metal is the first big order his company has ever received. The reason for this is because everyone else is afraid to risk using it.

Right off the bat, Atlas Shrugged should resonate with just about anyone alive, especially these days. Heck, a lot of the stuff brought up in this book is stuff I’ve had internal debates about for years. I one hundred percent relate to Dagny and Hank, who feel like they’re surrounded by morons at all times. Well, I say morons, but a more literal term would be sheep; they just stick to doing what they’re told, with no drive to make anything better. This isn’t even remotely a new trope, but in Atlas Shrugged, it feels more grounded and real. Every writer and their grandma these days would chalk this up to how humans are wired to behave and there’s nothing we can do about it. Good ol’ Ayn Rand, however, presents this behavior as an unnatural, conscious choice that most people—unfortunately—decide to make. 

Words cannot describe just how vindicating Atlas Shrugged is. Every other scene, there’s something that feels like Rand literally wrote for me specifically. The inane ignoramity (professional term) of mankind feels like every day of my life since Donald Trump ran for President. On a side note, Atlas Shrugged is significantly easier to digest than what I thought going in. It’s lengthy, sure, but the actual content of the book is incredibly straightforward. If you could get through crap like Of Mice and Men in high school, then Atlas Shrugged will be no problem.

The plot starts off in earnest at the end of part one. Dagny and Hank go on a road trip and stumble upon a mysterious machine, abandoned in a junk heap in an equally abandoned factory. Turns out that this device, if seen through to the end, would literally solve all of humanity’s energy problems and save the world. However, its creator is unaccounted for, and she scrambles to find that creator or reverse engineer the machine, all while surviving the ignorant world she lives in. Survival is not easy, especially when the few smart people that remain start abandoning their businesses unannounced.

Of course, you could look at the publication year saying “1957” and chalk Atlas Shrugged up for yet another McCarthy-ist novel written during the Red Scare. The thing is, due to everything discussed up to this point, I would’ve never guessed this was a Red Scare book because it sure didn’t feel like it at all. Despite the difference in eras, I could attribute so much more about Atlas Shrugged to real life in this day and age than any other cyberpunk I’ve ever experienced. However, the fact that Atlas Shrugged feels even more relevant than it did at the time isn’t exactly a good thing.

If you couldn’t tell, Atlas Shrugged is meant to have only two likable characters, and they are Dagny and Hank. Let’s talk about Hank first, since I’m saving the best for last. He loves his career with Rearden Metal, especially more than the stupid people he’s surrounded by, including his stupid wife. He doesn’t let other people’s thoughts get in his way, including those in the media. It’s ironic that someone who cares so little about people contributes more to their lives than most… or at least he would be if there weren’t politically correct idiots trying to ruin his business.

Meanwhile, Dagny… ho-hoh boy, lemme tell you. I daresay that she is the Best Girl in all classic literature. She’s like Hank in not caring, only better. Her proactive personality feels so modern compared to any other character of classic literature. Dagny is unimaginably badass, and if you told me that girls like Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind or anyone from Little Women were better, I would absolutely not believe you. 

Among these two awesome protagonists whom you’re meant to love, and these wingnuts that you’re meant to hate, there is an anomaly named Francisco d’Anconia. You could argue he’s the main villain of the book, despite him definitely not being an ignoramus like the rest of mankind. He has iconic and inspirational moments that feel amazing, like he really understands how life works, yet he seems to be working against the human race with most of his actions. I’d say he’s the extreme end of Dagny and Hank’s personalities, but at the same time, he could just be a massive troll.

If there are any flaws in the book’s writing, it’s that I always had trouble telling where anyone was in 3D space. The dialogue is the heart and soul of Atlas Shrugged, and it’s so easy to get absorbed in it that they can seemingly teleport to another location. You could also argue that some of the big long passages that convey the book’s themes get redundant (including a seventy page speech that is more-or-less a summation of all the themes explored), but the way Rand thinks is so unconventional, that you kind of need to see it multiple times to really process the full weight of her words.

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Final Verdict: 10/10

Why does anyone bother with any classic literature other than Atlas Shrugged? I’ve read crummy books with blurbs that say “I’ll be thinking about these themes for a long time”, but Atlas Shrugged is the first time I truly feel that way about a book. It’s so insane that—scratch that—it’s saner than almost anything else out there. If Ayn Rand wrote and published it today, it would get canceled ten times over. Heck, the FBI would’ve personally hunted her down. Atlas Shrugged would be considered by many to be pure evil, and that’s precisely why it’s a must-read. Just keep in mind that it will not give you hope for mankind; it’s only meant to give you hope for yourself.

Blood Scion: This Might be the Most Brutal YA Novel of All Time

Other than the amazing cover art, I honestly don’t know why I decided to read Deborah Falaye’s Blood Scion. Sure, I’ve read many books that deal with the topic of racism. However, with the exception of Tristan Strong, I can’t tell you if my glowing reviews of books like Legendborn and Blood Like Magic were based on the actual quality, or the guilt-stricken White man who’s tried to run from his American heritage his whole life. Also, I’ve been getting more and more into folk metal. Thanks to this sub-genre of music, I’ve begun to feel like these diverse books give off an understandable but grim rage and hatred that have caused me extreme mental anguish these past two years. Yet, here we are, with you reading my review of this book.

Why do I even bother going over the premises of these kinds of books? If you’ve read any of the aforementioned books, this’ll sound familiar: a girl named Sloane Shade is Yoruba, a race of innocent folk whose lives were turned upside down by the White supremacist Lucis menace. What’s worse is that she’s additionally a Scion, descended from Shango, the Orisha of Fire; Scions are an extra no-no in this world, and the Lucis do not hesitate to off them. She, like her mother before her, has stripped herself of her culture and heritage to keep her rinky-dink little village (and grandfather) safe from the Lucis, who tend to execute the relatives of those they deem criminals. And if it couldn’t get any YA-er, she gets drafted into the Lucis military to fight as a child soldier against the Shadow Rebels, who are Scions that refuse to hide. Cool. Might as well infiltrate their archives and get to find out what happened to her presumably dead mom!

Are people so P.C. that everything has to give a disclaimer warning? This is the third book I’ve read that’s done it, and the other cases came out in 2021 at the earliest. Anyway, if you couldn’t tell, Blood Scion checks off a lot of items on humanity’s laundry list of social issues that give me despair from the fact that they’re all still ongoing. In case you’ve never read a YA novel that deals with these issues before, let’s go over them thoroughly. 

The big one is racism. The Lucis persecute the Yoruba, and treat them as slaves. Some are taken from their homes to rot on literal plantations. This also technically counts as colonialism, since the Lucis are invaders who happen to have better technology. On top of that, we also have what I believe is called internalized racism, since the Yoruba have been brainwashed into hating their own heritages. There’s also mysogyny and sexual assault, since the Lucis are very much portrayed as rapists, such as one who tries to do such a thing to Sloane in the first chapter before he gets burnt to death by her power.

There’s also the child soldier thing. Yeah, that’s a bit messed up, especially since Sloane has essentially been drafted to kill her own brethren. Anyone who goes A.W.O.L. gets shot dead, plain and simple. Basically, it’s Divergent but harsher. The final cherry on top is cultural appropriation, which is shown when the Lucis queen, Olympia, is casually wearing Yoruba garb for shits and giggles.

Despite how fascinating West African culture is, I feel like a lot of authors who dabble in it paint a pretty bland picture. In fact, Tristan Strong paints the only picture I would call lively. Fortunately, Blood Scion isn’t “just take typical Western fantasy tropes and change the name” like a lot of other novels. There is a bit of a science fiction spin on worldbuilding, since the Lucins have electricity and whatnot, while the dark skinned villagers don’t have crap. *Sniff* Aaaaaah… the fresh reek of colonialism. Thanks I hate it.

Blood Scion is written as you’d expect any YA novel to be; verbose, full of adjectives, and in the present tense. It’s effective, but doesn’t at all stand out from its contemporaries, especially when compared to Xiran Jay Zhao. Nonetheless, “effective” means “effective.” Blood Scion sinks the dagger into your heart and twists for maximum laceration. Falaye hams in the brutality of how Sloane’s people are treated; a brutality that you don’t have to look too hard to find in the real world.

I thought that with COVID, the war in Ukraine, and this being the eighth-or-so book of its kind that I’ve experienced, that I would be desensitized to Blood Scion. Nope, that didn’t happen. I found myself overcome with the all-too-familiar, soul-crushing despair caused by White supremacy.

Despite how brutal Blood Scion is, it still has a lot of the tropes that occur when the main protagonist is sent to some kind of disciplinary facility to train in some form. In order to make an underdog story, Sloane starts out as a bad apple in a bunch of cosmic crisps. On top of that, we have the “impenetrable fortress” with the most convenient blind spots. It takes suspension of disbelief when they have spotlights, guards, and trained jaguars patrolling the place, yet they magically don’t get caught when sneaking out one night. Also, everyone and their grandma has smuggled some kind of weapon into the camp, meanwhile when they see Sloane they’re like “Oh my god, TEA LEAVES?! Nope, we gotta confiscate that.” 

The biggest flaw of Blood Scion is its cast, in that if you’ve read any YA novel besides Iron Widow, you’ve seen them all before. Sloane is literally Bree, Zélie, Rue, and Voya; yet, to my luck, she’s probably the weakest among them. Like many YA girls, she’s all talk and next-to-no walk other than random, arbitrary spurts of badassery. Like I said before, she gets pummeled in camp in order to make her an underdog. On the other hand, Best Girl Zetian would’ve just torched the place and been done with it. Sure, there is an actual stipulation in that Sloane can’t risk getting caught, but she still ends up using her power at least once, to save someone who just so magically happens to be Yoruba as well. Most notably—minor spoilers—there is no catharsis with her character arc, at least not at present since there is a forthcoming sequel and all. The training regimen is meant to strip kids of their humanity, and sadly, that’s inevitable with Sloane. I don’t even want to say any more about this, lest I puke.

On to all the other relatable and wholly unremarkable characters! Malachi is a bully who at least has a believable motive to hate Sloane; his parents died in a fire she caused by accident. However, all that does for him is make him a Saturday morning cartoon bully who is interchangeable with literally any YA male of his kind. Sloane’s supporters are relatable teens named Izara, Nazanin, and Jericho. Beyond their tragic backstories, they’re kind of deadweights.

Among the White supremacist Lucis, we have the somewhat human Dane Grey. He isn’t the most racist guy at camp; instead of killing Sloane, he just humiliates her instead. The rest of the Lucis? From Lieutenant Faas Bakker, to Queen Facism herself, they’re monsters, and I hate them. I hate them because they exist in this world, and are running it to the ground.

There is a silver lining here. Blood Scion really goes off the rails toward the end. Falaye legitimately caught me off-guard with a lot of developments, and pulled off things that I didn’t think any YA author had the gall to do. It also really showcases how convoluted the issue of race has become.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

Is this even an impartial score? Despite its flaws, Blood Scion was pure pain and suffering for me. It was full of such sadness and rage, and Sloane didn’t even feel like a particularly empowering character (although that could be because any YA protagonist other than Zetian feels like crap). In all honesty, I don’t even know if I have the mental fortitude to read the sequel, let alone any more books on this topic. Is this really supposed to help with racial healing? If you wanna try and find out, then be my guest.

Apparently, Triple-A Gaming is Scary: A Rant

I’m a Nintendo kid. Despite its shortcomings, such as terrible online servers (which I don’t use because I choose not to have friends), and games that don’t even remotely meet people’s expectations (that they continue to make despite negative feedback), I am prepared to follow them to the bitter end. In recent years, I’ve learned that many triple-A game studios are, for the most part, heartless swindlers, and Nintendo was the least of many evils.

One bad thing I’ve heard of is microtransactions in pay-to-win games. Normally, they show up in games that are free. However, I’ve heard of them showing up in a lot of games that cost money to buy, too (such as one of the Crash Bandicoot racing games). That’s pretty gross, but that’s only the tip of a much larger iceberg. And gamers are the Titanic.

The worst I had heard of was Bethesda, the creators of Fallout and Elder Scrolls. Their games are buggy; notoriously buggy. And. They. Don’t. Care. This studio rolls in millions of smackaroos by consciously putting out dysfunctional games that people still buy for some reason. Not only that, but some of the controversies I had heard of are actually illegal, such as a scam in Fallout ’76 Collector’s Edition merch, where people didn’t actually get what they paid for.

However, seeing is believing, and I had no idea just how bad triple-A gaming is; it’s gotta be the most corrupt consumer market next to car dealerships. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I bought a new gaming laptop. It’s small, but it’s a beast, and it can play pretty much any triple-A game coming out in the foreseeable future. There were some coming out this year that I actually wanted… and this is when I saw the corruption firsthand.

The first sign is Square Enix’s Forspoken. Apparently, PS5 games cost $69.99USD, but Forspoken costs that much on PC as well. According to the Steam forums, Forspoken will start a new precedent by Square Enix to gradually increase the price of all triple-A games… eventually topping off at $100USD. It’s not only disgustingly corrupt; it’s stupid. At this point, the only thing that this generation’s games have is better graphics, and to even appreciate those, you need to break out thousands on a TV that can support such ludicrous resolutions. And that’s not even taking into account the amount of these massively anticipated games that flop hardcore. Even if Forspoken was a good game—heck, even if it was a really good game that’s worth the money—buying it would only feed the beast.

Another problem is Bethesda’s Starfield. I ignored this game when it was announced, but recently, I’ve been watching Tom Fawkes play through Elder Scrolls IV: The Krug Khronicles. Elder Scrolls is my kind of game: open world sandbox, non-linear structure, a myriad of playstyles, and multiple solutions to quests. Bethesda has a good design philosophy… but sadly, they can’t—and won’t—execute it well. I would love to play Starfield, but it’s such a huge risk. As a weeb, I’m also interested in Ghostwire Tokyo. Although Bethesda’s merely its publisher, not its devs, they probably have the authority to tell the actual devs something like “So, if you happen to come across any bugs in the game’s programming, don’t do anything, ‘kay?”. They’ve gotten away with selling broken products for decades. In fact, people still buy their games despite this.

That last phrase is the real crux of the matter, isn’t it? Despite the glaring flaws that these games have, people buy them anyway. It’s almost like a vicious cycle. Square Enix can get away with what they’re pulling, because people will pay anything for the next big thing. I’ve lived through so many games that were supposed to “transcend reality” that ended up being mediocre disappointments. 

Us middle-class plebes boycotting a game won’t do much of anything, because of how the gaming landscape has changed. We have to factor in gamers, and I don’t mean people who play games as their hobby; I mean those who play games for a living. The algorithm is ruthless, and playing the right game at the right time is literally what puts a roof over their heads. Square Enix can raise their prices however high they want, for the professional gamers are obligated to buy any and all highly anticipated releases. They’ll shell out the triple-digit-dough for a special edition when applicable, especially when factoring in collectors. If Square Enix really plans to shift the market like this, they will succeed. It really won’t make any difference if I buy Forspoken or not. In fact, I’m tempted to get it day 1 because it would be an interesting experience to be part of the inevitable controversy surrounding its main protagonist, since apparently having a Black female lead protagonist in 2022 is utterly outrageous.

In addition to all that, we have to worry about these things called NFTs (short for Non-Fungible Tokens). I had heard of them on the Disc Only Podcast, where they were alluded to as harbingers of the apocalypse (I distinctly recall one person in chat responding with “We live in a dystopia”). No one on the podcast actually explained what NFTs were, so it meant they were a big enough deal to assume that everyone knew what they were. Of course, I didn’t because I’m me. Based on what I looked up, NFTs are simply the digital equivalent to a certificate of authentication on a collector’s item. The most corrupt aspect about them just seems to be the fact that rich people have spent millions on them, as opposed to giving that money to charities. I don’t quite know how they will bring ruin to our lives, but apparently, if they become incorporated into videogames, us consumers will suddenly find ourselves with empty wallets and no First Amendment.

The objectively better thing to do is back out and play indie games. While these smaller teams can still make equally bad decisions as triple-A studios (possibly even more-so), they at least cost less, at most half the price of a triple-A game. Best case scenario, you’ll have something that’s just as good as, if not better than, most triple-A games at their finest. Indie games will likely not be affected by an increase in triple-A game prices; in fact, it would only make people flock over to their more affordable games instead. I’m already stoked for this year’s indie titles, with Sea of Stars, SacriFire, and Slime Rancher 2 to name a few (oh right, I gotta upload my review of the first game eventually…). Not to mention that Nintendo still has a promising lineup of $59.99USD games, such as Pokémon Legends: Arceus, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, Mario and Rabbids: Sparks of Hope, Splatoon 3, and more. In fact, listing these titles off already made me more excited for them.

Speaking of Nintendo, I want to end this off positively. Not all of these studios are bad; you just have to look past the ads blaring “NEXT-GEN GRAPHICS” and whatnot. Some triple-A games are actually worth the $59.99USD, and not just Nintendo. For example, Yakuza is a very beloved SEGA I.P. that I’ve never once heard any of these con-art stories from. Also, I’ve been playing Grounded in Early Access. It’s by Obsidian, which is—I believe—a triple-A studio. I’ve really loved it, even in Early Access (although I can’t get any achievements because I don’t have an Xbox account and have to play offline). There are no absolutes in the infinitely complex world of gaming, except for “absolute wastes of money.” 

So, the moral of the story? Don’t play triple-A games, and don’t take up gaming as a career. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you should be wary of how the market is because it is capitalism at its rudest. What is your experience with the con artists who make up triple-A studios? Have you converted to indie games because they’re cheaper?

Iron Widow: To Make a Great YA Novel, Just Add Anime

There is no shortage of Feminist power fantasies these days. In fact, I read one such novel back before COVID broke out: part one of Suzanne Young’s Girls With Sharp Sticks trilogy. It was good, but it was so generic and predictable, I’d rather not spend my time finishing it, because I figured a better Feminist power fantasy would come up. Sure enough, that happened in 2021, when Xiran Jay Zhao published their debut novel: Iron Widow.

In Iron Widow, we are taken to an alternate version of China, set hundreds of years in the past but with futuristic technology (what is this, Star Wars?). The alien menace known as the Hundun threatens the nation of Huaxia. Fight fire with fire, as they say, and by “fire”, I mean they build Gundams out of defeated Hundun. These mechs, known as Chrysalis, must be piloted by a male and female team. However, unlike those anime where the mech is powered by sex, the Chrysalises are powered by sexism, and the woman pilot more-often-than-not can’t handle the strain of her husband’s qi. Wu Zetian’s older sister was killed, not in battle, but murdered by her husband Yang Guang. Naturally, Zetian voluntarily sells herself to him just for an opportunity to murder him. What could possibly go wrong?

Unlike Blood Like Magic, the disclaimer at the beginning is fully needed. No, that’s an understatement. The only other book this viscerally brutal that I read was Legendborn, and even then, the searing social commentary was only prevalent like 60% of the time. In Iron Widow, every page is a reminder of the twisted world in the book, not too different from the twisted world that men created. I won’t spoil anything more about this aspect of Iron Widow’s worldbuilding, but just know it’s beyond brutal.

The main draw with Iron Widow is the very anime-inspired SF world, versus Girls With Sharp Sticks’ nothing. Zhao did their homework with this one, that’s for sure. The terms are easy to follow, and there isn’t an overabundance of Things That Have Common Nouns With Capital Letters As Their Names. I admit that I was enthralled by the mechs, especially Guang’s, which is a kyubi; Zhao knows the fastest way to a weeb’s heart is to make a yokai Gundam. 

The writing is great to boot. I had a great sense of 3D space and what stuff looked like. Plus the battles were spectacular, with no shortage of anime flair. Like I said before, the portrayal of sexism is unrelenting and bludgeoning, written with exquisite and tormented poetry. The only problem I had is that I couldn’t quite picture the Hundun. They seemed to be a generic robot menace, though. 

Anyway, how’s the plot? Well, it’s a YA novel, so it’s predictable. However, Iron Widow manages to be one of the best YA novels of 2021 all the same. Like in Wings of Ebony, the book cuts out the fat to get to the good stuff. Exactly seventy pages in, Zetian successfully murders Guang during the first major battle. She then becomes the rare instance of an Iron Widow (title drop), which is something that is—naturally—covered up. In order to maintain control of her, she is paired with the strongest guy they got: Li Shimin, who happens to be a convicted felon. The bulk of the story is her building a relationship with Shimin, while trying to survive the system that’s so jerry-rigged against her.

Boy-o-boy, the cast is… something. Zetian is so manufactured it’s almost funny; but you know what, women get so much crap, I’m not even mad. She is as uncompromising and fierce as it gets. Nothing—and I mean NOTHING—breaks her. She’ll slander anyone who disagrees with her, and has no remorse when she murders Guang. Most of the men are one-dimensional sleazes, but like in Girls With Sharp Sticks, there’s that one likable guy. And it’s Shimin of all people. Whoda thought that the guy who’s hyped up to be a monster… isn’t? I never predicted that exact thing as soon as his name came up for the first time. Another predictable thing is Gao Yizhi. He’s the childhood friend, who spends a good portion of the book abandoned by Zetian so she can pursue her goal. However, he uses money to get into the camp, and exists as the good boy to contrast Shimin’s naughty boy. This sounds like the start of a cringy relationship, but to my pleasant surprise, these three protagonists’ relationships with one another ended up being one of the best takes of the love triangle trope I have ever seen.

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Final Verdict: 9.8/10

Xiran Jay Zhao has single-handedly made me give a crap about YA novels again. Iron Widow puts them in my book as one of the most promising new writers going into this decade. My butt’s already clenched waiting for the sequel, and more importantly, the possibility that Zhao can actually follow-up. If only they would write a middle-grade novel to tide me over… oh wait, they are, and it’s coming out later this year. Anyway, Iron Widow is my favorite YA novel of 2021 (too bad it isn’t 2021 anymore so no one cares), and I highly recommend it.

Starting off the New Year with a Mental Health Update!

Happy 2022, guys! Year three of COVID—let’s goooooooo! Anyway, today’s topic of discussion involves my obsession over the past two years: COVID-19. It has changed a lot—scratch that—it changed human society from the ground up. It changed how we see each other, how we communicate, and exposed all of the inequalities that have existed since the very beginning. As a fellow human, it has also changed me. It has rewritten my genetic code and my own memories. 

In case you couldn’t tell, my posts have been getting a bit messed up. If you read my cynicism post, you’ll have seen my obsession with not just COVID, but racism and climate change as well. It’s worse than that. I have had several drafts of different rants written in advance; none of them have been published, and for good reason. I had a post about the pointlessness of social commentaries; however, the latter half was full of what could be considered extremist propaganda. 

One of my problems since COVID is that I’ve been falling into extremes. Keep in mind, I hate politics and would never involve myself with either side in a billion years; yet these past two years, I’ve been tormented by extreme thinking.  

The bulk of my issues can be boiled down to activists, and the media. While I support the causes of civil rights, LGBTQIA+ advocacy, and a better climate future, extremists who might’ve been shrugged off as P.C. as little as five years ago have more recently gained a stranglehold on mainstream culture that’s starting to affect me; it’s even being taught to vulnerable kids in schools, with picture books to boot (at least in my state). They basically just “decide” for everyone what they have to do, without exception, to be a good person. As a person with autism, who takes things literally and has a hard time understanding the gray areas in life, this has caused me to fall apart at the seams.

In other news, I have—for the first time in my life—voluntarily put on the news. The idea that it really is constant, unrelenting misery is completely true. Five minutes, and I guarantee you’ll lose all hope in mankind. I’ve been so shaped by these past two years during this STILL ONGOING pandemic that I’ve been making irrational choices. I’ve even had brief episodes of unhealthy altruistic delusions, where I was more-than-willing to donate irresponsibly to charities and run myself into bankruptcy (and that’s in addition to regular delusions in the form of uncontrollable sobbing). My loving mother is the only reason why I’m still here.

Similar to how COVID has opened us like a book, it made me face something that I had been doing my whole life: running from my American heritage. My strange disdain towards most things American is because of this. It’s why I rarely watch movies, don’t like death or nu metal (both of which originated in America), prefer to watch anime subbed, and don’t own an Xbox (the one American console I know of). It’s time I stopped running. Starting today, I will be beginning a New Years’ resolution to help people in any way I can for the rest of my life (for the sake of anonymity, I will not blog about any specific deeds (that also helps me build an unsung hero image)).

There’s also changes coming to the blog… well, one change. If you’ve read my latest Weeb Reads Monthly post, and light novel posts in general, you’d know how emotionally draining they’ve become. In case you haven’t noticed, there hasn’t been a Weeb Reads Monthly for December. And there won’t be one this month, or ever. Light novels—the initial reason why I started this blog—will never be covered again, effective immediately. The posts were just not good enough; I have no idea how Justus R. Stone’s group can write massive dissertations about a single volume. In any case, I will be able to enjoy light novels at my leisure again. You just won’t know what I think about them.

Let’s look at some more positives. Some kick-ass-looking metal bands are gonna debut this year, plus we get some hype videogames. That definitely offsets all the horrible things happening, right? I dunno. Maybe not. I’m still going insane. How have these past years treated you, and how do you plan to survive the third year of COVID?

Cynicism in Entertainment: When is it Too Much? Can There be Too Much?

This is probably something you can type into Google and find a scholarly Harvard thesis on. But since this topic has been bugging me for quite some time, I thought I could put in my two cents. I feel like the amount of cynicism in entertainment, or lack thereof, has been largely under debate since forever. And it’s something that’s come to a head for me on a personal level since the start of the pandemic, and as of finishing Volume 8 of RWBY. For this post, I’ll try to lay down both sides of the coin in a civil manner. There will be spoilers for RWBY and Re:ZERO among others throughout this discussion.

The first thing to bring up is the fact that darker times are hard to face in real life. And for some people, the SOLE counter to that is in Escapist fantasies such as those put out by Disney. That company has continued to inspire hope for generations, and is almost at the one-century mark of its running. On the flipside, Disney doesn’t make the bad things go away in real life. You will not only be faced with personal issues, but societal ones as well (more on the latter later). Even if you watch something like Soul for example, which has the lesson of living life to the fullest, you’ll still have to toil at school or a job even if you take that lesson to heart. 

But let’s flip it back again, and discuss the question I asked at the beginning: When is cynicism too much? At the point I’m at in Re:ZERO and RWBY, there have been so many deaths that it has completely desensitized me. The fourth (or is it fifth?) arc of Re:ZERO starts with a child being thrown from the top of a building, after which an entire crowd of people explode into blood and guts. This happens after the main character has died and respawned after at least a dozen gruesome deaths, including being eaten alive by hundreds of demon rabbits. And RWBY? There’s death everywhere! RWBY is particularly controversial because it started off as a very silly battle shounen, then took an incredibly dark direction following the passing of its creator. And for the record, it has legitimately made me depressed. While I have no doubt that any American drama is still darker, RWBY is the most cynical work of fiction I have ever consumed. It has literally made me think to myself: “Life was not God’s gift to us; it was a punishment.”

To define how cynical a narrative work is, you should first find a definitive answer to how dark real life is. The problem is that everyone suffers in different ways and amounts. Re:ZERO seems exaggerated, since I definitely haven’t lived a life where I watch a close friend die right before my eyes every single day. But what about someone living in the Middle East? There are refugees for a reason, you know.

But here’s the kicker. While I have written off stuff as “torture porn”, and accused people of reading too much into social media, I must admit that I’ve become like that as well. The pandemic has affected the lives of pretty much every human, yet instead of bringing people together, it bolstered existing issues and—in essence—ruined everything. It doesn’t take long to find news about fully vaccinated people dying of COVID, countries re-entering lockdown (heck, the bands I follow are still having gigs cancelled left and right), governments stripping unvaccinated people of human rights, California slowly burning to the ground, the slaughterhouse that was Travis Scott’s Astroworld concert, and other human failures. You don’t even need these past couple of years to see how miserable life has always been. America has violated its own Constitution, and created racist and misogynist propaganda since its birth. How can I write off series as torture porn, when they seem perfectly apropos to actual life?

The argument I see the most in favor of cynicism is that it makes the story more mature and intellectual. But sometimes I feel like it’s actually more childish than even Disney. One example that comes to mind is Dungeon Busters, which is an urban fantasy that shows the political ramifications of RPG tropes existing in the real world. I want to say it’s a really thoughtful series, but I’m not sure I can. Trump is portrayed in it as a whiny brat who wants to nuke everything. I don’t know if that portrayal is actually mature, and since we’ll probably never know what Trump was truly like during his term, I can’t say that Dungeon Busters’ Trump is effective. Also, there’s a scene where a supporting protagonist shows a deep prejudice towards Americans entirely because of America’s past crimes against Japan, such as the atomic bombings at the end of WWII, decades before her birth. You’re meant to sympathize with her. However, in real life, Japan allows and welcomes American tourists with open arms (at least before COVID). I can’t judge if such deep-seeded grudges are actually mature or not. I just can’t.

Another example I can place is the famous videogame, A Way Out. I’ve seen three playthroughs of it on YouTube, and that final plot twist will always be infamous. You know, the one where Vincent was actually a police officer trying to nail Leo, and Harvey—the game’s villain—at the same time? It’s SUPER cynical, because it basically implies that your closest friend will stab you in the back someday, that no one can mutually agree on anything, and that there’s no point in ever trying to be nice to anyone. They completely throw away logic (such as parts where Vincent commits other crimes while undercover and endangers civilian lives) in order to make a purely cynical gaming experience, and cause mental whiplash for the people playing by turning the game from co-op to PvP right at the end, with a different—equally sad—ending based on who lives. Does that really make it better, though?

There is no end to different examples of arguments over whether or not cynicism is too much. But regardless, I’m starting to think that there can never be too much of it. Thanks to what COVID has done to me, in conjunction with social media being itself, I have lost all hope. How much cynicism can you handle? Let me know in the comments!

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles: I MISS THIS SERIES SO MUCH

PREFACE: I originally split this review into two parts, the first of which I recently deleted. The reason was that I wanted to jump in on the hype of Great Ace Attorney, but I couldn’t possibly beat both games in time. I’m sorry for not keeping my usual standards to heart. My second part of the review was so awful, I decided to shift gears to a full, proper review. I hope you enjoy it!


Time for a long story. While this is the first Ace Attorney game I’m covering on my blog, this is definitely NOT the first Ace Attorney game I’ve played. In fact, I’ve played through these games with my sister for years. Thing is, that was way before I had this blog. We played up through Spirit of Justice (with the exception of the Edgeworth games, but thankfully NintendoCaprisun had his videos of them for us), but that was five years ago. Now, we both have jobs. However, that didn’t stop us from squeezing what little time we had for a massive and unexpected adventure: an official U.S. release of The Great Ace Attorney spinoff series, with HD remasters for the Switch. 

In The Great Ace Attorney, we turn back the clock to the early 1900s, to Phoenix Wright’s ancestor, Ryunosuke Naruhodo. His lawyering career begins when he has to defend himself after a man is shot to death while he happens to be holding a gun found at the scene. Thus starts a saga that continues for generations.

The story structure will seem pretty familiar; episodic cases that build up to a bigger plot. And similar to the Edgeworth spinoffs, this one plays with your expectations. In fact, despite the lack of returning characters, The Great Ace Attorney felt very emotionally tense, considering its entirely new setting and cast. Some cases feature a jury (who actually exist this time, unlike Apollo’s game), and they change their minds a lot, making trials even more nerve-wracking when the scale leans toward guilt. While there are no straight-up bad cases, the third case is definitely where the game starts in earnest.

The writing in The Great Ace Attorney is great as always. From wry humor, to raw emotion, and spine-tingling suspense, Capcom once again demonstrates their writing prowess (if only that carried over to other games (*cough* Monster Hunter Stories 2 *cough*)). However, there are some big changes in the overall feel, more so due to this localization. And if I may write one more sentence, I’ll have an excuse to elaborate in a nice and organized new paragraph.

First off, the localization retcons the Ace Attorney universe. The main games have been set in an ambiguous country that could pass as just about anywhere, with the U.S. localization being set somewhere in California. However, The Great Ace Attorney universe doesn’t just scream Japan, but other countries as well. Fortunately, you aren’t required to know anything about old-timey world culture in order to solve a case, but Japanese honorifics are used without explanation.

Furthermore, the humor is very… hm, at times. It’s the 1900s, which means… racism. Ace Attorney has never held back on stereotypes, but it’s really nasty here. Foreigners act like Japan is a massive sh**hole, like an anime fan who hates ecchi. Their culture is even insulted right in the middle of their most supreme courtroom. You’re meant to chalk it up to English people being hotiy-toity, but I actually own a Japanese mythology research book, written at around that time, by an Englishman who fell in love with Japan, even shaming his own culture in one chapter. But when the story shifts to the U.K. itself, even our Japanese intrepid heroes act as if their own nation is a sh**hole. The U.K. definitely has the more advanced technology, but they even imply that the country has a richer history, which is a very subjective thing that’s neither right nor wrong (and is probably just meant to hype up London in the context of the story and I shouldn’t be reading into it this hard). 

ANYWAY, the characters, despite being all newcomers, stand within Ace Attorney’s cast as my favorite in any visual novel franchise. Ryunosuke is another new face, and I mean NEW. The first case isn’t just his first case as a lawyer, but he’s also had no experience in law whatsoever. He has a really unique arc where he gradually acquires the confident Ace Attorney animations we know and love over the course of the first case, and it’s wonderful to see. The Maya Fey of this game is a waifu named Susato, who is a bit of a kuudere; she’s condescending in a deadpan way, but some Maya-like qualities shine through at times (and she often proves herself a better lawyer than Ryunosuke). The Gumshoe is none other than Sherlock Holmes. Yes, I know the text says “Herlock Sholmes”, but if you play with Japanese audio, he is referred to as Sherlock Holmes. Based on this, I assume the reason for a lack of localization was a copyright thing, similar to the Stands in Jojo. In any case, he’s as confident as he is wrong about his deductions, i.e. he’s wrong a LOT but loves himself nonetheless. As much as I love Gumshoe, this guy grew on me very quickly. Screw it; he’s my favorite detective in the series, second only to Gumshoe (sorry Ema). Our prosecutor is Barok van Zieks. As one of the hunkiest antagonists thus far, he behaves like a scarier, more aggressive Klavier Gavin, where he’s sometimes willing to help the defense if things happen to go a certain way in the trial.

While the first game is great, the second game—Resolve—is truly a work of art. It’s the first linear sequel in the series, being a direct continuation from the first game, Great Ace Attorney Adventures. Resolve is easily as intense as Edgeworth 2 and Spirit of Justice. Resolve introduces the designated “case from a long time ago that started everything”, and this latest—or rather, first—incident is of a serial killer called The Professor.

Whenever I think they have run out of ways to play Ace Attorney, Capcom manages to surprise me. The Great Ace Attorney tries (no pun intended) fun new ideas both in and out of court. For instance, multiple witnesses can take the stand at once, and have their own testimonies. As a result, one person can have a reaction to what the other person says, and naturally, it’s a good idea to pursue that nervous tick. Unfortunately, this mechanic might be one of my least favorite gimmicks in the series. With one exception, each instance has a big “!” pop up, so it’s not even a case of having to know their poses enough. Also, it requires suspension of disbelief because the court itself proves to be the most braindead it has ever been. One example is when a witness is seen practically strangling another witness right on the stand. I know that Ryunosuke is supposed to have powers of observation, but you don’t need that power to notice these tells.

In trials with a jury present, you also have the power of the Summation Exam. Basically, when the jury unanimously votes guilty (which, in series tradition, will happen often), you get to hear their reasoning. At this juncture, you take a pair of statements from the jurors’ that contradict one another, and reveal said contradiction. Ryunosuke paces like a badass when tearing their reasoning apart, and it feels really good. The one dumb thing about it is that you’re warned not to press anyone during the tutorial, but you actually will need to press jurors for every solution after the first examination.

What’s extra super fun is the Deductions. Sherlock has a ridiculously over-the-top routine where he makes a wildly incorrect series of statements about an NPC, and it’s up to you to correct them by examining the NPC, the location, or by presenting evidence. These sequences kind of take a while, since you basically have to go through them twice, one to hear the initial take and two to correct it, but they’re awesome.

As a spinoff, Great Ace Attorney proves to be very difficult because it plays with your expectations of the series’ tropes. If there’s any pro-tip I feel like I should give, it’s to REALLY examine any new evidence as soon as you receive it. There aren’t many times where they’re like “If you didn’t examine any evidence you should do it now”, either. Also, dialogue in a specific case is actually affected by whether or not you examined a piece of evidence at the earliest opportunity. 

For a port made from the ground up during a thing-I-should-probably-not-bring-up-because-you’re-probably-sick-of-seeing-it-attributed-to-things-that-shouldn’t-have-anything-to-do-with-it, The Great Ace Attorney looks beautiful. The models are as on-point as always, but the environments are lovelier than ever, thanks to the Switch. They even have light sources flickering just like they would be in that time period. 

Unfortunately, this game probably has the weakest soundtrack I’ve heard in the whole series. Some of the character themes are good, but by keeping true to the time, I feel like they might’ve trapped themselves. And worst of all, the “Pursuit” theme shows up the least often in this game. Maybe that’s because of Ryunosuke’s character arc, but it still stinks.

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Final Verdict: 9.75/10

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles was a better duology than I could have ever imagined. And the worst part about it is that it’s over; no more Susato Takedown, and no more Holmes. And until the mysterious seventh core Ace Attorney game comes out, there’s no more of the series as a whole right now. But as much as I loved these games, finishing lifts a weight off me because of how much harder it is to schedule play sessions. Regardless, The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles is a must for series veterans. That’s just elementary, my dear fellows.

Weeb Reads Monthly May 2021

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


Torture Princess Volume 7

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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.9/10


Dungeon Busters Volume 2

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.65/10


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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 3

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

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

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

Verdict: 9.8/10


Conclusion

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

The Ideal Sponger Life: The One with the Canonical Waifu (Volume 1 Review)

I’ve known about The Ideal Sponger Life for over a year now. The problem was that only the manga, published by Seven Seas, has been available in English. Fortunately, J-Novel Club has come through and FINALLY licensed the original light novel series for Western consumption. Has it been worth the wait?

In The Ideal Sponger Life, a salaryman named Zenjirou Yamai is summoned to another world, by a queen named Aura Capula. She wants a hubby, and Zenjirou fits the bill. Obviously, he decides to marry her.

However, it isn’t that simple. Zenjirou really thinks through with his decision, and it’s made readily apparent that there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. For some reason, Aura wants him to just lie around and occasionally have sex. The early chapters of the volume also showcase that fantasy worlds are great and all, but are incredibly uncomfortable if you’re too used to modern technology. Unfortunately, this aspect is quickly made a non-issue when Zenjirou is able to briefly return to earth to bring a generator back to the fantasy realm.

The big problem with this volume is that it’s not… wrong enough! I thought that this was going to be all about Zenjirou having sex with Aura and a bunch of maids; that would’ve made for some interesting debates and whatnot. In fact, this thing skips any raunchy content with a mere “After they had sex, blah blah blah…” I’m being adamant about this because Sponger Life isn’t that remarkable otherwise. The only real plus is that there’s an actual explanation for the “isekai language” trope, but that just results in some needlessly tedious language lessons that he doesn’t need because he can already speak their language AS A RESULT of the “isekai language” trope!

Sponger Life’s writing is about as problematic as most light novels. It HAS to be a translation issue, because they all (even the good ones) have bad grammar and redundant word usage. As a blogger, I’ve become less and less tolerant of that kind of stuff, and honestly, it’s really bad that it’s coloring what’s supposed to be the core content I cover. 

Speaking of redundant, guess who doesn’t like any of the characters: me! Zenjirou is kind of okay; too okay! He’s smart and composed, which some critics would respect, but he doesn’t help make this series controversial enough. Aura isn’t the iron-fisted lady I was expecting either. I was hoping she was more dominant, but due to the in-universe sexism, she’s actually incredibly awkward. One scene implies that she is very physically strong, but due to the aforementioned sexism, I doubt she’ll be showcasing her strength too often. Another case of Sponger Life trying to be as ethical as possible is when they introduce a private tutor named Octavia, a wife of some noble guy from another nation who would—in ANY other setting—be sent to seduce Zenjirou because of politics. Hopefully that’ll come up in future volumes.

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Verdict: 7/10

I probably shouldn’t have let multiple years build up to something like this. The Ideal Sponger Life has all the setup for an incredibly sexy isekai, but ends up being extremely typical. I can only hope that things ramp up from here, or else it’ll be ANOTHER drop on my part.

Dungeon Busters: Pokémon Go But You Don’t Get Hit by a Car (Volume 1 Review)

I love myself some JRPGs (even if I don’t have time to play a lot of them anymore). The fantasy settings are (usually) very vibrant and pretty (I wish I could sleep in some of these settings), and you can hunt animals for money without having to worry about a mass extinction! Dungeon Busters brings the idea of living in a JRPG to our world.

In Dungeon Busters, a middle-aged salaryman named Kazuhiko Ezoe finds a dungeon in his backyard. When he enters, he initiates the “Dungeon System”, which will cause dungeons to appear all over the world. In eleven years, all the monsters of any uncleared dungeons will destroy all life on Earth. Kazuhiko is determined to clear all the dungeons and save the world.

Well… technically, he doesn’t clear all the dungeons himself. His goal is to grind up enough money to start funding his own organization to take down dungeons. As someone who likes JRPGs, it feels good to see Kazuhiko evolve and gain skills (and min-maxing, of course). The “game” mechanics are also very well thought-out. It is quite repetitive with exposition dumps, but that’s because Kazuhiko kind of has to reiterate it a lot in the context of the story; it shouldn’t be like this moving forward.

Like any incomprehensible phenomena that impacts the whole world, the dungeons get political. As you can expect, all of the governments of the world respond less efficiently than one man’s individual efforts. At the very least, they tackle the real-world impact of an infinite source of money and energy, ordinary humans being able to grow stronger than a pro wrestler, potions that can restore body parts, and other videogame tropes. The weird thing, however, is the fact that every nation except for Japan has a different name (also, the president of the U.S. is based off of Trump, which will very shortly make this series quite dated). This could be foreshadowing a twist, since the opening chapter shows the world—curiously enough—already being destroyed. What if Dungeon Busters IS an isekai, only it’s an alternate version of our own sekai?

As someone who’s read so many light novels, the writing of 99% of them feel exactly the same. Despite that, there’s a wild sense of variance in quality. Dungeon Busters doesn’t feel like it does any writing differently, but it’s more than sufficient for some reason. There is one problem, however: the P.O.V. changes are awful, sometimes switching into a minor character who never appears again. They also don’t show you who they’re changing into after the first time shifting to that character. 

Of course, it wouldn’t be an issue if the cast had personality, but sadly… that’s not the case. Kazuhiko is likeable enough at least. He’s down-to-earth, as to not come off as a sociopathic a-hole, but he at has some definable personality quirks; he’s very composed and utilitarian, always considering all the possibilities of the situation. Kazuhiko is essentially a chiller version of Seiya from Cautious Hero.

Dungeon Busters wouldn’t be a light novel without some controversy, and this leads into the inevitable harem. There is a card mechanic where you can summon monsters and items and stuff. The rarest type of card summons a girl straight out of one of those “waifu mobile games”, and Kazuhiko gets two of them. His first, Akane, is a sexy ninja girl who’s constantly trying to have sex with him. She’s at least a legal adult, but Emily, his other waifu card, looks like a twelve-year-old. Both of these girl cards only serve to discuss dungeon mechanics and be waifus. And it gets worse with Kazuhiko’s niece, Mari. She seems harmless enough; just your typical moe blob who exists just to pander. However, there is one scene that implies that she might have a crush on her forty-year-old uncle. 

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Finally, a decent light novel debut! Dungeon Busters isn’t perfect, but it at least has standards (ooooh, burn!). I’m curious to see what direction this thing goes in (and how much more political it’ll get). I recommend it to fans of DanMachi and slice-of-life fantasies.