Weeb Reads Monthly: August 2021

Well, here it is. Another irrelevant monthly post because it isn’t August whatsoever. But hey, at least being super picky with light novels means that I’m going to have glowing reviews of all of them, right?


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 10

This could’ve been the final volume. But NOPE. Instead, for the penultimate installment, we get a bunch of filler stories. But like other filler volumes, the final chapter alone is actually plot relevant, so you can’t skip it! The filler chapters aren’t bad, but it’s the principle of the thing. As I’ve said numerous times, this is an expensive and time-consuming industry. Well, whatever. 

Verdict: 7.25/10


Eighty-Six Volume 8

Right at the start, we get our goal for this volume: to capture some base somewhere, which will have some information about the secret base that has the secret shutdown code that can end the war. Oh, right, Frederica is a princess for some reason that may or may not have been properly foreshadowed (knowing light novels, probably not), and she’s the key to all this.

Clocking in at two-hundred-seventy-seven pages on BookWalker, I believe this was one of the longest volumes… and one of the weakest. Even when things ramped up in the second half, it just didn’t feel engaging. I just couldn’t get a sense of 3D space in the base they went to (I could’ve just been tired though). Also, this area really has zero purpose. The ghost operating the boss of the volume doesn’t even have a name or character. I see no reason why they couldn’t push for the hidden base. They could’ve spent the whole volume training for it, and I would’ve liked it better.

Also, spoilers here. The volume has a fake death, along with a Deus Ex Machina… either that or I was just REALLY tired (or bored) of it. Nothing quite says “I tried to be cynical but I failed” more than a fake character death. I swear, if the final arc doesn’t start with the next volume, I might end up dropping what I had originally considered one of the best light novel series out there.

Verdict: 7.5/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 5

It’s business as usual here in Otherside Picnic; episodic chapters where weird stuff ensues. It’s surreal and creepy as always. Well… not exactly “as always”. I took a week-long break from reading stuff, and it felt really nice. So, it might be the stress of having to keep up with this stupid and expensive market that’s coloring my impression of today’s volume of Otherside Picnic.

But regardless, it might just be one of the weaker volumes. And that’s mainly because it’s not really that creepy compared to previous installments. The odd-numbered chapters in particular were very unceremonious. Weird stuff happens, but they’re situations where the protagonists weren’t in danger. Runa Urumi regains consciousness in this volume, but as huge as that sounds, it’s put to the wayside. Fortunately, the even-numbered chapters are as weird and scary as expected. This was not a bad volume by any means, it’s just that half of it doesn’t meet the series’ standard.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Durarara!! SH Volume 2

Now that we established the main premise, it’s time for Durarara!! SH to start in earnest. Unlike most light novels, time isn’t wasted as our new unlikely trio investigates the disappearances. It’s obvious that Celty didn’t do it, and she arrives to tell them that right off the bat. Also… I effing love Celty. 

Basically, this volume concludes the arc that was established in the last volume. We get some more development with Yahiro and Himeka, and more teasers as to whether or not Izaya is still alive. I don’t know if it’s the aforementioned stress from reading, but I didn’t enjoy this volume as much as the first one. Due to the sequel curse, SH is destined to not be as popular. I wouldn’t consider it bad, though. It just came out at a really bad time for me.

Verdict: 8.65/10


Conclusion

I’m really letting the stress get to me, aren’t I? It’s already stressful keeping up with an industry like this that has no subscription service dedicated to it. Part of me wants to swear off light novels forever. Even the ones I really, really love. But in better news (at least for me), there are no light novels I care about being published this month! If one or two happen to sneak by (because Yen Press likes dropping release dates short notice), they’ll be covered in the October 2021 installment.

Blood Like Magic: A Family Drama With a Cyberpunk Twist

I don’t consciously try to read books about racism. But when I began Liselle Sambury’s new series opener, Blood Like Magic, I was greeted with a disclaimer that basically said: “This book is about racism.” Well, let’s see how soul-grinding this one is.

In Blood Like Magic, families of witches get magic by having their periods (and Westerners think anime should be banned?). A young’un named Voya Thomas just had her period, and the next step after that is to have her nigh-impossible-to-fail Calling. Assuming you’ve had experience with urban fantasy before, what do you think happens when it comes to the main protagonist attempting some sort of magic test that everyone else in the world could do just fine? If you think Voya fails, you’d only be half-right. She calls Mama Jova, who—of course—happens to be the Dark Souls of the Thomas family.

So, the disclaimer at the beginning implies that Blood Like Magic is even more heart-rending and brutal than any other urban fantasy out there. It’s not. There is one scene (arguably two?) where racism is referenced at all. The scene in question is brutal, but it’s extremely out of left field. The reason for it is because Blood Like Magic is set twenty-eight years in the future, and in this future, racism isn’t that prevalent. Voya says that she has never been called a racist slur, nor conditioned to feel ashamed of being Black.

However, the book is still—to some extent—about racism, or at the very least, the fancy term known as “systemic racism.” Despite it not being in-your-face like in Legendborn, it still abounds in society itself. An example is showcased by NuGene, a big genetics company with a lot of weight in society. Apparently, if your genetic code implies that you might have a violent personality, you’ll be treated like a serial killer without even committing any crimes (or something), and this just so happens to be more punishing when it comes up in a Black person. The company’s employees insist on doing the whole “use gender identity at the end of their names” thing, but it turns out they’re hypocritical homophobes, which is shown when Voya’s transgender cousin is given the wrong set of chromosomes in their official record. 

The cherry on top is that Voya, as narrator, still uses those same race labels, despite the fact that they should be archaic given the context. In a way, Blood Like Magic more cynical than any other books of its kind. No matter how much progress we make, those in power won’t change. In that way, Blood Like Magic has left me emotionally distraught not in the moments of reading it, but when reflecting on it afterwards.

ANYWAY, let’s discuss the actual story! If you’ve read a YA novel, Mama Jova’s task will seem straight out of the edgiest urban fantasy ever: Voya must kill her first love. Fortunately for her, she joined a gene-matching program by the aforementioned NuGene, and was paired with Luc Rodriguez, the sponsor son of NuGene’s CEO. Of course, they hate each other as soon as they first meet. Key word: “first”.

After being given her task, Blood Like Magic becomes part-romcom, part sci-fi mystery as she juggles a classic tsundere relationship with Luc, and this weird stuff her family’s been hiding from her. It’s balanced surprisingly well, especially since YA novels this thick (just under five hundred pages) tend to drag. I read it with my butt clenched waiting for that inevitable conspiracy to be revealed.

Normally, I’d criticize the characters, but this time… I don’t actually hate them even though I should. By themselves, pretty much everyone is either unremarkable and/or very snarky. But together, their chemistry made them among the more tolerable YA casts I’ve seen. I loved Voya and her cousin, Keis, bouncing witty remarks at each other, or Granny—who basically runs the Thomases—asserting her absolute authority. Even what would be a cringe-inducing, formulaic tsundere relationship between Voya and Luc ends up seeming more legitimate and believable than “I hate you! I hate you too! *Proceeds to viciously make out*”.

Despite all its novelty, Blood Like Magic still has a lot of those annoying YA tropes. If you guessed that Voya falls in love with Luc and can’t kill him, then congratulations! You’ve read at least one YA novel! At the very least, the story manages to play out in a way that’s quite unexpected for the genre.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

I’m probably wrong and off-base about a lot of what Blood Like Magic is trying to say. But regardless, the thing to be invested in is without a doubt the families’ relationships. And I use a plural possessive noun because I don’t just mean the Thomases; I’m referring to their relationships with each other, as well as with the other witch families. Overall, I’d recommend Blood Like Magic just for the emotional story of Voya’s family.

Legendborn: This Book Broke Me

I definitely have not hesitated to come down with constructive criticism on stuff that deals with racism. However, I’m only showing one side of the coin. As confidently as I make quips like “It’s too ham-fisted” or “It’s just torture porn”, I don’t entirely feel that way. To be honest, every commentary on racism—no matter how well it’s framed—has broken me, especially after the George Floyd incident. And Tracy Deonn’s Legendborn is no exception. This book made me hate my own existence. In fact, I’ve actually read—and started writing this review—not long after the book was published; I was just so indecisive about how to go about writing it. I still don’t know if the post is proper even now. Oh well, it’s here.

In Legendborn, a girl named Briana Matthews (henceforth known as Bree) has been on an incessantly long road of recovery after the tragic death of her mother. She’s been attending this super-highschool-early-college academy place, and gets herself almost immediately expelled when she joins a dumb teenager-y gathering. During this gathering, a bizarre incident occurs, and she witnesses a strapping young man slay some kind of demon thing. This dude, named Selwyn Kane, is one of many Legendborn, and is able to alter people’s memories. It’s at this point that Bree realizes that they have a connection to the cause of her mother’s death, and with the help of fellow Legendborn Nick Davis, she’s going to find the truth even if it kills her.

As much as I’d like to say that Bree’s Blackness is irrelevant, I can’t because I’d be wrong. It’s ham-fisted, but necessarily so, considering its 2020 release year. Bree is frequently harassed by authority figures and other people in the Legendborn’s secret society of angsty special teens. That’s to be expected, but it goes further when some developments regarding slavery and the Civil War come up later. It’s so on-the-nose that it absolutely crushed my nose, and the momentum from that weight crushed my soul as well. 

But as integral to the plot racism is, the social commentaries feel like a vehicle to make otherwise uninteresting worldbuilding interesting. Beyond the racism, Legendborn’s basic lore is just Jujutsu Kaisen meets Last Round Arthurs. The reason for its resemblance to the latter is the fact that the Legendborn’s Order has King Arthur symbolism. They use lengthy exposition to make it seem like a really deep system, but the basic idea is that some kids are descended from King Arthur and his knights and can awaken those individuals’ powers once the demons decide to reenact the Battle of Camlann Hill (or something). This, along with Bree’s character arc, exists to cater to that fascination that individuals have with their family histories. The Order’s enemies are the Shadowborn, which are the same old “demons that feed off of human negativity” that have been used billions of times.

Despite my nitpicks, I have found Legendborn to be one of the better YA novels I’ve read. They ham in the mother’s death in that blatant “start with a tragic event as an easy emotional hook” scheme, but it’s done exquisitely. The writing is very descriptive, and gives the action sequences some punch that is often lacking in the genre. And although the story is pretty generic, it’s still fun to read. Last but not least, its portrayal of racism and its history is bone-crushing. My soul was broken, and the pieces were ground into dust. To be perfectly blunt, I barely remember how the book ended, mainly because the raw emotion of it took complete hold over me.

Bree is perhaps one of the best YA protagonists simply because she actually is what most YA authors try and fail to make their female leads. Her struggles are real, and her ability to be strong through all this grief is something else. Unfortunately, she is a case of “has unique powers for no reason”, but that doesn’t dampen her arc.

Most of the other characters aren’t that interesting. Nick Davis is an exception; his Prince Charming-esque relationship with Bree feels legit because neither of them exactly wanted the hands they were dealt in life. Selwyn, however, is your super-edgelord, and I have a bad feeling that he will reluctantly be part of a love triangle with Bree and Nick (since there is an upcoming sequel and all). That’s kind of where the likable characters end, as everyone else is either unremarkable and/or racist.

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Final Verdict: 9.2/10

Legendborn is a dime a dozen, but it’s a really, REALLY well-polished dime (wait, is that right? Well, you know what I mean). I am excited for the sequel, but I don’t exactly know what direction it could go in. As of now, Legendborn is more than worthy enough to be in a list of best #BlackGirlMagic books.

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero: More Like “The All-Caps Hero” (First Impressions, Volumes 1 and 2)

I’m not one to normally read a new series just over a year after serialization. My first impressions of ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero consist of the first two volumes, but that could end up being half or two-thirds of the story. A lot of manga, especially battle shounen, tend to get axed as swiftly and mercilessly as a Danganronpa character. But sometimes you gotta live life on the edge, and by the edge, I mean invest early in something that could easily get cancelled even after a cliffhanger. 

In ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero, the world is full of robots called droids. Fortunately, people in this world are naturally born with two cybernetic arms coming out of their shoulder blades. However, because we HAVE to have racism, anyone who has more than one pair of arms is considered to be in league with Satan, and are persecuted. The titular Ashidaka (whose name is thankfully not in all caps like the title) is named after the Moses of this world, and he inevitably ends up on a mission to take down Mecha Satan (henceforth known as the Centipede). 

The immediate issue with ASHIDAKA is that it kind of dumps a ton of crap on you at once. It jumps right into combat when you don’t even know how anything works yet, you get a Biblical lore dump, Centipede destroys Ashidaka’s hometown that you’re expected to have an emotional attachment toward over the course of five minutes, and he’s roped into some secret Anti-Centipede resistance. Yeah, it’s a lot. 

There are also some things that seem inconsistent to me, but it could be because of either the fast pacing, or the mangaka didn’t put much thought into the story. For example, why are people racist against those with four or more arms when the specific count has to be a hundred in order to be Satanic? I feel like that was just thrown in there just to be symbolic for the sake of symbolism. There’s also someone who’s a massive jerk to Ashidaka exactly one time for what seems like nothing more than shock value. Maybe if the manga runs long enough it’ll get to flesh this stuff out.

Another sad thing is that the writing is pretty bare-bones. It’s not as copy-paste as Kimetsu no Yaiba (which I may or not be saying out of spite against Kimetsu no Yaiba but I digress), but it’s enough to where you could probably read the Japanese version and more-or-less know exactly what’s going on. It’s a real shame, since it looks like it has potential to have a pretty good story moving forward.

The big plus with ASHIDAKA is definitely the arms. Usually, only one character in a series would have robot arms, but for that to be the standard for everyone in the world makes it a bit more interesting. There are many types of arms, along with a whole bunch of rules that will likely be amended on the fly because battle shounen love doing that. At least they look cool; that’s what matters most!

Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the characters. Similar to Musashi from Orient, among others, Ashidaka is a case of a “shounen protagonist in a seinen world”. He has absolutely zero rationality, and will throw a hissy fit if anyone dies for any reason, even if it’s for the greater good. He aims to find a less costly way of fighting, but that’s definitely not going to come into play for a while.

Supporting him is Geji, who is a bit more composed, even if he is super abrasive. And honestly, that’s kind of it so far. There’s several people in the aforementioned resistance movement, but they all consist of extremely basic tropes. At least they look cool?

Speaking of looks, ASHIDAKA is decent enough in the art department. The fights are flashy, but it can be tough to tell what’s going on since everything has robot parts.

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Current Verdict: 6/10

ASHIDAKA – The Iron Hero is nothing spectacular so far. But hey, I only read two volumes. Hopefully, it’ll get better in the future.

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.

The Adventurers Guild Trilogy: Social Commentary for Kids!

Sometimes, the title of a series is so generic and unremarkable that I almost feel like it’s a red herring. I ask myself, “It’s trying so hard to look boring, but does that mean it’s actually legitimately good?” That’s a gambit that I hoped would pay off when I read through The Adventurers Guild series, written by Zack Loran Clark and Nicolas Eliopulous.

A half-elf boy named Zed and a typical human named Brock are ready to join one of Freestone’s many Guilds. They are picked for the Mages and Merchants Guilds respectively; however, this series isn’t titled The Adventurers Guild for nothing. Alasabel Frond, the leader of the titular Guild, yoinks them right out of their respective Guilds and drafts them into the Adventurers Guild. Now they have to protect the world from monsters known as Dangers, and like true warriors, they get nothing for it!

The Adventurers Guild isn’t quite as generic as it looks (key words: “quite as”, but we’ll get to that later). They at least put some good effort into the magic system. Each element is tied to a specific spiritual plane (or something), and they all have a signature that Zed can detect. The writers also pull no punches when it comes to the Dangers’ designs; get used to tentacles coming out of faces and other areas. The prose is also all-around great, but V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic taught me that good writing and good storytelling are two completely different talents. 

A lot of things irked me about The Adventurers Guild. One is that—like every modern fantasy and its grandma—there’s social commentary on a lot of bad -isms in society (none of which are commercialism). In addition to my problem with how heavy-handed it gets, The Adventurers Guild makes it unrealistic. And while I normally don’t mind a lack of realism, this case isn’t merely “Ooooh, magic! What is physics again?”; it’s a clash with the human mind itself. 

You’d think that people’d get their sh** together to fight a one-dimensional evil alien threat to the whole species. And yet, the bad -isms are still in effect in the world of The Adventurers Guild! Every authority figure in Freestone tries to get Frond arrested because of sexism. And when a group of elves seeks refuge at the start of the second book, they’re treated with unconditional racism. It felt so arbitrary, that the bad -isms were only there for the sake of bad -isms. I’ll acknowledge that the hatred against Zed is justified to an extent. A half-elf warlock is what caused the Dangers in the first place, giving the whole race a bad rep. But that doesn’t excuse the cases of sexism or anything else, really. 

Alright, alright. For the sake of argument, let’s just take the bad -isms at face value: a conflict in the story that needs to be resolved. But what is there to talk about? The thing with The Adventurers Guild is that beyond the social commentaries, the main plot really isn’t that interesting. Dangers are out there, go kill ‘em. That’s really it. 

But it damn well tries to be different, that’s for sure. It succeeds to an extent in the two main characters, Zed and Brock. These two both have secrets that they keep from each other, and it’s all “Ooooooh” and stuff. Unfortunately, they have very plastic and flat personalities. The rest of the characters… are just as flat. They’re relatable, which—if you’re not anal about writing—would make them super-duper amazing and lovable. But besides the occasional dumb “kid-like” interactions they have with each during their down time, a lot of their dialgoue feels forced. For someone like me, who has grown to love narcissists like Senku from Dr. Stone, I couldn’t care less about the cast of The Adventurers Guild. I had to do ridiculous things like picturing a character as Lord Don’ator to not fall asleep! The third book does introduce a pretty witty new character, who exists for sarcastic comments, and shows up too late to offset everyone else. 

And speaking of the third book, let’s talk about it in the least spoilery way possible. Remember when I said “beyond the social commentaries, the main plot really isn’t that interesting”? Well, that shows. Night of Dangers completely does away with social undertones and becomes a tedious slog that’s just as cliché as anything else, despite how the trilogy desperately tried to avoid it. The only saving grace is the admittedly enjoyable climax, but saying that it offsets everything else is a stretch. One character even deflects from the main issue super intentionally and it’s never explained why. 

Speaking of intentionally, that word is everything wrong with The Adventurers Guild. Virtually none of it felt natural; each story beat was 110% deliberate. As much as having a plan for the narrative is good (in fact, it’s essential), you can’t plan literally everything. You need to have a stream of consciousness effect when writing, which allows some aspects of the story to tell themselves. And if you end up needing to pull something out of your ass, go back and edit earlier parts so that it has proper context. I can’t describe exactly why, but I just felt in my writer-brain that this whole series was… wrong.

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Final Verdict: 6/10

The Adventurers Guild tried a lot of things, and it all felt flat to me. In the end, I have no idea what the takeaway of this series is. Is it that racism is bad, or that you shouldn’t keep secrets? Whatever it is, there’s definitely something out there that’s conveyed it better. While this isn’t the worst series on the market, it is still just about as bland as its name implies.

Weeb Reads Monthly – August 2020

Welcome to the first Weeb Reads Monthly post! If you don’t know how it works, I’ll explain it right here and now. Basically, all the light novel volumes I would’ve covered in a given month (with the exception of series debuts) will be covered here. The review of the individual volumes will be only one or two paragraphs each, but it’ll all be organized into this post. And don’t worry if you’re looking for a specific volume; each post will be categorized and tagged under the respective series covered, so you can just search for the tags. Without further ado, let’s see how good of an idea this was!


Eighty-Six Volume 5

We’re starting out strong with the newest volume of Eighty-Six, the game-changing military sci-fi epic that’s sure to become mainstream when the anime airs. Speaking of the anime, I really hope (even though it’s not going to happen) that it airs this fall. Given the core themes, the timing would be all-too perfect given the current circumstances. 

Anyway, this installment continues the train ride of win that was started in volume 4. First and foremost, we get some huge revelations regarding the Legion’s origins. You will have to suspend some disbelief, because the new character, Vika, basically developed the Legion’s AI when he was just about done wearing diapers. It’s dumb, but you know what, Dreamworks made a movie about a baby who runs an entire business, so pick your battles.

Eighty-Six enters cyberpunk territory with the introduction of Sirins. These are androids made using similar design principles that contribute to the Legion, and they are not exactly well received by the main protagonists. This brings up the expected ethical issues, which are all discussed ad nauseum in the actual story, so… Look, subtlety has NOT been Eighty-Six’s forte, alright?

Overall, this volume was great as usual. Also, the one scene during the climax has gotta be iconic for the entire series. Just wow… the amount of despair was beyond anything that Re:ZERO could possibly offer. Eighty-Six raises the bar, that’s for sure!

Verdict: 8.65/10


Rascal Does Not Dream of Petite Devil Kohai

I did not particularly enjoy the previous volume, Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai. While it wasn’t baaaaaad, it was still kind of pretentious, as it was like “Oh look at me and how symbolic I am! I studied quantum physics, love me, WAAAAANT ME!” (Okay, now I’m referencing Seinfeld but you get the point). But you know what, I had to give it another chance because I’m a glutton for punishment!

If you recall from the previous volume, our buddy Sakuta enters a Groundhog Day-like time loop. This is, of course, another case of Adolescence Syndrome, and the perp is Tomoe Koga. But unlike Mika, whose issue was at least something legitimately terrifying from a sociological standpoint, Tomoe’s issue boils down to dumb teen antics. The plot structure is also very similar to the previous book: Sakuta has a strange experience, gets confused, talks to Rio, Rio vomits quantum physics, and Sakuta’s like “Okay now I get it.”

Overall, my problems with Rascal as a whole still have not changed. I do not like the application of quantum physics at all; to me, it serves no purpose other than to make the story feel more profound than it is(n’t). The other reason is more so a problem I have with popular culture as a whole. For reasons I don’t quite understand, general consensus seems to be that individual personal problems are an objectively better story theme than problems of a grander scope. And by complaining about it just now, I lose all my credibility as an adult human being. *Sighs* Look, Rascal at least has some semblance of good writing and forward momentum, so I’ll keep my eye on it for now.

Verdict: 7.5/10


Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? Volume 6

This is the first time I’ve covered this franchise on my blog. I didn’t want to review them volume-by-volume because, like with Cautious Hero, I’d have nothing of note to say. So now that I have this new formula, I can talk about it! 

Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks? (better known as Okaasan Online) is about a boy named Masato who gets to testrun a new VRMMORPG, but the twist is that his mother, Mamako, gets stuck with him! It gets a lot of criticism for being ecchi, but I love it. Mamako is a great twist on the overpowered protagonist, who- like any real mom- embarrasses her son nonstop. The supporting characters, like Best Girl Wise, are great as well. And after the previous volume’s introduction of this sort of Anti-Mamako character, named Hahako, I’ve highly anticipated this volume and how it might handle her character.

Unfortunately, we don’t get to see much of her until towards the end. In fact, the first half of the volume is filler. But once we get past that point, the series is at its usual antics. We also get introduced to a new Best Girl named Mone. She’s pretty much the yandere; if Masato doesn’t dote on her, everyone dies. There’s not much else to say about the volume, and that’s exactly why I made LN posts like this now!

Verdict: 8.45/10


Full Metal Panic! Volume 4

This is also the first time I’ve ever discussed Full Metal Panic!, mainly because I didn’t know if I would be able to commit to finishing it. I’m only including it here because the new So I’m a Spider, So What? didn’t come out on August 18th like I thought it would, and this was one of the few options that I didn’t outright hate. As you can see, I’m also WAY behind on the volumes, and that’s because too much comes out too quickly. And I’m sure I’m going to make a lot of retro anime fans livid when I say this, but… I haven’t exactly been liking FMP! as much as a lot of more modern stuff. It’s fun, but this could easily be the last volume of the series I read, since I only have so much time and money.

Anyways, for the uninitiated, Full Metal Panic! is about a secret agent named Sousuke Sagara who is charged with keeping his eye on a girl named Chidori Kaname, who is established in the first volume to have some secret brain knowledge that could be very dangerous in the wrong hands. So far, it’s been a series of episodic, Saturday Morning Cartoon-like escapades where Sousuke fights some people and Chidori is baggage because it was the 1990s back then.

It could be because it’s been more than a hot minute since I last read FMP!, but I didn’t exactly enjoy this volume too much. Basically, they capture this dude, and there seems to be no real purpose for capturing him other than the fact that he was a bad guy in the previous volume. Things pick up a lot towards the end, and some nasty cliffhangers are thrust in our faces. 

But even then, this series just has not grabbed me at all. A lot of critics would say that FMP! is automatically better than more recent stuff just because it’s not isekai, and while I do acknowledge that every one of the older series I’ve read has been radically different, I find that a of newer stuff- isekai included- are better (and before you accuse me of being a twelve-year-old, keep in mind that a lot of FMP! fans were twelve when it first came out). So far, I find Durarara! to be the only older series to still be really good to this day.

Verdict: 7.75/10


Conclusion

The first post of this series is pretty short, but that’s probably good; shouldn’t get too ambitious (it also doesn’t help that almost everything I covered came out in the second half of the month). Overall, this was a solid month of great reads, and I definitely prefer reviewing light novels in this manner. Leave me a comment on your thoughts of this new format!

RWBY First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

My job will have fully opened by the time you read this, but at the time of this writing, it was only partially opened. This gave me the chance to squeeze in one more Western animated series while my shift is substantially reduced. But what to pick? Steven Universe was a very emotional show, and I’m still caught up on DuckTales and The Dragon Prince, waiting for new episodes. Since I didn’t find the CG of the latter to be so bad, I thought I would watch a more… (in)famous CG series: Rooster Teeth’s RWBY. Even from beneath the rock I’ve been living under, I’m aware of the heated debates that occur over this franchise. So, because I love controversial media (for some reason), I thought I’d give the show a whirl to see what the hubbub is about.

In the world of RWBY, people rely on some magic junk called Dust (which is basically Sepith from Trails of Cold Steel), and that’s their only way to fight these monsters called Grimm. One night, a girl named Ruby Rose takes on some criminals with a crazy scythe-gun, and is sought out by Ozpin, the headmaster of Beacon Academy. He decides that “you’re a wizard, Ruby!” and instantly bumps her into the prestigious school, two years in advance. There, she meets three more color-coded girls (her older sister, a tsundere, and an emo girl) and they go on adventures together.

Like with Dragon Prince, I must discuss the visuals of RWBY first and foremost. “The Dragon Prince looked great,”  I thought. “RWBY shouldn’t be so bad,” I thought. Oh, how wrong I was. I understood that The Dragon Prince was made with the backing of Netflix, one of the biggest entertainment distributors in the world, and also five years after the premiere of RWBY. But even with that in mind, RWBY takes some time to get used to. While the character designs are fine, everything else about the visuals is horribly wrong. I complained about The Dragon Prince’s choppy and inconsistent frames, but RWBY showed me that the smoother framerates of its animations look more stiff, unnatural, and awkward than in The Dragon Prince.

Fortunately, the visuals improve substantially over time, with it finally looking legitimately good by season 4. The fight scenes in RWBY are when it’s at its best… sort of. The camera swings too wildly for humans to possibly keep an eye on, and it relies entirely on pure spectacle. However, as a fan of over-the-top battle shounens, I love it. The animation is at its most fluid and impactful here. Also, the show is truly anime for one reason: everything is a gun. Scythes, gauntlets, even suitcases; they’re all guns. 

To be honest, the visuals served to make RWBY one of the funniest battle shounen I have ever experienced. The humor was legitimately on point in the show, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had influence from the best of Weekly Shounen Jump. It’s the kind of stupidity that I’ve grown to love ever since I started reading manga all those years ago. The awkward movements made it even funnier for some reason.

However, despite the anime influences, RWBY is still a Western fantasy, and a modern one at that. And if you couldn’t tell, it is qualified to fall into the Harry Potter knockoff category. In the early seasons, the plot is mind-numbingly simple, with typical gag-shounen-meets-school-drama antics coupled with some YA awkwardness; a very difficult combination of tropes to get used to.

Being a modern fantasy, RWBY does another common thing: making its world an overly obvious mirror to our society, i.e. racism. The people who get targeted for discrimination are the Faunus. They are essentially furries, which ironically, adds another layer of social commentary. Anyway, the big problem with the Faunus is the White Fang, a terrorist organization that has resorted to rather… harsh methods of ending racism (which isn’t at all ten times more relevant in 2020 for any specific reasons). Honestly… I didn’t really care much for this line of narrative. It’s a topical topic for a reason, but this is one of the things I enjoyed The Dragon Prince for not having. I like adventure fantasies the best, and there really aren’t enough of them in this day and age.

Like any gag shounen, RWBY inevitably makes the transition to a more serious and plot-driven story. However, it’s not that simple. During production of the third season, the original creator of RWBY tragically passed away. The rest of the team has been carrying on with the series since, but it’s at this point where the show became the divisive debate-starting show it is today. It makes a transition that’s extremely risky for the genre: from gag shounen to straight-up seinen.

There are a couple of issues with this. One is that the transition is not at all organic. Normally, most shounen start out with short arcs, some of which last only one volume. Then, an arc goes for two volumes to make the reader think, “Finally, they’re actually doing something substantial with these characters and ideas.” Then, there’s an arc that’s really long and is generally considered the best, followed by a unanimously hated slog to the end. I get that not all battle shounen are like this, and RWBY definitely does not follow this pattern either (but in a bad way). There is a very visible instant in which the show completely changes with no build-up whatsoever: Season 3 Episode 6. After that, it packs on the emotional baggage to no end, and it becomes very hard to take seriously if you’re not super-emotional.

Also, Eastern angst and Western angst are two completely different things, and if you’ve read any of my YA novel reviews, you’d know I don’t entirely enjoy the latter’s company. While a lot of edgy stuff from Japan can tackle some uncomfortable themes with surprising elegance (Chainsaw Man, Torture Princess, Tokyo Ghoul, Monster, etc.), I’ve found a lot of the same from Western culture to be pretentious and heavy-handed. Additionally, some of the voice acting has enough gravel to pave a whole interstate highway. At the point I’m at, the few gags they do use feel jarring instead of something meant to break the ice. But in all honesty, it’s not terrible. The show is still enjoyable, and if I had liked the characters better, the feels would’ve actually struck a chord with me. However, due to the fact that it gets more and more controversial from here, I can’t guarantee that my opinion isn’t going to sway drastically in later seasons.

Regardless of the narrative, there is a somewhat great cast of characters to motivate you to keep watching. Each of the four girls are typical tropes: Ruby, ditz; Weiss, tsundere; Blake, YA protagonist; Yang, brash. But they all have genuinely good interactions with each other, and overall truly feel like a ragtag team of young’uns. They go through a lot of character development, even if it makes them come off as typical YA drama queens. Unfortunately, their fellow peers are similarly tropeish but with less… interestingness. A boy named Jaune is a typical underdog, a girl named Pyrrha is a typical hyper-justice-girl, a girl named Nora is Ruby but with a hammer, etc. Even when they all go through big emotional crises in season four, I didn’t care for any of the kids besides the four main ones.

However, the adults make up for it. My favorite character ended up being Ruby’s uncle, Crow. He’s your typical bad-ass, trollish, yet down-to-earth father figure guy, and it’s hard not to like him. There’s also a fast-talking professor named Oobleck, but he’s- sadly- a pretty minor character. Also, this one guy named James Ironwood has the best worst name (I’ll leave society’s many euphemisms to explain why).

I can’t say the same for the villains, though. As much the show really tries to do a moral ambiguity angle, the major antagonists fall under the typical Saturday morning cartoon villain category, at least up to where I’ve watched. This one swindler named Roman Torchwick is entertaining enough, but it’s not the case for the people he’s getting his fat stacks from. He reports to this woman named Cinder, who is literally Azula from Avatar. Her two minions, Mercury and Emerald, are just about as uninteresting. Cinder reports works under the true mastermind of the series, some alien(?) named Salem, but there’s not yet enough information to really say anything about her.

Before I get to my current score, I must clarify that I’m not criticizing RWBY because it stopped being what I wanted it to be; it’s just that the show felt more generic after the tone shift. I wholly understand that not everything can be original, but a lot of the content felt like it was ripped right out of How to Make Your Audiences Bleed Tears in Five Easy Steps with no finesse or variation. Compare the portrayal of the Faunus- which is the same exact allegory to American history that’s been done eleventy other times- to something like Eighty-Six. Both are commentaries on the exact same topic, but Eighty-Six does it in a way that feels much fresher than what RWBY does. 

Television is also a deceptively limiting medium for visual storytelling. Once in a blue moon, you’ll have someone like Satoshi Kon who can do something interesting with film as an entertainment medium, but RWBY is not a Satoshi Kon film; a lot of it had bog-standard cinematography, such as those “hard-cut-to-black-with-some-kind-of-distressing-sound-effect-cliffhanger” techniques. I suppose I’ve been spoiled by manga, which have billions of combinations of panel layouts that all subtly contribute to the mood of a scene, or books, which can use the written word to at times convey more emotion than an image ever could. Also, Legend of Korra taught me that I should be examining television through an entirely different lens, as a lot of things I find typical are less common on TV. I’m even willing to bet that RWBY wouldn’t even have been allowed to air on network television, and could only exist as an indie program, for whatever dumb bureaucratic reason.

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Current Verdict: 8.35/10

RWBY is a typical battle shounen in presentation and plot structure. It is great mindless entertainment, and I honestly don’t see why so many people take it so seriously. The food fight at the start of season two shows what I believe RWBY is at its best: over-the-top action with goofy slapstick. Unfortunately, I don’t entirely like the darker turn it took, mainly because it took it too fast. RWBY seems to be trying to be a fantasy epic on the scope of something like Trails of Cold Steel, but without the foundation that those games took time to build. Overall, the show is pretty middle-of-the-road, and I do not understand either side of the arguments with this show (but like I said, that could change). These seasons are stupid short, so I should be able to see RWBY through to the end without much hassle.

Eighty-Six Volume 4 Review

Last time on Eighty-Six, Shin’s team sets out to fight the Morpho, the giant Legion that fired the railgun at the Federacy, and is controlled by the mind of one of Shin’s relatives, Kiriya Nouzen. Well, he beats it, to say the least (and by himself, of course). And just like it was foreshadowed in volume 1, Lena shows up and they meet IRL! Now we can FINALLY know what happens next!

So, I haven’t been enjoying the past two volumes of Eighty-Six. A lot of it felt like torture porn as Shin and the others get exploited, and have to fight to save people who treat them like crap, even in the Federacy. There were also a lot of boring military people who got all introduced at once and had really boring personalities. 

But now… hoo boy, Lena is back, making the power couple that carried Eighty-Six’s first volume so good! I know I normally don’t like romance, but these two established themselves as one of the most organic and interesting relationships out there, and it once again shows. They even had some great interactions together (even if it resulted in some misplaced comedy scenes).

Since this is the first volume with Lena in a while, this it’s going to be about her. As established, she transferred to the multicultural Federacy from the whi- I mean- Alba Supremacist Republic. The racist practices of the Republic are well known to the Federacy by now, and because of this, Lena gets crapped on from the powers that be. Fortunately, Shin exists as a cushion for her guilt complex. It’s actually something that I felt when I was a kid, when I first learned about Martin Luther King. I wanted the African-American kids in my class to bully me, so I could be punished for something that I didn’t even do, just because people from a generation ago did it.

But Lena doesn’t have much time to get used to her situation, for today’s mission actually starts pretty darn early (much sooner than taking a whole volume and a half in the previous arc). This mission involves going into what’s left of the Republic that got overtaken by the Legion and, well, taking it back. This means going back to Nazi-Germany-Meets-Overly-Patriotic-White-Supremacist-America once more.

And as you can expect, the only thing waiting for Shin, besides some angry Legion, is racism. While the racism came off as torture porn last time, this time we get some interesting and differing perspectives from Lena and Shin. The irony here is that Lena, a whi- I mean- Alba person is much more offended than the actual victims. It’s almost implying that certain people shouldn’t respond to certain other people who are just being jerks, or trolls.

Overall, the only problem I had was kind of telling where people were in 3D space. A lot of times, during the actual operation, the story would flip perspectives rapidly, and it confused me a lot. It also was pretty inconsistent with whether or not it wanted to mark transitional points with a simple page break, or an actual symbol. Maybe if they- say- used the symbol to transition between P.O.V.s in particular, I would’ve understood what was going on a lot better. 

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Verdict: 8.9/10

Finally, Eighty-Six is back with a vengeance! My interest in the story is reinvigorated, especially with the new development at the end, and now I can’t wait for the next volume. Here’s hoping that it stays strong all the way through!

Eighty-Six Overview (Volumes 1-3)

Covers of volume 1-3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verdict: 8/10

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