Weeb Reads Monthly – September 2020

I definitely like this new monthly format for light novels. In fact, I’m going to keep at it for… er… ever. Since I’m doing this right out of the gate, there should be a lot more books to discuss in this post. So, bear with me as we tear through the month’s newest releases!


So I’m a Spider, So What? Volume 9

I discussed this series a long time ago, in a post where I compared it to Overlord and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Since then… it’s been the only one of the three I haven’t dropped completely. The series has kind of been in a slump for me lately; after the twist in volume 5, we finally know what’s going on, but after that it’s been a bit of a trudge to get to the good stuff. Looking at the table contents, one chapter towards the end stands out like a sore thumb. Maybe this is when it gets its act back together?

Sadly, the first half of the volume is not particularly exciting. They FINALLY reach the demon realm, and they just cozy up in Ariel’s house. In fact, the interludes seem to have more plot relevance than the main story, such as some side chapters featuring Mr. Ogre-boy from the last volume.

Other than that, Spider is kind of hit-or-miss as always. The volume’s climax is a battle against Ogre-boy, but it’s marred by exposition, and I—to be honest—never really understood what his point in the story is. Anyways, like I mentioned earlier, one chapter stands out, and there is definitely a revelation. Buuuuuut, when we get the whole story, it’s kind of stupid (our girl even reacts as such). And as things stand at the end of the volume, it seems like the next one is going to be back to our regularly scheduled mundanity. I will not be counting these eggs before they hatch!

Verdict: 7.5/10


The Invincible Shovel Volume 3

Alright, it’s time for some more Invincible Shovel! This is about the point where the series ends up becoming repetitive. But if there’s one thing that’s interesting, it’s Catria of all people. She has fought tooth and nail to not fall victim to Lithisia, who has basically evolved into a half-human, half-shovel entity. Her sword has literally become a shovel. But in this volume, Catria starts to do shovel techniques, while still trying to deny that she’s getting shoveled.

Another interesting thing to note is that Invincible Shovel seems to be setting itself up for the endgame. MyAnimeList still says it’s publishing, but it could be wrong. I have a theory as to what a future arc could be, but we’ll have to wait for that point to find out. Otherwise, it’s the same shoveltastic comedy it always is!

Verdict: 8/10


Deathbound Duke’s Daughter: Erika Aurelia and the Angel’s Crypt

I gave the previous Deathbound Duke’s Daughter volume a lackluster score, but I had some semblance of hope for the future of the series. It had a very whimsical world, even if the characters were just about as plastic as any slice-of-life fantasy.

In this volume, Erika goes to Ignitia where she meets the city’s charming prince, August. The really long first chapter is basically to introduce us to the city and the fact that there’s this titular Angel’s Crypt. Erika knows that she is to be murdered by this beast in said Crypt, which August thinks can grant his wish to be better at dragon riding.

Overall, I felt like this volume was slightly better than the previous one. Once it picked up, things got pretty fast-paced and adventurous. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s good enough. August is a typical “bastard child trope”, and felt so manufactured to me; he has absolutely zero hesitation in selling his soul to a demon in order to get his wish. Also, they try to hide who the villain is even though the color pages straight-up tell you who it is (but it’s still predictable regardless). 

Verdict: 7.55/10


Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Volume 4

I’ve been loving Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, but the biggest issue with it has been trying to write a substantial review of the newest volumes. Fortunately, with this new format, I can put in a short blurb and it’ll be fine! Let’s see what Six’s latest adventure has in store for us.

This volume serves one purpose, and that’s to properly introduce a new waifu: Lilith. If you recall, she’s one of Six’s superiors; the mad scientist of Kisaragi. Sadly, she’s my least favorite protagonist so far. There’s nothing wrong with her, but she just falls short of Best Girl Alice and Besterest Girl Grimm. A lot of her lines are just her having straight-man reactions to how ridiculous the fantasy world is and not much else.

Overall, this is sort of a slice-of-life volume (as slice-of-life as Combatants can get). It’s funny, and there’s some good character interactions, but nothing much actually happens. The climax makes you think that they’re finally going to make a move on the Demon Lord, but it ends up getting put off. Maybe they’ll follow up next volume?

Verdict: 8.35/10


Torture Princess: Fremd Torturchen Volume 5

This has been one of my favorite isekai of all time. I won’t defend anyone who says it’s edgy, superficial, and trashy, but it has such chutzpah that I love it. The previous volume had the least amount of gore, yet it raised the bar for the story moving forward. Since I made sure this was the final volume we cover today, I saved the best for last! 

Volume five is even more of a departure from the over-the-top gore, and caffeine-fueled villains than volume four. Right away, Jeanne establishes a new goal: kill the Saint so that Diablos can never awaken. But since we have no idea where she is, the only choice is to ask the Saint’s BFF: the Butcher. Of course, it can’t be that easy; in fact, it takes most of the volume to reach the booger.

Just from reading the volume, I can easily assume that this is the point where people would really start hating on Torture Princess. I’m still loving this story, but the way things play out in this current arc really smells like milking the series (which is odd because I don’t think Torture Princess is that popular in Japan). It’s still relatively straightforward for now, but there’s no telling what it’s going to be like in the future. Furthermore, there’s a big scene at the end that will likely come off as contrived and/or predictable (which, let’s be honest, we critics only use those words when we’ve genuinely fallen for a plot twist and we want to write an excuse for it). But as far as this volume’s concerned, Torture Princess maintains its same sense of quality… for what it’s worth to you.

Verdict: 9.15/10


Conclusion

“There should be a lot more books to discuss in this post,” he says… yet he only discusses one more book than the last time. Well, that’s definitely going to change next month, especially if I can go to Disney this year (in which case I’d have to do a mega post for October and November). Anyway, good books this time around. Leave a comment for some feedback!

Now THIS is Yuri – ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 1 Review

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, then you’ll be aware that I have not had the best track record with Seven Seas’ light novels; they just so happen to license some of the worst material I have ever read. The only one I’ve liked is The Invincible Shovel, and that’s in danger of becoming seriously repetitive. Other notable releases tend to be incredibly controversial, which would be good guilty pleasure, but some of them (such as Buck Naked in Another World) are so bare-bones and boring that I can’t enjoy them even for that! As a result, I had low expectations for one of their newest licences, a little series called *takes deep breath* ROLL OVER AND DIE: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with my Love and Cursed Sword. This was the needle in a haystack that I needed.

In ROLL OVER AND DIE (sorry, the official title is in all caps), a girl named Flum Apricot is chosen, among others, to defeat the Demon Lord. She has an ability called Reversal, which has all her stats locked in at 0. As a result, her party members treat her like crap until one of them sells her off as a slave. Just when she’s at the depths of despair, she stumbles upon a cursed sword, which- thanks to her ability- reverses its adverse effects and grants her massive stat buffs. With this power, she escapes captivity with a slave girl named Milkit, and sets off to live a normal life.

Critics have a word for scenarios in which an author tries so hard to make an underdog that it comes off as over-the-top and gratuitous: “torture porn”. That term is incredibly apt for ROLL OVER AND DIE.  Flum is constantly called weak, is unacknowledged by society, and is- multiple times- seen as a sex toy by random jerks. Everyone is out to get her, and when someone tries to be nice, it’s actually a Shield Hero-style ruse. It’s shock value, sure, but similar to stuff like Eighty-Six, it’s executed really well!

But a light novel is still a light novel. Instead of actually earning her keep through hard work like a real underdog, Flum has power thrown into her lap, free of charge. And it’s not only the sword; she frequently stumbles upon more cursed equipment by sheer coincidence. The story also does a good job at giving her plot armor. In one early fight, she’s literally cut to ribbons, but the reversed curse effect can heal her even from that. Typical OP protagonist stuff.

Despite this, there is one thing that saves ROLL OVER AND DIE from being your usual power fantasy romp, and it’s the fact that Flum is a girl. Let’s go over the basic premise again: Flum Apricot is given phenomenal cosmic power by pure happenstance. She befriends a slave girl named Milkit, who calls her “Master”, as if Flum owned her as a slave. Imagine Flum being a boy, and the whole tone of the LN completely changes. Because of how society is, we are more willing to sympathize with a woman who’s overcoming torment, but as a boy, she’d be a cringe-inducing overpowered protagonist. We’re more willing to look at a girl owning a younger female slave as two sisters, but as a boy, she’d be a misogynist taking advantage of an emotionally distraught young woman. Now you see just how important it is for Flum to be a girl!

Unfortunately, Flum being a girl doesn’t make her particularly interesting. For some reason, I have a track record of coming down hard on characters, and ROLL OVER AND DIE is no exception. Everyone involved is your typical fantasy trope, with not much personality, especially Flum’s ex-party members. Milkit is probably my least favorite character because she seems to only exist to be the dime-a-dozen “tortured waifu” that makes everyone cry when she says things like “Nobody’s given me positive feedback before” (so her name is Milkit because she milks the audience!). Her inability to contribute to battle seems to further cement this. The saving grace is a loli named Sara, who speaks in a Southern accent, and wields a mace even though she’s ten. She’s both cute and capable!

To offset the fairly lackluster cast, the plot has some serious momentum. It’s fast-paced, and neatly divided into “Episodes”. Developments that would normally be reserved for several volumes down the road are thrown at you right out of the gate. The tone of the whole series changes just as you’re getting acquainted with it, that’s for sure! There are a lot of genuinely great action and suspense sequences. And to top it off, excessive gore really brings the fun ridiculousness of the story together.

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Verdict: 8.75/10

I’ve finally found a light novel series that I think Seven Seas made a great call with licensing! ROLL OVER AND DIE is starting out to be a deceptively great franchise, and one that seriously needs an anime just to annoy people. Between this, Otherside Picnic, and Murcielago, I’m starting to consider the possibility that yuri is this secretly amazing genre… Anyway, I recommend ROLL OVER AND DIE if you fancy yourself some girl power!

Back to Usual Shenanigans – SAO: Moon Cradle Arc Review (Volumes 19 and 20)

Volume 18 of Sword Art Online marked the end of the massive Alicization Arc. Now, we can finally go to a new arc, in a new wor- wait, why is there a map of the Underworld inside volume 19? Oh my God. Of course… This is Kawahara. We can’t go to a new proper arc without some filler in between! This review covers the two-part filler arc: Moon Cradle.

Moon Cradle is set during the two hundred year time period that Kirito and Asuna are trapped in the Underworld, after they beat up Vecta and Poopoo (Laughing Coffin guy), and turn Alice into an android (or something). Everything’s all well and good, until a goblin is accused of murdering a civilian. It’s up to detective Kirito once again! After all, he’s solved a whopping one other mystery in his life; he’s perfect!

The first volume is basically figuring out who the murderer is, and the second volume is catching the booger. Like other SAO filler arcs (besides the Asuna one), Moon Cradle is incredibly boring. Furthermore, Kirito and Asuna get free plot armor, since we’ve SEEN them return from the Underworld in the previous volume. He also showcases more of his OP-ness from scenes like being able to force open a Vecta-only door with no problem. 

The characters don’t get much better either. Sure, Kirito and Ronie (who’s role in the Alicization Arc I completely forgot) get to spend some time together, but it’s more so a kick in her crotch, since Kirito and Asuna will always be THE couple. But hey, at least Kirito is as “good” and “inspirational” as he always is (*proceeds to wretch*).

And similar to most of SAO, despite the urgency of the situation (which ends up escalating to both a murder and a kidnapping), the characters find some time to goof off. “Should we solve this mystery?” “We should, but I think we should have a picnic lunch first!” This is almost Log Horizon level of characters actively choosing to not advance the plot. 

But the term “advance the plot” is applied loosely here. Most of the investigation is them discussing the nuances of the Taboo Index over and over and over again. And the one time they do something investigative, they just whip out some magic that allows them to witness the crime as it occurred! At this point, I’ve lost all knowledge (and care) of how the magic system in the Underworld works, so if you can prove whether or not the spell they did was possible within the world’s logic, then have at it and explain it to me in the comments section.

To end off the arc is a less-than-stellar climax. It builds up to the possibility of a team of two women fighting the bad guy, which would have been a nice change of pace. I say “would have been” because Kirito shows up right at the end and takes all the credit like the scientists who stole that one lady’s discovery of DNA. The actual conflict isn’t even resolved, and Kawahara even points that out himself in the afterword. But despite this, he’s chosen to start a completely new arc because… reasons?

Verdict: 5/10

Alicization was the first remotely descent arc in SAO, and now we have this. I’m sorry for being so rude, but I was seriously, lividly tired of that blasted Underworld! Well, it’s over now. So let’s hope beyond hope that Unital Ring is even worth half the pain of putting up with everything that leads up to it!

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!

No Guns Life First Impressions (Volumes 1-5)

An unspoken tradition in the world of anime and manga is to make things into guns. Swords are among the first weapons to become guns, for example. Even Western anime like RWBY honor the tradition by turning scythes, boots, and even suitcases into guns. Honestly, it’s surprising that it took until the manga No Guns Life, published in English by Viz, to turn an entire person into a gun.

In No Guns Life, people get all kinds of augments. The people with these augments are called Extended. Juzo Inui is so Extended… his freaking head is a gun! Although there is no war, things are not safe in the city, and he does all sorts of odd jobs to get by. But one fateful day, a dude hires him to protect a child named Tetsuro Arahabaki. Turns out that the dude was being remote controlled by Tetsuro due to a special ability called Harmony. Because of this, the megacorporation known as Beruhren tries to climb up Juzo’s ass. But that doesn’t matter; if the client pays, he’ll do the job.

At first, it seems that No Guns Life is a typical “cyberpunk starring a hard-hearted war veteran who was used as a tool, is outcast by society now that he’s obsolete, and is sucked into a massive government conspiracy while he comes to terms with his past and makes us wonder what makes us human”. And, well, that’s because it’s just that. Like Levius, there really isn’t anything particularly special about the manga in terms of ideas.

Fortunately, it does have a good sense of momentum. So far, No Guns Life has behaved similarly to Ghost in the Shell, where we observe Juzo take on various jobs, each of which tells us a little more about the world and the overarching story. The plot is engaging, and full of intrigue, even if it’s all stuff we saw in every piece of cyberpunk media ever published. 

Unfortunately, its cast is not too special. Juzo is the most likeable by far; he’s that nonchalant bad-ass type. There’s a number of parts where he gets livid just for someone messing with his favorite brand of cigarettes (as a small side note, there is a chance that the fact that it is implied that his smokes are essential for his Extended body to function could be interpreted as the manga endorsing substance abuse. But I’m the last person who wants to be “that guy” so I’ll leave it to your discretion). But other than him, we have some typical cyberpunk tropes. Tetsuro is basically a shounen protagonist disguised as a supporting character, and his personal engineer, Mary, is the sisterly figure who exists to tune him up while sometimes being a waifu.

The antagonists aren’t much better either. If you couldn’t tell from the rundown of the premise, Beruhren is the typical evil, monopolizing conglomerate that “symbolically represents Apple and Google and their massive conspiracy to take over all our personal data and allow the world to be controlled by Chinese censorship since they’re the biggest market in the world and all they care about is money” (side note: I’m being sarcastic and I personally don’t believe any of that). There’s also the organization, Spitzbergen, that is against the Extended (and guess what: they use Extended to kill other Extended which represents “the hypocrisy of the government and/or every organized religion”). And as far as individuals are concerned, at this point they’ve mainly been war veterans who got all cuckoo as a result of PTSD which “represents what Juzo could potentially have become which makes them morally ambiguous for some reason”.

At the very least, No Guns Life has great art. It has a rough style, with plenty of action. Even if the antagonists are lackluster, they at least have some legitimately creepy character designs. And speaking of character designs, Juzo definitely stands out as a protagonist given his unique head shape.

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Current Verdict: 8.4/10

I hate saying this as a sci-fi fan, but cyberpunk has definitely lost its luster since the 1990s. At the time, sure, it was cool to be like “Whoa, what if we’re living in a simulation?” or, “Does pimping ourselves up with machinery make us no longer human?” But now, in this day and age, questions like that are about as cliche as a hentai protagonist being popular among cute girls. Despite how much the genre brings to the table, it’s deceptively restrictive. Personally, I believe that sheer entertainment value is all that cyberpunk has left in terms of appeal, and No Guns Life delivers (took me long enough to get to the topic at hand). I recommend it to any cyberpunk fans, as well as edgelords who think having a gun-head is cool.

May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 1 Review

Time travel is always a contentious topic, both in real life and in writing. While scientists debate whether or not it’s possible, writers explore its ramifications. The results of the latter, well, vary wildly. But sometimes, you don’t need to travel in order to change the past, which is the case in May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, published in English by Yen Press.

In May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace, two nations- one in the east and one in the west- are at war, with the latter on the winning side. For a cadet named Rain Lantz, everything changes when the Fire Nation atta- I mean- when he meets a girl named Air Arland Noah. The bullets she fires are special; a killshot from these bullets results in the target’s erasure from past, present, and future.

While not a particularly interesting concept, Leaden Battlegrounds is essentially Steins;Gate but in a military setting. It’s pretty easy to suspend disbelief, since it’s set in a sci-fi fantasy world. All bullets have magical properties, but Air’s are one of a kind. They are called Devil’s Bullets, which will henceforth be known as D-Bullets, since it would be way too coincidental if they weren’t an intentional reference to Steins;Gate‘s D-Mail.

And similar to Okarin, Rain spams the D-Bullets like a Smash player using Kirby’s Down Special. For the time being, there doesn’t seem to be many cases of time-f***ery like there usually is. That’s kind of bad because it makes the light novel have no stakes, given how serious it takes itself. The D-Bullets are almost an excuse for Rain to never have to face any form of consequence. 

There are also a couple of issues that tend to plague most light novels, especially isekai (even though this isn’t one). There is some tonal whiplash, an example being a whole chapter of typical school antics (i.e. ecchi) that have no place in the story whatsoever. The author also gets exposition-happy, oftentimes reminding us that the D-Bullets erase people from existence at least once per chapter. There are also some examples of cheap shock value that appear to just arbitrarily elicit an emotional response.

But all things considered, Leaden Battlegrounds has some solid momentum. Other than the stupid ecchi chapter, there’s always some kind of new development and intrigue. Of course, being somewhat of a time travel narrative, it could fall apart quickly. But for now, I’m curious as to how things can play out from here.

Unfortunately, it has the usual crapshoot of bland characters. Rain is a pretty generic teen who sometimes feels like he’s better suited to be in a gag shounen (which may be symbolic of militarism or something but I digress). Air is basically the highest selling point of the book; a cute loli with the out-of-left-field trait of wanting to show Rain her panties. Everyone else is kind of just… there.

The art is middle-of-the-road. It’s appealing enough to make someone at least look at it, and that’s really enough when it comes to selling a light novel. I’ve definitely seen better, but Leaden Battlegrounds still has respectable visuals.

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Verdict: 8/10

May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace is off to a better start than most light novels I’ve read lately. But like I said before, there’s no telling where this story will go. For the time being, I recommend it to time travel and military science fiction fans. What are your thoughts on this volume? Leave a comment if you’d like!

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2 and Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12 Reviews

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear Volume 2

Last time on Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, a girl named Yuna logs into her favorite MMO, World Fantasy Online, during a new update. She is given some game-breaking bear-themed equipment as a gift for playing for a long time, and is sent to an unfamiliar part of the game world in said bear equipment, with her level reset to 1. She saves a girl named Fina from wolves, and the two of them head to the nearest town with the mob loot. They sell it at the guild, and Yuna spends her hard-earned cash at the inn. The next day, Yuna- guess what- registers at the guild, but only after- guess what- beats some red-shirted upstarts. She then buys a ton of throwing knives, along with a sword and butchering knife, as well as some normal-people clothes. She also acquires bear-themed magic, which she practices on some wolves. She beats enough of them for it to instantly promote her to E-Rank at the guild. Some of the friends of that guy who she beat up start slandering her, and as a result, she is forced to undertake a goblin-slaying quest with them. The required amount is fifty, and she offers to fight them all herself and give them the credit so they stay off her back. She goes with the female adventurer, Rulina, defeats them all herself (double the required amount and a boss), and earns respect among the other group. Over time, Yuna defeats so many monsters that she becomes D-Rank with no effort, and hires Fina to butcher the spoils. They go on a quest to fight tigerwolves, which go down easily. Lastly, Yuna spends a heap of cash on an empty plot of land, and constructs a bear house to live in.

The bear-themed antics are just as bear-themed and… un-antic-y (professional term) as last time. Honestly, I struggled to write anything of substance in this post, and that’s why I’m pairing it with a review of Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12. The second volume of Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is almost exactly the same as the previous one.

At the current rate, it seems that it’s going to commit to being an episodic CGDCT isekai, which for some (many) people, is enough (especially with the bear onesie). Yuna visits some noble guy, which- I’ll admit- her apprehensiveness to the request was actually kind of funny. But afterwards, Fina’s mom is sick, and Yuna- being the OP protagonist she is- restores her to perfect health almost instantly. Everything happens so unceremoniously that it bores me to tears. Furthermore, the “let’s tell you the same chain of events you just saw but from Fina’s perspective” thing does not die down in this volume.

The issue really is the bland and basic writing style. While there comes a point where TOO much finesse can make you sound like a pretentious hack, not enough will make your work seem lifeless. I couldn’t be immersed in any fashion, and I could barely visualize anything besides Yuna.

You know what, Yuna really is the only thing that matters, isn’t she? She doesn’t just look adorable, but she also helps people for no reason. WHAT AN AMAZING AND NOT-AT-ALL IDEALIZED PERSON. I feel like the author expects people to love her because of how good she is. Well, us critics got a name for girls like her: Mary Sue.

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Verdict: 6/10

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear is so superficial. It’s cute, it’s relaxing, but it relies entirely on Yuna’s cuteness. If she didn’t have a bear onesie this thing would not sell. All of her powers are typical stuff, but they just have the word “bear” tacked on to them; they aren’t even puns! Compare it to Invincible Shovel, which actually uses shovel-like properties, such as “digging” through people’s memories, or “burying” entire castles. My chances of reading more Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear are next to nil. I’m going to be so salty when the anime airs because I KNOW that people are gonna be all over Yuna’s bear suit and her good will, WHILE SOMETHING LEGITIMATELY GOOD AND ORIGINAL LIKE TO YOUR ETERNITY WILL GET SHAFTED BECAUSE FUUUUUUUUU-! Anyway, if you like CGDCT and isekai, then Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear will do just fine.


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 12

Last time on Infinite Dendrogram (volume 10), Ray goes to college while also having a new accessory made for him that would help him resist poison. That’s it for him. In Caldina, Hugh Lesseps gets involved with some crazy woman named AR-I-CA on a quest to find a bunch of sealed boss monsters that were stolen from Huang He. A powerful mafia called Mirage goes after them, but they become a non-issue real fast when Dancing Princess Hiuli defeats them all by herself. Gerbera, in the Gaol, also gets stronger as she trains with her new friends in Illegal Frontier, led by the King of Crimes, who is incidentally involved in what is going on at Hugh’s end. Things are looking intense, AND WE FINALLY GET TO SEE WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Er, well… not quite? The stuff that happened last time felt like setup, and this volume feels like… more setup. The developments last volume end up being ignored in favor of some new ones. First off, Figaro’s yandere girlfriend, Hannya, is released from the Gaol. She hates couples… which is why it’s so perfect that she was released during the time of a lovey-dovey festival in Gideon.

There’s also some new political developments, mainly this arranged marriage with Princess Elizabeth and one of Huang He’s princes. In order to butter them up, they hang out during the aforementioned festival. They also hint at a potential alliance with Caldina in the future, but nothing seems to come of it yet. 

The volume starts with some more insight on Kashimiya, this iai-fighting dude that we only got to see a blip of once upon a time. But after that, the bulk of it is the lovey-dovey festival. And yeah, it kind of feels like a filler volume, even moreso than the Gloria prequel fight. The interactions between the characters are genuinely cute, but this is the first time I’ve seen the overarching story get backseated this violently in Dendro

Things do ramp up toward the end; Dendro always has to have a crazy fight scene or two. But as far as character development goes, it’s really only Figaro and Hannya who get it. We do get introduced to some new Dendro A.I. but we’re still kept in the dark; in fact, the prequel volume told us more than this one did! And as usual, we still don’t get to see any of Legendaria nor Ray’s sister. 

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Verdict: 7.5/10

I don’t know what it is, but this is probably my least favorite Dendro volume so far. It’s a cute little mini-arc that set some stuff up, but it’s been a long time since something intense happened. Something big needs to happen, and fast, or this great series could REALLY become the next SAO (and I mean that in a bad way).

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.

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II Full Game Review

PREFACE: In case you do not already know, I should warn you the Trails of Cold Steel Franchise is explicitly designed to be played in chronological order. No, it doesn’t have a stupidly convoluted plot like Metal Gear or Kingdom Hearts, but this is nonetheless a direct continuation of the first game. As such, this review will contain unmarked spoilers of the first game. I will also not explain any basic mechanics of the first game, as you are expected to know already from playing it. If you are interested in this franchise, click on this link to read my review of Trails of Cold Steel I.


Intro

The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel has its strengths and weaknesses, but overall, it was never meant to be a full game; no, it exists solely to lay down the groundwork for a truly epic tale, spanning four massive games. I was more engaged in the story of Cold Steel than any JRPG I’ve ever played, and it was definitely one of the best turn-based JRPGs in terms of gameplay. With that ridiculous ending- Crow being one of the main antagonists, mechs existing, Crossbell’s declaration of independence, mechs existing, Ouroboros and Fie’s old squad have been helping the Noble Alliance pull all the political strings, MECHS EXISTING- my body was beyond ready for the sequel. The first Cold Steel set the expectations, now it’s up to The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel II, to meet said expectations.

When we last left our intrepid hero, Rean Schwarzer, he- in his mech, Valimar- was forced to leave his buddies in Class VII behind during a losing battle against Crow, the leader of the Imperial Liberation Front. A month later, Rean wakes up on a mountain range with Emma’s mysterious cat, Celine. Now it’s time for him to make like a battle shounen protagonist and pick himself back off the ground and find what’s left of Class VII! 

Same World, New Problem

Immediately, the game starts off way sadder than Cold Steel I (even if the opening sorta ruins it a little by showing that EVERY student in Class VII is still alive). As soon as you start the game, the familiar title card appears dark, with the words singed by fire. A minor-key remix of the original game’s titlescreen music plays, and zooms in on Rean’s unconscious body. His voice actor sounds much more distraught than usual at first, and his portrait in the menu looks like someone who’s been through hell and back. Then, mere minutes after you find respite in his hometown of Ymir during the prologue, the town gets attacked. In most JRPGs, I’d say that an opening like this would constitute little more than shock value. But since this is a continuation of an existing story, it’s actually more effective, since you’re likely to be invested in the story if you’re picking up this game up after playing the previous one.

If you’re still new to the series, and you’re STILL reading this review anyway, I should SERIOUSLY warn you that the game basically gives you the finger for not starting from the beginning. There are two reasons why it’s seriously important to start from Cold Steel I, and the first of which is merely because it will be way too overwhelming if you don’t. The title screen does have a menu to read a recap of the first game, but honestly, the first game is so involved, you’d spend hours of Cold Steel II trying to memorize everything while trying to follow the present plot. 

But even for a returning player, it can be confusing knowing who’s on what team. So here, I’ll remind you. The Imperial Liberation Front is in cahoots with Fie’s old jaeger squad, Zephyr, who both report to Duke Ceyenne, the leader of the Noble Alliance. Ouroboros is with them as well, but Sharon seems to be a double agent; someone on both our and their side. Vita, the sexy sorceress lady, seems to be in a third group, containing space wizards (or something) who’ve been working on a completely separate thing. 

I pointed out that you need to keep in mind that Cold Steel I is the start of a larger story in order to enjoy it. In Cold Steel II, you need to keep in mind that it’s a continuation of a larger story. As a result, there are a lot of reused assets. While the world is big enough that you do get to visit areas that have only been mentioned, there are times where you return to old places. It really plays on your nostalgia bug, like at the start of chapter one, which has you go through a previous Field Study dungeon backwards.

Unfortunately, playing this game has kind of broken my immersion when it comes to Erebonia itself. Cold Steel I was split into multiple, self-contained areas, connected by long train rides. This was an effective way to make you use your imagination, and imagine the grandiose scope of the world. However, in Cold Steel II, you end up taking the roads that connect various areas in foot… and this is where the immersion breaks. It’s as soon as you set foot into Trista Highway for the first time that it’s made apparent; those train rides that took hours of in-game time were the alternative to roads that took minutes to traverse. It’s a nitpick, I know, but Erebonia definitely feels less Tolkienian since the world feels so much smaller now.

As far as the narrative is concerned, it’s actually… kind of lacking for a direct continuation, especially after an ending like Cold Steel I. Similar to how the first game’s purpose is to acquaint us with the world of Erebonia and all who inhabit it, Cold Steel II starts by reacquainting us with it, and seeing how much has changed as a result of the war. But even after the point where the story is supposed to ramp up, most of the game boils down to reclaiming areas from the first game, and gaining more support. It’s satisfying to do, but you don’t learn much about the core narrative, at least not until around the 75% point of the game, when it vomits information at you like any JRPG would.

The biggest issue with the narrative is that it never ends. After you defeat what is very much intended to be the final boss (which took me two and a half hours by itself because there’s, like, five phases), you end up playing a side section that serves no purpose other than to get players interested in another franchise set within the same universe (which, I’ll admit, was pretty darn effective, even if those games aren’t released in the U.S.). And then, you get an entire in-game day’s worth of content to do. AND AFTER THAT, the true final dungeon appears for no discernible reason. It got so annoying. The issue is that this game hypes itself up to be the conclusion of Cold Steel, and while it does a pretty good job at conveying that on an emotional level, it is very watered down by the known presence of two more games.

Same Faces… Plus a Few New Ones

Fortunately, there’s a surprising amount of stuff to learn from the characters. We get closer looks at characters like Claire and Sharon, and even deeper looks at the students of Class VII. I love them even more than I did before. To think that I brushed most of them off as bland anime tropes at first… that’s character development at its finest. I’ve grown so attached to them, that I even gave some of them nicknames, such as “Reany-Beany” and “Useless Jusis” (even though the latter is my favorite of the supporting male characters).

We also get more development on the antagonists, such as Crow. Plus, there are some interesting new antagonists with quirky personalities, such as the cocky yet socially awkward Duvalie, and the sleepy McBurn. Unfortunately, Duke Cayenne proves to be a pretty one-dimensional villain for the post part.

Audiovisuals

Unsurprisingly, Cold Steel II‘s graphics aren’t too different from the first game. I shouldn’t have expected them to be since it’s both the same system and the same world, but I still had to mention it. But one thing I didn’t acknowledge in my review of the first game is that a lot of the animations for attacks, especially S-Crafts, have aged very well. They look soooooooo animeeeeeee!

The soundtrack is also more-or-less the same. A lot of tracks are reused, but there are also some new, updated battle themes. Unfortunately, a lot of tracks overstay their welcome. One bad example is that there’s a point where you tackle four dungeons in quick succession, and music for all of them is some really grating opera. Furthermore, the previous game’s issue of “having the dungeon theme play over the battle theme because it’s INTENSE” comes back even more in this game. And similar to the other example, those themes get reused as well.

Gameplay (Intro)

For the gameplay section, I will still split it into Daily Life and Deadly Life. But like I said before, I will go over mechanics as if you’re already familiar with the first game. I will also bring up the fact that this version of the game, Relentless Edition, SPOILS you. First off, the amazing Turbo Mode feature is still present. Second off, you get WAY more items in the DLC than last time, including 99 U-Materials. 

Before we start, I must also bring up the other important reason to play Cold Steel I first. When starting a new game of Cold Steel II, you will be asked if you want to load Clear Save Data from Trails I on your system. Doing this will give you items based on Rean’s previous Academy Rank, and change dialogue based on various accomplishments, as well as the person you chose to dance with at the end of Cold Steel I (G.G. for anyone who chose Crow). It felt really satisfying to have my actions acknowledged, and it helped maintain a sense of continuity.

Daily Life

JRPGs Always Need an Airship

So, the first question I- and probably a lot of people asked- going into Cold Steel II was, “Without Thors, how’re we gonna have the same school mechanics?” Well, the answer is a minor spoiler, and one that is spoiled in the game’s intro at that. After a certain point, your main base of operations is on the Courageous.

But the problem with the Courageous is that it needs some help. Fortunately, scattered throughout the world are your fellow peers from Thors. Whenever you see them, it is encouraged to recruit them to the ship, as many of them unlock new facilities. Most of these are carry-over mechanics from Cold Steel I, so I will only discuss new things here.

For starters, there’s new training facilities. These are basically your Practical Exams from Cold Steel I, except you can do them whenever. They are split into Melee, Range, and Arts, where you are locked into using characters who are built around those fighting styles. The biggest issue with them (other than how stupid hard they get) is that you don’t get to prep anyone before the fight itself like you can in the first game. Furthermore, you don’t get to see the conditions until the battle starts, which can be annoying.

There’s also the new Triple Tri- I mean- Blade II. This game plays like the first one, but with meaner trap cards: Blast and Force. Blast Cards allow you to destroy a card in your opponent’s hand (but you can’t look at it), and Force Cards double your total. Even with how game-breaking these new cards are, I still lost 95% of the time because I suck. 

Once you recruit Munk, you are able to bribe him to apply to radio contests on your behalf. There’s a cheap one where you win a modest prize, and a high-risk, high-rewards one. The results come in after five battles (excluding the training facilities in the Courageous), so make sure you use it before you go out into a combat area.

“Hey, Rean! Have you finished those errands?”

Quests are pretty much unchanged, except with the added feature of reporting manually by Skyping Olivert. And despite the hard times, people can afford to pay up. In addition to the usual rewards for completing a quest, you get a monetary donation for reporting it. There are still hidden quests, and they are sneakier than ever. Some require you to have or not have certain people in your party (but I have no idea if the game indicates it to you because I was always lucky enough to already have met the conditions).

But unlike the first game, you cannot miss ANY quests if you want to max out your Academy Rank. Last time, I missed three and still barely got it. But now, even after doing every quest (with the trophy to confirm it), I ended the game with only ONE excess AP. There is only a sliver of leeway, as I didn’t get all S-Ranks despite getting all quests. I guess some of them had more favorable outcomes and I didn’t realize it. Fortunately, due to the game’s circumstances, there are no exams this time! Yay!

You Never Have Enough Sepith in This Game

One thing I noticed in Cold Steel II was that everyone’s Arcus slots are still fully opened. But that doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. In this game, you spend Sepith to UPGRADE your slots, and I blew through most of my DLC Sepith just to be barely close to maxing out one character. If you don’t do this, you can’t equip rare quartz. It’s annoying, but they had to change it up somehow. As a side note, you eventually get the ability to create EX Orbs, which are equipped to Valimar to boost its stats.

Wow, this game has an actual overworld!

The most standout improvement in Cold Steel II is the ability to go to older areas at will. The Courageous makes it really easy to do so, and you can leave from almost any point on the map. There are times where you will be asked for specific party members, but fortunately, summoning the Courageous from the overworld allows you to reorganize your team without having to leave and come back.

So, what did Cold Steel II do to replace the Old Schoolhouse? Peppered throughout the world are these strange shrines. Gameplay-wise, they’re the same as the Old Schoolhouse; do the floor, beat the boss. You can’t complete them at first, but you obtain bonus AP for knocking out what you can early on (plus they got good loot in them).

The whole Courageous thing is the best and worst aspect of the game. It does open up a lot stuff, and adds much variety when you’re running errands for people. One thing I noticed is that there aren’t as many hidden quests once you obtain the Courageous (in fact, I only had one in Act 2 Part 4 and one in the Final Act), which is nice. However, this new level of accessibility makes it so that you can get said missable items out of sequence. And it’s not based on the order that the areas come up in the story; for example, a single shop can have both the first recipe and last book chapter of that particular time bracket. As a result, I think I spent even more time repeatedly talking to the same NPCs over and over again than I did last time.

Saving the World? Nah, I’d Rather Fish and Cook

Cooking and fishing have both been buffed since last time. While fishing is mechanically unchanged, fishing spots get marked on the map after being used once, which is nice. And due to the ability to travel to older areas, you get a lot more respawning fishing spots that you can use. Unfortunately, this also means completing the fishing is a nightmare. In Cold Steel I, all fish eventually end up in Trista. However, that’s not the case here. Furthermore, the fishing locations don’t respawn as quickly as they should, meaning that you’ll need more groundbait than ever (or save-scumming) if you want to get all the fish… on top of having to try each and every location without knowing which one has a fish you missed. In fact, I resorted to looking up the fish just to save time. But hey, at least recipes are only cooked by one character now, which simplifies the process of getting a specific type of dish.

Nakama Power, the Most Important Superpower in Any Anime

Bonding Events are much more important in this game. While there are some Bonding Events early on, the bulk of them take place on Stopover Days that occur at the end of a chapter once you obtain the Courageous. Unlike the first game, EVERY party member, as well as Alfin and Towa, are available to spend time with. While you get more Bonding Points than last time, it’s not enough to make it easier to decide. “We’ll, it’s not gonna kill me if I don’t know EVERYTHING about EVERYBODY,” you think. We’ll, you might just want to save-scum to view every event, because Bonding Events have a new and trollish effect. Some SPECIFIC events will allow a character to learn new abilities earlier than they would’ve from levelling up, which is kind of annoying. I only saw one of these particular events, and the game doesn’t even tell you about them in the first place.

There’s also the case of Final Bonding Events. These are exclusive scenes between Rean and assorted characters towards the end of the game. In order to unlock a character’s Final Bonding Event, you must get their link level to its second-highest level, which is now six out of seven (technically, it only needs to be up to five and a half or so since finishing Act 2 boosts everyone’s links by 1000), as well as fulfill specific other conditions. You can also have Towa and Alfin in line for this, but you will need to do every single Bonding Event with them in order to be able to satisfy the conditions with them. Fortunately, the game will tell you when you have an opportunity to satisfy one of said conditions, which is something much appreciated that most JRPGs don’t bother doing. Also, once you recruit Beryl, you can use her services to confirm with whom you have met the conditions for. Unfortunately, when the time comes, you can only do one per playthrough, so save-scumming at that point is essential. It is also impossible to meet the conditions with everyone at once. This means that you will have to play through again in New Game+ to see everything (which you would’ve had to do anyway to complete the character notebook entries).

What is this, Sonic Adventure 1?

A new mechanic is snowboarding. Throughout the story, you unlock new courses to snowboard in. Beating these gets you great prizes, but like in any videogame, it gets really difficult late on.  In addition to snowboards, you also get to ride Angelica’s bike. It can be used almost anywhere and greatly makes up for the lack of fast travel points on highways.

Deadly Life

A Steep Learning Curve Just got Even Steeper

Here’s the final reason as to why Cold Steel II does not like newcomers: All the combat mechanics learned over the course of more than half of Cold Steel I… is taught all at once during the Prologue. So seriously… if you’re somehow still reading this and not familiar with the series. FOR THE LOVE OF AIDIOS, PLAY COLD STEEL I

For returning players, this brings some immediate positives. In Cold Steel II, every character has all their Craft and S-Craft from the first game. Your Link levels are also higher at the start, with Rean starting at Link Level 2 with everyone. This at least makes it easier for returning players to get reacclimated to the game.

A new mechanic is Overdrive. Use this between a pair of Linked characters to give them a free heal, and a set of three free attack turns with no delay. This also guarantees Unbalancing. The gauge fills by doing things in battle, but it fills up much faster based on your tactical bonuses at the end of a battle. Unfortunately, only people paired with Rean can do it…

…at first. New to Cold Steel II are Trial Chests. These chests make a set pair of party members fight a tough battle. But as a reward, you get great items, a heap of Link XP for that pair, and unlock the ability for them to use Overdrive together. It’s a great way for characters that aren’t Rean to get large amounts of Link XP, since the bonding events from Cold Steel I kinda threw off the balance of everyone’s link levels (but it still ends up being way off-balanced).

Mech Battles Before Xenoblade X Made it Cool

My biggest concern when it came to combat was how Cold Steel II would expand on the Divine Knight (a.k.a. mech) battles. Introduced during the final boss of Cold Steel I, mech battles felt very stressful and iffy. Basically, mech battles were a game of rock-paper-scissors, where you had to attack a section of the target that was weak- the head, the body, or the arms. Attacking a weak point resulted in a crit, which allowed you to press X for an immediate Follow-up, and after obtaining three Bravery Points, you could use a powerful Finisher (basically an S-Craft). The catch is that the weakness changed based on the enemy’s stance, which resulted in having to memorize a lot of combinations. Attacking the wrong spot could result in getting the attack blocked, or worse, evaded. This, as always, gives enemies the chance to counter. You also couldn’t Impede attacks that enemies were charging up last time, even if you inflicted a crit, so you were basically screwed.

Fortunately, Cold Steel II greatly fixes some of these issues. The game adds a Defend command, which allows you to greatly reduce damage and recover a small chunk of HP. But one of the best additions by far is the fact they show the Unbalance Efficacy of each piece- in each stance- after you attack it once. THANK YOU.

Although Rean is on his own in mech battles, his buddies can at least help with EX Arts. Basically, you have another character who takes their own turn in the fights. When it’s their turn, you can have them cast some EX Arts, the nature of which are determined by the person. This greatly fleshes out the mech battles, plus every person has a charge function to restore Valimar’s EP (which doesn’t really justify the parts of the game where you wait for him to recharge…). You also have a Unity Attack that you can do with five Bravery Points.

Other Things to Keep in Mind

Rean also gets some significant boosts in this game. After a while, he is able to summon Valimar to regular battles for three turns, and is able to activate his Super Saiyan form at will. These can be very useful in some super-tough battles, especially if you play it on Nightmare difficulty.

One new feature is the optional bosses, the Cryptids. These enemies appear throughout the world after certain points in the story. Defeating them nets you a rare quartz containing a Lost Art. These Arts are really powerful, but consume all of a character’s EP. Fortunately, they are affected by the Zero-Arts turn bonus, which can seriously save your bum. I didn’t use them too often, but I imagine they are essential in Hard and Nightmare difficulties.

Either This Game is Hard… or I Suck

If it wasn’t obvious enough that this game alienates newcomers, they also make it much harder than Cold Steel I. I died way more often than before, and in this game I actually knew what I was doing. They really expect you to have mastered the turn order system, along with all the other mechanics, ‘cuz the kid gloves are off this time! The game also introduces a rare case of enemy attacks that ignore and remove all buffs, and some of these attacks happen to be their strongest attack. The Zeram Capsule + Moebius setup I utilized in the last game made its final dungeon a joke, but that same setup was a necessity in this game. If I hadn’t gotten forty of them as DLC, I would’ve been sunk.

Fortunately, I learned some important things about the series that I didn’t know last time. Stat changes do stack in Cold Steel, which I honestly should’ve noticed before. Also, Evasion is a broken stat in this series, especially if you give your most dodgy character (preferably Fie) the Wrath Quartz, which makes all counterattacks crit. I also had her paired with the Master Quartz, Mirage, which adds a good chance of evading magic. This game was my first time trying an Evasion build on a character; I’ve always prioritized defense in JRPGs in the past. Furthermore, Speed is immensely important, as it reduces characters’ Delay between turns, which again, is something I should’ve known last time.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

Trails of Cold Steel II is a massive improvement over the first game in almost every way (except strictness, and knowing when to roll credits). At this point, I am hooked on this story and I fully intend to see it to its end (and pray that I get the True Ending of the fourth game). However, I am concerned about the third game. Based on the one thing I know about it, it feels like it will be a step backward for the series. Well, with my job opened back up, you won’t know how I feel about it for a while. Anyways, as far as recommendations for Trails of Cold Steel is concerned, I think it’s definitely worth giving a shot, even if you are uncomfortable with missing things. The game is good at letting you know when you’re at a cut-off point, making it a lot less stressful than most JRPGs.

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2, Her Majesty’s Swarm Volume 3, and Invincible Shovel Volume 2 Reviews

Last Round Arthurs Volume 2

Last time on Last Round Arthurs, Rintaro transfers to Camelot International High School, where he joins forces with Luna Artur to help her win the King Arthur Succession Battle. He immediately sees Luna’s Jack, Sir Kay, being used as an idol at the school, and it’s thanks to Luna- the student council president- that it could happen. This aggros the head of the Ethics Committee, Tsugumi Mimori, and the campus turns into an all-out battleground. After school, he meets her on the roof, where she lets him join her in the succession battle! The first thing they do is… break into their own school’s fantasy office to steal the answers to their midterms. But then, they’re attacked by the Ethics Committee, and someone casts a spell that sends them to the Netherworld. Luna summons Sir Kay, who goes off with Rintaro to find the spellcaster. They find Luna’s rival, Felicia, and Felicia’s Jack, Sir Gawain, waiting for them outside the school. Gawain beats Kay easily, but Rintaro is really confident that he can take on the knight. And guess what, Rintaro beats Gawain like it’s nothing, since Gawain is only at peak performance in the daytime (and it happened to be nighttime then). However, Felicia uses her Excalibur to create a dazzling light that freezes Rintaro and Kay in place, while giving Gawain his special boost. But then, Rintaro transforms into a mythic creature, which is apparently called a Fomorian (look it up). Rintaro is crazy powerful in this state, and thus Felicia undoes the Netherworld spell and flees with Gawain. Luna had apparently been watching the whole time, but surprisingly, she thinks the Fomorian transformation was super cool. Later, Felicia is attacked by the strongest candidate, Gloria. After selling some bread with a skimpy prize inside, Luna and Rintaro go out… on a date… and we learn of the real goal of the succession battle: whoever wins must stand against the Catastrophe, an event where reality and fantasy collide sometime in the future. But then, they stumble upon Gawain, who was fleeing from Gloria… a.k.a. Luna’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Kujo (and his Jack, Sir Lancelot)! He demands that Luna meets at the Central Park Hotel at midnight, or else Felicia’s life will be forfeit. While Gawain divulges his tragic backstory, about how his jealousy for Lancelot caused the fall of King Arthur, we learn that Rintaro is actually Merlin! Unfortunately, drama unfolds between him and Luna, and he quits being her vassal. Luna infiltrates the hotel with Kay and Gawain by her side. At the top floor, they end up in an illusory replica of Camlann Hill, where Kujo confronts them. Meanwhile, Rintaro has a talk with Nayuki, one of the girls from school, and learns that Luna sold her Excalibur as a bribe to protect her school from some corporation. Back at the hotel, when Luna is about to lose, Rintaro appears and hands over her Excalibur, which he stole from that company. He fights with Kay, Gawain, and Felicia to hold Lancelot and Kujo back while Luna charges up her Excalibur, but it gets ugly when Kujo wields his own, exponentially powerful Excalibur. But once Luna activates her Royal Road, based on trust between her and her vassal, it’s G.G. for Kujo. In the aftermath, Kujo awakens in a room with a strange robed girl (the same one who compelled Rintaro to join the battle in the first place)… who turns out to be Tsugumi, a.k.a. Morgan le Fay, the evil sorceress from King Arthur’s era. Meanwhile, Rintaro and Felicia’s teams form a truce for the time being.

This volume shows us a little more of the Dame du Lac, the organization behind the entire King Arthur Succession Battle. Since they created the Curtain of Consciousness that protects everyone from the illusory world, they kinda have authority over the whole world. But before we can ponder how likely they are to be totally-not-evil, our Motley crew is ordered to take out some Rifts in the Curtain.

We’re introduced to some new characters: Emma Michelle, another King, and her Jack, Lamorak. Emma knew Rintaro way back when, and she’s all over him. Meanwhile, Lamorak is literally Eris from Mushoku Tensei: red hair, loli, brash. 

Most of this volume ends up being about Emma. Emma, Emma, Emma. The main conflict is not a bunch of deadly Rifts, but a shipping war, because EVERYONE loves those. It’s annoying, but at the same time, the antics that ensue are pretty funny.

But things ramp up in the volume’s second half. We get a ton of character development for Emma. Unfortunately, she ends up being another marketable waifu, but her character arc doesn’t quite resolve in the way that it usually does with girls like her. I can appreciate that much, at least.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Last Round Arthurs is still a great light novel, and more proof that there is a lot of good in modern light novels; they just don’t get anime adaptations. I’m very hyped for what this franchise has in store moving forward.


Her Majsety’s Swarm Volume 3

Last time on Her Majesty’s Swarm, Grevillea decides to infiltrate the Dukedom of Schtraut. With a Masquerade Swarm by their side, they head into Marine, the first city in Schtraut, disguised as refugees from Maluk. Their investigations show that Schtraut and Nyrnal don’t see eye to eye, and that adventurers are being sent to spy on Maluk. They join a guild to form connections. Eventually, Grevillea is invited to a party by Count Basil de Buffon. At the party, they have a run-in with a whiny noble, after which the Duke of Schtraut, Caeser de Sharon, appears. Serignan lures him over to Grevillea, who straight-up tells him that she was the mastermind behind the Maluk incident. They talk, and she tries to persuade him to let her Swarm through Schtraut to invade Frantz, and that she’ll defend his country during the inevitable war with both Nyrnal and Frantz that’s about to unfold. He leans toward her proposal, and even has her attend the International Council as a noble of Maluk… or rather have Maluk’s princess attend while controlled by a Parasite Swarm. The politics go as planned, and while the different countries are bickering, she’ll destroy them both. In order to stand up to the new threats, Grevillea makes some new heavy artillery. Meanwhile, Caesar forms an alliance with the Arachnea… if he wasn’t impeached by Leopold de Lorianne, the same mud-slinging S.O.B. from the party. Now, they have to fight Schtraut straight-up. They arrive in Marine, which has been completely destroyed. Out of a bizarre sense of respect, they harvest their bodies as meat for the Swarm. They destroy some peeps, but Grevillea ends up drinking poisoned well water, and wakes up back in the real world. She plays the game for a while, but ends up wanting to go back. Some girl appears, saying that the other world is a Devil’s Game, and swears to save Grevillea from it someday. She returns, and takes a while to remember everything. After that, they continue to destroy, further reducing Leopold the whiny noble to tatters. An army led by his younger brother, Roland, attacks next, but they too are quickly destroyed. Roland hates what Leopold did, so Grevillea offers to make him a Swarm to exact revenge. Meanwhile, Leopold’s last ditch effort is to get the Swarm on the bridge to his base, and blow it up with them on it. Fortunately, Roland knows how to steer a ship, and by extension, the Swarm now knows as well. With this, they are easily able to invade the city. They make their way to Leopold, but a basilisk comes out of the wine cellar! They destroy it easily, and proceed into the cellar to find him cowering in a secret room. Grevillea uses a Parasite Swarm to make him destroy himself. But then, she ends up back in her “room” again. That girl is here, and her name is Sandalphon. Another girl, named Samael, appears as well. They argue, and imply that Grevillea did something in her human life that resulted in her having to be judged in the game world? Well, whatever, she goes back and everything’s fine.

This latest volume shows that Her Majesty’s Swarm may be starting to enter a rut. Similar to the previous volumes, we are introduced to a new character whom Grevillea hits it off with, but then bites the dust. And just like the previous two times, she becomes a sociopath almost instantly. It was cool at the beginning, but when you have three red shirts pop up three times in a row in similar circumstances, it gets harder and harder to take seriously, kind of like Goblin Slayer.

But hey, at least sociopath Grevillea is the best Grevillea. With her sights set on the Popedom of Frantz, she’s just as conniving as she always is. The volume really ham-fists how corrupt Frantz is, and some of the things they show are pretty brutal. The plot thickens even more as far as the reason why Grevillea is in this world is concerned.

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Verdict: 8.15/10

Currently, this is the shortest individual review I have ever written. I’m sorry, but I can’t say anything else about this volume of Her Majesty’s Swarm without spoiling stuff, and even then, it would be difficult for me to make this post more verbose. This is one of those franchises where it’s kind of the same thing over and over again. This isn’t the only case, but others at least have some variety that warrants discussion. Her Majesty’s Swarm has next to no variety as far as content is concerned. It’s going to need to answer some of the questions it asks fast, or else there’ll be some trouble.


The Invincible Shovel Volume 2

Last time on The Invincible Shovel, the legendary miner, Alan, saves a princess named Lithisia using the power of his shovel. According to her, a demon named Zeleburg is threatening to take over her country. The only way to fight him back is to recover the seven Orbs, so the two of them set off to grab them. On the way, they run into Lithisia’s incapable bodyguard, Catria. But she attacks Alan, so he puts her in a hole. He convinces her about his shovel by beating her, and a team of thirty other knights, with it… and thus, she joins his party. They arrive in an elven forest that’s been ravaged by Dark Beasts, and Alan saves an elf girl named Fioriel. She’s a descendant of an old friend of his, so he helps her, which takes only thirty seconds. He also whips up a massive fortress to protect the forest. After that, Fioriel becomes Lithisia’s friend. But they leave her alone in her castle so they can go through their first dungeon: the Ancient Castle of Riften. Thanks to some extensive info gathering and remodeling, they have an easy time reaching the Blue Orb. After the boss, Alice Veknarl, flees, Alan swipes the orb and destroys the castle after they leave. She attacks again, but Alan captures her easily. After some torture, he saves her from the demon’s curse, and she tags along. Now their next destination is the desert! They head to Desertopia, where Alan saves a space girl named Julia, who has water powers. When discussing her backstory, Alan surmises that her ritual was sabotaged. When they get to her village, Alan attacks the village elder, who turns out to be a Doppelganger working for Zeleburg! But of course, Alan takes care of it, and gains new followers in the process. They infiltrate the pyramid easily, but have to contend with the dragon. Alan defeats while nearly destroying the universe. With the Red Orb in hand, the motley crew looks toward a neighboring country where they can spread Lithisia’s cult religion…

Today’s next victim is the Ice Nation of Shilasia. It doesn’t take long for the story to immediately bury itself in its shovel memes. And guess what, it gets even deeper. In this volume, Alan digs up an international embassy, a house made out of avalanche, rewrites the law, and more.

We are also introduced to a character who- finally- is about as good as Lithisia. The latest beholder of Shovelism is the Ice Sage/Witch, Riezfeld. She’s a riot. Riez has a massive ego, but it gets buried deeper and deeper every time Alan performs one of his massive feats. Like everyone else, she just has to accept that he’s too powerful. Another new face is Lucrezia, a young noblewoman. Unfortunately, she’s not as likeable as Riez, which stinks, because it looks as if Riez is a one-off character for just her specific arc.

Other than that, it’s the same shovel antics as usual. This is exactly what I was worried about after reading the previous volume; that the series would get extremely repetitive. Plus, it gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief over the ridiculous things that Alan is capable of. It’s not stale yet, but that entirely depends on how much longer it’s going to go.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

The Invincible Shovel is still a fun, mindless screwball comedy. Lithisia makes the story pop, as always, and overall it’s very funny. Let’s see how long it would take for it to overstay its welcome.