I have a confession to make: a couple of years ago, I read the first volume of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom, and wholly disliked it. Maybe it improves, but all I saw was a typical, slow-paced, “grounded and realistic” slice-of-life fantasy that tried to hide that fact with an interesting premise. “Now what does that have to do with the topic at hand?” you ask. Well, you’ll see when I describe the premise of Deathbound Duke’s Daughter, published in English by J-Novel Club.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is a blatant clone of My Next Life as a Villainess. An unnamed character, who was apparently murdered at her workplace, is reincarnated as Erika Aurelia, the antagonist of her favorite otome game, Liber Monstrorum. Erika has a red shirt on, and is destined to die at the very beginning of the game. With her wits, the new Erika might be able to reverse her fate.
The immediate difference with Deathbound and Villainess is the world that the “games” are set in. In Villainess, Katarina is harassed by the student body, or accosted by bandits or something (I actually forgot because, to reiterate, I didn’t exactly like that series). On the flipside, Liber Monstrum proves to be the Dark Souls of visual novels; there’s vampyres, werewolves, and all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors that await.
This gives Deathbound a much more adventurous vibe than Villainess, which automatically makes it a great light novel for me (even though “objectively” it’s bad because it doesn’t involve solving personal, human issues *sarcasm*). It wastes no time diving into the titular Seafarer’s Ruins, where Erika must save some kids from being King Midas’d to death, and more importantly, saving herself by having their hypothetical dead spirits not curse her.
However, the characters- like many-an isekai- leave much to be desired. Erika, despite supposedly being evil, is just about as un-evil and plain ordinary as Katarina from Villainess. The other major characters include Claus and Anne Hafan. The former is a typical overpowered self-insert protagonist (but he’s not the MAIN protagonist, which makes him subversive! *sarcasm*), and Anne is just a boring moe blob.
The art for this novel series is great, especially the cover art. It has a very whimsical look. However, the interior illustrations look kind of weird to me. It’s probably because it’s shoujo-looking, and I find that artstyle to be weird in general.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is definitely a better version of My Next Life as a Villainess. However, it’s not perfect. If it doesn’t grow some personality soon, then I’ll end up dropping it just as hard as I did its clone. For now, I recommend it to fans of Villainess, as well as Ascendance of a Bookworm and Mushoku Tensei.
Shoujo is by far my least favorite manga genre. It’s basically the manga equivalent of cringey YA romance, which I have very much established as not liking. But one shoujo manga (at least according to MyAnimeList), Children of the Whales (published in English by Viz), actually looks legitimately good! Let’s see if it is…
In Children of the Whales, we follow a group of people who live on a boat, called the Mud Whale, adrift on an endless sea of sand (potential Xenoblade Chronicles 3 idea?). Our main protagonist, Chakuro, who has some serious OCD that makes him document everything in ridiculous detail, participates on a mission to investigate a second, derelict ship that is spotted in the sand. There, he finds a mysterious girl he names Lykos, the first human from outside of his own Mud Whale that has ever been witnessed, and naturally, she single-handedly turns Chakuro’s life on its head.
While it does get a bit exposition-y at the beginning, Children of the Whales wastes no time getting into that good ol’ intrigue. There’s a lot of weird stuff regarding the reason why the Mud Whale is even where it is, and of course, where Lykos came from and what her beef is. Overall, the manga has a very whimsical atmosphere, and regardless of how straightforward the plot is, it always feels like there’s secrets waiting to be revealed.
Unfortunately, it does fall into some typical modern fantasy traps, the worst of all being the Thymia system. Thymia is basically magic, and it cuts people’s life spans short (but since our characters are teens, it’s no problem for them). The only thing explained about it (not counting the blips of lore that come in between chapters) is that it’s powered by raw emotion. This means that the author can go hog wild and we just have to deal with it.
But hey, at least it has interesting worldbuilding to offset that. The in-between chapter blurbs show how much thought the author put into the Mud Whale’s design, and the thing itself does have a memorable look. It’s also really good at building curiosity and anticipation to what the rest of the world is like.
It’s just too bad that the characters aren’t so great. Chakuro is your basic weak, generic boy who ends up existing just to absorb plot information. Among the people who actually have to do the legwork are Lykos and Ouni. Lykos is your typical “sad girl who needs wuv”, and Ouni is just the super-powerful angsty teen. There are a lot of other characters, but they’re just as unmemorable. This is definitely a story-driven manga, that’s for sure.
Normally, I find shoujo manga to be visually appalling. However, Children of the Whales actually looks beautiful. It definitely embraces some shoujo tropes, such as sparkly eyes, but the author didn’t gouge out the characters’ actual eyes and put diamonds in the sockets. There is also, thankfully, a lack of the knife-chins that most shoujo characters have. The background art is the most appealing aspect of the manga, along with some great abstract imagery. The Thymia also gives characters magical tattoos, and if there’s anything I find sexy, it’s magical tattoos!
Current Verdict: 7.5/10
Children of the Whales is starting out pretty well, but it looks like it’s going to be one of those slow burns. Fortunately, it does seem to ramp up by around volume 5, so I am curious as to how much better it could get. It’s extremely sparse on romance, so I don’t know why it’s supposedly considered a shoujo manga. As such, I can’t exactly recommend it to shoujo fans. But if you want an ambient, whimsical story, Children of the Whales has got you covered.
Romance is a tough genre to do well (at least for cold-hearted introverts like me). I’ve seen a lot with great potential fall flat on their faces. Let’s see if Kaiju Girl Caramelise, published in English by Yen Press, bites off more than it can chew.
In Kaiju Girl Caramelise, an emotionally unstable girl named Kuroe Akaishi ends up meeting the hot guy in her school, Arata Minami, and hits it off with him. The problem with Kuroe is that she has a rare disease where she grows monster parts whenever her mental state is under duress. And when her emotions rise to a fever pitch, she straight-up turns into Godzilla.
While her inevitable love for Arata seems to come out of nowhere, the manga starts with a flashback of her as a kid getting rejected by an unknown male character. I immediately assumed that this was in fact a young Arata, which explains her initial fervor for him at the beginning. But regardless… her love for him really does appear abruptly. All he does is go out of his way to talk to her and she suddenly has sparkly eyes.
Sadly, the kaiju aspect doesn’t really change the romance aspect at all. To me, it seems very blatantly symbolic of girls when they’re going through their period, since their bodies change due to circumstances outside of their control. The fact that it occurs whenever Arata comes to mind is further symbolism of this. I suppose if you care about stuff like that, then this manga would be fascinating to no end for you.
Anyways, as far as characters are concerned, they’re kind of meh. Arata is a typical Gary Sue, and Kuroe is a typical “imperfect girl who’s special for some reason”. The only saviors of this manga are Kuroe’s hot mom’s dog, Jumbo King, and this girl named Manatsu. The latter is super rich and has a crazy kaiju obsession that I find genuinely enjoyable.
As for the art, it’s typical shoujo fare. Sparkly eyes, check. Long chins, check. Simple textures, check. It’s not the most nauseating thing to look at compared to, say, Anonymous Noise, but it’s still not my style.
Current Verdict: 7/10
Kaiju Girl Caramelise is starting off as a… tolerable romance. It’s not pretentious like a number of YA romances I’ve read, so it’s got an advantage there. I’d recommend it if you want to see the underdog get the sexy significant other in the end.