It’s no secret that Weekly Shounen Jump has not had the best run in the late 2010s. The newest manga by Naruto’s author got axed, among MANY other 2019 and 2020 debuts. And when they actually had a good series, it would either end off on a bad note (Shokugeki no Soma), or one of its writers would end up being a felon (ACT-AGE). But one series managed to be a standout franchise until the bitter end: Chainsaw Man, published in English by Viz. I gave it a good word in my First Impressions. Let’s see if it’s held out.
In Chainsaw Man, a dreg named Denji makes a living by hunting devils, with the help of a chainsaw-dog-devil named Pochita. But “makes a living” can be read as “barely scraping by”, for he’s shouldering a serious debt from his late father. However, when he’s almost cut to pieces, he fuses with Pochita and becomes a chainsaw man, after which he is taken under the wing of Makima, a beautiful girl from an official team of devil hunters.
Chainsaw Man is, for the most part, a very straightforward manga. The plot is very traditional shounen at first: bad guy appears, kill it, then wait for the next one. Denji’s heart becomes a major MacGuffin, but we aren’t informed of why for a pretty long time. Things heat up in the second half, and by the final third, it goes absolutely berserk with insanity.
What makes Chainsaw Man a great manga is its characters. The mangaka takes common shounen tropes and puts a seinen twist on them with Denji and the people around him. Denji himself seems to be a generic, self-insert shounen protagonist, but he’s more complicated than that. He’s very attracted to women, but he at least tries to maintain his feelings for Makima, despite the amount of other beautiful women who tempt him. I don’t like using the word “human” to describe a character, but it’s done exceptionally well with Denji. He’s an innocent kid thrust into an adult world, and his simple-mindedness made me sympathize with him.
The other thing is that the women in his life subvert common conventions as well, especially with Makima. Us readers are informed very early on of how suspicious she is. But Denji doesn’t know any of it, and he’s naively in love with her. Unfortunately, she takes advantage of his love for her to essentially exploit him, which I think is a great commentary on the idea of waifus in general.
Of course, Makima ain’t crap compared to Best Girl Power. She’s just… effing awesome. She’s like the best friend that you’re so close to that you just start busting each other’s chops. Her chemistry with Denji is one of the best I’ve seen in all of Jump. Sadly, I didn’t really care for the rest of the protagonists. For one, I forgot a lot of their names, which is a bad sign for me. Fortunately, the antagonists are as fun as they are plentiful. They have some of the more memorable character designs and personalities, especially compared to the supporting protagonists.
Somehow, I went almost the entire review without discussing exactly why Chainsaw Man is big (or would be if it weren’t for Kimetsu no Yaiba). Weekly Shounen Jump has some cute girls with cleavage, but that’s usually about it; the magazine is for early-teens kids after all. Chainsaw Man, however, has R18+ stuff; pretty much everything except for female private parts are shown. The manga is full of extremely visceral gore, and one character just straight-up asks Denji if he wants to have sex. The fact that something like this ran in Jump is insane.
That’s where my biggest gripe with Chainsaw Man lies. Its whole thing is that it’s very mature for a Jump manga. But the thing is—and the reason why I’m posting this so soon—that Chainsaw Man is getting a part two in Shounen Jump+, home to a lot of seinen series, from Jigokuraku to World’s End Harem. As a result, Chainsaw Man loses the one thing that makes it stand out from its ilk. This was probably inevitable because, you know, minors.
Anyhow, the artwork is fantastic. It’s rough, and dirty, with some phenomenal action scenes, and a surprising amount of abstract panels late in the series. The managaka is also able to contrast such insanity with some genuinely heartfelt and emotional scenes. It’s going to be so sad to see this twisted beauty dumbed down in the upcoming anime.
Final Verdict: 9.15/10
Chainsaw Man is one of my favorite Jump manga of the 2010s. It’s over-the-top, with a lot of quirky characters, and a very alluring charm. Seriously, how in the world did Kimetsu no Yaiba beat this?! I highly recommend Chainsaw Man to anyone who likes their battle shounen super dark and edgy. Hopefully, if Viz licenses the sequel, I’ll be doing a post or two on that!
Spy X Family is a manga about a spy who makes a fake family, and that’s all well and good. But they’re not the only ones on the block. Mission: Yozakura Family has a family made entirely of spies. It’s managed to last a year in Jump’s ruthless gauntlet, so that means it must be doing something right.
In Mission: Yozakura Family, a shy boy named Taiyo Asano has been coping with the abrupt death of his parents and brother (which is not at all a cheap emotional hook). His only friend is this girl named Mutsumi Yozakura, the adorable school idol. When Taiyo is attacked by Mutsumi’s overprotective brother, Kyoichiro, he is introduced to the Yozakura family (of spies). Because he’s the ultimate husbando (and because he doesn’t want to get assassinated), he marries into the family and vows to protect Mutsumi with his life.
I don’t know of many manga attempting to combine gag shounen with battle shounen (apparently, Katekyo Hitman Reborn! is one example, but SOMEONE (*cough* Viz *cough*) doesn’t have the manga licensed), but Yozakura Family has been a real fun time. Of course, there really is no narrative to speak of. The death of Taiyo’s family is pretty much glossed over until it gets to the designated “It wasn’t really an accident” plot development (which, honestly, isn’t a spoiler because that pretty much always happens).
The sillies are what matter, though. Yozakura Family is loaded with bombastic, over-the-top comedy that completely disregards realism, including a literal spy magazine and social media group. I also have to post a trigger warning: there are cases of minors (and adults) carrying firearms to school, so if you have any memories tied to an actual school shooting, then this manga might not be for you. There haven’t BEEN any school shootings so far, but I doubt that’ll stop you from being triggered. Also, as of where I left off, the manga hasn’t gone straight-up full battle shounen, like many gag series do.
Unfortunately, Yozakura Family fubars one of the most important aspects of shounen: training. They show some of Taiyo’s training early on, but it’s gone over super-fast. It’s so abrupt that he goes from wimp to Bruce Willis overnight. Since this is primarily a gag shounen, I’m not too butthurt about it, but I’m definitely the minority in that.
This manga has a great cast of characters (for once). Taiyo is kind of that generic guy, like always, but the series isn’t called Yozakura Family for nothing. While Mutsumi herself is that “waifu” type, her siblings are where the personality comes in. Kyoichiro might (read as: “will”) annoy some people, but I think his ludicrous devotion to Mutsumi, plus his overly lacking subtlety of how much he hates Taiyo is hilarious. Her other siblings have very distinctive character design and memorable personalities, but sadly, they don’t have too much screentime. In any case, the antagonists are all fun, even if a lot of them (so far) have been in the throwaway category.
The art is great. It’s simple, but effective. The action scenes are swift and packed with line work, while the facial expressions are on point. It’s what you’d expect from a shounen manga.
Current Verdict: 9/10
Mission: Yozakura Family is starting off strong. I have no idea how popular it is, so I don’t know if it’s going to be ending soon, but I hope it has a solid run down the road. Of course, you can never truly know with a Jump manga.
During my time in the anime community, one popular series has come up from time to time: High School DxD. Whatever it is, it seems to be one of the most beloved light novel series on the market. Despite my amazing track record of not liking popular things, I decided to read the first volume anyway (since Yen Press FINALLY got the licensing for it). Let’s see what I’ve gotten myself into.
In High School DxD, a boy named Issei Hyoudou dreams of having a harem. After he’s attacked by a fallen angel (you know, normal stuff), he is revived as a demon by the school idol, Rias Gremory (who is also a demon). Issei becomes her servant, and joins the occult research club to fight fallen angels, regular angels, and rogue demons alike. Most importantly, a lot of his co-workers are beautiful girls.
If there are any negatives right off the bat, it’s that DxD isn’t too interesting in terms of ideas. This isn’t the first time that a high school student gets recruited into a secret club to fight Biblical monsters, and it’s not the first time this has been done in ecchi either. They do try to spice it up by attributing their abilities to chess, but it’s not the first time that’s been done either.
Like a lot of ecchi, what DxD needs is sheer entertainment value, and so far… it’s kind of in the middle. The best part has been the writing. Issei narrates the story in a fast-reading, over-the-top manner that comes off like Konosuba before it was cool (DxD came out before Konosuba in Japan). There’s a lot of personality in it, and that’s something I can be grateful for.
Another oddity is that DxD isn’t that ecchi yet. The only really scandalous thing that happens is in the beginning, where he wakes up in bed with Rias cuddling him. But other than that, there are next to no panty nor accidental breast gropings. It feels more like a battle shounen than an ecchi series.
The characters end up being kind of weak. While Issei is a good narrator, he isn’t particularly interesting. He’s your usual ecchi protagonist who saves all the waifus and is painted as “righteous and stuff” even though he’s merely a perv. The women are pretty standard: Rias is sexy, Koneko is a loli, and Akeno is chill. There’s also another dude in the club, named Yuuto, but he’s kind of just there. They also introduce a nun named Asia, and she ends up playing this volume’s role of “waifu who needs saving” and isn’t that interesting.
High School DxD is not terrible, but it’s nowhere near the god-tier status that its fans imply it is. As of this volume, I can’t recommend the series yet. I feel like there are a large number of better ecchi and battle shounen out there. Well, there’s twenty-four volumes of this thing left, so there’s plenty of time for DxD to improve!
I had every intention of reading Mashle: Magic and Muscles since its debut in Weekly Shounen Jump. But then, Seven Seas came out of nowhere and licensed a light novel with an extremely similar title: Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Since they seemed so identical, I decided to review them both in this post. Although Mashle came out in the U.S. before Muscles, the latter actually predates the former by three years. So naturally, I’ll go over it first!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Volume 1
In Muscles Are Better Than Magic!, a boy named Yuri lives in the forest alone. He has managed to train himself to the point where he’s super ripped, and can take on anything. When he finds an elven girl named Filia Windia, he decides to go on adventures with her, for no reason whatsoever.
If Muscles appears to be a run-of-the-mill, typical shounen fantasy light novel to you, that’s because it is! The whole darn thing is the two of them hanging out. A lot of the interactions are just him using his muscles and freaking people out. And like I said in the premise, there’s no purpose to anything that happens. They just go on adventures that are no different from your typical slice-of-life fantasy with no real spice beyond Yuri’s muscles.
The mostly boring cast doesn’t help either. While Yuri and Filia have some legitimately cute and funny interactions, they are surrounded by idiots. All the other characters are inconsequential NPCs who have no personality other than being shocked by Yuri’s muscles. That’s literally it! But even then, Yuri is also incredibly bland, with Filia being the only remotely likeable character.
The biggest issue is the writing. Muscles is one of those light novels that feels like a rough draft and not a publication. Although the action scenes are pretty good, descriptions of locations are as bare minimum as they typically are in these series. I get that writing is really hard but that doesn’t excuse when it’s bad in a published work!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! is no better than your typical blazé fantasy. Similar to Buck Naked in Another World, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, and others, it uses some defining character design trait to pretend that it’s subversive. My chances of reading more are pretty low. But let’s see whether or not it’s the lesser of two evils when I review Mashle!
Mashle: Magic and Muscles First Impressions (Chapters 1-15)
In Mashle: Magic and Muscles, a boy named Mash Burnedead lives in the forest with an old wizard guy. He was born in a world of magic, but has no magic himself, making him an easy target of the police. When he bests the police with his bare hands, he is given a deal: enroll in Magic School and graduate at the top of his class or be pursued by the law forever. He accepts the deal, and attends the school with no magic power whatsoever.
I made a big deal about how Muscles and Mashle are the same, but… it turns out that Mashle resembles Black Clover more than anything else (oops). In any case, Mashle already shows greater personality than Muscles. Not only is the humor (and its delivery) much more substantial than in Muscles, but there’s also a purpose to the shenanigans that ensue.
So far, Mashle’s biggest issue is its simplicity. While I love a good, clear-cut Jump manga, a lot of [very vocal] people don’t. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the magic that gets used; they don’t even bother to explain the rules. And of course, let’s not forget the magic word, “unrealistic”, because of how impossibly strong Mash is for a teenager.
Mashle has a similar issue to Muscles: everyone other than the main character exists just to react to how swole said main character is. Furthermore, the lead girl is less remarkable than Filia, to the point where I already forgot her name. But unlike Yuri, Mash is a significantly more likeable character. In fact, he’s the bread and butter of this whole manga. While he’s completely devoid of personality, the author somehow makes that lack of personality into its own personality quirk. Also, his inane obsession with cream puffs makes him even more hilarious.
The art doesn’t look like much, but it’s more than enough. The panel composition expertly sells the humor, while also delivering the appropriate amount of punch to Mash’s attacks. If there are any issues, it’s that the black wizard robes make a lot of the foreshortening shots look kind of weird.
Current Verdict: 9.35/10
Muscles might be better than magic, but Mashle is far better than Muscles. It’s a risk investing in a new series when you don’t know whether or not it’ll get axed, but here’s hoping that Mashle stays for a couple of years at least. I recommend it to people who like battle shounen and fun (i.e. not cynical).
Weekly Shounen Jump has had some really great manga, and it’s had some not so great manga. While they have a system to weed out the latter, cases like Kimetsu no Yaiba show that it’s not perfect. A little manga called Jujutsu Kaisen (published in English by Viz) has risen to a pretty high level of popularity, without the need of a successful anime adaptation (even though the anime will no doubt make it quite popular overseas). Let’s see whether or not it deserves its popularity.
In Jujutsu Kaisen, a high-schooler named Yuji Itadori has a run-in with Megumi Fushiguro, a student from the curse-fighting Jujutsu Highschool, when he seeks a cursed object that Yuji’s classmates have come across. Yuji helps him fight back the curses that attack them, but things get hairy. Yuji ends up eating the cursed object- a severed finger- and becomes more than powerful enough to fight the curse, but is nearly possessed by the finger’s owner, Ryomen Sukuna. Due to Yuji’s strange ability to suppress its power, he’s recruited as a new student of Jujutsu Highschool in order to collect and consume the rest of the fingers… after which he will be executed.
Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it; this is a First Impressions, after all. I had thought, based on Chainsaw Man, that Jump is trying to become more mature in order to recover from the slump it’s been in lately (a lot of series from 2019 onward have sold poorly), but alas, it seems that Chainsaw Man is an exception and not the rule. Despite how often it waxes poetic about life and death, Jujutsu Kaisen is a pretty typical shounen manga.
As expected of most Jump manga, Jujutsu Kaisen starts by getting us acquainted with the main characters as they fight random enemies in self-contained mini-arcs, followed by a training arc. For the most part, the ideas of cursed energy and techniques are pretty generic, but the neatest aspect of the combat in Jujutsu Kaisen is the domain techniques. These are basically field effects that look really cool, and add a bit of spectacle to the fights.
The manga picks up after twenty-odd chapters, which is when the first major arc starts. It introduces the main antagonist (who will likely get replaced by someone less memorable if the manga ends up running for eight more years), and ups the ante by a lot. And I mean A LOT.
Typical shounen manga means a pretty one-dimensional cast. Yuji is a pretty generic, brash idiot, and the thing with Sukuna seems more like something to make him edgy than to give him a moral crisis. His classmates, Megumi, and the female lead, Nobara, aren’t that interesting either outside of their fighting abilities. Fortunately, Jujutsu Kaisen at least tries with some of its characters. Yuji’s teacher, Satoru Gojo, has got a pretty good sense of humor, for instance. There’s also some other students in other classes who are pretty wild, such as a literal panda bear, as well as some interesting folks from their rival school in Kyoto (such as mah boy Toto).
The art of Jujutsu Kaisen is where it shines. It’s sketchy and dirty, but full of personality. The fight scenes are fast and spectacular, and really help the manga shine. The character design is also excellent, with a plethora of good-looking women.
Current Verdict: 8.75/10
Jujutsu Kaisen is indeed a very mainstream manga. However, with great art, and a number of admittedly creative ideas (such as a decrepit old geezer who fights with an electric guitar), it stands out from the rabble. I recommend it to any battle shounen fanatic.
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!
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!
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).
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?
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.
“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!
Sometimes, I think the stuff I’ve read has caused me to lose brain cells. I used to be pretty good at handling some mature and complex themes, but nowadays, I want simple, dumb stuff. The new J-Novel Club publication, WATARU!!! The Hot-Blooded Fighting Teen & His Epic Adventures After Stopping a Truck with His Bare Hands!, is one of those braincell-killers. I am pretty damn sure that a monumental amount of people would hate this LN, and yet… I LOVE IT!
In WATARU!!!, the titular Wataru Ito is about to be hit by the Truck-kun that has sent many-a clueless adolescent male to another world. Due to his insane strength, he stops it with his bare hands. However, as to not kill the driver from the forced deceleration, he lets the truck hit him. Wataru is brought into another world, and sets off to fight the strongest opponent: the Demon Lord, Deus!
This… WATARU!!! is just something else. Okay, so if you’re looking into reading this, I recommend you watch two completely unrelated television shows. The first of which is The Legend of Korra. I made my case about how much of a hot mess it is, but the radio announcer guy who does the recap has a really good voice for reading WATARU!!! You see, ninety percent of the sentences are written with exclamation points, enough to put Elaine Benes to shame. It’s ridiculous and over-the-top, but I love it. The narrator even tells you how you feel, which I would normally find pretentious, but it’s done in a way that’s perfectly in tune with the LN’s personality. There’s also references to fake-real-world martial arts techniques, which the LN adds its own footnotes to. I recommend reading those in Siri’s voice to make it sound funnier.
The second show I think you should watch is Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure. Not only is it one of the few anime so good that I enjoy watching without reading the source manga (because half of it is unlicensed in English at this point), but it also has a sense of its own ridiculousness. The dramatic reactions to everything, plus the appearance of onomatopoeia onscreen, have been my reference for visualizing the cinematics of WATARU!!!, and I recommend you do the same.
In case you couldn’t tell, WATARU!!!’s sense of humor boils down to being dumb and overly meta while spamming exclamation points. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll know whether you like it or not within five seconds. It relies entirely on the quirky writing style which makes a big deal out of everything. And another tongue-and-cheek thing that WATARU!!! does is having modern facilities in a fantasy world. They have rock concerts, 1950’s-style diners, and even a gothic shop called “Tot Hopic”. Half the time, Wataru ends up fighting enemies through rap and cooking.
The characters are surprisingly enjoyable. Wataru himself is Gary Sue on steroids, and it makes the over-the-topness of the whole series feel complete. However, he doesn’t beat Best Girl Aria. She comes off as a typical heroine, but ends up playing the straight-man role (while frequently getting stabbed in the forehead). Aria also has weird quirks, such as completely disregarding her parents getting kidnapped by the Demon Lord in favor of knockoff Beyblades, and playing drums with her feet.
Along with them is Résistance, one of Deus’s minions who gets the Piccolo treatment and joins Wataru’s party. She’s not as great as Aria, but she’s still a fun character. Deus himself is hilarious; he just eats his pudding. The problem with him is that he has diabetes, and yet he keeps eating his pudding despite it. I have no idea if it would offend someone with diabetes, but knowing today’s culture, it probably would.
WATARU!!! is stupid, extremely stupid. And yet… it’s a masterpiece. This is starting out as one of the best gag isekai I’ve read, and it could become one of my favorite light novel series of all time. Reading WATARU!!! is truly an experience, but it’s not for everyone. I can only recommend it to fans of stuff like Konosuba and Cautious Hero.
JRPGs are my favorite genre of videogames by far. Even though I understand that a lot of them are time sinks and take a long time to really strut their stuff. Just how much benefit of the doubt should they get? After my first impressions of Dragon Quest XI… about a year ago, I finally managed to finish the game. Let’s see how it measures up now.
Hopefully you don’t play JRPGs for the story because DQXI goes out of its way to be a bog-standard JRPG. The plot is about the main character, whom you get to name whatever you want. He is a special hero guy who needs to fight a big bad atop the same World Tree that’s been ripped from Norse mythology for about the 12,221st time to date.
First things first, I do get that this game is meant to be an homage to simpler times. JRPGs these days get so layered that it’s near impossible to keep up (looking at you, Trails of Cold Steel), and DQXI is a good break from that. However, cliche is cliche.
But of course, I believe in execution over ideas. And for DQXI, I feel kind of mixed. At first, the cutscenes seemed pretty short and sweet; enough to get the point across since they know you’ve seen all this before. But in the second half of the game, it started to take itself super seriously, and the cutscenes got more abundant. The cinematics felt bog-standard, and even half-assed at times. I felt like this game didn’t know if it wanted to provide a streamlined narrative or if it wanted to pass itself off as something more epic.
And to be honest, it’s more so me instead of the game. In my life, I’ve seen variations of the same lines of dialogue hundreds, if not thousands, of times. I decided that I needed to pick my battles when it came down to if I wanted to be emotionally invested in a story, and DQXI did not make the cut. I see comments like “It’s cliche, but it has a ton of heart” for stuff like this, and that’s when I realized that the appeal of Dragon Quest as a whole is that human emotional mindset that eludes me to this day.
In addition to the narrative, the characters embody JRPG tropes at their most uninspired and cliche; the very definition of by-the-book. The only character that I liked was Sylvando, but that’s more so because his archetype is inherently difficult to mess up compared to everyone else. And Toriyama… I’m sorry, but it feels like this man’s finally starting to run out of steam as an artist. While the art style itself is timeless, after this many years, one can only come up with so many ideas. Either a character is more or less ripped straight from Dragon Ball (like the main character, who looks too much like Android 17), or it appears Toriyama just took a stock fantasy design and slapped his signature face style on it.
I am ragging on the story and characters a lot, but if there’s one positive, it’s… the fact that this game came out in the 2010s. If anyone’s familiar with the good ol’ days (or watches a lot of YouTubers who play old games), you’d know that localization was a BIT terrible back then. They botched numerous translations, and straight-up censored any presence of Japanese culture (which Yo-Kai Watch does anyway *grumble* *grumble*), and anything that Westerners would consider taboo. As a result, it’s weird to see a lot of old tropes not censored in DQXI. We have plenty of porno mags, actually translated as such, and the game’s weird obsession with trying to involve the main character and his older half-sister in an incestuous relationship. They do censor prostitution with the onomatopoeia “*puff* *puff*”, but that could be chalked up as a timeless Dragon Quest meme that just stuck over the years. Another BIG distinction is that this is the first JRPG I have ever played that refers to KO’d party members as “dead”. SO EDGY. The story writing might be meh, but at least the flavor text isn’t!
And even then, sometimes the flavor text has TOO much personality. For example, if there’s anything you are unable to do in the game, the text is arbitrarily read as “You can’t currently do XYZ yet”. As a writer, I learned to not have such redundancy in text, and it bothers me that it’s in an official game; it felt like they were just bragging about how good their localization is. Another standout feature is that every area has its own [racist] dialect. While some of them are cute, these accents are often so thick that I had legitimate trouble reading them. Sometimes, too much of a good thing is bad.
Fortunately, what I really care about is gameplay. DQXI is a good, old fashioned, rootin’ tootin’, retro JRPG. When battle starts, you pick your character’s command when it’s their turn, and do the move. Everything is as it says on the tin. If you’ve played a JRPG, you’ve played this one. Battles can also be set to go extra fast, just in case you need to grind, but this game isn’t designed to be grindy (but that doesn’t mean grinding isn’t encouraged, like for materials and stuff).
Thankfully, DQXI has a lot of modern quality-of-life mechanics. For example, you can press Y on the pause menu to instantly heal every party member in the most MP-friendly way possible (THANK YOU). Also, whenever you sell an item, the shopkeep will warn you if you’re about to sell something one-of-a-kind.
Conversely, there is a very Earthbound-like inventory management mechanic. Each party member can carry only so many items, including equipment. Fortunately, there are infinitely large bags for excess items, equipment, as well as a slot for key items. Transferring items is pretty easy, but you gotta remember to do it, or else you’ll be thirty-plus hours into the game, in a tough battle, and only have poop-tier healing items.
The modern twist that Dragon Quest XI uses to stand out is Pep Powers. With Pep Powers, your character basically goes Super Saiyan (since this is an Akira Toriyama game, after all), and if the right party members are Pepped, you get access to what essentially are Dual and Triple Techs from Chrono Trigger, and as expected, being able to try out all these combinations is no doubt the best aspect of the game. However, there are a number of issues. Although the game says that Pep kicks in after your character takes a lot of damage, similar to a Tales Of game’s Overlimit, in my experience it seems to be purely random. Furthermore, the Pep status goes away as soon as you use one Pep Power, or after a certain number of turns, which the game thankfully gives a visual indication on the last turn that it’s available on. What sucks is that the Pep Powers are the coolest aspect of the game, yet you cannot control the conditions at which you use them other than with items that you don’t get until AFTER YOU BEAT THE FINAL BOSS. Fortunately, ending a battle in the Pep state causes it to carry over, which can help in a tougher battle; but at the same time you’d have to grind battles if you wish to rely on Pep for said situations.
Another thing I find tedious is the game’s skill tree. Normally, I love skill trees in JRPGs, however, Dragon Quest XI‘s is really stingy. You only get skill points on level up, which starts off small but comes in bigger chunks at higher levels. This is good because most skills require 6, 10, or even more skill points each. There is a mechanic to unlearn skills, but it can only work on entire categories, which is a pain if you only want to drop one skill.
One of the most interesting aspects of the game is that everyone has different weapons they can use, such as a regular sword or a greatsword for the main protagonist. Each section of their skill tree is devoted to one of the weapon styles, plus an additional style that’s unique to them only. I’ve been doing skill trees by committing to a single section at a time, which is likely not the way the game intends, since skills are pricier the further out from the center you go, and it’s a real pain. The game lets you re-equip different weapons mid-battle without taking up your turn, which is nice, so it’s possible that the game wants you to fill in multiple branches at once.
The crafting system in Dragon Quest XI is really fun. With the Fun-time Forge, you can craft new equipment with materials you find around the world (as well as their recipes). This starts a minigame where you have a limited number of strikes to fill up gauges on different areas of the equipment. You want to fill it up to the green section, but REALLY want to fill up to the arrow on each gauge (which will be indicated by it turning yellow). The closer you get, the better the final product will be, with the best being a Perfection. Forging things successfully gives you Perfectionist Pearls, which can be consumed to reforge something to make it stronger. Make sure you reforge as many things as possible, because it doesn’t just increase stats, but the power of bonus effects, like elemental and status resistances. Levelling up the main character also boosts your forging skills, which can increase your Focus and allow him to learn Flourishes, which are special moves that make the minigame even more interesting than before. Options are limited early on, but it gets rather interesting on the tougher equipment.
The world of DQXI is- although colorful and vibrant- very large and bland. I get that this world was designed with the ability to be played in old school top-down style or 3D, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less uninspired. Also, the game’s soundtrack is kind of meh, but it doesn’t grate on you unless you start doing tedious stuff like material farming. The towns have the best personality and the most thought put into them, but they seem to act like vehicles for padding the game more than anything else.
Oh, speaking of padding: get used to that a lot. Like I said before, each first arrival in a new town has you running around towards numerous objectives that take place throughout the town itself. The worst case is the interlude in between the first two acts of the game. In it, you have to play through four consecutive scenarios, each starting a party member by themselves, and none of them are even remotely enjoyable besides the first one. You can also potentially permanently miss collectibles during these scenes, and I only say “potentially” because it’s not entirely clear if optional stuff done in these scenarios has impact for later (if this was a Final Fantasy or Tales Of game, it definitely would).
But after that agonizing section, the game truly starts. It sucks that it takes about thirty-five hours, but it really does go from a slightly-above-average JRPG to a straight-up great JRPG. There is so much more depth, and each party member gets a ton of new abilities after going through huge epiphanies in their character arcs. Once you start this part of the game, it appears that you can tackle things in any order you choose… until you are gated time and time again by several annoying prerequisites. I hate it when games do this, and DQXI is no exception.
As far as side quests go, there aren’t as many as most JRPGs. However, there is also a side section where you find weird ghosts that unlock different areas of past Dragon Quest worlds in a special, 2D only zone. The biggest problem with 2D mode is that the text box color and font color can be very straining to read. Plus, you can’t save in this place at all, which reduces the incentive to knock out many quests at once. These never expire, so it’s ideal to do them all at onces towards the end of the game (also, you don’t have to gouge your eyes out at the freakin’ UI for as long since you’d be higher level).
The game also has a Draconian Quest setting, which lets you custom set some handicaps which will make the game harder. I chose one where NPCs can sometimes lie, because I thought they would give me false game advice, such as, “Use this ability on this enemy, whoops that actually does the opposite of killing them,” but the lies are all gobble-di-gook and the game plays a jingle whenever one actually occurred. It’s funny if it happens with a story-important NPC, but I imagine it gets really hard if you have tough enemies and no armor handicaps. The later parts of the game would be nightmarish like this.
When it comes to a casual campaign, DQXI is relatively tame. As long as your party is at its proper level, and you understand the mechanics, it isn’t too difficult. There are some dumb quirks, however, such as the fact that enemies can randomly start with an advantage even when you get a pre-emptive strike. Another really stupid thing is the case with any status that can be cured by attacking the afflicted person. If you use an attack that targets all enemies, you will target the person with the status as well. I have gotten characters killed because of this. Also, I have a pet peeve for any JRPG where you can’t see the turn order in battle, and DQXI is one such case.
Like any JRPG, DQXI has gambling. Fortunately, DQXI has one of the most generous cases of gambling in any JRPG. The game has two casinos, the second of which comes up during the second act. Naturally, the latter casino has the better prizes. In fact, the first casino doesn’t have anything worth buying long term, except for some recipe book. The other casino has a great weapon for Sylvando, some really useful equipment, and the only purchasable MP restoratives in the game.
The only method I used to earn tokens was the good old slots. I wasn’t old (read as: stupid) enough to gamble IRL, so I never got to understand how things like blackjack and roulettes work. The Slime Quest slots had twelve pages of instructions, and I couldn’t understand crap. I presume the regular slots are the least lucrative method, but they’re reliable. Use save scumming often, and build up enough tokens off of the low paying machines to bet big on the red, high paying machines. The slots are very generous; once you build two of a kind, the game is likely to indulge and complete it for you. You also have a chance of a Mrs. Slime giving you a push if you’re one away from completing a combination. The best thing that can happen is Metal Mode, which will temporarily double the value of everything. Generally, I had much more luck during this state than regular slots. Earning Free Spins is also great because it prioritizes using them over Silver Spins. Thus, earning them during Metal Mode will effectively give you extra Silver Spins. Getting five 7s in Metal Mode gives you the jackpot, and I’ve earned around seven of them during my gameplay. This is by far the easiest gambling area in any JRPG.
If there’s anything I’ll give props to Dragon Quest XI for, it’s perhaps having one the most substantial post-games of any JRPG I’ve ever played. It doesn’t just open up an entirely new story arc, but it gives you tons of new quests, the Ultimate Key to help access new areas, and more. Unfortunately, the whole premise of the post-game is so bad that it makes any remotely salvageable aspect of the main story null and void.
To sum up the post-game, you basically travel back in time to pre-emptively defeat the final boss (don’t worry; it’s a completely different fight the second time), which causes an EVEN EVILER EVIL to appear. While it’s typical for new villains to show up for no reason in battle shounen, the time travel aspect is what kills it. Toriyama is no stranger to the trope, but in this particular instance, a lot of the genuine struggles of the latter half of the game are completely wiped off the slate. One of your main party members dies, and is brought back with no consequence. Any amount of character development is out the window. With the exception of two party members, you just experience abridged versions of those same struggles that feel way stiffer than the first time around. And all the new abilities that they awakened at that point? Mr. Popo just waves some pixie dust and they learn it all back instantly! I was willing to give the plot some sort of benefit of the doubt, but this post-game arc crosses the line. I mean, wow.
One final confession before I give the final score: I’m publishing this review without having completely completed the post-game. I’m sorry, but I have next to no time in my life. I simply do not like DQXI enough to effectively double the length of the game (yes that’s how much there is to do after the final boss). But honestly, I doubt that beating the final FINAL boss will single-handedly change my opinion of the WHOLE game.
Final Verdict: 8/10
Dragon Quest XI is a great JRPG, but it’s not the best. I find it baffling that a lot of people in the community seem to absolutely adore this game, as if it was one of the greatest JRPGs ever. Maybe they figured out how to manipulate the Pep Powers, which could’ve enhanced the experience. It could be a generational thing; it borrows elements from Final Fantasy 6 and Chrono Trigger, and while veterans might see an inferior variant, kids who’re playing DQXI as their first ever JRPG would have their minds blown nonetheless. Overall, I’d recommend DQXI if you’re a JRPG junkie, but there are a lot of other things that outclass it.
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?
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!
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.
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!