Villainess Reloaded Didn’t Blow ME Away, That’s for Sure!

Perhaps my least favorite subgenre of light novels—even more than the notorious isekai—is probably whatever you call “the main protagonist is suddenly inside a visual novel for no reason”. Events tend to happen exactly like in the game, so the main character ends up being more overpowered than any isekai protag simply by knowing the future and avoiding all the problems that they already knew about. More importantly, their appeal lies in a very neurotypical fascination with realistic human relationships, as well as for you to be easily invested in whether or not two fictional characters do it. I hated pretty much every single one of these I’ve ever tried to read… but one title by the author of Her Majesty’s Swarm, which I’m assuming got axed or J Novel-Club lost the licensing or something, caught my eye: Villainess Reloaded! Blowing Away Bad Ends with Modern Weapons.

In Villainess Reloaded!, a college student whose name is never mentioned is reborn in an otome name as its main antagonist: Astrid Sophia von Oldernberg. Despite having been forced to play it by a friend, she nonetheless got every ending, and knows that Astrid is fated to die. As such, she plans to use her military knowledge to create this game world’s equivalent to modern weapons.

The appeal of this is seeing a loli unloading an AK-47 on people with no remorse. Coming from the author of Her Majesty’s Swarm, this is no real surprise. Even at age four in the game, she wastes no time learning magic and producing her own guns. At age four. Here’s the thing, though; since guns weren’t invented yet, there are no gun laws in this game world! So, technically, what she’s doing is entirely legal. 

The immediate problems, however, rear their ugly heads right off the bat. For starters, she asks her father for permission on early magic lessons, and the way she convinces him isn’t by giving him a kiss on both cheeks, but by listing several sociopolitical reasons why it’s for his benefit, all while using words that a four-year-old couldn’t possibly know. Of course, this is a fantasy world with no regard for realism, so I could let that slide.

However, it doesn’t end there. When Astrid gets her magic tutor, he just nonchalantly teaches her subjects magic that only the most advanced wizards are supposed to learn. This includes blood magic, which is the equivalent of dark arts and something a child—in the context of this world—shouldn’t be allowed to learn. Being an LN protagonist, Astrid does all this pretty much perfectly. And the cherry on top is that everyone is just casually okay with it! Even when someone does show concern, it’s very swiftly swept aside.

This volume consists of the usual slice-of-life stuff that happens in pretty much every LN of this kind that I have read. It’s no different from those LNs except with the occasional use of guns. I guess this is supposed to be a slow burn, since the flash-forward prologue implies that Astrid gets three fairy familiars before wrecking stuff, and at this point she only has one.

The characters are pretty much the typical, grounded shoujo tropes you’d see in your garden variety visual novel. Astrid, despite being a sociopath, isn’t that fun to enjoy, even with her crazy monologuing. The others are, well, I don’t like them.

~~~~~

Verdict: 5/10

Villainess Reloaded! did not at all get me to like this subgenre of light novel any better than before. It was boring and unremarkable, and the gun gimmick seemed like a marketing hook more than anything. I guess if you like romance and visual novels, then you’ll like this as well.

And with that, I kind of have some lousy news for my blog moving forward. For whatever reason, I’ve been very close to being in the red when it comes to my money. In fact, I can barely afford to buy the light novel volumes of the series I actually care about. So, for the time being, I will not cover any light novel debuts no matter what. This will last until I finish a good enough number of the ones I’ve been currently working on. Hopefully that’ll be sooner rather than later, since light novels are kind of what I started this blog on!

Weeb Reads Monthly June 2021

Welcome to what is most definitely the shortest installment of Weeb Reads Monthly yet! There are only three titles here today, and at the time of writing this, there aren’t many light novels I’m looking forward to in July either. So, let’s get right to it I guess!


Konosuba Volume 14

Three volumes left after this. I’ve already been feeling like this series is running out of steam, but that could still be a placebo effect from me worrying. Is Konosuba going to end on a good note? Can’t exactly answer that question today, can we?

Fortunately, this is the best volume in a while. And the main reason is that it’s back to the Crimson Magic Clan! This is my favorite setting in Konosuba because literally everyone in it is some form of smooth-brain idiot. We also get to see more of our resident snarky armor, Aigis.

The antics are more-or-less the same, but they are much funnier than recent volumes. As always, we get more shipping war time, as Kazuma once again has a heart-to-heart with both Megumin and Darkness. Also, it looks like the final arc will FINALLY start in the next volume!

Verdict: 8.5/10


Re:ZERO Volume 16

Finally, a new arc, and it’s after a TIME SKIP?! That implies there was a whole year of no tragedies; unusual for Re:ZERO. Well, something awful is going to happen in this volume, it’s just a matter of what and when.

Unfortunately, because of how tonal whiplash works, this is moreso an establishing volume than anything else. I wouldn’t normally mind that, however… this is a dummy thick establishing volume!  Most of it is a reintroduction to a myriad of previous characters, and—to me—it shows how clumsy this cast is, because I forgot a lot of them. At the same time, it’s kind of arbitrary how many characters are brought back; even one of the random thugs from the VERY BEGINNING of the series is included in this pot. Why? 

Reinhard’s dad appears at some point, but whether he’s actually going to be relevant remains to be seen. The actual plot doesn’t start until the last twenty pages of this three hundred page volume. We are introduced to a new Witch Cultist then, but I won’t spoil what happens since that’s not how I roll.

Verdict: 7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE! Volume 4

Geez, that took no time at all, did it? Well, here it is; more insanity. The royal army has been assimilated by the Church, which basically means that the Church controls all of society. That’s not exactly good, is it? 

In any case, Flum’s former party is in even more disarray, with Cyrill now going AWOL. Also, the Children are just going on a rampage, Flum gets an ominous warning about something that’s going to happen in four days, and Chimera is still at large. Oh, and Maria is an Uzumaki thing now, but since she’s still herself despite her face being messed up, Linus gives her a chance (right, those two are AWOL as well. Is Jean the only one left at this point?). 

Most of the plot is focused on fighting the already-established antagonists. There are some weird developments about the world here, but a lot of it is swept to the side. I had mixed feelings toward Cyril in this volume because she meets one of the Children, but has trouble killing it after having seen said Child will thousands of people to commit suicide in gruesome fashions for no reason. ROLL OVER AND DIE! does fall for a lot of clichés, and sadly, the “I can’t kill the mass murderer because I’ll be just as bad as the mass murderer” thing rears its ugly head. I guess Cyril’s degraded mental health is supposed to justify it? I dunno. To be honest, character development is all over the place. The nonsensical suspense is what’s been carrying this series for me. Overall, it was another smashing installment with an insane climax.

Verdict: 9.45/10


Conclusion

Well, there weren’t many volumes I cared about this month. But at the very least, they were more than adequate. It’s like quality supersedes quantity or something. Let’s hope next month will be just as good!

Luca: Kaiju Plus Italian Food Equals Success!

By this point in human history, most of the United States will have been freed from the pandemic that definitely warranted EVERY SINGLE mandate taken against it. Theaters are open, but despite that, Pixar once again elected to squander the chance to actually profit off of one of their movies. Yep, their newest film, Luca, is included with a simple Disney+ subscription, just like with Soul. At least one good thing came from that whole incident!

In Luca, the titular sea monster (or as I would prefer to call it, Kaiju) boy is having a crap life herding fish-sheep with a dream to see the human world. Naturally, he’s forbidden to live said dream. Fortunately, all it takes is a chance encounter with a sassy teenage Kaiju named Alberto for him to completely disregard his parents and head there anyway.

The first interesting thing about this movie is the setting: Italy. This is, to my knowledge, Disney’s first movie to represent Italian culture, and as an Italian myself, it feels… underwhelming? From what I understand, kids of different heritages are supposed to feel some sort of solace in learning about where they came from. And before you tell me that my apathy is because Italians are White, allow me to tell you that Italians were just as much victims of racism in the early 1900s as any minority group. In any case, you can probably chalk up my lack of an existential and cultural awakening to my neuro-atypical brain. If you’re Italian (and not me), you’ll probably fan-gush your butt off at this setting.

What brings said setting to life is Pixar’s long-running expertise in visual presentation. Outside of a few dream sequences, the movie isn’t as abstract as Soul, but it still looks beautiful. It blurs the line between cartoon and realism thanks to its noodly characters contrasting against the extremely detailed environments. The devil is in the detail as usual, especially when it comes to those quintessentially Italian hand gestures.

Also expected from Pixar is Luca‘s very simple plot. The main conflict is that Luca and Alberto want to obtain a motorcycle to travel the world with, the problem being that they need cash. The best opportunity to get cash is to win the Porto Rosso Cup, and luckily enough, they meet a human girl named Giulia who wants to win the Cup as well. Of course, the whole Kaiju thing complicates matters.

For me, the movie’s biggest strength is in its cast of characters. Luca is kind of generic, but he develops some interesting relationships with Alberto and Giulia. Alberto is an interesting case. He has an assertive policy that inspires Luca to explore the human world, but he does it a bit to the Nth degree. This is shown throughout the movie, and is—in recent memory—one of the few organic buildups to that classic “Disney argument”. Giulia is that best friend type who’s proactive and ambitious; she’s not complex but it’s hard not to like her. I have a strange feeling that, given the month that this movie came out in, people will not be pleased at how Luca and Alberto’s relationship turns out in the end.

The parents—for once—manage to both have proper arcs and not die. Luca’s parents are dense as you can expect at first, but eventually have to acknowledge that their little Kaiju’s grown up. In the meantime, they eventually head to the surface to search for him and have some hilarious escapades. Luca’s grandma is much more likable, but she doesn’t get significant screentime. Fortunately, Giulia’s awesome dad makes up for that lack.

The weakest character ends up being the main antagonist (whose name I’m probably spelling wrong), Erkele. He’s the first Disney “villain” in like a decade, and he kind of shows that maybe they should stick with not having villains. He’s very expressive and funny, but he gets no real arc other than to be a jerk and impede the protagonists.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 9.25/10

Luca is a great Pixar movie as usual. I don’t quite think it’s as good as Soul, but it’s definitely easier to rewatch since—for the time being—everything from last year is kind of cursed. In any case, Luca is great, and I want to stay at Disney’s Riviera Resort now.

Monogatari Series Review: Part 2.9 of 3

To Part 1

To Part 2

So yeah, funny looking title, right? Well, it’s no secret that Monogatari has had its ups and downs. That much is certain. But in case you couldn’t already tell what my final thoughts on the series ended up being, let me just give you a hint: I’ve at least made my peace with it. And if you still don’t know what I’m alluding to, then… you’ll have to wait until the end of the review.


Tsukimonogatari [Pictured Above]

After taking a hundred pages to get out of bed, Araragi is feeling a bit more vampiric than usual. Instead of confiding in Meme, he confides in Ononoki, the shikigami of Kagenui, instead. As expected of the series up to this point, Tsuki spends more than half of its length getting to the crux of the issue (it seriously opens with a twenty-page rant about alarm clocks). 

And when it actually gets to that issue, it goes just as is to be expected of the series up to this point. I get that it’s like, “Haha, NISIOISIN is so whiggety whack! What a wild and crazy guy, building up to something big and intentionally not making it a big payoff!” But at this point, it’s starting to get old fast.


Koyomimonogatari

This is a collection of short stories interspersed throughout the entire timeline of the main series. It’s so long, that Vertical published it in two parts. The stories are basically the typical conversations Araragi has with the others in the setup phases of a lot of volumes… over and over and over again, but with no core narrative. Fortunately, it does pick up towards the end. The final chapter in this collection is set after the previous volume and leaves you on a cliffhanger.


Owarimonogatari Part 1

I don’t know if it was excitement over starting the final arc, but this volume felt like the best in a while. Of course, however, NISIOISIN has to be a massive troll. Instead of following up on the events at the end of Koyomi, we are taken BACK TO THE FIRST SEASON OF THE SERIES. Yes, that far. In October, Araragi and Ogi (Meme’s neice introduced a while back) are trapped in a classroom that’s crucial to Araragi’s past. That part is as trolly and bullcrappy as usual, but the social commentary is at least something with a tangible meaning, as opposed to something like “Brushing your teeth is to absolve your mouth of sin.” This is the first volume where Ogi gets to shine, and it shows that she’s one of the best characters in the franchise.

However, that’s only one chapter. After-the-fact, a girl from Araragi’s past creeps up after two years: Sodachi Oikura. Yes, a new character. All of this happened way back in season one. If any of this was referenced in earlier books, then hooray. But if not… AAAAAGH! As for Ogi, she is my favorite and least favorite character. She’s extremely charming, but she’s the anti-Hanekawa. And funnily enough, that almost makes her worse than Hanekawa. While Hanekawa solves problems in .5 seconds and claims she only knows what she knows, Ogi solves problems in .5 seconds and claims that Araragi is the one who knows the solution (when he never does). She chastises both him and the reader, yet I still like her. Ogi really helped me enjoy this series for the first time in a really long while.

In any case, while Ogi is one of the strongest Monogatari characters, Sodachi is one of the weakest. She’s kind of a whiny brat, and doesn’t have any interesting quirks. Also, the logic behind her actions make no sense, but at this point in the series, we have to suspend our disbelief.


Owarimonogatari Part 2

This is part two, but NISI is—as always—a troll; this volume isn’t set as a follow-up to part one, but in the middle of the SECOND SEASON. Uuuugh. I don’t even know anymore. Anyway, in this volume, Araragi and Kanbaru are attacked by a phantom suit of armor that has some sort of link with Shinobu. And for some reason, every time we have a Shinobu problem, we have to consult in Izuko Gaen.

And like every time we’ve had to confide in her, it takes about half the volume to get to her. I also want to say that every time we’ve confided in her, she just tells us what’s already obvious enough from context. Oooooo. In any case, this is the first volume in like forever that actually has action in it. While Owari is definitely shaping up to be a worthy ending, this volume wasn’t as fun as the last one.


Owarimonogatari Part 3

Part 1 was set season 1, Part 2 was set in season 2, and Part 3 is actually a proper follow-up to whatever happened in… one of the volumes? If you couldn’t tell, I’ve been writing each passage for this post as the books were released by Vertical. As a result, it’s been about half a year since I actually read the earlier parts of season 3. So yeah, I had no idea what was going on. But oh boy, NISIOISIN is sure a genius for writing out of chronological order hyuck hyuck!

This volume has three chapters, and for what I think might be the first time in the series, the chapters smoothly bleed together. I can’t say what happens in the first chapter because it spoils the end of… er… one of the volumes in this post. However, the second chapter is basically a non-stop splurge of Senjo and Araragi just hanging out, and it’s actually pretty cute. The third and most important chapter is about Ogi, and the biggest twist in the series.

Oh, and by the way… I couldn’t comment on Izuko Gaen’s pretentious “knowing everything” quirk because I hadn’t finished Chainsaw Man yet. If she really knew everything, she’d only be able to say “Halloween” until she dies! Eff you, Gaen!


Zokuowarimonogatari

The final, final book of Monogatari. The final book… that I didn’t read. If you couldn’t tell from how long it took for this post to come out after the previous Monogatari posts (I hadn’t even used witty titles for my posts at that time), I had put off Zoku for a long time after it dropped on BookWalker. I didn’t want to read it. I had tried my damndest to finish Monogatari, but to be real, I had way more hate than love for it, which leads into my…  


Final Thoughts

Honestly, I don’t know what to say about Monogatari. There were some genuinely good moments throughout the series. But honestly, it’s incredibly pretentious. Fans know and accept this in their love for the series. I… er… well. It’s one of those “cerebral” franchises, where no matter how well thought out and scholarly a negative opinion of it is, fans can just defend it with a “you’re not smart enough”. As much as I love being contrarian, this is a case where my own intelligence as a writer is on the line.

Speaking of writing, I can at least say that the writing of Monogatari is a heap of bullcrap (and a waste of the talented illustrator Vofan). I’ll acknowledge that it takes talent to extend some of these conversation topics to the absolute insane length that NISIOISIN does, but why? The dialogue feels like it’s this way for the sake of being a troll, yet the author is considered a genius for doing it. In fact, he’s considered a genius specifically for committing literally every cardinal sin of writing. 

You know what, however, there is one thing I absolutely despise about Monogatari. It’s what makes the series so pretentious, moreso than anything else. Based on how it’s presented, NISIOISIN seems to think that there’s nothing more fascinating than human relationships. While human relationships are needlessly complex to the point where they need scholarly essays written about them, there’s stuff more fascinating than us. Why are we so great? What about the infinite scope of the cosmos, or the intricate beauty of nature? I know I’m in the minority about this, but hey, that’s nothing new!

Over the past couple years, I’ve been learning to stop giving an eff. Since there’s no subscription service for this stuff, I have to pay hefty flat rates for the few stuff I actually enjoy (and the time I don’t ever have). People on toxic sites like MyAnimeList act all high and mighty, and I was just done with it. WordPress has been a breath of fresh air, with great bloggers like Irina and RiseFromAshes doing the unthinkable acts of being civilized. I might cover something popular like this from time to time, but what I really made this blog for is to give limelight to stuff that most people would have never heard of. Most importantly, I’m D.N.F.ing Monogatari simply because I can, and I don’t have to live by any Internet schmuck’s metric to be happy. Call me an uncultured swine if you want; at least I get to be myself.

This Final Thoughts section has been longer than my reviews of the actual novels combined. So, you know what, I’m just going to plop my final score for the whole series right down there. Read it and weep.

Final Verdict (Whole Series): 7.35/10

Weeb Reads Monthly May 2021

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


Torture Princess Volume 7

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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.9/10


Dungeon Busters Volume 2

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

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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.65/10


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

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

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

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

Verdict: 8.7/10


ROLL OVER AND DIE Volume 3

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

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

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

Verdict: 9.8/10


Conclusion

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

Disney’s Frog Isekai: Amphibia Season 1 Review

If you’re reading this, then that means I’ve decided to get a bit experimental with my blog. While I would normally review a TV show in its entirety, I decided to review Disney’s Amphibia (created by Matt Braly) season by season. Having already caught up to season two (which was still airing while writing this), I realized how different the show was after season one. So, yeah, let’s hope season three ends up being a drastic tone shift or this idea will end up sucking hardcore.

Amphibia doesn’t beat around the bush, as it starts with its main protagonist, Anne Boonchuy, already in the titular other world, specifically in the town of Wartwood. She runs into a little frog boy named Sprig, and they hit it off pretty quickly. Anne wants to go back home, but instead of trying to haul ass out of there, she kinda just hangs out in Wartwood (hey, another isekai tradition!).

What immediately jumps out (no pun intended) about this isekai is its setting. For starters, almost every animal, from cows to birds, is either a bug or a worm of some kind. Amphibia uses a crap-ton of yellow, blue, and green in its aesthetic that is very appealing. Although the opening sequence shows a massive, lilypad-shaped world, this season is mostly confined to Wartwood. It would be a nice town, except that it’s intentionally not a nice town. The motto is, literally, “Slow to accept, even slower to respect.”

In terms of story, Amphibia operates like most modern cartoons. It starts off with a series of episodic stories, the conflicts of which have absolutely no prior context or foreshadowing, and teaches us an assortment of valuable, American life lessons. As with most shows of its kind, this first season gets us acquainted with the main cast through these Saturday morning cartoon antics. Many of these episodes are extremely predictable if you have experience with this kind of show, and having to see these needless conflicts unfold is about as truly cringe-worthy as any other cartoon.

The biggest hurdle in this season is the cast of the show. I know that no character should be flawless, but the level of smooth-brain in modern cartoon characters makes Patrick Star look like a genius (without the need for brain coral). Anne is perhaps one of my least favorite cartoon protagonists ever. Not only does she continuously make poor judgements regardless of how many lessons she learns, she also loves trashy TV shows, reads clickbaity headlines, and even dabs! DABS! Oh, and a small trigger warning for some people: she hates pineapple pizza. Sprig, on the other hand, is just about as bad (minus the pineapple pizza thing), except he’s a frog. 

At the very least, Polly and Hop Pop end up being the best of the main group. The former is just a tadpole, but she’s a fierce and furious young’un who somehow ends up being the voice of reason. And when Polly’s not the voice of reason, Hop Pop is. He’s your typical “old fart”, but he very much cares for his family. And similar to a certain Grunkle in another show, he’s got some plot-twisting secrets stuffed up his booty. Despite being more tolerable, Hop Pop and Polly end up having their smooth-brain moments because EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEARN THEM ‘MERICAN VALUES!

Similar to Gravity Falls, the locals of Wartwood are quite likeable (even if the town’s slogan says otherwise). From Wally the village weirdo, to the guy who grows tulips, the little stinkhole is full of colorful characters. Even the lousy mayor, Toadstool, ends up being pretty entertaining in a weird way.

As you can expect, the plot decides to kick in for the season finale. It’s not THAT amazing, but it is a good precedent for the stuff that’s to follow. The only weird part about it is what feels like a very out-of-place use of ‘Lean on Me’. But hey, maybe it was meant to be unfitting on purpose.

~~~~~

Verdict: 7.65/10

Like many-a cartoon, the first season of Amphibia lays the groundwork, and gets you ready for next season with a tone-changing finale. You have to get through a lot of episodic hijinks that you have probably seen before, and since it does the “two short episodes” formula, it’ll feel twice as long even though the season is forgivingly short. From what I’ve seen in the next season, I think it’s worth it… provided you actually enjoy childrens’ cartoons as an adult.

I Risked My Life to Watch Earwig and the Witch! Was It Worth It?

As someone who suffers from anxiety and an inherent fear of physical contact, and as someone who follows a number of public figures who think COVID is the threat that the media says it is, I was—and am—a nervous wreck. Even at this point where people are just tired of it, I’m still scared for my life. I was forced to see Studio Ghibli’s Earwig and the Witch in theatres (since my family doesn’t have HBOMax) as a way for me to face my fears, and I truly did feel afraid for my life. Was I able to enjoy the movie despite all that was going through my head? Also, is the movie itself enjoyable? That’s the more important question! Oh, and of course, I never read the source novel for it!

In Earwig and the Witch, the titular Earwig (a.k.a. Ayatsuru if you like subbed) is left at an orphanage. After living most of her young life there, she is adopted by the titular witch, Bella Yaga. Since she’s empowered and all that, Earwig is determined to own her new home.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is Ghibli’s first CG movie, and I wanna talk about the CG. It’s not Pixar to where they individually rig every single hair follicle, but everything else checks out. The lighting is good, the style is faithful to 2D animation while still being 3D, and the characters are very emotive. It’s not perfect, but it’s at least better than some of the horrid TV anime CG.

Sadly, that’s really all that makes this stand out from Ghibli’s filmography. Well, I say “sadly” as if it’s a bad thing. Ghibli sets a high standard for Japanese animation for a reason, after all. Earwig is full of the same charm and homeliness you’d expect out of My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. It’s simple, to the point, and has a lot of wholesome charm.

Unfortunately, this also means Earwig has the same problems as most Ghibli flicks. The pacing is abysmally slow, despite its short length. It’s also structured like most Ghibli movies, to where more than half of the core narrative isn’t tackled until the last ten percent of the runtime. A lot is also left up to interpretation, assuming Ghibli even bothered to leave subtle clues in the first place.

The cast consists of four main characters, and literally no one else. Earwig is an unusual subversion of characters of her ilk; she enjoyed her life at the orphanage, and is incredibly headstrong and feisty when at the receiving end of Bella Yaga’s… er… parenting. As someone who tends to like control freak types, I was initially drawn to Earwig’s character arc. But with this being a family-friendly coming-of-age story, I’d thought they’d try to give her a redemption arc, which ends up not happening. Her adoptive mother, Bella Yaga, has a fetish with worms, but other than that, she’s your typical lousy foster parent character. 

Also living in the same house is Thomas, a black cat who tries to be comic mischief (key word: “tries”). The movie’s tragic hero is the owner of the house, known only as the Mandrake. He comes off as super sketchy, but different elements about him are organically divulged over the course of the movie, making him the most complete-feeling of the cast.

In a completely spoiler-free manner, I warn you about the ending. Honestly, we [the anime community] have seen this often enough to know that it’s just Ghibli being Ghibli.  Even the ones that aren’t as, well, Earwig-ish, have left me with a sense of… lack of accomplishment. I dunno, maybe it’s the uncultured swine in me talking. 

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Final Verdict: 7.15/10

To be brutally honest, the fact that Earwig and the Witch is CG is the only incentive to watch it. It is bog standard Ghibli in every other sense, and it’s still outclassed by stuff like Spirited Away and Kaguya. I’d only recommend it to diehard fans of Ghibli and the art of animation itself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Verdict: 8.5/10

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

Weeb Reads Monthly December 2020

Well, this post’s a bit late. The reason is because the latest volume of Otherside Picnic came out too close to  the end of the year. But hey, at least I got this out on the same week as New Year’s Eve, right? Anyway, let’s do this.


Sorcerer King of Destruction and Golem of the Barbarian Queen Volume 2

I had a sliver of hope for this one. After all, it started out as a pretty lonely, post-apocalyptic isekai. However, it doesn’t take long for Nemaki to reach a town. At this point, Sorcerer King pretty much turns into your run-of-the-mill slice-of-life isekai.

If I was a more generous reviewer, I’d say it’s fascinating to see the fact that Nemaki doesn’t exactly understand Gol. She’s very trigger happy, and her clothes are more than just cosmetic. Nemaki genuinely does not know what she’s capable of, nor what makes her tick, giving a genuine sense of mystery and concern. Unfortunately, I’m not a more generous reviewer. From rubbing cheeks to looking at her underwear, Nemaki’s interactions with Gol are no different than that of a typical isekai waifu. It seems like she was made as a golem just to pretend that Sorcerer King is subversive. And with the usual stiff writing, I have little to no interest remaining in this series.

Verdict: 6.5/10


May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace Volume 2

Before getting into this volume, I must clarify that I did not cover The Eminence in Shadow Volume 2 like I planned. First off, I ran out of money because, well, Christmas. Second off, I had too many doubts about that series. The fact that Cid’s made-up enemy turns out to be real, along with them actually skipping how his own organization comes about… It’s just plain stupid. Combine that with the subpar characters and you have another series that, in my opinion, does not at all deserve to place on the Kono Sugoi Light Novel rankings. 

I also had doubts about May These Leaden Battlegrounds Leave No Trace. Like most time travel narratives, Leaden Battlegrounds is kind of… iffy. But for some reason, I enjoyed it because I was curious as to how stupid it could get. So here we are!

The main premise of the volume is Rain and Air getting into a scuffle with some Western soldiers, one of whom is a cute girl named Deadrim, and the other person is… there. Once again, most of the volume proves to be boring, but there’s just enough intrigue at the end to make you wanna buy the next one. The only other noteworthy thing is that fact that Air should be using the Devil Bullet on Rain, but that whole aspect of their relationship goes in the direction you’d expect.

Verdict: 7.2/10


DanMachi Volume 15

It feels like it’s been forever and a day since we had a new DanMachi volume. Unfortunately, this one’s a filler volume. Sure, DanMachi has had some of the better filler in light novels, but not this time. We do get more backstory to some of our main protagonists, in addition to the backstory we already got, but it kind of feels excessive. For example, the first chapter is literally about the inn that Bell stayed at until he found out about Hestia. Do we really need that? In any case, most of the stories are pretty good, though not the best that DanMachi has to offer. 

Verdict: 7.9/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 13

After the relative nothing that happened last time, we finally have an event that’s been building up for a long time: a conference between Altar and Dryfe. In order to participate, Ray forms a clan with his friends and gets a new job. This new job, as always, is something wild that nobody likes which ends up being really useful for his build. In any case, it’s not even a spoiler to say that the conference goes south, and a big fight breaks out.

The one gripe I have is something that’s happened twice now in Dendro: withholding information from the reader that the main character, who’s narrating, happens to know. It’s a cheap way to build anticipation and I don’t know why any writer would ever think this is a good idea. Nemesis, once again, evolves into a new form after a small time-skip leading up to the conference. We also don’t get to see it, since this volume ends in the middle of the action. Other than that, Dendro still meets (and exceeds) expectations.

Verdict: 8.75/10


Otherside Picnic Volume 4

It feels like it’s been forever since we got some Otherside Picnic! With the anime in development, I cannot wait for yuri fans to get super toxic and scare off potential viewers. But in the meantime, we have this. As usual, it starts off [relatively] chill, with the girls going to the cult HQ from the previous volume to clear it of supernatural gook.

Other than that, it’s pretty typical stuff. Sorawo and Toriko’s relationship gets more intense, and we learn a bit of the former’s past, but that’s about it. There’s no new goal established. However, I’m fine with that, because Otherside Picnic is a CGDCT at heart, and core narrative doesn’t really matter in those. As long as the suspense is still off the rails (which it is in this volume HOLY CRAP), then I’m good.

Verdict: 9.3/10


Conclusion

Overall, we had a pretty good lineup of light novels to close off the year. Unfortunately, it looks like I’m going to be skipping this January’s Weeb Reads Monthly because there are only two volumes that I actually have interest in, excluding the upcoming debuts. February might be skipped too, because I only see ONE volume of interest on BookWalker’s Pre-Order page at the time of writing this post. Regardless, whatever I skip will all be lumped in with another month eventually!

Horimiya: Realistic to a Fault (First Impressions, Volumes 1-5)

As someone who’s been more into manga than anime, I’ve frequently heard people discuss manga that deserve anime adaptations. And in those discussions, Horimiya has consistently come up. It didn’t look too interesting to me, but when it actually got its anime adaptation confirmed, I read a bit in order to see what the hubbub was about.

In Horimiya, a girl named Kyouko Hori seems like a typical high school girl, but has a secret life where she has to take care of her entire house (baby brother included). Her life changes after a chance encounter with the seemingly stoic Izumi Miyamura, who is actually some kind of goth dude or something. Since they both have secrets, that gives them some sense of commonality, and they decide to become secret friends.

To be honest, I don’t get the big deal with Hori’s secret. Miyamura’s I get, because of the dress code and all that. But why does Hori have to keep her thing a secret? “Oh my gawd, she’s a responsible, upstanding citizen who cares for her family. How disgusting.” I’m not saying it’s easy for her to support her household while going to high school, but I don’t get why she has to keep it a secret. 

Also, I have no idea if this is a romcom or merely a rom. The reason is that nothing in Horimiya is actually, you know, funny. There are definitely jokes, but a lot of it is really bog-standard. The manga uses a lot of the “text box tells you what’s supposed to be funny” thing; I have no idea what it’s called. It’s where the character is like “Why is this guy acting weird?” and the text box points at that person saying something like “Has no idea that they’re the reason why he’s acting weird”. Yeah, I dunno what it is. Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle and Dragon Goes House-Hunting use this technique a lot better, mainly because those manga have actual comedy in them (Ohhhhh snap). 

At the very least, they don’t beat around the bush with the romance. However, that doesn’t make their relationship any less cringe. They practically confess their love to each other as early as volume two, but try to pretend like they never said it. I guess the positive is that they are actually dealing with their own emotional anxiety instead of being like “Why did I feel weird holding his/her hand? I DUNNO MAN!”, but it still left me unwilling to give any of my spare rats’ asses to them. 

What really made me not care about their relationship was Hori and Miyamura themselves. Like I said before, I have no idea why she can’t tell anyone about her family situation. I get that teens are judgmental, but she can’t even tell her teachers “Sorry, my grades kind of suck because I’m forced to care for my younger brother all by myself.” Miyamura is a bit more tolerable, since his tattoo thing can be a big deal. The running joke of his “feminine” traits don’t make him much better.

There are also other characters and I don’t like them either. From jealous Ishikawa to… also jealous Remi, everyone in Horimiya has basic romcom tropes, with little-to-no personality. “Eeeeeeh but that makes them realistic,” you argue. I’m sorry, I don’t understand why people think subdued characters are more human. In my experience, REAL teenagers are much louder and bombastic than the cardboard cutouts in most slice-of-life series. I’ve even seen grown men and women playing around like children (well, specifically on Twitch but it’s still an example), and I sincerely doubt that anyone can actually grow up to be THAT boring in real life (and if you do, I feel sorry for you). 

The art of Horimiya is just about as flat and subdued as the people in it. If you told me that this was a redrawing of a web manga á la One Punch Man, I would not believe you. The characters are only distinguishable from each other due to their hair, but they would easily blend into a crowd of other series’ characters their age. The facial expressions feel like they’re from a how-to-draw-manga book, and have no impact because they’re all “realistic” looking.

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Current Verdict: 6.25/10

This is something I could’ve only brought upon myself. Horimiya is probably good for a romance, but I simply hate romance with every fiber of my being. I wanted to check it out because of the anime hype, and now I know that I’m going to be very mad during the January 2021 anime season when everyone I follow is going to be Tweeting about how great the anime is and make me even more stressed out than I already am on social media—*huff huff* Anyway, I recommend Horimiya if you deeply care about human relationships.