Gravity Falls Full Series Review

The coronavirus of 2020 ended up giving me an opportunity to do something that I didn’t think possible: binge-watch an entire television show. I was going to settle for Avatar: The Last Airbender, but it turned out Netflix didn’t have it (thanks for sucking at having any animated programs as always (oh, and for the record, it wasn’t on Hulu either)). So instead, I chose Disney’s Gravity Falls. From what I know, Gravity Falls has become a modern cult classic; almost unanimous critical acclaim, but ultimately getting overshadowed by Phineas and Ferb and other, more “accessible” Disney IPs (the damn show doesn’t even have Disney Parks merch!). In this review, I see whether or not I made a mistake watching Phineas and Ferb while it aired instead of this.

In Gravity Falls, a pair of twin siblings by the name of Dipper and Mabel Pines are sent to the titular town in scenic Oregon to live with their great uncle, Stanford (known otherwise as Grunkle Stan). They mainly laze around his gift shop of urban legend junk, until Dipper finds some weird book detailing all kinds of strange phenomena in the town. Of course, it’s inevitable that they get involved in said phenomena.

The show follows the typical, episodic formula of any American, Saturday morning cartoon, but with a sense of chronology more befitting of a TV anime. The plot of each episode tends to be stand-alone, but it also lays the groundwork for a bigger story in the process (like when Grunkle Stan enters some secret base at the end of episode 1). They also make nods to earlier episodes throughout the show, further giving it a sense of continuity. One example is a piece of graffiti on the water tower; it’s only brought up once, but its image remains throughout the entire series.

Despite them frequently getting attacked by monsters, ghosts, manly minotaurs, and an evil visual novel that predicted the existence of Doki Doki Literature Club, Gravity Falls maintains a sense of lightheartedness, and I’m thankful for that. Based on the praise I had heard of the show, I thought it was going to be an incredibly pretentious, pseudo-intellectual cartoon with weird symbolism placed just to evoke a sense of deepness when there isn’t any.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t weird voodoo at all. First off, there are secret codes that appear in the end credits of each episode that apparently either foreshadow later stuff or bark nonsense. There was also a real-life scavenger hunt while the show was airing (or so I was told), but I can’t exactly do that now. I’m glad that this was all the show does in terms of secret hidden lore, instead of rubbing its “genius” in your face like Monogatari. Of course, that will probably not stop series’ fans from calling you (or me) a filthy casual for not “appreciating the genius hidden meeting that makes Gravity Falls transcend modern media and human comprehension” or whatever, but that’s a given with any fandom.

Gravity Falls also has a great sense of humor that’s just about on par with that of Phineas and Ferb. I actually found myself laughing pretty consistently throughout, which was a pleasant surprise. There are also some great humorous details, the most notable of which is the Mystery Shack that they live in. Grunkle Stan’s job is to scam people from within the rundown cottage. The S in “Shack” frequently falls off, which both gets across the fact that the building is old, as well as the fact that Stan is a “Mystery Hack”. I dunno, little things like that are just great to me. Just keep in mind that this show is early 2010s… and that some dialogue is not up to the standards of the new resurgence in feminism. Basically, there’s a lot of gender stereotyping in Gravity Falls. It’s just your usual “boys like punching sh**, girls like boys and shoes”, but hey, I don’t know what sets people off these days.

The characters are also surprisingly solid. Although Dipper only has his frequent sarcastic remarks to save him from being a generic adolescent male, Mabel is Best Girl for sure. Her ditziness and general weirdness make her incredibly entertaining. The issue with them is that they have some “eye-roll-worthy” flaws, such as Dipper’s love for Wendy, one of Stan’s employees, along with Mabel’s annoying ability to fall in love at first sight. There are also cases of sitcom-like melodrama that occur between them, and this is where Gravity Falls feels the most trope-ish (and for the record, such tween drama is the entire reason that the final arc of the series is even instigated in the first place).

Grunkle Stan is also a very entertaining fart with great character development late in the series (even if he single-handedly doubles the length of the final episode for similar drama reasons), along with his other employees, Soos and the aforementioned Wendy. They’re pretty typical “big brother” and “big sister” archetypes, but they’re still likeable and have a lot of memorable lines. 

But hey, Gravity Falls is a town, and that means it has townsfolk. There are a number of very memorable, minor characters who appear at a very consistent rate, and make the area feel more like an actual community instead of an implied community. All these characters have quirky personalities and very distinct character designs, making their company very enjoyable. It’s amazing how much they all, including Toby, warmed up to me.

Unfortunately, the weakest link is in the antagonists. Gravity Falls has two major antagonists, the first of which is lil’ ol’ Gideon. He’s a posh, pompadour-wearing boy who is the Plankton of Grunkle Stan’s Krabs (wait, I think I messed up that analogy… ah, you get what I mean). Underneath his cheruby face is a conniving little turd who seriously wants Stan wiped off the face of the Earth.

Introduced at the end of season 1 is Bill Cipher, an Illuminati symbol with arms and legs. He has some strange motives that don’t come into play until pretty late into the series, well after his introduction. Just by looking at him, I can tell that most of the series’ hidden lore lies within him. I bet that the symbols on his “Illuminati Wheel” can be found in specific frames throughout the entire series, and reveal some sort of secret that will change all of humankind (and not at all mean what it’s intended to mean in the actual story).

Overall, these two are pretty entertaining, but ultimately fall short of beating villains like Heinz Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb (wow, I just made every fan of Gravity Falls angry). Doof comes off as a mad scientist trope, but becomes the most lovable character in the whole series as you progress through the later seasons. Gideon and Bill are just one-dimensional villains that are basically there out of obligation. Sure, maybe the “hidden lore” gives us more context for Bill than what they tell us, but it also might not at the same time.

The last point to discuss, as always, is the visual presentation. As expected, even for a TV show, Gravity Falls looks incredible. The animation is fluid (even if there are glaring cases of CG), and the color palette makes everything in the show pop. It’s definitely a nice step up from the hyper-budgeted TV anime that I’m used to.

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Final Verdict: 9/10

It might not be quite as good as Phineas and Ferb (“Boo, you filthy casual!” you exclaim. Look, it’s only the musical numbers and the superior antagonist that makes Phineas and Ferb better, okay?), Gravity Falls is definitely a fantastic cartoon. I’m kind of glad I didn’t watch it while it was airing, or I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it from an adult standpoint. Regardless of if there’s some hidden metaphorical message in it, it’s still fun to enjoy at face value. I highly recommend it to anyone who has Disney Plus (as it’s probably not worth trying to catch it on reruns).

Monogatari Series Review, Part 2 of 3

In my review of the previous season of the Monogatari novels, I mostly praised its strange writing and its weird and complex characters, while showing disdain toward its slow-pacing and “smart-sounding” dialogue. But wow, this season is really where the series gets good.


Nekomonogatari: Shiro

I alluded to disliking Hanekawa in my previous review. So, naturally, I was DREADING a volume told from her perspective. Well, it turns out that I like her a lot more now. My problem with her last time wasn’t so much her personality as it was Araragi’s hero worship of her. Even when her tragic backstories and flaws came to light, he would unflinchingly maintain his preconceived image of her as Super Mary Sue 9000, and that made me resent her (and Araragi). But in HER head, we see a more down-to-earth and less pompous person than before. 

She is, in some ways, a better narrator than Araragi. The volume’s shorter chapters provide more places for readers to stop and process plot developments. Plus, her proactiveness makes it so that she tries to solve the volume’s conflict, as opposed to Araragi, who had to wait for Memelord or Kaiki or whoever to exposition dump the issue onto his clueless face.


Kabukimonogatari

Oh boy. Araragi again. Well, fortunately, he at least learned some lessons from Hanekawa. The chapters are still shorter and he didn’t take QUITE as long to get to the actual plot.

It sure jumps the shark by suddenly introducing TIME TRAVEL out of nowhere. And similar to 99.99% of time travel mechanics, it falls into modern fantasy’s “make up random inconsistent crap just for whatever would help the narrative” schtick. Not even NISI can match Steins;Gate.

The biggest issue with this volume is its ending, as it builds up to an epic confrontation that ends almost instantly. However, the suspense and tension of the scenario are enough to make Kabuki arguably one of the best volumes of Monogatari up to this point.


Hanamonogatari

I was told by my friend who’s been lending me this series that this is either their least favorite installment or widely considered to be the worst installment… I don’t quite remember. In fact, I properly remembered incorrectly, because this is not a bad volume at all!

It is, however- in good old NISIOISIN fashion- an unusual volume. Hana is the FINAL volume of the series, chronologically speaking. Starring Kanbaru for the first time, this volume is set after Araragi has graduated high school and moved to college. We get our first deep look at the weirdo as she tackles this volume’s conflict solo.

However, just because it’s not the worst or not bad, doesn’t mean it’s a straight-up masterpiece either. If actually read chronologically, this would’ve been a horrible way to “end” the series. Also, I don’t get the point of this examination of Kanbaru. Unlike with Hanekawa, where I actually started to view her differently as a person, I didn’t feel any differently about Kanbaru. Sure, we learn about an aspect of her past, but unlike with previously established characters, I didn’t understand what aspect of her insecurities was explored via this volume’s conflict. Maybe I brain-farted on this one or something. 

Nonetheless, NISI made a good call publishing the finale when he did, instead of actually publishing it at the end. He saved himself from a lot of salt that way! Unfortunately, Araragi’s presence in this volume gives him plot armor for the rest of the series. Great!


Otorimonogatari

Making her first appearance in what feels like forever, Nadeko takes the helm in the strangest installment in the series thus far. Did she always alternate between referring to herself with a lowercase “i” and her own name in the third person? I feel like I would’ve realized that sooner.

The premise is that she becomes possessed by a strange white snake, which is supposed to represent the guilt of her chopping up snakes back in the first arc. The theme seems to have something to do with how Nadeko is a horrible person who tries to victimize herself or something… I’m not quite sure. But regardless, Otori showcases just how much of a basket case she is!


Onimonogatari

A strange phenomenon threatens to engulf Araragi and the town, and it has something to do with Shinobu. The main appeal of Oni is the telling of Shinobu’s backstory with her previous thrall. 

Unfortunately, her story is kind of boring. It doesn’t really give her any meaningful character development, and the dude doesn’t even have a name. Plus, like the troll that NISI is, no information in the backstory actually contributes to solving the conflict of the volume. This is probably my least favorite volume of the second season.


Koimonogatari

I presume this is originally meant to be the final published volume, for it is set around Araragi and Senjo’s graduation; the date that the final boss is meant to kill them, which is established in a previous volume of this season. It stars Kaiki, of all people, who is hired by Senjo to trick the person into sparing our two lovebirds.

It was a great call making Kaiki the narrator for this one. For one thing, his personality and world views are so eccentric and fresh that it makes him one of the best characters in the series. The other thing is that using him saves this volume from being utter ass. The whole thing is basically Kaiki talking to the final boss over and over again until he can tell them that Araragi and Senjo already died. But at this point, I was no stranger to NISI creating big buildup just to have it culminate in the most anticlimactic way possible.

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Verdict (Average of All 6 Books): 8.45/10

Monogatari is still kicking butt. If all goes well, I should be posting the finale of this review series towards the end of this year or the start of 2021. Peace out!

Dead Mount Death Play First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

Edgelords are a really popular market no matter where you’re from. Regardless of how kids are raised, a primal urge that goes back to when people would pay to watch Romans slaughter each other makes us yearn for media with wonton violence, gratuitous sexualization, and morally incorrect protagonists, all against our better judgement. It’s such a big market that I feel like I’ve tagged at least twenty of my posts as “edgy”, and I’m running out of insightful ways to describe the genre. So let’s turn off our lights, put up our hoods, and dive into Dead Mount Death Play, the newest manga by the creator of Durarara!!, published in English by Yen Press.

In Dead Mount Death Play, a powerful necromancer called the Corpse God is engaged in battle with his enemy. Right when Mr. Corpse is about to be slain, he uses reincarnation magic to be reborn in the body of Polka Shinoyama, a boy in modern Japan who has just been murdered. The new Polka has a run in with his killer, Misaki Sakimiya, and after killing her and turning her into a zombie, he joins her in her exploits (i.e. killing people for money).

Well, what else can I say? We have literal villains as the main protagonists; it doesn’t get edgier than that. Sure, they have tragic backstories, but who doesn’t these days? 

Unlike Durarara!!, DMDP seems to have a more focused narrative so far. But at the same time, I don’t know what the author wants to do with it. The main conflict revolves around issues in Polka’s family, as well as the exploits of various criminals, such as the bandage-covered Lemmings. It’s a pretty simple plot, but I found it really difficult to tell who’s working for whom (maybe that’s the point?). The intrigue ramps up at the end of volume 3, so maybe it’s just hit its turning point.

But hey, this is our boy Narita, the creator of Durarara!!, here. That means the best part of DMDP is the cast, right? Eeeeeeh… sadly, not quite. Corpse God/Polka is basically your generic, emotionally insecure edgelord, who only stands out thanks to the slit in his throat. I forgot most of the other characters’ names, such as Occulus-wearing guy who is basically the brains of the people that Misaki works for, and these two police officers who are kind of just there. Misaki’s supervisor, Clarissa, is basically your fanservice character (who sometimes has uncensored sex with some of her other employees. Watch out for that). The best character is definitely Misaki herself. She is both ditzy and insane, with by far the best character design out of the lot. Also, she’s a zombie, which makes her extra appealing for those with a monster girl fetish.

The art varies a lot. Most of the time, it’s your standard manga art. But sometimes, it’s like, “Oh hey, here’s something with a lot of linework in it!” Overall, it looks good, but I’ve definitely seen better.

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Current Verdict: 7.6/10

No writer has to worry more about topping a popular series than that series’ own creator. I likely expected a bit much from Narita, especially given that he’s working on other stuff at the same time as this. Furthermore, Durarara!!‘s greatest strength is in it’s prose, which naturally, would end up being lacking in a manga. DMDP is your typical edgelord fare. You’ll know if you’d like it just by looking at the cover art.

For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams First Impressions (Volumes 1-3)

It’s been a couple of years since I read the manga, Erased. But from what I can remember, it was a pleasantly surprising suspense manga with a supernatural twist (although I don’t quite get why people love it like SO much). “Why are you talking about Erased?” you ask. Well, the mangaka of Erased is publishing a new series, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams, which has recently been released in North America by Yen Press. So, I’m gonna talk about it for a bit.

In this manga, Senri Nakajou is the sole survivor of an attack on his family that results in his parents’ and twin brother’s deaths. His only memory of the killer is a series of scars on his arm that read “fire”, earning the killer the name Fire Man. Years later, he catches a glimpse of said man again, and begins a slow descent into madness trying to track the killer down.

Right off the bat, I can’t really tell what the author is trying to do with this manga. Similar to Erased, the main character’s goal is to track down a murderer… again! Also, there are abusive parents… AGAIN! I can’t fault someone for sticking with what they do best, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is a bit TOO much like Erased for those reasons.

Like the author’s previous work, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams is best when it’s strictly being an old-school suspense manga. It doesn’t take long at all for the search for Fire Man to get really complicated, as Senri isn’t the only one who’s after his head, and Senri’s family aren’t his only victims. A development at the end of volume 2 adds a cherry even more to the top of the existing mystery cake.

Unfortunately, For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams isn’t too great in the character department. Senri is just a generic angsty boy who slowly loses direction on his moral compass, and it’s not a particularly interesting instance of this character type. The female lead, Enan, seems to be someone who exists just to tell him that what he’s doing is morally incorrect (as if it weren’t obvious enough). Both kids have abusive parents in their lives, and between this and Erased, it seems that the author uses this trope to give us easily sympathizable characters. I hate assuming intentions, but that’s what my critic-brain tells me.

The art is no different from Erased, which is good or bad depending on how you feel about it. The girls still have those nice, full lips; your mileage may vary on that. Admittedly, this artstyle really isn’t the best for a suspense manga, but it at least has a distinct look.

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Current Verdict: 7.3/10

I don’t know what it is, but For the Kid I Saw in My Dreams just doesn’t quite seem to cut it for me. Maybe my standards for suspense have grown too high after reading some of Naoki Urasawa’s stuff? Well, if you love Erased as much as the next guy, then this manga should be just about as good. 

Otherside Picnic Volume 2 Review

Last time on Otherside Picnic, Kamikoshi Sorawo finds a doorway to another world, where she is henceforth attacked by a strange creature called the Kunekune. She is saved by Nishina Toriko, a cool girl who came here in search of a missing friend, Uruma Satsuki. They return to the real world, where she meets Kozakura, another friend of Toriko’s and a researcher of the mysterious world, called Otherside. They go back to fight another Kunekune, but get afflicted by it; Sorawo in her eye, and Toriko in her hand. However, they still manage to fend it off and obtain its core. They have other adventures (one of which involves the American military and a haunted train station), and learn that they have been given some strange powers: Sorawo can change realities with her eye (which, in Layman’s terms, means that she can see through illusions), and Toriko can touch strange things in the Otherside with her hands. After the incident with the military, the two girls have an argument, and Toriko goes to the Otherside on her own to find Satsuki. Sorawo and Kozakura end up searching for her, despite the warnings from some strange, middle-aged men who seem to act as guardians of the Otherside. While postulating the existence of the Otherside and about the science of fear, they find Toriko in a weird, abandoned village full of plants. Using the power of her reality-shifting eye, Sorawo manages to save Toriko from an illusion of Satsuki, and they make it back home safe and sound.

It felt like I’ve been waiting a year for this volume to come out. In the time leading up to it, I was more scared of it sucking than of the disturbing imagery in the actual story. And perhaps… I could’ve scared myself into not enjoying it as much as the previous one. But at the same time, the first volume was likely to have been exceptionally good for the same reason that caused Made in Abyss to become popular; the element of surprise. I don’t know about you, but this series definitely did not LOOK scary on the cover. So, when we read volume 1, it was like, “Holy sh** this is so freaking scary!” Now that we know what to expect, it loses the chutzpah from before.

Anyways, let’s actually talk about the content, shall we? One review I read of volume 1 (don’t worry, it has to do with the matter at hand) called Otherside Picnic a yuri series, and I was like, “Whatchoo talkin’ ‘bout, dude?” However, this volume definitely seems to be where the yuri stuff comes in. I kinda realized it when they pulled the classic “here-let-me-caress-you-with-my-entire-body-while-I-instruct-you-on-the-proper-posture-for-using-this-thing” schtick that they do with romantic couples. I know that yuri can get pretty contentious in this community, so proceed with caution if you’re sensitive to fanservice and stuff.

Similar to the previous volume, the chapters are all self-contained episodes that slowly build up a semblance of an overarching story. The first chapter is a rescue operation of the US soldiers from the first volume, and the chapter after that is the “beach-vacation-so-we-can-see-the-girls-in-bathing-suits” trope. The third chapter introduces a new character Akari Seto, whose main personality quirk is being good at karate. I don’t know if she’s going to become plot relevant or what…

But if there is anything relevant, it’s the continuing escalation of intrigue in this volume! More signs of Satsuki start popping up, but only we and Sorawo catch wind of them. She elects not to tell Toriko about any of this, presumably under the assumption that she’ll go after Satsuki alone and almost get wrecked again. But if this really is a yuri series, it could also be because Sorawo doesn’t want Toriko to be in another woman’s bed. My biggest concern is that this could get escalated to sitcom-like proportions, but we won’t really know that until the future.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

While it might lack the fire of the first volume, Otherside Picnic’s second volume proves that this series is still one of the best new isekai on the market. With so many new plot threads established, I need to have the third volume yesterday. Hopefully, the wait won’t feel as long this time around.

There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself! Volume 2 Review

Last time on There Was No Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!) so I Made One Myself!, Kimemitsu Sago gains some phenomenal cosmic power. He decides to use those powers to form both a crime-fighting organization, as well as said organization’s enemies, which he fashions out of telekinetically manipulated water. He meets up with a rich chuunibyou named Shiori Kubaragi, and she helps fund the project. They name their group Amaterasu, and set themselves up in a bar that they buy and name Ama-no-Iwato. They recruit the Buddhist fanatic Touka Hasumi, the cocky Shouta Takahasi, and a monkey. After a battle against a large water blob of Sago’s creation, the CIA catches wind of what’s going on…

…as well as some aliens. Specifically, one alien, named Lonalia Linalia Baba-Nyan. Despite her name, she is neither a cat nor an old lady; she’s a straight-up elf loli. On her world, demon Lord’s are an endangered species, and she yearns to fight a real calamity-type one instead. So, she goes to our world and catches wind of Shouta fighting a water blob, and ends up getting roped into the whole thing.

The big irony with her character is that, despite being a fantasy person, Earth’s lack of magic makes her unable to actually do anything magical in the first place. It really showcases how cynical modern society is (or maybe it’s just a way to keep the series relatively grounded). 

In other news, the occult is experiencing a big boom thanks to Sago, with Tokyo’s population getting a big boost due to tourists. The police and other investigative organizations are getting involved too, and it naturally becomes a big issue for him.

Unfortunately, Secret Organization seems to still be stuck on the exposition-heavy writing. Once again, words- and not action- govern the progression of the plot, making it still pretty tedious to read. It’s a real shame, considering that the actual scenes, as opposed to the montages, are where the story is at its best.

At the end of the volume is another episode with Nicolas Stallone, the CIA agent from before. I assume that his role will be limited to these bonus chapters, until he ends up getting roped into the main story later. It just stinks that his sections are the most tedious of all.

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Verdict: 7.5/10

There is some charm to Secret Organization, but in execution, it’s really tedious. Like I said in my Ascendance of a Bookworm post, I don’t have the time or money to read just anything. I gotta pick and choose what I want the most, and sadly, I might have to abandon Secret Organization someday. But hey, if you love it, more power to you.

There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself! Volume 1 Review

Cover of volume 1

There are SO MANY isekais out there, that it can become a reflex to assume that every new light novel is automatically an isekai. I read through the first chapter of There Was No Secret Evil-Fighting Organization (srsly?!), So I Made One Myself!, published in English by J-Novel Club, constantly asking, “So when does this guy get sent to another world?”, just to realize that it’s set in THIS world. Earth? What’s that?

Stuck in our own crap-ass world, Sago Kinemitsu suddenly develops telekinetic powers. But it kind of sucks;  he’s only able to lift a lousy potato chip. However, after several miserable years of his unremarkable life, his abilities get stronger and stronger, but now he’s just a salaryman with “phenomenal cosmic power, an itty-bitty living space,” and no big bads to save the world from. So, he decides to form his own organization to fight an evil menace of his own creation (confusing enough?), and he gets help from the rich and busty Shiori Kaburagi.

So, bizarrely enough, this is a chuunibyou slice-of-life comedy with a rare occurrence of adult main protagonists. However, unlike most chuunibyou, these two actually have powers (well, technically, Shiori gets hers later). As previously discussed, the whole thing is about forming an evil-fighting organization, and then later forming the enemies of said organization, all for the sake of these two living out their own power fantasy, or more specifically, allowing kids to live out their own power fantasy.

With this being a slice-of-life, the main appeal is the cast. Sago, while having a lot of funny dialogue, is kind of a generic mid-life crisis guy. Best Girl Shiori, on the other hand, is great. While she comes off as a hoity-toity, “ara-ara” type, she’s actually a serious chuunibyou, with stacks of research papers on Magical Girls and anime superpowers.

Later in the volume, they gain some recruits. Touka Hasumi is a petite girl who gains fire abilities, but her most interesting trait is that she’s a Buddhism extremist. She’s constantly chanting sutras while also carving the image of Buddha on rocks. It’s pretty good timing that I started reading this while studying Buddhism, among other things. In addition to her is Shouto Takahashi, my least favorite character. He’s the designated cocky brat, who gains ice abilities. Fortunately, Sago at least has his own ways of snapping the kid into shape. Lastly is Ig… whom I won’t say anything about because of spoilers. Just know that she exists.

If there’s any real flaw with Secret Organization, it’s in the exposition-heavy writing. The reason being that there’s a lot of stuff that happens over a ridiculously long course of time. So what’s better, that the author cut out the middleman, or show every single tedious step? 

On a final note, the art has a very manga-looking style. It definitely has a very Clip-Studio-y kind of vibe. However, our girl Shiori is the only one with an interesting enough character design to catch my interest.

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Verdict: 8.5/10

Secret Organization is looking to be an interesting change of pace in the light novel market. The thing that concerns me is that Sago seems to be limited when it comes to the scenarios that he can craft. The volume implies that the CIA will be getting involved, but there’s no telling where it’ll go from here. For now, Secret Organization is a perfectly solid series opener that puts a good twist on the deceptively abundant slice-of-life genre.

Durarara!! Full Series Review

Cover of volume 1

In a world full of isekai stuff, one might forget that THIS WORLD EXISTS TOO. That’s when we turn back to the start of the 21st Century, before the isekai boom. Back in the good ol’ days, we didn’t have “i-SUCK-ais”, we had QUALITY like that there Monogatari series, or better yet, Durarara!!, finally published to completion in English by Yen Press.

It all starts when Mikado Ryugamine moves to Ikebukuro in the hopes of finding excitement (and boy does it pay off in dividends). He meets his friends, Masaomi Kida and Anri Sonohara, and… well, crazy things happen. From fights between gangs like the Dollars and Yellow Scarves, to a creepy sword called Saika that turns the people it cuts into its slaves, to a dullahan that wants to find its head, which has fallen into the hands of a teenage boy who has fallen in love with it in spite of his yandere of an older sister. Told you crazy things happen.

Despite this downright bonkers plot, Durarara!! is a character driven story, so there really isn’t much in the way of an overarching narrative. But not much doesn’t mean not at all. Durarara!! has a ton of different stories going on at once, such as the conflicts revolving around the aforementioned gangs and dullahan, plus a whole slew of other things. All of these different stories happen separately, but always manage to converge in a Seinfeld-level amount of absurd coincidences. You will have to suspend your disbelief for this one (as if the presence of a creature from European mythology wasn’t enough of a sign) in order to be able to enjoy it.

There are two things that are vital to make an episodic, character driven story work. One is great writing skill, and the author, Ryohgo Narita, has it to spare. His nonchalant and satiric writing makes Ikebukuro, Durarara!!‘s setting, seem like a strange and otherworldly place (don’t worry; it’s in the real world. Remember that). He also drives the emotions and motivations of characters home really well. The series is also really good at buildup. Consequently, this makes for some slower volumes; Volumes 10 and 11 don’t really have much in terms of character development or plot progression because they merely establish the final arc. But when that final arc begins… HOOOOOO BOOOY it is amazing!

The other important thing you need to make this type of story work is a great cast. Durarara!! has an amazing cast… depending on who you ask. I find this series easily comparable to NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series, which is also an episodic character driven story. Durarara!! has the antithesis of Monogatari‘s nuanced and deceptively complex characters; Durarara!!‘s cast is 1D and open like a book. There are only a couple of times where characters catch you off guard, but most of those scenes towards the beginning.

So depending on your definition of good character writing, these guys are either amazing or insufferable. I prefer bombastic characters, so I naturally love Durarara!!‘s cast. I can’t go over the main characters- Mikado, Masaomi, and Anri- because of spoilers for volumes 1-3, but Celty Sturluson, the aforementioned dullahan, is the Best Girl. She is just a designated “nonhuman thing that learns how to be human”, but she’s a damn good one! Her relationship with Shinra Kishitani, a black market doctor, is always fun to read through (and makes me wish I was Shinra instead… RRGH). 

Shizuo is the embodiment of the insanely powerful blockhead. His iconic bartender’s outfit makes it incredibly easy to insert him in scenes without using his name, and those scenes where he’s casually throwing vending machines and motorcycles with one hand never get old. His rival, Izaya, is the main antagonist, who wants to cause chaos because he is a literal yandere to all mankind. I love these boys as much as they hate each other!

For the art, the illustrator uses a minimalistic style that I’m not a fan of. It does a good job using extreme shaders, and it has a lot of sharp polygons (ripped straight out of a Persona game’s HUD) that help enforce the weirdness. It works for the series, but I wouldn’t want to read a manga drawn like this.

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Final Verdict: 9.5/10

You can tell if you’ll love Durarara!! just by reading the first volume, so just borrow it from a friend and give it a read, then decide where you’ll go from there. Personally, I think it is one of the best light novel series out there, and now that it’s finally done, I can start Dead Mount Dea– wait, what’s Durarara!! SH?! A sequel?! Well, crap… Ikebukuro just never rests, does it?

Monogatari Series Review, Part 1 of 3

Cover of volume 1 of Bakemonogatari

The Monogatari light novel series is one of the few that have been adapted, in their entirety, into anime form. However, I heard that the show uses an artsy directing style that sounds really distracting and pretentious, so I’ve been reading the light novels instead of watching the anime. Published in English by Vertical Inc., only the first “season” is available digitally. Therefore, I’ve been borrowing volumes from a friend. At the time of this writing, I’m a little bit into the second “season”, according to MyAnimeList. In the meantime, let’s review the first season.

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Bakemonogatari

For those fans who know that Bakemonogatari isn’t the chronological first installment, I’m tackling the light novels in published order. Sorry.

Anyhoo, Bakemonogatari is a setup arc that serves to establish all of the major players by following a distinct formula. The main protagonist, an angsty, existential teen named Araragi Koyomi has to help cute girls who are possessed by various spirits, called aberrations. The aberrations are all representations of actual, real-life human issues, and the solutions to remove them are roughly the same as actually dealing with them in real life.

Since Monogatari is a character study, the characters are of the utmost importance. Best Girl Senjogahara Hitagi is a super tsundere who carries a stapler around. Her insults put a lot of other tsunderes to shame. Hachikuji Mayoi is also a charming character; she roasts Araragi and intentionally mispronounces his name in spectacular ways. Kanbaru Suruga and Sengoku Nadeko aren’t the most remarkable at this juncture, but the former is at least a weird, jealous lesbian. Hanekawa Tsubasa is- at a glance- a Mary Sue and a know-it-all, but the story gives a preview to a much darker side of her at the end of the arc.

Speaking of pretentious, the dialogue of this series had me- scratch that, it STILL has me- at a crossroads. The vast majority of the series is written in an unconventional and very wordy style.
And.
Also, a lot.
And a lot.
Of crap like this.
Right here.
Yeah, I’m not kidding.
Sometimes the dialogue goes on and on and on, where over half a volume can be spent just talking about random stuff. Araragi himself even points that fact out in the actual story. They talk about things from panties, to sexuality, to existence itself. I find some of the dialogue funny, some pretentious, but the sheer amount of it tends to make this series tedious to read at times. And to top it off, there are no page breaks except for the ends of chapters. Get ready to read 30+ pages without rest!

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Kizumonogatari

This is the chronological first volume of the series, and it showcases how Araragi became a vampire (oh yeah, forgot to mention that part in the review of Bake…). It’s a very long volume and it follows a monster-of-the-week formula.

I also forgot to mention the best man, Oshino Meme. Meme is a cool and nonchalant gentleman who serves as an exposition dump for whatever issue is occurring. He always manages to know the problem and the solution before it even occurs, and this chronologically first meeting is no exception.

Kizu is the proper introduction of Shinobu, the vampire whose fate is attached to Araragi, and goes by a much longer name in this volume. When the conflict gets resolved, she becomes a deadpan loli who speaks in “old-timey” talk. I like her, but not as much as some of the the other people.

This volume is the first one that really showcases Araragi’s emotional insecurities. If you’re fascinated by that stuff, get ready for a treat!

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Nisemonogatari

This two-volume-long arc deals with Araragi’s sisters and also questions the meaning of “real” and “fake” as far as identity and existence goes. Personally, I find these types of arcs to be tedious because there is no way to arrive at a clear-cut conclusion to this quandary. Last time I checked, Morpheus doesn’t exist to give you that clear-cut conclusion. It is at least something you can have an endless debate over if you enjoy that kind of stuff.

But regardless of philosophical mumbo-jumbo, the arc introduces some awesome new characters. The Araragi’s Fire Sisters are quirky and strange. Beware, there are a lot of incestuous interactions between them and their brother. Normally, I don’t have a problem with incest in fiction (because it’s, you know, FICTION), but this instance doesn’t add anything to the narrative and tries to justify itself by having the characters explicitly say how wrong it is, while still doing it anyway.

The other newcomers are the first antagonists of the series, such as Kaiki Deishu. But, this blog’s gotten long enough, so I’ll let you experience these awesome character for yourself.

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Nekomonogatari: Kuro

This is the chronological second volume. It delves into Hanekawa’s background and gives you a true introduction to her character arc. It’s a bit lengthy given the actual content of the plot, but that’s nothing new with this series. The only real issue is that content from it is spoiled too much in the last chapter of Bake.

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Verdict: 8/10

It’s a decent enough first impression, even if it’s a bit verbose. Having read some of the subsequent volumes, I already know that it gets much better from here. If you love the human psyche and generally weird stuff, then this light novel is for you!