Miitopia (Switch): Your Most Insane Fanfic Come to Life

If you’re reading this, then I’m a time masochist. When you’re working a full-time job along with running a blog, you don’t exactly have much time left. All of the precious recreational time I have is spent working on the blog. Every single piece of media I select must now serve some purpose for it. It’s hard. I’ve had to veto a lot of stuff. There are a lot of videogames that I’ve been juggling, and instead of playing them based on mood, I play them based on a number of factors too convoluted to go into right now. But a wrench was thrown in when Nintendo re-released the insane 3DS RPG, Miitopia, on Switch, with an improved character creator and FREAKING HORSES. I loved the crap out of the old one, but I was hesitant to play this new one ONLY because I never had raw desire take hold. So of course, this post (with an overly long preamble) is my only justification for playing Miitopia AGAIN. On Switch.

In Miitopia, the Dark Lord steals the faces from everyone in the titular kingdom of Miis. You, along with a vast number of intrepid heroes, set forth to whoop his butt and get everyone’s faces back. 

If you know RPG basics, then you know that this game has a simple and predictable plot. But unlike most RPGs, which pretend to be something they’re not, Miitopia spoofs them up. It is chock full of hilarious, tongue-and-cheek dialogue. The charm oozes out of every pixel, and we’ll get to more on that when we cover some of the gameplay elements.

I’d normally discuss the cast of the story here. However, every copy of Miitopia is kind of like a snowflake; no two are alike. This is because of the game’s main selling point: the Miis themselves. The identity of literally every character is decided by you. They can be your closest friends, or—if you’re like me and have no friends—fictional characters. You can be a light novel protagonist and insert yourself into the story, fighting alongside your favorite waifus. You can ship Arin and Dan from Game Grumps, or ship either of them with Markiplier and PewDeePie. You can even dictate the villain; take out your hatred on your most hated person by making them the Dark Lord. Hate mainstream culture? Then make the Dark Lord Billie Eilish. You also get other allies, like the Great Sage and the three Fairy Sisters. Just keep in mind that—SPOILER ALERT even though it’s a common RPG trope—whoever your Great Sage is will end up being the true final boss. If you didn’t have online in the original, you’d be given some lousy presets for non-plot-relevant characters. But in this version, you can freely dictate their identities as well, but you’d have to take the time to make them from scratch (or, you know, have an online subscription). Although the game doesn’t tell you this, you can preemptively add Miis—complete with makeup and wigs—from the Mii Characters database on the title screen. Use this if you have a plan on who to include in the story. Oh, and when it comes to your party members, you can change their in-battle phrases. 

For some reason, however, it doesn’t quite work in the Traveler’s Hub area. Every visit spawns a random, non-plot-relevant set of NPCs, and ideally, these would pull from Miitopia’s save data just like anyone else.  You can still go into the record menu and change that, but you’d have to do it every time the area reshuffles, and it kind of gets annoying. I’ve noticed that it has higher odds of pulling from the data if you have more characters with no assigned roles already made, but if that was the case, you’d have to make a LOT of Miis for it to pull from there every time.

Regardless, improvements to Miitopia’s customization mechanic are, well, massive. The Mii making system seems pretty normal at first. But when you go to the Mii Characters tab on the title screen, you can add makeup and wigs. With these, the sky’s the limit. You can make an anime character, and have it be accurate for once. Just a couple things to keep in mind. First of all, the sky isn’t quite the limit. For instance, there are no pompadours, nor any hairdos that defy gravity. More importantly, the quiz NPC doesn’t take makeup or wigs into account during the minigames. This means if you have an advanced character, like Darth Vader or something, it’s going to be tough to recognize him.

The icing on the cake is the amount of personality that oozes out of Miitopia. There are so many little charming details that make it hilarious and fun. One example is this derpy tuba-like jingle for literally EVERY new character as they show up. When the Dark Lord first appears, you hear this ominous choir, abruptly cut off by that sound, causing intentional tonal whiplash. Beyond that, there are too many examples to list, like the occasional Psycho bit after character interactions or the fact that every ability has this fancy, anime-like cinematic for it when it’s used for the first time.

The personality is also present in the game’s visual and audio presentation. Miitopia has a quirky and cartoony vibe, which is basic yet appealing. The Switch’s superior power adds lighting effects that help give it a more whimsical vibe. The soundtrack is also surprisingly fantastic. The battle theme and the titlescreen music are unique to each area in the game, and the boss track is a real bop that still lives in my head rent-free.

Although combat would be an afterthought in a game like this, Miitopia manages to have legitimately fun combat. The battles are your basic JRPG turn-based formula, but there are a number of factors to add spice (and chaos) to this formula. First off, you get to choose everyone’s personality quirk. They all have advantages and disadvantages, that range from free evades to refusing a much-needed heal. They trigger randomly, and as a result, a lot of battles end up being luck-based to an extent. The game is balanced enough around this fact… well… to a point (we’ll discuss that later).

A much more important factor is Affinity. Characters can build relationships through various, self-explanatory methods, from battle, to being roomies at the inn, as well as other means. Levelling Affinities up can cause some powerful effects to happen, some of which can turn the tide of battle in your favor. Of course, these are also luck-based, but they feel awesome when they happen. However, random events, as well as certain moves and personality traits, can cause a rift in two characters’ relationship. When this happens, you need to keep them together until they make up, or use the Popstar’s insanely powerful skill that instantly resolves their argument (this doesn’t work if the Popstar is involved in said rift; something that happened to me way too often in my playthrough).

Exploration in Miitopia is divided into automated traveling courses. If a path splits off, you get to dictate where they go, and you’ll need to take EVERY PATH if you want to get everything. It can get repetitive, but using the ZR button speeds up gameplay and saves BUTTLOADS of time. It even works in cutscenes! Random events occur, from stumbling upon loot to characters suddenly being fed up with each other. It’s generally rare for these events to lead to an unfair game over, but it can happen in VERY specific circumstances.

In between each course, the party rests up at the Inn. Unlike most JRPGs, this is where the action occurs. Here, you arrange characters’ living spaces so that they can bond with one another. While in the Inn, you can feed characters food obtained throughout the adventure to permanently increase their stats. They have very random tastes, and more often than not, they will hate the food most tailored to their build. You can also gamble any Arcade Tickets found from adventuring to get money or items. I always did the latter, since you will always get something from the item roulette. These range from a random equippable item, to rare food, to a boost of XP or Affinity between two people. Spending money is another mechanic based on luck. You need to see if a character wants something, and give them the money to grab it. Equipment for characters come in tiers, which means that if a chest contains equipment, it will always be the next step up from whatever you have. Oh, and keep in mind that characters will sometimes fail to buy the equipment that you loaned them the cash to buy. New to the Switch version are Outings. These are fun little events that give sizeable Affinity boosts and are quite charming as well as varied. Also new to the Switch version is the Horse. This adorable, customizable companion is basically a fifth party member. By raising Affinity between your Horse and other characters, you can trigger new, unique assists in battle. These are insanely helpful! One of them is basically an ultimate move. It requires all MP, and has a unique effect depending on the class of whoever uses it. However, there’s one unwritten nuance that I learned the hard way: the horse will only assist as long as a character is in the stable with it, regardless of Affinity and if it accompanies you to battle.

Well, I ended up deviating from battle for a while. Anyway, though the amount of luck in this game appears daunting, Miitopia does allow some divine intervention. Sprinkles can be used to restore HP, MP, to revive a party member, and more. Your carrying capacity with these Sprinkles increases as you defeat enemies, but keep in mind that they don’t refill until after a course is done. There is also the Safe Spot, where one character can use their turn to rest and heal a percentage of HP and MP as well as cure any debuffs. Of course, this puts your party at three, so careful planning is needed.

I talked about pretty much every element in battle before the bread and butter of RPGs: classes! You can assign a class to each new party member, and after a certain point in the story, can freely change said class. They range from your usual Mage and Cleric, to the unusual Popstar, Chef, Cat, Flower, etc. For the most part, they all have good enough strengths to win no matter what. The exception is the Tank. I don’t mean the high-aggro defensive class; I mean a literal Tank. This class has high defense and high damage, but most of the latter are used at the detriment of the Tank’s Affinity. Its low base MP doesn’t help either. 

In terms of difficulty, Miitopia is surprisingly balanced. Like with any JRPG, you’ll be pretty frail at the beginning, but be relatively okay at taking control as the game goes on. Bosses, and this one type of enemy with an insta-kill attack, are pretty much the only real challenges in the main story. Unfortunately, Miitopia is one of those annoying games where three party members are A.I. despite the fact that this is a turn-based RPG and that A.I. shouldn’t be necessary. They don’t spam useless moves like Marin Karin, at least. In fact, the A.I. is pretty good at making choices that a real gamer would make. Unfortunately, the A.I. fails to take turn order into account, and will use HP Bananas even if a healer was going to go immediately after them.

The real difficulty is in the post-game. In addition to new and tougher quests, the post-game unlocks three secret areas, two of which have the secret Vampire and Elf classes (for all I know, there could be a third one because I still have yet to do everything in this game). I usually like to make new party members dedicated to these, but keep in mind that they’ll have a whole game’s worth of Affinity, equipment buying, and permanent stat building to catch up to!

The third and most involved post-game area is a massive city, split into EIGHT sectors, teeming with the most powerful mobs in the game. Each sector has a stronger version of a previous boss, all of which HURT. This place sucks, and is probably the one place where Miitopia’s chaoticness loses its novelty. It’s hard enough on its own, but when you have to worry about relationships failing, or a Stubborn character refusing to be healed, it becomes beyond irritating. And don’t get me started on the U.F.O. enemies! They can use an attack that steals all of a character’s HP Bananas, which cannot be evaded no matter what. You also don’t get the Bananas back when defeating them. This causes your coffers to be sucked DRY,  to the point where you can’t organically regain them within the game’s parameters as long as you proceed through that area; you actually need to grind for them. I can’t even imagine how it feels when you get to the end of the boss rush tower, just for a few, RNG-based boo-boos to kick in and cost the whole run. And according to the Medal list, there’s a second tower that I actually have never seen before. Who knows what that could be!

The post-game has one more nice unlock: the villa. With this, you can house a massive number of party members all at once, and freely create new ones. This helps alleviate the issue of there being more classes than party members in the main story. Unfortunately, the inn capacity doesn’t account for the addition of the horse stable, meaning that one person will always be alone if you want to build Affinity with the horse.

Oh, and one warning for true completionists: the Medals. These are in-game achievements, and the Traveler’s Hub guy tracks your progress with them. Getting all of these requires getting every class to the max level of fifty, maxing out Affinities, getting all of the different equipment items for every class, and more. This is where grinding becomes a must, and that kind of sucks. But to be honest, you’ll probably need to do it anyway to take on the aforementioned boss rush. I have never completed Miitopia, but I might make an attempt if I ever feel the need to veg out with something mindless. But if you undertake this task, do it with some music or Twitch streams in the background.

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Final Verdict: 8.75/10

An already great game is better than ever on the Switch! Miitopia is a quirky, fun adventure, perfect for relieving stress (as long as you don’t try the really BS stuff). I recommend it to anyone who just wants to be happy.

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!

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: To Boldly Go Where No Self-Insert Isekai Protag Has Gone Before

Well, time to read another isekai. What does this one try to do to stand out? If you couldn’t tell from the insanely long title, Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, this one is in the dark void of space! Is that enough to make it good?

In Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship!, a young man named Takahiro Saido (henceforth known as Hiro) wakes up in his Stella Online ship, the Krishna (PS: Stella Online is an MMO that he played to death, as per usual with this stuff). As expected, the Krishna is insanely strong and Hiro has no trouble becoming powerful. Typical stuff, really.

And I mean typical. His starship isn’t only super powerful, but he’s also amazing at piloting it. He aces the hardest test in the Merc guild without breaking a sweat. Also, he gets some early loot from pirates and it nets him a fat chunk of space smackaroos. And of course, he saves a young, exploitable girl with no more motive than an innocent pure heart.

So, the writing is the same as any light novel: if it’s not a girl, it’s not worth describing. Have fun trying to visualize the surely intricate sci-fi architecture, whatever it may look like. In any case, the story for this volume is a simple establishment of characters, with some space skirmishes to show how awesome Hiro is. 

And while we’re on the subject of Hiro, let’s discuss the cast of characters. As expected, there isn’t much to them. You’d think that Hiro, being a space Merc, would make him morally ambiguous, but… it doesn’t. He’s your usual kind of guy, only interesting quirk being his deep desire for carbonated beverages. The first cute girl is a space elf named Elma, who at least has some kind of personality trait. The aforementioned girl he saves, Mimi, is the same waifu tragedy, straight from the book of tropes. The only notable thing about their chemistry is that they are very openly romantic with each other. And by that, I mean Hiro regularly alternates between the two of them in bed.

~~~~~

Verdict: 6.85/10

Reborn as a Space Mercenary: I Woke Up Piloting the Strongest Starship! is relatively harmless, but it’s about as unremarkable as a garden variety isekai (hence why this review is stupidly short). I don’t see myself committing to this one unless I magically obtain some bonus time when future volumes release. But who knows? Maybe you’ll like this one more than I did.

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!

Weeb Reads Monthly March and April 2021

Man, going on hiatus stinks. I’ve been backed up with so many posts, that I don’t know what to do! As such, this is going to be a massively long Weeb Reads Monthly. Fortunately, I only had one book for April. Nonetheless, you’ll want to grab some popcorn here!


Re:ZERO Volume 15

It was nice being ahead of the anime. At this point, the second season has likely finished the Sanctuary Arc and started a bit of the next arc. Fortunately, us losers who read the light novels at least get to complete the former before we’re left behind. 

So, in this volume, Subaru and Co. have to beat Elsa, the moe-blob beast tamer whose name I keep forgetting, and get Beatrice, the most stubborn waifu ever, to leave the stupid library. Oh, and Emilia has to FINALLY finish the dumb trials! That’s a lot to do, and it’s impressive that it’s all wrapped up here.

The only real flaws are that the fights are awful. They always were, in my opinion, but it sucks that they haven’t gotten better. You really have to like Re:ZERO for the story or you won’t like it at all. The other issue is that Beatrice really is a stubborn little b****, and they waste time by reiterating her tragic backstory over and over again to make us have feels for her. I liked this arc, but man, it overstayed its welcome!

Verdict: 8.9/10


Combatants Will Be Dispatched! Volume 5

In this volume of Combatants Will Be Dispatched!, we finally get to see the Demon Lord. It wouldn’t be an ecchi light novel if said Demon Lord wasn’t a cute girl, and as such, she’s a cute girl. The new character is named Viper, and she’s basically a parody of the overly self-sacrificial sad waifu. Remember kids: committing suicide is bad! Obviously, she’s no Grimm, but to be honest, she’s probably my least favorite character so far. Her martyrdom is kind of annoying, even when compared to the ever-scummy Six and Snow.

Anyway, the main conflict is them having to fight the Sand King. Action was never this author’s strong suit, and the fight in this volume is pretty unceremonious. There is a fun twist towards the end, but other than that, it’s pretty typical Combatants stuff.

Verdict: 8.35/10


Infinite Dendrogram Volume 14

As expected, the entirety of this volume is the fight that ensues at the summit thingamajig. After being withheld from seeing Nemesis’ fourth form, we waste no time seeing it now. It’s another cool and unusual power that further cements Ray as having one of the most interesting fighting styles among self-insert LN protagonists. The first major battle is against the King of Beasts, whom we’ve been building up to for a long time. And to no surprise, the fight does not disappoint. 

If these fights showcase anything, it’s that Ray still has a long way to go. I mean, c’mon, Dendro really is unfair when it comes to the one-of-a-kind, game-breaking boss drops. Nonetheless, the fights are incredible and engaging. 

Most LNs with all fights would be just that, but Dendro isn’t like most LNs. In the aftermath of the summit war (not to be confused with the Summit War in One Piece), we get some crazy new developments. Sadly, we aren’t going to know what happens next for a while, because apparently, something else was happening at the capital of Altar at the same time. Hopefully, it’ll give us some context on what the hell is going on.

Verdict: 9/10


So I’m a Spider, So What?! Volume 11

This series was finally getting good. A swathe of plot revelations have been brought up: our intrepid hero is a creation made by D, out of sheer laziness, and said intrepid hero becomes an intrepid villain. Ooooh, moral quandaries, even though no one else in the series is likeable so it doesn’t really work! Anyway, with this volume, So I’m a Spider, So What?! should finally be banging!

Having hope was my fault. 

Where the spider stands now, Shun’s red-shirted brother Julius is eleven years old. That means this volume is all about him. Look, I’ve seen all kinds of opinions that I disagree with, but this is a rare time where I’ll question your character if you like this volume. People seem to think that any and all character development is good, but I think this is an example of BAD character development. Sure, we learn about this man and his emotional insecurities or whatever, but… who cares?! It’s not just the fact that we know he’ll die; it’s that his existence has no bearing on the story. Good character development is, you know, ANY character in One Piece. This is just filler disguised as something good. If you have a good reason to defend this volume, let me know in the comments.

Verdict: 4/10


Cautious Hero Volume 6

So, the end of the previous volume was a thing. We have an established final boss, for starters. Oh, and Seiya gets sent back to earth, and is not allowed back. However, that last part is not in play for long. You see, the aforementioned final boss, Mersais, makes a big mess of reality. In order to fix it, they need to defeat her. But since the spirit world is out of commission, they need to restore three of the messed up worlds to establish a connection with where Mersais is, the first of which is Gaeabrande. 

Seiya is better than ever, obviously. But without a spirit world, where can he train? Fortunately, he is able to set up shop in the underworld. There, he lives with these twins who vomit blood on a regular basis. Also, everyone in the underworld is horny for deities. Good thing Cersceus comes with them; he can be used as a meat shield.

Overall, this volume is as good as usual. And despite the fact that we’re reusing assets, Seiya still learns new, interesting powers that further vary his fighting style. Also, there’s a sense of nostalgia for going back to these old worlds, even if the realities aren’t real.

Verdict: 9.35/10


Last Round Arthurs Volume 4

In case this series didn’t love Fuyuki enough, this volume is about her too. Or rather, the lack thereof, for she has a run-in with the leader of the Dame du Lac, and her existence is erased from everyone except Rintaro’s memories. The solution ends up being a quest for the Holy Grail, which Arthur himself couldn’t even get.

To put things bluntly, this volume is about as banger as usual. The action is intense, and the chemistry with the characters is just so darn good. The premise of Rintaro battling his “emo inner demons” has been becoming a bit of a running theme, but it looks like that’s FINALLY resolved here. Also, based on how this ends, there’s a good chance that the next volume will be the finale.

Verdict: 9/10


Eighty-Six Volume 7

It took seven volumes… No, not to capture the Merciless Queen, but something much more important: fanservice! We have a scene of them swimming in the mixed bath, which is supposed to be justified by some bigwigs wanting them to get a whiff of normal life after their constant sortieing. It’s about what you’d expect.

Fortunately, it’s not all filler. After some more of the typical reminders that Eighty-Six is actually a social commentary on racism, we finally get to speak with the Merciless Queen. Unfortunately, due to the fact that she has to be the “enigmatic character who withholds information for no reason”, we don’t get legitimate answers until three quarters into the volume.

Of course, the most “important” part is the party at the end. It would’ve been enjoyable, if I liked more than two of the characters. At the very least, we finally get to see resolution with a certain something (i.e. the something that fans are intended to have wanted the most out of Eighty-Six).

Verdict: 7.85/10


Rascal Does Not Dream of Siscon Idol

Ugh, this crap again. I have no idea how I stuck with it for this long, considering I don’t really like it at all. Anyway, Mai switched bodies with her failure idol of a stepsister, Nadoka Toyohama. While Sakuta has to figure out how to fix this, the girls have to get used to life as each other.

Man, this volume… to be blunt, I hated it. Sakuta doesn’t even do anything to figure out the problem; he kind of just goes with the flow. And honestly, this whole thing is a perfectly normal sibling rivalry drama. 

I just don’t get it… I understand the appeal of relatable issues, but I don’t understand why people laud writers who just take those same scenarios and put a supernatural spin on them. It’s the same thing, but with a cosmetic difference, yet it’s widely considered to be different. I’m any case, it’s safe to assume that I’ll be giving up on Rascal Does Not Dream for good.

Verdict: 5/10


The Invincible Shovel Volume 4

In this volume, every orb is collected. All that’s left is to defeat Zeleburg. Unfortunately, since Lithisia evolved into a shovel, the orbs don’t consider her part of the royal bloodline anymore. SO… they’re useless.

Fortunately, they just march into town and fight him with shovel powers. The usual antics ensue, and Catria gets shoveled more than ever, thanks to a shovel resisting device that needs to be recharged by her getting shoveled. We are also introduced to the shapeshifting demon, Elise, disguised as the pre-shovel Lithisia. Catria takes a liking to her, but sadly, Elise inevitably digs her own grave, just like everyone else.

Overall, it’s a great volume. However, the author might have dug themselves into a corner. You see, the volume ends on an insane cliffhanger, and after that is an author’s note saying “What the hell am I going to do with this?”. I have no idea how much longer the story goes on for, but chances are that Invincible Shovel is going to shovelplode on its shoveself.

Verdict: 8.25/10


Torture Princess Volume 6

This has been one of my favorite light novels of all time since release, but apparently, not enough for me to not miss a volume. In fact, it’s been four months. By the time you’re reading this, volume seven will have come out. But for the sake of being able to talk about it without spoiling THIS volume, I have to save that blurb for May. 

Anyway, shit’s hit the fan. Elisabeth and Jeanne were all means to an end, that end being to have God and Diablo bring about the apocalypse. Kaito has to take matters into his own hands, which is actually easier done than said, since he’s gotten so powerful at this point. Because of how things stand, he gets a real chance to wear Elisabeth’s shoes for once. It’s quite engaging, if I do say so myself.

As expected with Torture Princess, this volume is utter bonkers. We don’t just get insane new plot developments, such as the Saint’s backstory; there’s also a ton of battles against truly nightmarish critters. The ending is, well, a mindf***. And according to the author, this was just the first arc. So, I guess it was a blessing in disguise that I only had to wait one month for the start of part two. 

Verdict: 9.85/10


Conclusion

Boy, that was long! Hope you enjoyed this little college thesis. I’ll be back next month with the seventh volume of Torture Princess, and hopefully other good stuff. Oh, and that’s assuming I don’t end up mashing May with the June stuff (which is just as likely).

Bravely Default II: It’s… a Game

I was curious about Bravely Default ever since it came out. However, by the time I wanted to bite the bullet and try it, new copies somehow shot up to the triple digits, even before the death of the 3DS. I had also heard that the game ends on a whimper and that it had… microtransactions? Yeah, no thanks. Instead, I ended up jumping into the Bravely series with Bravely Default II for the Nintendo Switch.

In Bravely Default II, a young man is shipwrecked… somewhere. He runs into some lady named Gloria who is on a mission to find the four elemental Crystals (traditional MacGuffins). With the help of two other people, named Elvis and Adelle, he ends up helping Gloria find the MacGuffins. And yeah, that’s it.

Before covering the story, I need to lay down some groundwork. The game allows you to name the main protagonist, which is fun. Also, Bravely Default II has the option to play with the Japanese voice acting, like with most JRPGs these days. But for some reason, either variety or self-deprecation, I decided to play the whole game with the dub. Keep in mind that the dub might color my impression of the story and characters.

I’m not a big fan of Final Fantasy or Octopath Traveler’s plots, but at least they tried. Bravely Default II feels so half-assed it comes off as intentional. The story is so generic to the point of… nothingness. At least Dragon Quest has different dialects to give it more charm. I tried my darndest to give the writing a chance, but it didn’t take me long to start mashing A during cutscenes. Other times, I’d actually watch Twitch or YouTube while playing through; I was THAT uninvested in the story.

The game is also rather silly when it comes to chapter cutoff points. Normally, when you beat the boss of the current chapter, it starts the next one in the following cutscene. However, that’s not the case here. Instead, you have to be well on your way to the next town, and then randomly, the next chapter will start. And as you can expect, this will open up new quests in previous towns. As someone who prioritizes sidequesting, this really bothers me! Why couldn’t they have just ended the chapters right after the major boss fights like normal people?!

And to rub salt in the wound, the game has  next to no sense of accomplishment. You collect these MacGuffins that are messing up the various regions of the game, but it doesn’t fix anything. I know it’s really rare for a JRPG to allow you to explore the world after you’ve saved it, but Bravely Default II straight-up doesn’t care. For example, when you collect the Water MacGuffin flooding the one town, said town does not revert back to normal. Even having it gradually revert back as you advance through the game would be nice, but nope!

As far as the voice acting is concerned… Eh. I feel like the voices do fit the characters, but the performances themselves are inconsistent. When they’re being normal, it’s alright. However, a lot of the attempts at being emotional are about as effective as the one notorious instance of bad acting in the 1952 adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Of course, because I hate myself, I kept the dub on for the whole game. The only lines I enjoyed were some of the in-battle commentaries (like Adelle saying “What the?! You suck!” when inflicted with a debuff), but like any JRPG with in-battle commentaries (hi, Xenoblade), they got very grating. 

The characters are… meh. It’s not like there isn’t character development, but it is very bare-bones basic. There’s nothing that completely changes how I view a character, compared to—say—Sanji’s backstory in One Piece (the FULL backstory to be exact). The only remotely likeable character is Elvis, and that’s simply because it’s really hard to not like anyone with his dialect.

So, the gameplay. Since this is my first Bravely game, I have no idea what mechanics carry over from Bravely Default and what mechanics are new. As such, I’ll just explain everything! Hooray!

If you’ve played Final Fantasy and/or Octopath Traveler, a lot of mechanics will be super familiar. The stats are more-or-less self-explanatory. However, I must point out two outliers in the stats. For starters, aggro is a base stat that all characters have. Naturally, you want it to be higher on tanky people. There’s also a weight stat. All equipment increases weight, and if it goes over the maximum capacity, their base stats decrease even if the actual equipment is better than what they have.

In terms of combat, stuff if pretty self-explanatory. It plays more like classic Final Fantasy than anything else. You can toggle between single-targeting and multi-targeting for magic. Also, you can freely target enemies or allies with a move. Obviously, this means that zombies’ weakness to healing spells is accounted for. Enemies also have the annoying ability to counterattack, but thankfully, the game specifies if their attack is a counter. However, you’re going to want to have a plan to deal with counterattacks FAST. Eventually, it gets to the point where enemies—specifically bosses—will counter literally everything, and it’s obnoxious.

There are some new things, and by new, I mean things that were probably introduced in Bravely Default but since this is my first Bravely game it’s new to me. This game has BP, which sounds similar to the mechanic from Octopath Traveler. It’s not even remotely similar. Up to 3 BP can be used, sure, but instead of boosting one move, it adds multiple actions to a single turn. As much as I love the boosting in Octopath Traveler, this use of BP has a lot more utility; you can heal and then immediately attack an enemy, for instance.

The catch is that BP is not used in the same way as Octopath. Keeping in with the game’s title, every character has a Brave and Default action. Brave is what consumes BP, and Default is a defensive stance that gains BP. You more-or-less have to just spam Default, which can make battles kind of slow, especially early game. However, you don’t actually NEED BP in order to use Brave. You can go into the negatives with BP if you really want to. The risk is that the character will lose as many turns as they are in the negatives, and must wait until BP goes back to 0. To make things scarier, enemies can use Brave and Default, but are thankfully subject to the same penalties.

If there’s anything I don’t like about combat, it’s how stat modifiers work. Like in any good JRPG, stat buffs and debuffs can be stacked. The game makes sure to specifically tell you the maximum stacking effect, which is nice. But the problem is… it takes forever, and it feels like they don’t last long at all. Reusing the same buff does not add to the duration like in Octopath Traveler, so you have to constantly be watching for the visual indicator that the buffs are about to expire.

Although you only get four characters, jobs more than make up for it. The system works pretty much like it does in any JRPG with jobs. You have a main job and a sub-job. The important thing to know is that sub-jobs do not level-up in battle. What you’re encouraged to do is max-out a job, then make it a sub-job, since you’ll have all the abilities of that job no matter what. Every job has a passive skill that can be set to an ability list, even if you aren’t that job. The game straight-up recommends that you prioritize Freelancer, and use its JP-boosting skills to level up subsequent jobs.

Special moves are also different than in Octopath. Unlike in that game, where you learn the special after completely mastering the job, Bravely Default II‘s system has it to where each MacGuffin has to bless a character, allowing them to use the special of whatever job they have. The conditions to using a special are not by consuming 3 BP, but by using specific commands a LOT. They provide buffs to the entire party, but instead of lasting for a fixed number of turns, they expire in real time when the special theme that plays after using the move ends. These buffs aren’t helpful until more characters are blessed, in which case you can immediately use another special when the first one is about to end, to carry over the current buff along with the new one.

One problem I have with the jobs is that a number of them are… bad… ish. The Beastmaster, like Octopath Traveler, is capable of being really powerful, but I hate it. Just like in Octopath, you can capture weakened monsters to use in battle. Unlike Octopath, where you have a limited stock of monsters and a fixed amount of usages for them, Bravely Default II gives you unlimited stock, but only one use per monster. As such, you pretty much have to grind captures. It’s a pain to do, however. While you are able to see the monsters’ HP (unlike Octopath), your odds of capturing are pretty much impossible unless they have exactly one HP (which is easy to deal with thanks to the Mercy Strike move but it’s still annoying). Also, there are rare unique monsters that can be captured, and like Octopath, capturing them sucks. In fact, I couldn’t capture a single one of them! Since they’re rare, you probably would never use them, even when fighting the final boss. In the end, capturing monsters IS well worth it, for many bosses would’ve walled me if I hadn’t.

There are a few subtle distinctions that make this game different from classic Final Fantasy. For starters, gravity magic is real nasty because it does a fixed percentage of your MAX HP as opposed to your current HP. However, the most important distinction is weapons with special effects. For example, the staff that casts Cure is in this game, but unlike the classic games, where its attack is changed to Cure, you actually need to use it as an item to cast Cure in this game. This change does give these weapons more utility, but it would be nice if the game’s eighty thousand hints included one about that mechanic.

Just in case you didn’t want to finish the game in under a hundred hours, the protagonist has the ability to explore the seven seas on his own. To put it bluntly, this game has one of those “send characters off to do something then come back the next day for goodies” things. The thing about this mechanic is that it only works with the Switch in sleep mode while the game is running, meaning that you’ll be increasing playtime by a LOT. It’s a good mechanic if you have a full-time job that isn’t gaming; you can boot up Bravely Default II, have him shove off, and reap the rewards after work.

They also have a new Triple Triad: B ‘n’ D. It’s a simple yet insanely complex card game about occupying territories. I have accumulated many losses (since I suck at tabletop ANYTHING, even a fake tabletop anything). But in the end, it’s worth doing (even if it will gouge out your eyes). There is a “No Keepsies” rule that you can use so that you don’t lose cards when you are defeated, but you can’t dictate the rules until you obtain one of each card the opponent has. If there’s someone you really don’t want to fight multiple times, fight someone you can change the rules with to get extra card points, and then take all of the tougher opponent’s cards in one fell swoop after beating them once. As is Triple Triad tradition, make sure you save scum before a tough match!

As much as I loved Octopath Traveler visually and audio-ly, Bravely Default II disappoints by comparison. While the towns are created in beautiful pre-rendered backgrounds (which you can actually tell where to go since it’s not a PS1 game), the overworld is about as bare-bones as the story. There’s next-to-no variety in terms of landmarks and geography, plus dungeons tend to be very easy to get lost in. The soundtrack is one of the more forgettable I’ve heard in a JRPG. In fact, most of the songs are all remixes of a basic theme depending on the region.

In terms of difficulty, Bravely Default II is just like any JRPG, at least on Normal Mode; early game is rough because of a lack of options, then it steadily gets easier as you get more powerful. Also similar to the genre, most regular mobs won’t be that troublesome (as long as you don’t have too many jobs that clash with each other), but bosses can rough you up, even if the game considers you overleveled. There are superbosses on the world map, and those are what you’d expect them to be.

I was already over ninety hours by the time I beat this game, but guess what—it has a post-game. However, it’s not just a post-game, it’s the true endgame. Beating the “final boss” gives you a lousy ending, and reloading the save will grant the cast a premonition of that ending, triggering an entirely new chapter. There’s new quests and story beats, as well as the true final boss and ending. The big addition is the ability to go into portals where you fight past bosses to be able to raise corresponding Jobs three additional levels. They’re worth doing, but they SUCK. The past bosses attack in groups of several at a time, and all gain 1 BP as a counterattack for literally EVERY action. Even if you could use a move to reduce their BP, that move could in itself trigger the counterattack.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7.35/10

Bravely Default II is a solid JRPG which harkens back to the good old days. But to be honest, I wasn’t entirely fond of it. I think Octopath Traveller—by comparison—would be a far better game if it weren’t for the invisible encounters and the tedium that comes with its Hunter job. Heck, part of me thinks Octopath is irrefutably better DESPITE those flaws. Double heck, I like DQXI better than this. I dunno, this could be the fact that I maranthoned Bravely Default II talking, but the game feels kind of just… there. To tell the truth, I didn’t even bother finishing the post-game content. I recommend Bravely Default II if you’re a diehard JRPG fan who doesn’t have a full-time job outside of gaming.

Shades of Magic: More Londons, More Fun. Four Londons!

I’ve never had an interest in adult Western fiction, and I still don’t, mainly because a lot of it looks the same. I don’t know why people bother taking out books that all have the same back of a car, front porch of a house, or topless man enveloping a busty woman on the cover. But if one set of grown-up books stands out, it would have to be V.E. Schwab’s fantasy trilogy: Shades of Magic. I’ve actually known about its existence for a while, but it took me until the production of the movie for me to actually read through it. Go figure.

In Shades of Magic, a young magician named Kell is an errand boy who delivers mail to different versions of London in parallel universes. One day, he ends up with a very powerful and illegal magic stone. His fate then becomes intertwined with the tomboyish thief, Lila Bard, who goes on adventures with him to stop whatever inevitable mass conspiracy theory is threatening to tear the multiple Londons apart.

The big appeal in Shades of Magic is the worldbuilding. The four Londons are color-coded, based on various properties: Magicless Grey London, Relatively Okay Red London, Dystopian White London, and the source of all the trouble, Black London. The drawback with these worlds is that none of them is particularly interesting by themselves. Grey is just our world, Red is the Harry Potter world, and White is the Game of Thrones world. Black is by far the coolest, but it’s explored the least. In fact, the potential of the multiple Londons schtick is undermined by the fact that more than half of the story is set in Red London. I hate assuming the author’s intentions, but the worldbuilding feels like they just combined two inherently appealing things—parallel universes and the United Kingdom—just because those things are inherently appealing.

Fortunately, the writing is very elegant and makes the books addicting to read. If you’re intimidated by their length, they’re broken up into pretty short chapters, with many shorter subchapters in each. The action scenes are, for the most part, pretty darn good too.

But even with great prose, the characters leave something to be desired. They don’t really have much personality beyond their established archetypes. Kell is just… a dude, and Lila is just… a dudette. Sure, Kell has some kind of battle of temptation with the MacGuffin in book one, but it’s not particularly interesting. Lila has that YA protagonist trope of being a special snowflake for no reason, AND IT’S ANNOYING. Many reviews on Goodreads have riffed on her enough, so I’d only be repeating them if I elaborated on Lila in detail. Just know that she’s a pretentious, obnoxious brat. Of all the characters, Kell’s rival, Holland, is by far the most fleshed out, but he’s not quite enough to offset everyone else. If it wasn’t for the great writing of the actual story, these people would’ve made reading Shades of Magic very tedious.

Also be wary that Shades of Magic follows the tradition of “the second book being awful” very faithfully. A Gathering of Shadows was an absolute slog to get through. The whole thing revolved around some tournament that wasn’t even plot relevant in the first place, and was chock full of rushed and unexciting fights. Only the last sixty pages or so are important, as they lead into the events of the final book.

While the final book, A Conjuring of Light, is definitely an improvement, it isn’t that much better. Despite the urgency of the situation established at the beginning of the novel, a lot of it is spent wasting time with inconsequential characters that I didn’t even remember. One thing that blows my mind is how some authors are able to write entire chapters that serve no purpose to the main story. Fortunately, Shades of Magic is nowhere near as bad as Keeper of the Lost Cities, whose seventh book spends FOUR HUNDRED PAGES IN THE INFIRMARY, but it’s noticeable.

~~~~~

Final Verdict: 7/10

I really wanted to like this series. But as the old saying goes: Quality over quantity. What’s the point of having four Londons, when they each have such empty design and worldbuilding? I’d rather read Lockwood and Co., which is set in one, fleshed-out London. Shades of Magic is an example of the sheer idea behind it being what sells, rather than the execution of that idea. It’s not the worst fantasy out there, but it’s VERY overrated and outclassed. You know what, the movie might end up being a better alternative, since it’ll probably only adapt the first book; the only one that matters.

The Ideal Sponger Life: The One with the Canonical Waifu (Volume 1 Review)

I’ve known about The Ideal Sponger Life for over a year now. The problem was that only the manga, published by Seven Seas, has been available in English. Fortunately, J-Novel Club has come through and FINALLY licensed the original light novel series for Western consumption. Has it been worth the wait?

In The Ideal Sponger Life, a salaryman named Zenjirou Yamai is summoned to another world, by a queen named Aura Capula. She wants a hubby, and Zenjirou fits the bill. Obviously, he decides to marry her.

However, it isn’t that simple. Zenjirou really thinks through with his decision, and it’s made readily apparent that there’s more to this arrangement than meets the eye. For some reason, Aura wants him to just lie around and occasionally have sex. The early chapters of the volume also showcase that fantasy worlds are great and all, but are incredibly uncomfortable if you’re too used to modern technology. Unfortunately, this aspect is quickly made a non-issue when Zenjirou is able to briefly return to earth to bring a generator back to the fantasy realm.

The big problem with this volume is that it’s not… wrong enough! I thought that this was going to be all about Zenjirou having sex with Aura and a bunch of maids; that would’ve made for some interesting debates and whatnot. In fact, this thing skips any raunchy content with a mere “After they had sex, blah blah blah…” I’m being adamant about this because Sponger Life isn’t that remarkable otherwise. The only real plus is that there’s an actual explanation for the “isekai language” trope, but that just results in some needlessly tedious language lessons that he doesn’t need because he can already speak their language AS A RESULT of the “isekai language” trope!

Sponger Life’s writing is about as problematic as most light novels. It HAS to be a translation issue, because they all (even the good ones) have bad grammar and redundant word usage. As a blogger, I’ve become less and less tolerant of that kind of stuff, and honestly, it’s really bad that it’s coloring what’s supposed to be the core content I cover. 

Speaking of redundant, guess who doesn’t like any of the characters: me! Zenjirou is kind of okay; too okay! He’s smart and composed, which some critics would respect, but he doesn’t help make this series controversial enough. Aura isn’t the iron-fisted lady I was expecting either. I was hoping she was more dominant, but due to the in-universe sexism, she’s actually incredibly awkward. One scene implies that she is very physically strong, but due to the aforementioned sexism, I doubt she’ll be showcasing her strength too often. Another case of Sponger Life trying to be as ethical as possible is when they introduce a private tutor named Octavia, a wife of some noble guy from another nation who would—in ANY other setting—be sent to seduce Zenjirou because of politics. Hopefully that’ll come up in future volumes.

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Verdict: 7/10

I probably shouldn’t have let multiple years build up to something like this. The Ideal Sponger Life has all the setup for an incredibly sexy isekai, but ends up being extremely typical. I can only hope that things ramp up from here, or else it’ll be ANOTHER drop on my part.

SAO’s Unital Ring Arc is Off to an Overwhelmingly Okay Start

Fans and critics of the massive and iconic Sword Art Online franchise can easily agree that it’s been a wild ride. From waifus to gratuitous sex to inherent appeal to contrived B.S., it’s been a very fascinating series of ups and downs. With the anime caught up to Alicization, only one arc remains exclusively in light novel territory: Unital Ring (I’m pretty sure it’s the final arc, too). I would normally wait until it’s finished and cover it in one post (since individual volumes tend to make no progress), but I just HAD to get my first impressions out, since there’s a ghost of a chance that this one is actually good.

In Unital Ring, Kirito is hanging out in Alfeim with his waifus, Alice and Asuna, when they suddenly find themselves playing Minecraft. Like, literally, the game just changes to something completely different. Since their stats also get reset, Kirito is no longer Mr. Perfect… right?

The titular new game is, for all intents and purposes, the most well-realized in the series (which isn’t saying much but still). The game is very intuitive since it plays like Minecraft; you find resources and build stuff. However, SAO is SAO, and Unital Ring has some issues. While a large number of items can be instantly crafted through the menu, as to be expected, the game tries to capitalize on its “V.R.” gimmick and makes it so some things have to be crafted by hand. This would sound cool, but the problem is that you need real-world knowledge on how to make this stuff, and there isn’t exactly anything in the game that can teach you. 

Unital Ring also has a weight system, where items in your inventory will actually, well, weigh you down. While this does allow for some creative situations in combat of all things, since you could drop materials from high up and let gravity take care of the rest, I feel like this mechanic was created solely to make Kirito have to spend the early parts of this arc in only his underwear (i.e. “manservice”). 

This volume is, as expected, merely the characters getting acquainted with the game world and its basic mechanics. Beyond that, there’s no real plot progression. Bizarrely enough, this is probably one of the best volumes of the series. The only sexualization is of Kirito, and there’s relatively low exposition dumping. Since Unital Ring seems to be all wilderness, it at least doesn’t look like there’ll be any rape-faced villains in this arc. The volume ends with the introduction of a new character and a returning character whom I don’t remember at all, and since it’s a cliffhanger ending, they’re likely to be important moving forward in this arc.

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Verdict: 7/10

SAO has really grown up. It’s gone from tedious and pseudo-intellectual to just above average. Unital Ring might not be as impressive of a start as Alicization, but since this is the first entirely new arc (as opposed to the original web novel), Kawahara will be going into it from scratch as a full-fledged adult with an adult brain who might actually be uncomfortable with sexual assault as a plot device. Next time I post about SAO, it’ll be a review of Unital Ring from start to finish, so stay tuned for that!