I had every intention of reading Mashle: Magic and Muscles since its debut in Weekly Shounen Jump. But then, Seven Seas came out of nowhere and licensed a light novel with an extremely similar title: Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Since they seemed so identical, I decided to review them both in this post. Although Mashle came out in the U.S. before Muscles, the latter actually predates the former by three years. So naturally, I’ll go over it first!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! Volume 1
In Muscles Are Better Than Magic!, a boy named Yuri lives in the forest alone. He has managed to train himself to the point where he’s super ripped, and can take on anything. When he finds an elven girl named Filia Windia, he decides to go on adventures with her, for no reason whatsoever.
If Muscles appears to be a run-of-the-mill, typical shounen fantasy light novel to you, that’s because it is! The whole darn thing is the two of them hanging out. A lot of the interactions are just him using his muscles and freaking people out. And like I said in the premise, there’s no purpose to anything that happens. They just go on adventures that are no different from your typical slice-of-life fantasy with no real spice beyond Yuri’s muscles.
The mostly boring cast doesn’t help either. While Yuri and Filia have some legitimately cute and funny interactions, they are surrounded by idiots. All the other characters are inconsequential NPCs who have no personality other than being shocked by Yuri’s muscles. That’s literally it! But even then, Yuri is also incredibly bland, with Filia being the only remotely likeable character.
The biggest issue is the writing. Muscles is one of those light novels that feels like a rough draft and not a publication. Although the action scenes are pretty good, descriptions of locations are as bare minimum as they typically are in these series. I get that writing is really hard but that doesn’t excuse when it’s bad in a published work!
Muscles Are Better Than Magic! is no better than your typical blazé fantasy. Similar to Buck Naked in Another World, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, and others, it uses some defining character design trait to pretend that it’s subversive. My chances of reading more are pretty low. But let’s see whether or not it’s the lesser of two evils when I review Mashle!
Mashle: Magic and Muscles First Impressions (Chapters 1-15)
In Mashle: Magic and Muscles, a boy named Mash Burnedead lives in the forest with an old wizard guy. He was born in a world of magic, but has no magic himself, making him an easy target of the police. When he bests the police with his bare hands, he is given a deal: enroll in Magic School and graduate at the top of his class or be pursued by the law forever. He accepts the deal, and attends the school with no magic power whatsoever.
I made a big deal about how Muscles and Mashle are the same, but… it turns out that Mashle resembles Black Clover more than anything else (oops). In any case, Mashle already shows greater personality than Muscles. Not only is the humor (and its delivery) much more substantial than in Muscles, but there’s also a purpose to the shenanigans that ensue.
So far, Mashle’s biggest issue is its simplicity. While I love a good, clear-cut Jump manga, a lot of [very vocal] people don’t. Because of this, there’s no rhyme or reason to the magic that gets used; they don’t even bother to explain the rules. And of course, let’s not forget the magic word, “unrealistic”, because of how impossibly strong Mash is for a teenager.
Mashle has a similar issue to Muscles: everyone other than the main character exists just to react to how swole said main character is. Furthermore, the lead girl is less remarkable than Filia, to the point where I already forgot her name. But unlike Yuri, Mash is a significantly more likeable character. In fact, he’s the bread and butter of this whole manga. While he’s completely devoid of personality, the author somehow makes that lack of personality into its own personality quirk. Also, his inane obsession with cream puffs makes him even more hilarious.
The art doesn’t look like much, but it’s more than enough. The panel composition expertly sells the humor, while also delivering the appropriate amount of punch to Mash’s attacks. If there are any issues, it’s that the black wizard robes make a lot of the foreshortening shots look kind of weird.
Current Verdict: 9.35/10
Muscles might be better than magic, but Mashle is far better than Muscles. It’s a risk investing in a new series when you don’t know whether or not it’ll get axed, but here’s hoping that Mashle stays for a couple of years at least. I recommend it to people who like battle shounen and fun (i.e. not cynical).
One genre I did not expect to consistently blow me away was yuri; a genre that mainly focuses on a romantic relationship between two women. I just kept getting bombarded by these super entertaining and engaging stories. Murcielago, Otherside Picnic, Sexiled, and ROLL OVER AND DIE! have been real pleasures. So when Seven Seas published their edition of I’m in Love With the Villainess, and it became a #1 bestseller on Amazon and BookWalker, I was excited. However, like with virtually all media I’ve consumed other than One Piece…
I CANNOT LIKE ANYTHING POPULAR.
In I’m in Love With the Villainess, a girl named Rae is transported into the setting of her favorite otome game, Revolution, with literally no explanation. She can date anyone she wants, but chooses the main antagonist, Claire Francois. Since Claire is a conceited noble girl, “tsundere” doesn’t even begin to describe her relationship with Rae.
From the first chapter, all the way to the end, I was flabbergasted. First off, the writing was abysmal. They don’t even go out of the way to describe the setting, not even in enough detail for you to get a sense of 3D space. Heck, I couldn’t even find a description of what Rae looked like; you literally have to take the part where it says Clair is blonde, and deduce that Rae has black hair by looking at the cover art and using the process of elimination! And despite being yuri, I felt no sexual tension between them, even when they’re naked.
And boy, the relationship between those girls was just lacking in… everything! Most of their interactions consist of Rae showering Claire with compliments, who responds by shouting witty comebacks. I understand that this comedic style is common in Japanese media, but it was so frequent that it literally felt like 19/20 of their interactions. Not even D-Frag!, which makes fun of it, was that bad.
The other bad thing was that the entirety of I’m in Love With the Villainess is Rae being in love with the villainess! “Well, duh,” you say, “it’s yuri.” No, you don’t understand. The other yuri I’ve read up to this point have something more. Murcielago had over-the-top gore and visual spectacle, Sexiled was crazy committed to Feminism, and both Otherside Picnic and ROLL OVER AND DIE! had high-tension suspense and action. Rae does kind of resort to tricks, like making up ghost stories just so Claire can cling to her, but compared to the sociopaths I’ve seen, that amounts to mere childish pranks. The only real scheme I could gather from I’m in Love With the Villainess was that Rae tries to build a ship between Clair and some guy. I’m anticipating that she’s doing this just to break them up, then swoop in and take Claire for herself while her guard is down. Even if that does happen down the road, it still leaves much to be desired compared to the other examples.
Do I even need to discuss the characters? They’re all as flat as boards. Rae’s doting on Claire comes off as childish and annoying instead of seductive and sexy, plus she has no other personality quirks to speak of. Claire is just a boring tsundere; Rae even says that she never goes over-the-top. There’s also these three princely brothers, and why are they even in this LN at all?! This is yuri for crying out loud!
I’m in Love With the Villainess is an empty husk of ideas, none of which are executed well. I am absolutely astounded that something like this has been so commercially successful compared to the other yuri series I mentioned. At this point, I have come to question the genre’s sense of quality. Was this series the exception, or the rule? In any case, just save yourself the pain and read any yuri series other than this one!
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, then you’ll be aware that I have not had the best track record with Seven Seas’ light novels; they just so happen to license some of the worst material I have ever read. The only one I’ve liked is The Invincible Shovel, and that’s in danger of becoming seriously repetitive. Other notable releases tend to be incredibly controversial, which would be good guilty pleasure, but some of them (such as Buck Naked in Another World) are so bare-bones and boring that I can’t enjoy them even for that! As a result, I had low expectations for one of their newest licences, a little series called *takes deep breath* ROLL OVER AND DIE: I Will Fight for an Ordinary Life with my Love and Cursed Sword. This was the needle in a haystack that I needed.
In ROLL OVER AND DIE (sorry, the official title is in all caps), a girl named Flum Apricot is chosen, among others, to defeat the Demon Lord. She has an ability called Reversal, which has all her stats locked in at 0. As a result, her party members treat her like crap until one of them sells her off as a slave. Just when she’s at the depths of despair, she stumbles upon a cursed sword, which- thanks to her ability- reverses its adverse effects and grants her massive stat buffs. With this power, she escapes captivity with a slave girl named Milkit, and sets off to live a normal life.
Critics have a word for scenarios in which an author tries so hard to make an underdog that it comes off as over-the-top and gratuitous: “torture porn”. That term is incredibly apt for ROLL OVER AND DIE. Flum is constantly called weak, is unacknowledged by society, and is- multiple times- seen as a sex toy by random jerks. Everyone is out to get her, and when someone tries to be nice, it’s actually a Shield Hero-style ruse. It’s shock value, sure, but similar to stuff like Eighty-Six, it’s executed really well!
But a light novel is still a light novel. Instead of actually earning her keep through hard work like a real underdog, Flum has power thrown into her lap, free of charge. And it’s not only the sword; she frequently stumbles upon more cursed equipment by sheer coincidence. The story also does a good job at giving her plot armor. In one early fight, she’s literally cut to ribbons, but the reversed curse effect can heal her even from that. Typical OP protagonist stuff.
Despite this, there is one thing that saves ROLL OVER AND DIE from being your usual power fantasy romp, and it’s the fact that Flum is a girl. Let’s go over the basic premise again: Flum Apricot is given phenomenal cosmic power by pure happenstance. She befriends a slave girl named Milkit, who calls her “Master”, as if Flum owned her as a slave. Imagine Flum being a boy, and the whole tone of the LN completely changes. Because of how society is, we are more willing to sympathize with a woman who’s overcoming torment, but as a boy, she’d be a cringe-inducing overpowered protagonist. We’re more willing to look at a girl owning a younger female slave as two sisters, but as a boy, she’d be a misogynist taking advantage of an emotionally distraught young woman. Now you see just how important it is for Flum to be a girl!
Unfortunately, Flum being a girl doesn’t make her particularly interesting. For some reason, I have a track record of coming down hard on characters, and ROLL OVER AND DIE is no exception. Everyone involved is your typical fantasy trope, with not much personality, especially Flum’s ex-party members. Milkit is probably my least favorite character because she seems to only exist to be the dime-a-dozen “tortured waifu” that makes everyone cry when she says things like “Nobody’s given me positive feedback before” (so her name is Milkit because she milks the audience!). Her inability to contribute to battle seems to further cement this. The saving grace is a loli named Sara, who speaks in a Southern accent, and wields a mace even though she’s ten. She’s both cute and capable!
To offset the fairly lackluster cast, the plot has some serious momentum. It’s fast-paced, and neatly divided into “Episodes”. Developments that would normally be reserved for several volumes down the road are thrown at you right out of the gate. The tone of the whole series changes just as you’re getting acquainted with it, that’s for sure! There are a lot of genuinely great action and suspense sequences. And to top it off, excessive gore really brings the fun ridiculousness of the story together.
I’ve finally found a light novel series that I think Seven Seas made a great call with licensing! ROLL OVER AND DIE is starting out to be a deceptively great franchise, and one that seriously needs an anime just to annoy people. Between this, Otherside Picnic, and Murcielago, I’m starting to consider the possibility that yuri is this secretly amazing genre… Anyway, I recommend ROLL OVER AND DIE if you fancy yourself some girl power!
Volume 18 of Sword Art Online marked the end of the massive Alicization Arc. Now, we can finally go to a new arc, in a new wor- wait, why is there a map of the Underworld inside volume 19? Oh my God. Of course… This is Kawahara. We can’t go to a new proper arc without some filler in between! This review covers the two-part filler arc: Moon Cradle.
Moon Cradle is set during the two hundred year time period that Kirito and Asuna are trapped in the Underworld, after they beat up Vecta and Poopoo (Laughing Coffin guy), and turn Alice into an android (or something). Everything’s all well and good, until a goblin is accused of murdering a civilian. It’s up to detective Kirito once again! After all, he’s solved a whopping one other mystery in his life; he’s perfect!
The first volume is basically figuring out who the murderer is, and the second volume is catching the booger. Like other SAO filler arcs (besides the Asuna one), Moon Cradle is incredibly boring. Furthermore, Kirito and Asuna get free plot armor, since we’ve SEEN them return from the Underworld in the previous volume. He also showcases more of his OP-ness from scenes like being able to force open a Vecta-only door with no problem.
The characters don’t get much better either. Sure, Kirito and Ronie (who’s role in the Alicization Arc I completely forgot) get to spend some time together, but it’s more so a kick in her crotch, since Kirito and Asuna will always be THE couple. But hey, at least Kirito is as “good” and “inspirational” as he always is (*proceeds to wretch*).
And similar to most of SAO, despite the urgency of the situation (which ends up escalating to both a murder and a kidnapping), the characters find some time to goof off. “Should we solve this mystery?” “We should, but I think we should have a picnic lunch first!” This is almost Log Horizon level of characters actively choosing to not advance the plot.
But the term “advance the plot” is applied loosely here. Most of the investigation is them discussing the nuances of the Taboo Index over and over and over again. And the one time they do something investigative, they just whip out some magic that allows them to witness the crime as it occurred! At this point, I’ve lost all knowledge (and care) of how the magic system in the Underworld works, so if you can prove whether or not the spell they did was possible within the world’s logic, then have at it and explain it to me in the comments section.
To end off the arc is a less-than-stellar climax. It builds up to the possibility of a team of two women fighting the bad guy, which would have been a nice change of pace. I say “would have been” because Kirito shows up right at the end and takes all the credit like the scientists who stole that one lady’s discovery of DNA. The actual conflict isn’t even resolved, and Kawahara even points that out himself in the afterword. But despite this, he’s chosen to start a completely new arc because… reasons?
Alicization was the first remotely descent arc in SAO, and now we have this. I’m sorry for being so rude, but I was seriously, lividly tired of that blasted Underworld! Well, it’s over now. So let’s hope beyond hope that Unital Ring is even worth half the pain of putting up with everything that leads up to it!
For every happy-go-lucky isekai, there’s one that tries to be all dark and brooding. One example is The Eminence in Shadow, which I recently covered. There’s also, of course, Overlord and Torture Princess. Despite their wild variance in quality, they all seem to have one thing in common: they’re not really that dark at all. I’m fine with that, but it would be nice to have something that’s truly effed up. Maybe this new series from Seven Seas, *takes deep breath* The Sorcerer King of Destruction and the Golem of the Barbarian Queen, will be dark enough.
In Sorcerer King, a dude is summoned to another world. He finds some books, and realizes that the purpose of his summoning is to become the titular Sorcerer King of Destruction and destroy the world! Ignoring that last part, he practices some spells, such as summoning golems. When he actually manages to make one that lasts, he loses all of his memories of the real world.
What is immediately made apparent is that this thing starts off slow. And I mean real slow. To put it in anime terms, it fails the “Three Episode Test”, which judges anime under the pretense that it’ll pick up during the third episode at the latest. It takes almost a quarter of the volume for the guy to create the other protagonist, his golem, Goltarou. However, it doesn’t become the strapping she-golem that probably made you want to read this light novel in the first place until about halfway through.
And as far as tone is concerned… Sorcerer King is- surprise, surprise- edgy, instead of dark. Even if the protag has no memories of himself, he still has memories of Japan and various otaku terminology, which is as out-of-place as it usually is. But if anything is dark, it’s the world itself. This is the sorriest state I have ever seen an isekai setting in; even more so than Torture Princess, which is definitely saying something. There’s no need for a Sorcerer King of Destruction; it seems the world is already destroyed.
When it comes to the characters, it’s just our main protagonist and Goltarou. He’s as generic as you can expect. In fact, without his memories, anyone can project themselves onto him, hooray! The real point of contention is Goltarou. One aspect that stands out is the possibility that she’s transgender, which to me, is a first in isekai (ps: if trans is the wrong term for this, then please correct me). However, they’re still clearly pushing for a heterosexual romance between her and the main protagonist, so it’s kind of up to interpretation. Due to the fact that Goltarou is silent, has no personality, and does whatever the main protagonist says, her being 100% female would make this LN come off as hardcore sexist.
The art is mixed. While the cover art is fine, the inside illustrations are very rough and sketchy. Everything has a dark toner that makes a lot of stuff blur together, and I’m not entirely a fan. But hey, what’s important is that Goltarou is very *makes cat noises*.
So far, Sorcerer King is very… okay. It could go either way from here, so I can’t definitively say what I think. For the time being, I recommend it if you like those anime waifus who walk around like robots and call you “goshujin-sama”.
Last time on Re:ZERO, everyone gets attacked by Satella the Witch of Jealousy. Subaru and Garfiel (of all people) have to stop her. Fortunately, she can’t pass through the barrier due to her being a half-elf, and the trial being incomplete. But that doesn’t stop Garfiel from getting unceremoniously slaughtered by her. As she advances toward Subaru, he rejects her, and in response, her shadow swallows him to get him to love her. Fortunately, Echidna had a contingency plan: making Petra’s handkerchief a magic handkerchief that ends up saving him from the Witch. Also, the handkerchief turns into a dagger, which he promptly uses to kill himself and restart the loop. Back at the sanctuary, he’s comforted by Emilia. While Ram distracts Garfiel, Subaru recalls the memories he absorbed while in the shadow, and uncovers a secret room containing the real Ryuzu’s body. Apparently, the true purpose of the Sanctuary was to make Ryuzu clones that Echidna was able to possess, and effectively achieve immortality as a result. He also finds out that both Garfiel and himself have become Apostles of Echidna. His next task is the sitch at the mansion. He’s able to get Frederica and Petra to evacuate without a hassle, but Beatrice- as always- isn’t so easy to convince. He steals her “not-a-Witch-Cult” book and sees that it’s entirely blank inside. Apparently, Beatrice is a spirit contracted by Echidna to watch over the forbidden books in the mansion until “That Person” shows up. The moving scene that follows is, unfortunately, interrupted by Elsa’s arrival. Not even Beatrice can stand up to her, but Subaru manages to survive. Back at the Sanctuary, it’s already snowing, and Emilia shut herself in the tomb when he left. He goes in and finds her, and she starts getting unnaturally waifu-y with him. He leaves and confronts Roswaal- again- but this time Roswaal murders Ram and Garfiel before implying that he knows about Return by Death, and showing Subaru that he has the other version of the gospel that Beatrice had! He is also the culprit behind the snowfall, and it was all to break and isolate Emilia (a plan that had been in effect since the beginning, of course). Their conversation is interrupted when the Great Rabbit attacks again, killing Roswaal, and making the others burn themselves to death. Subaru flees to the tomb, where Emilia gives him a kiss… right as he dies again. After respawning, he seeks Echidna, but ends up taking the second trial instead, which involves seeing the outcomes of previous routes after he died. After all that, he encounters a spirit of Rem. But he knows better, and immediately recognizes her as an imposter, who turns out to be another Witch: Carmilla, the Witch of Lust. After almost suffocating for some reason, he ends up with Echidna, just like he wanted to! She offers to form a pact with Subaru, and all the other witches except Satellla show up! In all the confusion, Echidna has a grandiose speech detailing how Subaru’s ability to experience an infinite amount of outcomes turns her on. After her schpiel, Subaru asks her who Beatrice’s Person is… and, of course, Echidna has no clue… because Beatrice had to decide for herself the whole time. Subaru refuses the pact with Echidna, and the Witch’s tea party is joined by one more guest: Satella.
If you couldn’t tell from that paragraph, volume 12 was full of revelations and turning points. Based on my past experience with Re:ZERO, the next several volumes will be pretty boring before it picks up again. Does this volume follow the same trend?
Well… yes and no. It’s not a constant pelvic thrust of pain and torture like the previous volume, but there are definitely some highlights. One important thing is that Subaru gets some much-needed growth. He gets another helping of waifu-speech, but this time, he gains some self-worth. This is a big improvement for him, because his whole “Hey look at me I’m a martyr herp-a-derp” has been annoying for a while.
Speaking of annoying, we finally get to resolve Garfiel’s character arc in this volume! And thank goodness too; I never liked the guy. He was a whiny brat who felt like he made the arc 1.5x longer than it already was. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offset the fact that his personality is 100% abrasive and nothing else. But hey, backstory is backstory, and that’s what counts.
And speaking of backstory, we finally get some more background on Emilia. Unfortunately, that “some” is really “a bit”, since this volume loves Garfiel so much. Plus, the things we learn about Emilia only scratch the surface, and we are cliffhung right when we’re about to get the full serving.
Another issue is that Re:ZERO once again shows its bipolar identity. It tries its damndest to subvert the isekai formula, and ends up clashing with that mindset like it tends to. There’s an emotional scene between Subaru and Emilia in this volume, and similar to his scene with Rem, it’s ripped right out of the Book of Waifus. It doesn’t help that the climax of the volume is a one-v-one of Subaru against Garfiel that reeks of the “white knight” trope. Gotta love it when a series has a great idea that contradicts itself in its execution!
While not as turbulent as the last volume, Re:ZERO shows that it’s finally gaining momentum. This was a great volume, and it promises that the next one will be even better. If you’re reading ahead of the anime, what are your thoughts on this current arc and this volume? Re:ZERO is very complicated to evaluate, and I’d love to hear different perspectives.
The monster girl genre of manga has a lot of inherent appeal. They have the same ecchi content that people… er… enjoy, while also giving the girls extra appendages to… do stuff with. Interspecies Reviewers is one of the best in this category. But there’s also stuff like Monster Musume, Yokai Girls, or today’s topic, Monster Girl Doctor, published in English by Seven Seas.
In Monster Girl Doctor, a young lad named Glenn Litbeit is a doctor for monsters. He, along with his assistant and childhood friend, a lamia named Saphentite Neikes, will stop at nothing to cure their patients. Yeah, that’s pretty much it.
Being a doctor means having to touch certain… areas of other people. And legal or not, the novel wastes no time getting into that ecchi territory. The series opens with him groping a female patient. Plus, Saphentite (who will be henceforth referred to as Sapphee) does not hesitate to wrap her entire snake body around both Glenn and patients alike (and the same goes for their octopus mom of a teacher). Additionally, a lot of Glenn’s patients make… certain noises when he examines them.
Moral values aside, Monster Girl Doctor has some issues. While the writing is just FINE AND DANDY at describing women’s curves, skin colors, and beauty, I couldn’t get a visual on anything else. The city that the story is set in, Lindworm, is apparently a bustling metropolis with a load of districts for different monster races. But for some reason, I never had a good sense of scale.
If you couldn’t tell, this is another no-stakes slice-of-life fantasy. I’ll admit that it does try its darndest to have stakes, but it’s just too hunky-dorey. Even when the story ramps up a lot in volume three, it’s still the same basic formula of “save the waifus”.
Also, here’s a surprise: I wasn’t a big fan of the characters (well, I suppose it would be a surprise if you aren’t too familiar with my blog)! Glenn is- like any ecchi male protagonist- very generic and unremarkable. Being a doctor makes him a perfect Prince Charming who helps all sorts of waifus. His various patients are… eeeeh. Just like he’s the perfect Prince Charming, they’re the perfect damsels in distress. They’re typical, cute but tortured girls who exist to have people grow emotionally attached to them after hearing their tragic backstories and cry buckets of joy when Glenn saves them. Even if they aren’t written out of the series after he helps them, I still didn’t enjoy them as characters. But if there’s a silver lining, it’s Sapphee. She gets jealous very easily, making her a sort of yandere character. Since she’s Glenn’s assistant, she’s an actual character instead of a waifu to save.
The art of Monster Girl Doctor is pretty darn good. There isn’t much in terms of backgrounds, but that’s okay, because it makes all the cute monster girls stand out. There’s also plenty of ecchi goodness on each of the illustrations, like when Sapphee sticks her snake tail into a patient’s mouth.
Monster Girl Doctor is a good series, but time and money are vital these days, and “good” doesn’t cut it. When it comes to light novels, anything less than an 8/10 is a risk of wasting money, and anything less than a 7/10 IS a waste of money. But regardless of how I feel, the cuteness of the monster girls, as well as how savable they are, will likely make the anime a big hit during its broadcast. Read it if it strikes your fancy.
I have a confession to make: a couple of years ago, I read the first volume of My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom, and wholly disliked it. Maybe it improves, but all I saw was a typical, slow-paced, “grounded and realistic” slice-of-life fantasy that tried to hide that fact with an interesting premise. “Now what does that have to do with the topic at hand?” you ask. Well, you’ll see when I describe the premise of Deathbound Duke’s Daughter, published in English by J-Novel Club.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is a blatant clone of My Next Life as a Villainess. An unnamed character, who was apparently murdered at her workplace, is reincarnated as Erika Aurelia, the antagonist of her favorite otome game, Liber Monstrorum. Erika has a red shirt on, and is destined to die at the very beginning of the game. With her wits, the new Erika might be able to reverse her fate.
The immediate difference with Deathbound and Villainess is the world that the “games” are set in. In Villainess, Katarina is harassed by the student body, or accosted by bandits or something (I actually forgot because, to reiterate, I didn’t exactly like that series). On the flipside, Liber Monstrum proves to be the Dark Souls of visual novels; there’s vampyres, werewolves, and all kinds of Lovecraftian horrors that await.
This gives Deathbound a much more adventurous vibe than Villainess, which automatically makes it a great light novel for me (even though “objectively” it’s bad because it doesn’t involve solving personal, human issues *sarcasm*). It wastes no time diving into the titular Seafarer’s Ruins, where Erika must save some kids from being King Midas’d to death, and more importantly, saving herself by having their hypothetical dead spirits not curse her.
However, the characters- like many-an isekai- leave much to be desired. Erika, despite supposedly being evil, is just about as un-evil and plain ordinary as Katarina from Villainess. The other major characters include Claus and Anne Hafan. The former is a typical overpowered self-insert protagonist (but he’s not the MAIN protagonist, which makes him subversive! *sarcasm*), and Anne is just a boring moe blob.
The art for this novel series is great, especially the cover art. It has a very whimsical look. However, the interior illustrations look kind of weird to me. It’s probably because it’s shoujo-looking, and I find that artstyle to be weird in general.
Deathbound Duke’s Daughter is definitely a better version of My Next Life as a Villainess. However, it’s not perfect. If it doesn’t grow some personality soon, then I’ll end up dropping it just as hard as I did its clone. For now, I recommend it to fans of Villainess, as well as Ascendance of a Bookworm and Mushoku Tensei.
PREFACE: Most of this post, up to the second half of the Alicization Arc, is a reworked draft of an old MyAnimeList review that I had, at the time, written from memory. If I mention anything about the actual story that ends up being inaccurate, it’s entirely on me. I did NOT feel like rereading volumes of something I don’t even like (spoilers: I, an Internet critic, do not like SAO) when I’m already swamped enough as it is. I hope you can bear with me.
Light novels had definitely changed drastically at the start of the 2010s, and it can largely be traced to one source: Reki Kawahara’s Sword Art Online, published in English by Yen Press. It was the first light novel I’d ever read. I enjoyed it at first (key word: “at first”), but since joining the anime community, I’ve come to know full-well the criticism that the series has garnered over the years. Due to its episodic nature, I will be splitting this post by story arc. Apologies in advance… I’m not going to be bringing anything new to the table.
Volumes 1-2: Aincrad
The world’s first VRMMO, Sword Art Online, is released. However, the first players who log in are unable to log out, and death in-game becomes death IRL, which is evidently all according to the keikaku of the game’s original creator.
The main character, Kirito, is as blank-slate as his character design, and is insanely powerful for no reason (I get that he played the beta, but it doesn’t explain his equipment setup, that the game ISN’T EVEN PROGRAMMED TO ALLOW). The far better female lead, Asuna, doesn’t take long to become a inconsequential girl with untapped potential. Kawahara develops a running theme of reminding us just how much of a beauty she is and that she is Kirito’s and nobody else’s. It gets annoying, especially since I don’t consider her THAT attractive.
Due to the series originally being an entry to a writing contest, it kicks off with a decent setup volume before it immediately guns it to the final boss. The second volume is filler that serves no purpose other than to introduce new characters who do almost nothing in future arcs.
Volumes 3-4: Fairy Dance
After the SAO Incident, Kirito finds out that Asuna has been imprisoned in the final dungeon of the new hit VRMMO, Alfeim Online. He plays it immediately, with no PTSD whatsoever (of course) and goes on adventures.
His sister Suguha (who gets her blandness from her brother) wants to commit incest with him for some reason, but she is ultimately another inconsequential female protagonist. Of course, the same happens to Asuna; here, she officially becomes a damsel in distress, instead of a strong, independent woman.
The story at this point is more focused than Aincrad, although there is padding. The arc is also notorious for a certain… choice scene in the climax, the likes of which WILL be rearing its ugly head again.
Volumes 5-6: Phantom Bullet
My personal least favorite arc. Because our Mr. Perfect, Kirito, is more powerful than the Japanese Self-Defense Force, he is given a secret mission (which takes all too long to explain even though we already see the incident told to us in the prologue) to find a serial killer in the new VRMMO Gun Gale Online.
Well, at least it’s a game that plays entirely different from SAO. Too bad he just uses a sword again and inexplicably dominates the best player in the game. Talk about beginner’s luck! That aforementioned best player in the game is a girl by the in-game name of Sinon, who would’ve had a decent character arc if she didn’t become another Kirito concubine. Sigh…
Despite its promising pulse-pounding action, the arc is somehow insanely slow. It has as much dialogue as a Monogatari novel minus all the charm of Monogatari.
Volumes 7-8: Mother’s Rosary and Filler
Kirito steps aside for Asuna to bond with a girl who’s first name is Asuna’s surname for some reason. Unfortunately, this other girl, Yuuki, is really uninteresting. While my Fault in Our Stars PTSD makes me hate Yuuki (since her whole character arc is her life-threatening disease), it is a decent look at Asuna as an actual PERSON. However, Volume 8 is filler, set in arcs that have ALREADY happened, making it irrelevant. And bad.
Volumes 9-18: Alicization
The most ambitious arc thus far, and the one that actually managed to curb some critics’ fervor against the series. However, I remain unchanged. After an IRL run-in with a Laughing Coffin straggler, Kirito is put into a coma… and strapped to another VR machine. Only this one takes him to a new project called the Underworld, a new type of virtual world with an overly long, complicated, and not at all engaging explanation as to how it brilliantly emulates real people… or something.
Unfortunately, while the ideas are amazing, the execution is still lacking. Despite how “human” the people in the Underworld are supposed to be, they’re just as boring and uninteresting as previously introduced characters. The ones who showed the most promise- more promise than anyone in SAO up to this point- are Eugeo and Alice, two “NPCs” who end up playing major roles. Kirito also has some genuine struggles, and Asuna shows some traces of her prideful, confident self from the beginning. But Kawahara’s old writing habits consistently get in the way to the point where it seems like he was actively TRYING to get in his own way.
While a good chunk of the second half of the arc is spent without Kirito onscreen, it’s not much better than what precedes it. A lot of the positive reviews of this section- the War of the Underworld, as it’s officially called- stated that it single-handedly redeems SAO as a whole by giving the side characters more development. One of my biggest pet peeves is the notion that character development alone, and always, equals good characters, period. Sure, on paper, it’s great that all those other people get fleshed out. But in the end, they were still boring, and I completely forgot who they were after finishing the arc.
As a final note, I’m not a fan of the art of SAO. While a lot of the characters do have the “overly complicated clothes” typical of a lot of JRPG characters, they’re facial expressions look generic and lacking. It also looks very shoujo-y, which earns even less points from me.
Verdict (Average of All 18 Volumes): 6.25/10
I acknowledge that what I’ve said here doesn’t bring anything new to the table. SAO has kind of become a rite of passage for any anime-related internet personality, so I decided to make my contribution now. I heard that Alicization marks the end of the stuff that Kawahara originally wrote when he was a teenager, so maybe it’ll actually get better moving forward. But for now, I can only recommend SAO for those who want a fun and mindless escapist experience.
Escapist fantasy is often panned by critics and cynics as “childish crap for babies who want to avoid their real life issues.” But, you know, sometimes it’s important to just turn your brain off and stretch your neural legs in some fantasy world. The Map to Everywhere series, written by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis and published by Hachette Book Group, is just that; escapism at its finest.
On paper, Map to Everywhere is a pretty generic isekai. Marill Aesterwest is worrying about her sickly mother when she follows her cat to an abandoned drug store. In the parking lot is a magic body of water called the Pirate Stream, and she ends up going on a journey with a cool wizard guy and the unremarkable Fin to find the pieces of the Bintheyr Map to Everywhere. And even when they complete the it, that’s only the beginning.
If you couldn’t tell from the names I mentioned, the Map to Everywhere has a lot of clever word puns in it. It doesn’t stop at the words either; the multiverse of this series is one of the most imaginative that I’ve seen in a while. The Pirate Stream connects a whole mess of different worlds together, and they’re all very interesting setpieces, including an ice cap that’s so cold your breath will freeze into the words you say, and a sinking city that’s constantly reconstructing itself. Additionally, the Map itself is also more than just a couple of MacGuffins. The pieces of the Map actually have very meta functions, such as the compass rose finding other pieces, or the margins being able to hold impossible structures together.
The characters are also pretty darn good. I’ll get to Marill later, so let’s discuss Fin first. Fin is generic, but the authors twist the trope by making his genericness into a superpower; everyone he sees forgets about him. However, Marill doesn’t forget about him because… of love, I guess (their dynamic is my least favorite in the entire series). Supporting them is the wizard Ardent, shipwright Coll, and eventually the sassy Naysayer. But out of the bunch, my favorite character is Remy, introduced in the second book, City of Thirst. Remy is Arizona’s best babysitter, and she ends up tagging along on the Pirate Stream. She is the only other person who remembers Fin, and it’s simply because she’s a babysitter and not something as contrived as love.
The writing is pretty solid, with a lot of dynamic font style changes to represent different things. However, the multiverse of Map to Everywhere also shoots itself in the foot. While the setpieces are inventive and descriptive, sometimes they’re just too insane to describe in human language. One of the worst offenders is a place that has chunks of land literally getting sucked into a whirlpool, and the gravity fields there make Super Mario Galaxy look logical.
The multiverse of Map to Everywhere itself also has issues. Magic in modern fantasy often violates its established ruleset, and they end up expecting you to suspend disbelief because “it’s magic.” Map to Everywhere constantly tells you that the Pirate Stream behaves however it feels, and this enables the authors to kind of do whatever they want and get away with it.
But the biggest problem is freaking Marill! She’s not just generic, she’s also annoying. Her entire driving force in this series is to be able to cure her dying mother’s sickness, but her drive gets way out of hand. There are a lot of times where she argues with Fin over whether or not the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and it’s as contrived as heck. It only gets more ridiculous in the final book, along with an additional Mary Sue stipulation, and ultimately solidifies how much I didn’t like her.
Final Verdict: 8.5/10
The Map to Everywhere is a flawed, but fun and corny fantasy romp that doesn’t overstay its welcome. It’s sure a heck of a lot better than stuff like Five Kingdoms! As long as you don’t require any insightful, intellectual life message to enjoy something, then there should be no harm in picking up the Map to Everywhere series.
Before I get into this post, I should remind you that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter is one of the most popular franchises in the world. And popular means marketable. Therefore, many other authors have tried to duplicate the series’ success. Some of these Harry Potter wannabe cases have resulted in book series such as Keeper of the Lost Cities and The Unwanteds, which are only appealing on extremely superficial levels. But sometimes, a little touch of a thing called “thought” can actually give a Harry Potter knock-off some of its own merits. Let’s see if that’s the case with Holly Black and Cassandra Clare’s Magisterium series, published by Scholastic.
In the modern world, magicians select random adolescents to test for magic potential. Anyone who tests positive is taken to Magisterium to learn to fight the Enemy of Death and his Chaos magic. Callum Hunt is taught to fear Magisterium, and is compelled to throw the examination. But he doesn’t just fail; he fails so spectacularly, that he passes with flying colors, and it’s off to Magisterium for him!
As much as he’s told to resent Magisterium, it doesn’t take long at all for that Stockholm Syndrome to set in, for the school isn’t just “Hogwarts-again”. While it’s not as defined in terms of its layout, Magisterium at least has a well defined (and simple) system. The years are labeled Iron, Copper, Bronze, Silver, and Gold, in that order, which also happens to be the order of the books, making it easy to remember.
There is also the magic system: Fire, Water, Wind, Earth, and Chaos (spoiler, the fifth one is evil magic). It’s not very inventive, but it’s at least not like Keeper of the Lost Cities‘, “Hey, let’s have five billion different types of magic at once, because Sophie needs to be POWERFUL so that all the teenage girls will be inspired to be like her or whatever.” As you can expect, Chaos magic is the dark-type magic that can corrupt souls and junk.
The final decisive advantage that Magisterium has over the rabble is… that it’s SHORT! Hallelujah, holy shit! There are only five books in the series, at approximately 250 pages apiece, much better than Keeper’s “Lord of the Rings x10” length. This means that it can focus on just plot progression (i.e. what we actually care about), and not stuff like Keeper‘s stupid Sophitz Vs. Foster-Keefe drama, or Harry Potter‘s own #SaveTheDobbies subplot. And it’s actually a good plot to boot. The writing wasn’t the best, but it was at least enough to keep me wanting more.
Unfortunately, the short length also means that things end anticlimactically. Harry Potter had an epic final battle, involving so many characters that we’d seen since the very beginning finally duke it out with Voldy’s Death Pimps. But since the Magisterium books are so short, climaxes are here and gone. It’s not like Monogatari where they talk for so long that they forget to fight in the first place. There are battles, they’re just short and unceremonious. This also includes, sadly, the final battle, which I calculated to be around 15-20 pages in total. But hey… silver lining. Being short is still the better outcome.
In order to discuss the characters, I must spoil a reveal about our boy, Callum. This is a spoiler for the climax of the first book, so skip to the next paragraph if you don’t wanna read it. The thing about Callum is that he does not exist. At the end of book one, he is told that he is harboring the soul of Constantine Madden, who happens to be the Enemy of Death. This puts him through quite the moral conundrum; something that not even Harry Potter had to go through. Being the “bad guy” would seem to make him super unrelatable, since the kiddies want to project themselves onto the “righteous hero”, but he’s actually relatable in a different way, as he’s constantly suffering an identity crisis (typical of most kids as well).
We also have Aaron, who isn’t actually a Ron Weasely clone. Aaron ends up being a Makar, which is not the guy from Wind Waker, but instead the term for a Chaos magic user. The policy in Magisterium is “fight fire with fire,” as only another Makar can fight the Enemy of Death (I guess?). Call has to be his counterweight, which basically means that he has to make sure Aaron doesn’t get consumed (easier said than done).
The female lead is Tamara, and she’s basically Hermione, minus being smart. She’s kind of a typical tomboyish girl who doesn’t really have anything interesting going for her. The final main character is Jasper, who is basically Malfoy, except he actually becomes an ally after a certain point. But other than his frequent, unfunny jabs at Call, he’s not too interesting either.
In the end, the moral conundrum that they try with Callum falls flat. Sure, he has to deal with his whole crisis, but there’s always a defined antagonist to make him look good. Like I said in my review of Arc of a Scythe, not having a villain that the readers can sympathize with makes writing morally gray narratives really hard. Because of this, it never really feels like Callum has any issues whatsoever. I’ll admit that they do some stuff with Aaron later that’s pretty interesting, but it feels meh in the long run.
The only reason why there’s a moral conundrum is because Magisterium is run by twelve-year-olds. I get that it’s intentional, but it’s still dumb how the faculty are next to worthless. When Callum’s issue is inevitably revealed, at least half of them are like, “He’s a murderer, throw him in jail, arrgh!” with no hesitation. It makes sense for other students to be jerks about it, but the adults should’ve had a more rational approach because they’re… ADULTS. There’s also the policy on the Devoured, which is when a person gets too into their element. The Magisterium says that being Devoured turns you into a rampaging monster, yet EVERY SINGLE Devoured that appears in the story is WELL in control of their humanity. I get that’s also intentional… but that just makes it arbitrary.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Despite all its flaws, Magisterium is still the best Harry Potter knockoff I’ve read to date. The authors try some interesting ideas, but once again, it seems that teaching young’uns about moral ambiguity is impossible. No! Kids must be raised believing that there’s only one-dimensional good and one-dimensional evil in the world! Well whatever… Magisterium has decent entertainment value. If you were threatened at gunpoint to read through all of a Harry Potter knockoff, then pick this one.