Light Novel Review: The Reprise of the Spear Hero Vol. #01

Originally published as a web novel,  The Rising of the Shield Hero has spawned a light novel, anime, and manga. And a sure sign of its continuing success is the fact that it’s generated a spin off series: The Reprise of the Spear Hero! Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Summoned to another world to serve as the Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamura is a pitiful young man who eventually finds himself only able to love filolials. But after being fatally injured in battle, Motoyasu wakes up yet again in the exact circumstances of when he was first summoned. It turns out that his spear possesses an ability known as Time Reversal! With his stats unaffected by the reset, Motoyasu decides to fight once more. His motivation: to once again see the smile of Filo, the filolial that he loves more than any other! Could this be considered the start of a new game in god mode?! The long-awaited otherworldly redemption fantasy begins!

The Review

The Reprise of the Spear Hero is a spin off of the The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you are not familiar with The Rising of the Shield Hero light novel, anime, or manga, this series will be nothing short of confusing. However, as long as you’ve been exposed to one version of the Shield Hero and don’t mind possible spoilers, The Rising of the Shield Hero can be a humorous take on the biggest idiot of the cast. For my part, I’ve only watched Season 1 of the Shield Hero anime, and even though Reprise makes reference to characters and events beyond that arc, the numerous summary pages and side commentaries allowed me to follow the narrative without any trouble.

As the title suggests, the spinoff’s main character is the Spear Hero Motoyasu Kitamura, whose most distinguishing characteristic is his stupidity. In fact, the prologue relates how his thoughtlessness resulted in his untimely death in Japan. In the original series, Motoyasu was so easily manipulated by Princess Malty that he became the most obnoxious of the Four Heroes and caused Shield Hero Naofumi no end of trouble. However, as the story progressed, Motoyasu’s disdain for Naofumi turned to pure devotion while his adoration for Malty and other females soured into a disgust so intense he views all women as oinking pigs.

The spinoff begins with that somewhat enlightened Motoyasu dying in battle. There aren’t details on what killed him, but that’s okay because they’re not actually important. What is important is that upon dying, he finds himself in the magic circle that first summoned the Four Heroes to Melromarc. In other words, his life has been restarted. However, while the other three heroes are as they were when they initially arrived, Motoyasu retains the stats he attained prior to dying as well as certain memories of his previous life. Those memories include the truth about Malty’s scheme to frame Naofumi. Thrilled with the chance to correct the mistakes of his previous life, he uses his overwhelming powers to protect Naofumi. Unfortunately, keeping Naofumi from getting killed turns into a greater challenge than Motoyasu ever expected.

Thus, Reprise winds up as an alternate version of The Rising of the Shield Hero. Instead of beginning his journey with no allies, Naofumi starts with one very powerful, very enthusiastic, and extremely peculiar ally. Motoyasu is telling the story so it can get confusing, especially when women enter the scene. Because he perceives them as pigs, it’s only through other male characters that we learn who their identities are and what they’re saying. Also, Motoyasu takes every opportunity to wax poetic about filofials. Filo, the filofial he’s most obsessed with, doesn’t actually show up in person, but he talks about her constantly. So to keep the narration from getting too crazy, the Naofumi from the original series occasionally pops in with explanation blurbs to guide the reader.

As mentioned above, Motoyasu’s memories and god mode powers prevent a repeat of the false charges that turned the kingdom against Naofumi. The good news is that Naofumi doesn’t turn into an embittered outcast, and he’s not forced to buy a slave to survive. The bad news is that his enemies add Motoyasu to the hit list and resort to more drastic measures to eliminate them both. After a couple false starts, Motoyasu realizes the best plan of action is to help Naofumi escape hostile Melromarc for friendlier Siltvelt. They are joined by Eclair, a swordswoman whose father governed Raphtalia’s home region before the waves. Eclair’s also a notable exception to Motoyasu’s pig-vision, and she takes the role of protector and potential love interest that Raphtalia held in the original series.

As for Naofumi’s other companion Filo, Motoyasu holds out hope that he’ll encounter her again. He even goes so far as to purchase filofial eggs at every opportunity. Sadly for him, Filo hasn’t emerged yet. However, a whole lot of other chicks do, and these filofial queens and kings provide the fun and feathered chaos that Filo did.

Extras include the first four pages printed in color, summary of The Rising of the Shield Hero, embedded character profiles, six black-and-white illustrations, and commentary from the Raphtalia and Naofumi of the original series.

In Summary

The Rising of the Shield Hero meets Groundhog Day! This is definitely a series best left to existing fans of The Rising of the Shield Hero. If you’ve ever wanted the Spear Hero to redeem himself or to see a kindler, gentler version of the Shield Hero, you’ll find it here. Be warned, however. The perspective of the filofial-infatuated Spear Hero makes for a unique narrative style.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Graphic Novel Review: Cheshire Crossing

Before Andy Weir became the bestselling author of The Martian, he dabbled in fanfiction and webcomics. One of these early works has been revamped and released as a graphic novel, and you can read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Years after their respective returns from Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz, the trio meet here, at Cheshire Crossing—a boarding school where girls like them learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.

But Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy—now teenagers, who’ve had their fill of meddling authority figures—aren’t content to sit still in a classroom. Soon they’re dashing from one universe to the next, leaving havoc in their wake—and, inadvertently, bringing the Wicked Witch and Hook together in a deadly supervillain love match.

To stop them, the girls will have to draw on all of their powers . . . and marshal a team of unlikely allies from across the magical multiverse.

The Review

The cover blurb describes Cheshire Crossing as a boarding school where students “learn how to cope with their supernatural experiences and harness their magical world-crossing powers.” This might lead you to believe it is a Hogwarts-like institution complete with magical curriculum. Well, it’s not. The premise is a bit darker than that.

When teenagers Alice Liddell, Wendy Darling, and Dorothy Gale first arrive at Cheshire Crossing, they think the place is an asylum. Because that’s all they’ve known the last several years. Apparently, after each of them returned home from their cross-dimensional adventures, their families interpreted their stories as the ravings of the insane.

However, Cheshire Crossing isn’t simply the latest sanitarium attempting to cure them. As its head Ernest Rutherford (yes, the Nobel Prize winner) explains, it’s a research facility. The only “patients”are the three girls, and they were specifically brought because Rutherford (somehow) knows they can actually travel to other worlds. While Dorothy and Wendy are glad to be in a place people finally believe them, Alice doesn’t want any part of it. She steals Dorothy’s silver shoes in a bid for freedom, and her rash actions initiate a chain of events that pits the three against the Wicked Witch of the West and Captain Hook.

As the preface explains, Cheshire Crossing was originally a fanfiction crossover webcomic that Andy Weir wrote prior to The Martian. Sarah Andersen redrew the art, and the result is the Ten Speed Press graphic novel.  Certain aspects of the story hold to the original; for example, Dorothy’s shoes are silver as they were in Baum’s novel. Other parts are updated; although Cheshire Crossing is set in 1904, Wendy wears a crop top and combat pants. Andersen’s character designs are also a departure from the traditional. With the exception of Neverland’s Indians, the cast in these stories have generally been depicted as white. However, Andersen’s skin tones run the gamut from the Wicked Witch’s fair complexion to Captain Hook’s dark one.

As mentioned before, it’s essentially fanfiction so it assumes readers have a rudimentary grasp of Peter Pan, The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Mary Poppins (yes, there’s also a magical nanny in the line up) and doesn’t bother providing that background. It doesn’t even introduce Rutherford as a Nobel prize winner; his scientific accomplishments are only ever referenced in a roundabout manner.

The story itself starts off slow. There’s a lot of the characters figuring out who the others are and what Cheshire Crossing is in the opening pages. But after Alice steals Dorothy’s shoes, it’s nonstop action interspersed with the occasional brief flashback.

Even though the book’s titled Cheshire Crossing, most of the story takes place in Wonderland, Neverland, and Oz. The plot abounds with twists and turns as the inhabitants, rules, and powers of the three worlds intermingle. But though its swashbuckling duels and magical showdowns are engaging, the fights always boil down to the simple conflict of good guys versus bad, and there’s little character development to speak of. Alice and Wendy are especially one-dimensional as the ever-scowling grouch and knife-throwing tomboy, respectively. The villains aren’t much better with their evil insta-romance. However, if you’re more interested in external confrontations than internal development, this book may hold appeal for you.

One last note: the book is a self-contained story, but the epilogue does leave the door open for a sequel.

In summary

The promotional flyer for Cheshire Crossing touts it as perfect for middle-grade readers, young adults, and fans of the three classics it was based upon. I agree that fans of the original stories will find the graphic novel entertaining, as it essentially amounts to a fanfiction crossover. Its action-packed narrative and visuals are also fine for MG readers so long as you’re okay with mild cussing. However, it lacks the level of complexity (especially in the character arc department) that I normally associate with YA works.

First published in The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 7

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 7! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

After an uneasy start to their relationship, Kai and Riko are officially dating! But now Kai has a new ocean of relationship questions to cross — first up: what kind of lunch do you bring your girlfriend?!

The Review

As mentioned in my previous review, now that Riko/Kai are (finally!) an official couple, the trajectory of the plot is somewhat up in the air. The cover art might lead you to believe that Fujisawa-sensei’s going to start something between clerics Tarou and Kagura, especially since they’re the only ones in the main cast who haven’t been mingling. However, the pair only get a brief interaction that just gives Kagura one more reason to gripe at Tarou.

Instead, the narrative continues on the subject of playboy Kai blundering through his dating relationship with Riko as classes resume. Interestingly, Riko doesn’t get targeted by Kai fans like she did before; the reaction amongst the student body is relatively subdued. Perhaps the other girls learned their lesson in Volume 3? But even though Riko has no trouble defending herself, she can’t cook to save her life, so Kai resolves to make a bento lunch for her. The lunch-making arc is very cute visually, but it did have me concerned about Kai’s masculinity because he was acting out what’s generally the girly role in shojo manga.

However, in the next chapter, he reasserts himself as a hot-blooded young man as he agonizes over how to romance Riko into a kiss. If you liked the analogy of Riko as a black hole, you’ll enjoy Kai’s rants to Einstein as well as Ayumi’s pseudo-physics unified theory of love. Unfortunately for Kai, the only kind of physical contact Riko’s accustomed to involves her fists, thus he continues to be subjected to the punching bag treatment.

About the same time, Kiyo and Miki hit a rough patch, and it causes things to sour between Kiyo and Riko, too. Most of Riko’s flashbacks have been about Suwa-sensei, and now that he’s out of the picture (he doesn’t appear at all in this volume) we instead get backstory about Kiyo and Riko’s longtime friendship. Intervening between estranged friends is generally the purview of girls, but Kai takes it upon himself to act as a mediator in a reconciliation session. Again, not something you’d expect from the male lead in a shojo manga, but if you enjoy Kai’s sensitive side, there’s plenty for you to like in this volume.

Extras include story-thus-far, embedded author’s notes, bonus comic, and translation notes.

In Summary

The struggle continues for Kai in this romantic comedy. He’s won Riko’s heart, but nothing in their relationship is coming easy for him. If you thought this series was done making fun of Riko’s cluelessness or knocking the snot out of Kai, guess again. For now, it’s still entertaining, but I hope their relationship develops a new vibe before it gets stale.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 01

Animal tales are often considered the purview of kids and fun fantasy. However, sometimes you’ll get one like Orwell’s Animal Farm, which is more a commentary about human society. Beastars also falls into that category, and you can read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

One night at Cherryton Academy, an herbivore student is brutally murdered. Among the members of the Drama Club, the herbivores’ suspicions naturally turn to their carnivore classmates… The prime suspect? Wolf Legoshi. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly. Or would he? Will dwarf rabbit Haru bring out the beast in him? Or are his feelings for her something else?

The Review

Cherrystone Academy is a school where herbivore and carnivore animals attend class side-by-side in peace. At least, until alpaca student and drama club star Tem is found murdered on campus. Herbivores immediately suspect their carnivore classmates, and the one who draws the most suspicion is drama club stagehand Legoshi the wolf. But even though Legoshi’s big, he’s far from bad; he’s a law-abiding citizen if there ever was one. Unfortunately, as the drama club struggles to prepare their next performance in the wake of Tem’s death, Legoshi gets dragged into one conflict after another, causing a savage bloodlust to stir in the mild-mannered wolf’s veins.

The mangaka mentions in the afterword, “This is a animal manga that is a human drama.” And it is. The cast are animals who get categorized by and retain key traits of their species, but they all walk on two legs, have hands with opposable thumbs, speak a common language, and wear school uniforms. Within the student body, you can identify the school bullies, elitist machinator, jealous wannabe, and social outcast. Our main character Legoshi is the epitome the scary-looking guy who’s completely misunderstood. After all, he literally is a big wolf, and classmates assume he’s bad to boot.

The story begins with Tem’s murder, and Chapter 1 is dedicated to an herbivore’s perspective of Legoshi’s suspicious actions the next day. However, rather than turning into a murder mystery, the plot focus shifts to the impact on Tem’s club. The drama club kids aren’t playing detective; they’re trying to put on a theater production, and they have to find a replacement for Tem. Thus we have an engaging mix of school and club politics on top of the carnivore/herbivore tension, and unfortunately for Legoshi, he gets unwillingly dragged into it all.

Cherrystone Academy is essentially an allegory for a heterogeneous community, and the rules that maintain peace between the animals represent the social standards that maintain order between varied people groups. As in our world, individuals at Cherrystone must keep their personal urges in check for the greater good. And just as circumstances in this world can drive some to give way to their baser urges, the antagonism of Legoshi’s classmates causes a predatory instinct to erupt within the young wolf, and his struggle to master that hitherto unknown bloodthirst looks like it’ll be an intriguing one.

The artwork, I should mention, is not this series’ strong suit. In the spectrum of manga art, this definitely falls in the ”rough” range. The style is scribbly and includes a lot of hatch marks. The animals are cartoony rather than cute or elegant, and certain species, especially smaller mammals, are difficult to tell apart.

Extras include character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Beastars begins with a murder but winds up relating the internal conflict that results when an individual must suppress his innate nature to be accepted by society. Legoshi is a likable main character, and it is surprisingly easy to sympathize with the misunderstood wolf as he deals with distrustful classmates and a manipulative club officer. The premise of carnivores wanting to live in peace with herbivore comrades and choosing to subsist on bean-based burgers is a little farfetched though.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. #5

The theme of love transcending appearances is a popular one in fairy tales, and Yen Press’ Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts fits that genre. The fantasy manga tells of the relationship between a girl and her beastly fiance, and you can read on for the review of Volume 5. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Having successfully entertained the true Duke, Sariphi has triumphed in the trials concocted to test her capacity to be Queen. However, her success has infuriated Chancellor Anubis. As Sariphi searches for a book alone in the library, Anubis approaches her…but what is the history between the King and his Chancellor, whose family has served the royal line for generations?

The Review

The Duke Galois arc wraps up with one last chapter. Nothing too surprising here. The Duke reiterates his support for Sariphi, who continues to regard him like an old grandpa, and the king reaffirms his love for Sariphi. The sharky general Joz provides some unexpected comedy with his crush on Amit though. Amit’s crocodile mouth is terrifying, but with Joz, they’re actually visually well-matched. One thing that was a bit odd is that characters kept asking for dances when the hall seemed completely deserted of guests, staff, and musicians.

Then the story shifts to the individual who’s been pushing for these queen trials: Anubis. It’s been clear from the start that he takes his chancellorship very seriously, and we learn why in a childhood flashback. If you’ve wanted to see cute chibi versions of the king and chancellor, you’ll get spades in Chapters 26 and 27. Anubis’ critical, cynical personality hasn’t changed, but his attitude toward the royal family was once quite different. In fact, he viewed the king with a disdain similar to his scorn of Sariphi. Predictably, the king wins him over, and the fact that Sariphi treats Anubis with similar consideration hints that it’ll just be a matter of time before the chancellor extends his loyalty to her.

But while Anubis’ antagonism toward Sariphi is starting to crumble, another threat continues to lurk. Anubis’ motivation for eliminating Sariphi is so that the kingship won’t be undermined, but the judge Set appears to seek just that. In the volume’s last two chapters, a literal perfect storm renders the king in human form on a day he must appear before the entire kingdom. Of course, it’s up to Sariphi to protect Leo’s secret as the palace frantically searches for him. Her confrontation with Set insinuates that the judge is less concerned about the king’s well being and more interested in an opportunity to increase his own power. How much Set conspires against the king remains to be seen, but if and when he does, it would give Sariphi and Leo an obstacle to surmount together.

Extras include embedded author’s notes about the characters and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular King (and His Attendant).”

In Summary

Fairly predictable storylines in this installment with Sariphi’s kind heart winning over the duke, and Leo’s kindness winning over prickly Anubis in their childhood. Of course, there is the bonus of seeing Leo and Anubis in adorable young versions of themselves. However, the end of the volume hints that the narrative will shift away from Sariphi’s trials to a challenge she and Leo must face together, which I think would make for a more interesting story.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #06

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 06 of the manga adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For my reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Extolled for her achievements in Dacia, Tanya makes her grand return to Norden! As the war escalates, so do the General Staff’s expectations for the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion (much to the young major’s dismay). From a barrage of enemy formulas to communication mishaps with higher-ups, it looks like everyone in the world-be they enemies or allies-will stop at nothing to sabotage the former salaryman!

The Review

Although it was officially a battle with Dacia, the so-called “live-fire exercise” in the previous volume was a fun romp for Tanya and her new battalion. Now they get down to business with an enemy that can actually deal damage on the Northern Front. The defense of the Kraggana Depot is also covered in the novel and anime, and the manga again provides more depth and humor than the other versions by presenting/contrasting the simultaneous perspectives of multiple characters. Not only does it highlight the disconnect between Tanya and her superiors/subordinates, the reactions of observers and enemies convey just how the extraordinary the 203rd is.

Additionally, the manga portrays a more complex battlefield. The anime mostly depicts aerial mages shooting at each other; the novel talks about the casting of various magic formulas, but the descriptions are so minimal it’s difficult to picture them. In this manga, the illustrations demonstrate just how the 203rd’s illusions thwart and misguide the enemy.

The story then takes another leap decades into the future where journalists continue to puzzle over what is Tanya’s shrouded legacy. What this chapter primarily offers is a look at how wrong their conjectures are. Because they don’t add new information to what’s happening in Tanya’s timeline, I’m not particularly interested in their pursuit of the “eleventh goddess.” Fortunately, the detour only lasts one brief chapter, and we’re back to Norden.

In the aftermath of Kraggana, the brass must coordinate their next move so the setting switches from combat zone to war room. We’ve seen these meetings before, but this time Tanya gets to weigh in on the discussion. The anime went through this scene so quickly that it wasn’t particularly fraught. While the novel provided a ton of detail, the writing was such that it was difficult to visualize the drama playing out. The manga, however, presents a very clear and sometimes comical three-way battle between the interests of Tanya, General Staff, and the Northern Army. So even though no bullets are flying, it gets plenty heated between Tanya and the Northern officers as she argues the futility of a winter offensive.

Extras include character introductions and a detailed glossary of terms between chapters.

In Summary

Once again, Tojo-sensei presents a brilliant interpretation of events that is distinct from the anime and markedly clearer than the novel. This installment has a little bit of everything: a prebattle speech, aerial combat, the future’s perspective on the war, and a heated war room debate. The only element missing is a confrontation with Being X, but I’m not enamored of that arc and think the story’s just fine without it.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 6

Ah…high school romance. It is a staple of shojo manga, and Shizuki Fujisawa adds another title to this list with Hatsu*Haru. Read on for the review of Volume 6! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Summer break has been full of endings and new beginnings for Kai and Riko both. Suwa’s wedding saw the conclusion of Riko’s long-held first love, but only time will tell if its departure leaves room in her heart for another. Can Kai safely navigate dating when love is involved, or will his uncalculated swing in the dark throw everything off course?

The Review

This volume has been a long time coming. After so many attempts by various people to help Riko get a clue, Kai confronts her with a confession that cannot be interpreted as anything but. It is a momentous, heart-pounding moment for our pair, but this being a romantic comedy, Fujisawa-sensei still finds a way to pull out the rug from under our besotted protagonist. Thus, the official formation of Riko/Kai is sweet and funny although I have to wonder about Kai’s health with him constantly winding up bedridden.

Considering it’s taken six (!) volumes for the heroine to realize the male lead wants to date her, I thought the series might put in a “happily ever after” there and end. However, the story continues, and I sense it won’t stop until all eight friends get paired up. What this means for our main couple is that they move on to dating and the excitement and awkwardness that comes with it. Riko’s never dated (I guess Hatano doesn’t count), and Kai’s never dated anyone like Riko. While it is strange the Kai’s Romantic Endeavors Group feels the need to continue monitoring the two, the comedy of errors that is Kai’s carefully planned first date with Riko brings a desperately needed fresh flavor of misunderstandings to their relationship.

Meanwhile, the things progress on the Takaya/Ayumi front. It’s not that they draw closer romantically; their relationship is still “fake boyfriend/girlfriend.” Rather, Ayumi gets a deeper understanding of Takaya. The narrative’s hinted strongly that the reason Takaya never paired up with anyone because he’s in love with his NOT BLOOD RELATED step-sister. Surprisingly, it turns out the attraction was once mutual. While the scenario’s not unknown in shoujo manga, Fujitani-sensei makes Takaya’s reflections on his step-sister both tragic and heartrending. As for Ayumi, our energetic school reporter gets to reveal her compassionate side. She’s a bit awkward in offering sympathy, but her earnest effort to help Takaya achieve closure makes her even more likable. Their relationship remains “fake,” but after this volume, I’m rooting for it switch to “real” soon.

Extras include story-thus-far, embedded author’s notes, and translation notes.

In Summary

Riko finally realizes Kai’s in love with her. The joke about our ultra-dense lead lady has gone on way too long, so it’s a relief for Kai’s efforts to finally pay off. Thus the next phase of their relationship begins. Granted, it’s still plagued with misunderstandings, but at least they’re on the same page about their desire to be together.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Dive!! Vol. 2

With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics around the corner, there’s bound to be an interest in sports manga about Olympic hopefuls. Dive!! is one such title, and you can read on for the review of Volume 2. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As Tomoki’s natural talent for diving blossoms under the guidance of Coach Asaki, his relationships with the people around him sour. The growing rifts start to take a toll on him, worsening his struggle to nail the three-and-a-half somersault dive. But even with all of that going on, Tomoki has to regain his focus…because the trials for the Beijing training camp are fast approaching!

The Review

The Tomoki character arc continues with him reconciling with Ryou and Reiji and nailing the three-and-a-half somersault dive, just to fall apart when his girlfriend dumps him for his younger brother. It’s been clear from the beginning Tomo has no real affection for Miu, so the break-up is no surprise. The fact that his brother takes her adds drama, but where it goes off the deep end is how badly Tomo takes it. He never cared about Miu before so it’s difficult to believe he’d ditch practice and sulk in bed for two weeks because of her. Overall, Tomo displays an oblivious insensitivity toward others and a hypersensitivity to rejection that makes me want to slap him. Even with his “diamond eyes” talent on the verge of a breakthrough, he’s not at all appealing as a character.

Fortunately, about halfway through the volume, the focus shifts from Tomo to Okitsu. Unlike Tomo, who’s mainly struggling with his stupid self, Okitsu is dealing with MDC expectations, the burden of his grandfather’s unfulfilled legacy, and his identity as a village boy in the big city. While the Beijing trials is an important meet for all the athletes, for Okitsu, it’s also his debut into competitive diving and everything it entails. Okitsu’s outsider perspective and his choices make the usual who-will-hold-up-under-the-pressure-and-win narrative a bit more interesting.

However, the outcome of the training camp selection takes an odd turn with the abrupt introduction of the Okitsu family back problems. While this isn’t nearly as bad as Tomo’s post-breakup self-destruction, it’s puzzling the creators didn’t drop more hints about this potentially disabling problem. That aside, watching Okitsu return home and ponder the meaning of diving in his life was engaging. It was certainly more compelling than Tomo’s miserable angst.

Another oddity of this installment is that we never actually get to see the training camp. After all the hype and anguish deciding who gets to go, we never meet the famed Chinese Coach Sun and see him at work. It could’ve been an opportunity to see our characters in an international environment, but oh well.

As with the previous volume, this volume covers the same territory of the corresponding Dive!! anime episodes. However, thanks to the slower pace and the broader perspective provided by thought bubbles, the characters are more fleshed out and their motivations clearer than in the TV series. In the anime, Coach Asaki was especially one-dimensional: all no-nonsense coach and not much else. She’s still mostly that in the manga, but we also get a couple scenes and flashbacks where she expresses a different emotion.

Extras include the first four pages in color and translation notes.

In Summary

Tomo nails it in the diving department while crashing in the relationship department. This could’ve been good drama, but it feels forced and comes off ridiculously melodramatic. Thankfully, the story shifts to Okitsu, who’s traveling a more interesting path and faces challenges that are actual obstacles. There is also a fair amount of diving in this volume, but most of the focus is on decisions and interactions out of the water.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 11

Rich, handsome young men, each with his own distinct personality…this type of bishounen cast is a staple in shojo manga. And if you like yours with a generous helping of chibi humor, you should definitely check out Higasa Akai’s The Royal Tutor. Read on for my review of Volume 11. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Some unexpected guests to the royal palace have the princes on their toes! Between acting as gracious hosts and testing their language skills, what additional lessons will the prospective heirs to the throne learn from their visitors?

The Review

The previous volume ended with an intriguing scene of Rosenberg at Prince Eins’ residence. This volume opens with the continuation of that scene. The interplay between Eins and Rosenberg insinuates quite a bit about Eins’ reliance on the count. The Black Prince may have a flawless reputation, but the king’s concerns about his suitability for the throne are grounded in something quite real, judging from the anxiety both Rosenberg and Eins exhibit.

However, Akai-sensei remains coy about the specifics of the eldest prince’s fatal flaw and quickly shifts the focus back on the princes whose failings we are all too familiar with. Much of the early volumes were Heine’s individual and collective lessons for the princes. Now the fruits of that work manifest as Leonhardt entertains Fosein’s Prince Claude; Bruno receives his schoolmate Smerdyekov as a guest in Wienner; and Kai cheers on buddy Elmer in a grueling training exercise. Granted, they still have a ways to go, as evidenced by their dismal knowledge of the fairer sex in “My Ideal Princess!” but clearly their worlds are expanding as they forge and deepen bonds beyond their family circle.

Not that the other royal relatives are absent in this volume. Beatrix drops in on two chapters and cute Adele features largely in the Fosein state visit. The king and granny also make appearances as needed. While the characters do have a tendency to get carried away (as when Leonhardt discovers the true reason behind Prince Claude’s visit), family interactions remain characterized by genuine concern and warmth—with the exception of Eins, who always seems the odd prince out.

The volume concludes with both Kai and Bruno back in Wienner, improved from their time away yet having lost none of their affection for Heine or their kin. Things are looking well for Heine’s students, which casts an even darker shadow on Eins’ hidden struggle.

Extras include bonus manga on the inside cover, bonus story, and first page printed in color.

In Summary

This installment seems dedicated to showing the progress of the more socially awkward princes of the family. Licht has never had trouble in this department, so we have a collection of vignettes of Kai, Bruno, and Leonhardt interacting with members of the family and new friends. Most of it is light-hearted fun, even the state visit from the Fosein royals, but the chapters do demonstrate how Heine has strengthened them as competition for Prince Eins, whose loyal Rosenberg is likely to make a move to counter this development.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #05

The Saga of Tanya the Evil anime was a surprise favorite for me in 2017. With a title like that, I was almost too scared to give it a try, but conniving little Tanya turned out to be nothing like I anticipated. Yen Press has released Volume 05 of the light novel adaption, and you can read on for the review. (For reviews of other Tanya the Evil works, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Barely two months remain until winter, and opinion is split over whether the Empire should launch a full-scale offensive or rest until spring. Time is running out, and the General Staff can’t make up their minds. While everyone else is frozen with inaction, the Salamander Kampfgruppe under Tanya’s command is singled out for a mission that will ultimately decide the army’s course. As they face attacks from a seemingly relentless enemy that leave them without even time to sleep, will Tanya’s troops be able to hold out?

The Review

I’m not certain if Zen-sensei’s writing has improved or if I’ve just gotten used to his style, but Volume 5 is a much easier read than previous volumes. While Zen-sensei still has a propensity to be too light on backdrop details, he’s reined in his tendency to overexplain to the point of tedium. On top of that, the war narrative takes on intriguing twists and turns which exposes hitherto unseen aspects of Tanya’s character.

The volume begins with Tanya’s newly formed Salamander Kampfgruppe defending a salient on the Eastern Front. We’ve seen her personally leading her battalion before; now she’s  commanding multiple units from base headquarters. Although she’s giving orders from a completely different vantage, those who enjoy the tactical aspect of this series will continue to see Tanya leveraging the scant resources at her disposal to attain victory. In addition to countering guerrilla attacks, Tanya must also deal with the Federation soldiers they’re captured. What starts as a kind of dilemma leads to a massive perspective shift on the Eastern Front. Whereas the Empire’s other conflicts are purely military in character, Tanya makes the realization that the war against the Commies will also involve fighting propaganda with propaganda.

No sooner has the Salamander Kampfgruppe jelled as a cohesive fighting force than it gets disbanded. (As Tanya complains, “The higher-ups really just do whatever they want.”) Not only that, Tanya and the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion get yanked from the Eastern Front and sent to take on the monster ship, RMS Queen of the Anjou. This arc has a lot of similarities to the previous northern ocean battles in that it involves submarines, ships, and the Commonwealth.  However, it differs in that the Commonwealth’s collaborator is not the Entente Alliance (although Mary Sue is present to go berserk against her father’s killer), but the Federation. The Commonwealth-Federation alliance is one between two mutually distrustful parties, and the lead up to their collaboration is an indicator of how desperate everyone’s become.

The other major difference is that the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion suffers casualties. Tanya hasn’t lost anyone since the shovel training on the Rhine, which is astounding considering they’ve been in the thick of fighting on every front since. However, it’s because of this astounding record that the loss of nearly a quarter of the battalion hits so hard. von Lerghen’s accused Tanya of being an unfeeling monster before, but even though she doesn’t turn into a weepy mess, you can’t say she’s unaffected by her men’s deaths (which is probably why von Lerghen’s not spouting his usual von Degurechaff-is-abnormal criticism in this volume).

Then it’s back to the Eastern Front and a new Salamander Kampfgruppe. While the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion stays with Tanya, the mages sent to replace her fallen men are all raw recruits. In fact, the majority of her new troops are green. Thus, Tanya’s not only with faced with the problem of repelling enemies but also the challenge of managing difficult-to-work-with personnel. As a former HR professional, she ultimately finds a way, but she can’t do a thing to stop her next enemy: winter.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes of the history timeline and rough sketches; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

A really wonderful installment here. In addition to a decent narrative pace compared to the bogginess in previous volumes, we get to see Tanya command multiple units and figure how to turn political differences into a weapon. But probably the most striking part of this volume is when the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion encounters more than it can handle. She’s been accused of being an unfeeling monster before, but she’s strikingly human as she and her men mourn their fallen comrades.

First published at the Fandom Post.