Manga Review: The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady Vol. #2

9781975345365Isekai has really overtaken the anime/manga scene the last several years. The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady is one such title. Read on for my review of Volume 2. (For other reviews of this series, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Some time off at the royal villa has helped Euphyllia get her thoughts together following the shock of her engagement being broken off, but that clarity has only made her aware of how empty her heart now is. She looks to Anisphia for answers, but the princess is too busy getting hyped for an impending monster stampede! All high-ranked adventurers have been summoned to stop it, including the one known as… the Marauder Princess!

The Review

Volume 1 focused mainly on Princess Anis’ unconventional outlook and the rules of magic. Euphyllia served primarily to provide Anis with a damsel to rescue and to provide readers with a model for how conventional magic works in this fantasy world. However, the opening pages of Volume 2 slows down to provide more of Euphyllia’s perspective on the events thus far. Her sudden fever and subsequent sickroom scene feel forced, but they do the trick of allowing her to reflect on the abrupt changes in her life and position. Unlike Anis, Euphyllia is extremely sensitive to how others perceive her, and her conversation with the maid Ilia gives a sense of where she is emotionally right before the action revs up again.

And that action comes in the form of a massive monster stampede triggered by a dragon! The tone suddenly shifts from otome-sim to fantasy adventure, and Anis reveals herself to be a gold-rank adventurer registered with the adventurers’ guild. Thus the politics of royal engagements take a backseat to knights and adventurers on the front lines of a monster attack. Of course, this provides Anis with the perfect opportunity to try the results of her research as well as an excuse for the narrative to expand on more magical theory–this time about the magicite found in monsters. If you’re not interested in those technical aspects of the story, you can simply watch as Anis “The Marauder Princess” goes berserk on the battlefield, which is apparently par for the course for this reckless royal.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, we get some insight into Anis’ brother Algard. When he publicly dumped Euphyllia, he came off as a royal jerk or possibly a royal dope. However, his conversation with his father about the approaching dragon insinuates that the prince has an inferiority complex and that his behavior is driven less by animosity toward Euphyllia and more by resentment toward his sister.

Extras include bonus art on the inside of the cover and the first page printed in color.

In Summary

The story takes a sharp turn from breakup drama at the Aristocratic Academy to a monster stampede triggered by a dragon! The thread holding these seemingly disparate elements together is Anis’ personal quest to harness magic, though it is jarring to see her persona shift from single-minded magicology researcher to kills-obsessed gold-level adventurer. Yes, it’s still interesting, but the plot feels like it’s all over the place.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Kaiu Shirai x Posuka Demizu: Beyond The Promised Neverland

514hhpa1ofl._sy291_bo1204203200_ql40_fmwebp_The creators of The Promised Neverland captivated audiences with their gripping blend of mystery, action, and heart.  For those curious about other works from the team of Shirai and Demizu, Viz presents the short story collection Beyond the Promised Neverland!  (For my reviews of The Promised Neverland manga, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

From the creators of The Promised Neverland comes a collection of their best short stories, including a special one-shot with the key elements that would later go into their biggest hit and an epilogue that shows what the main characters are up to after the end of the manga series

The Review

The four main stories of Beyond the Promised Neverland would be better described BEFORE The Promised Neverland. For various reasons which writer Shirai-sensei explains in the Behind-the-Scenes notes, these standalone stories were storyboarded before the release of The Promised Neverland. As Shirai-sensei states in the foreword, “the stories could be called ‘the road to The Promised Neverland.’”

The first is “Poppy’s Wish,” a sci-fi version of Pinocchio with an AI toaster who wants to become human and a shut-in inventor as his creator. Overall, it’s lighthearted and cute, mainly because of Poppy’s bright, innocent personality. However, just as in The Promised Neverland, his perspective on the world gets thrown on its head when he discovers the true reason his creator avoids other humans.

“Spirit Photographer Saburo Kono” has a completely different tone. If you need suggestions for a Halloween reading list, I’d recommend this one. In this tale, a boy lives next to a haunted apartment, whose latest tenant is plenty creepy himself. Ultimately, the story has an uplifting, if bittersweet, ending, but until you get there, Demizu-sensei does an excellent job spooking readers with her scary illustrations and unnerving expressions.

The third story, “We Were Born,” is the most similar in content to The Promised Neverland. The setting’s a corrupt, war-ravaged Earth, not another world, but it has the super-optimistic orphan whose seemingly beneficent caretaker has a dark agenda. There’s also a ton of violence. Despite that, it, like The Promised Neverland, has a happy ending.

The fourth story “DC3” is about the lone-wolf daughter of an AI manufacturer and her latest android bodyguard. The twist in this story is less startling than the previous three, but if you like action, it has it in spades. Whether it’s a rescue from a mob or hand-to-hand combat between military-type androids, Demizu-sensei’s illustrations really suck you in.

At the end of the book are two short manga. The bonus manga “Takashi and Poppy” is a crossover where Poppy and his inventor travel back in time and share toast with characters from the other three stories of the collection. Then there is the book’s one The Promised Neverland side-story, “Dreams Come True.”

According to the notes, “[‘Dreams Come True’] is a special manga that was displayed at The Promised Neverland Exhibit” (presumably in Japan). It picks up where the series ends, shortly after Emma’s reunion with her family. Though Emma recalls nothing of their previous life together, they are creating new memories together. For those who want to see the orphans’ happily ever after, this delivers. Even Ray, the most cynical and stoic of the bunch, has a moment of blissful awe.

Extras include illustrations and sample drawings printed on the inside covers, foreword, story notes, and a few footnotes placed in gutters.

In Summary

The cover and title of Beyond the Promised Neverland might lead you to believe this is a collection of The Promised Neverland side-stories, but only one out of the six short stories has anything to do with the series. The other standalone works range from sci-fi to supernatural to dystopian future. However, they all feature child (or childlike) characters drawn in Demizu-sensei’s signature style, and Shirai-sensei incorporates some unexpected twists into each plot.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Sasaki and Peeps Vol. 1

9781975343521Isekai, sci-fi, and fantasy are huge light novel genres. But how about a mash-up of all three? That’s what you’ll find in Sasaki and Peeps! Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Even though Sasaki’s droll corporate life is constantly filled with work, it leaves him tired and unfulfilled at the end of every day. In search of some companionship to fill the emptiness in his life, he visits a pet shop on a whim, not realizing he’s about to change his life forever. After settling on an adorable bird and bringing it home…his new roommate reveals that it’s actually an incredible sage from another world who promptly bestows Sasaki with supernatural powers as well as the ability to cross between worlds. All Sasaki wants to do is use these newfound powers to live in peace and comfort, but there are more than a few colorful characters who might get in the way of that…

The Review

Sasaki and Peeps falls into the category of light novel, but like the installments of Tanya the Evil, it’s not very light at all. Volume 1 weighs in at 304 pages. And unlike most light novels with insanely long subtitles, this subtitle of this one confused me rather than clarifying what the story was about.

The reason for the convoluted-sounding subtitle is because Sasaki and Peeps incorporates multiple genres. It sounds like a hodgepodge because it is a hodgepodge. However, the story manages to work because of the interactions between the two leads.

The story (which originally began as a web novel) is primarily told from the perspective of Sasaki, a self-described office drone in his late 30s. The lonely bachelor decides to buy a Java sparrow from the local pet shop for a little companionship and gets way more than he bargained for when the sparrow introduces himself as “Piercarlo Starsage, inhabitant of another world.” The name is a mouthful so Sasaki nicknames him “Peeps.”

So it’s a version of an isekai where the reincarnated individual plays costar to a modern-day normie. Buncololi-sensei eases us into the world-building with Peeps requesting Kobe beef of his new owner. Although Sasaki’s enamored of his unexpectedly intelligent and intelligible companion, the item is far beyond his price range. Undeterred, Peeps, who has retained all the magical powers of his previous life, proposes sharing them with Sasaki so that they might earn the money for the beef by exporting Japanese household goods into his old world.

Thus, the first fifth of the book is a quest for delicious food. Peeps teleports Sasaki to his old world, “a fantasy world of swords and magic,” and teaches him about the place as well as instructing Sasaki on the use of magic (for which Sasaki demonstrates proficiency). Meanwhile, Sasaki provides Peeps access to the Internet so he can learn about modern Japan, warns Peeps about transactions that might arouse the suspicion of the Japanese authorities, and provides the funding for the printer paper, ballpoint pens, and sugar they trade in the fantasy world as luxury items. Their interchange is engaging as well as informative, and their discussions on what to purchase at the superstore and how to pitch items to their buyers are surprisingly entertaining.

Then things take an abrupt turn when, on the way home from his office job, Sasaki stumbles on a fight between two individuals with supernatural powers. Up till that point, Sasaki and Peeps have been keeping their abilities on the lowdown, in Japan and the fantasy world. After all, they want to enjoy life; they don’t need the extra stress of the attention their magic abilities would attract. But seeing one individual about to kill the other, Sasaki feels compelled to intervene with his powers. In doing so, he saves a life but effectively blows his normie office worker cover.

Thus, the story takes sharp turn into sci-fi. Sasaki gets sucked into the secret world of psychics, which in this novel are individuals who manifest a supernatural ability. These psychics are roughly divided into two camps: “regulars,” who use their abilities in service of the government, and “irregulars,” who oppose government control. Having unwittingly used his magic to rescue a regular psychic from an irregular one, Sasaki is presumed a psychic and forcibly recruited into a new, more lucrative, and way more hazardous job as a psychic civil servant in the Paranormal Phenomena Countermeasure Bureau.

As result, readers are introduced to an entirely different system of powers, another set of characters, and a hitherto unknown conflict. Most of this action takes place apart from Peeps because he must stay in Sasaki’s apartment to maintain his guise as an ordinary pet. However, Peeps does serve as a sounding board as Sasaki strives to keep his new work life from invading their precious leisurely time in the fantasy world. Peeps’ bird form also proves valuable in informing Sasaki on the happenings in his home while he is at his new job.

With all this happening in Japan, their leisure time in the fantasy world becomes that much more valuable. Unfortunately, war breaks out in that world. As result, their usual trading partner makes a desperate request for war supplies. One thing leads to another, and Sasaki and Peeps wind up in the thick of the battlefield.

The initial fantasy world scenes are limited to the town of Baytrium, its inhabitants, and local affairs. With the outbreak of war, the reader is introduced to the broader scope of the kingdom of Herz, the political powers and various creatures within it, and of course, additional characters. The story also reveals Peeps’ former standing within that world, which is not insignificant.

That is why this novel is 304 pages. No, there is no tidy conclusion at the end, only a prompt from the author in the afterword to check out Volume 2. And because I am invested in Sasaki and Peeps, I’m willing to do that.

In terms of audience, I’d say this novel targets older males who enjoy a range of speculative fiction. Main character Sasaki is not out to relive his youth, nor does Peeps want to take over the world. They just want to enjoy a peaceful life with good food.

By the way, the genres incorporated in this story do NOT include romance. While Sasaki certainly notices women, he’s given up on marriage due to his age, occupation, and looks. And he’s sworn off casual encounters because he got chlamydia from a sex worker. While I appreciate Buncololi-sensei not glamorizing sexual encounters, the fact that Sasaki picked up an STD after a superior at his workplace took him to a brothel tarnished my impression of an otherwise very likable character.

Actually, in terms of female characters, they get sexualized in a way I find unpleasant. A glance at the profiles at the back of the book shows male characters ranging from a teenager up to men in their 30s and 40s. All the female characters, however, are underage. The one exception is a psychic woman who, thanks to her powers, maintains the form of a pretty elementary school girl, so she might as well be underage. Thus, even though Sasaki is not involving himself with anyone, he’s surrounded by jailbait. The most troubling of these female characters is the neglected 14-year-old who lives in the next door apartment. Sasaki, who himself had a poor childhood, occasionally gives food to the malnourished girl like she’s a stray cat. As a result, she fantasizes about repaying him with sexual favors. Ugh.

Like many light novels, the narrative is short on dialogue tags, so it’s sometimes difficult to tell who said what. The book also contains a couple of text errors.

The first eight pages, which contain illustrations and a thread from Sasaki’s social media just before buying Peeps, are printed in full color. Extras also include ten black-and-white insert illustrations, character profiles, and original cover material. I should note that two of the profiles contain quotes that are not actually in Volume 1.

In Summary

An isekaied wizard. A wronged chef given the opportunity to create the restaurant of his dreams. A paranormal war in the shadows of the modern world. A valiant prince and nobleman brandishing swords to save their kingdom from an advancing army. There’s a ton going on in Sasaki and Peeps, whose protagonist is a 30-something bachelor working a dead-end office job. Yet this chaotic mess of genres and storylines works thanks to the charming owner-pet relationship of Sasaki and Peeps and the simplicity of their shared dream: a peaceful existence with delicious food. If you don’t mind a genre scramble and an older protagonist, this title’s worth checking out.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #17

9781975342609The 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 17 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

The 203rd Battlion’s manned V-1 rocket assault, a mission that will determine the fate of the Empire, has thrown the Francois Republic’s headquarters into chaos. Yet is even this unprecedented, unforeseeable strike only meant to open the curtain on Zettour’s devilishly brilliant strategy?!

The Review

Volume 17 is all over the place–literally. In the thick of battle, amid quibbling politicians, and out at sea aboard a submarine. However, everything works, and Tojo-sensei’s artwork, in addition to brilliantly communicating the complex plot, is top-notch, whether conveying the grandeur of the Commonwealth Parliament or the silliness of a more comic moment.

It begins with a very brief recap of the events of Operation Open Sesame thus far. Even though the mangaka could have done a standard summary, she goes the extra mile of framing it as a documentary created by the Commonwealth decades in the future. In addition to refreshing readers on the current state of events, the documentary’s “reenactment” is so off-target it’s hilarious.

Then it’s back to Tanya’s decapitation assignment. The anime spent barely any time on the Republican HQ attack, and the details in the light novel were fairly sparse. Thus, I was surprised that Tojo-sensei dedicated as many pages as she did on the surprise strike and especially the elimination of the Commonwealth’s spy nest. Her fleshed-out version of events are an absolute delight, especially the conclusion to Chapter 48.

Chapter 49 then shifts to the Commonwealth Parliament. Compared to the action and intrigue of Chapter 48, quibbling between politicians is much drier stuff. However, aside from a couple confusing exchanges, the chapter does a good job conveying the Commonwealth’s military capabilities and their view of the Empire, which will be necessary background information once they get dragged into the war.

Balancing out the high-level discussions of peace talks, foreign debt, and the implications of sending Commonwealth soldiers to foreign soil are scenes of the 203rd in the submarine sent to pick them up. Tanya’s is a coed unit, so Tojo-sensei uses the cramped quarters as fodder for comic relief. While Visha’s shirt conveniently becoming unbuttoned is a bit of a stretch, I’m glad the portrayal of her body odor is realistic.

Extras include a world map, battle log thus far, character introductions (in ridiculously small font), profile for the 203rd Battalion, country profiles, and glossaries for each chapter. While the glossary pages are inserted between the correct chapters, they’re labeled with the wrong chapter numbers.

In Summary

To fans of the anime and light novels who wonder if the manga is worth looking at, I say Volume 17 definitely is. Tojo-sensei does an excellent job expanding on the original work’s strike on the Republican Army’s HQ. In addition to heralding the end of the Republic, this installment deftly lays the groundwork for the entry of the Commonwealth into the war. Political discussions aren’t as gripping as enemy spies on the run, but Tojo-sensei balances out those debates with comedy on the 203rd‘s submarine ride home.

First published at the Fandom Post.


Manga Review: See You Tomorrow at the Food Court

81qgwq3yzwlSlice of life manga cover a wide range of ordinary settings and characters, and the premise of See You at the Food Court is, as its title suggests, a collection of conversations at a local food court. Read on for my review.

Back Cover Blurb

Wada is an honor student who keeps to herself and has an air of mystery around her. Yamamoto is an intimidating fashionista with dyed blond hair and shortened skirt. Though this unlikely duo seems to have nothing in common, it’s only during their daily meetings at the food court that they can be themselves!

The Review

See You Tomorrow at the Food Court is a one-shot manga that reminds me of low-budget independent films. The cast is small–only two main characters with few appearances by side characters. The story takes place almost entirely in one location (the local train station mall food court), and it’s a slice-of-life, meaning no magic or superhuman powers. That means this title is heavily reliant on the two leads’ relationship and conversations to keep readers engaged.

While other works successfully pull off similar setups, See You Tomorrow at the Food Court falls flat. Part of this is probably due to personal preference, but I found the interactions of the two high school girls boring and annoying in turn.

The more irritating of the pair is Wada. At school, she gives off the aura of a quiet, prim honor student. In reality, she’s a mobile game addict with a vicious tongue who picks fights online. The other girl is Yamamoto. Because of her gyaru appearance (tanned skin, bleached hair), classmates find her scary, but she actually has a chill personality. It takes a lot to get her mad, and even though she’s always looking at her phone, she’s practically nonexistent on social media.

Generally, their conversations consist of Wada ranting about something, often getting irrationally het up, and Yamamoto returning levelheaded, logical responses (which cause Wada to rant even more). Their observations aren’t particularly clever or insightful, and Chapter 11 actually got me angry. In that conversation, Yamamoto shares with Wada how she got groped by a passing cyclist. That’s a terrible thing to happen to anyone, but rather than being upset about the actions of the groper, Yamamoto’s upset because her response to being groped wasn’t “feminine” enough. Wada makes it worse by saying, “The fact that he grabbed your chest in the first place means you’re attractive as a woman.” As a woman, I’d punch anyone who said that.

That chapter aside, Wada simply comes off as mean, the way she talks trash about others. She even insults Yamamoto in their conversations and doesn’t think anything of it. Yamamoto has a decent personality, but she’s so passive that I don’t find her particularly compelling.

As to the origins of this pair, the girls were middle school classmates who, due to social circumstances, wound up outcasts with only each other to talk to. However, they hit it off, so when they realized they were going to different high schools, they decided to meet up after school at the mall. And given that neither has friends at their new schools, they cling to their food court friendship.

I believe this backstory is intended to show how unique and valuable their relationship is. However, their bonds are proven fragile when Wada hypocritically ditches Yamamoto because she thinks she has a chance at a boyfriend. The girls do ultimately make up, but only after Wada realizes the boy she’s interested in already has a girlfriend. Honestly, it just makes me wonder why Yamamoto doesn’t get fed up and find better friends.

The manga’s one strong suit is the illustrations. Yamamoto has a pretty complicated hairstyle, but it’s drawn spot on every single time. The mangaka also does an excellent job with expressions, food items, and backgrounds. Behind the girls’ usual table is a movie poster, and it changes each chapter to match the conversation topic, which is kind of cute. Unfortunately, because the story is limited to two characters who spend all their time in a food court, the artwork doesn’t really get a chance to shine.

Extras include the first page in color, artwork on the inside covers, and translation notes.

In Summary

See You Tomorrow at the Food Court is as a slice of life as you can get. But even though I enjoy that genre, this series of interactions at a mall food court is neither charming nor interesting. The majority of conversations between these otherwise friendless high schoolers can be best described as rants. While those can be entertaining, Wada’s constant stream of mean-spirited complaints and lousy personality get old quick, and Yamamoto’s passive nature isn’t enough to save this manga.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Royal Tutor Vol. 17

9781975347437Rich, 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 17. (For my reviews of other volumes click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Thanks to Heine’s teachings, the four princes have overcome a lot and matured into leaders in their own right—so the time has come for King Viktor to officially choose the heir to the throne. But in order to do so, he gives his sons one last task: to give a speech in front of the entire kingdom. Having never given one before, the four younger princelings are at a severe disadvantage…but luckily, they’ve got Heine to whip them into shape! The royal comedy about princes and their tutor comes to a majestic end in this final volume!

The Review

It’s the final volume, and the series wraps up with an extra-long installment – 242 pages! But even though it’s so long, it really just focuses on one arc. After a single chapter that briefly reunites Heine with his old acquaintance Gustav, the king announces his final test to decide his successor: a public speech at the Founding Day celebration at Weinner City Hall.

Thus Heine’s last group lesson in this series is public speaking! Interestingly, despite his presentations in the academic realm, Bruno considers himself a novice and freaks out as much as his brothers when the royal tutor assigns them a speech in front of the palace staff as practice. And because public speaking generally doesn’t come naturally and is a huge fear for many, their struggles leading up to the practice run are both funny and relatable.

Then Heine unexpectedly kicks the princelings out of the nest by declaring he won’t provide any assistance for the actual Founding Day speeches. Thus, as the princelings rely solely on their own efforts to accomplish the task, Heine’s job switches from instructor to cheerleader. Joining him in encouraging the princes are all the side characters with whom they formed connections throughout the series. Surprisingly, Eins and Count Rosenberg also offer genuine words of support right before they present themselves at the City Hall ceremony.

By the way, for those who enjoy admiring the princes’ wardrobe, they don formal wear for the occasion, which I don’t believe we’ve seen before.

As for the speeches and the king’s ultimate decision, I won’t give away the ending, but it was both like and unlike what I expected. The princes have always harbored affection for each other (this manga is definitely NOT a cutthroat succession drama), so it’s no surprise that it incorporates a collaborative spirit. However, the issue of Eins’ lingering problem around women is addressed in an unexpected way. Anyway, the resolution isn’t exactly simple, but readers will likely find it satisfying.

And yes, like most manga, the ending includes a glimpse of the main characters’ futures.

Extras include illustrations on the inside of the covers, the first page printed in color, and afterword.

In Summary

The series wraps up with a final test – a public speech! Heine’s mission from Day One was to train the four princelings into suitable candidates for the throne, and now they must prove themselves without their tutor’s help. That’s not to say they don’t get encouragement, and this final volume includes cameos from characters we’ve met throughout the series. As for the ultimate conclusion, it’s… uh, complicated? Even so, fans will likely approve of The Royal Tutor’s harmonious conclusion.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: The Geek Ex-Hitman Vol. #1

81yif7i8tmlThere’s no shortage of gangster-centric manga, and it includes a subset of comedies like The Way of the Househusband, where the toughest denizens of the underworld embrace an entirely new lifestyle. The Geek Ex-Hitman falls into this category, with otaku culture as the new lifestyle and the slight variation that Marco is Italian, not yakuza. Read on for my review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

In his life as a hitman, Marco never failed to eliminate his targets. Known throughout Italy as “The Oracle of Florence,” he made a name for himself executing his missions quickly and silently, with no hesitation. However, one day, in the course of his work, he comes upon a remarkably cute figurine that will change his life forever! Determined to track down the source of such a charming visage, he leaves Italy behind to immerse himself in the world of anime, manga, and games! But his departure ruffles more than a few feathers, and now, with a bounty on his head, Marco can’t let his guard down just yet…

The Review

Marco is “The Oracle of Florence,” a.k.a. T.O., one of Italy’s top assassins. But his life takes a turn when he encounters a remarkably cute figure during a hit. Utterly charmed, he abandons the Italian underworld and moves to Japan to immerse himself in anime and manga! But a new leaf doesn’t erase his sordid past, and the Italian government sends out its best to eliminate him.

I was puzzled at first that the translation used the older term “otaku” in favor of the more recent “weeb.” It turns out the choice is deliberate because Marco’s T.O. handle gets misinterpreted by his weeb community as the acronym for “Top Otaku.” If you know Italian, you’ll realize T.O. doesn’t make much sense as an Italian moniker, but if you don’t sweat that detail (and the fact that all the Italians have no trouble communicating and interacting with the Japanese populace), the dialogue’s pretty funny.

The story opens with Marco in Japan and fully entrenched and accepted in the otaku community. But while he’s adopted all weeb mannerisms, he still–as you might expect–retains all his assassin skills.

The chapters are short. The 194-page volume contains 11 chapters. I expected this manga to be episodic, that it would be a collection of short anecdotes about how Marco’s appearance doesn’t jibe with the personality beneath. While the first three chapters are along those lines, things change once Secret Agent Viviana enters the story.

Unlike Marco, Viviana is a lifelong weeb and hard-core fujoshi to boot. Thus, she’s thrilled to get sent to Japan for her newest mission. However, she’s thrown out of sorts when she discovers that she and her target T.O. have more in common than she realized. The POV shifts to Viviana for certain scenes, and the BL scripts she overlays onto Marco during her stakeouts are hilarious.

Then a third Italian, Andre, gets added to the mix. Unlike Marco and Viviana, he despises otaku culture. Ultimately, he winds up the unwilling normie that the other two drag into their weeb activities.

Due in large part to this combination of personalities, I found this highly trained killers/weeb culture combo really entertaining. However, I’m biased because I’m a long-time otaku. Newcomers unfamiliar with Comiket, doujinshi, and anime tropes probably will have trouble grasping much of the humor. Also, the characters are all grown adults, so this title will likely resonate more with older readers.

Extras include first page in color, artwork on the inside covers, three pages of bonus comics, and translation notes. Oddly, the honorifics list of the translation notes does not include the -shi honorific used by Marco and his otaku compatriots.

In Summary

If you’re not versed in anime/manga culture, The Geek Ex-Hitman might not be a good fit. But if you’re an established weeb, this title’s entertaining in how it juxtaposes a hardened Italian cast with otaku tropes. The artwork complements the jokes well, and overall, it’s lighthearted if otaku-heavy fun.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Game Review: Disney’s Happiest Day Game: Magic Kingdom Park Edition

funkogames_happiestdayI generally review books with the occasional video thrown in. However, I recently had the chance to get an early peek at a couple of Disney-themed board games produced by Funko Games. Read on for my review of Disney’s Happiest Day Game: Magic Kingdom Park Edition!

What They Say

It’s a delightful game of sharing and discovery! Visit exciting attractions, meet cherished characters, and experience magical moments throughout Magic Kingdom Park. Along the way, you’ll share your favorite ways to spend the day. When Tinker Bell reaches the top of the castle, the game board magically transforms from day to night! It’s an enchanting adventure every time you play!

The Review

For those who can’t visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom often enough, Funko Games has released a game based on the theme park. And because the Magic Kingdom is so heavily geared toward children, so is this game.

The “Happiest Day Game” includes a two-sided board, balloon tokens, Cinderella Castle token holder/Tinkerbell tracker, park cards, spinner, and six plastic character figures (Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, and Pluto). Instructions are provided on a pamphlet, but for those who prefer to watch a video, Funko has one available on YouTube. Both the pamphlet and the video are easy to follow.

The board design is based on the layout of the actual Disneyworld theme park. Players basically maneuver their character pieces to park spaces and train spaces connected by different color paths. Each park space features three small pictures representing a character, location, or attraction associated with that section of the theme park. These character/attraction/location pictures match the pictures printed on the park cards.

The object of the game is to gain points by traveling to the spaces where the pictures on your park cards are located. Players obtain balloon tokens by spinning the spinner and then use the tokens to move along the colored paths.

To make things a little more interesting, the board changes midway through the game. It’s somewhat misleading the way the back of the box states: “the game board magically transforms from day to night!” Nothing actually transforms; rather, players take all the pieces off the board, flip the board to the other side, and set up the game again. In addition to a different color scheme to indicate nightfall, there are subtle differences on the night side that affect gameplay. Some of the color routes are different, and although the locations and attractions stay in the same spaces, some characters move within their section of the park.

The way I’d describe this game is that is a simplified version of Ticket to Ride combined with Where’s Waldo? It’s like Ticket to Ride in that you earn points by traveling to locations indicated by the cards you’re dealt. It’s simplified in that travel boils down to one token per matching path. There’s also no penalty for not reaching every destination, and players have no way to undermine the movement of other players.

As for the Where’s Waldo? aspect, there are a lot of teeny pictures crowded onto this board. In addition to the images corresponding to the park cards, there’s a ton of other non-game details crammed in between park spaces. As such, the bulk of playing time went toward locating the attractions/location/characters on our cards.

Which leads to a criticism of the game’s physical design. The literal centerpiece of the board is Cinderella’s Castle, which is a combination token holder, special park space, and gameplay “timer.” Just like in the theme park, it’s located in the middle of the board, and the 10″ x 6.5″ cardboard castle is artistically pleasing and visually impressive. However, it absolutely gets in the way when you’re scouring the board for pictures. After our second game, we got tired of having to look around the castle and moved it off the board.

However, other players might feel entirely different about the castle and masses of pictures. For a child who is less competitive and more interested in enjoying the artwork presented upon the game board, half the fun could be in perusing the vast array of pictures. But for those with a more competitive bent, it’s a bit irritating.

Another criticism of the game design is the character figures. Each is fitted with a circular base that’s nearly the same diameter as the park spaces. So when two players end up on the same space, it gets awkward (as we discovered). And because the game goes up to six players, it can get really crowded.

Still, the game has a lot to offer, especially to children who may not have mastered reading or math. The game is very visual; it’s about matching colors and pictures and making spatial connections. The only counting involved is when players count the points at the end. Occasionally, gameplay involves answering questions printed on the park cards, but everyone’s cards are visible to all players, so an adult or older child can help a younger child read.

By the way, the advertised playing time is 20 minutes. Having tested out the game with two and four players, I would argue that it’s at least a 30 minute game (because you’re constantly locating pictures) and that the playing time increases with additional players.

In Summary

Do you love Disneyworld’s Magic Kingdom? Then this re-creation of the theme park in board game form is worth checking out. The design is visually stimulating, and the game is simple enough for small children to play. I’d argue that the playing time is 30+ minutes rather than the advertised 20 minutes, but even if it’s not necessarily a quick game, it should keep Disney fans of all ages engaged.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Game Review: Disney’s Return of the Headless Horseman

funkogames_returnheadlesshorseman-1I generally review books with the occasional video thrown in. However, I recently had the chance to get an early peek at a couple of Disney-themed boardgames produced by Funko Games. Read on for my review of Disney’s Return of the Headless Horseman Game!

What They Say

After midnight in Sleepy Hollow, the town comes to life with spooky sounds and creepy creatures! Ichabod is frightened and needs your help!

Work together to get him to the covered bridge before the Headless Horseman heads him off! It’s a family game of frightful fun!

The Review

“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” isn’t exactly one of Disney’s showcase works. The artwork is goofy, and the tone is a weird combination of slapstick and scary. As such, I was quite surprised at the high production quality of Disney’s Return of the Headless Horseman Game. In addition to being an engaging Halloween-themed game, it’s designed like a collectors’ item.

The colors of the box are vibrant. The design of the top half of the box is reminiscent of a fancy photo album, and it’s even embossed to give it that leather-bound texture. On the edges of the box’s bottom half are beautifully rendered scenes from the movie. And when you open the box, the first thing you see is a captioned illustration reminiscent of a storybook opener.

As it turns out, that illustration is printed on the back of the game board. So it serves no purpose other than providing a nice visual when you remove the box lid.

In addition to the board, the game comes with a Headless Horseman figure, an Ichabod figure, a set of cards, Scare tokens, and a speed tile. The Scare tokens and speed tile are of thick cardboard, and each card is printed with its own unique illustration. As with the box, the quality of the card and token artwork really make the game feel like a collectors’ item.

Part of the gameplay includes spinning for numbers. Instead of a regular spinner, this board has a spooky tree-shaped spinner, which is a nice touch. (Plus it spins very smoothly.)

Instructions are provided on a pamphlet, but for those who prefer to watch a video, Funko has one available on YouTube. Both the pamphlet and the video are easy to follow.

The Headless Horseman is a collaboration game. That means there are only two character figures even though up to four can play. In most path-style games, individuals race to finish first, but in this one, all the players work together to keep the Ichabod figure as far from the pursuing Headless Horseman figure while avoiding “Scare” spaces on the board.

The movement of Ichabod and the Headless Horseman are determined by the cards laid down by all the players. Players only have so many cards in their hand, so strategy boils down to which card offers the most advantageous move. (Or, if a hand is terrible, which card minimizes “Scare” exposure.) Each time Ichabod lands on a “Scare” space or gets overtaken by the Headless Horseman, a Scare token is flipped. Four of these Scare tokens are Flaming Pumpkins. If all Flaming Pumpkins are flipped before Ichabod reaches the path’s end, the Headless Horseman wins, and the players lose. However, if Ichabod gets to the end before all four Flaming Pumpkins come up, the players win.

The game is rated for ages six and up, and the rules of the game are age-appropriate. Each player must choose cards on their own for each round, but because this is a collaborative game, a parent can vocalize the advantages/disadvantages of different card values to help younger players reason out their choices. For those who have trouble thinking strategically but still want to participate, the game offers the option for a player to simply draw off the top of the deck rather than maintaining a hand to choose from.

However, I would caution parents before they buy this game for very young children. While the gameplay is age-appropriate, aspects of the game design, such as the Headless Horseman figure and the Flaming Pumpkins artwork, might scare some kids. The movie that the game is based on also contains frightening images, so parents should screen it first if their child wants to watch it. Don’t assume that just because it’s animated that it will be appropriate for your kid.

For adults, however, it is a beautifully produced game that incorporates a lot of classic Halloween images (i.e. cemetery, ravens, spider webs). For those concerned that it might not be interesting or challenging enough for grown-ups, there’s an option to increase the number of spaces the Headless Horseman moves, thereby increasing the difficulty. Moreover, the pursuit aspect provides a constant source of tension to keep everyone engaged.

By the way, the advertised playing time is 15 minutes. I tested out the game with two and four players and the playing time is about right.

In Summary

Disney’s Return of the Headless Horseman Game is the first collaborative board game I’ve played, and for those seeking to foster a sense of team unity rather than individual competition, it does the job nicely. Gameplay is such that children can comprehend it, and the rules can be adjusted for players who want more of a challenge. The components are produced in a way that makes it seem like a collectors’ item. (Indeed, I’m astonished they put so much care into a game based on a relatively obscure Disney film.) The only caveat is that the game’s spooky images might scare younger kids, so parents are advised to exercise their best judgment regarding its suitability for their children.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #10

51fom1mmldl._sy346_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 10 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

Time and everything else are running out for the Empire. In fact, it’s already running on fumes. Before the last grain of sand falls from its hourglass, each person will have hard choice to make. Some will shut their eyes to the inevitable. Others will choose to reject catastrophe. But even if they’re doomed, there’s no point in going down quietly. Beneath her mask of patriotism, Tanya vows to do whatever it takes to avoid going down with the ship.

The Review

This volume covers the events from the end of July 1927 to the beginning of September 1927, less than two months. However, a whole lot goes on, and this includes activities off the battlefield. With the knowledge of her previous world history, Tanya’s realized sooner than most that the Empire is a sinking ship. However, the situation’s gotten so dire that Imperial leadership is getting worried, and Lergen finds himself teaming up with a Foreign Office bureaucrat to work on an exit strategy for the war. Zen-sensei spends a bit of time outlining the dysfunctionality of the three branches of the Imperial government, and while it’s a bit on the dry side, it shows readers that the obstacles to peace are internal as well as external for the Empire.

Meanwhile, Tanya’s dealing with the external obstacles. Because her superiors like to overwork her, she fights on two fronts in this volume. Her first mission is with Operation Mini-Revolving Door, Zettour’s crafty ploy to keep the Eastern front from collapsing. Like the original Revolving Door, there’s an excess of explanation and set up leading up to the attack.  However, once we get to the actual action, things get pretty exciting.

Tanya’s role in Mini-Revolving Door is to create a diversion, which amounts to her and Visha stirring things up with the Multinational Volunteer Mages. Both Sue and Drake are involved in the clash, but of the two, only Drake’s POV is given in this volume. This is probably because Drake actually thinks, and Sue doesn’t, not really. Tanya calls Sue a wild boar, and indeed, her rashness combined with her overwhelming power makes her a hazard to friend and foe alike. Tanya has unreasonable working conditions, but so does Drake, and despite outnumbering the Imperial mages is several times over, Drake has his hands full trying to keep himself and his forces alive.

Then Tanya’s entire battalion gets assigned to General Romel, who has decided that the best defense is a good offense. Thus, he’s out to strike the Commonwealth homeland by sea. Unfortunately, the Commonwealth’s cracked the Empire’s transmission codes. So instead of surprising their enemies, the Imperial forces are the ones caught off guard by a waiting Commonwealth fleet. Thus the outclassed Imperial ships are forced to run before they fire a shot, and the 203rd is stuck protecting their retreat against an entire brigade of Commonwealth marine mages.

The skirmish is an excellent variation of the theme of Tanya’s unit winning their particular fight but the Empire losing the overall battle. The Imperial mages obliterate the Commonwealth’s inferior mage recruits, but the Imperial forces never reach their goal of the Commonwealth shores. Tanya can’t gloat too much about outclassing the enemy mages either; even with her veterans lending a hand, the 203rd‘s newest members are struggling to make kills. It’s a testament to the war’s devastating human toll that commanders on both sides are aghast at the inexperience of their latest recruits.

Unlike Operation Mini-Revolving Door, the Commonwealth attack keeps things engaging with a much more straightforward set up and then a constantly shifting battle that culminates in a second showdown between Drake and Tanya. As for the outcome, it’s one of Zen-sensei’s delightful neither-side-feels-victorious endings. The Commonwealth successfully defends its homeland but at a terrible human cost. The Empire maintains minimal losses, thanks to the 203rd, but the failed surprise attack points to an unnerving breach of security.

Throughout the volume, Tanya gripes over and over about her need to change employers. Unfortunately, switching sides when you’re a military officer during wartime is not so easy. And unbeknownst to her, she’s under a bigger time crunch than she realizes. Because if Lergen and the Foreign Office can’t work out a diplomatic solution by early next year, the beleaguered Empire will likely find itself with a Southern warfront.

Extras include map and fold-out illustrations in color; appendixes of the state of the war in maps and general commentary; author afterword; two attack plan diagrams; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

As Zen-sensei mentions in the afterword, Volume 10 is meant to “focus on representing the Empire entering its death throes as a nation.” Tanya and Drake both get sent into combat on the Eastern and Western fronts, and while each encounter is exciting from an action standpoint, the fact that they’re being repeatedly sent out to fight testifies to how shorthanded everyone’s become. Though Tanya continues to achieve success with the 203rd, the Empire itself is sliding towards disaster, and I’m eager to see how she’ll try to keep from sharing its fate.

First published at the Fandom Post.