Manga Review: ACT-AGE Vol. 1

Show business is generally the purview of shojo manga, but ACT-AGE puts a shonen spin on this subject. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

Is there a method to Kei Yonagi’s madness when it comes to acting? The young actor has a family of siblings to feed, but she finds herself struggling with her psychological demons when playing a role. Her desperate acting catches the eye of a famous director, Sumiji Kuroyama, who’s looking for raw talent to mold. Can he help Yonagi navigate the cutthroat world of acting without losing her sanity?

The Review

ACT-AGE is a Weekly Shonen Jump title, which came as a bit of a surprise. First, the main character, Kei Yonaga, is a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl. Second, the world of acting and show business forms the backdrop. A girl aspiring to be an actor sounds more like shojo fare, but the tale gets presented as a shonen title by telling it as the journey of an undiscovered genius scrapping her way to the top.

And Kei’s got a long way to get to the top. Her mom’s dead, her dad walked out long ago, and she’s responsible for supporting her two elementary school siblings. In short, she’s got no time or money for acting classes or drama club. Even so, she’s so adept at portraying emotions she immediately catches the attention of director Sumiji Kuroyama. He’s been searching for a talent like her, and she’s going to be his star actor–even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming.

A key premise of this series is that Kei was born with superhuman acting abilities. Even as an untrained amateur, her performance at a new-talent audition is so intimidating it causes one of the audition finalists to give up on acting. However, the plot wouldn’t be interesting if Kei simply waltzed to the top. Rather than snatching up this undiscovered gem, the agency CEO rejects her on the basis that acting will eventually cause Kei to have an emotional breakdown.

So instead of getting properly trained by an agency or theater company, Kei gets approached by a sketchy looking guy who turns out to be an award-winning director. But Kuroyama’s brash and eccentric, and his lessons consist of throwing Kei first onto a commercial set and next onto a period drama set with no preparation.

This is where the disconnect comes for me. Kei supposedly wants to be an actor. As her family’s sole breadwinner, she’s got more motivation than most to succeed. But somehow, she’s incapable of following basic directions or even grasping what an actor’s job is. In the period drama arc, she immediately breaks out of character to kick down the lead actor. Her behavior is just as unbelievable as the drama director’s decision to keep her on set even when she ruins the first AND second takes. Her becoming an actor is less about learning the craft and more Kuroyama showing her how to tap into her latent powers (which puts it very much along Jump storylines).

The volume wraps up with her entering an open audition for a movie. Five hundred actors are competing for twelve roles, and they are divided into groups of four for live auditions. Thus, we have Kei in a battle for one of those spots with her four-person cell, which definitely sounds like the stuff of shonen manga.

Extras include creators’ notes and bonus comics.

In Summary

The main character of ACT-AGE feels a bit all over the place. She’s a natural genius at acting yet at the same time she’s a clueless idiot who doesn’t realize actors must follow a script. Oh, and she’s also gorgeous and responsible for supporting two younger siblings. This is shaping up to be the tale of how an undiscovered talent makes it big, but Kei’s mentor is such a weirdo and Kei herself is so difficult to relate to that I’m not particularly interested in following her journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 5

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 5. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Dwarf rabbit Haru has been abducted by Shishi-gumi, a gang of rogue lions infamous for torturing, murdering and devouring herbivores. The mayor offers to help, but can he be trusted when he himself is a lion? Meanwhile, Legoshi tracks Haru’s scent, determined to rescue her at any cost, while Haru both defies her captors and tries to accept her fate. Elsewhere, red deer Louis is faced with a terrible temptation…

The Review

Things were looking bad for Haru at the end of Volume 4, and now we find out just how bad. Her behavior has made her a target at school, but this time, her behavior has nothing to do with her predicament. Pure and simple, she’s an herbivore, and a scofflaw carnivore thinks that she’ll make a delicious meal for him.

The previous volume demonstrated that there are carnivores devouring nameless herbivores out of the public eye. This volume introduces the Shishi-gumi, gangster lions brazen enough to abduct victims from the general populace. Unfortunately for Haru, the boss has a taste for herbivores with pure white fur. The series earns its T+ rating with the violence that breaks out at the Shishi-gumi headquarters, but it pushes toward an M rating the way the Shishi-gumi boss terrorizes Haru. He says he just wants to eat her, but the way he forces her to strip makes it seem more like rape.

Her disappearance, of course, has both Legoshi and Louis frantic. However, in their efforts to find her, each has a game changing encounter. For Louis, the prospective beastar, it’s with the town’s lion mayor. For Legoshi, who is so frenzied he charges ahead without a plan, it’s with the black market’s psychologist panda. Thus the path to Haru’s rescue takes multiple twists and turns and culminates in an unexpected outcome.

In the midst of all the brawling on Haru’s behalf, we get a deep dive into her thoughts. I’d wondered at the motivations behind her relationship choices, and this volume lays bare her views about herself and those around her. While she certainly has a complex about her size, I don’t find the rationale behind her promiscuity particularly convincing, especially when there are a lot of herbivores even smaller than she is.

As for Legoshi, we’ve been aware of his internal conflict regarding Haru for some time. In the chaos of storming the Shishi-gumi headquarters, he finally comes to a resolution, and I look forward to seeing what it does to their interactions.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Haru gets kidnapped! As a result, Legoshi and the psychologist panda take on a vicious lion gang to rescue her. There’s a lot of violence–some of which is disturbing–but amid the fistfights and bullets are also epiphanies that make for a dramatic and riveting read.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 11

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 11! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

The start of the school year brings unexpected trouble for Kai, as the new semester’s class assignments mean he’s no longer in the same class as Riko. Their time together has been drastically cut, but Riko is completely unfazed, to Kai’s dismay. Luckily, the school trip is right around the corner, and there will be plenty of time for relationships—even if it’s not their own they’re working on!

The Review

Most volumes in the series focus on one or two pairings, but Volume 11 gives three couples significant moments. First we have Kai and Riko. Lately, they’ve gone through different variations of Kai’s romantic plans getting derailed. This time, things get changed up when Riko unexpectedly asks him to go on a visit to Suwa and Akemi’s home. They pretty much dropped out of the picture since their wedding, so it’s a chance to catch up with the newlyweds and their baby. It also gives Kai the opportunity to earn points using his superior baby-handling skills. He does make one bungle, but his dismay over the mistake is way over the top. By and large, he demonstrates himself to be an excellent boyfriend and earns Akemi’s stamp of approval.

The focus then shifts to Misaki and Ayumi. Several weeks have passed since Misaki’s Valentine’s Day get well visit. Although the results weren’t immediate, his efforts made a definite impact on Ayumi’s heart and mind. It does drag on a little long, but the instant of realization for Ayumi is cute and very much in keeping with her personality.

That leaves us with one final couple-to-be. At this point, the timeline jumps to the class trip, so the vaunted city of Kyoto serves as the backdrop for Kagura’s attempts to be honest with Tarou. Because she is such a stubborn tsundere, Kai must give her an extra push, though his involvement seems more like that of a meddlesome aunt than a concerned friend. It’s a romantic comedy, so Kagura’s prickly nature of course interferes over and over. However, when it really counts, she is surprisingly articulate to Tarou. At this point, it’s unclear what will happen between the two because Tarou has never shown interest in becoming a one-woman man and Kagura is unwilling to do more than “wait” for him.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants, and translation notes.

In Summary

A lot of fun wins for our characters in this volume! Kai has an unexpected opportunity to impress Riko, and he manages not to get punched by her. Misaki’s efforts to capture Ayumi’s heart finally pay off in a beautiful springtime moment. Kagura also manages to make progress in her relationship with Tarou, but whether he returns her feelings in kind remains to be seen.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Sacrificial Princess and the King of Beasts Vol. 9

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 9. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Sariphi’s bond with Leonhart only grew stronger during their time apart. But her road to royalty is long and perilous…During a visit to the country of Bolstobas, a sudden insurgency threatens to destroy the trust between the lovers. Caught between his position as king and his relationship with Sariphi, Leonhart’s faith is put to the test. Can he let her risk everything? Or will he protect her at any cost—even if it means betraying her beliefs?

The Review

Sari has pretty much been destined to be with Leo from the start, so the narrative provides a bit of drama by turning to a maiden who’s much less certain about her love interest. Previously, Amit took a big step forward by daring to give Captain Jormungand an amulet which she made with all her affection. Now, the Captain is back from his expedition, and he abruptly returns the token without explanation. Amit’s feelings for the Captain are obvious, but how Jormungand feels about Amit is less clear. In addition to stirring up maidenly sorrow and perplexity, the Captain’s actions–interestingly enough–leads to Lante getting to test his skills against Jormungand in a swashbuckling duel.

Then the story turns from reptilian romance to yet another trip for Sari–this time with Leo. Unlike previous arcs concerning the nations under Leo’s rule, this time we get a map of his territories, which provides a much better perspective what’s happening. (By the way, Ozmargo looks a whole lot like the Black Sea region in Eastern Europe.)

But during their royal tour of Bolstobas, Leo receives an urgent summons just as Sari catches wind of nefarious doings within the region. As a result, Leo entrusts Sari to handle the investigation while he rushes back to the capital. This turns into a challenge similar to the Maasya arc: Sari must overcome the prejudices against her in order to free the innocent and capture the wrongdoer. The arc is also similar in how quickly and tidily it concludes, although how the situation arose is nothing short of convoluted. Even Lante remarks on the absurdity of the Simian people’s enslavement.

While Sari is proving herself a champion of justice yet again, Leo is confronting a threat to his rule. Unrest within Ozmargo has been mentioned before, but now anti-monarchists are coalescing into a real force with powerful leaders. After so many Sari-centric arcs where Leo’s merely been steadfast support, having him face this challenge is a welcome change of pace.

Extras include embedded author’s notes and the bonus manga, “The Beast Princess and the Regular Princess and the Captain.”

In Summary

After a heartfelt romantic arc on Princess Amit and Captain Jormungand, Sari once again puts her queenly reputation on the line to bring about justice. The dilemma resolves itself a bit too easily, and the reason the Simians got enslaved in the first place is nothing short of ridiculous. Fortunately, the narrative is moving away from tests of Sari’s mettle to a challenge for Leonhard, which I hope allows him to do more than be Sari’s cheerleader.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Beastars Vol. 4

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 4. (For reviews of other volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

As gray wolf Legoshi continues to grapple with his feelings for dwarf rabbit Haru, he discovers another member of the Drama Club is friendly with her too. But just how friendly…? Meanwhile, someone is developing feelings for Legoshi. And Bengal tiger Bill is threatening to reveal some disturbing truths about someone’s past…

The Review

This series began with a murder on campus, and such herbivore killings are on the rise throughout town. However, even though they’re fueling distrust and tension among the Academy students, these ominous incidents hover mostly in the background while the narrative focuses mainly on the individuals involved in interspecies relationships.

This installment begins with Haru, who once more throws me for a loop. At first, she seemed like the victim of an undeserved reputation. Then she seemed the type so casual about sex that she has no emotional attachment to anyone she sleeps with. Now we discover that she does have a special someone. Her relationship with Louis is surprising in two respects. One, that she has genuine feelings for him, unlike the other guys. Two, that Louis–for whom image is everything– risks sneaking to Haru’s shed when so many others are sneaking over there for a quick fling. While there is more to the relationship than sex, it is also clear that both are intent on keeping it under wraps to preserve Louis’ reputation. Thus, we have both Legoshi and Louis drawn to Haru, whom neither can have, and things get really fraught when Legoshi discovers Louis and Haru’s relationship AND Juno discovers Legoshi’s crush on Haru.

Juno, by the way, undergoes an extreme personality makeover in this volume. Before, she was so wimpy as to be bullied. Now she’s got aspirations of becoming the next Beastar and holding her own against Louis. According to the character design notes, the creator decided she didn’t like Juno’s original personality so she changed it. While Juno is more interesting this way (and I rather like the way that she challenges Louis), the shift is jarring, and the only aspect of her that remains unchanged is her puppy like affection for Legoshi.

Unlike Juno, Louis has been established as having a complicated personality. The pressure of his vaunted lineage factors into it, but the primary reason goes much deeper. I’d thought that our glimpse of the black market in the last volume was as bad as it got, but apparently the city harbors worse, and Louis originated out of those depths.

It is unclear where the plot is going, but with all these suppressed desires and increasing tension between carnivores and herbivores, I get the sense the Academy is heading toward a boiling point.

Extras include story thus far, cast of characters, character design notes, bonus comics, and the creator’s afterword.

In Summary

Louis may put on a front of perfection, but he’s got a lot to hide, and this volume swings wide the door on his secrets. We also get a glimpse of Juno’s aspirations, which surprisingly go beyond capturing Legoshi’s heart. While it’s unclear where the story is headed, the internal struggles of these tormented characters are definitely keeping things interesting.

First published at The Fandom Post.

Novel Review: The Gilded Ones

A primary criticism of the We Need Diverse  Books movement is how books are populated by overwhelmingly white casts. This is definitely not the case in  Namina Forna’s YA fantasy The Gilded Ones. Read on for the review.

Back Cover Blurb

Sixteen-year-old Deka lives in fear and anticipation of the blood ceremony that will determine whether she will become a member of her village. Already different from everyone else because of her unnatural intuition, Deka prays for red blood so she can finally feel like she belongs.

But on the day of the ceremony, her blood runs gold, the color of impurity–and Deka knows she will face a consequence worse than death.

Then a mysterious woman comes to her with a choice: stay in the village and submit to her fate, or leave to fight for the emperor in an army of girls just like her. They are called alaki–near-immortals with rare gifts. And they are the only ones who can stop the empire’s greatest threat.

The Review

Note: this is a review of an Advance Reader’s Copy. In the foreword, the author states that the book is an examination of patriarchy, but it isn’t so much an examination as it is a scathing criticism. I’m not necessarily opposed to such an overtly feminist viewpoint; after all, there are many misogynistic practices that must be called out. Even so, I couldn’t get myself to like Forna’s tale of girls standing up to wrest the future with their own hands. Partly because characters are so blatantly divided into good and bad, mostly along gender lines. Partly because the rules of her fantasy world, Otera, are so convoluted.

Otera consists of four regions, each occupied by different races but all ruled by a single emperor and religion. As part of that religion, all girls are slashed at the age of sixteen in the Ritual of Purity. If their blood runs red, they are accepted as members of society; if it runs gold, it signifies they’re alaki, descendants of demonic beings known as the Gilded Ones. The protagonist Deka, who has always been despised in her Northern village because of her mixed heritage, anxiously prays for red blood so she can finally earn acceptance. However, the day of the Ritual, humanoid monsters known as deathshrieks attack the village, and a sudden transformation overtakes Deka, changing her world forever.

The thing about this narrative is that it often states one thing, then some chapters later, contradicts that established fact. For instance, the races of the Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western regions roughly equate to white, black, Asian, and Latino, respectively, and the story opens with Deka as the one biracial girl in her otherwise all-white village. Her late mother was a Southerner, and Deka describes at length the discrimination she suffers because of her mixed background and the villagers’ suspicions about her mother’s purity. That seemed to infer that race was a factor in the purity tested in the ritual. As it turns out, the state religion is enforced by the Emperor, a Southerner, so Deka’s dark skin has nothing to do with her purity. Also, once Deka leaves her village, the whole issue of racial tension becomes a nonissue.

As another example, the appearance of an alaki is supposedly rare; Deka remarks that the last time it happened to her village was “decades ago.” However, when she goes to the imperial capital, she joins scores of other alaki–and those are only the ones born in Deka’s birth year. That makes them uncommon, but certainly not as rare as the original statement led us to believe.

Then there are the okai. The term is introduced on page 1, but it isn’t defined until halfway through the story, which was confusing. Unfortunately, getting that definition made things even more confusing. Okai are top-tier imperial assassins, and not only are there female okai, there’s an entire garrison in the capital dedicated to their training. Despite the religious rules stating that women can’t leave home without an escort, must cover their faces with a mask (kind of a reverse veil), and are forbidden from running, that same system also allows some women to be trained as elite killers under the Emperor’s auspices? The necessity of female okai, which have supposedly existed for generations, is never explored, nor is the means by which girls are chosen for this path rather than the standard fate of submission to a husband. These inconsistencies in the world order are unfortunate, especially because other aspects of Otera, especially the visual descriptions of setting, architecture, and fauna, are beautifully imagined.

In the midst of this problematic world framework, Deka undergoes a classic hero’s journey. She begins as a powerless, oppressed prisoner, and through the help of the enigmatic noble White Hands, she endures boot camp style training, learns to harness her true powers, and ultimately discovers and fulfills her grand destiny. Between the abuse, the training, and the battle scenes, there is a lot of brutality and death. The violence isn’t gratuitous; Forna has a purpose for those scenes, but if you’re squeamish about torture, this might not be the best fit.

Forna does a pretty good job presenting the psychological scars of Deka and her fellow alaki. Fleshing out the personalities of the male characters, not so much. By and large, the men are one-dimensional brutes, who are often corrupt and self-righteous to boot. The one exception is Deka’s love interest, Keita, who is so perfect he treats deathshrieks with respect, despite the fact they slaughtered his entire family.

Those who enjoy heroic tales will find Deka’s journey from weakling to warrior an engaging one (if you’re willing to overlook the issues in the world order.) For me, the most compelling part of the story was White Hands and the secrets she withholds from Deka. Forna does an amazing job of weaving an air of intrigue around this character. However, when the mystery behind the deathshrieks’ very complicated lifecycle is revealed, all I felt was disappointment. White Hands is presented as the cunning strategist pulling the strings in the background, but her master plan is way more convoluted than it had to be. And despite the excessively unnecessary twists and turns leading to the confrontation against the ultimate big bad, the final battle is conveniently tidy and short.

In Summary

I really wanted to like this book but couldn’t. The Gilded Ones has strong female characters, vivid visual details, and unfortunately, too many places where you must suspend belief. If you’re looking to read about girls who kick butt and overthrow their oppressive patriarchal systems, this book has it in spades. However, if you need that action presented against a world order that makes some sort of sense, give The Gilded Ones a pass.

First published at The Fandom Post.

 

Manga Review: Hatsu*Haru Vol. 10

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 10! (For reviews of previous volumes, click here.)

Back Cover Blurb

Thanks to Riko’s heroic instinct, she took first prize in the Hottest Guy Contest and won a trip to a hot-spring resort. Kai has been eagerly awaiting their romantic getaway, but unfortunately for him, the dream trip for two has suddenly become a group affair. With Shimura and Misaki tagging along, alone time has dwindled to a thing of mere imagination. Odds take a turn in the boys’ favor, though, when Shimura insists on sleeping in Misaki’s room…The hope for intimacy may not be lost, after all!

The Review

The last volume ended with Riko winning Hottest Guy Contest, and Volume 10 dives into the hot springs trip Kai was hoping for. Only it’s not the intimate getaway he’d been dreaming of. Yes, we get to see our characters in traditional clothing in a charming setting, but in keeping with the pattern of Kai’s romantic plans getting thwarted, this time he’s blindsided by a third and fourth wheel. The circumstances that have Misaki and Ayumi joining their overnight trip are fairly improbable, but this is shojo manga, so oh well.

Not surprisingly, Riko’s awkwardness about being alone with Kai interferes with his efforts to grow closer to her, but he manages to get a kiss without getting punched, so that’s progress in a sense. As for the other pair, they’re still not a couple, but Ayumi’s forced to face Misaki’s feelings more directly than she’s ever had to.

Then the timeline speeds up, and we zip through three holidays: Christmas, New Year’s, and Valentine’s Day. Most of the focus ends up on Valentine’s Day when Kai, who despairs that it will even occur to Riko to give him chocolate, decides to make Valentine’s chocolates for her instead. A third of Chapter 39 winds up an illustrated recipe for chocolate muffins as Kai and his guy friends head to the kitchen to bake treats. The narrative’s taken pains to point out how manly Riko is, and this arc highlights Kai taking the traditionally girly role.

Predictably, Kai’s Valentine’s chocolate arc ends with a comic twist. For Misaki, though, it extends to a get well visit to Ayumi’s house when she falls ill on Valentine’s Day. Unlike the time Kai took Riko home, Ayumi’s conscious for all of Misaki’s attentions, and it is sweet seeing him dote on her. However, the mood shifts to comic when Misaki encounters Ayumi’s parents. The arc reveals quite a bit about Ayumi, and the way it strengthens Misaki’s resolve to pursue her is adorable.

Extras include story-thus-far, mini-manga about Fujisawa-sensei and her assistants, afterword, and translation notes.

In Summary

Kai and Riko’s romance continues at a turtle’s pace. Despite an overnight trip and a tremendous effort to make Valentine’s Day special, they only manage to progress to the point where Kai can kiss Riko without getting punched. Misaki, though, is making great strides with Ayumi. Although she’s yet to reciprocate his feelings, it’s a delight to watch the two grow closer.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Manga Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #09

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 09 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

Only a step away from their demise, the Regadonia Entente Alliance desperately push for a government-in-exile. Meanwhile, the notorious “Rusted Silver” Tanya von Degurechaff faces off against Colonel Anson Sue in another fatal battle that threatens to change the course of the entire war…and her chances of promotion!

The Review

Volume 8 ended with a glimpse into the far future, and Volume 9 continues that meandering path by detouring back to the assessment that revealed Tanya’s magic capabilities. While this look to the past includes her rationale for volunteering for the military, it mainly serves as a framework for explaining how technology and magic work in this world. If you’ve ever been curious about the origins of aerial mages, these pages lay out a fairly detailed explanation.

We then return to Tanya’s present-day and the summons that cut her leave short. The pace gets bogged down as the narrative presents a status report on the northern conflict against the Alliance, an initial survey of the battleground to come, the announcement of search and destroy orders to Tanya’s battalion and an update on the Alliance official at the center of this activity. It’s a lot of information for a complicated setup. Tojo-sensei makes these giant chunks of information more digestible by placing some of it in a lunchtime chat between Visha and an Academy friend and by interjecting humor through the contrasting responses of Tanya and her subordinates. Even so, it’s a dense read. (Not nearly as dense as the original novel text though).

However, there is a purpose to laying out the broader landscape for these multiple moving parts. When those parts finally converge, the payoff is huge. The collision of air, sea, and undersea forces is astronomically improbable, but it makes for splendid chaos, and Tojo-sensei does a great job conveying the frantic thoughts of all parties involved.

In the midst of the furious battle is a turning point for Mary Sue that doesn’t occur in either the anime or the novel. Being X and his cohorts in the higher plane haven’t meddled much since the Elinium 95 arc. Now they intervene directly and in a significant way. Whereas the anime and novel implied Mary’s powerful mana was something inherited from her father, here her powers are the result of not one, but three miracles. The divine backing she receives is quite dramatic and brands her as a force Tanya must contend with down the line.

Extras include a world map, battle log thus far, character introductions, and detailed glossary of terms between chapters. Unfortunately, the font on the character introductions is so small (4 point? 3 point?) that reading it feels like an eye exam.

In Summary

After a lesson on the history of mages, the narrative returns to the abrupt summons to Tanya’s battalion. These orders might be sudden, but the explanation of the circumstances surrounding it takes a while. However, if you’re patient enough to process that information, it pays off in a thrilling ocean battle.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #21

Spice and Wolf is a wildly popular light novel series that has spawned off an anime, an Internet radio show, and a manga series. While its European medieval setting is typical of high fantasy, this series has a unique bent. Rather than swordfights and magic, the plot focuses on economics, trade, and peddling in a way that skillfully blends adventure and romance.

Yen Press has released the 21st volume of this novel series, and you can read on for the review. (You can also click here for my reviews of previous Spice and Wolf releases).

The Review

I’d thought Lawrence and Holo’s traveling days were over, especially given that they’re now proprietors of a popular inn. However, Hasekura-sensei seems to have decided that this couple’s dynamic is best while they are on the road. Thus, thanks to assistance from several non-human types, the pair is journeying again, this time to catch up after their daughter Myuri.

The combination of travel and moneymaking schemes is reminiscent of the original series, but this book retains the Spring Log format. In other words, rather than one continuous narrative, it consists of five short stories, each with its own self-contained arc. However, the first four stories follow one another so closely chronologically that they form a steady look at this new journey.

The first of the four is “Beyond the Steam and Wolf,” written from the perspective of Selim, who’s tasked with running the bathhouse in Lawrence and Holo’s absence. She is a relative newcomer to the Spice and Wolf world, and we get to know the shy, conscientious wolf a bit better as Lawrence and Holo eagerly prepare to leave the village. The perspective then shifts to Lawrence’s once they hit the road. “The Autumn Colored Smile and Wolf” pokes fun at Lawrence’s rusty traveling skills during their first significant journey in over a decade. He then gets to redeem himself in “The Colors of the Forest and Wolf,” when a lord requests their assistance in protecting a forest in his territory. The impact of human activity on the ancient landscape Holo once ruled was a constant thread in the original books, and this story revisits that issue. Then the first leg of their journey ends with them handling the repercussions of Col and Myuri’s activity in “The Eggs of a Journey and Wolf.” This fourth story is a lovely throwback to the original Spice and Wolf tales in that it involves economics (futures trading in herring eggs) and conflict with a religious institution (a young priest who apparently aspires to be just like Col), but it also works in a new element. Preceding Spring Log tales have Lawrence and Holo seeking ways to preserve memories of their days together, and this story introduces a new means for doing just that. An added bonus is that Holo is so desperate to attain it she refrains from her gluttonous ways for once.

The final story in the collection, “Another Birthday and Wolf,” is a brief flashback. Written from Col’s point of view, it chronicles a party celebrating the tenth year of both the Spice and Wolf bathhouse and Myuri. Most of it is Col preparing Myuri for her grand entrance. To be honest, it strikes me as odd that a young man of around twenty is dressing up the ten-year-old girl instead of her mother or another female. At any rate, the interchange makes it very difficult for me to take a romantic Col/Myuri pairing seriously.

Extras include the first eight pages printed in color, world map, six black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Holo and Lawrence begin a new journey! Fans of the original series will get to enjoy Holo and Lawrence essentially reliving their younger days on the road. They have the vibe of an old couple rather than the insecurity of their unmarried selves, but the stories present a nice blend of travel and moneymaking.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina Vol. #01

There are a range of witches depicted in literature nowadays – good, bad, sexy, terrifying. But how about a witch wandering around with no particular goal in mind? This is the subject of Jougi Shiraishi’s light novel Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina. Read on for the review of Volume 1.

Back Cover Blurb

What’s your favorite story? Does it have a hero who slays a dragon and saves a princess? Or a child of prophecy destined for greatness? Well, my favorite story is a little different. It’s the tale of a witch who travels the world, seeking nothing in particular. With no quest of her own, she’s free to wander wherever the wind takes her, adding a few pages to the story of whomever she meets before setting off on her next adventure. At the end of her travels, the witch takes on an apprentice who will one day begin her own journey. And so the cycle continues, or so the story goes. Now, the witch who starts the story anew…who could she be?

The Review

Elaina may be a witch, but she’s not an ugly old hag. As a cute girl in her late teens, she’s definitely in the moe category. But despite being a genius at magic, she uses her powers mainly to fly herself via broomstick from place to place.

No, this isn’t a witch on a quest for magical items or seeking to improve her skills or any other concrete goal. For the vast majority of the story, Elaina’s magic merely shortens her travel time. She doesn’t even really use those powers to make a living, which strikes me as truly odd. Despite having the ability to fix broken items, transform herself into animals, manipulate tools, and fight off several mages at once, the way she earns money when she runs low on cash is bogus fortune-telling. As such, the magic aspect of this story is nominal, except for a couple of flashback chapters about Elaina’s witch apprenticeship. (Even then, her motivation for undergoing that training is because her mage parents require her to become a full-fledged witch before they will allow her to travel.)

The meat of the stories, then, is the places she visits. Elaina calls them “countries,” but they are more like medieval city-states. Each is ruled by a monarch, but they are enclosed by protective walls and can be fully explored in one to three days. Every chapter focuses on a different country or an in-between village. Because Elaina is a traveler, we get to explore these countries and villages alongside her, and each place is unique.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say each place has its own particular brand of weirdness. From the country that persecutes ugliness to the country awash in counterfeit currency to the country literally divided into two because its king and queen can’t compromise. Some episodes are humorous: others are mysterious or sad. However, these anecdotes tend to highlight the worst of humanity–stupidity, avarice, hate, deceit, indifference.

The opening chapter, “The Country of Mages,” left a particularly bad taste in my mouth. I believe the author’s intent was to make a story in which Elaina inspires a lonely mage. However, Saya’s behavior is definitely the stuff of creepy stalkers (I don’t care that it’s coming from a cute girl, psychopathic behavior is psychopathic behavior).

On top of that, Elaina’s commentary on the people and places she encounters is mostly snark. Because her snark isn’t particularly clever or insightful, it just makes everything seem that much more unpleasant. Given the disdain she expresses throughout most of her travels, I have to wonder why she bothered leaving home at all.

Extras include the first four pages printed in color, five black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

The title of this book is accurate. Its chapters chronicle the journey of a wandering witch named Elaina. However, the actual content of those chapters don’t form a cohesive narrative, and the main character Elaina doesn’t have enough personality to make engaging commentary on these disjointed and often dark anecdotes.

First published at the Fandom Post.