Category Archives: Light Novel Reviews

Light Novel 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 6 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

Through the bone-chilling winter wind, the clashes of war can be heard. Equipped with fragile weapons and machinery, Tanya and her unit march toward the Eastern front. There, Tanya realizes the primitiveness of it all, and that it’ll take more than a miracle to emerge unscathed…

The Review

As with the previous volume, this one begins with Tanya on the Eastern Front dealing with a dilemma. Whereas before the Salamander Kampfgruppe was struggling against guerrilla attacks, it’s now contending against a greater, nondiscriminating enemy: winter. Although they do have the assistance of the newly formed Council for Self-Government, their collaboration is mostly in name only. Yet Tanya once again sees through the mess of problems and to find solutions that protect her forces and cement relations with the Council for Self-Government. While her insights aren’t as revolutionary as the not-everyone-in-the-Federation-is-a-Commie realization of last time, watching her rational brain deal with the challenges that beset her still makes for an engaging read.

Of course, the Commies aren’t taking the PR fallout from the formation of the Council for Self-Government lying down. They counter with their own campaign: a multinational mage unit to display their international ties. Leading this unit are Colonel Drake of the Commonwealth and Colonel Mikel, recently a resident of a Federation concentration camp, and embedded in their group is Lieutenant Mary I’m-gonna-kill-the-Devil-of-the-Rhine Sue. Perspectives on the anti-Imperial side have bounced from character to character throughout the series, but that role looks like it’s going to be carried by this threesome moving forward.

This is a nice development because we’ll actually get a chance to truly get acquainted and attached to the people stuck with carrying out the orders of Commonwealth and Federation. Despite being representatives of very different ideologies, Drake and Mikel hit it off right away. Both are talented mages with a keen understanding of the political forces that have teamed them up. With a Communist political officer attached to watch the multinational unit’s every move, the two men are continually thrust into situations where they must put on a show for the Commies so that Mikel doesn’t get tossed back into the concentration camps.

While the Mikel and Drake walk a political tightrope to keep themselves and their subordinates alive, Mary tears about like the proverbial bull in a china shop. She might’ve gotten sympathy points before as the bereaved daughter of a fallen Entente Alliance mage, but now she’s just a thoughtless officer causing trouble for everyone around her. If Tanya has an antithesis, Mary is it. She’s fighting for completely personal reasons, has no regard for rules and procedure, and despite the line in the narrative, “[Mary] wasn’t a girl who couldn’t read the room,” Mary really can’t read any perspective but her own. Any appearance of Mary inevitably causes a headache for her commander Drake, and I’m groaning right alongside him.

As far as the broader scope of the continental conflict goes, things get muddled further when the kingdom of Ildoa does some saber-rattling. The introduction of a potential new player on the current theater of war turns the narrative into a bit of a slog. Zen-sensei’s tendency toward untagged dialogue and minimal setting descriptions, unfortunately, means that all the conjecturing about Ildoa’s intent and motives results in confusion rather than an aura of intrigue. As such, I look forward to the manga’s version of these events to clarify the situation for me.

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

In Summary

Characters on both sides keep the story lively with challenges physical and political. We still have Tanya struggling to compensate for the gap between General Staff’s view of things and reality, but now the Commonwealth’s Drake also provides a similar perspective as a commander in the multinational mage unit. The high level scope of the growing continental conflict unfortunately remains a difficult read, but the scenes of those in the trenches cut straight to the heart.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #04

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 04 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

A devil wanders the battlefield in the guise of an adorable young child and her name is Tanya Degurechaff! After returning from the sandy southlands, Tanya receives an incredibly suspicious order from headquarters to embark on a training exercise. In reality, command has sent her on a covert mission to initiate a border conflict with the Federation. Soon the Empire finds itself embroiled in another fight it cannot back down from, even if it means making the entire world their enemies!

The Review

Having fought on the Empire’s north, south, and west fronts, Tanya now gets sent east. The Federation is the one neighbor that has maintained peace with the Empire, so when the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion gets yanked from the Southern Continent and receive orders to infiltrate the Federation under the pretext of a training exercise, it’s clear trouble’s brewing.

In previous conflicts, the narrative generally described the war’s outbreak and provided a heap of commentary before throwing Tanya into that battlefield to participate. This time she’s actually a witness to the outset of the war. And because the Federation and the Empire are being highly secretive—even to their own officers, the tension in the opening chapter is wonderful.

Once the fighting breaks out, things get even better. Against previous adversaries, Tanya never harbored personal hatred; taking them down is just her job. The Communists, however, fall into a completely different category. Our former salaryman and believer in market values loathes Communists, and seeing Tanya get so het up about an enemy is a fascinating change. The lengths she’ll go to undermine the Commies are surprisingly extreme and not only from a military tactical standpoint. Suffice to say, her raid on the Federation capital is a thrill to read.

I am guessing that Zen-sensei himself is also not a fan of Communists because he depicts the Federation as the worst type of Stalinist regime. Not only is it a state whose soldiers are as terrified of the ruling regime as they are of enemy armies, but Comrade Loria, the dictator’s right hand man, is a pervert with no redeeming qualities. He’s definitely a villain with a truly icky POV.

After the initial clash with the Communists, Zen-sensei switches back to his usual style of over explaining the rationale behind everything. In Chapter III, Tanya and her officers spend 9 pages debating whether or not they should rescue forces trapped at Tiegenhoff, and the text describing the actual mission only takes a page. Fortunately, he’s more generous with his play-by-play of a daring combat-search-and-rescue in Commonwealth Territory.

In contrast to Tanya’s brilliant individual victories, the fortunes of her country continue to decline. As result, we get a refrain of an earlier theme: efforts intended to snag a cushy desk job result in yet another assignment on the front lines. In spite of Zen-sensei’s long-winded prose, the twists and turns of the plot remains compelling, and I look forward to the next volume.

Extras include map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

A new front breaks out for the already beleaguered Empire. Previously, we’ve had precious little about the Federation to the east; now the Stalinist leadership clashes head to head with Tanya, who absolutely detests Communists. If you’ve stuck with the series this long, Tanya’s passion against this new adversary will be a fun and engaging new element in this military chronicle.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 3

Holo and Lawrence of the  Spice and Wolf light novel series have reached their happy ending, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 3.

Back Cover Blurb

The companion of the young man who wishes to become a priest, Col, is the daughter of the wisewolf, Myuri, and she urges him to make her his wife. After leaving the pirate islands, the two get caught up in a storm and arrive the port town of Desarev in the Winfiel Kingdom. In this town, where the Church lies dormant, Col is called “The Twilight Cardinal” and is treated like a savior. He also has to face Myuri’s unrequited love, so he forbids her from calling him “Brother,” and tries to change their relationship. Before them appears a merchant girl who calls herself Ilenia. She is the embodiment of a sheep and asks them to help her with some “big plans!”

The Review

The world of Wolf and Parchment/Spice and Wolf is predominantly one of the humans. Even though the main cast includes nonhumans, the narrative treats them like creatures whose era is long past. As such, whenever the occasional new nonhuman enters the story, they’re generally striving to survive as a member of human society.

Volume 3 changes this dynamic. It begins with a storm forcing Myuri and Col to land in Winfiel’s town of Desarev. There, Col sees firsthand how Winfiel’s conflict with the Church has impacted ordinary citizens. As with so many stories in this series, religion and economics loom large in the details. In this case, because the corrupt Church has retreated from the kingdom, the populace reaps material benefits but also spiritual insecurity. On top of that, Winfiel’s king is demanding churches pay taxes as retribution. And it’s in the midst of this strife that Col and Myuri chance upon Ilenia, who’s the embodiment of a sheep, and rumors of the Moon-Hunting Bear.

In the Spice and Wolf series, the Moon-Hunting Bear was only found in dusty manuscripts, and I assumed it died like so many other creatures of legend. However, Ilenia tells of a recent naval expedition that was almost completely destroyed by a monster in a land far to the west. She’s convinced it’s the Moon-Hunting Bear. Moreover, she views that western land as a place where nonhumans can live freely.

At this point, the story takes on elements of the Age of Exploration in addition to aspects of the Reformation. On top of that, the one striving to go to the new world is a sheep girl who wants to create a county where beings like her can live in their true forms. This sounds like a massive hodgepodge, but Hasekura-sensei links everything such that the narrative not only makes sense, it sheds extra light upon previous actions of the Church and the Winfiel royal family. In addition, it also draws several non-human characters, new and old, into the narrative.

As such, this volume is a delightfully multilayered read from beginning to end. Even the troublesome element of Myuri’s obsessive crush is addressed satisfactorily when Col makes her realize that she’s unable to address him by any name except “Brother.” The only problematic detail is that smoke inhalation isn’t an issue in the dramatic final scene, but that aside, Hasekura-sensei combines a host of disparate elements into a cohesive, engaging story.

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

In Summary

Amid growing political and religious tensions come rumors of a monster to the far west. The reemergence of the name of the Moon-Hunting Bear seems abrupt in a very human conflict, but Hasekura-sensei weaves the story such that the interests of humans and nonhumans are intertwined, although not aligned. This brings to light a whole new aspect of the conflict between the Church and Winfiel and builds anticipation for the next step in Col and Myuri’s journey.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #20

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 20th 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).

Back Cover Blurb

After a short summer, lively with guests, the bathhouse Spice & Wolf greets the momentary calm that is autumn. The unusually enthusiastic Holo and an exasperated Lawrence want to have their fill of what the mountain-bound Nyohhira has to offer in autumn. After a walk in the mountains the two return to the bathhouse with a basket-full of goodies, and there is a crowd of people at the entrance. “I do not quite know what it might be, but it smells of many beasts.” The reason these sudden, out-of-season guests came to bathhouse Spice & Wolf is-!

The Review

This twentieth volume of the Spice and Wolf series is subtitled Spring Log III, but all four seasons are represented in the book’s five short stories. In addition to showing readers the rhythms of the hot springs village throughout the year, Hasekura-sensei also brings back some old characters in this installment.

The first story “What Falls in the Spring and Wolf” does actually take place in the spring. This is a comical tale involving the annual dilemma of Holo shedding winter fur and another fur-related problem connected to Luward, the commander of the Miyuri Mercenary Company. I never associated animal pheromones with fur before so it took me a while to grasp Luward’s predicament (and even now, I’m not sure what trusty assistant Moizi was doing to handle the situation while Luward went for help). However, the story is a fun way for Luward to return to the story, albeit briefly.

Then “The White Hound and Wolf” goes back a couple years to present a glimpse of the bathhouse’s busy winter season before Myuri left home. The narrator is a church inquisitor investigating rumors about Nyohhira’s newest establishment, and he is predictably suspicious and judgemental. However, he does provide an outsider’s view of the hot springs village and winds up exemplifying how Spice and Wolf charms even the most difficult guest.

After the stranger’s perspective, we get an intimate nighttime moment between the bathhouse owners in “Caramel Days and Wolf.” Not a whole lot of action takes place in this short story, but it is an entertaining character study. Those curious about the outcome of the journal project Lawrence proposed in the previous volume will see some of the results, and Lawrence also gets to show how much better he’s gotten at understanding and handling his wily wife.

Next is “Blue Dreams and Wolf,” the volume’s summertime tale and longest story. The tale starts off with a money related problem—namely a regional coin shortage—and takes on a religious and political bent when the remains of a retainer of a long-forgotten lord are discovered in a cave outside Nyohhira. These are all standard elements of earlier Spice and Wolf adventures, and I anticipated the ex-merchant and wolf to devise a tidy solution to solve everything, just like they did in the past. To my surprise, the story concludes with only a partial resolution to their problems. Instead, however, we get to witness Holo in an unusually vulnerable moment, which offers a different sort of satisfaction.

Finally, “Harvest Autumn and Wolf” has Holo and Lawrence abruptly receiving unusual offseason guests. At first, the story seems as if it will center around the novelty of entertaining a group made up entirely of non-humans like Holo. However, when the guests start telling their versions of Lawrence and Holo’s journey to the north, the focus shifts to the legacy the pair have created. And apparently, that legacy isn’t done. The way the story ends strongly hints that a new road trip is in store for Lawrence and Holo.

By the way, I’ve noticed that the descriptions of Holo’s physical form are somewhat inconsistent in this installment. In places, she’s described as looking like a bride of fourteen or fifteen, which is how I’ve always pictured her. Other places say she resembles a child “around the age of ten.” Perhaps something is lost in the translation, but the latter descriptions jolt me out of the story and make me wonder how Holo can get away with passing herself off as Lawrence’s wife even without the no-aging aspect.

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

In Summary

If you’ve wondered what life is like throughout the year in Lawrence and Holo’s hot springs village, these five standalone stories paint a pretty good picture. The content ranges from an outsider’s first impression of the Spice and Wolf bathhouse to Lawrence’s umpteenth year of dealing with Holo’s shedding tail. There’s no central theme that ties these stories together, but we do get to see how Lawrence and Holo’s matured relationship handles both the light- and heavy-hearted moments.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Saga of Tanya the Evil Vol. #03

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 03 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

Has Tanya finally done it!? The cushy office desk job assignment she’s been waiting for at the Military University is finally hers to enjoy. That is…until there’s a hiccup in her assignment!

The Review

With the third volume of The Saga of Tanya the Evil, we reach the end of the content covered in the anime. This installment also provides a much more detailed account of the fall of the Republican homeland than is depicted in the TV series. In the anime, the Republican Army’s defeat gets presented as a series of rapid action scenes that take only about half an episode. In the novel, however, we get all the nitty-gritty of Zettour and Rudensdorf convincing the imperial brass of their plan, Tanya’s thoughts as she speeds deep into enemy territory at Mach 1.5, and her anguish when the Empire fails to end the war. Most interestingly, the narrative includes an unwitting blow to a hidden spy complex that was completely excluded from the anime. Although I can see how production constraints would result in this detail getting cut, the Commonwealth’s espionage activities lends the novel a juicier political landscape.

Unfortunately, these intriguing additional layers are presented in Zen-sensei’s particular storytelling so it does take work to interpret the confusing parts and stamina to get through the dry and repetitive ones. As in previous volumes, a lack of setting details and dialogue tags in scene openers meant that I sometimes had to read a couple pages into the scene before I figured out which characters and which place the narrative had shifted to. For instance, Zen-sensei includes a conversation between angelic beings in the heavenly realms, and it wasn’t until I was over two pages into the scene that I realized there were more than two characters involved in the conversation. Also, the beings converse about taking action in the mortal world, but even after rereading the scene three times, I still don’t understand what they are plotting.

By the way, this angelic conversation is the first glimpse of the divine that we’ve gotten since Volume 1, and it’s the only one in Volume 3. Although Tanya’s rebellion against God is what caused her current predicament and she spouts plenty of venom against him, God doesn’t actually appear in the narrative much. However, that’s actually fine because Tanya’s personal circumstances and the geopolitical situation contain more than enough conflict to keep the plot interesting.

The last third of the book is devoted to the Southern Campaign. The anime ends with the 203rd’s arrival on the Southern Continent, but this volume dives into the imperial army’s conflict against the Commonwealth and the remnants of the Republican forces. A new character, General von Romel, gets introduced as the head of this campaign and a master of maneuver warfare. While I’m not certain whether he is intended to be a tribute to Germany’s Desert Fox, he does provide a fresh perspective on Tanya that the generals at Imperial HQ lack.

Extras include the map and fold-out illustration in color; appendixes explaining military strategy and history timeline; author afterword; and six black-and-white illustrations.

In Summary

After reading this volume, my general impression is that Carlo Zen has created a truly fascinating multi-layered plot—and I can’t wait to read the manga version of it. As with the previous volumes, his prose continues to demand quite a bit of effort on the part of readers in order to visualize settings and characters and to comprehend all the military and political forces at work. However, those willing to continue to investing time and energy in this series will be rewarded with Tanya’s gripping struggle for survival as her country spirals toward a world war.

First published at the Fandom Post.

 

 

 

Light Novel Review: Mirai

 Mamoru Hosoda is the director of the science fiction films The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Summer Wars. His latest film, Mirai, was released last summer, and Yen Press has released a hard cover translation of the novel adaption. Read on for the review!

Back Cover Blurb

Little Kun isn’t too happy about the latest addition to his family. With the arrival of a new baby sister in the house, he worries his parents may not love him as much as they used to… But when a teenage girl shows up and tells Kun that she is his sister from the future, it may be that there’s more to this new relationship than Kun ever could’ve dreamed!

The Review

Mirai is the novel version of the film directed by Mamoru Hosoda. As of the writing of this review, I have not seen the film, but I have a feeling the pace of the film is markedly different than the novel. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and despite the foreword’s claim that the story is limited to a single house and yard, the main character Kun gets taken to a variety of places, including past, future, and fantastical ones. In addition, trains are key to the book’s imagery, so the certain sections are a litany of Japanese trains. Between the rambling setting descriptions and train details, Hosoda-sensei’s writing makes for a slow read.

It’s also a slow read because the main character is a four-year-old boy with four-year-old problems. Kun lives happily in a uniquely styled house with his parents and dog—until his mom gives birth to a baby sister. Suddenly, Kun is no longer the center of his parents’ universe, and the spoiled little boy does not take it well. However, when Kun feels like his world’s falling apart, a mysterious force in the family courtyard whisks him away for encounters that shift his perspective.

The title Mirai, which is also the name of Kun’s sister, means “future.” However, Kun is more often in the past and present than  the future, and he interacts with many more characters than his sister. In fact, his first courtyard encounter is with an anthropomorphized version of Yukko the family dog, who sneers at the jealous boy because Yukko suffered the same predicament when Kun was born.

Regarding the plot, it’s Kun’s journey to accept his sister as a member of the family. Unfortunately, the overall arc isn’t very strong, and what results is a series of episodes where Kun throws a fit about something (like having to clean up his toys) and the courtyard sends him across space and time to a family member who helps broaden his perspective. It’s like a parent’s dream; whenever a tantrum erupts, a space-time shift takes the brat away for an attitude adjustment so the parents don’t have to discipline the kid themselves.

Despite the time travel aspect, the story is very much a slice-of-life where Kun’s greatest achievement is learning to ride a bicycle and household chores pile up after Kun’s mom returns to work. Unfortunately, those aspects of life aren’t exactly charming, and neither is Kun.  I’m not inclined toward stories about small children to start, and Kun is the type who kicks his dad in the face and hits his newborn sister in the head with a toy train. In the spirit of showing the twists and turns of the family’s heritage, the story does showcase the circumstances of Kun’s World War II era great-grandfather, but even though great-granddad is pretty interesting, he’s not enough to keep the story from bogging down.

Extras include four pages in color including a scene from the movie and foreword.

In Summary

Adjustment to a new sibling is a common event; having a magical courtyard help a bratty kid through that transition is not. The movie is probably a visual feast, but Hosoda-sensei’s lengthy descriptions makes the fantastical elements a tiresome read. Four-year-old Kun himself is tiresome as he throws one tantrum after another, and it makes me want to send him on the bullet train to nowhere.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Wolf and Parchment: New Theory Spice and Wolf Vol. 2

The Spice and Wolf light novel series has reached its conclusion, but for those who haven’t gotten enough of the Spice and Wolf world, creator Hasekura has a spinoff series: Wolf and Parchment. Read on for the review of Volume 2.

Back Cover Blurb

The young man Col and the daughter of the Wisewolf, Myuri, survived the scripture riots in the port town of Atiph. Col spends intense days being pined for after Myuri tells him about her love.

Meanwhile, Heir Hyland commissions them for another next job. In the coming war with the Church’s forces, control over the strait between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the mainland will play a crucial role. While Myuri is excited for a new adventure, Col cannot hide his unease after hearing about potential heresy among certain pirates for their faith in the “Black-Mother”!

The Review

Volume 2 continues where Volume 1 left off, with tensions high between the Kingdom of Winfiel and the Church. And because the cause of righteousness is Winfiel’s call to arms, they have to be careful about who they ally themselves with in the coming war. Thus, Heir Hyland sends Col to the northern islands, whose inhabitants carry jet images of the Holy Mother, to determine whether the islanders’ faith is true or heresy.

Although Heir Hyland gives Col his mission in the context of the brewing conflict, this story winds up being more about the mystery behind the Black-Mother figures and the plight of region’s impoverished populace, who are frequently forced to sell their own children. The plot actually closely matches the pattern of Hasekura’s Spice and Wolf novels. Our characters go to explore a new place that also has a problem, their investigation unearths an astounding discovery, and that information plus the characters’ know-how allow them to craft a solution to the area’s problem. The resemblance is all the stronger because the region’s problems are economic, and the solution involves conjuring a “miracle” to manipulate the Church, a tactic used more than once in the Spice and Wolf series.

This makes for an interesting external conflict, especially when the truth about the monk Autumn and the Black-Mother figures come to light, but the resolution of Col’s internal journey is problematic. After all, Col is an idealistic, aspiring priest, not a cunning merchant. He’s pitting himself against the corruption of the Church and therefore conducts himself in strict accordance to God’s teachings. When his naive belief collides with the stark misery of the islanders, it makes for a gripping crisis of faith. Ultimately, he chooses to save the islanders by resorting to a method that he previously would have condemned. However, this moral compromise doesn’t seem to cause him any guilt or ambivalence about the faith he represents. And in the end, he remains determined to devote his life to God even though he doesn’t know if that God exists.

Another somewhat problematic element is the dynamic between Myuri and Col. Like Holo in Spice and Wolf, Myuri always seems to have the last word. However, Holo is a centuries-old wisewolf while Myuri’s a reckless tomboy half Col’s age. Although her puppy-like enthusiasm and her crush on Col seem fitting (lots of kids do crush on adults, after all), it seems weird that she constantly gets the better of Col.

This light novel includes the first eight pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Winfiel and the Church may be on the brink of a religious war, but this sojourn to examine the faith of the northern islands winds up being a tale of economics. Despite Col’s devotion to God’s teachings, he relies on the abilities of nonhumans and deception in order to rectify an impoverished community’s financial woes. The way his actions run counter to his dearest beliefs make him less believable as a character, but the larger narrative of the northern islands adventure should hold a lot of appeal for Spice and Wolf fans.

First published at the Fandom Post.

Light Novel Review: Spice and Wolf Vol. #19

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 19th 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).

Back Cover Blurb

Blissful days continue for the ex-merchant and the wolf as they pass the days together in their mountain home. Ever since Col and Myuri set off on a journey of their own, the bathhouse has been a little shorthanded so a new hire was brought on. But this newcomer is a wolf, just like Holo, and the problems with her joining the staff seem endless…

The Review

Spring Log II delivers four additional stories that take place after Lawrence and Holo have settled down together. However, even though A Petal’s Fragrance and Wolf is framed in the context of Lawrence and Holo as empty-nesters, the tale actually centers on an incident that took place while they were still traveling about in Lawrence’s wagon. It’s very much a classic Spice and Wolf setup. The pair arrive in a community with a money-related dilemma (in this case, contention over funding for a water mill’s repairs), and through some combination of Lawrence’s and Holo’s abilities, a clever answer to the problem arises. Considering that Holo’s rose-scented oil is the inspiration for Lawrence’s money-making/fire-prevention scheme, it seems as if the solution should have been obvious much sooner. But because they’re stuck pondering the problem for so long,  readers get to see Lawrence and Holo handle the situation as recently committed lovers rather than simply merchant and wisewolf.

The POV next shifts from Lawrence to Col in Sweet Fangs and Wolf. Lawrence and Holo take on the role of supporting cast, and the spotlight turns to Spice and Wolf’s aspiring priest and the tomboy Miyuri. While we get a glimpse of Lawrence and Holo as parents, the story is more about Col’s and Miyuri’s drastically different personalities and how they manage to maintain a warm relationship despite their differences.

Then it’s back to Lawrence’s POV and another travel story in Grooming Sheep and Wolf. But this trip takes place after the events of Muddy Messenger Wolf and Wolf of Volume 18, and poor Lawrence is dealing with the aches and pains that come with getting older. However, certain things do get better with age. In the main Spice and Wolf arc, Lawrence was constantly misreading situations and looking the fool before Holo. In this story, the roles get switched; Holo’s the one caught in embarrassment, and Lawrence is able to see the true feelings behind the Holo’s crumbling facade. After so many volumes of Holo mocking Lawrence, this story is a refreshing change of pace.

For the final story in the volume, Hasekura-sensei uses a POV we don’t see often: Holo’s. Set after Grooming Sheep and Wolf and the first volume of Wolf and Parchment, Memories of Spice and Wolf shows the Spice and Wolf household shaken up not only by the new wolf Selim but the repercussions from the actions of the kids who’ve recently left. As such, it winds up feeling like two separate stories, one about Selim’s adjustment from her family pack and another about the avalanche of parchment that’s landed on Lawrence’s desk.

The thing that holds the otherwise disparate arcs together is Holo’s anxious struggle to embed events in her memory. References to time feel less concrete than in other characters’ POVs, which heightens the impression that Holo experiences the flow of events much differently than the rest of the cast. For most of the series, Holo has been the image of confidence and power. However, just as in Grooming Sheep and Wolf, Holo’s insecure side comes to the surface, and it’s Lawrence who recognizes that weakness and lovingly shows her a way past her fears. Interestingly, Holo never refers to Lawrence by name. While in her perspective, Lawrence is “her companion” or “Fool” (although she does call Lawrence “dear” twice during a tender moment). Regardless, he is precious to her, and her emotions flow beautifully off the page as Lawrence tries to prepare her for the day he can no longer be with her.

This light novel includes the first eight pages of illustrations printed in color, world map, seven black-and-white illustrations, and afterword.

In Summary

Holo never refers to Lawrence as her husband, but Spring Log II covers the span of what is essentially their marriage, from the early days when they were still traveling by wagon to parenting moments with Myuri and Col to the empty-nester phase. Economics figures into some of the stories, but the main focus is Holo and Lawrence’s relationship and the issues that arise because Lawrence’s lifespan is so much shorter than Holo’s. While Holo retains her sharp tongue, she shows much more affection than in the main Spice and Wolf arc, and there are plenty of warm and fuzzy moments for Holo/Lawrence fans to enjoy.

First published at the Fandom Post.