Tag Archives: Japanese

Love Nikki – Dress UP Queen (Mobile Game Review)

Publisher: Elex

Platform: Android

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Nikki gets dragged from her ordinary life in fashion design school and dropped–along with her cat Momo–in a strange place called Miraland. There, the enigmatic Queen Nanari tells her that she has a destiny that is tied to the fate of Miraland. Not that that actually tells Nikki much. But what an odd place she’s landed. It seems that fashion design is a huge thing here; conflicts are even resolved through design competitions! Looks like her design skills are going to be tested as she meets new people, learns more about the land and its people, and tries to figure out what on earth Nanari was talking about. Now if only Momo could find a satisfactory supply of grilled fish, they might be in business.

I generally don’t play mobile games much–like, ever. But Love Nikki is one that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s basically a fashion design/styling game, but it has a lot more to offer than it looks like at first glance. You’ve got a main storyline in which you encounter other characters and advance along a storyline. It’s not too complex, but it’s cute, and the fashion competitions there are pretty challenging–but there are plenty of tips to help if needed. There are also two levels, if you need a bigger challenge. There are also a number of other arenas in which players can engage with each other, whether competing directly against each other or teaming up in associations to complete tasks together. Plus, the publishers are really good about keeping fresh events to keep some variety. You also have several options for getting outfits–as rewards for completing levels, by purchasing them in the store(s), by completing special events, or by crafting them yourself. There’s a wide variety of outfit pieces to choose from (like, seriously huge), and they’re attractively created. Overall, the whole game aesthetic is really cute/pretty–kind of an anime sort of style. There’s definitely some strong Japanese influence (I think maybe it’s originally Japanese and has just been translated, actually). But yeah, the gameplay is pretty fun, and the style is cute. Plus, it’s free (okay, you can pay for extra stuff, but it’s entirely possible to play completely free, so why on earth would you pay for it?!). I would definitely recommend Love Nikki for those interested in an above-average mobile game.

Note: You can find more information on the game, including lots of helpful tips at https://lovenikki.world/.

 

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Captive Hearts (manga)

Mangaka: Matsuri Hino/Translator: Andria Cheng

Status: Complete (5 volumes)

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Megumi Kuroishi has been living the unconcerned life of a rich boy in the mansion bequeathed to his father when the masters of the house, the Kogami family, disappeared somewhere in China when Megumi was just a little boy. But his life is turned upside down when it is discovered that the young heiress Suzuki, the Kogamis’ daughter, survived and has been found–and is returning to the house in Japan. Because there’s something Megumi’s father has neglected to mention to him . . . the entire Kuroishi family has been cursed ages ago by the Dragon God to always serve the Kogami family. Let’s just say that he finds out most awkwardly, finding himself strangely drawn to Suzuka and going into weird, protective “manservant fits” if he looks into her eyes too long. Awkward for everyone concerned, especially since Suzuka is not the “young mistress” sort, having lived as a commoner in China for most of her life. As the two spend more time together, however, they are drawn to ask–is there something more than an ancient curse going on between the two of them? Because it sure seems like they’re falling in love.

Here in Captive Hearts we have the very first serialized manga by the author of the esteemed Vampire Knight. And yeah, it’s pretty obvious that this is a first manga. It’s relatively unplanned feeling, and the art goes through some pretty massive changes (improvements) over the course of the series. Having said that, it’s also pretty obviously the work of Hino-sensei, and if you like her work, there really is a lot to appreciate here. The art, while still developing, is still her distinctive style, and by the end of the series, it’s actually quite pretty. She does a great job of playing with themes in the chapter covers and manages to craft a style for the panels themselves that fits the shoujo yet goofy style of the story. And that’s where this story is so unique and likely to produce either a love or a hate reaction in its readers. Because it’s distinctly a shoujo romance story–fate, forbidden love, master/servant relationship, unlikely heroine, the whole gamut. But at the same time, even the mangaka acknowledges that it’s a silly story. It was really intended as a one-shot to begin with, so the whole premise is pretty absurd. And while you do get some solid character and plot development (including some nice flashbacks to the whole Dragon God story), the unlikeliness and silliness do continue firmly throughout the story. But it’s a comedic romance, so it kind of works. I enjoy the story, in any case. I would mostly recommend Captive Hearts to those who enjoy comedy/romance shoujo stories or Hino-sensei’s works in particular. (Although again, in some ways this is pretty different from Vampire Knight. More similar to Meru Puri, although even that has a lot more maturity to the writing.)

Note: It’s notable that the Shojo Beat physical copies of this manga also include several interesting one-shots of Hino’s, mostly, again, cute romance stories.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Ongoing (7 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 12 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

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Deal Alert: Haikasoru Humble Bundle

For anyone who’s interested, Humble Bundle currently has a book bundle featuring quite a few volumes from Haikasoru, a division of VIZ media that focuses on Japanese sci-fi/fantasy novels. (Of note, this bundle is focused mostly on the sci-fi aspect, although there are one or two that I would venture to loosely consider fantasy.) I’m familiar with a few of these books personally, including The Book of Heroes by Miyuki Miyabe (which is fabulous and would be worth the cost of the bundle in itself). These books tend to be a bit longer and more novel-like that your typical light novel, which I enjoy because it gives a broader view of Japanese lit than you typically get with the manga/light-novel scene, although I love that, too. Other books include Mardock Scramble and Red Girls (which is by the author of Gosick!), as well as numerous others with which I am not yet familiar. Definitely worth the price, in my opinion.

You can find this bundle at https://www.humblebundle.com/books/haikasoru-books.

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Oh! My Useless Goddess! (Light Novel)

Author: Natsume Akatsuki/Translator: Kevin Steinbach

Illustrator: Kurone Mishima

Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World, vol. 1

My rating: 4 of 5

When Kazuma Sato’s sad, shut-in life in modern-day Japan ends abruptly–the one time he actually goes out!–he finds himself presented with a most unusual offer. Proceed to the afterlife or life out the rest of his life in a fantasy-like world with the intention of defeating the Demon King who is plaguing the people of that world. Bonus: he gets to request any one special item to bring along. But rather than choosing a normal item, Kazuma picks Aqua, the goddess who is offering him this choice–surely a goddess has some pretty handy stuff when dealing with monsters and such, right? But rather than the glamorous life of fighting monsters with beautiful girls at his side, Kazuma finds himself working odd jobs in the lowest level starter town, fighting animated cabbages, and looking after three relatively useless (although admittedly pretty) girls. Not exactly what he had in mind.

Oh! My Useless Goddess! was an amusing and funny light novel that I quite enjoyed. It falls into the somewhat ecchi shounen genre, but it kind of parodies a lot of the stuff you typically see in that genre. Instead of a protagonist with a lot of drive who keeps getting better, you get a protagonist who’s lazy and average (but manages to be an engaging character in spite of that, surprisingly, perhaps because he’s relatable). Instead of big, glamorous fights, you get slimy frogs, cabbages . . . and the occasional flashy “Explosion” from Megumin. Instead of your typical shounen “harem,” you get a quirky, weird set of girls who are basically hopeless despite having the best possible qualifications and being from impressive classes–okay, maybe that’s not too different from the typical stories in this genre, but still. Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness do have distinctive (read almost stereotypical) traits, but they manage to be interesting characters in spite of that. The plot is funny, largely due to the character interactions and the impossibility of Kazuma’s task in this new world. Plus it was interesting that, while the basic plot device of having a modern-day teen dumped in a fantasy/video game world, this story used a novel method for getting him there. A couple of things I found interesting on a side note: 1) The author mentions that this originally started as a webnovel, which I thought was pretty neat. It’s cool to see web-based stories get picked up by publishers and turned into physical novels. 2) The chapters in this light novel are weird. Meaning that there are only 4 official chapter divisions in the entire book; however, each chapter is divided multiple times into smaller chapter segments. So it works out as though there were several chapters, it just doesn’t look like it at the start. Weird. Well, this light novel is weird in general, but in a fun sort of way. Recommended for those who enjoy the genre in general, mostly.

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Recettear: An Item Shop’s Tale (Video Game)

By EasyGameStation & Carpe Fulgur

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Ditzy and warm-hearted Recette finds herself left with her father’s enormous debt and no way to pay it off. But in the interests of protecting their investment, the creditors contract the straitlaced fairy Tear to help Recette pull her act together and open an items shop in order to pay off her debts. A shop with Recette immediately names “Recettear,” a combination of their names, with a huge grin on her face. Excited to face this new adventure, Recette begins the process of acquiring items, building relationships with customers, and honing her haggling skills. Poor Tear’s got an uphill battle to make this thing work!

If I had to boil Recettear down to one word, “cute” would definitely be it. The anime-like art style, the character designs, the music, it’s all basically adorable. The premise draws on the concept from your typical RPG of the ubiquitous items shop. But while in most games, these shops are pretty generic, this story takes it from the shop owners’ perspective, selling to adventurers and townsfolk alike. It definitely plays like an RPG, but the majority of the focus is on resource management in the shop. Not that you can’t go dungeon crawling if you want to–and sometimes the variety is nice. While the whole buying and selling thing can be a bit repetitive, you are faced with time-management challenges and an increasingly complex market as time goes by. Plus, there are some fun character interactions mixed in, especially between Recette and Tear. I think the adorable relationship between these two–and the stark contrast in their personalities–is what truly makes this game. It’s certainly what I enjoyed the most. As for sound, the music is simple but cute. There is some minimal character voicing, mostly just set phrases, which is all in Japanese but is quite well done; the timing and quality of the actors really does add to the overall flavor of the game, although none of the actual words will make sense unless you have at least a basic understanding of Japanese. All the written text has been translated to English, though, so it’s completely playable–also, the translation is actually quite good. So yeah, it you’re looking for cute RPG that’s a bit different from the norm, I think Recettear is a fun option to try.

Note: You can find Recettear on Steam at http://store.steampowered.com/app/70400/Recettear_An_Item_Shops_Tale/.

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The House of Small Cubes (2008 Anime Short)

Robot Communications

My rating: 5 of 5

An elderly man lives alone in a single room above an ever-rising sea, smoking his pipe and reflecting quietly. One day, he accidentally drops his pipe through a hatch in the floor, prompting an unusual purchase–a diving suit! And once the man has begun his descent through the flooded levels of his home, he finds himself remembering, reliving his life in reverse from times with his grandchildren to his daughter’s growing up to early memories of his wife. It’s no wonder he chooses to stay in a place so rich with memory, even if he must fight the floodwaters to do so.

Wow, speaking of floodwaters . . . I cried buckets in the short time it took to watch this anime short film. I cried at least as much on the second viewing, possibly more. It’s just that sort of story. The sepia-toned, granulated illustration style carries an immediately nostalgic feel. And the music is just perfect–beautiful and enchanting, reflective without being depressing. I loved that the entire short was completely without dialogue; no translation needed for the universal impact of the story. I also loved the way the story challenged my perceptions–I started out feeling sorry for a lonely old man and ended up nostalgically happy knowing that he had a good life, people who loved him however crotchety he may have been. Incidentally, I also liked the way the illustrations reminded me of Shaun Tan’s illustrations; it’s quite a nice and unusual style. Seriously, The House of Small Cubes is less that 15 minutes long, so there’s no reason to not at least give it a try. Highly recommended.

Written by Kenya Hirata/Directed by Kunio Katō/Produced by Masanori Kusakabe & Yuko Hata/Music by Kenji Kondo

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