Tag Archives: shounen

No Game No Life, vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Author: Yuu Kamiya/Translator: Daniel Komenno-game-no-life-1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Urban legends speak of a gamer with an impossible record of zero losses, a player who goes simply by “ ” or Blank. What the legends miss is that Blank is actually two players, a brother and sister pair who are as awful at real life as they are amazing at games. So when the two get sucked into a world where everything is decided by playing games of one sort or another, Sora and Shiro don’t do the expected and try to get home. They set their sights on the throne!

I really enjoyed reading No Game No Life, but I have to admit rather mixed feelings when looking at the light novel objectively. There are some things about it that are really well done and interesting; others, not so much. The concept, for instance, is brilliant–an alternate world with a fantasy flair that’s run entirely on games rather than wars and such is just remarkable. And the characters that Kamiya chose to stick in this setting are just perfect–I seriously think Sora and Shiro as a pair are about the most interesting characters you could possibly choose for this setting both because of the dynamic between them (which is intriguing in itself) and because of their mindset when it comes to games. The overall writing style is pretty average, I’d say typical for a light novel if not stellar. And I’m not even going to complain about the fanservice because 1) No Game No Life is just that kind of story, and if you want to totally avoid the fanservice, you’ll have to avoid this sort of story entirely, and 2) the fanservice in this volume is actually not that bad. What did bother me in that regard is the mild lolicon/incestuous verbal insinuations that were scattered throughout–they never amount to anything, but they’re kind of creepy still. Also, the fact that Sora uses a command that can’t be disobeyed to make a girl love him is kind of wrong, even though the author makes a point to show all sorts of ways the girl could have gotten around the command without directly disobeying. (And I know, I’m making this sound like a totally hentai story. It really isn’t that bad; I just feel the need to point out these parts since they bothered me personally.) The other notable negative is that at points (whether this is the original style or a mistake on the translator’s part, I’m not sure), the text is a series of somewhat disconnected phrases posing as sentences. . . . You can understand what’s going on, but it kind of catches you off guard and looks weird. But in spite of the negatives listed above, I would recommend No Game No Life for anyone looking for a fantasy/gamer light novel (who doesn’t mind some ecchiness); I’m planning to continue reading the series in any case.

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A Fox’s Maid

a fox's maidAuthor: Brandon Varnell

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 3

My rating: 4 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Kevin and Lillian have forged something of a workable compromise between the two of them–to the extent that Kevin can actually admit (at least to himself) to enjoying Lillian’s company. She has managed to back off on the extreme advances that make him so very uncomfortable, and he’s finally able to be around her without crazily nose-bleeding or passing out every 5 minutes . . . not that either avoids these things entirely, but it’s a start. Kevin’s still in a conundrum though; he’s very aware of how much Lillian cares for him and wants a long-term committed relationship with him. But seriously, he’s 15! How’s he supposed to know if he feels the same way? Or if he’s even capable of making that sort of commitment at this point? And if that weren’t troubling enough, Lillian’s super-beautiful but super-scary maid Kotohime shows up to push him to decide quickly . . . or else.

I really enjoyed the first two volumes of this series, but I have to say, I feel like the author really came into his own in A Fox’s Maid. It’s consistent with the former books in its combination of crazy fourth-wall-breaking humor, over-the-top ecchi shenanigans, ominously looming plots, and excessive otaku references. But I feel like the balance was better in this volume. All of these things were still there, adding a lot to the story, but also keeping out of the way enough to allow the characters to shine. I think Lillian and Kevin (as well as numerous other characters) were developed a lot in this story as individuals, and that was really enjoyable to see. Also (personally), it was very satisfying to see the romantic development between Lillian and Kevin advance, and in a way that works well for who they are as characters. I think that, for those who have enjoyed the previous volumes of this series, A Fox’s Maid is a follow-up light novel that will exceed expectations.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

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A Fox’s Love

Author: Brandon VarnellA Fox's Love

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 1

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience

Kevin Swift is what most folks would call a good guy–decent grades, athletic, responsible enough to live on his own while his mom’s away on work, but with enough of a geeky (even otaku) side to not be a total square. Poor guy really does have some of the worst luck though, or maybe he just has some unfortunate weaknesses. Like his soft spot for small, furry animals. Or his inability to talk to girls (including his crush/childhood friend Lindsay) without blushing and stammering, insane nosebleeding, and possibly passing out. Unfortunate, and likely to get worse when in an act of kindness Kevin brings home an injured little fox . . . that has two tails and a remarkable healing ability. Because the next day, in place of the adorable little fox he finds a naked, gorgeous young woman by the name of Lillian who proudly declares herself a kitsune–and his mate. Poor Kevin!

Having already read the second volume of this hilarious series, A Fox’s Tail, I was definitely looking forward to enjoying the first volume, which I did. A Fox’s Love is an amusing American take on the Japanese ecchi shounen romcom (think stories like To LOVE-Ru and Rosario + Vampire). It definitely follows in the footsteps of these stories, complete with hapless but relatively normal protagonist, improbably sexy and clingy female, tons of humor, and at least an equal part ecchiness and fanservice. Not to mention lots of fantastic references to anime, manga, games, and other geeky stuff. The flow of the writing fits the story very well, having the easy-to-read light novel sort of feel while still being distinctly American in tone. I also love that, while the story obviously references lots of other stories, sometimes even parodying them, it never loses itself; Kevin and Lillian are always very distinctive characters, however improbably those characters may be. And that very improbability is a lot of what makes the story so very funny. That and the various manga/anime tropes and fourth-wall-breaking that get thrown in. A negative (for me; others might find it a positive) is that this volume is very full of fanservice, some of it kind-of explicit–which is kind of promised on the cover, so no surprises there. Just be aware of that going in. One final note is that Kirsten Moody’s accompanying artwork is fantastic, accentuating the light-novel style of the story beautifully while presenting the characters in a way that is very consistent with how they are shown in the story. On the whole, I think that for those who enjoy stories like To LOVE-Ru and Rosario  + VampireA Fox’s Love is a very amusing and enjoyable venture into this sort of story in an American, slightly parody-like flavor.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

 

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Rust Blaster

Mangaka: Yana TobosoRust Blaster

My rating: 4 of 5

In a world where humans and vampires have forged a working alliance, Millennium Academy is an elite school designed to train vampires (and the odd human–I mean it, he’s odd) to protect the peace. It would seem that Aldred, the headmaster’s son, would be a misfit in a school filled with such skilled vampires who are able to easily control the mystical weapons that are their vampiric heritage. You see, he’s the only vampire in the school who can’t create such a weapon. But Aldred makes up for his lacks with a combination of bluster, determination, leadership, and true friendship that somehow draws others to follow him. And when he encounters Kei, a seemingly emotionless boy who was raised solely to house a legendary mystical weapon, Aldred will find even his extreme optimism challenged as he discovers he is able to wield Kei’s weapon–at the cost of drinking Kei’s blood, which Aldred hates. Not that he has much choice. The world as they know it is ending, and it will take all they can give to stem the tide . . . even if it means changing who they are to protect that which is precious to them.

I’ve been waiting for years, just hoping that Rust Blaster would finally get an English translation–and it’s finally here! As you may recognize, this is the debut manga by Yana Toboso, the creator of the delicious Black Butler. While not as mature as Black Butler (has become), being Toboso’s first manga, Rust Blaster does show a lot of the same trademark qualities that make Toboso’s work extremely popular. The art is gorgeous–lots of bishounen and just generally a very attractive style. You really don’t see the extreme learning curve in the art that you do with a lot of mangaka, which is really nice. And while there are a lot of shounen mores (it would be easy to compare Aldred to, say, Luffy or Naruto it his attitudes at points), the story is actually well-written and interesting. The characters are a bit more stereotypical that I’m used to seeing from Toboso’s writing, but not painfully so–there’s definitely an enjoyable individuality about them that goes beyond the base types that are at their roots. And while this is a vampire fantasy, complete with violence and blood splatters, it’s also a cute/funny school story that has a lot of humor, and the parts with Aldred and Kei almost nudge into a shounen-ai feel at points. Toboso packs a lot of variety into a single 6-chapter manga, but it all works pretty well and is an enjoyable mix. I think I’d recommend Rust Blaster to basically anyone who enjoys manga and doesn’t mind a bit of blood and fantasy violence–but I’d particularly recommend it to fans of Black Butler, since it’s really neat to see the mangaka’s beginnings.

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A Fox’s Tail

Author: Brandon VarnellA Fox's Tail

Illustrator: Kirsten Moody

American Kitsune, vol. 2

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Kevin Swift’s once-quiet (and relatively normal) life has been thrown into havoc by the intrusion of the kitsune yokai girl Lillian, who has made herself at home in his home and who boldly declares her affection for him at every opportunity. He’d probably be more accepting of her advances if he didn’t already have a crush on his friend Lindsay. . . . And a crippling inability to talk to girls without, oh, stammering, blushing, and passing out from embarrassment. Kevin’s starting to get used to having Lillian around though–probably just from overexposure, but whatever. In any case, he’s got enough coming to keep him busy, what with rivals for Lillian’s affection, suspicious teachers, a big track meet coming up, and a new enemy out for revenge (?). Definitely more than Kevin signed up for, not than anyone really asked him to begin with.

Reading A Fox’s Tail was an interesting experience, especially since I enjoy reading Japanese light novels quite a bit. This story is an American book in the light novel style, with numerous (overwhelmingly so) allusions to Japanese LNs, manga, anime, and games. I would almost say that it’s a parody of the style . . . or rather that on one level there’s a legitimate, enjoyable story that can be read for itself, and on another level there’s this huge, hilarious parody of all sorts of manga tropes. It’s definitely very funny, however you read it. There are distinct ties back to the classic ecchi romantic comedy genre–stories like To LOVE-Ru and Urusei Yatsura, for instance. Kevin is just the sort of guy you would expect to find in such stories (the best sort of guy to find in them)–sweet, innocent, and too kind for his own good. Just the sort of guy to get pulled around by everyone, right? And Lillian is the perfect character to throw at him–sexy, assertive, but ultimately concerned for Kevin’s well-being more than her own satisfaction (if a bit oblivious as to what Kevin actually wants). Plus there’s the added bonus that her extended presence seems to thrown the reality around her a bit (a lot) off the norm, to interesting effect. I give the author kudos for making the story genre-appropriately ecchi (warning for those who don’t like that sort of story!) while keeping it relatively free of inappropriate detail for the most part, considering that the genre is usually shounen (and thus, read by younger teens). On the negative side, there was more swearing than I prefer, more than was necessarily genre-appropriate, although that’s more of a personal preference for me. I think, because of its strong ties to otaku culture, that readers unfamiliar with that culture will largely be lost. However, for people familiar with anime and manga, I think A Fox’s Tail is likely to be seen in one of two ways: either an annoying American intrusion into the genre, or a funny, refreshing parody of the genre. Depends on the reader, but personally I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

Note: I received a free review copy of this book from the author, which in no way alters the contents of this review.

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CLAMP School Defenders Duklyon

Mangaka: CLAMPCLAMP School Defenders Duklyon

My rating: 4.5 of 5

As you should know, CLAMP school is an incredible place that fosters learning and fun for students of all ages from kindergarten through graduate school. But there are forces out there that would prevent the smooth operation of the campus. And that’s where Duklyon comes in. Under the leadership of their mysterious “General” and with the heavy-handed assistance of the lovely Eri, Kentarou Higashikunimaru and Takeshi Shukaido defend the school and its students from evil of all sorts. Which mostly means beating up whatever absurd creature the Imonoyama Shopping District Association decides to throw at them this time before Eri beats them up for being too slow. Fight on!

Taken as a serious sentai manga, Duklyon would be pretty much awful. But I can’t imagine actually reading a sentai manga to begin with, and this is so much better! Because Duklyon is essentially this huge parody of sentai stories. The Kentarou and Takeshi are cute and interesting characters–the dynamic between them is very amusing!–although they are also somewhat useless, as becomes more and more apparent as the story progresses. Then there’s Eri, ever ready with the big comedy hammer to pound them . . . well, except for when Sukibayashi-kun is around. Then she’s too busy acting the blushing maiden to be any good to anyone. Never mind that Sukibayashi is very obviously the villain. It’s a miracle any of them keep their identities the secret they’re supposed to be! Maybe it’s a tribute to the obtuseness of the people around them. . . . It’s fun having the CLAMP school detectives in on the fun too. For one thing, the General is oh-so-obviously Nokoru (wearing sunglasses, which totally disguises his identity). Even better (probably my favorite episode of the entire story) is when Duklyon faces off against the Man of Many Faces–the one time they are soundly defeated. I do love Akira-kun; so cute! So basically, the entire Duklyon manga is this big comedic parody, but it actually is very funny and cute–hey, it’s CLAMP. Recommended particularly for CLAMP fans and notable for being appropriate for younger audiences than most of their manga, probably fine for elementary readers and older.

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Scott Pilgrim

Author/Illustrator: Bryan Lee O’MalleyScott Pilgrim

My rating: 4 of 5

You could say that Scott has a problem with commitments. That might be the reason why, at age 23, he’s lazing about, free-loading off his roommate Wallace, dating a high-school girl (the most recent in a long line of girlfriends), and playing in a mostly-awful band with some friends instead of actually getting steady work and maybe a consistent relationship. . . . Maybe. A lot changes in his life when he falls for Ramona, a delivery girl who he initially meets literally taking a shortcut through his dreams–don’t ask, it works. Ramona has issues with commitment too, and a requirement of their relationship is that Scott defeat all seven of her evil exes. Talk about unusual relationships!

So . . . in spite of the premise sounding definitely odd, Scott Pilgrim is actually a pretty neat graphic novel series. I mean, what’s not to love about a Canadian geeky shounen graphic novel?! And I’m very serious about all three of those adjectives. It’s very Canadian–classic Bryan Lee O’Malley with the super-neat art that entails. But it’s also emphatically more geeky than any of his other graphic novels that I’ve read so far (such as Seconds or Lost at Sea); seriously, there are all sorts of video game effects scattered throughout, especially during the fights, as though they were normal. I love it! And yes, this is definitely a shounen story: girls, fights, leveling up, and all. But in spite of being kind of cheesy at parts, this story is also a very telling picture of what it’s like to be a young adult today, of the challenges of getting from childhood to independent adulthood. And I really do appreciate where O’Malley brought the story–for a long while, I was wondering if it would ever make it. So . . . I don’t think Scott Pilgrim is for everyone, but for those with whom the very description “Canadian geeky shounen graphic novel” resonates, seriously, check it out. It’s fun!

Note: There are at least two editions of this graphic novel, one in black and white and another colored by Nathan Fairbairn. They’re both the same story, but I think the color really suits the story and adds an extra layer of fun.

Note 2: This review is for the entire 6-volume set. You probably figured that out already, but these are published a little differently that most manga in that they have separate titles for each volume.

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