Monthly Archives: May 2017

The Lizardmen Heroes (Overlord #4)

Title: The Lizardmen Heroes

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #4

The lizardmen tribes thought little of the outside world, until the day an unwelcome visitor appeared with a message: in eight days, their villages will be destroyed. With the threat of annihilation upon them, a lizardman traveler named Zaryusu sets out on a desperate mission to unite the tribes. But can their efforts save them from the armies of Ainz Ooal Gown?

The series shifts gears in this book, telling most of its story from the point of view of the lizardmen Ainz intends to conquer. Having gotten a good taste of Ainz’s power in the last three books, there’s little doubt how this will eventually go . . . which is why it’s fascinating that most of the story humanizes so well those Ainz sees as little more than statistics.

I love the details about their culture and society, about the five tribes and their last war, about the day to day worries about food shortages and the new inventions that might disrupt their former way of life. Zaryusu’s solitary existence hasn’t bothered him until he meets Crusch, the head of another tribe. So there’s a bit of romance in play too as the two of them fumble around getting to know each other in the shadow of certain death.

There’s also some scenes carrying forward previous plot threads, like Shalltear’s reaction to having been under mind-control. Ainz is also still interested in running experiments, and those range from completely understandable (wanting to see what the ACTUAL area-of-effect is on some of his larger spells so he can more effectively use them) to the more villainous (wanting to wipe out the lizardmen for trivial causes).

It’s interesting that Ainz has trouble reacting to anyone not in Nazarick as beings with their own lives, hopes, and dreams, which is something this plot highlights extremely well. He mentioned in Carne village about how humans seem to him like ants, or perhaps like a pet once he’s talked with them for a bit. Whether it’s an effect of being undead, or his humanity being overstressed by not actually getting to sleep, or him thinking too much in game terms isn’t clear.

Actually, I really liked the detail about sleeplessness basically driving him insane. His body may not need it anymore, but his mind desperately wants a break from all the stress. And sure, he’s very likely overreacting (again), but the problem has always been a lack of intelligence about the world around him. He is PROBABLY overreacting, but he can’t be sure, and if he’s wrong he’ll lose everything left that he cares about.

And at the end of the day, things not going as he expected might be best for everyone involved.

I do hope Ainz and the rest can grow in this new world. I’d love to see Ainz picking up new magic (although making time to study would be a problem), or Cocytus figuring out how to become an able commander as well as an excellent warrior, and so on. Either way, it’s going to be a long and impatient wait for me until the next book arrives. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

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The Bloody Valkyrie (Overlord #3)

Title: The Bloody Valkyrie

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #3

Shalltear has rebelled? Backing up a bit, this book begins a little bit before The Dark Warrior ended, after Shalltear left Nazarick along with Sebas and Solution. Their plan is to learn more about the martial and magical artes of this world by finding strong warriors—preferably criminals whose deaths or disappearances won’t be noticed. But a chance encounter causes everything to go wrong, and Shalltear is now under a mind-control her undead status should have protected against. Ainz is furious, but also cautious, and heads out himself to stop her . . .

It says a lot about this series that the first serious threat Ainz faces is his own NPC-turned-rogue. That said, Shalltear is an NPC more or less built to attack players similar to Ainz, so he’s got a fair number of disadvantages going into the fight. Furthermore, Ainz’s paranoia about considering this a deliberate attack, and therefore possibly a trap, causes him to forgo some of the easier ways he could tackle the fight, because he’s too concerned about ambushes and the possibility of his god-tier gear ending up in the hands of enemies to properly equip.

The heart of the novel is this fight. The book does contain one significant scene with Albedo’s sister that the anime cut, but otherwise everything is by and large the same. I do like the smaller additional details, though. Sebas’s alternate form gets mentioned, and now I REALLY want to see him use it. I also like the explanations of game mechanics behind things like Ainz’s skill The Goal of All Life is Death. It feels better that he has so many huge abilities when there’s more context about how hard he had to work to get there (and, amusingly enough, that skill in particular was more of an accidental Easter egg, but still the result of fully developing a particular branch of magic). And the player-versus-player explanations are fuller in the book, drawing out more of Ainz’s experiences and strategies.

I like this a little less than the previous two books, though. Partially because I’m not as fond of Shalltear, and partially because the fanservice scene near the end has Ainz sneaking a peak at what’s physically about a 14-year-old kid. Nothing described in too much detail, thankfully, but still, did we have to go there?

All in all, though, there’s far more to enjoy than not. I like this different take on fantasy, where Ainz is almost a villain by default and not because he has any particularly bad intentions, and if Shalltear does anything really well it’s bringing out his mixed feelings at having to take down someone he sees more like his child. He’s absolutely not going to leave her in the hands of an enemy, but when he can’t cure her there’s only one option left.

I do really, really hope Ainz finds the culprit, though. He’ll make Clementine look like she died peacefully.

This is the final episodes, 10-13, of the anime (at least the first season). I think both the anime and the books do a great job, but regardless which one you like better, at this point in time the only way to get more story is to keep going with the books. And it’d be a shame to stop here, when Ainz is clearly only getting started. I rate this book Recommended.

The Dark Warrior (Overlord #2)

Title: The Dark Warrior

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #2

Momonga (now Ainz) is fully aware of his own lack of knowledge about the world he now inhabits. He’s still uncertain how much his former-NPC’s loyalty can be trusted, and the world contains things both from the game Yggdrasil and things he’s never seen before. So Ainz goes undercover as the dark warrior Momon. Together with one of his battle maids, they pose as adventurers in the hopes of learning more. But other plans are afoot in the city, and Ainz may have inadvertently tripped over a few of them . . .

For those coming from the anime, this novel was adapted in episodes 5-9. Again, the adaptation was faithful and the differences are minor (although my favorite addition was the extra information about just what Ainz did with that Jewel of Darkness).

Once again, Momonga/Ainz is proceeding into the world with extreme caution, even though he’s so high leveled that he can afford to seal away most of his magic and simply wave swords around and still be stronger than pretty much any human adversary. But the fun, of course, is in watching HOW everything plays out. The plot really likes putting him in embarrassing situations as well as situations where he can show off.

For example, ogres. Ainz can dispatch ogres with a single blow. His technique is terrible, but his strength allows him to ignore the basics any actual warrior would know. Ainz knows this and is uncomfortable at the amount of awe his “mighty deeds” generate, because to him, ogres that low-leveled would never pose a threat.

This gets even funnier when Ainz decides to challenge the Wise King of the Forest, hoping for a faster way to spread his renown.

Here, too, Momonga’s inner loneliness comes through a little better than the anime. He’s hurting for the friends he used to have, which he sees reflected in a small party of adventurers he teams up with for a time. Their camaraderie reminds him of what he lost and wants to have again, and spreading his name is a way of crying out for them to notice that he’s still here, waiting for them. It’s a little sad he can’t take Touch Me’s example to heart and go out and befriend others, even if they are weaklings, but his paranoia about keeping himself, his former NPCs, and Nazarick safe precludes any overtures.

I like how the game world details keep coming, and also how the various techniques and abilities that pop up show that this is NOT the game Momonga played. That leaves him with plenty to discover (and plenty of new things to embarrass himself with, I’m sure). Again, for those who liked the anime, this is a great way to dig deeper into the world, and to see some of the technical explanations about spells and so forth that never made it to the screen. The book also contains several nice pieces of art on the interior. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

The Undead King (Overlord #1)

Title: The Undead King

Author: Kugane Maruyama

Series: Overlord #1

Momonga has one pleasure in his working life: the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil, where he and a group of friends created number nine of the top-ten guilds, which they called Ainz Ooal Gown. But that’s over now. The guildmembers themselves have mostly quit, and the game is shutting down at midnight. Momonga is the only one of the four remaining who decides to stick it out right up to the very end. And then . . . the end looks a lot different than he expected. Now he’s become his character from the game, the NPCs are alive, and their dungeon Nazarik has been transported to unknown lands. Momonga has no idea what to do, but the former NPCs are convinced he’s the Supreme Ruler . . .

First, for those who watched the anime first (or who intend to watch the anime in the future), this book was episodes 1-4, although the events are arranged slightly differently. It’s otherwise a faithful adaptation, but the book provides additional worldbuilding.

I liked this way more than I expected. Normally “trapped in a game world” is not my thing, but this series has a couple of unusual differences that made it really work for me. Momonga’s not desperate to get out, for one. Yggdrasil WAS his life, or the only part of it that really meant anything to him, and he writes off the “real world” pretty quickly. What he does want is to find his friends and former guildmates, and he holds on to the hope that some of them might have come to this world too.

Another fun subversion is his character itself. Momonga played an undead skeletal caster: an evil sorcerer. He was by no means a heroic character. And now that this is ACTUALLY him, the only morality he can hold on to is based on tenuous supports like “I don’t want to let down the memories of my friends” rather than standards like good and evil. He’s more worried about letting down the former NPCs (or losing their loyalty) and less worried about whoever gets killed or tortured in front of him or even for him.

Momonga’s sheer power also makes him a lot of fun to follow. In his heart, he’s still mostly an ordinary human (at least for now), and he’s keenly aware that he has no real backup other than the NPCs. So he reacts to situations as though everything is capable of killing him . . . only to usually find out he’s read the clues all wrong. The fight at Carne village is one of my favorites of the series so far because it does a great job showcasing both his nervous disposition and how he reacts to arrogant enemies. Momonga is big on experiments . . .

Overall, even though I’m not too fond of some of the more fanservice-oriented elements, I had a lot of fun with this. If you’re curious about the series, it may be easier to check out the anime first, as that’s available for free streaming, but even though the book covers the same material, the additional worldbuilding and character details is definitely worth it. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Overlord (Anime)

Title: Overlord

Episodes: 1-13

Momonga has been a long-time player of the DMMO-RPG Yggdrasil. But the servers are shutting down, his guild has more or less dissolved, and he’s left to wait for the end alone. But the shutdown doesn’t work the way he expected: he’s now living in his undead avatar, with the NPCs turned sentient, and an actual world that only somewhat works like the game he used to know. In Yggdrasil, Momonga had max level, great items, and a solid team at his back. Can he continue as the Overlord of his guild in this new world?

I’m not a big fan of the “trapped in a game” scenarios (it’s just a halfhearted attempt at “transported to another world” to my mind), but this is the second show I’ve gotten into solely because I liked the opening song. “Clattanoia” is a lot of fun. And I was surprised that the story was actually a lot more to my interests than I had expected. Momonga isn’t some upstart with something to prove, or a man desperate to return to his former life. If anything, he just wants his old guildmates to join him, and he works hard to protect the place, NPCs, and memories they left with him. It’s really fitting that he’s an undead, as I think that’s another symbol that he can’t move on (it’s also hysterical that he completely breaks the convention of being handsome, and has to hide his real face in public lest people flee in terror).

Part of the fun is the intersection between the gaming world and the “real” world. There’s a good dose of gaming humor thrown in, like a guild member named Touch Me (who has a much better reputation than his name suggests), the names and types of some of the spells cast, or how HP and MP apparently are still a thing, at least for the formerly-Yggdrasil entities, and so on. And Momonga isn’t coming at this as a newbie, either—as the title implies, he’s starting from the top. It’s kind of a fantasy-flavored One Punch Man, although Momonga actually does have one opponent that can put up a decent fight. And if other players came along, which seems very likely given the end, then he’s likely going to be dealing with them at some point in the future.

I laughed pretty hard at most of his earliest encounters with outside people because he’s repeatedly toning himself down and still overwhelming everyone (this is almost funnier on a re-watch, when terms like fifth-tier magic have enough context to be meaningful . . . Momonga complains people die to “only” a fifth-tier spell when the maximum level humans can cast is third-tier). Or Momonga being embarrassed by things that others find amazing, like the Wise King of the Forest. And the scene where we finally get to meet the NPC Momonga himself created . . . (I do wonder what kind of powers it has, since most of the NPCs seem to be full of their own flavors of nasty surprises…. but that seems to have been a guild trend).

Yet Momonga’s tremendous power is balanced by his (completely reasonable) caution. I think the last fight actually did a great job of demonstrating why: even though he’s strong, he’s still got the class limitations he would’ve had in the game, but he no longer has others of different classes but similar level to watch his back. So running into another player or even just a high-level item in the hands of someone hostile could put him in danger (I do wonder what will happen when his cash shop items run out, since there’s no way he’s going to be able to restock some of the tricks he needed to use pretty liberally to win that encounter).

The art is pretty good but not amazing, and the CG is pretty noticeable. I didn’t think it detracted much from the show, though, as most of the CG is reserved for the undead, so it wasn’t as distracting as it would have been on characters. I’m also not fond of some of the shenanigans that went on with Albedo (Momonga changes her programming in the last minutes of the game so she’s deeply in love with him), but Momonga taking on more and more of his undead persona quickly kills the lust on his side, so after the first episode, he doesn’t do much to encourage her. It’s also fascinating to watch the slow shift in his personality—from someone who thinks mostly like a human, to someone who can casually kill people just for being in the way (and then take their corpses back to practice necromancy upon).

Overall I had a lot more fun with this than I expected. I watched both the sub and the dub and both are solid performances. I honestly don’t even have a favorite—Momonga’s voice in particular is great in both (he’s got a trick where his “official” voice is a lot deeper than his “normal” thoughts). I do hope a second season shows up soon as there is a lot that could be done yet with the characters and the world. I rate this show Recommended.

Alexander’s Army (Unicorne Files #2)

Title: Alexander’s Army

Author: Chris D’Lacey

Series: Unicorne Files #2

Michael was hoping joining UNICORNE would allow him to find out more of what happened to his father. But answers are few, and UNICORNE has another mystery they’d like him to investigate first. A comic shop has some weird things going on, and they want Michael to check into it. He’d rather deal with Freya, or his own powers, or his dad, but he reluctantly agrees. But he’s not actually very good at the whole undercover operative gig . . .

I finally figured out what my biggest problem was with this book: I don’t like any of the characters. Michael was fine in the first book, where his weird reality-bending powers kicked in on a regular basis, and he was being eased into a world beyond the world he knows. But in this one, he’s downright terrible at figuring out anything, his powers activate less often (and the book kind of cheats by having a different power take center stage), and there isn’t any real progress made on most of the continuing plot threads.

Michael doesn’t really WANT any of the missions or adventures he’s involved in, and he’s pretty much incompetent at running them too. Freya went from sympathetic to cold and harsh (and though she tries to explain it away, it still doesn’t make the book easier to read). I sort of get the impression the two of them are supposed to eventually become boyfriend/girlfriend for real, but there’s nothing THERE. At this point he’s helping her mostly because he’s got a giant guilt complex about how she died and he inadvertently made her live after death.

Aside from that, the plot definitely veers closer to horror/thriller territory (I was hoping for more of an adventure, because the first book set up what could’ve been a couple of different directions). Although I liked the unusual bits of the supernatural that showed up this time, I can’t help but feel there’s never going to be a point. Michael isn’t offered any kind of framework other than “stuff just happens, and sometimes it’s wacky.” Since he’s not digging into other people’s powers or his own, just trying to get out of whatever he’s been volunteered for this time, I wasn’t as interested.

This isn’t necessarily a bad book, just not for me. I’m not certain at this point if I’ll make it through the third book, but I may give it a shot since I have it on hand. Perhaps if it is the last one Michael will man up and actually do something instead of forcing everyone around him to push him forward. I rate this book Neutral.

The Broken Window (Threshold #3)

Title: The Broken Window

Author: Christa Kinde

Series: Threshold #3

Prissie’s adventures with the angels around her town are starting to get a little more serious. She’s finally understanding more of the spiritual battle they are engaged in, and seeing that the fight isn’t an easy one. In her more ordinary life, too, things are growing more difficult. Rumors abound, and her friends are actively distancing themselves from her. Christmas is around the corner, but what kind of holiday is waiting for her?

Fair warning: if you’re reading this WITHOUT book 4 on hand, put it down until you can get them both. That ending was amazing and cut off way too fast, with all sorts of consequences that are bound to play out in amusing ways. Unlike the first two books, the story doesn’t feel more or less settled by the end, either.

I liked that Ransom finally got a straight answer out of Prissie for why she hates him so much. And what that reason actually is. It’s just as surprising as a lot of the ordinary things that have happened so far, with Prissie coming to realize herself her reason is basically poor. And Ransom is very much game to try to break her out of her bad attitude. I love his sense of humor.

And Prissie finally gets her act together and does what various characters have been hinting she ought to do for a long time: pray. It’s a sobering challenge to her in the first book that pointed out she isn’t interested in the suffering of people (or angels) she doesn’t know about. Even when she learns more, she still neglects to pray, until finally she’s confronted with something she can’t deny. I have my suspicions about how this will all play into her choices going forward (and I’m almost positive her Aunt Ida will help). It’s as big a moment for her as Ransom’s big decision is for him.

I’m liking this series more and more with each book. Especially with the way this one ended, I can’t wait to get the next one read. I rate this book Highly Recommended.