Tag Archives: urban

The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1 (Light Novel)

Title: The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! #1

Author: Gamei Hitsuji

Format: Light Novel

Suimei is walking home with his friends when all three of them are unexpectedly summoned to another world. As they suspected, this world is looking for a hero to defeat the Demon Lord who is bent on annihilating humanity—but Suimei wants nothing to do with it. Luckily, it’s Reiji who was the chosen hero, so even though it disappoints everyone, Suimei can try to sit this one out. But Suimei’s knowledge of modern magic is incredibly advanced in this new world, and his ambition to lead a quiet life is quickly overturned . . .

Although I liked some pieces, the overall execution left me uncertain if I want to continue the series.

I can’t stand Felmenia. She whiplashes from mature and competent to flustered and childish, and although I get the general direction the author was going, the personality shifts feel too extreme. And more than once the story tanks into fetishization, like having her trip over her own clothes just to land her in a pin-up pose that the male character can gawk at. Or the stupid, stupid arguments between the girls about whose breasts are bigger. (It always makes me want to ask, do you know any real girls? I realize this is fantasy, but it’s really tiring and insulting to watch girls behave like brainless twits.)

I actually don’t mind so much the fact that Suimei’s confrontation with Felmenia broke her. That was a fun fight, especially with the layers of magic, and I enjoy seeing her arrogance brought down to size. The whole genius-gifted-kid who could do no wrong because she was so talented getting humiliated was amusing, especially because the narrative is careful to show how the fight is working from both perspectives. She’s in this to show him up, but he’s used to people trying to kill him and is expecting her to at least attempt the same. But that kind of humiliation is based on her personality flaws, and isn’t so much intended to be exploitative.

The conversations about what happens in light novels when people are summoned to another world at the beginning is also a bit too meta for my tastes. There was some amusement at the beginning but eventually I wanted them to stop comparing the situation they were in to the books they had read and just get on with it.

The biggest plus about the book is, as might be expected, the magic. Suimei is a magician of modern Japan—a real magician, but a secret one. And his use of magic reflects various magical traditions from across the globe, from numerology to the technical details of how to create a golem and more. He’s familiar with the “elements” that Felmenia mentions, although not in the same form. His passion for understanding the how and why and not—as he pointedly accuses her—making a bigger boom has given him a wide range of skills. And those skills play out like video game spells, which makes them fun and flashy, in addition to the interesting technical underpinnings he spells out.

I also liked that the book bucks tradition a bit by having Suimei sort of caught up in this “hero summoning” by accident, as it’s actually his best friend who receives the prophesied blessings and sets out to confront the Demon Lord. Suimei is himself too horrified by the thought of going one against a million to even bother helping, except to try to make a path for all of them to get home. Given the situation overall, I’d be shocked if he isn’t eventually pulled into the confrontation anyway (against his will), but he’s certainly not going out looking for trouble.

All in all this is a very mixed bag. The harem elements take up enough of the plot to be a significant distraction, and it cheapens most of the female characters. The magical elements are much better, but I’m not certain I like those enough to get past the rest. I rate this book Neutral.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero (The Rising of the Shield Hero #1)

Title: The Rising of the Shield Hero

Author: Aneko Yusagi

Series: The Rising of the Shield Hero #1

Naofumi is an otaku happy to spend as much time and money on his hobbies as he can manage. One day, while reading an ancient book about the Four Holy Weapons, he ends up transported to another world as the legendary Shield Hero. But this new life is not all he wanted it to be. Shields are useless for attacking, so the Bow, Spear, and Sword Heroes all look down on him as an inferior class. And then the unthinkable happens, and Naofumi finds himself utterly friendless. And he can’t get out until all the chaotic waves have been defeated or he himself dies . . .

This is one I’ve had my eye on for a while, since the premise looked interesting. It reads a lot like a litRPG book. Stats, levels, icons, and various other game mechanics permeate this new world. A lot of Naofumi’s attention, especially in the later part of the book, revolves around taking down monsters for profit, upgrading equipment, and powering up his shield. That actually worked well for me, since part of the problem for Naofumi is that there is so much here LIKE a game, but it’s no fun at all for him. He’s stuck in someone else’s system, and his options are extremely limited. He gets stronger because he doesn’t want to die (there’s no indication of whether or not death will be real here, but it’s very likely).

It’s also a story that runs sideways to the expected in a lot of ways. It starts when the Heroes are first summoned—and all the others can think about is “what do we get out of risking our lives for some random world? We didn’t volunteer for this.” And it gets worse for Naofumi from there. He wants to be a hero. He wants to do good, protect people, stand up against evil, and live out this adventure as a wonderful opportunity. The world spits in his face. And he breaks. He can’t escape his obligation as a Hero—the magic that summoned him sees to that. But he’s lost everything, everyone, and all that’s left for him is to mechanically go through the motions and try not to die.

I liked the clever ways Naofumi uses to try to get around the fact that he can’t attack anything. (The reputation he earns for himself as a grouchy do-not-mess-with-me bastard is entirely his own fault, which is why I find those bits funny). The slavery bit could have gone in a very sketchy direction, but Naofumi can’t bring himself to think about anyone as actual people at that point. They’re either denigrating him, trying to pull one over on him, or equipment. What’s interesting is that even though slavery is very legal in this world, he’s still looked down on by natives for actually purchasing a slave, which indicates most people don’t find it socially acceptable. I think it works for the story, although I’m glad the ending tried to work things out a bit.

The prose is not the best. It’s hard to tell with translated novels like these if the weakness in wording is a problem with the translator or the source material, but since I can’t read the original language the specifics don’t matter much to me. There’s also an annoying habit of not tagging speech, so especially with the other three Heroes it’s hard to tell who’s saying what when they’re all together. Also, although Naofumi’s poor attitude is likely responsible for him turning most of the villagers into stock characters in his mind, it would be nice to see more nuance to the people around him.

Overall I did enjoy this, and am curious to see where it goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.

Dragon Lost (Dragon Thief #1)

Title: Dragon Lost

Author: Lisa Manifold

Series: Dragon Thief #1

Aodan just wants to complete one final job, get paid, and get out. Unfortunately, a heist with a reward this lucrative is bound to have a catch. He just didn’t realize the catch would be his own unusual ties to these events. Like him turning into a dragon. Now he’s determined to do whatever it takes to get away from all the drama . . .

I liked this a lot, although I think it’s a little hampered by the way the end kind of drops off. It feels like just the end of one chapter, instead of the end of the book. Basically there’s not enough sense of conclusion. (This would bother me less if the next book was already here so I could just keep going.)

Aodan was a fun character. I liked how he reacted (badly) to his new ability to shapeshift. He likes being good at what he does, but he likes even more having as trouble-free a life as possible. And being a dragon, and having mystical bad guys after him, is way more trouble than he ever wanted. But since he’s stuck with it, he’s trying to figure out the best and fastest way he can deal with it and get out.

I liked Margrite too. I liked that she and Aodan are best friends without a trace of romance (former siblings, even if not by blood). I liked the way they understand each other, and can communicate without talking, and how they’re always on each others’ side.

I also really, really liked the dragons. Their culture is in ruins, thanks to a war that wiped most of them out, but they’re an interesting species. There’s a lot of little details I appreciated, like how color works, or the way mental speech plays into who they are.

I didn’t really care for the psychic reading, though. That whole scene felt like an extended hint about what’s going to happen, and an obscure way to express some of Aodan’s backstory.

Overall I’m looking forward to the next book, and I hope it comes soon. I rate this book Recommended.

The Ancient Magus’ Bride (Anime)

Title: The Ancient Magus’ Bride
Episodes: 13-24

Chise is growing used to life with Elias, the inhuman mage who bought her for her unique gifts. But the magical world they inhabit is full of both strangeness and danger, and Chise often stumbles into both.

This is more of an update to my original review, as not much about the overall situation has changed. We get a few more small stories about things Chise gets into, whether by accident or on purpose, and then a longer final arc where almost everyone we’ve met bands together to try to rescue two kidnapped dragons.

One of the big weak points of the series as a whole is that the sense of danger to Chise lessens as time goes on because she manages to get herself nearly killed on a very regular basis. The dragon arc is the only one that left her with some ongoing consequences, and even that kind of feels hard to care because it’s hard to tell the difference between “killing you faster” and stuff that’s already been going on. She never did have long to live, but the show was always vague about exactly how long she would have left, so after a while I stopped caring much about her life being in danger. (Besides, she’s the main character. It’s pretty much a given she’ll survive until the final episode, at least.)

On the plus side, the magical world on display still has a number of really neat things. Whether it’s a fox skin that allows Chise to shapeshift or finally visiting the land of Faerie, almost every episode was still introducing new wrinkles of powers, places, or people. My personal favorite was really just a footnote–Shannon’s husband is a dog-centaur who used to be human but was taken to live in Faerie and ended up that way. Not only do I find nontraditional centaur forms really awesome, the fact that he was formerly human makes it all better. And he’s all puppy-friendly about meeting new people and really upset that she’d spent three whole days away from him. I really hope he comes back at some point because I could totally watch an entire episode following his antics.

The ending feels a bit rushed, as a lot of plot points come up and get dealt with in the last few episodes, and the last episode was just odd. It tried to tie things up while not closing off anything the manga might do in the future, but I’m not sure the final bits of imagery really fit the mood of the two up until that point. They’re going to work through their first real fight like that?

Overall, if you liked the first half, you might as well finish it out. There’s still some really beautiful scenery, and some neat magic, but the latter half of the series isn’t as strong as the first. I rate this show Recommended.

Very Truly Run After (Travels with Michael #2)

Title: Very Truly Run After

Author: William Duquette

Series: Travels with Michael #2

Michael has gotten married, and more or less gotten used to his abilities as a Traveler who can cross between parallel worlds. Unfortunately, he’s now attracting increasing numbers of other Travelers who presumably want his growing collection of finders. Thankfully, most Travelers aren’t very good assassins . . .

This is a very different book from the first, but equally funny. Most of this is because Michael spends a great deal of time in a parallel regency steampunk world. It’s a world where everyone dresses smartly, holds to a strict set of manners, and is “packing more heat than a summer day in Las Vegas.”

Yes, that’s right. Regency steampunk with lots and lots of guns. Gwen has a derringer and is considered basically unarmed.

Mostly this is because the local wildlife is oversized and deadly, but it certainly made a refreshing read after the nonsense I read last week.

Michael end up there somewhat by accident, but given the number of people after him, he concludes it’s a good idea to recuperate in a place where his assailants have to go through an armed populace that does NOT take kindly to assassins.

Of course there’s plenty of “regency” in the plot there, too. One of the more amusing segments is Michael discovering just what that term entails when his wife provides several books as research on the subject. And then watching a similarly convoluted dramatic plot working out in the lives of those he’s become acquainted with. Also fun is that Michael honestly can’t be sure what’s exaggerated and what’s not when he’s trying to read about life in the colonies, so he more or less has to take it all as truth.

I also appreciated this is the only steampunk novel I have read that does not go on and on about dirty smoke. Whatever they’re using with their aetheric contraptions, it isn’t dirty like actual steam (which is one reason Michael can’t figure out how any of it works).

All in all, this advances some interesting threads on the main mystery of Michael’s family and powers, and also provides a host of new and fun characters. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Vikings at Dino’s: A Novel of Lunch and Mayhem (Travels with Michael #1)

Title: Vikings at Dino’s: A Novel of Lunch and Mayhem

Author: William Duquette

Series: Travels with Michael #1

Michael just wants to eat lunch in peace. But when every attempt to go out to his favorite diners is met by pillaging Vikings, it’s hard to see lunch as a break. Between Vikings, Mongol hordes and a Roman legion, his small town is getting way too interesting . . .

This was AMAZING. Michael is a software designer who works from home and likes to indulge in going out for lunch. But soon that turns into an absurdist nightmare as various inexplicable raiders show up to loot and pillage those establishments. Michael has no interest in getting caught up with any of this, but he can’t seem to escape always being in the middle of things.

Basically, go read the sample on Amazon. The first chapter lays everything out beautifully. I love this kind of surreal comedy, where the events playing out could almost be a dream except real people are stuck trying to deal with the consequences.

And the rest of the book is just as funny, with unexpected bouts of seriousness (well, people ARE in real danger).

It was also interesting because Michael has a condition where he stopped growing at ten years old, so he has the body of a child and people tend to treat him that way. It’s soured his view on a number of things. Being an “eternal child” isn’t as much fun as it sounds. It does, however, make for some really funny scenes.

Overall, this was highly entertaining, and absolutely one I will read again. I rate this Highly Recommended.

The Boy and the Beast (Anime)

Title: The Boy and the Beast

Format: Movie

A boy, cast adrift by the death of his mother, runs away, and in the process finds himself in a parallel world populated only by beasts. His humanity is an issue here, but a giant bear-man named Kumatetsu tries to claim him as an apprentice, and gives him the name Kyuta. Unfortunately Kumatetsu is a laughingstock among his own kind. He’s big and strong and skilled, but also lazy and quick-tempered and full of rough edges. Can Kumatetsu prove he’s able to train an apprentice? Can Kyuta survive Kumatetsu’s horrible attempts at training?

I found this because I stumbled across the novel (on clearance, yay) and got curious about seeing the movie because of it. I streamed this on Funimation’s site, so I watched it in dub.

The movie was excellent. Ren (though he doesn’t introduce himself until halfway through the film), nee Kyuta, is a child angry at the world when his mother dies unexpectedly. He hates his relatives and would rather go live with his father, but because his parents divorced, no one wants to give him to his dad. So he runs. He’s argumentative from the get-go, which makes him a really fun companion for Kumatetsu. He doesn’t put up with Kumatetsu’s flaws, but rather calls them out. My favorite example of this is during a fight when he’s asked to encourage his teacher, and the “encouragement” sounds more like, “Hey, you look stupid lying there. Get up, loser.”

But then, that’s the kind of relationship between the two.

Kumatetsu is stubborn about being a master, and being terrible at it only seems to fuel his determination that he won’t fail at something like THIS. Although the story beats may feel familiar, they’re handled so well. Kyuta ends up becoming the master in many ways, and Kumatetsu has to learn to be an apprentice, but there are still many things that Kyuta doesn’t know and needs to learn from Kumatetsu. If, that is, Kumatetsu can adequately explain them. Which is a problem because Kumatetsu never had to learn from anyone, and sucks at explaining even the simplest things.

I really liked the twist halfway through, too. Ren has grown up more or less happily in the world of the beasts, but when he finds his way back to the human world as accidentally as he originally left, he’s now confronted with what it means to be part of both worlds. Which will he choose? Which family should he prioritize—the bear-man who has raised him these past several years, or his biological father? And does it even have to be a choice forsaking one for the other?

This is about family, about different people who gradually become family (despite themselves, really), about the bonds that still hold despite having been estranged. And it’s about the darker side, too—how having a loving family doesn’t prevent problems, or loneliness, or doubts that can overwhelm.

And there’s still a lot of good fights to be had, since Kumatetsu is, after all, in competition for the position of lord of the beasts, and training Kyuta in his skills.

I didn’t get a chance to check out the Japanese, but the English voice actors all brought their A-game. I very much enjoyed the dub. Everyone was cast appropriately, and I especially appreciate that the kids sounded so good. Kyuta spends about half the movie as a nine-year-old, and the other half close to an adult, and his voice reflects that. It still sounds like him, but more mature, and the same was true of the friends he made. That’s a difficult transition to pull off well.

Overall this is absolutely something I will watch again, and try to show to the friends and family who don’t generally watch anime. I rate this Highly Recommended.