Tag Archives: urban

Crota (The Gods’ Game #1)

Title: Crota

Author: Rohan M. Vider

Series: The Gods’ Game #1

For ages, the gods have called mortals to champion them in a grand game. But for one such mortal, Kyran, the summons was unexpected on both sides. With no gods willing to sponsor him, Kyran steps in as a free agent, and selects the skills and abilities he hopes will allow him to survive. But his presence signals a potential shift in the stalemate, and the gods are eager to either recruit or destroy him.

This is a pretty solid litRPG about a modern college-age gamer who ends up living out something that’s a cross between a game and real life. I like how the game mechanics actually constrain the players more than the non-participants. Kyran is no exception, although he has somewhat less to worry about than a normal champion, because he doesn’t have a god sitting behind his every decision.

We don’t see too much of the world in this novel, although hopefully that’s coming. This book mostly paints some broad strokes about the game, a few of the gods and champions, and a small piece of Crota, the land where Kyran starts out. I like the fact that there are multiple demi-human races, and that Kyran chooses not to be a human. Given his location, it’s unlikely he’ll have allies for a while (although I have suspicions about the ending), but some of the other groups look like they’ll contain a mix of types.

I did think the stat windows should have only been shown once in full per chapter, towards the end, as some bits of the novel felt like table after table of information. And I’m not a huge fan of pre-chapter quotes, especially when they could get somewhat long. I would have preferred that off in an appendix.

The beginning also confused me as to which century the story was happening in. Stealing apples from a cart is a rather common trope for stories set in the middle ages, and calling the kid a “street rat” combined with a lack of setting details meant I originally read the prologue as a huge time skip before the first chapter, and was subsequently confused why they seemed to be referring to the same person.

Overall I liked this well enough that I would like to pick up the next book whenever it arrives to see where it goes from here. I rate this book Recommended.

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No Game No Life (Anime)

Title: No Game No Life

Episodes: 1-12 (Complete)

Sora and Shiro are sibling gamers, collectively known as Blank for their habit of not putting any username in when possible. They never lose, except to each other. One day a god named Tet summons them both to another world, where everything is run on games. Humanity is at the bottom here. But now that Sora and Shiro have arrived, that’s about to change.

I have mixed feelings on this one. There’s a huge amount of gratuitous fanservice, and a number of the girls getting stripped are very young. Steph, the granddaughter of the previous king of Imanity (humanity), is treated with casual abuse and humiliation, mostly because she’s sincere but naive and not good at games. So there’s a lot to dislike.

The games themselves are better. In a world with magic, even familiar games can have interesting twists. The best one is probably the chess match with living chess pieces, but this doesn’t go at all the way you might expect (well, it’s not exactly a “chess” game by the end). The other highlight was a word game that has the power to materialize or de-materialize the words in play, which leads to some interesting strategies.

There’s also a lot of references to other games or media. I’m sure I didn’t even catch half, but that can make watching it a sort of game in and of itself, as long as you’re sufficiently familiar with the sources to recognize the callouts.

I like the art style too. The colors are more bright and illustration-style, and gives it a unique aesthetic.

The story unfortunately only gets a small way into what’s clearly a larger narrative before cutting off. Sora and Shiro’s ultimate plan—to challenge Tet again to another game—is barely laying the groundwork in the 12 episodes available. Given that the series is older, it’s unlikely that a sequel will show up, so keep in mind the show doesn’t really accomplish much plot-wise due to its length.

Character-wise, Sora and Shiro have enough personality to carry the show. They’re geniuses in different ways, but even the outgoing Sora is a social wreck. I dislike how Sora pervs on pretty much every girl, especially his 11-year-old sister, who he’s constantly trying to take pictures of in the bath. Their codependence, however, is a nicer touch. They can’t interact with people at all outside of games, so they only rely on each other. I also thought the attempt to paint Steph as competent in her chosen field is undercut by the fact that she’s too much of a moron otherwise to make a brilliant ability for diplomacy plausible. Maybe if it was all deskwork.

Overall, I can’t really recommend this, due to the incomplete story arc and the huge amount of fanservice on underaged girls. I might at some point watch the movie, which is supposed to do better in both of those aspects. I rate this Neutral.

The Death Mage That Doesn’t Want a Fourth Time (Web Novel)

Title: The Death Mage That Doesn’t Want a Fourth Time

Author: Densuke

Translator: Yoshi

Chapters: 1-178 (ongoing)

Location: https://lightnovelbastion.com/project.php?p=248

Amamiya Hiroto has had a terrible life followed by a senseless death when terrorists bomb his school field trip. Then a god intercepts their souls and offers them the opportunity to be born again in another world, with powers and everything. He accepts. And the god mistakes him with another student who has nearly the same name, so Amamiya gets a second life even worse than his first since all of his powers and good luck went to someone else. All he has is a gigantic mana pool, but no ability in magic; he ends up as an experimental test subject until he dies. Now on his third life, and under curses with the intention of making him die quickly, he’s determined to live as long as possible and carve out happiness for himself.

Of course, now that he’s a Dhampir called Vandelieu in a world where most people consider Dhampirs to be monsters, he’s not going to have it easy. The only things he’s got going for him are an absurdly large mana pool, the possibility of re-acquiring his unique death-aspect magic, and the memories of his previous lives.

This was amazing. The story undoubtedly has dark moments, but it’s also packed with humor, so it’s not this grinding horror story about all the awful things Vandeleiu suffers in his various lives.

At a high level, I adore the humor. Vandeleiu is mostly like a normal lonely kid who just wants people to stop picking on him, and to make lots of friends. But he’s also going more and more insane, because he’s completely out of touch with “normal.” It’s so bad that the various races that live in the city with him all get along very well because “compared to him, we’re all normal.” His friends put up with his eccentricities. But his enemies, who don’t have the full picture and refuse to talk to him or try to see it his way, see this as signs he’s dangerous, so they push harder, which makes him do even more to protect himself.

Those other races are a high point. From the very beginning of his third life, Vandelieu finds more welcome from the monsters and the half-monster species than he does the humans (Vampires excepted, as they see Dhampirs as something to eliminate), so he’s got a very open mind towards thinking beings. So the story really digs into culture and lifestyle of various races, and Vandeleiu’s interactions with them. This is also somewhat contributing to normal humans thinking he’s insane, as the cultural standards for these races tends to differ quite a lot.

But I like that the differences are more grounded than “Ghouls sleep around a lot.” There are valid biological reasons why their culture built up that way, and when Van finds a way to address some of those biological issues, their culture starts changing as a result.

It’s also telling that for everything that he’s suffered, Amamiya/Vandelieu never completely breaks. His first life had him in an abusive home and a situation that basically never allowed him to make friends, but he still impulsively sacrifices himself to try to save a classmate who can’t even remember his name. His second life is spent deliberately crippled by the scientists who treat him as nothing more than a lab animal with a unique magic, but when he breaks free at last he only kills the researchers and guards, and frees and heals the other experimental subjects. And his third life, which begins with curses intended to make him die or commit suicide, also has a caring mother and then lots of friends who unconditionally support him and give him the strength to keep going.

The chapters where some of the other students are digging into his background are really powerful, as they’re finally realizing why he was the way he was and realizing it may not be too late to try to reason with him—but they can’t find anyone who treated him kindly enough to send to have that discussion. They’re also too paranoid to recognize that he’s only targeting people who are actively trying to kill him in the current world, so any messenger is actually likely to work as long as they aren’t hostile.

I also really like how the chapters will occasionally break away from Van to show the lingering impact of his life on Origin (the second world) or the perspective of various gods who are tangled up in this. Unexpected consequences arise, like the Eighth Guidance, a terrorist organization/cult formed from the experiment subjects he freed, who recognize that he was the only person they can trust, and have devoted themselves to carrying out what they think was his will.

There is a harem aspect to this story eventually, but this is one of the few books I’ve read where I’ve felt that aspect is well-done. Vandeleiu himself is too young to really be interested in girls, and he’s grateful to anyone who wants to be friends. In fact there’s a hilarious sequence when he meets his first Arachne (a woman with the lower body of a spider) and tells her she’s beautiful . . . because he really, really likes her biceps. Having been on the smaller, weaker side in all his lives for various reasons, Vandeleiu appreciates muscle. He completely ignores curves. (The fact that he implements a bodybuilding contest later on—for both genders, since he just likes muscle—was a lot of fun.) And all of the women so far have been people first, and potential wives second.

Speaking of beauty, though, I also like that Vandelieu himself comes off as more creepy than beautiful. His face is expressionless and he has eyes like a dead fish (it’s unclear if this is because of his race or his trauma, but indications are more on the side of trauma), waxy skin, and a small build. Combined it means many people mistake him as a doll instead of a person. And this is before he does things like use his astral body to grow extra heads because that’s the easiest way to cast dozens of spells at once. (And the insanity is probably why he doesn’t just stop at one or two extra heads—when each head can cast a spell, and you have THAT much mana, why not make a few dozen? Watching his enemies freak out is hilarious.)

Overall this is a very good read, and I hope it one day gets officially licensed so that it will be easier to support the author. Chapter 178 basically finishes off a book (minus appendices) so at least I’m at the end of the major arc while waiting for new chapters to arrive. I rate this Highly Recommended.

Planet With (Anime)

Title: Planet With

Episodes: 1-12 (Complete)

Soya has no memories of his past, but he’s intensely interested in the weird UFOs that have suddenly started appearing in the world. A group of mysterious heroes shows up to fight them—but Soya’s companions, the maid Ginko and the gigantic cat Sensei, have asked him to fight. Fight the heroes, that is. It turns out Soya may be the key to this odd invasion of Earth. But whose side is he fighting for?

This is an odd little show. Despite only being 12 episodes, there’s enough packed in to feel more content-rich than some 26+ episode series I’ve seen (although really, did they HAVE to include a hot springs episode?).

If the amnesia plotline bothers you, at least there are enough twists that it’s not totally standard. Soya is male, for starters, and the dream he’s having in the first episode is a big clue as to why he lost his memory—shock. Soya isn’t from Earth, and neither are his two housemates (well, that’s patently obvious once Sensei shows up, even before he turns into a giant robot). But the details of the alien conspiracies, Soya’s history, and why that matters, get doled out bit by bit.

In particular, the moment when Soya finally broke down and started crying as he expounds on his true feelings was powerful. The show is too short for anything to get excessive time, but I like how the plot humanized everyone. Soya’s grief, anger, and confusion in particular come through loud and clear.

He’s also got an extremely colorful cast of characters surrounding him. Whether it’s Takamagahara of the difficult name, the normal and not-so-normal hopes and dreams of the Grand Paladins who all have their own hangups that the UFOs target in interesting ways, the tangled relationship between cat and dog . . . There’s a lot of humor, but also a lot of good character moments, as people wrestle with ideas about power, responsibility, duty, and forgiveness.

Overall this was an enjoyable ride, and given the extremely short length it’s easy to watch in a session or two. I rate this show Recommended.

God of Crime

Title: God of Crime

Author: Han Yeoul

Translator: Rainbow Turtle

Status: 165 Chapters (Complete)

Link: https://www.wuxiaworld.com/novel/god-of-crime
(Please note the site is temporarily taking this novel offline, but it can likely still be read at web.archive.org)

Seo Tae-hyuk was framed for murder, convicted, spent the last ten years in prison, and is now about to die. He has no idea why, but he’s angry he never got a chance. Now that chance has come in the form of a demon. Tae-hyuk wakes up fifteen years in the past, with all the memories of his future life and an opportunity to actually become the God of Crime that people called him . . .

This was amazing. It’s mostly a crime drama, with a very tiny amount of magic that drives the entire plot. Because Tae-hyuk returns to his past self in possession of a mirror with demonic powers, a mirror that gives him the ability to acquire any and all criminal-related skills and apply them at superhuman levels.

Of course he never INTENDED to become the very thing he raged so hard against in prison.

It starts with accidentally learning a Robbery skill. From there his unintentional kleptomania expands into things like forgeries, disguises, violence, and so on. And the list. The list of criminals Seo Tae-hyuk met in prison (or heard about on the news while in prison) and the crimes they committed. He can stop them . . . but his methods decidely lean towards less legal methods.

It doesn’t take long for his moderate goals of getting his family out of debt and giving them a happy life snowball into something he might not be able to stop.

I love how it wraps up at the end. The revelations about why he had been framed, and what that murder was about fit in much better than I expected. I love how he keeps progressing into ever more ridiculous powers, but hesitates at the very last, as he finally sees in himself an emerging person he’s not sure he can live with. And then what he ultimately decides to do with his life and his abilities.

If there’s any weak point, it’s that his brother feels totally unnecessary to the plot. His sister’s ongoing development are a nice foil to the increasing darkness of Tae-hyuk’s life. And it’s fun how some of the more obvious twists are handled, like his sister falling in love with a detective who’s desperate to learn the real identity of the Phantom (who is of course Tae-hyuk).

Overall if you’ve got any interest in crime dramas crossed with a bit of fantasy, I would suggest giving this one a go. I rate this book Highly Recommended.

Everyone Else is a Returnee

Title: Everyone Else is a Returnee

Author: Toika/Toy Car

Chapters: 348 + 4 extra (Complete)

Location: https://kobatochan.com/korean-novels/everyone-else-is-a-returnee/

Yu IlHan has always been left out because no one notices him. And when God moves all of humanity off to other worlds to prepare for the coming Cataclysm on Earth, Yu IlHan remains the sole person left behind. But the endless years of being alone transforms him into someone able to break all common sense when everyone else returns . . .

This is a hilarious twist on the usual formula. Instead of one person getting sent from Earth to another world, all of humanity is sent to other worlds, and the story follows the one poor guy who didn’t get the intergalactic tourism experience.

So Yu IlHan tries to teach himself what he’ll need to know when mana shows up and monsters start spawning on Earth. With the help of a sole angel who visits every few days to keep him from going insane, he learns combat techniques, blacksmithing, dissection, etc. My personal favorite is how he eventually ends up on a quest to read all the books in the world, because it gives him something new to do.

This is a litRPG, so levels, skills, and stats provide a framework for how the world works. Of course, Yu IlHan is so busy proving he can do the impossible from pretty much the get-go that it’s not like these numbers represent much other than how much experience he can get.

I’m not fond of the predictable way the story set up Heaven as basically just another group of high-level beings who banded together under one leader, which has the expected outcome. The author does make a point that he’s not specifically trying to dump on religion, just use some angel names, but just the structure telegraphs the ending from miles away. So I had more fun with the book before about the last quarter, because that’s when the innovation is strongest and the threats are still credible.

I also hated YuNa. She was funny when it was her aggressive pursuit bouncing off Yu IlHan’s stone heart. It was less funny when this turned into sexual assault. And the harem ending was depressing because the whole story has been about Yu IlHan sticking closer to Liera than anyone else, and suddenly he’s okay with multiple wives because he thinks he shouldn’t limit himself.

So it’s a bit of a mixed bag for me. I love seeing the bizarre and completely overpowered things Yu IlHan creates. I love his pessimism, which prompts him to over-prepare for every possible scenario and then some. (Like how he designed his house to be usable in space. Because he was sure THAT was somehow a likely possibility.)

It’s the kind of mentality that results in this:

“Yes. It’s a great idiom meaning that I should not act until I am convinced that I can defeat the last boss, the true last boss that comes after that, the hidden dungeon that comes after the true last boss, and the hidden last boss that comes out at the end of the hidden dungeon, and the true-true last boss that can only be met when I install a super expensive downloadable content later, even after I have the strongest equipment and maxed out all my levels.”

So overall this is kind of a mixed bag. There is plenty to enjoy, but also some things that really annoy me. Still, it made me laugh a lot. I rate this book Recommended.

Your Name (Movie)

Title: Your Name

Format: Movie

Taki lives in Tokyo, and Mitsuha lives in the country. They’ve never met, but one day they begin waking up in the other’s body. They want to find each other, but it’s difficult when their swaps are their only clue, and the memories fade like a dream . . .

This was an interesting movie. It’s kind of a romance, but the main characters have never actually met. They get to know each other through friends and family, setting, and living each other’s lives. Eventually they start leaving notes for each other to try to keep the other person aware of the important things going on, but they haven’t directly talked.

I liked the twist of why the comet is so central to the story, and what that means for the two of them. And what Taki, especially, tries to do about it.

I watched the movie in English. One surprising touch is that this meant the music RADWIMPS provided ended up playing with English lyrics as well. That helped during some of the dramatic scenes, where the lyrics were just as important as the sweeping melody. The voice actors were also good. I liked how Taki sounds more feminine when Mitsuha is in his body, giving him a vocal tic as well as the physical ones to indicate he’s not who he used to be.

Overall, even though I’m not sure why it got as popular as it did, this is still something I would watch again. The sci-fi angle on this unconventional romance is fun, and the movie is something that can be enjoyed by anime fans and non-fans alike. I rate this Recommended.