Tag Archives: urban

Changing World: How It All Began

Title: Changing World: How It All Began

Author: Sergei Katz

Dave is a stock analyst with a disability. When he’s offered the chance to beta test a newly developed full-immersion virtual reality game, he’s all in. But a few early mistakes puts him at a disadvantage starting out, and it will take luck and cleverness to ensure his character isn’t eliminated early on.

I probably should’ve stopped reading when the first chapter was pumping the main character up as a super-awesome stock analyst with an unbelievable ability to make money. It would have been a more engaging story if it had focused more on his disability and how going into the game world changed that.

It was also a very odd choice for a disability–the inability to see colors doesn’t seem to be as compelling a reason to abandon your everyday life for three years as perhaps some others might have been. And Dave doesn’t seem like much of a gamer otherwise. His main draw for playing is supposed to be getting around this disability.

And that all ignores the fact that after the very beginning, his life and personality outside the game has no relevance.

The actual game begins the litRPG aspect. Unfortunately, the story has a tendency to play up whatever the main character is finding or doing as awesome, without giving a good sense of the strengths or weaknesses of others. This makes the story as a whole less interesting because the stakes are either not there or poorly defined.

The fights, for example, tend to describe what’s going on by what’s happening with HP bars, rather than focusing on specific skills or strategies by both sides (and when it does try to show what both sides are doing, it tends to give a tiny bit of detail and then go back to talking about HP bars). So the fights are no fun to read because of their vagueness and lack of detail in the important parts, and excessive detail on the unimportant parts.

Both of his pets bother me. The bird in no way acts like a bird, which could be partially explained by this being a game, except nothing really indicates this is pet behavior specifically.

Overall, this has the bones of an interesting story, but the execution falls flat in a number of areas. I rate this book Neutral.

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Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 4 (Light Novel)

Title: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 4

Author: Ryo Shirakome

Format: Light Novel

Hajime has rescued Will from an army of monsters, but no sooner are they home then the trouble starts all over again. This time it’s Myu, a small slave girl Hajime inadvertently rescues. And she’s not the only one in trouble—Kouki and the strongest of the transplanted students are still pressing towards the bottom of the Great Orcus Labyrinth, and they’ve stumbled into far more than they can handle.

Given that last book only a few of Hajime’s classmates found out he’s still alive, this book has a second (and equally amusing) reunion—this time including Kaori, the girl who never stopped believing he’d survived.

I really like how Hajime challenges Kouki’s heroism. To some extent, Kouki has the Hero class because he really is heroic. But his weaknesses are equally glaring, and have been pointed out since the first book: his inflexible thinking, his inability to even see things that don’t match his assumptions, and his lack of resolve. I love that Hajime points out Kouki’s unwillingness to kill an enemy has more to do with his own unwillingness to see someone die and not compassion or mercy.

Endou’s stealth skills were also good for several laughs. “And just who are you calling the king of invisibility!? I’ll have you know that the automatic doors at stores open for me one-third of the time!”

Kaori’s crisis at seeing Hajime alive but almost totally different was one of the best parts of the book. She’s waited and suffered so much for this moment, and yet it’s nothing like what she wanted it to be. She can’t keep her promise to protect him. In fact she’s rejecting who he is now more than anyone except Kouki.

Overall this is one of the better books in the series, as it mostly eschews the pandering for some solid plot development, intense action scenes, and strong character moments. I rate this book Recommended.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 1 (Light Novel)

Title: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 1

Author: Ryo Shirakome

Format: Light Novel

Hajime never expected his class to get summoned to a fantasy world. But the dream-like awakening everyone else experienced never came for him—he’s just as average in his new life as his old. Worse, the prettiest girl in class won’t leave him alone . . . which results in him falling to the depths of a monster-infested labyrinth. He’ll need to change himself drastically if he wants to have any chance to survive.

This was more interesting than I initially expected, although parts of Hajime’s journey feel rather compressed.

I liked that Hajime loathes the way Kaori pays attention to him, because he’s not interested in her, and he’s also become the target of all the guys who are. Even when he finds out her true reason, he doesn’t seem interested in her at all as a girlfriend. He’s just trying to get her to go away in the nicest way he can think of. Because her attention is poisonous to him, and she either can’t see that or refuses to.

It’s also interesting that the biggest “villain” of the piece is likely Kouki, whose inability to accurately perceive and react to the world around him is causing all sorts of problems, even when he’s trying to be helpful. And because nearly the whole class got pulled over, Hajime remains the target of the people who tormented him.

The labyrinth part felt like it could have been several books, instead of about half of one. This is where I would have liked to see far more of Hajime’s adventures in the depths, but what we do get is still a lot of fun. I had to laugh when he starts lovingly describing the features of the various guns he’s creating, although my favorite moment by far was the exchange:

“Don’t mind me, shoot!”
“Wait, really? Thanks.” Bang!

Although the bit where he’s completely ready to ignore that sealed block is probably my second favorite scene. Him figuring that if someone went this far to hide something, it’s probably better off sealed was hilarious. Hajime is not interested in the typical heroic tropes for the most part. He’d rather avoid the trouble.

I’m not that fond of Yue. She’s more interested in sleeping with Hajime than anything else—and picking the middle of a fight to seduce the man is not conducive to anyone’s survival. I also really dislike the trope of making a very young-looking girl legal by saying she’s a few hundred years old, she just stopped aging early. And she won’t take him telling her no, so it feels like she rapes him in the end.

Overall, though, I’m at least interested enough to see where this goes next. I can’t wait for his reintroduction to the classmates who think he’s dead, as that should be entertaining in a lot of ways (Hajime’s stay in the labyrinth was brutal, and his body reflects that). I rate this book Recommended, as long as Yue’s visual age and sexual aggressiveness isn’t a barrier.

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.

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.