Sunday, December 10, 2017

REVIEW: Delicious in Dungeon (manga, vols. 1-2) by Ryoko Kui, translated by Taylor Engel

I added Delicious in Dungeon to my vacation reading list after reading an interesting review of the first volume (sorry, can't recall which review nor who wrote it).

It was...odd. And probably not something I could binge-read too much, although I didn't actually think it was bad. It was basically a foodie manga with fictional food. It probably would have appealed to me a lot more if I were a Dungeons & Dragons person, but as it was it was still a nice read. It bugged me a little that the characters seemed so relaxed about rescuing the main character's sister, but it fit with the way the world was written. Death was pretty common, but also not something to be very concerned about, since it usually wasn't permanent. Very strange.

Somehow the covers had led me to believe this would be a more emotionally intense series, I think because the characters' expressions reminded me a little of the haunted survivors of Attack on Titan. This really is a very laid back series, though.

Again, this is a post-vacation review post, so there are spoilers from here on out. That said, I don't know that spoilers would really ruin this series much. A large part of its appeal is its delicious-looking fantasy food illustrations.

REVIEW: Black Butler (manga, vols. 21-23) by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

After weeks of not being able to write very much at all, I seem to be on a roll right now, so let's see how many more of these post-vacation posts I can knock out.

Black Butler is a series I've been reading chunks of every time I have a vacation. I always forget how enjoyable it is. I started reading the volumes I'd requested after slogging through a few mediocre manga, and it was like a breath of fresh air. Toboso's artwork is such a joy to look at that I'm willing to overlook that the main storyline may never get resolved. Do well all even remember what the main storyline is? Well, the arcs are generally fun, even if they don't necessarily have anything directly to do with Ciel's past and his investigation into his parents' murder.

I had thought I had finished the Emerald Witch arc during my last vacation, but apparently I wasn't quite done. I got back into it easily enough (that's what my spoiler-y post-vacation posts are for, after all), and it was lots of fun seeing Ciel's group do what they're best at, kicking butt.

There are huge spoilers from here on out. Continue on at your own risk.

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party (manga, vols. 1-2) story by QuinRose, art by Riko Sakura, translated by Angela Liu

I will finish all the manga in this franchise, someday. Maybe.

This two-volume series features what I consider to be one of the series' most interesting pairings. Even though I don't think Blood is a particularly good for Alice, this pairing tends to dig the deepest into her past, the memories she most wants to forget, and her private insecurities, since Blood looks so much like the tutor she fell in love with back in her own world, and who married her older sister instead.

Not that The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party delves into any of that. For a series pairing up Alice and Blood, it was pretty mediocre and offered nothing new. I would also highly recommend that those new to Alice in the Country of Hearts (or any of the other countries) not start with this. It may be tempting to start with one of the shorter series, but it's a bad idea all around.

This is one of my post-vacation posts, so be aware that there are spoilers past this point.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

REVIEW: Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit (manga, vols. 1-2) story by QuinRose, art by Delico Psyche, scenario by Shinotsuki, translated by Ajino Hirami

I have no idea how close I am to finally finishing all the manga in this franchise that's been translated into English. I feel like every time I check there's more.

At any rate, I think I've read all the enjoyable stuff, and now this is more about me being able to say "I'm done" than anything. The first volume of My Fanatic Rabbit was mediocre, but I've read worse. In general, I'm not a fan of the ones where Elliot is Alice's love interest because they're either too silly for my tastes and make Alice too focused on her love for Elliot's ears, or they focus too much on Elliot's violent side and make me worry about Alice. This one went in the latter direction, with a little of the former.

The second volume left me filled with rage, primarily because I've seen the kind of stuff that was pulled on Alice pulled with a family member. This wasn't even vaguely romantic, and it left me feeling terrible for Alice.

REVIEW: Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto (manga, vol. 2) by Nami Sano, translated by Adrienne Beck

This is another post-vacation review.

Sakamoto tutors Yoshinobu (the bullied kid from volume 1) while deftly avoiding and finally defusing Yoshinobu's amorous mother. Then Sakamoto outwits a teacher bent on believing he's trouble, even managing to add the teacher to his list of admirers due to a kind act he performs. Then there are a few shorter episodes: dealing with a slug in cooking class, drawing a classmate in a way that manages to be both flattering and insulting, and saving a classmate during a fire drill (?). The volume ends with a group of delinquents pursuing Sakamoto and always just missing him. As they try to find him, they hear about his past mysterious exploits. Then there's an incident involving a delinquent trying to pick a fight with Sakamoto and ending up in a bizarre push fight against him.

REVIEW: Arisa (manga, vols. 2-12) by Natsumi Ando, translated by various

I read the first volume of Arisa almost a year ago. I felt that it had significant problems - a premise that required too much suspension of disbelief and artwork that didn't really fit the "feel" of the series - but I was intrigued enough by it to want to continue on.

Boy am I glad that I decided to continue on via library checkouts during my vacation rather than via purchases. If I had purchased it, I'd have instantly offloaded upon finishing it. It was a mediocre series that never got better and that, in fact, became downright bad at the end. The one bright spot was a short spin-off included at the end of one of the volumes, a horror-comedy featuring Mariko, Arisa's best friend. Unfortunately, as good as that short was, it made it even clearer that many of the characters in this series really, really needed therapy, and not just for someone to like them for who they are.

Ando had no idea how to properly build up suspense, was fond of fakeouts, and threw a cheap twist at readers right at the end. Also, it really bothered me how much her characters were willing to excuse and/or forgive.

While writing up this post, I discovered that my notes were pretty bad. I left out lots of details, resulting in volume descriptions that seem to have little-to-no connection to the previous volume. Also, I somehow neglected to record the volume in which Mariko's short was included. That said, even though my volume descriptions are incomplete, please be aware that they're still filled with spoilers. Read on at your own risk.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

REVIEW: My Neighbor Seki (manga, vols. 1-6) by Takuma Morishige

I'm finally getting around to writing the first of my vacation "review" posts. If you're unfamiliar with how I do these, be warned that they're mostly intended for the me of about a year in the future. They're absolutely filled with spoilers. I suppose those are unnecessary when I've finished a manga series, but they're incredibly helpful when I'm reading an ongoing series, have to stop at a certain point, and plan to pick it up again during my next vacation. If you're wary of spoilers, I do plan to start each post with general impressions of what I read during my vacation. These should be relatively spoiler-free.

Okay, let's get this ball rolling. I have fourteen series that I'd like to write about before the end of the year...

I can't remember how My Neighbor Seki got on my radar, but I'm relatively sure it was via a review I read online. It sounded intriguing, but not so much that I actually wanted to buy it, so it went on my "vacation manga binge" list.

I started my vacation with six volumes of this series, and I got through all of them, although it took some effort. This is not a series to binge-read. Although it wasn't in 4-koma format, it read like a 4-koma series, and it just got so old. There were occasional new character introductions to spice things up, but not nearly enough to keep things fresh for six volumes read back-to-back. And so a couple volumes sat on a table, partway read, while I read other things for a while. But the damage had already been done, and I kind of dreaded making myself finish the volumes, even though I knew the series technically wasn't bad.

A funny story: at one point, I read most of volume 4, only to look over at my piles of manga and discover that I'd actually started reading the previous volume the night before and hadn't finished. Since almost nothing of importance happens in the individual volumes, I hadn't realized I'd skipped most of a volume.

I might request more of this series during my next vacation, but it occurs to me that it might actually be better to periodically get volumes via interlibrary loan instead. Long waiting periods between each volume would likely improve this series for me.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Mystic Messenger - Day 9 of Jaehee's route

Since a full playthrough of Mystic Messenger takes 11 real-time days, I decided I'd do things a little differently this time around. I'm probably going to write reviews (or maybe just quick posts?) of my different playthroughs, rather than one review of the entire game because of 1) the amount of time each playthrough takes and 2) the high likelihood that I'm not going to play certain routes (Jumin Han, ugh) or get all of the endings. At the moment, I don't plan on purposely aiming for any of the "bad" endings.

I'm currently on Day 9 of Jaehee's route and it is ♥. I'm crossing my fingers that I'm on the right track for her "good" ending. It's been a pleasure seeing her slowly become happier, and I like that her route has allowed me to occasionally chat with Zen as well. He's a sweetheart.

While Jaehee's route is technically a friendship route rather than a romantic one, it's a very intense friendship. One character half-jokingly calls Jaehee and the player character's chats dates, and Jaehee repeatedly talks about how much she enjoys talking to the player character, how she thinks about her all the time, and how talking to her gives her courage and makes her feel calm.

Part of me wishes I already owned the calling card for the game since Jaehee's voice actress sounds so nice, but that probably won't happen until sometime after I've finished this playthrough.* I suppose I'll have to replay Jaehee's route sometime in the future in order to make those calls I'd have made if I hadn't had to worry about running out of hourglasses. On the plus side, that won't be a hardship, even with the amount of time a playthrough takes. I like Jaehee so much that I'm actually a little sad I'm almost done with her route. I hope the other characters are as enjoyable as her. (Except Jumin, who I'm already convinced will be 100% an arrogant jerk. Sorry, Jumin fans - I don't see how he could not suck. The only good thing about him is his love of cats, and he manages to turn even that into a reason for me to dislike him.)


* I'm aware that I could get a cheap calling card just for Jaehee, but when I added up the cost of the calling cards for all the specific characters I'd like, it was clear that it'd be a better value just to get the calling card that covers everyone, although it involves spending more in one go.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Back from vacation!

I've actually been back for a few days. I just hadn't settled down to write this post.

So, vacation could have gone better. I got sick a few days in and spent a few days with a fiery sore throat, a cough, and a fever. I had to cancel a lunch with a friend/former supervisor because my voice kept going in and out, and unfortunately that was the only day she could meet with me. There was one miserable 3 AM where I woke up thirsty and discovered I couldn't drink more than a tiny sip of room temperature water. Hot water with honey mixed into it (because I was too tired to make herbal tea) was my savior.

I still have a cough, and there are some problems with a filling I got on Monday, but otherwise things are better.

Although I didn't get quite as much reading done during my vacation as I would have liked (I had a stack of Haikyu!! that I never touched, plus Naruto and some leftoever Natsume's Book of Friends and Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun), I still managed to get a respectable amount of reading done. If my count is correct, I finished 43 manga and graphic novel volumes, one short story, and one book (that I'd started prior to my vacation but finished during).

Here are the spoiler-y posts you can look forward to in the coming weeks:
  • Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party (manga, vols. 1-2)
  • Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit (manga, vols. 1-2)
  • Arisa (manga, vols. 2-12)
  • Black Butler (manga, vols. 21-23)
  • Delicious in Dungeon (manga, vols. 1-2)
  • Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto (manga, vol. 2)
  • Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft (graphic novel, vol. 1)
  • M.F.K. (graphic novel, not sure if it's a one-shot or vol. 1)
  • Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun (manga, vols. 4-5)
  • My Neighbor Seki (manga, vols. 1-6)
  • Natsume's Book of Friends (manga, vols. 11-13)
  • Orange: The Complete Collection (manga, vol. 1)
  • Skip Beat! (manga, vols. 37-39)
  • Tokyo Ghoul (manga, vols. 1-5)
Next time I go on vacation, I'd definitely like to continue Black Butler, Locke & Key, Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun, Natsume's Book of Friends, Orange (if I don't request the next and I think final volume through ILL between now and then), Skip Beat!, and Tokyo Ghoul. I'll rerequest Haikyu!! and Naruto, too.

As for the rest: I think I might finally have read the last of Alice in the Country of Hearts/Clover/Joker/etc. Delicious in Dungeon was okay, but not something I'd want to binge-read. I really shouldn't have continued Haven't You Heard? I'm Sakamoto - for me, the series is like looking on in horror as the weirdest and most disturbing insect I've ever seen crawls across my carpet. It's something to do with the art style, I think, since the actual content isn't really that horrifying. And My Neighbor Seki is definitely not one of those series to binge-read. It'd work best in small amounts, and trying to get through 6 volumes at once was a mistake on my part.

Other things I finished:
  • The Yellow Wallpaper (e-short story) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman - Free through Project Gutenberg. Strange and a little creepy. Very good, although I have lots of questions.
  • Alliance in Blood (e-book) by Ariel Tachna - I went from "this isn't great, but not the worst thing I've ever read" to "this is very bad." It started in the introduction, when the author wrote about how she'd "proudly" never read any vampire stories, and culminated with insta-love, a plodding story, and a wooden and boring big battle. The author may have thought that this story was too big to fit into a single book, but I have a feeling a good editor could have combined the first two or three books in the series into something much better than Alliance in Blood.
And visual novels! I "finished" one and got started on another in the few days between flying back and going back to work. I believe that both can be played on Apple or Android devices, although one is definitely best played on a phone rather than on a tablet.
  • The Arcana (game) - I may write a more thorough review, but for now my impression is that it's quite good. The artwork is lovely and the routes are interesting. I had things I liked about each of the three romanceable characters. The app's main problems are 1) the pricing structure (if you want access to the entire thing at any time without waiting, be prepared to pay $60+), 2) the amount of waiting (it takes 8 hours to get a new key so that you can read another chapter, and you can only have a maximum of 3 keys saved up), and 3) its incompleteness (it's a serial that's still ongoing - no clue when it will be complete).
  • Mystic Messenger (game) - Again, I may write a more thorough review later, but for now I'm loving this app, with some reservations. It takes place over the course of 11 real-time days, and it assumes that you have a daily schedule that's busiest from 9ish to 6ish but that still allows you multiple breaks to check your phone. If I could ask for one improvement, it would be for the app to allow users to enter their work/school schedules. At any rate, I will probably end up paying for a calling card for all of the characters, and for the bit that allows you to romance a couple extra characters. The Common route lasts a few days, after which you're locked into a particular character. I couldn't decide between Zen (a flirty but kind of lonely actor) and Jaehee (an efficient but overworked assistant, and the game's only woman aside from the player character), and apparently my indecision pushed me more towards Jaehee's route, so that's what I'm currently playing. From what I've read, it's a friendship route rather than a romantic one, and I'm really enjoying it so far. Jaehee's a great character, and I'm rooting for her happiness (even though she dislikes cats).

Friday, November 3, 2017

REVIEW: How to Take Off Your Mask (game)

How to Take Off Your Mask is a fantasy romance visual novel. You play as Lilia (name customizable, although I think if you choose something other than the default the characters don’t say her name in spoken dialogue). Lilia lives with her grandmother and helps out at her bakery. Lilia hasn’t had parents around for years, but she’s kept it together by focusing on her young friend Ronan and being the best “big sister” she can for him. They’re now in their late teens (I think? Or maybe early 20s) and Lilia still treats Ronan like a younger brother who needs constant supervision and protection. However, things are starting to change.

Lilia wakes up one day to discover that her body and speech have entirely changed. It turns out that she’s half-luccretia. Luccretias are feared and hated by many humans, and anti-luccretia sentiment has been growing lately. Half-luccretias look human until their first transformation, at which time they transform into their luccretia body, which has cat ears and a tail. Some luccretias talk like normal humans, while others end their sentences with “mya” or “nya.” Lilia is one of the “nya” types. Her luccretia form also happens to be several years younger than her human form, maybe 13 or 14.

As the anti-luccretia group makes its first moves, Lilia interacts with Ronan both as herself as as “Leea” (name customizable), her luccretia form. Because Ronan has no idea they’re both the same person, Lilia gets to see another side of Ronan and realizes they’ve both been hiding things from each other. Will they be able to take off their masks and finally be honest with themselves and each other?

REVIEW: Cardcaptor Sakura, Standard Edition, Vol. 1 (anime TV series)

Cardcaptor Sakura is a magical girl TV series that originally aired in Japan in the late ‘90s and, in heavily edited form, in the US from 2000 to 2001 (according to Wikipedia - I could have sworn I was younger when I watched it, but apparently my memories are faulty). I caught a tiny bit of it back when it was on TV, but for some reason it never captured my interest.

I was excited to learn that this series was finally being released in the US in unedited form, but I was a little wary. I had fallen in love with it via the manga but wasn’t sure the anime would be to my tastes since, like I said, what little I’d seen of it on TV hadn’t gotten me hooked. Buying the full thing (because I almost always buy the full thing) would be a serious monetary commitment. But then Right Stuf had their anniversary sale and I finally caved.

Cardcaptor Sakura stars Sakura, a 10-year-old girl. She lives with her father, who’s a professor (of ancient history? Egyptian history? not sure), and her older brother, Toya. Her mother died when she was very young. One day, Sakura finds a book in her home’s basement. It contains Clow Cards, almost all of which escape. With the help of the cards’ guardian, Kero, Sakura is able to capture one of the cards. Kero tells her that she is now a Cardcaptor and must collect all the rest of the cards before they do any harm - all the cards have some sort of magical ability and some of them can be very mischievous and/or actively harmful. Each card she collects gives Sakura new abilities that can help her capture more cards.

Along the way, viewers are introduced to other characters: Yukito, Toya’s best friend and Sakura’s not-so-secret crush; Tomoyo, Sakura’s best friend; and Xiaolang (I prefer Syaoran, but I’ll go with the romanization these DVDs used here), Sakura’s rival for both Yukito’s affection and card capturing. Most of the episodes are very “Card of the Week,” but some of them focus more on Sakura’s relationships and family history.

Vacation

I'm about to go on vacation for a couple weeks. I'll still have access to the Internet, but it'll mostly be via my phone, so don't expect anything in the way of reviews. If I post at all, it'll be over at Booklikes, although I'll probably add books and ratings to LibraryThing and maybe Goodreads as well.

I plan on reading lots of manga volumes, so you can expect lots of spoilery review posts in late November and December.

As for today, I have to clean, pack, and take care of a million other things before I leave for the airport. I have a few reviews I might finish up and push out, as well.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

REVIEW: The Moai Island Puzzle (book) by Alice Arisugawa, translated by Ho-Ling Wong

The Moai Island Puzzle is a Japanese mystery novel. I got it via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Alice Arisugawa is the third Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan author I’ve tried. I thought Arisugawa would also be my first female honkaku mystery author, but I didn’t bother to research that and, as it turns out, the author is actually male.

He also wrote a male character named after his pseudonym into The Moai Island Puzzle. I don’t like when authors write themselves into their own books, even if all they and their character have in common is their names, so this was a bit of a red flag for me, but I figured I’d let it pass. I was really hoping this book would be as good as the one that led me to it, Soji Shimada’s The Tokyo Zodiac Murders. Or even Yukito Ayatsuji’s The Decagon House Murders, which had some issues but was still decent.

The Moai Island Puzzle starts by introducing readers to the members of the Eito University Mystery Club. The club’s only female member, Maria Arima, invites the other members to take a week-long holiday at her uncle’s villa on a tiny island. Only Alice Arisugawa (the narrator) and Jiro Egami are able to join her, but that doesn’t mean they’re alone: ten of Maria’s family members and family friends also take a holiday on the island at around this time every three years or so.

Alice and Egami arrive at the island with every intention of having fun. In particular, they’d like to solve the puzzle that Maria’s grandfather left behind. Before he died, Maria’s grandfather had several wooden moais, statues similar to the ones on Easter Island but much smaller, installed all over the island, each facing in a different direction. These statues are somehow the key to finding a treasure that Maria’s grandfather left behind.

Hideto, Maria's beloved cousin, was supposedly close to solving the puzzle three years ago but drowned before he could locate the treasure. Maria would like to finish what he started. Unfortunately, just as a typhoon is about to reach the island, a couple people are found shot to death inside a locked room. Was it suicide, or murder?

REVIEW: Land of the Lustrous (manga, vol. 1) by Haruko Ichikawa, translated by Alethea Nibley and Athena Nibley

Land of the Lustrous is SFF manga that's still ongoing in Japan. It's published by Kodansha Comics. I checked it out via interlibrary loan.

Review:

Land of the Lustrous is set on a world that has been battered by meteors several times over the course of its history, to the point that all life was driven into the ocean. Some of the surviving beings eventually sank to the bottom and were consumed by microorganisms, transforming them into inorganic substances that eventually formed into crystals (I know, it’s bizarre, but just try to accept it). Those crystals eventually became 28 (ish?) genderless gemstone-based beings that washed up onto the shore. Those gem beings are the series’ good guys. Beings from the moon, called Lunarians, periodically attack the gem beings so that they can capture them and break their bodies down into weapons and decorations.

The series’ main character is a gem being named Phosphophyllite (Phos). Phos desperately wants to become a member of one of the watcher and fighter pairs that protect everyone against the Lunarians, but unfortunately Phos is so brittle that that’s out of the question. So far, Phos has been unsuited to every task they’ve been assigned to, which is why I suspect the latest task Kongo, the group’s leader, has come up with is probably just busy work. Kongo asks Phos to compile a natural history.

Phos starts off by talking to the tragic and dangerous Cinnabar, because that’s who everyone keeps saying they should start with. After that, Phos spends some time with the Diamond fighting pair, Bort and Dia. And then there’s an incident with a giant snail.

Monday, October 30, 2017

REVIEW: Gone Home (game)

Warning: this review includes one very spoiler-filled paragraph. I provide another warning just before you get to it.

Like Tacoma, Fullbright’s newest game, Gone Home isn’t so much an adventure game as it is an interactive story, although the story is even slimmer here than it was in Tacoma.

You play as Katie, who has just arrived home in the very early AM after a trip abroad. The family just moved to this home and I’m pretty sure Katie has never been there. At any rate, the house is empty - no one else is home, and you don’t know why. There are a few cryptic notes from your younger sister indicating that something has happened and that you shouldn’t tell your parents anything. There are also a couple phone messages, one of which is particularly worrisome. In order to find out what happened, you have to explore the house, reading any notes you find and picking up keys and combination lock codes so that you can open new doors and learn more secrets. Touching certain items triggers voiceover narration from your sister, explaining a little of what happened to her while you were gone and how things got to the point they are now.
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