Do you like villainess isekai series? We’ve got it covered. Church intrigue involving priestess assassins? Yeah, we’ve got that, too. Alien romance? Sure. Thoughtful fantasy series? Double covered. Zombies? You guessed it—covered. Come join us this week for a most unusual mix of manga and light novel reviews, including the most recent releases of series that could be the new classics and the opening volumes of others, including a manga adaptation of a popular light novel series.
Dragon and Ceremony (Vol. 3) • The Executioner and Her Way of Life (Vol. 1) • Fly Me to the Moon (Vol. 14) • Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End (Vol. 6) • A Galaxy Next Door (Vol. 3) • I Was Reincarnated as the Villainess in an Otome Game but the Boys Love Me Anyway! (Vol. 3) • Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet (Vol. 1) • Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead (Vol. 8)
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End, Manga Vol. 6
Volume six of Frieren continues to demonstrate the gentleness, love, and care that makes this a remarkable series. Dwelling in the past less than previous volumes, this one still makes its brief travels to Frieren’s original adventure count by creating fulfilling connections between then and now. Frieren continues with the second stage of the mage certification exam, with the most challenging foe possible lying ahead, deep within the king’s tomb. While the quest and accompanying fights themselves are fascinating, the tenderness of the manga’s theme—we’re blessed and built by the friendships that grab ahold of us—continues to be the heart of Frieren, even in the midst of competition. I shouldn’t have been surprised, then, that Kanehito Yamada makes use of a specific spell in the text to weave a simple but heartfelt story within these chapters that brought tears to my eyes. But that’s just another volume for Frieren, the most magical and warm manga I think I’ve ever read. ~ Twwk
Frieren: Beyond Journey’s End is published by VIZ Media.
Dragon and Ceremony (God’s Many Forms), Light Novel Vol. 3
Volume three of Dragon and Ceremony feels as if it’s a long, long way from book one. In fact, as it concludes, Yuui tells Ix that it seems far longer than a few months that the two have known each other. The paths of these two—the young woman with royal blood virtually held for ransom outside her home country, and the gifted wandmaker without an ounce of magic in his body—continue to cross. Book three moves further away from the naivete, romance, and fantasy adventures of book one and toward religion, with the former character caught up in a reform movement and the latter creating a magic staff at a monastery. There, Ix meets another apprentice wandmaker, Shuno, whose burst of authenticity and nervousness add much needed warmth and humor to this volume which otherwise is drawing Yuui and Ix further and further from each other, despite their proximity. I had felt that the greatest strengths of Dragon and Ceremony were the relationship between the protagonists and the heart that author Ichimei Tsukushi is able to express in the tale. Both are lacking somewhat here, which makes me wonder what Tsukushi is ultimately intending to do. But that’s not to say that volume three isn’t a fantastic read in its own right. There’s richness to the conversations about religion, and a critique, I think, regarding how authorities may manipulate it in a selfish but subtle way that could change the lives of many, particularly commoners and those that are vulnerable. Still, I wonder if Tsukushi will ever return to the dreamy loveliness of volume one, because while I appreciate the way he weaves a story and how each volume feels like an entirely different world (it’s much like Spice & Wolf in that manner), what I most like about Dragon and Ceremony are Yuui and Ix, and Yuui and Ix together, growing and caring for one another. I hope we return to that at some point, though foreshadowing indicates that it may be a rough and long road before it happens. ~ Twwk
Dragon and Ceremony is published by Yen Press.
I Was Reincarnated as the Villainess in an Otome Game but the Boys Love Me Anyway!, Manga Vol. 3
The first volume of this series was in my top ten favorites last year, but with this third volume, I am hugely disappointed with how this volume has unfolded. While it dives right back into the situation surrounding the student who was burned in the previous volume, Mystia meets a new character who is determined to see the villainess Mystia in action. As she deals with him attempting to make life more “interesting,” she is even more ardent in avoiding Raid and Eric so as not to trigger her own death flags. However, it seems the more she tries, the more these characters become less and less like their real selves. Truly, what in the world happened to these characters? I felt that both Raid and Eric had changed, which isn’t necessarily unexpected given the game is changing; but this was borderline psychopathic boyfriend syndrome, and I didn’t sign up for that. Maybe that sounds super harsh, but I have deeply enjoyed this series, and yet I couldn’t bring myself to get invested in the characters any longer with these vast differences in who they were in just the volume prior. To say I am extremely bummed and upset about the direction of this series is an understatement. I want the old Mystia back and not to have so much out-of-the-blue danger surrounding these characters who have been so wonderful thus far. While there are some new mysteries that have arisen (are other characters from the real world too?), and the art is fantastic as always, I’m just genuinely heartbroken I am no longer enjoying this series. ~ Laura A. Grace
I Was Reincarnated as the Villainess in an Otome Game but the Boys Love Me Anyway! is published by TokyoPop.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Manga Vol. 1
The primary strengths of the original The Executioner and Her Way of Life light novels are the beautiful character designs, the complicated and unusual magic system employed by the priests and their enemies, and the sometimes unnerving, often ethereal tone of the series. Volume one of the manga adaptation moves through the series’ initial events so quickly that it doesn’t have time to set the unique atmosphere from the light novels or show the wonders of the “scripture-based” magic from the series, resulting in a read that’s mildly entertaining but lacking in artistry. The opening is promising enough, introducing the hyperviolence of the series and relentlessness of its main character, the executioner Menou, through a surprising twist, before turning toward her “rescue” of an isekai’d “otherworlder,” Akari, whom she must guide to the church’s foremost city to execute. Along the way, readers are treated to fights in passenger trains, villains who transform into creatures after swallowing red magic stones, and a mistrust between royalty and the church—the standard stuff of fantasy manga, easily breezed through and quickly forgotten. The more unique characteristics of the original—the frightening tone that the author sets when detailing the power of otherworlders who have gone berserk, and the angelic, poetic, and procedural use of scriptures when calling forth magic—are what set the series apart; but they are forgotten here in volume one of the manga as the story moves briskly along. Meanwhile, the beautifully illustrated characters aren’t supported by equally artistic backgrounds, missing elements that are almost necessary for world-building in a fantasy manga and thus conspicuous in their absence. What’s left is an average read with none of the distinctive elements that make the light novel special, an unexpected disappointment for a manga that should be, if nothing else, a visual feast. ~ Twwk
The Executioner and Her Way of Life is published by Yen Press.
Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet, Manga Vol. 1
I sometimes wish our moods wouldn’t affect our enjoyment–or lack of it–when it comes to reading. Unfortunately, I think that is what happened when I read Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet. Fumi is a high school girl who finds out that her father is in debt to a loan shark, and as a result, they are going to be evicted from their home. Not only is she forced to leave her home, she has to start working right away and gets a job as a housekeeper for a popular novelist, Akatsuki Kibikino. While she’s thankful to have a roof over her head, his grumpy attitude makes her new living arrangements not the most enjoyable…for now. I’m still not sure why I didn’t fully love this story. There’s definitely nothing “bad” about it, and I can only think that maybe I wasn’t head over heels for the story simply because when I read this I had a horrible headache? I did, however, really enjoy the interactions between Fumi and Akatsuki! There was some great humor that comes out of their interactions that I definitely want to see more of in this series. However, my absolute favorite part of this story is the writing aspect! Akatsuki really captures the quirks of writers, and as a writer, I really appreciated seeing that represented in fiction! Overall, this was an easy-going story that I do plan to come back to and give a second chance because I am interested to see what happens next! ~ Laura A. Grace
Tsubaki-chou Lonely Planet is published by Yen Press.
Fly Me to the Moon, Manga Vol. 14
It’s Kaguya (the mysterious masked high school girl) versus Tsukasa! We pick up with the “haunted” house story where we learn the spookiness is all mechanical. The whole situation is a setup to create “authentic,” unscripted movie footage. But Tsukasa just won’t get scared, and even has a sword fight with a “ghost.” Meanwhile, Aya uses her strong grasp of video game logic to navigate the staged puzzles. Eventually, Kaguya challenges Tsukasa directly, and they fight. With swords. Yes, somehow this has become a fighting manga, at least for a little while. There’s also a rogue animatronic centipede that needs a little decapitation. Once the haunted house situation is sorted out, it’s back to our regularly scheduled cute and flirty Nasa-Tsukasa interactions. “They may already be married, but sitcom-style romantic tension persists!” as the narration unapologetically admits. I enjoyed this volume’s swerve in fighting manga territory, as well as the video game jokes. I was a little disappointed we didn’t get more meaningful interactions between Tsukasa and Kaguya, but this is a pretty slow burn manga, so I shouldn’t have expected any quick developments. ~ Jeskai
Fly Me to the Moon is published by VIZ Media.
A Galaxy Next Door, Manga Vol. 3
When I reviewed volume two of A Galaxy Next Door, I wondered where the conflict in this series, which has been so light and fluffy, would come from. Well, here it is, presented in two ways—the more dramatic kind that readers may come to expect from a piece of fiction, and the more subtle, relationship-centered type that feeds well into this absolutely charming series. But first, the former! Volume three begins with Goshiki’s parents coming to take her home, away from what they fear are the vile clutches of a womanizing man. Of course, Ichiro is far from that, but the meeting is nonetheless a tense one; and though resolved for the time being, the dispute promises real troubles for the future of Goshiki and Ichiro’s relationship. Those chapters are followed by the unusual storyline of Goshiki’s needle being removed from Ichiro, thus annulling their pact, a decision that leads the two to consider how they’ll care for each other without being compelled by an alien force. What results is more beautiful scenes of commitment, love, and friendship, which work so well in part because the central characters are fully realized, adorable, and admirable. We want to root for them because of who they are individually, and what they can be together. I’m so glad to be reading about their journey—much like Frieren, my other favorite series of these past couple of years, A Galaxy Next Door makes me laugh, brings me to the edge of tears, and makes me consider what type of person I want to be. It’s everything I could ask for in a manga romance, and so much more. ~ Twwk
A Galaxy Next Door is published by Kodansha.
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead, Manga Vol. 8
How do you one-up a zombie invasion? Why, add dinosaurs into the mix, of course! With its frequent action, humorous dialogue, and quick but emotional mini-arcs, Zom 100 continues to read as “the shonen manga most likely to become a beloved anime that hasn’t already.” Some chapters feature the group stumbling into a dinosaur museum and engaging a zombie horde there, which is a lot of fun. They even include a two-page spread that’s a callback to the original Jurassic Park film. The following chapter doesn’t let up on the creativity, focusing on a notable philosopher and mathematician zombies while dwelling on the nature of boredom. What a weird and fun ride this manga is. Zom 100 is an absolute joy to read—the zombie series I never knew I needed. ~ Twwk
Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead is published by VIZ Media.
“Reader’s Corner” is our way of embracing the wonderful world of manga, light novels, and visual novels, creative works intimately related to anime but with a magic all their own. Each week, our writers provide their thoughts on the works they’re reading—both those recently released as we keep you informed of newly published works, and those older titles that you might find as magical (or in some cases, reprehensible) as we do.
Featured illustration by Enji (reprinted w/permission)