Happy 4th of July! While we aren’t featuring any Independence Day-specific series today, many of our light novel and manga reviews do touch on the idea of freedom—freedom from physical constraints (Re:Zero), including those within a game setting (Alice in Borderland, Sword Art Online, Gods’ Games We Play), and the shackles that being introverted or shy can place upon us (Like a Butterfly and Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible). Check out the selection below and feel free to let us know your thoughts on these series!
Alice in Borderland (Vol. 6) • Gods’ Games We Play (Vol. 2) • Heavenly Delusion (Vol. 2) • Higurashi When They Cry: GOU (Vol. 1) • Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible (Vol. 8) • Like a Butterfly (Vol. 1) • Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, Chapter 4: The Sanctuary and the Witch of Greed (Vol. 6) • Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night (Vol. 1) • Tomb Raider King (Vol. 3)
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, Chapter 4: The Sanctuary and the Witch of Greed, Manga Vol. 6
The mystery of the sanctuary finally starts to unravel a bit in volume six of the 4th “chapter” in Re:Zero—and it’s about time. While this arc has given us a lot of shocking scenes, I haven’t found it to be as interesting as previous ones, while Subaru’s “return by death” has also become too commonplace and old. There’s less and less return on investment for both these devices. So how do you counter that problem? Well, volume six does so by moving the story forward and providing some insight into the arc’s new characters. For instance, Garfiel is less obnoxious once we’re given a little more background on him. The Roswaal Mansion maids are more than just cuties. And Ryuzu becomes more interesting when she’s less of an enigma. Echidna is also a little more rounded out as a character, despite only being seen in flashbacks in this volume. There’s a nice balance that’s achieved as these elements meet the more adrenaline-pumping facets to Re:Zero, including a conclusion that sends the series on probably its 15th cliffhanger moment thus far in the manga. It’s fun reading and a reminder of why this series is nothing if not entertaining. ~ Twwk
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-, Chapter 4: The Sanctuary and the Witch of Greed is published by Yen Press.
Gods’ Games We Play, Light Novel Vol. 2
It takes a minute to get there, but volume two of Gods’ Games We Play eventually captures the exuberance and energy that also made the introduction to the series such a fun read. This time around, the trio of Fay, Leshea, and Pearl travel to a different city where they encounter two new games, as well as both a rival and a possible new team member. The “getting there” part, though, drags the volume almost to standstill. As with volume one, these portions of the story that aren’t focused on the games devolve into some of the most boring harem-building passages I’ve ever read. It’s a shame because there’s so much potential for Leshea as a character beyond her skills in the games, but that’s put aside for jokes about jealousy and cup size. Thankfully, the majority of the volume is spent on the games themselves, which are just as visually written (perfect for an anime!) and non-stop as in volume one. The games here aren’t meant to be “solved” by the reader—there’s too much information we’re not privy to until the big reveals are made—But Fay’s strategies nonetheless feel clever, and the games remain thrilling. It’s just unfortunate that it seems we’re set in a pattern of getting two or three electrifying events in a volume but also having to endure the less-than-tantalizing fanservice-focused portions of the tale. The good stuff is more than worth reading through the bad for the time being, but I can certainly see this game eventually getting old. ~ Twwk
Gods’ Games We Play is published by Yen Press.
Read: God’s Games We Play Vol. 1 Review
Alice in Borderland, Manga Vol. 6
Can you really treat your enemies as friends in the borderland? This question haunts Arisu as he continues to be broken apart by how tortuous the games are for both the losers and the winners. The climax to the “King of Clubs” arc is, like the others, brutal and philosophical, and sets a number of characters on different paths once again. Meanwhile, an unexpected story fills the remainder of volume six. Featuring brand-new characters, it’s one of the most suspenseful and interesting games so far in the series, delving into human psychology and leaving readers constantly guessing from one page to the next. Major plot progress isn’t apparent in these chapters, but volume six makes up for the lack thereof with the aforementioned nail-biting games, a couple of moving backstories, and a change in relationship dynamics that had me cheering. Yes, there’s a bit of joy in the midst of all the pain. In other words, the sixth volume of Alice in Borderland is as engaging a read as the previous five, and just as harsh, challenging, and thoughtful. ~ Twwk
Alice in Borderland is published by VIZ Media.
Higurashi When They Cry: GOU, Manga Vol. 1
Keiichi is a transfer student freshly arrived in the remote mountain village of Hinamizawa, where all the students are taught in a single room and they all happen to be cute girls. It’s low-key heaven for an awkward boy like Kei-kun. Rena is fun to tease, Satoko and Rika are sweet little sister types, and Mion is the best friend a boy could hope for. (There’s also Shion, who is a little more…mature, and may just be Mion pretending to be her own “twin sister”?) What’s not to love about such a life? Well, for one, there’s the terrifying way that the girls—and pretty much everyone else in this sleepy town—suddenly develop crazy eye at random moments (usually at night in creepy places like the dump, abandoned outbuildings, and so on) and start spouting nonsense about a god and demons and a curse. And maybe murder and dismemberment and cannibalism? Kei-kun must have misheard that part. Just his overactive imagination again. The girls are all perfectly normal…right?! Full disclosure: this is my first foray into the famed Higurashi franchise, and I’m not sure I’d recommend it as a starting point. It adapts the 2020 anime and marks the 20th anniversary of the franchise, meaning that by this point, much of its intrigue no doubt relies on readers already being familiar with previous twists and reveals about the weird little village, so that departures from those earlier variants take on greater significance. That is to say, I suspect it plays on fans’ expectations—though I can’t be sure. As a standalone horror story, it is a tad mediocre. I can’t say that I was surprised at any point, and I’m not terribly invested in any of the tropey characters or their dynamics to invest my time in watching the rest of the story unfold. That said, the art by self-professed Higurashi super-fan Tomato Akase is really solid. The horror panels are atmospheric and gory, the crazy eyes are popping, and the maniacal laughter is unhinged—literally (can the human jaw do that?). There’s a lot of energy pulsing through the panels, so for fans of the series, I daresay this is a pleasant addition. Just don’t expect something terribly memorable. ~ claire
Higurashi When They Cry: GOU is published by Yen Press.
Tomb Raider King, Manhwa Vol. 3
Tomb Raider King has two problems. The first is that its protagonist, Jooheon, is a jerk. While he doesn’t like to kill people, doesn’t take advantage of women when given the opportunity, and is doing things that are making a better future, he’s also so smug and vengeful that it’s really hard to read a 350-page manhwa volume about him. The second issue is more concerning, though: the series is deux ex machina a minute, as Jooheon pulls out some relic we didn’t know he had to save the day in any and every circumstance. Held at gunpoint by the CIA? He’s got a relic for that. Can’t escape from a dastardly army general? He’s got a relic for that. Breaking into an unbreakable tomb? He’s…well, you get the idea. And it’s not very fun when you just get these explanations of why this relic or that will work, making Jooheon seem invincible. One aspect of this volume that I did like was that it focused quite a lot on Irene Holton, whose need to find a cure for her relic issue and later for her family’s problems adds a tender tone to the rough one that always seems to accompany Jooheon. But it’s not enough to make this read compelling, especially when the aforementioned problems mix together with unremarkable art. Time to bury this series. ~ Twwk
Tomb Raider King is published by Yen Press.
Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night, Manga Vol. 1
The Sword Art Online Progressive subseries is an in-depth, extended account of Kirito and Asuna’s adventures in Aincrad, and contains a lot of events that the original light novel and anime skipped over. Here, Kirito and Asuna have reached the fifth floor, and story beats this time around include PvP combat training, fine dining, treasure hunting, and ghosts, followed by a tense sequence in which Asuna gets separated from Kirito, loses her weapon, and encounters some sinister PK-ers. You probably already know whether you like SAO, and absolutely nothing about this volume (or this review) is noteworthy enough to change your mind. Also, this volume is picking up in the middle of the story; despite being labeled as vol. 1, it’s only the first volume of the “Scherzo of Deep Night” arc, NOT the actual beginning of the story, so don’t start here if that’s what you’re interested in. What does this manga offer that you won’t get in the otherwise much superior SAOP light novels? The visuals, obviously, which are well done and include some genuinely funny reaction panels (manga’s more stylized nature lets it be more exaggerated and comical than you’d see in the anime). But I also have objections. First, in this adaptation you miss out on Kirito’s endearingly dorky first-person narration; and second, there are some really gratuitous fanservice panels featuring Asuna that I found quite tasteless and disrespectful to the character. I love SAO (and SAO Progressive in particular), but on the whole, despite the good points about the art, I believe this is an inferior way to experience the Progressive story compared to picking up the light novels. ~ Jeskai
Sword Art Online Progressive: Scherzo of Deep Night is published by Yen Press.
Heavenly Delusion, Manga Vol. 2
Volume two opens with a flashback to 2034, five years earlier, when Kiruko had dark hair and her name was spelled with a ‘ri’ in the middle instead of a ‘ru.’ She was a top electric cart racer and her younger brother, Haruki, was still alive—for a few pages at least…or maybe more?! Some of the questions excited by the first volume of this character-driven post-apocalyptic road trip adventure are already starting to get some answers, but like the hydra of Greek mythology, for every one question laid to rest, two or three or even ten arise to take its place! For example, Kiruko’s quest to find the two men in the photographs suddenly begins to make sense: one is a childhood friend, while the other is a mysterious doctor whose actions may just explain the change in Kiruko’s name and hair color. Let’s just say that the core theme of the series—things not being what they seem—continues to develop, and readers are in for a bit of a rethink of volume one after this! (Also, could medical science really have advanced so far in a decade?!) As the central relationship between Kiruko and travel buddy Maru develops, it is the “hellish” side of this tale of the possibly delusional search for heaven that blossoms with warmth and humanity, while the pristine innocence of the petri-dish “heaven” begins to deteriorate—possibly at the hands of a hidden presence? Mangaka Ishiguro’s delight in creating this world of telling contrasts and peopling it with colorful characters is palpable. For fans of the anime, this volume offers a scattering of little character moments that didn’t make it into the adaptation, with a single panel featuring an ill-fated couple, for instance, sketching out an entire tragicomic romance! Definitely worth the read. ~ claire
Heavenly Delusion is published by DENPA.
READ: Heavenly Delusion Vol. 1 Review
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, Manga Vol. 8
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible has been on a steady incline since volume one, transforming from a fanservice-laden series focusing on situations in which the cute girl teases the “invisible” boy to one that’s cuter and cleaner, featuring impressive character growth along the way. That’s why volume eight is such a disappointment as it takes a step backward. Just take a look at the cover and you’ll understand—yep, it’s the beach
episode volume, featuring several chapters following Shiraishi and Kubo to the ocean. While I think it’s a good decision to focus on just the two protagonists apart from their group of friends (though not to fear—the entire posse is heavily involved in the chapters bookending the beach ones), it’s disappointing to see their relationship regress to boys’ fantasy like in volume one, with the primary situations in these chapters being Kubo’s swimsuit top falling off and her getting drunk off of liqueur-filled chocolates. These events aren’t any more fun than the purer ones that mangaka Nene Yuikmori has dreamed up in previous volumes: there’s no real benefit in sexualizing the story here. Instead, these chapters feel like a wasted opportunity to continue the steady relationship growth between Kubo and Shiraishi. Hopefully, in volume nine, Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible will return to the warmer series I’ve come to love—and if the final chapters reuniting the couple with their friends is any indication, it will. ~ Twwk
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible is published by VIZ Media.
Like a Butterfly, Manga Vol. 1
Featuring adorable characters and a fluffy, shoujo art style, Like a Butterfly will absolutely charm readers. The characters in this romance are brimming with innocent and energetic youthfulness, including the leads: the beautiful and shy Suiren and the admirable but irritable Kawasumi. The former, who is subject to never-ending gazes from and whispers by admirers, finds herself falling for the latter. The problem is that Kawasumi misunderstands Suiren’s intentions and she may not have the courage to make her feelings known. It’s all very formulaic but cute. However, like its namesake flying through the sky, the story is a bit all over the place. It’s sometimes aggressively hyper and at other times a little slow. I also dislike how unnatural the events so far feel, including a school field trip (on what, day two of freshman year?) and the boy defending the girl against the overly aggressive guy hitting on her. Tropes are fine, and even actually desired, but a manga is so much better when its tropes flow into the story rather than feeling as if they’re thrown. And here, they feel particularly artificial, like someone hurling shoujo situation darts at a manga dartboard. If the series can settle down a little, find its creative voice, and maybe give our dear Suiren a little more personality, Like a Butterfly could turn from a read that’s simply endearing to something really beautiful—from a caterpillar to a butterfly. ~ Twwk
Like a Butterfly 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.