Reader’s Corner: Kaiju No. 8 (Vol. 7), A Galaxy Next Door (Vol. 5), and The Summer Hikaru Died

While the charm and creativity of fantastic worlds and cool science fiction works may enthrall us, it’s rare to keep up with a series based on those elements alone. We need to care about the characters and be interested in their journeys. This week’s selections featured a number of manga and light novels that do both well, and that we believe are worth your attention.

Apparently, Disillusioned Adventurers Will Save the World (Vol. 3)Dark Gathering (Vol. 2)A Galaxy Next Door (Vol. 5)Heavenly Delusion (Vol. 4)Kaiju No. 8My Instant Death Ability Is So Overpowered, No One in This Other World Stands a Chance Against Me (Vol. 1)The Summer Hikaru Died (Vol. 1)The Otherworlder, Exploring the Dungeon (Vol. 2)Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (Vol. 1)Yami-hara (Novel)

Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop, Manga Vol. 1

Cherry is a boy who loves words—in their written form, that is. So much so that he carries around a saijiki, or dictionary of seasonal words, specifically for composing haiku and capturing the moment. When it comes to speaking them aloud though? Not so much. Meanwhile, Smile is a streamer who is self-conscious about her…smile. Which is kind of awkward. So she hides behind a mask. The two bump into each other at the mall, accidentally swapping smartphones, and a heartwarming tale of summer love (that may just last a lifetime) begins! It’s finally here: the manga adaptation of the delightful Studio M.D film that took Netflix by storm back in the summer of 2021. And it’s looking good! Of course, the manga can’t replicate the striking color design that so distinguished the original, but the artwork by Imo Oono is clean and crisp, capturing the charm of the cast, while Studio Cocolo has done a fine job with the backgrounds, retaining the distinctive stylized clouds and landscapes, and conveying that same sense of wide open spaces (and possibilities) that made the film so engaging. As I said about the film, there is so much more going on in this story than “just another teenage romance,” and the first volume of the manga is already expanding even further on the multiple layers of the film, adding in extra character moments and insight into their hearts and minds through first-person narration. The film’s director, Kyohei Ishiguro, was very much involved in this adaptation, providing cut scenes and detailed feedback to Oono. The result is the equivalent of unlocking a menu full of bonus material on a BD. So if you’re a fan of the film, check this out! And if you’re new to the world of Cherry, Smile, and their multi-generational friends, then this is a great way to get acquainted. You won’t regret the time spent with such a lovely crew! ~ claire

Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop is published by Yen Press.

The Summer Hikaru Died, Manga Vol. 1

Six months ago, Hikaru headed into the mountains and when he came back, he was…different. But only Yoshiki, his best friend, noticed the difference—Yoshiki and the village butcher’s cat, that is. Oh wait, there’s also the elderly lady who subsequently dies under mysterious (and rather grisly) circumstances. If Hikaru isn’t Hikaru anymore, then what is he? There are a number of mysterious threads weaving throughout this tale, the first being that it is only now, six months later, that it is summer, so the title is deceptive. There are also hints that this mountain village is more accustomed to the creepily supernatural than your average locality (Hinamizawa, anyone?). But where this volume falls flat is with the central mystery, which is not what happened to Hikaru, since the title’s pronouncement on the matter is confirmed pretty speedily—Hikaru is indeed dead—nor is it about what exactly the new “Hikaru” is, since this is addressed as well, at least in general terms (though there’s a fairly obvious twist on the horizon that will probably take several volumes of lore to get to). Instead, the greatest mystery here is why on earth Yoshiki is so unbothered about his best friend’s death and replacement by a body snatcher?!? The problem with this is that Yoshiki himself eventually asks this question, which feels a lot like lampshading and it gets in the way of making him a compelling character. It’s clear that Yoshiki had unexpressed romantic feelings toward Hikaru, but shouldn’t that leave him even more upset by his friend’s replacement, even if the thing that is now “Hikaru” is pandering to those feelings? In contrast to the unsatisfying characterization, the artwork is fantastic, particularly the detailed renderings of the natural world. So if you have more patience than I for a slow-burn supernatural suspense/shonen ai, then this is a beautifully drawn one. I agree with the villagers though: Yoshiki really needs to trim those bangs! ~claire

The Summer that Hikaru Died is published by Yen Press.

Apparently, Disillusioned Adventurers Will Save the World, Light Novel Vol. 3

Much like “The Survivors,” the party at the center of the story Apparently, Disillusioned Adventures Will Save the World (Ningen Fushin) is a work in progress. There’s potential to it, and some aspects of the series are already strong; but the work as a whole still feels amateurish. Volume three is structured well and advances a story that means to show each of the party members healing as they come together. In this volume, Zem gets a chance to shine: a powerful enemy (who is kidnapping children under the guise of this world’s version of the Boogeyman) leads Nick and company to the slums of their town—and to a priest who, like Zem, has been defrocked. The story is surprisingly complicated, involving medical experimentation, bounty hunting, and a journalist who isn’t what she seems. Still, the emotional notes, which should be provided by Zem’s growth and his care for children despite the PTSD he’s developed from a false rape accusation, never squarely hit the heart. The scenes that should exude warmth just feel mechanical. A large part of that is because the dialogue in this series is stilted, and by this point, I don’t have any faith that it’ll ever improve. The conversations are of utmost importance since camaraderie between the key adventurers is vital to the tale. Right now, their relationships feel more awkward than they should, largely because their words to one another are mostly cold and elementary. Other passages vacillate between fine and likewise rudimentary, which is disappointing because I like these characters. I desperately want to enjoy their tale. For now, though, the negatives make reading the series a chore—and perhaps make the manga or anime adaptations better choices. ~ Twwk

Apparently, Disillusioned Adventurers Will Save the World is published by Yen Press.

READ: Apparently, Disillusioned Adventurers Will Save the World Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2

The Otherworlder, Exploring the Dungeon, Manga Vol. 2

Something I failed to notice on the cover of this book before starting to read it (don’t judge a book by its cover, but be sure to at least inspect it!) was the word “final” near the volume number. So I was taken aback when the comic closed by telling readers that the story was done for now, in just two volumes. I was left terribly disappointed, as this short adaptation of the light novel series of the same name has been one of the best series I’ve read in 2023. Volume two picks up with Souya needing a new way to explore the dungeon, having destroyed all the guns he brought with him into this world. He decides to pick up the bow, and his quest to find a master leads to a new adventure and life-changing relationships. As expected of a “final” volume, the action moves a little quickly, but not terribly so; the pacing really only left me wishing there were more interactions between Souya and his new companions before they grew so intimate in their relationships. The series does end with wording that implies that it could pick up again at some point. I don’t know how likely that is to happen, but I do hope it will because I’m invested in finding out both what happens next in Souya’s journey and how one specific relationship in the series develops. In fact, this reviewer will be checking out the light novel series, also published by Yen Press. ~ Twwk

The Otherworlder, Exploring the Dungeon is published by Yen Press.

READ: The Otherworlder, Exploring the Dungeon Vol. 1 Review

Yami-hara, Novel

Things are never quite what they seem in this deliciously creepy work. Characters’ words and actions conceal their true intent more often than revealing it, while even categorizing this volume proves tricky: is this a collection of thematically connected short stories, or is it a novel? I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say, author Mizuki Tsujimura will keep you guessing! The title itself, Yami-hara, is a portmanteau combining the term for “darkness” with an abbreviation of “harassment”, and refers to social interactions where the darkness hidden in one person’s heart or mind is foisted upon others, putting them at risk of harm. In practice, yami-hara looks like gaslighting. The book explores the many shades of this form of emotional abuse, with each of the five chapters centering on a protagonist and their increasingly disorienting interactions with a manipulative figure. It’s not light reading, and I’ll admit that in the first chapter, the tension mounted so steeply that I did something I never do: I peeked at the end to ease my nerves. The second and longest chapter was the least rewarding, with an ending that is a long time coming and then appears quite abruptly. But the remaining chapters are sharp and compelling, and by the end, Tsujimura does an excellent job of weaving themes and details together in a satisfying way. It brings to mind both the darkness and clever use of episodic structure in the Boogiepop franchise, although the fantasy elements are milder. The allegory it provides to real life is chilling, and its refusal to provide easy remedies, challenging. This is one I will be pondering for some time to come! Recommended for readers with a tolerance for tension and an appetite for psychological thrillers. ~claire

Yami-hara is published by Yen Press in a lovely hardback edition.

My Instant Death Ability Is So Overpowered, No One in This Other World Stands a Chance Against Me, Light Novel Vol. 1

The first volume of My Instant Death Ability Is So Overpowered is frenetic, creative, non-stop, and violent—but is it any good? Future volumes, I believe, will lead to reevaluations of this one, which for now stands as an involving and entertaining read. As I alluded to, though, it could swerve in a variety of directions, some harder to swallow than others. The question at the center of this story is whether the use of violence against those who would do violence to you in a terrifically violent world is justified. This horrific setting is where Takatou and Tomochika find themselves as the story begins. The former awakes to find that he has slept through the world’s craziest field trip; his class’s bus has driven straight into another world, where a beautiful but terrifying sage has given the students “gifts,” immense powers that will lead one of them to become a sage like her while the others become that person’s attendants. Should they fail to raise one of their own to sage status, though, the punishment will be severe. Takatou and Tomochika, however, do not receive a gift; but unbeknown the sages and their classmates, who abandon the pair as bait for a powerful dragon, Takatou has an instant death ability that is so ridiculously unfair that it stands out even among isekai stories. His “instant death” power is used by the protagonist over and over again in a world where bloody endings are frequent. And indeed, the storyline focuses on the awfulness of the violence, how the powers people are given change them, and whether or not the leads should be opposed to killing or under what circumstances they should as they meet foes, including their former classmates. These moral questions join a series that moves very quickly, punctuated by chapters that are mostly about four pages long each and that often end on major info drops or cliffhangers. It’s all very exciting but troubling too. What’s the end game here? What is it that we’re buying into and supporting? It’s hard to tell at this point, just like it’s hard to tell if the story will simply settle into something sophomoric and fanservice-y if the creative and philosophical juices run dry. But for now, My Instant Death Ability Is So Overpowered is verging on must-read material, a page-turner that is unabashed in its approach. I’m eager—and a little afraid—to see where the story goes from here. ~ Twwk

My Instant Death Ability Is So Overpowered, No One in This Other World Stands a Chance Against Me is published though Yen Press’ J-Novel Club imprint and released digitally through J-Novel Club.

Kaiju No. 8, Manga Vol. 7

My expectations are always high when I start a new Kaiju No. 8 volume, and thankfully, I haven’t been disappointed once! Though the conflict seemed over at the end of volume six, volume seven opens up with an explosive battle with Kafka and Captain Narumi teaming up to fight Kaiju No. 9 and help General Director Isao. The director has used all of his power to focus on offense in taking the powerful kaiju down, but despite the havoc he wreaks on No. 9, the latter still takes the power that Isao wields. No. 9 is no longer just a kaiju that needs to be neutralized, but one that must be destroyed no matter the costs. This was a hugely emotional volume with many (surprising!) moments critical to moving this story forward. As a result, I desperately agree with Kafka’s words yelled out in the beginning: It is too much! From the jaw-dropping beginning to the heartbreak of the middle, to the shock but determination of the end, all of it left me on a whiplash-inducing roller coaster! Just when I think I might know where this series is going, the creator brings back old faces and drops these bombs of new information that always have me reading these volumes way too fast. This volume was definitely no exception! While there wasn’t quite as much fighting compared to prior volumes, you really get a strong feel of the stakes that are unbearably high with the entire nation of Japan being on the line. Obviously, fighting kaiju is life-threatening to any person, but because of the events in the beginning, things have gotten extremely personal for everyone, so the stakes are personal too. Very eager to read the next volume and see what happens next! ~ Laura A. Grace

Kaiju No. 8 is published by Shonen Jump.

READ: Kaiju No. 8 Reviews Vol.1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol.4 // Vol. 5 // Vol. 6

A Galaxy Next Door, Manga Vol. 5

Between the release of volumes four and five of A Galaxy Next Door, the snoozefest that was the anime adaptation of the series aired. The poor quality of that show made me question my selection of the manga as one of 2022’s best. Was the adaptation really that bad (Anime News Network thinks it was), or was the original really not very good either? But volume five restored my faith in the manga, even as the story shifts away from the cutesy material that filled most of the previous four and into a more serious stage. Shiori returns to her home island in a final showdown of sorts with her mother, while Ichiro deals with his role in supporting and loving her. His part is rather complicated in these chapters because Ichiro is not only trying to do what’s best for Shiori while in a foreign environment, but also coming to terms with how his flaws might be holding their relationship back. It’s honestly quite refreshing to see the story wade into this more consequential territory; it adds further weight to the relationship between Shiori and Ichiro and to the manga as a whole. And there’s a lot of good stuff here about relationships, not just romantic but also between parents and children. And don’t worry, there’s cuteness as well, particularly in one charming and humorous side story chapter involving alcohol. This is another wonderful volume and a reminder that even if the anime was disappointing, the original work remains one of the great modern romantic manga. ~ Twwk

A Galaxy Next Door is published by Kodansha.

READ: A Galaxy Next Door Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4

Dark Gathering, Manga Vol. 2

By volume two of Dark Gathering, the supernatural series that recently received an anime adaptation, it’s become clear that the series aims to make its readers laugh, create warm and tingly feelings within us, and try to spook us as well. Well, two out of three ain’t bad. As Keitaro continues to readjust to society, he’s faced with the choice of either continuing his personal growth or diving into the world of the supernatural with Yayoi, a path that might eventually lift his curse and Eiko’s. Actually, whether he likes it or not, the supernatural continues to beckon him; in these chapters, that occurs through some spirits murdering campus club members and others leading victims to leap off a bridge to their own deaths. The juxtaposition between character development and the “curse of the week” plot is a little bumpy, but smoother than in volume one, indicating that the series is going in the right direction. I also found volume two to be funnier than the first—and warmer as well, particularly as the relationship between Eiko and Keitaro is explored in greater detail. However, the attempt to add an unsettling tone to the story, a la Higurashi, just feels out of place. It pulls the tale out of the nice, lovely tone it otherwise exudes even during the somewhat violent curse-busting scenes. And that’s unfortunate because the series seems to know what it’s all about by this point; it’s just that an important facet of it—you know, the whole horror/supernatural element—just isn’t working very well. ~ Twwk

Dark Gathering is published by VIZ Media.

READ: Dark Gathering Vol. 1 Review

Heavenly Delusion, Manga Vol. 4

The latest volume kicks off in high gear, with Kiruko in peril at the hands (or rather, razor-like jaws) of a man-eater that has already consumed her only form of defense, the Kiru-beam, along with the hand that was holding it. But things are not quite what they seem (thankfully for Kiruko’s hand)—which proves to be the theme for this volume. From pulse-pounding action, the story soon gears back down into the familiar rhythm of humor, charming character moments, and the kind of persistent problematizing of tidy distinctions between black and white, hero and villain, that makes this such a compelling series. Even the most minor of supporting characters, like the two leaders of the Liviuman movement who oppose humanity’s use of machines, are revealed to be layered, complex figures, fleeting though their role in the story may be. The anime adaptation captured much of this richness, but not all, and there are quite a number of added nuances in this volume specifically that make it even more worth the read. Developments at the institution, revealed to be Takahara Academy, are also mounting, as the full nature of Mimihime’s gift is revealed and hints of potential confluence between the world “outside of the outside” and inside the walls of the academy start to crystalize. But considering that “things are not what they seem,” these are likely red herrings…right? Looking forward to finding out next time as this masterful tale continues to twist and turn in unexpected ways. ~ claire 

Heavenly Delusion is published by DENPA.

READ: Heavenly Delusion Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3

“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.

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