Reader’s Corner: The Do-Over Damsel (Vol. 1), Alice in Borderland (Vol. 7), and Insomniacs After School (Vol. 3)

This week we bid adieu to Hachiken, Mikagi, and the rest of the loveable farm kids of Silver Spoon; give a rare review of a volume we didn’t complete; and preview the latest volume of Insomiacs After School, which releases next week. Check out those and all the rest of our week’s reviews below!

Alice in Borderland (Vol. 7)The Do-Over Damsel Conquers the Dragon Emperor (Vol. 1)Final Fantasy Lost Stranger (Vol. 2)Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway (Vol. 4)Insomniacs After School (Vol. 3)Silver Spoon (Vol. 15)

Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway, Light Novel Vol. 4

I’ve read and reviewed, by my estimation, close to five hundred volumes of manga and light novels during the three-and-a-half years we’ve featured this column. Many of them have been awful, with the second volumes of I Got a Cheat Skill in Another World and The Girl I Saved on the Train Turned Out to Be My Childhood Friend being recent examples. But somehow, I was able to make it all the way through those novels. With Higehiro volume four, I wasn’t even able to do that. Three times, weeks apart, I tried to read the volume but ultimately could only make it about fifty pages in. And after having read the three previous releases (linked below) and two volumes of the manga, and watched the anime adaptation, too, no one is more surprised than me that I couldn’t complete volume four. One issue is that the major question at the center of Higehiro remains, which is that it tries overly hard to make the adult man, Yoshida, seem like a really good guy, while creating romantic tension between him and the teenage Sayu that’s somehow supposed to be acceptable. But somehow worse is that the opening chapters of volume four also invite in Sayu’s overdone and contrived backstory; indeed, contrivances start to abound in this volume, like tribbles multiplying all over the Enterprise. I mentioned before that the author has been putting so much effort into walking the line between making his protagonist morally upright and setting up a morally wrong romance, but it feels like he couldn’t hold that line anymore, with silly scenarios starting to break through, beginning with a sudden one-week deadline for Sayu to return home given by her brother, who has finally found Yoshida and his sister. Add to these issues a general lack of good storytelling, and I was left with a novel I just wasn’t willing to finish. Even with only one more volume left in the series, I’m more than okay walking away from this mess. I suggest that you complete the story through the anime if you remain interested, which is marginally better and less of a waste of your time. ~ Twwk

Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway is published by Yen Press.

READ: Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3

Final Fantasy Lost Stranger, Manga Vol. 2

After the dark and unfortunate fate of his sister in volume one (see my review below), Shogo joins a crew of adventurers to help slay the dragon that ended her life. This behemoth lives atop an icy mountain that they have to risk their lives to climb. Once the battle begins, they are all overtaken by its wrath and are told to retreat by their leader Randolph, but Shogo steps up to avenge his sibling’s death. Afterward, the party decides to head out to investigate the legend of the spell, Revive, and encounters a new foe, three power mage sisters from one of the first FF games (that I never played). Fanservice abounds with the leader of the pack, heads up! The panels and artwork in this manga stand out for me with the detailed battles and settings, while the dialogue at times drags on too much. I like that the main character, Shogo, is still not OP and comes close to losing his own life a few times. He is slowly growing into his newfound skills, but he has to learn fast because of the danger that surrounds him. The amount of characters introduced so far, even Shogo’s party, need more time to be developed, but maybe that happens later on. So far I like how the story is going but I would have liked more direct references or appearances of characters from Final Fantasy than I’m given. It sort of uses the series as a background to create its path, which is OK, but the game is in the title so I will always want more than what’s been given. ~ Samuru

Final Fantasy Lost Stranger is published by Yen Press.

READ: Final Fantasy Lost Stranger Vol. 1 Review

Insomniacs After School, Manga Vol. 3

I think a lot of readers can see a bit of themselves in Nakami, one-half of the adorable duo at the center of Insomniacs After School. Many of his classmates see him as terse and grumpy, but he’s actually kind and unusually caring; he only acts sullen because of a lack of sleep—because of something out of his control. And Nakami is unable to sleep because of a disease that affects so many of us these days: anxiety. He’s becoming closer to Magari, who is not only becoming more open with him as she shares about her health scares from childhood but also seems to harbor the same romantic feelings toward Nakami as he does toward her, but he still can’t help but worry. Will their stargazing event really work out? Can they gather enough volunteers? Will they be able to handle a large crowd? The common feelings of worry and insecurity help to anchor Insomniacs After School in reality, which is nice because it would be so easy to let the series carry us away entirely in its tones of teenage nostalgia and romance. Getting a bit of both makes the series better and more memorable than just the latter alone. Though make no mistake, the best parts of this manga are when Nakami and Magari share intimate moments, like creating digital “radio stations” so that they can find a less nervewracking way of chatting with one another during sleepless nights or sharing a quiet moment on the school’s rooftop before their friends arrive. Through these and other moments, volume three continues to make good on an unspoken promise of bringing these two lovely young people together as a couple. How and how long will it take are still to be determined, as is possibly an even bigger question: Is their romance made in the stars or, as hinted at through some of Magari’s worrisome words, rather a star-crossed romance? We’ll have to wait and see. ~ Twwk

Insomniacs After School is published by VIZ Media. Volume three releases on September 19th.

READ: Insomniacs After School Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2

The Do-Over Damsel Conquers the Dragon Emperor, Manga Vol. 1

“Love makes you blind.” There’s no better phrase to describe my thoughts about volume one of Do-Over Damsel, which almost wooed me with its whimsical premise—until the veil was torn to reveal some rather ugly themes. But positives first. I adore how the author wrote Jill Cervel, our spunky, self-made, lovable female lead. Jill can be summarized in two moods—the “Croissants Are Tasty And Good” mood and the “I Will Subvert This Cruel Society” mood. Plus, behind her resilient and confident exterior, she’s reserved and clumsy, deeply suspicious of love even as she longs for it. Layered, complex, hilarious: What’s not to like? Incidentally, the same could be said about Do-Over Damsel‘s visual style. Each chapter is packed with lively art, adorable facial expressions, expansive settings, subtle visual foreshadowing, and effortless paneling. I’d never shivered at a flashback until I read this volume; the artist masterfully conveys this haunting sense of disquiet as she draws readers into the macabre events of the nobility’s past. Yet despite all this, I can’t get around the central pretense of the plot. The volume begins by condemning the incestuous relationship of Jill’s ex-fiancé Prince Gerald with his sister. Yet pages later, it’s turning around and supporting a romantic relationship between the ten-year-old Jill and twenty-year-old Demon Emperor Hadis! The author goes so far as to suggest very strongly that Hadis chose Jill because he’s into little girls. Honestly, this aspect of the manga made me super uncomfortable, and I’m not alone in that. One could muster up the excuse that all these jokes will make sense when we get Hadis’s backstory. But in response, I quote a rather ironic line from Jill: “Never again will someone take advantage of my love.” In other words, if this series continues to squander its lovely art and characters on a borderline unconscionable romantic pairing, I’m out. ~ sleepminusminus

The Do-Over Damsel Conquers the Dragon Emperor is published by Yen Press.

Alice in Borderland, Manga Vol. 7

If the characters on the cover are unfamiliar, don’t worry—you’ll remember and come to love them soon enough. Volume seven of Alice in Borderland continues to whisk us away from the main characters during the face card games, completing the intense and psychologically captivating “Jack of Hearts” arc and starting the even better “King of Spades” chapters. Haro Aso’s brilliance continues to show itself as he moves between stories that couldn’t be more different, from one that’s devious, thoughtful, and unforgiving to one that’s action-packed, heartwarming, and…unforgiving. I guess they do have things in common, as do all the stories, though Alice in Borderland remains so engaging in large part because hope and healing are key themes in this violent Wonderland the players find themselves in. Those are especially emphasized in the “King of Spades” chapters, which drop surprise after surprise; the only thing harder on my heart than the cliffhanger moments are the ones that pierced me emotionally. I am really supposed to be on the edge of tears while reading a death game manga? Yes, if it’s written by Aso, who keeps us at attention with violent moments but whose insight into the human psyche and our need for love, hope, and salvation are as good as any mangaka’s. Just brilliant. ~ Twwk

Alice in Borderland is published by VIZ Media. Volume seven releases on September 19th.

READ: Alice in Borderland Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3 // Vol. 4 // Vol. 5 // Vol. 6

Silver Spoon, Manga Vol. 15 (Final)

After fifteen volumes, Silver Spoon ends its run with a finale that is satisfying and 100% true to the themes and heart of the series. Beginning with Hachiken taking exams for college just before the students’ high school graduation and ending years into the future, the finale is big in scope but with reason. This peek into the future is not for fanservice (though it does serve us nicely). Minor spoiler here, but for instance, the series could end with a wedding between Mikage and Hachiken. Wouldn’t that be sweet? But it doesn’t. Instead, Silver Spoon once again emphasizes the idea that though we are crushed by our own inadequacies and even more so by elements outside of our control and people who are awful to us, we can still come out stronger, healthier, more mature, and even joyful when we have support—people who truly care for and encourage us. In Silver Spoon, those people are fellow students, family (sometimes extended or not even blood-related), and teachers. With all these ups and downs and the journey of growth the characters are on, the concluding scene of the manga should end years later; it’s the fulfillment of all this love poured forth into the main characters combined with the heaviness of real life, and that’s what makes the conclusion powerful and authentic. It’s heartwarming, too, because one of the characters it focuses on could have most easily been forgotten (even by himself). Leave it to Hiromu Arakawa to remind us again, here at the end of her second opus, of who we are and who we could—and should—be. ~ Twwk

Silver Spoon is published by Yen Press.

READ: Silver Spoon Reviews Vol. 1 // Vol. 2 // Vol. 3// Vol. 4 // Vol. 5 // Vol. 6 // Vol. 7 // Vol. 8 // Vol. 9 // Vol. 10 // Vol. 11 // Vol. 12 // Vol. 13 // Vol. 14

“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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