We’re so excited for this week’s column as our reviewers give their thoughts on more than a dozen light novels and manga, including the first volume of I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness in both its adaptations; the second volume of multiple series that we’re following and enjoying; and the first eight volumes of Mint Choloate, all shrunk down to one edible review! Bon appétit!
Sengoku Youko (Vol. 3) • Handyman Saitou in Another World (Vol. 2) • Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing (Vol. 2) • I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness (LN, Vol. 1) • I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness (Manga, Vol. 1) • In the Land of Leadale (Vol. 4) • Issak (Vol. 2) • Mint Chocolate (Vol. 1-8) • No Longer Heroine (Vol. 4) • The Red Dragon Academy for Girls: I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level Spin-off (Vol. 1) • Yokohama Station SF (Vol. 2)
Sengoku Youko, Manga Vol. 3
Our jaunty crew is back to journeying again, and this time, they’re off in search of Sougan and Kagan’s hometown. Shakugan is seeking closure after the loss of her friend, not just through death, but even before that, at the hands of the evil priests of Dangainshuu who shaped Sougan into a monster. Along the way, the group meets the remaining two Dangaishuu beast masters, one of whom wields a deadly bag of tricks and the other his fists, which are formidable—when he can be persuaded to use them, that is. He prefers to spend his time hanging out with orangutans, knocking back the magical liquor they brew. (Btw, Jinka cannot hold his liquor.) This is the funniest volume yet! At least, until it isn’t. But this is exactly what makes this series so fantastic: it achieves the perfect Goldilocks balance between humor, action, and meaningful, moving, human stories—despite the fact that half the cast are katawara or youko and not human at all. The opening chapter is a masterclass in the running gag, while the final one takes the reader to a place of such profundity that I had not expected it so early in the tale. Meanwhile, the chapters in between are heart-warming in their depiction of the deepening relationships among the group: for instance, the way the child-like Tama always reaches for Shakugan’s hand, claiming her as a big sister and thereby giving her a role in the group that she might otherwise struggle to find herself due to her dual nature as human and katawara. Yes, Shakugan’s story in particular here is deserving of a chef’s kiss! There is such attention to detail in both the artwork and scripting. Go read this series, folks! ~ claire
Sengoku Youko is published by TOKYOPOP.
The Red Dragon Academy for Girls: I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level Spin-off, Manga Vol. 1
Laika’s first day at the Red Dragon Academy for Girls is not going well. Not only does she start the day short on sleep, but then her older sister, the Student Council President, proceeds to patronize and outshine her at every turn and in front of everyone. Laika just can’t seem to catch a break, and later that day she ends up being challenged to a fight by the girl at the desk in front of her, just as she was about to reach out the hand of friendship. Sigh. Turns out the girl wants to defeat Laika’s sister, and views our poor dragon girl as a stepping stone on the path to immortal victory. Even worse, the girl’s nickname, “Body Breaker,” turns out to be well-deserved. It’s really not a good day for Laika. Will things ever turn around? Can Laika escape the oppressive shadow cast by her nee-san? If you’re looking for more of that I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level charm, look elsewhere. The Red Dragon Academy for Girls spin-off is a whole other kettle of fish with none of the subtle cultural critique, restful ambiance, diverse cast, community-building, or sweet humor so integral to the OG series. That said, it does have other things to recommend it. If you’re looking for a girls’ school dramedy with plenty of action scenes, sharp barbs, and fraught family relationships, this might just hit the spot! But don’t expect any depth here, as there’s not much substance to this first volume beyond the familiar plot points and girls’ school tropes. Perhaps some kind of theme will emerge in time, but there’s not enough here to keep me invested in finding out. Instead, this volume is much like cotton candy: pleasant enough in the moment, but once consumed, it melts away without leaving a trace. ~ claire
The Red Dragon Academy for Girls is published by Yen Press.
I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness, Light Novel Vol. 1
Charlotte is a lady who was once engaged to a prince, until the prince claimed she had done evil things and turned the entire country against her. She escapes to a nearby country, where she encounters Allen, a young wizard who lives by himself after dealing with a betrayal of his own. He hires Charlotte as a live-in maid, but when he learns that her family treated her like a slave and gave her no time to have fun, he decides to pursue a new goal: corrupt the proper noble lady by introducing her to the naughty pleasures of the world! And by “naughty pleasures,” Allen means…delicious feasts and sweets, pretty dresses, and sleeping in the morning. Yeah, the joke is that the “naughtiness” is actually very innocent, and as such, the novel is ultimately a feel-good slice-of-life about a guy helping an unfortunate girl learn to enjoy life. It is a cute story overall, with a developing romance as Allen and Charlotte grow closer through their repeated “naughtiness training.” More important than that, though, is Charlotte learning to think about and express her own desires, instead of always bending to the wills of others. There are also some nice supporting characters, including some friendly girls who dote on Charlotte and are pulling for her romance with Allen, and even some non-human allies. Overall, this was a really nice first volume that definitely makes me want to read more, and the upcoming anime adaptation will hopefully point more people to these novels. ~ stardf29
I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness is published by J-Novel Club.
Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing, Light Novel Vol. 2
I appreciate it when the author of an isekai series takes his time building his character to OP status instead of immediately making him all-powerful. Hell Mode is written in this vein, taking two full volumes—and each about 50% longer than the typical light novel volume—to effectively world-build and develop Allen’s skills. In fact, what was already a very satisfying volume two becomes all the more so in its final pages when we discover, along with the protagonist, what this story is really all about. But let’s back up for a moment. Volume two begins with Allen having risen from serfdom to becoming a personal manservant of the young lady, Cecil Granvelle. But this series doesn’t turn the story toward an icky romance between the young girl and the old-man-in-a-child’s-body; instead, Hell Mode continues to focus on the grinding aspects of the series, never forgetting that its protagonist wants to take the hard route, and so he does, increasing his knowledge of the world little by little. The use of his internal grimoire, where Allen keeps notes about his experiences, is a nice device to continually help the reader track what’s being learned. But it’s not just the player systems that are well-established in this world; having learned what life is like for serfs and somewhat for commoners in volume one, readers now get to experience what it’s like for a minor noble, while also seeing what the monsters are like in this setting. One demon is particularly terrifying, and so is a villain, though the most terrifying of all may be a supporting character who goes from an afterthought in volume one to the MVP of volume two. There’s plenty more to admire as well, and other bits to ponder more on, such as how this series (and it’s not alone in doing so by any means) tries to glaze over the idea of killing baby and child monsters with reasoning that isn’t quite as thoughtful as most other parts of the series. Nonetheless, through two volumes, Hell Mode has mostly been a wonderfully written and exciting work. It shouldn’t be missed. ~ Twwk
Hell Mode: The Hardcore Gamer Dominates in Another World with Garbage Balancing is published by Yen Press.
I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness, Manga Vol. 1
While the title of manga sounds like it’s something inappropriate, that is definitely not the case! Charlotte is the ex-fiance of the prince in the neighboring kingdom and is on the run from the guards who hunt her. She collapses from fatigue in a forest near the home of Allen, a sorcerer who decides to take her in despite his dismay and wanting to avoid people. But the papers that say she is a horrible criminal don’t seem to match the girl who smiles but has never known happiness. He decides to take it upon himself to do all the “naughty” things and makes a promise to her that he will make her the happiest woman in the world! For a seemingly light story, I was surprised by how aware Allen is that Charlotte’s smiles and overall demeanor stem from deeply rooted fear. He is doing so many things to try to make her smile and make her happy. However, he realizes as the volume goes on that he may make her happy (and wants to), but even more, he deeply wants her to find a long-lasting healing from the abandonment she has had from everyone in her life…except Allen. And saying that, it’s interesting because it would seem like this is a romantic story, but I didn’t really feel that vibe (or at least very strongly) even though I am very much rooting for them and wanting them to have a happy ending. In a nutshell, I think this line by Allen perfectly wraps up why I want to continue this series because while it’s fun, it also made me pause and my heart squeeze at the most unexpected moments: “Charlotte is about to reclaim her life, and I’ll be here to watch over her for as long as it takes.” ~ Laura A. Grace
I’m Giving the Disgraced Noble Lady I Rescued a Crash Course in Naughtiness is published by Vertical.
Handyman Saitou in Another World, Manga Vol. 2
Ichitomo Kazutomo pulls off something quite complicated with Handyman Saitou while making it look easy. You see, the manga itself is written and drawn in a scattershot structure. There are loose “chapters” filled in by many more “side stories” that serve to give readers glimpses of the characters and who they are apart from battles. Sometimes, these side stories feel totally random; there doesn’t seem to be a rhyme or reason for why they’re included and the stories they’re telling. But then, it all makes sense when Kazutomo draws a number of characters together, as he does in volume two, bringing almost two dozen to congregate in one major scene, many of which we’ve only spent brief moments with previously. And yet, we’re somehow able not only to remember who these characters are, but also be moved by what they do and how they react in a dire situation. It’s pretty amazing. There’s so much packed into this volume, including the meeting of various parties, travels into the dungeon, the climactic clash, important information dropped about Saitou, and not one but two moving backstories. But somehow, it all works, and works very well. I’m impressed by this series and hopeful that Kazutomo continues to aim for the sky as he and his lovable party move forward. ~ Twwk
Handyman Saitou in Another World is published by Yen Press.
READ: Handyman Saitou in Another World Vol. 1 Review
Yokohama Station SF, Manga Vol. 2
Having now located the resistance leader he was charged with rescuing, Hiroto is thrown for a bit of a curve as the situation turns out to be not quite what he was led to expect. The young woman is candid, though, in answering all of the outsider’s questions, and after teaming up briefly and arming himself with precious information, Hiroto prepares to move onto his second quest: finding Exit 42 and the answer to everything, everywhere, potentially all at once. (The classic sci-fi references continue!) Meanwhile, across the narrow straight from Yokohama Station on the island of Kyushu, a weapons development corporation struggles to fend off the invasive hallways and escalators of the rogue station as a young arms engineer is unofficially commissioned to infiltrate the enemy station—maybe. It’s all pretty cloak-and-dagger stuff. And that’s exactly what makes this series so compelling! Rather than relying on heavy exposition and infodumps, this adaptation often lets the images do the talking, particularly when it comes to characterization. The pages are a virtual feast for the eyes too. That said, a great many questions from the first volume are addressed here quite directly, leading to ever more expansive questions in turn, as good writing should. But suffice it to say that fans of hard sci-fi will not be disappointed with how things are developing. The story-telling is spare and precise, meaning that it covers a lot of ground in this volume without feeling rushed. Case in point: an entire new circle of characters—mentor, young protagonist (see cover), and mysterious AI child—are established here, not only mirroring the main cast of volume one but also hinting at future encounters between the two groups. Will they eventually meet and join forces? Or will they find themselves at odds with one another, despite their common goal of stopping (or at least containing) the insatiable growth of Yokohama Station? I’ll certainly be counting down the weeks until we find out! ~ claire
Yokohama Station SF is published by Yen Press.
READ: Yokohama Station SF Reviews Vol. 1
Issak, Manga Vol. 2
Out of the frying pan and into the fire. Issak’s cunning and near-superhuman sharpshooting has saved the small Protestant garrison in Fuchsburg Castle from the Catholic League’s dreaded Italian mercenaries, but now the crown prince of Spain is bearing down upon them with an even larger force of crack royal troops. The only bright spot for Issak is that his mortal enemy Lorenzo is likely somewhere within that massive host. Meanwhile, the young girl named Zetta whom Issak rescued on the road begins her own journey towards maturity and the place called “utopia” that her pastor once spoke to her about. Issak volume two builds on volume one’s strong start to continue its historical adventure set during the Thirty Years War. This is still very much a plot-driven story, where battles and strategies, moves and countermoves, take precedence over deep-dives into its characters’ psyches. But we do start to get some ideas about what motivates our central characters as Zetta begins dropping hints that she’s part of a splinter Protestant sect, while Issak has a scene which leaves clues that despite how stone-cold his demeanor is, he does think about more than his rigid sense of samurai honor. It will be interesting to see if this series can take advantage of its setting during the most devastating religious war in European history to dig into some deeper philosophy and theology, but for now, I’m more than satisfied with what I’ve been getting. ~ WacOtaku
Issak is published by Kodansha.
No Longer Heroine, Manga Vol. 4
With the sparks that flew in volume three, Hatori feels her opportunity to be the heroine in Rita’s love story has arrived! Too bad Adachi is back from her trip and Rita is left a conflicted mess who just wants to avoid Hatori in the meantime. While Adachi thought things were fine since returning, she finds out that while she was away, Rita and Hatori did more than hang out at the festival. Will Adachi leave Rita as a result? Will Rita stay with Adachi after telling her the truth about what happened? Will Hatori’s crazy antics actually win over Rita? As Hatori says, “Happiness is never going to come easily,” and that couldn’t be more true for this crazy story! While I continue to deeply love this series, Hatori is the most extra female lead I’ve ever read, with Rita probably being one of the worst male leads I’ve ever read. Two polar opposites, but they totally deserve each other with how they act! Well, I might have said that before the events of this volume. After seeing Hatori with Hiromitsu, I feel I’ve switched ships and am hoping for the best of the best for them! They’re having a healthy-ish relationship that isn’t based on obsession and are actually acting like a couple and doing things together. Rita, on the other hand… I get that he is struggling, but he is treating Adachi and Hatori like dirt. Make a decision already! UGH! Poor Adachi really doesn’t deserve any of what she’s going through, and I hope she finds happiness—and hope it’s not with Rita even if she is crushed right now. The art is hilarious as ever, the drama more outrageous, and the story more toxic than it has been thus far! And with that said, I am still eagerly looking forward to the next volume! Ha! ~ Laura A. Grace
No Longer Heroine is published by Yen Press.
In the Land of Leadale, Manga Vol. 4
Though not nearly as interesting in its world-building or as comforting in its tone as in the previous releases, volume four of In the Land of Leadale still manages to be a page-turner, this time by taking Cayna to battle. The book does begin, however, with the series’ typically cute and wholesome humor as Cayna and the party she’s guarding arrive at their destination and then meet the area’s civic and political leaders, who are revealed to be more of Cayna’s relatives through her “children.” But make no mistake—despite a whimsical start, this volume is about action, with Cayna getting to show just a bit of her OP-ness while also revealing a piece of critical information related to her situation as an isekai’d character. While action isn’t this manga’s strong point, I appreciate how it’s used to develop Cayna as a character. She’s on a journey and it’s fantastic to see a young woman who was so limited in the real world be able to master this one physically. While I miss the more chill nature of the previous volumes, I appreciate how the story is developing through volume four—and I’m eager to read more! ~ Twwk
In the Land of Leadale is published by Yen Press.
Mint Chocolate, Manga Vol. 1-8
I’m often reminded that it’s good to take friend’s recommendations because you never know when you might discover a new series that speaks to you in a way you weren’t prepared for. Nanami has been crushing on one of her classmates, Kyouhei, for months now. Despite how long she’s liked him, he’s still hard to approach and can even be unseemingly rude. However, when her mom decides to remarry and introduces Nanami to her new husband, she’s shocked to learn that her crush is the son of her new stepdad and they are going to be part of her family! I have stayed away from this series for a long time because of the “step-sibling romance” label, but I was encouraged that there was a clear line between Nanami and Kyouhei and they did not view themselves as such. With that in mind, I hesitantly started this series only to find two characters who I deeply related to in different ways…and that I agreed with my friends in there being a clear line. From one lead sharing her struggle of never getting to say goodbye to her father before he passed away in an unexpected car accident, to the other lead dealing with the fear of change, this shoujo gradually began to stand out in my collection in how, over the course of this series, it addresses that fear of change and how we all naturally change. It also shows how past choices by other people can affect us for years and allows us to see characters find healing from those choices. Don’t get me wrong, though! This is very much a romantic comedy series, but I was surprised that the further I read, the deeper the themes that started to appear and the more the leads started to gradually mature in a variety of ways, especially in their relationship. So while I really liked the first half of the series, I would definitely say this is a series worth sticking with simply because of the steady growth and positive change of our leads in the latest volumes. Very much looking forward to seeing what happens next! ~ Laura A. Grace
Mint Chocolate is published by Yen Press.
“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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