Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 4/11, Part Two

What Has Gone Before: Girk, the young yak-herder with the suspiciously crown-shaped birthmark, was told by the wandering wizard Phlegethon that he was the secret heir to the fallen throne of Great Inthrix, the greatest nation in the history of Unglatia. Gathering a few friends with him -- the sardonic trader Jaxter, feisty redheaded priestess-trainee Rhodentine, and sneaky little Barry Johnson -- Girk set off to find his destiny. But now the intrepid travelers find themselves on the doorstep of the land of the Mid-sized Mountain Elves, the Alf'aretta, without the wizard to guide them. Can they convince OverKing Fa'la'la'la-Lah to lend them a guide for the tricky paths through the Dusky Woods, or will the mercurial elf-lord throw them all in his mountain-deep dungeons?

Or, maybe, I got so much mail last week that I had to divide this usual Monday-morning post into three parts, creating an epic trilogy. This, then, is the middle volume, which has neither a beginning nor an end, and exists primarily to separate readers from more money. Luckily for you, blogs are free.

This entry includes another stack of books from Yen Press, plus one ringer, and all feature words and pictures juxtaposed at least somewhat, though it whipsaws back and forth from manga to light novel at a moment's notice -- like the tone of a typical epic fantasy middle volume, actually. All of these are real books at this point, either already in stores or making their way through distribution channels right now. So if anything looks interesting to you, go buy it already!

The "ringer" is Last Man, Vol. 2: The Royal Cup, a middle book in its own right -- though this series is six books long -- and a graphic novel from First Second that will hit stores in June. It's from the French team of Balak, Michael Sanlaville, and Bastien Vives, and continues the story of an unlikely pair of combatants in the magical gladiatorial battle tournament of a country not unlike medieval France. The first book was The Stranger, which came out in March.

From here on out, it's all Yen, starting with Reki Kawahara's light novel Accel World, Vol. 3: The Twilight Marauder. Haruyuki is a junior-high loser -- chubby, quiet, ignored when he isn't teased -- but that's only in the real world, because he's the heroic Silver Crown in the online game Accelerated World, where he's the trusted second of the most popular girl in his school. But, in this adventure, his protector and status-definer is absent on a class trip, so he has to fend for himself.

Next up is that rarest of things, a single-volume hardcover standalone manga story: The Angel of Elhamburg by Aki. There's a king and his knight, friends and rivals since childhood. There's the Lady Prima, in between the two of them. I think this is supposed to be a tragedy, triggered by the Lady's son Perseus as he grows up, but the early pages are full of oddly stilted banter between the king and knight, so it might aim to be lighter than I expect.

I have two volumes of Satsuki Yoshino's gentle fish-out-of-water comedy manga Barakamon as well -- volumes three and four. I reviewed the first one a few months back, if you think you might be interested in the story of a stuck-up calligrapher and the small town that teaches him what life is really all about.

And we're back to light novels with Kazuma Kamachi's A Certain Magical Index, Vol. 2, continuing the story of the unluckiest student in Academy City, the town where seemingly everyone has supernatural powers, and the magical girl Index who found him and dragged him into her wacky adventures.

Let's whipsaw back to manga with Kaori Yuki's Demon from Afar, Vol. 2, which combines an amnesiac hero, a love triangle, and a disguised Duke of Hell all in one household -- there also may be some reincarnation going on by this second volume. It's in hardcover, the better to contain all the angst.

And another light novel: Satoshi Wagahara's The Devil Is a Part-Timer!, Vol. 1, in which the Lord of Evil (of another dimension) was defeated and sent into exile by a steely (also young and female) Hero. That exile is as a young man with no magic in modern Tokyo, accompanied only by one trusted general -- so the demon lord gets a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant, planning to rise through management and conquer the world. This could be fun: the second chapter is entitled "The Devil Goes on a Date in Shinjuku With This Girl From Work," which strikes a great tone.

You know, how about an all-ages comic from an American creator, as a palate cleanser? That'll be Gabby & Gator, about a girl and the pet she discovers eating dogs in the park, from James Burks. It's a story about friendship and being yourself, naturally, but it also looks appealingly weird -- the gator has a computer in his sewer lair, and hates himself for eating dogs, though he does need to eat something to live.

Back to light novels with Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Vol. 2 by Fujino Omori, which combines video-game style dungeon crawling with high-grade macking. I'm not entirely sure if its set in a "real" fantasy world, or the girl-picker-upper is playing a game, but does that really matter?

Yoshiki Tonogai's current exercise in torture porn in comics form comes to an end with JUDGE, Vol. 6, in which most of the horrible people gathered in a courtroom are killed by others of the horrible people for the horrible things they've done, and some of the horrible people possibly survive this most horrible of events.

I'm having a difficult time figuring out what Touya Mikanagi's Karneval, Vol. 1 is about -- there's no description on the book, and the covers are just close-ups of characters -- but there's clearly a wan orphan boy with an object (that thing on his wrist) that doesn't belong to him, and a brusque older guy who helps that kid find whatever or whoever he's looking for. (I don't think it will turn into yaoi, but that wouldn't entirely surprise me.)

The Kingdom Hearts games are already a genre mix-up, with Disney characters and worlds shoved into a JRPG framework, but they've since become manga and other things. And now there's Kingdom Hearts: The Novel, written by Tomoco Kanemaki from the game script, to give it yet another medium to conquer.

It's been at least a few paragraphs since I talked about kids getting stuck in a lifelike MMO, so it must be time for Mamare Touno's Log Horizon, Vol. 1: The Beginning of Another World, in which that very thing happens. This is one of the rare worlds in which in-game death isn't instantly fatal -- this instead is a place everyone is stuck in and can't die, which is a nicely ironic reversal. But they still want to get out, of course.

And we're back to manga with Fuka Mizutani's Love at Fourteen, Vol. 2, continuing what looks like a nice slice-of-life story about normal teens without magic or demons or malfunctioning high-tech systems.

And back again to light novels, with Yuu Kamiya's No Game, No Life, Vol. 1, in which two shut-in siblings -- who completely avoid the real world to play games -- are recruited to be humanity's champions in an alternate world where all conflicts are settled by games. (I think I read that book when Iain M. Banks wrote it, without the obvious audience-insert.)

Isuna Hasekura's long-running light novel series continues with Spice and Wolf, Vol. 14, which doesn't seem to have a subtitle -- I guess, after a bakers' dozen previous books, you don't need anything but numbers to differentiate them. This series is still about the mercantile adventures of master trader Lawrence and his assistant, the ex-fertility goddess Holo, across a vaguely medieval landscape of small villages and larger towns.

And we're back to those virtual-reality games again to finish up this middle installment, with two pieces of the larger Sword Art Online saga. First is Sword Art Online, Vol.  4: Fairy Dance, from Reki Kawahara. Our heroes escaped the MMO they were stuck in during the first book, and at this point are playing others games in which they are not, as far as I can tell, stuck. But I'm sure there's still tension and danger -- the main character's would-be girlfriend is trapped by nefarious forces at the center of this particular game-world, in that old Princess Peach style.

Then there's Sword Art Online: Progressive, Vol. 1, also by Kawahara, which goes back to the beginning of the story, in that first inescapable video-game deathtrap. It's about the budding relationship of the main characters, Kirito and Asuna, but I'm not sure if this is "telling the same story in more detail, to increase the feels" or "let's do this over, just because." Either way, this looks very feels-heavy.

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