ARC REVIEW: Bofuri #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for sending me an ARC of this light novel

Bofuri – I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defence! is probably one of the most adorable and wholesome light novels I have read in a long time and having seen the first two episodes of the anime prior to reading, I’m so happy with how wonderful it was.

The series primarily follows Kaede as she assumes her in-game persona, Maple, in a new VRMMORPG after her best friend Riza (Sally) talks her into playing. Afraid of getting hurt in-game, Maple chooses to main as a great shielder and throw all of her skill points into her defence. Stumbling her way through the game as someone who doesn’t play many video games at all, Maple gains bizarre skill after bizarre skill thanks to her strange build and starts to gain a lot of attention from the other players. Of course, being the sweet girl that she is, Maple has no clue just how many people are noticing her.

Maple is honestly the sweetest most innocent gaming-isekai character I have ever come to adore. She’s kind to everyone and so thankful when others are kind to her. As she stumbles around in her naive way, the other gamers around her can’t help but want to give her a hand. And honestly, it’s the other gamers that make me so happy while reading this. An element of the novel is told through a forum chat between some anonymous players who have made it their goal to keep an eye on Maple so people don’t take advantage of her. Even though these players are mostly at a distance, Chrome – another great shield player who is a part of the chat – has a few moments on page that show what a caring person he is. The way he mentions how much he instantly connected with Maple is so sweet. Gaming IRL and gaming as shown in anime are always so competitive and focused on PK (player-killing) story lines, it’s so incredibly nice to have a light novel set in a gaming world that has a little more joy to it.

Maple’s best friend Sally is also a total sweetheart, she’s also more of a gamer than Maple is so the two of them work together to level up and learn all about the weird world they’re playing in. She’s just as cute as Maple is and just as happy with things. What really made me love Sally is a single moment that – to me – felt like a pure homage to Sword Art Online (arguably the best gaming-isekai in the world, I will die on this hill). While watching a floating castle in the sky, Maple asks Sally if she thinks they’ll ever get to look around a place like that. Sally gets quiet, saying that she once played in a floating castle in a different game. Whether intentional or not, a reference to Sally being an SAO survivor tugged at me. Even if I’m projecting haha.

If you’re looking to get into light novels but want a “beginner” series to start with, I high recommend picking up this one. I can’t wait to see what’s to come from the series and I look forward to Maple forming a proper guild party of her own and being a cool, happy-go-lucky gamer with all of her friends.

Bofuri #1 (the light novel) is now available to purchase online and in stores. The anime adaptation is also currently available on Funimation!

REVIEW: Pretty Boy Detective Club #1

Long time anime fans will be more than aware of the talents of NISIOISIN, author of not only the Death Note novels, Another Note: Tales of the BB Murder Case and L: Change the World, but also his own famously popular Monogatari series. When I first heard of this series through the trailer for the brand new anime, I grew even more excited to know it was based on a new series from NISIOISIN.

Book one of the Pretty Boy Detective Club is titled The Dark Star That Shines For You Alone and follows narrator, Dojima Mayumi, as she takes to her middle school’s mysterious Pretty Boy Detective Club to help find a star she has not been able to locate for 10-years. The stakes for this aspiring astronaut are high as she has promised her parents that she would give up her space travelling dreams by her 14th birthday. The boys determine her case is a beautiful one and agree to take it on… only to be caught up in a much bigger plot than any of them expected with far more danger than anyone signed on for.

Right off the bat I fell in love with every single one of the characters. The boys themselves are entirely original combinations of shojo boy tropes and a female lead that is equal parts ditzy and observant. From the get-go, the way the cast interacted with each other reminded me of Ouran High School Host Club and as things got going, it was absolutely The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya levels of chaotic. It made me laugh so much while also making me relate wholeheartedly to the dejected, self-depreciating Mayumi.

I wanted something light to read, I wanted someone fun. And that’s exactly what I got. I wish nothing but the best for the anime adaptation (which has a theme song by the incredibly sumika and has given us all a goofy new dance to learn that seriously only intensifies the comparison to Haruhi Suzumiya since the dance makes me think of the Hare Hare Yukai) as it continues on.

If you’re new to light novels and want some slice-of-life shenanigans, I highly recommend picking up this one. If you’ve been around for a while and want some nostalgia, I highly recommend picking up this one. The Pretty Boy Detective Club is absolutely a read for everyone.

Three cheers for NISIOISIN’s continued success.

ARC REVIEW: Yokohama Station SF

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for an eARC of this light novel.

When it comes to finding new light novels to read I go for two things: title and cover. I find that much like starting a new anime, it’s fun to dive in blind and be taken along for the ride and light novels are much the same way for me. I picked up Yokohama Station SF on the basis that it had “Yokohama” in the title – one of the main places I have a deep-seated desire to visit when I eventually make it to Japan – and the stand-alone science fiction aspect.

Yokohama Station SF is a futuristic dystopian novel akin to something like Space Odyssey 2001 (which is funnily enough referenced several times throughout the novel) as it involves a self-functioning station that has taken over the majority of Japan after starting out as a system meant to be used to assist with the efficiency of subways stations constantly under construction for upgrades and the likes. The station has gotten out of control and people unable to afford the special chip implants needed in order to stay within the station are dying of starvation or otherwise forced out of their homes by the ever-expanding station. A young boy from one of these settlements end up entering the station with a special limited pass, on a mission of someone else’s to see to stopping the expansion once and for all.

Right away, I loved the concept of this station going haywire, and appreciated the author’s note in the back of the book that mentioned it was inspired by constant construction in large cities, referencing Yokohama subway station specifically. Being from Southern Ontario, it reminded me of the horrors that are the construction closures constantly effecting the Gardener Expressway as well as Union Station in Toronto. As much as I loved the concept, I felt something was lacking at times. It is a slow burn of a story that follows a few different characters but I felt each of them lacked the depth needed to create a sense of caring for them. I was more interested in the rest of the world building rather than the mission at hand for the cast or the stakes they were facing. 

Once the climax of the book was done with, it was a bit of a dull ending. Again, though, I still enjoyed reading this book and loved the concept overall. What I will suggest though to North American readers, if you are unfamiliar with the geography of Japan, the map in the cover of the finished copies or having Google Maps open on another device will make understanding the layout of the Station a lot easier to follow.

Yokohama Station SF by Isukari Yuba is available now!

REVIEW: Vampire Hunter D #1

The last few days I had a reader’s craving for vampires but no love story. I was also hoping for something with a darker aesthetic while still being light. Despite how overly specific that want is, I was able to check all of the boxes with the Japanese classic, Vampire Hunter D by Kikuchi Hideyuki with illustrations by Final Fantasy‘s own, Amano Yoshitaka.

Originally published in the 80s, Vampire Hunter D is a sci-fi western featuring the ever classic story of humanity against the creatures of the night. Ten thousand years have passed since the human race destroyed itself in a nuclear arms race and regressed to Frontier times. But vampires and artificially created other monsters are trying to regain control so it is up to the various classifications of Hunters to wipe them out by the request of their employeers.

This first book follows the plight of Doris Lang and her brother, Dan, who hire the mysterious D to act as protector after Doris is attacked by the local Count Lee. But there’s more to the job than a simple vampire slaying as Doris is also plagued by the ruffians of her town and D has unknowingly attracted some negative attention from a gang of especially skills bandits. With a lot of strangeness on the line, both D and Doris may be in over their heads. Or are they?

I loved the ol’ fashion Western vibe of this first book and the way it combines the classic aesthetic of the traditional vampire story just made me so happy. The story is action packed but still light enough to get through without having to think too hard about what’s going on. Doris was a sweetheart and the mystery surrounding D is too intriguing to stop here. The translation was so incredibly smooth, I would have thought it was originally written in English so a major shout out to translator Kevin Leahy. I loved the combination of traditional vampire lore with new additions due to the crazy world building. The idea that the vampires are scientific geniuses who can create their own servants through genetic engineering as well as robotics, was super cool to me and I look forward to hearing more about that side of the story as the series continues.

Needless to say, it was just what I wanted right now and I’m so happy to have found something that fit my incredibly niche reading wants.

ARC REVIEW: Solo Leveling #1

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the eARC

For the last few months, I have been following closely along with YenPress and their marketing for the official translation for the incredibly popular manhwa for South Korean series Solo Leveling. Based on the best selling webnovel by Chugong, I’ve been very excited for both.

Solo Leveling follows Sung Jin Woo in an alternate reality where “gates” full of monsters are opening up around the world and people have awakened as hunters to clear and close them. The ranking system goes from E (the bottom rung where hunters are little more than regular citizens) to S class and Jin Woo is at the bottom, known around his city as “the worst hunter ever” for his habit of constantly getting himself into trouble. When a raid goes wrong, Jin Woo awakens with unmatched abilities right out of a video game – leveling system included.

Japanese light novels have been my jam lately, so the chance to review a Korean light novel was definitely something I was excited to do. It took me a brief second to adjust to the name format (it always throws me off when I try to figure out if translations put the names in traditional order or adjust for English readers) but I was sucked into the story right away.

I love the characters and the way Jin Woo stumbles his way through figuring out the new leveling system is so original. I do find it interesting how light novel fantasy (whether isekai or otherwise) seem to be very focused on video game like levels and the way those levels are incorporated into a story is always neat to compare. Having never read the manhwa I had visions of this being similar to Sword Art Online, but believe me when I say this is entirely a brilliant original story. I love Jin Woo, a protagonist who is equal parts sweet and cocky, and Jin Ho is so adorable I just want to give him a hug for trying his best.

With an ending that is the calm before the coming storm, I can’t wait for volume 2 of the novel. At least in the meantime, I have YenPress’s edition of the translation for the manhwa to look forward to reading.

Volume 1 of both the light novel and the manhwa are available now!

ARC REVIEW: Date a Live – Tohka Dead End

Thank you to YenPress and NetGalley for a copy of the ARC

Despite this series being around for several years now, the first I heard about it was when Sword Art Online author, Kawahara Reiki, was tweeting about the mobile game in Japan. Knowing he enjoyed it, I requested to review this light novel that’s being translated into English at long last.

Going in completely blind like I did, I can’t exactly say that it wasn’t what I was expecting, but… Date-a-Live was definitely not what I expected.

The series – as described by the author, Tachibana Koushi – is a big “what if a dating sim was the key to saving the world from an unearthly power?” In the future, there are tears in reality that cause mass destruction and chaos and death. These tears, known as “spacequakes” are caused by Spirits, beautiful girls with massive amounts of power, and an elite team of warriors are equipped with special gear to try and take them down. However, these warriors aren’t making much progress and a special team has decided to take matters into their own hands and having a high school-aged civilian seduce the Spirits into peace.

Shindo is a ridiculous protagonist who cares a lot for his younger sister and is absolutely useless with girls. So naturally he is tasked with seducing the Spirits. In the first third of the book, he reminded me a lot of Rentaro from Black Bullet, especially with his relationship with his adorable younger sister (whose appearance even reminds me of Enju from Black Bullet). And then the dating sim (for anyone unfamiliar with the term, it is like a choose-your-own-adventure video game where you date a cast of characters) aspect happened and I wasn’t buying it. At first it came off as very “this is just another gimmick to use towards the harem trope”, but then it continued on to when Shindo meets with the Spirit, Tohka for the first time and it got me intrigued.

It’s my own fault for expecting an all-out action story, but the comedy aspect of the novel was an unexpected bit of fun. I’m iffy on where the story is going since I’m not the biggest fan of the harem trope, but I think this is definitely a series worth giving a chance to. It’s goofy, the art for the illustrations is cute, and it’s a finished series over in Japan.

ARC REVIEW: Reign of the Seven Spellblades #1

Thank you so much to YenPress and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this (now available) incredible light novel!

When this series was announced to be licensed by YenPress, I had it on my TBR instantly. The cover was so beautiful I was here for the character designs immediately and the little blurb that was shared alongside the reveal had me interested for sure. So when I received the email from NetGalley that I was approved for a copy, I was so excited!

Right away, this light novel wasn’t what I was expecting. Really cute and funny right off the bat, it gave me Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya vibes with how ditzy but determined Nanao was and Oliver’s exasperation with all of his new friends was very much like Kyon. However, the comparison is more of a personal one, and each of the characters is honestly so much fun and I loved all of them right away. Then we get to Kimberly Academy, a magical school where death is damn near imminent at all times and the risk of losing your mind to the darkness of magical studies is a constant threat. As fun and light-hearted as the first half of this book is, it does get dark around the half-way mark as the true dangers of Kimberly begin to show themselves and hidden traits are revealed in the students themselves.

I got entirely sucked into this light novel and, again, I loved everything about it. The ending was such a drastic 180° flip from the rest of the story but that only makes me more desperate to get my hands on volume two. I can’t wait to see what Oliver does and how his relationship with Nanao develops! Someone give this series an anime deal immediately.

REVIEW: re:ZERO ~ Starting Life in Another World 1

As the world awaits for more SAO, Crunchyroll ads seem to be doubling down on promotion for the latest season of re:ZERO. I decided to give this series a try because of all of the Crunchyroll ads across social media. It got me curious. Not to mention how obsessed the anime side of the internet is with Rem. I’m a sucker for an isekai these days, so I jumped right into it.

re:Zero follows Subaru as he is just randomly thrust into a fantasy world while walking home from the store. In the real world he had no goals, no friends, no aspirations. He was constantly cutting class to watch anime or work out and has done nothing with his life. Now in a strange world and armed only with a small bag of snacks, Subaru learns very quickly that something strange is going on. As he offers to help a beautiful girl find a lost item of value, things become an anime version of Groundhog Day, and every time Subaru is killed from biting off more than he can chew, the day starts over in the exact same way it began.

While I loved the premise and the murder-mystery Groundhog Day (or Mystery Spot if you’re a fan of Supernatural – season 3, episode 11, by the way), I found this first volume really struggled with pacing issues. The story doesn’t move fluidly and some of the lengthier parts just felt unnecessary. The translator did a great job of getting the sass and the silly jokes to land properly in English, but despite the entertaining factor in his character, I still don’t know if I like Subaru as the protagonist. He’s funny, sure, but I feel like his growth as a character is going to take a lot longer than it should. I’ll probably continue to the series out of curiosity since Rem and Ram didn’t show up in this volume, but I find myself debating on just watching the anime without reading the books.

REVIEW: JK Haru is a Sex Worker In Another World

Note: This novel is basically hentai and involves heavy amounts of sexual violence as well as gaslighting, physical abuse, gore, violence against sex workers, and toxic relationships

JK Haru is a Sex Worker In Another World was a title I just stumbled across and thought I’d give it a go out of curiosity. I’m often really curious about the depiction of sexual content out of other countries, especially when the countries aren’t as liberal as we are here in Canada, so I was intrigued by the concept of a light novel involving sex work. Especially as an isekai novel (meaning the character is from the “real world” and is transported into a fantasy land).

I won’t lie when I say this wasn’t exactly a good read. I’m not sure if it’s a translation issue or if the writing was originally choppy and disoriented, but the other possibility for why I wasn’t super into it was it felt like it was less of a novel about a sex worker and more of a hentai on paper… I might not have minded that so much had the content not including a huge amount of sexual violence and humiliation towards the girls who worked in the brothel. Maybe the “story” would have worked better in an adult manga or as a straight-up hentai animation series, but there was a lot lacking in terms of depth.

What I will say though, is that it did have some pretty great lines targeting the misogyny of isekai fantasy series and fantasy in general. It also talked a lot about toxic relationships and the value of self-worth while also being pretty sex positive when it came to the fact that Haru was a sex worker and she didn’t feel bad or guilty about her job – in fact she likes and excels in it which is nice to see.

The best line was most definitely from one of Haru’s internal monologues, “A person’s worth is decided in ways that they can’t do anything about. All you can do is decide how you’ll live your life regardless of your worth.”

Will I continue reading this series? Probably not. Would I recommend it? Also probably not. But it was at least a fast enough read that I don’t regret giving it a go.

REVIEW: The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life #1

One of my 2021 goals is to read more light novels and honestly, one thing that always makes me laugh are the series with overly long titles. When it comes to The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life, the long title was half of the reason why I picked it up, but the other half was the cute art for sure.

For those unfamiliar with light novels, it’s a genre of Japanese novels that are a more serialised format that also tend to feature full-page illustrations with varied frequency throughout the novels. It’s basically a genre made from anime-in-book-form without being manga. The majority of the light novels I’ve read have fallen into the action-fantasy genre but there are also slice-of-life romance novels as well. But back to reviewing this one.

The Alchemist Who… follows Mariela, an alchemist who put herself into a magical state of suspended animation in order to survive a huge monster attack on her home city only to wake up 200 years later. Realising that she is now alone in the world with no home, no friends, and no knowledge of what has happened while she was “asleep”, Mariela is in a bit of a fix. Even when she makes friends out of a group of adventurers, she learns quickly that there are hardly any alchemists in the world, and none within her old home city.

The synopsis makes it sound like a typical action-packed fantasy novel, but this series is definitely more slice-of-life, at least for the time being. The story is about Mariela’s loneliness and her fears from being asleep for so long. It’s about her kindness and generosity towards others that may stem from her naivety, but deep down all Mariela wants is to care for others. The guards she befriends look out for her, knowing that she’s just a young woman, but more than that is the man, Sieg, who she saves from a death sentence of slavery.

I know the inclusion of slavery is very off-putting for many readers even in “English” fantasy novels. What I will say is that I think it is more of a translation thing here. In this world, those with massive debts have the option of being a debt-labourer, given the option to sell their labour to nobles or other wealthy folk in order to pay off those debts. However, if the person in question commits a major crime or violates the terms of their contract, they are condemned to being a penal labourer until the end of their days. Sieg falls under this category, but is saved from his fate as a penal labourer when Mariela sees how unwell he is and how abused he is at the hands of the other guards.

Her kindness towards this man who feels he is unworthy of such generosity is so heartwarming and as we learn more and both of them, I found myself adoring Sieg and Mariela with my entire being. The book on the whole is so sweet and stress-free with how soft it is and how tender the characters are. The only issue I really took with it was that at almost 400 pages long, it could have been shortened significantly had all of the repetition been cut out. The herbs and plants Mariela requires for her secret alchemy get a little complicated, but the constantly repetition of three of the plants’ effects does get tiresome.

What I have found interesting though about reading as many light novels lately as I have been, is how the fantasy genre specifically still tends to be very video game or TTRPG (table-top roleplaying game – think D&D). By that I mean in three separate light novel series that I have stuck my nose into, there is a levelling system and a magical power system that feels very much like it would in a game. It’s curious to see in novels that are not game based (such as Sword Art Online) and I’d love to do more readings into why this might be such a common trope with light novels. I also wonder if that kind of system is common in other Japanese fantasy novels that don’t necessarily fall under the light novel categorisation.

All in all I really loved this book and look forward to getting deeper into the series. As of right now, there are five volumes of 350+ pages each translated into English by YenPress, and I’m looking forward to reading them. I definitely had to fight the urge to immediately jump into the second book once I finished this first one. Mariela and Sieg are just so perfect I need to read more about their relationship as I hope it moves from a budding friendship into something more.