Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! Light Novel Review Volume 1

Cute, Smart Girl Becomes Cute, Smart and Over-powered Girl?

You would think there would be some cap on the number of stories of average Japanese teens dying tragically, meeting god and being reborn in another world, but no there is not. And I’m kind of happy about that. As much as some of these stories are derivative nonsense without a speck of originality, care or talent behind them there are also stories that really make something of the basic premise. It is like all those ‘boy meets girl’ stories and how some of them can really distinguish themselves and others end up stacked on the pile of mediocre genre stories and still others rot in the pile of substandard and uninspired crud.

This latest series I picked up to read after a recommendation came up through The Book Depository and I read some reviews on other blogs is Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! which is a marathon of a title and uses excessive punctuation to boot. Throw in the generic cute character on the front cover and the magic circle she’s standing in and all and all there’s a million warning signs that this is going to be dribble and yet it manages to defy all expectations and became one of the more enjoyable stories I’ve read for awhile.

I certainly jumped it to the top of the to be reviewed stack which is on the edge of reaching 20 books that I’ve read but have yet to type up my thoughts on.

There’s plenty to unpack in this story but my overall thoughts are that it is pure enjoyment to read. That doesn’t mean it is some hefty literary work that is going to take the world by storm. It is nicely written (or at least the translation effort was nicely done as most of it flows really well), the story moves along at a good clip, and the characters are entertaining enough. However it isn’t exactly trying to shatter the mould or blow our minds with its genius narration so just open up the book and start devouring the story.

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Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! (Light Novel) Vol. 1
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The biggest downside of this book is it takes awhile to get going. As usual with this kind of plot we have to kill off our main character in one life and have her reborn. It takes about 30 pages of so to get through the basic set-up before our reincarnated protagonist lands at her first academy and the story really kicks off. Fortunately, once it kicks off it doesn’t really stop or get bogged down again and when you get the end of the volume it gives sufficient closure for the moment but leaves you wanting more.

Or at least, I certainly did and ordered the next couple of volumes already for future reading. While it might run out of steam in a couple of books, this is a fairly promising start.

Possibly one thing that really did help me get into the story was that our protagonist wasn’t a loner male. Kurihara Misato was a little bit isolated in her former life because of the expectations placed on her by others, but she wasn’t another shut-in gamer. Admittedly, they do play on her social awkwardness and inability to read others a bit too much early on in this story, but she’s a fairly up-beat heroine making the most of her situation.

I also like that there is no demon-lord in sight so far. Throughout this whole volume Misato/Adele/Mile faces many challenges but these include social status, socialising in general, friendship, and finding a place for herself in the world. No evil demons to fight or world ending terrors existing just to be terrors. Admittedly, there’s certainly room for political intrigue and other issues to blow up into larger issues in future volumes, but this was very much a low stakes story but with every decision being vital to the protagonist as she desired to fit in and anything that could risk that was seen as a threat there was an ongoing sense of purpose and direction for the story.

The supporting cast is quite large as the story carries from Adele’s home life, to her school, to the bakery where she works for a time, to the first village she runs to, and then to the academy for hunters she attends, but all of the characters we encounter are fun and interesting. Their interactions and responses to Adele/Mile as she goes about pretending to be normal despite obviously not being so is pretty entertaining, and by the end of this volume there’s a pretty cool group surrounding our main character.

There’s also a lot of very funny moments in the story. I’m not huge on comedy and a lot of jokes fall flat for me, but this book had me chuckling on more than one occasion as the protagonist’s plans blew up in her face or the other characters let her get away with something even though they all knew exactly what was going on.

As I said earlier, it is just a fun little book. With a delightful protagonist, overpowered or not, a plot that never seems to get put on hold even as there’s not a lot of clear direction to it as of yet, and a supporting cast that have been fun to get to know, Didn’t I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! is one of those books that will just make you smile and try the one more chapter game until you fall asleep while trying to complete it in a single sitting.

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Manga Review Volume 16

Helping Our Friends

We’re back with the next volume of Natsume’s Book of Friends and I absolutely loved this one. Okay, I love all of them, but this one seemed extra-special. Natsume always feels like he is taking without giving anything back, which isn’t true but it is how he feels, and he’s incredibly grateful for the friendships he has create with Taki and Tanuma even while he tries to look out for them and keep them safe.

This volume focuses very much on these relationships with the first two chapters dealing with Taki and the second two dealing with Tanuma. Both stories are absolutely glorious and then we get a really nice extra story at the end in case you haven’t had enough Natsume (and let’s be honest, there’s never enough Natsume).

Chapter 64 and 65

Naturally Natsume gets involved and at first fears the yokai aims to harm Taki but soon realises the yokai wants to thank her but doesn’t really know why. Once again the different time spans of humans and yokai comes into play as the yokai realises the futility of a friendship with a human yet still feels drawn to Taki.

It has been awhile since Taki has featured as anything more than just someone in passing and it was great to get back to her story and her house. This time she has helped a yokai leave her house after it got confused by all of her grandfather’s spells and the yokai now wants something to do with her, but isn’t quite sure what.

There’s also some other yokai in the house which leads to a really fun couple of chapters. it also makes Natsume think once again about his position and his relationship with Taki. While he tries not to keep too many secrets from her these days there are still some things he just can’t say and that keeps a small distance between them.

If you’ve been waiting for more of Taki this story will certainly give you exactly what you wanted.

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Chapter 66 and 67

After the joy and breath of fresh air that was Taki’s visit, we move straight into a trip with Natsume and friends (Tanuma, Nishimura and Kitamoto). They are visiting a place Tanuma went to often as a child and they soon encounter a mystery with a yokai and a mask. Tanuma helps Natsume by keeping Nichimura and Kitamoto out of the way while Natsume tries to uncover the identity of the yokai.

Once again this story makes it clear that even though Tanuma doesn’t have the gift that Natsume has, a lot of his childhood experiences are quite similar. He saw weird things as a kid and was also sick a lot which meant he didn’t have a huge number of friends. It turns out, one of the ‘friends’ he had wasn’t all she appeared to be.

Again this story focuses very much on the distance between Natsume and others and the reasons for the secrets and lies that build the walls around him. While Tanuma is the closest thing to a true friend Natsume has ever had, there’s still a barrier between them even if Tanuma has been given a lot more access to Natsume’s true self than most people.

Again, it is a really fun story and one that builds on what we know about these characters in the best possible way. There’s also some really lovely art in this one, particularly when Tanuma smiles at the end. It is so precious.

As usual, I can’t wait to get into the next volume of this manga. This series continues to build from strength to strength and while I love the stories that focus on the exorcists, this volume focusing on Natsume’s school friends was a real delight.

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Goblin Slayer Review Light Novel Volumes 5 + 6

The Endless Cycle of Rookie Mistakes

I don’t normally review volumes together unless they are clearly two parts of the same story with no resolution in between, however when I finished reading volume 5 of Goblin Slayer I was kind of at a loss as to what to write and so I simply stacked the book to the side and waited. Many months later I read volume 6 and suddenly felt a need to write about the books so here we are.

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Volume 5

I’m going to point out that volume 5 is actually quite a good story. The reason I’m saying that straight up is that it is probably going to sound very soon like I didn’t enjoy it but to be honest most of my issues with it are issues with the series as a whole that have been building and have nothing to do with the individual volume.

The story focuses on Noble Fencer who was out on a job to take care of some goblins and completely stuffed it up by underestimating goblin resourcefulness and sneakiness. As a result, her party has been killed and she’s taken captive by the primitive cult of goblins in the north. Naturally Goblin Slayer and friends are recruited to go rescue her.

As I said, nothing wrong with the story. The problem is, that this is almost the same story as Priestesses introduction only spread out longer and with more tenacious goblins thrown in. That’s kind of the point. Goblins keep doing the same things over and over and adventurers keep underestimating them. Yet while I appreciate the point I found the basic story less enjoyable because there just isn’t enough novelty five volumes in to keep this feeling fresh.

Still, the action is solid, the characters within the party continue to bounce well off one another, and the story concludes well within the volume so there’s little to really complain about. That said, I was contemplating leaving this series here feeling I’ve taken all I can from it.

Volume 6

After my mixed feelings around volume 5 and whether this series had anything more to offer, I went into volume 6 with a little bit of hesitation. I am really glad I did go into it though.

This volume turns its attention very much onto the Priestess as she’s now been with the group for a year. Her growth over that time has been impressive and she’s been in some very dangerous situations. Despite that, this volume begins with her missing out on advancement at the guild as there’s the thought that maybe all the strong adventurers she’s travelling with are actually carrying her through these encounters.

So begins an effort to give the Priestess opportunities to show her own strengths including having Goblin Slayer and the others take orders from her during a mission.

It is a minor shake up to the usual formula and yet it is enough. Not to mention, Priestess as a character has experienced the most growth (as all the other characters were fairly well developed when they were met and Priestess was such a rookie) and so seeing her get the limelight was very nice.

While it might seem trite, I also liked the inclusion of the Wizard Boy. His older sister had died a year ago on a quest to kill goblins and he’s very much out for revenge. It is pretty clear that the older sister was probably one of Priestess’ original party members that got wiped out but they don’t make a big deal of that. Instead, this volume focuses on teaching Wizard Boy, and indeed many of the rookie adventurers, how to stay alive.

That becomes particularly necessary when the newly built training grounds get attacked by a goblin horde at night.

With the training grounds having been built on the site of Goblin Slayers home village there’s more than enough personal drama and stakes in this story to really lift is beyond just basic goblin slaying and while the basic formula established in this series hasn’t changed, this volume seemed to breathe a bit of life back into it.

Anyway, it was enough that I’m going to read the next one as I’d really like to know what happens next.

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So I’m A Spider, So What? Volume 4

And now the timeline makes sense.

So I’m A Spider, So What has jumped back and forth between the events in the Great Elroe Labyrinth and the events surrounding Shun, the newly titled hero, through the previous volumes. While I always had a sense that the events from the spider’s point of view were not in quite the same time as the events Shun was describing, it wasn’t until volume 4 where the reader is given a clear answer to exactly when both sequences are occurring and the relationship between them. It is a credit to this story that it has managed to come out of the reveal relatively neatly and with the story clicking nicely into place rather than becoming unravelled.

And just for those who are still utterly confused as to what happened first or the actual sequence of events that we’ve been told about but never saw first hand, this volume handily contains at the end a timeline of the events so that you can see the full sequence very quickly and help reconcile any further confusion. It isn’t intrusive and doesn’t add anything that couldn’t have been picked up through a return read but it just helps straighten out the whole affair.

Now if this time disparity was just another gimmick, like the protagonist being a spider, then I’d have to wonder if it was worth the effort, but realistically it has really helped to set up the different characters and their relative experiences before things start coming together.

That is where volume 4 of So I’m A Spider, So What? really starts to shine. While the spider story-line an the human story-line still haven’t actually collided, they are clearly on a collision course. With so many other reincarnated characters already assembled, the war in full swing, and everything about to come to a head, it is just a matter of time now. Where previous volumes I’ve found the spider grinding amusing but not overly purposeful at times and I’ve enjoyed the story of the goings on in the human world but we’ve only seen glimpses, volume 4 gives us some fairly specific purposes to the spider’s activities and the human story gets, if not equal space, at least equal weight in this volume.

My previous criticisms though of the intrusive nature of the game mechanics do still stand. As much as this volume actually starts revealing the reason why the world they reincarnated into seems so much like a game, there’s only so many times you can come across a page that is nothing but stats and skills after a monster has been appraised before you just stop looking at them and flick to the next page to get on with the story. It isn’t as though the spider doesn’t then point out the most significant stats in her next bit of narration anyway so reading the page is utterly pointless.

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So I'm a Spider, So What?, Vol. 4 (light novel)

That said, while the execution of stats and skill lists may be intrusive, the basic function within the story is fairly purposeful. Not to mention, the spider is really using those skills and stats to their advantage and being quite innovative. On more than one occasion turning a one-sided battle into quite a thrilling nail-biter because of how they’ve used the level system to their advantage.

Which is why I can’t stop reading this series of books. As much as they rely on gimmicks to try to distinguish themselves from an overcrowded field, and as much as the game mechanics right from the beginning have been heavily weighing down the story, there’s a real cleverness at times to the way these standard elements are employed. While once or twice it really looks like they are over-reaching in order to extract the spider from an incredibly dire situation, they usually manage to make the events fit within the established rules and patterns of the world, even if that world is incredibly unfair and a lot of those skills and stats are clearly over-powered and close to cheating (Immortality? Really?).

While the spider gets the fun battle and exhilarating saves and victories, the humans are on the run after the events of book 3 and end up the elven village where the other reincarnated kids have been kept. This plot line is subdued, even dull in terms of events, by comparison, and yet we learn a lot through the course of the book and honestly I’m really looking forward to finding out what the next steps are for these characters with the new information they’ve acquired.

Needless to say, I am going to read the next volume in this series. It will very much depend on the individual as to whether or not they’ll enjoy this series though. I think most people who enjoy isekai stories and don’t object to game mechanics being used as the basis of a narrative will find a lot to like here but for other readers while there are some brilliant moments they probably won’t offset the parts of So I’m A Spider, So What they don’t like.

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Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon Review Light Novel Volume 11

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The higher the rise, the harder the fall.

Bell’s reputation took a serious hit at the end of volume 10. The people of Orario saw him stand between adventurers and monsters and in the end they now see him as someone who puts his own needs above protecting them from monsters. However it isn’t just Bell who has been affected as his whole familia is now on the back-foot with everyone wanting to take their shot at the family that rose to fame so quickly.

It is a really interesting turning point in the series as prior to this Bell was looked down on for being small or inexperienced. Then he began his rise to fame and gained respect from so many people and other adventurers that while there was jealousy and some hostility, for the most part Bell has had a steady climb in status over the previous 10 books.

Volume 11 turns the tone of the series on its head. Seeing Bell despised is actually kind of hard, particularly when as the reader you know what bell was actually trying to do and you also know that even if he explained it very few would listen to him or take his side. And that’s the strength of this volume. Bell is in a position where he has to gain back some of the trust that has been lost or it is more or less the end for his familia, but at the same time he can’t turn his back on the xenos. This conundrum nearly paralyses him and makes any action seem more or less impossible. Harder still when even those in his familia are starting to wonder if the cost of helping the xenos was too high.

That said, Bell has drawn the attention of quite a number of gods through his meteoric rise and they aren’t happy to leave things as they stand either. The question is, will their meddling make things better or worse and will Bell be happy with the outcome?

While earlier books in this series were fun and exuberant as Bell launched into new adventures and took on new foes, volume 11 brings a much more serious tone to the entire story. It is no longer a simple matter of monsters bad, kill the monsters, and Bell as a character is forced to grow beyond the naive youth he’s represented previously.

The situation also strains a lot of the pre-existing relationships and forces characters to question the basis of those relationships and whether or not they can continue. Particularly strained is the relationship between Ais and Bell as Bell put himself directly in Loki familia’s way during the previous volume and the conflict between them isn’t over as Loki familia works to restore the status quo.

On the one hand, I kind of preferred the light and energetic tone in earlier volumes but on the other, I really enjoy watching Bell grow up. This volume gives him a lot of time to really question his goals and what he wants and I feel in terms of the greater narrative it does an excellent job even if it wasn’t quite as fun individually to read.

Despite the more contemplative tone, volume 11 does deliver a thrilling climatic battle on par with any that we’ve seen so far. Bell is going to get pushed to the limit physically and emotionally before this book is done and while this volume does bring a nice conclusion to the current arc, it also leaves you wanting the next book.

Clearly I enjoyed reading volume 11 of Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon and I’m looking forward to seeing Bell after this book to see what lasting impact these events have had.

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The Benefits and Pleasure of Reading Light Novels

Normally this is the time of week I’d have a light novel or manga review and I certainly have more than a few books stacked on my desk and ready for their reviews to be written or finalised. However, recently I was asked what I enjoyed about reading light novels and it made me start thinking about the changes in my reading habits over the past two years since I started reading my very first light novel series, Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash.

My whole life I’ve been obsessed with books. I fill shelves with them, spend hours rummaging through dusty boxes and shelves in second hand book stores, and spend more than a fair bit of time online shopping for books. However, growing up my focus was decided split with fantasy, science fiction and horror books on the one side and the standard classic literature list on the other. At university I expanded more into a range of authors who pioneered or represented movements or were renowned in some form or another, though I definitely kept enjoying my genre fiction.

It was pretty standard for me to be carrying two to three novels on me at any one time and cycle through them based on my mood or how much time I had to sit and read.

Maka Albarn - Soul Eater - Reading books

Then adulting happened.

I know, becoming an adult is kind of that thing we all have to do. But it had a definite impact on my reading because after spending a day reading for work meant by the time I came home I wanted entertainment that was less immersive and demanding of me and so movies and games filled the recreation time, as did my growing obsession with anime. I still read books, but they became something I stacked away and stored for long weekends or holidays where I would devour two or three in quick succession. Young adult novels became more standard in my collection because they were quicker to read and I was sure to complete it before I got distracted by work again.

As my anime obsession grew, so did my curiosity with the source material of many anime and while I wasn’t overly keen on reading manga, I decided it was time to plunge into light novels.

Fortunately for me I picked wisely.

At first I ordered one volume of one series when it was on sale and thought the worst that could happen was it would end up donated to a charity where it would end up sold on to someone else. However, I kind of became hooked.

For all that the first volume of Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash is not a perfect book by any means, the story rolls over you easily and carried you along to the end. There’s enough description to sketch in the world and character dialogue to give them shape, but it doesn’t get bogged down in details or tedious conversations that serve no purpose.

In a nutshell, it is easy and undemanding to read. Plus, easily devoured in a single sitting or over a couple of evenings so even with work demands it was something I could sink my teeth into and enjoy.

However, as my collection of light novels and manga (because one opened the door to the other) grew I ran into a few problems as well as a few really good points.

My main problem was storage space. Because of the quick read time and number of volumes in some sets it became quickly apparent I was going to need to a new shelf to store them on. But the other issue is that each series seems to be its own specific shape. Some are wider or taller than others and so stacking books has become quite the game of jenga and I’m not entirely convinced I’m the best person for the job. Particularly when I decide to read an older volume and pull it out from under a precarious stack, or the latest volume of a series I just read needs to be placed under another series requiring some careful handling.

This is a dream come true, a room totally surrounded by books.

Admittedly, a lot of people are probably just better at dealing with stacks that don’t perfectly align but for me everytime I look at the light novel collection I just want to try to make all the spines line up neatly and I’ve yet to succeed because they just don’t.

The other problem is naturally cost. While each book doesn’t cost all that much, particularly taking into account the frequency of online sales, the speed at which the books are read and again, the number of volumes each set will end up with, means that the cost of books rapidly adds up. It isn’t insurmountable but in order to stop myself binge spending on any other given day I plan lists and schedules for my next book order to keep it all under control and under budget.

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Yet both of these are petty complaints.

The books I’ve bought and read so far have been fun and entertaining. They’ve given me a raft of colourful characters and settings and plots that are incredibly. In the case of Grimgar and DanMachi the books have filled the void left by anime that next concluded the story and in the case of the Natsume manga I’ve found a new and amazing way to experience a story I loved in anime form. Arifureta gave me something different in a genre I’m familiar with from anime, and so on and so forth.

I love the artwork that is included in these books, whether it is the fold out work at the beginning of the volumes or the images scattered throughout, it just adds something to the reading experience. And certainly I appreciate any book that is easily slotted into a handbag or travel bag. That and a book that doesn’t hurt when it falls on my face because I fell asleep while reading.

Certainly I’ve ordered the first volume of some series and it just hasn’t worked for me and I’ve not continued on, but that is true of all types of books. Growing up there was a huge second hand book sale that took place every six months and the last day of the sale always had a fill-a-bag option and so I would plunder the fantasy section of any and everything I hadn’t read. I worked on the standard idea that only one in every ten books I started would actually be amazing and only three in ten would be good enough to end up on my book shelf. The rest would be read and then returned to the charity to end up at the next book sale. The only tragedy being that one particular book got purchased on three separate occasions.

Yeah, No Game No Life looked like it should be perfect for me, but just didn’t work out.

From that point of view, I’ve had far more hits than misses when it comes to reading light novels, though given a lot that I’ve chosen I’ve watched the anime of, I’m not going in blind to very many.

While a few people I know feel I’ve gone backwards a bit in my reading, all I can say is that I’m having as much fun as every consuming stories. While the pictures on the covers of the books I’m reading these days may be brighter, what hasn’t changed is my general love of words and nicely flowing plot with characters I can get behind and want to see succeed.

Next week I’ll get back to actually reviewing something from the stack before it takes over my desk entirely but before then, if you read light novels I’d love to know what you find appealing about them?

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Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 13 Review

It has been awhile since I’ve written a Natsume review and I’ve now got quite the stack of books to catch up on as I’m now at volume 17 and hungry for more. That said, I absolutely loved volume 13 (big surprise).

I will admit, my most recent trip to Japan was great as I picked up quite a bit of Natsume merchandise including a Nyanko pillow, a small Little Fox plush, a figure of Natori, and the first five volumes of the manga in Japanese because if I ever get some quiet time I’m going to work on my translation skills again and see if I can get through them. So at the moment, I am very much surrounding myself with Natsume and I cannot get enough.

However, for now I’ll get into reviewing volume 13 which I was really excited about because it brings Natsume face to face with Matoba again.

Chapters 52 – 54: Behind the Chains

This is a story I particularly loved in the anime as it brings Matoba calling on Natsume and asking him for a favour. Only in true Matoba fashion it isn’t so much asking as demanding and when that doesn’t work, threatening. Natori is aware Matoba has approached Natsume and is working away in the background, and Nyanko is as usual being sassy when Matoba is present but working hard to protect Natsume despite the exorcist charms making him somewhat weaker than normal.

There’s a lot to love about this story as it brings great characters together, provides more insight into the world of exorcists as well as the different ways the Matoba go about it compared to someone like Natori, and it also shows us Natsume’s incredible natural talents. The search for the yokai possessing exorcists works wells enough to hold all of this together but that particular issue is so much less interesting than the tension that exists every time Natsume and Matoba are anywhere near each other.

The art is nicely done as usual with some excellent chapter introductions but scenes of the guests in the Matoba house are a little messy in terms of details and the faces of background characters aren’t particularly amazing. It is a minor complaint in amongst a great story but worth noting.

Still, this story didn’t disappoint and the volume wasn’t done.

Specials: Nishimura and Natsume, Kitamoto and Natsume

After the sensational exorcist focused story for the majority of the volume, the second part goes firmly into the slice of life aspects of Natsume and what this volume shows is that there is great balance in the story between these more human moments that hit the emotions hard, and those tense and exciting moments where the supernatural takes centre stage.

These are two characters that, while they have a presence in the anime it hasn’t been very prominent. These two stories are really a great chance to see how these two very normal and ordinary school friends came to be friends with and understand, to a point, Natsume and accepted him for who he was. They are touching and heartwarming stories and just the perfect thing to read to leave you with a smile.

I probably don’t need to reiterate, but this series is so fantastic to read. I’ll cover something else next week but then I’ll be back with my next Natsume review.

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