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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Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Level 8 Light Novel Review

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 8

The party is finally splitting up and there are some dire consequences to be found.

It’s honestly going to be impossible to review this one without spoilers so if you haven’t read this far in the series, check out the links below for some of the earlier books or check out one of my other light novel reviews here.

For those still with me, level 8 really stepped things up. As much as I loved the last couple of volumes as they left Grimgar and travelled through the Dusk Realm but the end of the volume where they finally emerged back into Grimgar was a bit of a relief. The question became what now that they’ve gotten back to Grimgar considering it isn’t their world either (though at least there are more humans in Grimgar and they’ve gotten a bit used to it).

Well, it turns out a lot can happen when the party finally arrives back. They aren’t anywhere they know in Grimgar, in fact they are a long, long way away from their familiar territory and hunting grounds or allies that might help them. This presents a number of fairly immediate problems because even though Haruhiro and the gang have undeniably gotten stronger even before their trek through the Dusk Realm (and they most definitely found strength through enduring that), they are still very small fish in the larger pond.

So the team splits up in order to scout the surrounding area and figure out what to do next.

Honestly, as soon as they made this decision it was clear what was going to happen and yet they still managed to make this interesting. Ranta and Merry end up with one group made up of orcs and other inhumans while Haruhiro and the rest end up kind of attached to a mercenary unit that may or may not be assisting a samurai village.

As the team learn about this part of Grimgar, the Samurai villages, Arnold – a force of nature, and everything else that is going on, they are continuing to search for Merry and Ranta however Ranta as always has an interesting knack for survival. When up against an unbeatable enemy, make the enemy a friend remains his standard practice and while it might be argued in this instance his instant bow act saved Merry’s life, it would be difficult to say that Ranta has particularly grown as a character.

That said, his presentation in this volume was perhaps the most nuanced yet as it seemed he was well aware of his failings but desperately wanted to save Merry and couldn’t think of a better way to go about it. It made me quite interested in where his character might go, assuming of course he lives long enough to go anywhere from this point.

However, this does set up for a climax where Haruhiro and Ranta face off. Now, anyone who has read seven books in this series will be on their edge of their seat for this confrontation. While these two have been in the same team since the beginning, the friction between them has never gone away and finally seeing them on opposite sides for real is one of those character moments you are just grateful actually eventuated and they didn’t back away from it at the last minute.

Haruhiro Vs Rantar

While the conclusion is yet to be decided and I’m kind of hopeful that eventually they pull the team back together, Grimgar has a penchant for being very realistic about some things. Water once spilled can’t be returned to the glass and all that. Is this the end of Ranta in the group or will they find someway to save him?

Outside of the interesting team dynamic moments, I must say Grimgar continues to introduce some weird and yet interesting supporting characters. While such a large cast might be a problem if handled poorly, here they manage to keep the focus on how each encounter changes the core group so characters coming and going from the story around them is actually handled fairly well with enough reminders of who the important support cast are for us not to forget (even though it has been awhile since we’ve seen them as Haruhiro’s group have been separated for a fair while now).

Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Volume 8

The story continues to move at a good pace giving each moment enough time to have the appropriate emotional weight without lingering overly long on any one point and while Ranta’s dialogue remains fairly insufferable, it has become pretty accepted at this point that it is part of his character.

If anything, I’d have to say my only real criticism of the story at this point is that it has become decidedly serialised. Earlier books could be read more or less independently, though needed to be read in order, and these later ones pretty much build to a climax but leave so much still be to be discovered. That would be fine if all the books were out and while I have volume 9 to read and ready to go I suspect that I’ll soon want volume 10 and unfortunately it is pre-order only and Volume 11 isn’t out until October. That would be why I haven’t been in any rush to get through these volumes because I want the story relatively fresh when I read the next book.

Grimgar remains a really great read and I think the writing has gotten better since book 1. The story and world building are great, the character development remains believable, and the books haven’t fallen into a repetitive pattern as each new adventure really does build on the last but take us somewhere new to learn more about the world and characters. I very much recommend this series to anyone looking for a more serious isekai (though early books do still have too many random fanservice moments just because).

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Arifureta: From Commonplace To World’s Strongest Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Arifureta Volume 4 Cover

Complete a quest, rescue a child, save the hero, and win the girls!

Okay, volume 3 and I of this particular series parted on a fairly rough note. They’d introduced a character I pretty much despised and she was eating a lot of page time with comments I found neither interesting nor funny. I felt perhaps that this would be the end of my acquaintance with these characters and that we would go our separate ways after this volume.

Let me assure you, I’m not parting ways with this series.

The annoying character is most definitely still there, though with so much else happening in this volume Tio’s presence feels muted or diluted at least. But, everything is happening in this volume.

Arifureta Volume 4 Shea gets a new collar

There are two fairly major stories that happen in this volume and then they are book-ended by information that is pretty crucial to the ongoing narrative. It makes for a very satisfying read in a series where drama introduced within a volume resolves but the greater story it is apart of continues fairly seamlessly. This is my favourite kind of series to read where I feel like I was given a wonderful conclusion yet am desperate to read more to find out what the next thing for the characters is.

The first part of the story feels less consequential though it does introduce us to another character (yet another girl) that is going to have a fair impact on Hajime. After volume 3 reunited Hajime with his teacher, he’s definitely started thawing though that isn’t a huge improvement given he still treats most everyone outside of his harem as his enemy. No, they give Hajime a child to protect and while that could have gotten very inappropriate and a little uncomfortable given Hajime’s relationships with the other girls in his life, they actually make this one a fairly wholesome guardian and daughter relationship and the impact of having someone vulnerable and impressionable to protect pushes Hajime’s personality yet further toward the Hajime we met back in volume 1.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want that Hajime back. However the extreme personality make-over took Hajime to a place where he’s almost impossible to connect with so these small steps back to humanity are actually really appreciated and keep each step of the journey feeling fresh. Hajime isn’t wavering in his plans to defeat the gods and get himself back home and he’s still willing to trample whoever he needs to get there. But he is now carrying quite a few others with him.

While this was the shorter section of the book, it was nicely done. There were some battles and some city-wide destruction, and then Hajime moved on.

Which brings us to the second stage of the book. Finally Hajime is going to come face to face with the hero’s party and the other students. When first requested to go and rescue them, I really figured he’d walk away. Despite meeting Aiko in the last book and thawing a bit, and despite the influence of the child he was looking after, I honestly didn’t see Hajime as having captured enough of who he was to care about his former classmates.

Turns out I was right and wrong.

Arifureta Volume 4 Hajime and Kaori

It wasn’t the class he went to save but rather Kaori, the one person in the class who had been nice to him.

This is perhaps the first volume since the first that has devoted any time to fleshing out the students and their personalities and interactions. It is also the first time we find out why Kaori was so distraught when Hajime ‘died’ back in volume 1, you know, other than seeing a classmate fall into an abyss.

Arifureta Volume 4 - Kaori and Shizuku watch Hajime

It is a lovely bit of character development and they managed to simultaneously work in some world building because the students encountered a demon who ended up being way stronger than anticipated and surrounded by incredibly powerful monsters. We finally get a bit of a look at the threat the students were summoned to defeat.

All and all there’s little to complain about in this volume as it seems to keep powering from one event to the next and each part feels meaningful. There’s some excellent character moments from a huge number of the cast, and the ending will leave you wanting the next volume ASAP.

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Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Light Novel Review

Goblin Slayer Volume 4 Cover Image

The party are all doing their own thing in this volume and in the end we get small vignettes of characters living in this world.

While the first three Goblin Slayer books have jumped around a little bit between adventures and quests and some slice of life stuff, the fourth volume really does feel more like a collection of short stories loosely connected via the setting and the cast. Expect no epic goblin slaying antics in this one, as we follow Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess into the sewers (a story that appeared in the anime much earlier on in the timeline), Goblin Slayer doing his solo goblin slaying thing, some shopping, drinking and other mundane tasks, and the defeat of a necromancer.

Goblin Slayer - Rookie Warrior and Apprentice Priestess

If that all seems horribly unfocused (and it didn’t even cover everything) then you have a fair idea of the reading experience. I found this volume worked best when I read a chapter (or story) and then stopped for the day, picking it up later to read another story. There was no real flow or connection between sections but each story on its own was kind of interesting enough.

While Goblin Slayer features in a number of the stories, there are plenty of moments for other characters, both major ones like Priestess and High Elf Archer, and more background characters like Heavy Knight, get some time to be developed as characters. It all adds to the sense that this is a world, real and whole and these characters don’t just cease to exist when their adventures end. Their lives continue off-screen or off-page so to speak and this volume very much feels like a glimpse at some of that down time (and not so down time when you see what Goblin Slayer is still getting up to).

Goblin Slayer - Yep, he's slaying goblins
Is this down time?

Now, when you get the end and read the afterward, the scattered feeling of the book really makes sense as the author explains that this collection of stories take place largely between volumes 1 and 2 or volumes 2 and 3. So at least that disconnected feel was deliberate.

This one I’d recommend if you are really into the setting of Goblin Slayer and would love more of the support cast. However, if you are wanting the grand adventure, I would simply skip this one and head to volume 5 (review coming soon) because honestly it is a much stronger narrative and one that is really exciting to read (can’t wait to review it). I had fun with this because I do really enjoy the world of Goblin Slayer but again, this wasn’t the greatest of reads as a whole.

Goblin Slayer - High Elf Archer and Guild Girl

That said, I’d love to know your thoughts if you’ve read this one, and there are definitely some fun stories in here, so if you enjoy sharp, short stories featuring these characters this one will probably entertain.

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Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)
Goblin Slayer Vol. 4 (light novel)