Natsume’s Book of Friends Volume 1 Manga Review: Magical

It isn’t news to anyone who regularly reads my blog that I am seriously in love with Natsume Yuujinchou as an anime. It is my go to binge watch when I’m needing just some calm bliss in my life and I’ve come to love each and every moment of the emotional journey Natsume takes the viewer on. That said, I was a little cautious about diving into the manga. Once you fall in love with something seeing it in a different form is sometimes hard to take and I couldn’t imagine a book could capture the same wonder as the anime had.

Well, I’ve never been so happy to be proven wrong.

Review:

This was a new reading experience for me in a number of ways. I don’t read a lot of manga and this is certainly the first episodic manga I’ve attempted to read. In volume 1 we are given 4 stories and while they are connected through Natsume’s character as they are in the anime, realistically you could read any one of these stories in isolation and have a great time. It means there are some good resting places and you aren’t driven to complete the entire thing in one sitting allowing you to savour each story and contemplate it before making some time to sit down and read the next one. The volume ends and while I was gleeful to go on to the next book I didn’t feel unsatisfied with the stories I had read.

As such, I’m going to do some general notes about the manga and then I’m going to look at each story individually as they each had strengths and weaknesses worth mentioning. That said, I was already familiar with each of these stories given they all appear in the first season of the anime and are ones I’ve watched many times so it was more just experiencing them in a different form.

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Overall, there are some beautiful illustrations in this volume. The start of each chapter and some of the larger panels are glorious to lose yourself in. And in most stories there’s plenty of space with quite a few panels depicting the sky or light. Where it is less appealing are in the tighter panels that focus on characters as many of these just didn’t really appeal to me. I will admit, as I kept reading, the character designs grew on me and I got used to the style, but that was probably my biggest complaint with the volume.

Chapter One: Nyanko Sensei’s Grand Entrance

 This first story is great fun as we meet Natsume running from the yokai and ending up at the shrine where he accidentally frees Madara (Nyanko Sensei). There’s a genuine sense of danger as Natsume is trying to fend off the yokai who have mistaken him for his grandmother and we get Natsume’s backstory or at least a bit of it and it is enough that it begins to sketch in the very lonely boy we are encountering.

It is a great introduction to the overall narrative of Natsume inheriting the book of friends and taking on the task of returning the names in it. But it is also a great story by itself as we see Natsume take his first steps at dealing with yokai rather than running from them.

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However, while the plot and characters are great, this is where the art work is probably its weakest. There are a lot of dark and shaded panels, for good reason, but it ends up making pages look cluttered, and some of the facial expressions are just odd. There’s one in particular where Nyanko Sensei is hit by Natsume and his head is so distorted you can barely tell which character it is.

Still, by the time I’d finished this first chapter I knew I was hooked with this manga.

Chapter Two: The Dew God

The Dew God is a great follow up story because where the first story introduced us to violent yokai, this second story introduces us to the calm Dew God who simply lives in his shrine and is happy to hear the prayers of the one person who still comes to leave offerings. He comes to Natsume to request his name be returned, but to do so they also have to find the yokai that Natsume’s grandmother Reiko challenged after the Dew God as their names are stuck together.

It sets a very different tone from the first story and these two do an excellent job of setting up the contrasting tones in Natsume. We do have dark and scary moments but we also have peaceful days and yokai who mean no harm. It is important that this is established so early and it means that the audience will never be sure when we meet a new yokai what we’re going to get.

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We also have the idea of the different time yokai live compared to humans emphasised. This was raised by Nyanko Sensei in the first chapter where he commented that he hadn’t realised how much time had passed and that Reiko would be gone, but here we see the real loneliness that can come of this as the Dew God has watched over Hana for her whole life and seen her age and now sees her ready to die. It’s a fairly powerful follow up and one that I think I loved reading even more than watching.

Chapter Three: Natsume vs Human

Chapter 3 introduces us to a bunch of characters who will be sticking around in this narrative for a long time to come. Having safely established Natsume and Nyanko Sensei over chapters one and two, we are now introduced to the mid-level yokai, Misuzu and to Tanuma. The story that unfolds is one where the yokai feel they are threatened by a human and wish to recruit Natsume to exterminate a human. Needless to say Natsume refused but he does agree in the end, after much nagging, to look into the matter.

This story, other than bringing a plethora of new characters into the mix, does an excellent job of letting us see the impact humans have on yokai even inadvertently. While it is fairly easy to paint the yokai as tricksters and monsters, in this case the yokai are genuinely the victims and being driven out of their place and we see Natsume begin to sympathise to an extent with them. This trait will continue to grow in Natsume over time and it is one of the things that distinguishes him from other human characters who have regular interactions with yokai.

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I loved all the character interactions in this chapter and while it might have been harder to follow if I wasn’t familiar with the story, I felt each character was given sufficient introduction in this story and they’ll get fleshed out more over time.

Chapter Four: The Swallow Underwater

The last story was my favourite and that is because I found this story incredibly sad when I watch the anime and reading it just gave the whole thing even more impact. This is the first story where we see Natsume possessed by a yokai and it definitely reminds us that even though we’ve been encountering some harmless yokai, they aren’t all that way. In this case, the yokai possessing him simply wants Natsume’s help to meet another human she knew long ago. Recognising her loneliness, Natsume agrees, and we see a fairly bitter sweet journey because there was never any other way for it to end (other than tragically).

However, we are also reminded that there are in fact yokai that just want to eat Natsume and in the process of helping one yokai he is tricked by another. Fortunately Nyanko Sensei actually lives up to his bodyguard title or things may have ended quite a bit worse.

I really enjoy the stories that focus on the human emotions yokai feel and Natsume working toward understanding himself and others through his encounters. I was really happy with this final story in the volume and was really glad I decided to read this manga. Anyway, onto a volume 2 review shortly.

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Yona of the Dawn Volume 1 Manga Review: The Story Begins

This is a manga I’ve been recommended endlessly and I’ve actually really wanted to give it a go because the anime just kind of left me wanting the rest of the story. That said, there’s a long way to go before I get to anything new so how does volume 1 go at making me want to read on?

Anime Review: Akatsuki no Yona

Review:

Shoujo isn’t really my style and while there are a handful of romances near and dear to my heart, it isn’t exactly a genre I go out of my way to track down. Yona of the Dawn as an anime I found interesting, but I’ve never been the die-hard fan so many have become and in terms of red-headed heroines I would have taken Shirayuki over Yona any day. The reason for this I outlined quite clearly in my anime review. The story wasn’t finished. What we got was a very long introduction into what seemed like an amazing tale and then we never found out where it went. That kind of soured m overall enjoyment of it as it all just felt incomplete.

That issue isn’t solved by reading volume one of the manga and I knew I was committing to a far more long term project when I decided to try this manga but I don’t think I was prepared for how little would be covered in this first volume.

We meet Yona, Hak and her father and all three of these characters are as interesting as they came off in the anime and their relationship is interesting to see in action before Su Won comes along and pretty much crushes Yona’s world in an instant. It’s great to read and visually this manga is really quite gorgeous to look at, one of the few times I actually think I prefer the visuals here to the anime as there is a real richness to the detail in so many of the panels that seemed lacking in the anime.

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However, the first volume ends and we’ve barely seen Yona and Hak escape the palace and they haven’t even really gone anywhere yet. This pacing may very well kill my enthusiasm for finding out what lies beyond the end of the anime if it continues this slowly. Then again, it isn’t as though the book feels empty.

The anime did an excellent job of bringing these characters to life, but like with the visuals, there’s just a little something extra in the manga. A more nuanced approach to each character that makes them feel a little more real and a little more grounded, and all and all it was quite the pleasure to read.

If I had any disappointment it would be the book ended and I kind of felt I hadn’t got very far into a story I really do want to reach the end of at some point. Of course, if I’d read this without knowing the anime, I’d probably be equally disappointed in the heroine. She doesn’t come off looking all that great in this volume. And while I know that she is going to undertake a fairly wonderful tranformative journey, this starting point might have seriously put me off if I hadn’t gone in with the knowledge that this weak Princess was going to grow.

Hak on the other-hand comes off as a great character from the word go and Su Won remains a character I am endlessly intrigued by. I’m really hoping future volumes flesh out both of these characters more than the anime ever did as I really am keen to know more about them.

That said, I should thank everyone who has pushed this title at me as to be honest I’m pretty sure I will love reading forward. I have the second volume already though I haven’t read it quite yet (I have quite the stack of reviews to get through first of other books I’ve read), and depending on how that goes I might try to get two or three more volumes covered by the end of the year, but again, I’ll see how it goes.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this manga but please don’t spoil future volumes for me as while I’ve read heaps about this story already I’m trying really hard to take each volume as it comes.


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The Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth Vol 4 Manga Review

The thrilling conclusion of the Ewan’s story is here. Some spoilers in the review below.

Review:

This conclusion gave me everything I needed from this series even if I do think it was a little drawn out. The final escape from the Labyrinth happened fairly quickly but drew on what the characters had learned throughout the previous volumes and really worked very well. However, the aftermath with the political conspiracies and the like were a little less thrilling.

I think part of the issue is that Ewan is the character we’ve mostly been following and he’s a fairly nice and naive character. Watching him get thrown in jail and treated so horribly wasn’t exactly fun, particularly when Ewan really didn’t have a clue about any of the politics going on. And given so much is from his perspective, it means that a lot of the action and unravelling of thee conspiracies happens off screen so to speak and we’re later told about it or it is revealed in flashbacks which minimises the impact of it to the reader.

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They certainly go out of their way to up the stakes in this volume and the conclusion is very conclusive so no complaints there. Overall I really enjoyed this series and even if the happily ever after we get to seems just a little bit far-fetched in terms of reality, it all makes sense in terms of how this story was framed.

Really glad I read this series but I’m not going to write anything more about this final book because to be honest it is probably more fun to find out for yourself.  Still, great characters, a real sense of tension or danger running through most of the story, and a satisfactory conclusion mean that overall this series was quite the exciting read.


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The Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth Vol 3 Manga Review

Ewan’s story continues as the castle continues to flood and the mysteries surrounding the other captives and contenders for the throne continue to pile up. Things are going to get very serious in this third volume.

Review:

We once again have to thank the cover for showing us a major plot twist and also giving into the cliche that crazy people all lick things. I don’t know why this is such a common trope in manga and anime but I find it quite odd that the only way that some people feel they can immediately show us some character is disturbed in some way is for them to stick their tongue out and lick something. Bonus points if it includes blood.

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Now that I’m done critiquing the cover art, how was volume 3? Actually pretty good. There’s a real tension in this story with the time pressure of the castle filling with water and the characters facing traps and getting progressively more injured as their journey continues. It might be a contrived reason to have tension but it has been pretty affective throughout these volumes and volume 3 really escalates things.

Ewan continues to be interesting enough as the protagonist, but like it so many stories with large casts, the support cast here are eclipsing him. He is reactive to situations he knows nothing about whereas the other characters have come in with motives and knowledge and their decisions and actions are a great deal more interesting. Ewan also gives in to the protagonist cliche of just being really nice and somehow that’s enough to get everyone on side in a way that only ever works in stories. I’m feeling in the real world Ewan would have been swimming with the fishes already.

Despite that, the end of volume 3 was a little disappointing. It just felt kind of cheap giving away the clever plots and traps to face off against a clearly disturbed player in the end. Admittedly, his motive and backstory were interesting enough and certainly the cliff-hanger ending makes you want to immediately read volume 4 (and I certainly did and will be reviewing next week) but it was probably the first real moment in this series where I’ve thought it was just a little bit silly.

That said, we’ve got political intrigue, severed heads, helpful mice, and traps galore so this third volume will certainly keep you on your toes as you continue to move through the labyrinth with Ewan and friends.


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The Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth Vol 2 Manga Review

The story of Emperor, the castle and Ewan continue with more dangers and plots in this second volume of the story. If you missed my review of volume 1, check it out here.

Review:

I’m just going to say that covers that give away major plot developments need to seriously be banned. Not that it wasn’t blindingly obvious where that final arc was going and what needed to happen for Ewan to not be dead by the end of Volume 2, but it would be nice to pretend there was some sense of mystery going on here.

That said, much like volume 1, this is a pretty compelling read. It continues to go through a lot of the standard cliches with the traps and dangers the characters are facing, and even the antagonism within the group is all pretty expected, and yet it plays true to it’s story and it works. Ewan’s interactions with the rest of the characters always seem genuine, even if a little bit twee, and at times there definitely seems to be real danger faced by these characters, though so far the story itself hasn’t actually committed to really dealing out permanent damage (certainly small injuries and the illusion of life threatening without actually letting the story get that dark).

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But if you can swallow a heart-to-heart conversation between a guy with a dislocated shoulder who is hanging off a ledge and another guy who is trying to hold his weight, a treasure that more or less confirms what we already suspected, and the inevitable betrayal from someone within the group who is going to kill someone for the good of the country (I always love that line because it just sounds so pretentious), then what you will end up with is a really gripping tale. The characters are more fleshed out in this volume and there’s still plenty of growth potential.

I actually finished this some time ago so I’ve already got the next volume waiting to be read. My biggest issue with this is because it is a manga, I read the entire thing in less than an hour so the cost to time entertained ratio is not quite working out. Even with discounts, the average cost of one of these is the same as a cheap movie ticket so I’d kind of want two to three hours entertainment. That said, I did re-read volume one right before starting volume 2 and I think I’ll read through the two previous volumes again before I finally get to volume 3 so maybe the cost will work out. And that probably explains why I’m not that into manga. It’s just too expensive for the incredibly short read time regardless of how compelling the story might be.


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Are You Alice? Volume 1 Manga Review

While I’m not the biggest manga reader, I was kind of looking forward to this one having read some fairly positive reviews. How does this gender bending tale of Alice in Wonderland go?

Review:

There’s nothing overly original about reworking the classic Alice in Wonderland. Even Ouran High School Host Club had an Alice episode thrown in. However, my issue with Wonderland inspired tales remains the same; too many of them rely on people just accepting weird things happen in Wonderland and don’t really consider how they might make that setting believable other than telling us it is Wonderland.

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Are You Alice? very much fell into this camp of stories that introduces characters that are given names connecting them to the original tale, but little is done outside of that to establish their character, background or motive. It is like the write feels you can short-cut all the things that would help the audience connect with a character simply because they are the Hatter or whoever and of course we should know their nature. However, that leaves us with a shallow impression of characters. They wear a facade similar to something we know but they undeniably are acting in different ways in a narrative that actually is interesting, but we’re not given the time to establish anything in its own right as they want to jump into people doing things without providing context.

And maybe that works for some people. They’ll happily just nod and accept the setting as Wonderland and the base starting point for all characters is the established trope that we’re all familiar with.

For me though, it was an ongoing issue while reading this. The Alice but not Alice vibe permeates everything and while I actually like the idea that accepting a name is the same as accepting a role and the journey the ‘Not-Alice’ is on, I never really clicked with anything happening in this volume.

It’s also visually pretty ugly. Not the character designs. They are quite nice and clearly some time and attention went into them. But backgrounds, especially the streets which we spend a long time walking up and down, are all kind of basic ruled lines and while the characters are suitably zany given the setting, Wonderland itself is not portrayed in anyway as being ‘wonderful’.

So this series is going to get a pass from me as I don’t really intend to continue on. I am really curious about how the rules work and about the Alice’s that have come before, and even the White Rabbit, but there were too many things that didn’t work for me in this series to consider reading on.

If you’ve read it, I’d love to know your thoughts.

 


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The One Liner Challenge

Thanks GeekOut South West for the nomination. I’m terrible at getting around to these tags and have a few others that I still haven’t responded to, but with Full Metal Panic not airing an actual episode this week I had an empty slot in my schedule and this looked like it would be a lot of fun.

  • Accept and thank your challenger(s) by linking back to their post.
  • Make a post of one-sentence summaries/roasts of at least five books/manga/anime/games.
  • No spoilers!
  • Link back to The Awkward Book Blogger so she can see your post.
  • Challenge as many or as few people as you want!

Okay, let’s take on this challenge. I’m going to take on anime, though part of me is tempted to do this challenge again for books or games at some point. I don’t think I’ve read enough manga yet to do the challenge with that, unless BL counts in which case the one sentence summaries will all end up more or less the same.

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Tortured teen love triangle occasionally interrupted by vampire/hunter politics.
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Feisty teen book worm kicks butt with transforming human weapon – and has daddy issues.
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For the price of a soul get one pretty boy butler who can do literally everything perfectly.
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Down on her luck Nanami goes from being homeless to being a god in one day with added perk of pretty fox boy servant.
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Why wouldn’t you call on a clumsy, ditsy, crybaby and a group of middle-school girls to save the world from the forces of darkness?

I’m not actually going to nominate anyone specifically given my terrible track record of getting around to answering nominations, but I would throw the challenge out there to anyone who is interested in this. It was actually quite a bit of fun.


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Demon Love Spell Volume 1 Manga Review

Overview:

This is the story of Miko, a shrine maiden, who can’t exactly see spirits even though her parents are both very good at banishing spirits. However, one day, when responding to a request from a friend, she attempts to banish Kagura, a demon who feeds off women, and she seals his powers, kind of.

Review:

Okay, I’m going to straight out point out that this isn’t my usual kind of thing. However, I do enjoy reading supernatural romance in novels and this particular story was recommended to me so given I’ve been trying manga I decided to give it a go. The result wasn’t bad. This is a perfectly readable story, however I wasn’t surprised to learn it wasn’t originally intended to be an ongoing story. It definitely feels wrapped up fairly early on and then they throw in yet more of the same to keep the story going.

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There’s not a lot really to this story. Miko is dedicated but pretty clueless when it comes down to it and Kagura is a demon. Once his powers are sealed he becomes targeted by other demons so he ends up working with Miko, enhancing her powers at times, in order to survive. He also enters her dreams to seduce her and generally mess with her. By the end of the book they are kind of a couple but to be honest Miko is still pretty clueless and Kagura is having things go his way far too easily.

I don’t dislike Kagura as a character. He could actually be quite interesting. My issue is more with Miko who I find pretty bland as a protagonist and just a little bit too much of a doormat. Even when Kagura is sealed and shrunk (and adorable I might point out), she is so easily manipulated by him.

As for the rest of the story, there are some great moments if you happen to really like supernatural stories involving demons and the like. While mostly they consist of demon or demons show up because they’ve heard Kagura has been weakened, Miko somehow gets entangled and over her head, Kagura says something scathing and then either gives Miko some power or she unseals him so he can deal with the situation. Still, using Kagura as a key chain attached to her bag in his tiny form, the parents making him a new outfit complete with protective charm, and even the snake demon that turns out to be a fox in disguise are all interesting in their own way even if the approach remains pretty formulaic.

Personally, I don’t think I’ll continue onto volume 2, but I can certainly see the appeal of this series and enjoyed this first book well enough. That said, I think I’ll leave Kagura and Miko to their dreams and look for something else to read.


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Karandi James

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Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi Book 3 Manga Review

Overview:

Yue is struggling with the knowledge that Shin created the town to sustain the life of the Ayakashi. Meanwhile, Tsubaki is being hunted as a meal while Akiyoshi is still trying to sort out his feelings as to whether he can trust Yue or not.

Review:

This book is kind of hard to review because by itself it isn’t that interesting. There’s some gaps in the reader’s knowledge filled in and the characters are coming to terms with previous revelations, but most of the action in the story comes from the ayakashi’s hunt for Tsubaki through the deserted school. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but compared to the intrigue and mystery of books 1 and 2 it kind of felt like something was lacking.

This book also spends a lot of time in the past. Akiyoshi is really struggling with how he feels about Yue given he knows Yue has been raised among ayakashi. He’s also then burdened further when Akashi comes to stay with his family as a friend of his father, given Akashi is the guy who attacked Yue in the previous book. He isn’t exactly forthcoming with any explanations but he does drop a few teasing hints as to his purpose. We also see a little bit of Akiyoshi’s past which kind of explains why he doesn’t like the ayakashi so much.

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However, Akiyoshi isn’t the only one who is having their past examined. We learn a lot more about Shin in the volume and see a little bit about why he put the veil over the town. Though how he ended up inside Yue is still a little bit of a mystery as is his current purpose given Shin seems to be questioning whether or not his actions in the past were right.

But as I said before, the bulk of the action in this volume comes from Tsubaki trying to escape the ayakashi that has finally come to eat him. From this it is clear that Tsubaki at least trusts Yue to come to his rescue and while Tsubaki knows he can’t really escape on his own he certainly tries hard to buy time hoping that Yue will rescue him.

Of course, there are still mysteries surrounding the past and Yue’s future and plenty I still want to know. And this book does do a lot of world building, introductions, finishing off the young girl ayakashi’s story, and basically continues things well enough. So while as an individual read it wasn’t so great, as part of this series it continues things nicely.

I’m looking forward to reading the next volume when I finally get the chance to.

Previous Reviews:

 

Of the Red, the Light, and the Ayakashi Book 1 Manga Review


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Karandi James

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Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

 

The Seven Princes of the Thousand Year Labyrinth Vol 1 Manga Review

Overview:

When Ewan was young he was told a story about the Castle of the Thousand-Year Labyrinth and the tragedy that occurred there. Now he’s woken up to find himself and seven other candidates to be the next emperor trapped inside.

Review:

From page one this story is kind of gripping. After we get the initial prologue we jump straight to Ewan waking up in the bottom of a well, not really sure how he got there (only remembering drinking tea with his brother which kind of made me think maybe the brother had drugged him, though that seemed less likely as the story went on). If I had to compare this opening to anything it would be the Canadian film Cube where a bunch of strangers wake up scattered throughout different rooms of a giant cube, meet and then try to escape.

The difference here is that most of the guys Ewan encounters are pretty clued in on what is going on and they figure out very quickly that they are candidates to become the next Emperor. Turns out everyone except Ewan is someone important (thief, detective, martial arts, etc). Which means I guess that Ewan is going to end up being the chosen one given they seemed to go out of their way to tie his waking up with the story of the Prince trapped in the labyrinth, two of the guys have now pledge to protect him, and he basically wouldn’t have any other purpose in the story if that isn’t how it goes.

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However, predictability isn’t really a problem here because things just keep moving along in a very compelling manner. The characters and settings are well illustrated making this one of the few manga where I’ve actually appreciated taking the time to look carefully at each panel before moving on and while the cast of pretty boys are all the standard types we know from thousands of anime, their interactions have so far been pretty interesting.

It is clear each of them is bringing something to the party and that some of them are holding a few cards in reserve for a later play. Yet, none of them have come across as needlessly malicious so far. Even the thief, acting in his own self-interest, hasn’t directly gotten in the other’s way at this point. So while at this stage there is cooperation (kind of) in the group, it is clear that sooner or later some of these characters are going to strike out for their own ambition.

What is less clear is whether or not someone else has interfered with the process given the castle seems to be genuinely trying to kill them off and we’re told that the caretakers were killed prior to the candidates being locked in the castle. That could add some genuine intrigue to the story as we go forward.

However, I basically got to the end of this volume and immediately wanted to buy the next one (add yes, there is a heavy sequel bait ending but that wasn’t the only reason). From start to finish I enjoyed reading this and was absorbed by it. The traps are all your standard fare for this kind of story with rising flood waters, pressure sensitive tiles and the like but they’ve managed to provide enough variety and kept the pace moving along so there is no time to really feel bored.

While it was a short read, this volume was very satisfying and I do look forward to when I can get the next volume as I very much want to continue this story.


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Karandi James

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Another way you can support the content here is by buying a copy of ‘Thoughts on Anime 2017‘ as an ebook. It contains a selection of reviews, features and top 5 lists from 2017 and while the content is available free on the site, this is a great way to give a one off show of support for the blog. It is available for $3.99.

Finally, you can use the affiliate link to shop at Play-Asia.com ifPlay-Asia.com - Play-Asia.com: Online Shopping for Digital Codes, Video Games, Toys, Music, Electronics & more you are interested in anime, soundtracks, figures or games. Should you use the link and make a purchase, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.