The Rising of the Shield Hero 3 Light Novel Review: New Enemies and Conspiracies But Was It Fun?

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Overview:

Naofumi is still trying to prepare for the coming of the waves but now finds that the church is also blocking his path by denying him access to levelling up his party. It isn’t any wonder he has difficulty trusting the young Princess who has come to his party insisting she wants to try to reconcile the Shield Hero with the King.

Review:

This continues to be a really enjoyable series, though this books is starting to stretch the basic premise a little bit. Naofumi was starting to make some progress making friends and allies and this book throws the church and entire army at him adding in the notion that maybe he has a brainwashing shield and everyone who has started to trust him has fallen victim. It is such a shallow ploy and yet the fact that it works seems slightly insulting to the other heroes and to the entire population of this fantasy kingdom.

The premise wearing thin or not doesn’t change that this was a pretty enjoyable ride. We do get some more wandering around and attempts to gain more levels and strengths before the wave. We also meet Melty, who turns out to be the younger sister of the Princess who really caused Naofumi all his initial problems and it also turns out is the actual heir to the throne (sibling rivalry much). Melty is an okay addition to the cast, or at least might be once Naofumi stops distrusting everything she says on principal (though some caution is probably advisable because she is certainly up to something).

However, the highlight of the book,  and it isn’t the climax, is the next wave. Naofumi has gained the support so some soldiers and they help him protect the villages nearby until they are evacuated and then he goes to find out what is taking the other three heroes so long to actually end the wave. Naofumi can’t really attack given he is the shield hero but he finally gets an ability that allows him to do some serious damage and it momentarily looks like he may have turned the tide of the battle. It is a good moment for Naofumi as a character.

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And that is when we are introduced to Glass and for the first time get an idea that there is something more to these waves than just a natural disaster. While her appearance is brief, she leaves a definite impression and gives us a reason to want to see the next wave happen sooner rather than later as getting to know more about her would be fantastic.

However, I then have to address the weakest part of this book and that is the climax. Naofumi and the others were trying to cross the border into another country to attempt to level up there when pretty much everyone on the planet with a weapon comes at them. While it works well enough as a climax, the descriptions get very messy and at times it is hard to remember where the characters are or who is involved in which fight or why someone isn’t fighting at that moment.

Still, for those who have enjoyed Naofumi’s adventures so far, volume 3 is a good follow up and seems to be leading us further into the politics of this world. I kind of want Raphtalia to get a bit more attention in the next book as she seemed a little overlooked at times in this one and she’s my favourite character so far.

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

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If you’re interested in reading The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 3 it is available on the Book Depository.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Episode 2: They Are Cutting A Lot Of Corners Here

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Review:

Well, the experiment of watching a show I’ve read the source material for continues and it is kind of to the show’s detriment that it seems to be faithfully following the lines of the light novel. However, while the endless descriptions and the like kind of work while reading given you can visualise the various sights, sounds and smells for yourself, in anime form this is just kind of dull.

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Added to the very little happening other than Satou getting a lift with the knights into town, gaining entry and then doing some shopping before eating a meal, the animation in this is really terrible. Transitions between scenes are best described as clunky and the number of still images or repeated animations for characters are stacking up quick. The excuse that it is mirroring the behaviour of NPC’s and settings in game worlds is not going to cut it when the end result is something pretty ugly to look at.

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From a story point of view, this is functional. It isn’t overly exciting, but it is functional. But the number of issues it seems to have and the sheer lack of any real appeal is kind of going to see this one dead in the water. Though if I had to pick a key complaint this week it would be that Satou’s status bar when viewing the world from his perspective overlaps perfectly with the subtitles making them very challenging to read. I’m continuing with this one more out of curiosity about whether it will veer from the source material rather than any actual enjoyment from this episode.


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Karandi James.

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The Rising of the Shield Hero 2 Light Novel Review: Grinding, Crafting and Lots of Travel

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Overview:

Naogumi continues his adventure as the Shield Hero (although the term Hero here might be highly misplaced for a lot of reasons) in this second book.

Review:

I really enjoyed reading book one though had some issues with Naofumi as a protagonist and those aren’t entirely diminished with book 2, but at the same time some of my issues are actually what make him pretty memorable from all the bland characters out there who just try to be the good guy all the time, or the overly scummy ones that are a parody of the overly nice ones. Naofumi has a distinct personality, I’m just not entirely sure I like it. That isn’t the same as it not working for the story.

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However, it will definitely make more sense if I logically order my thoughts so lets take each part of this book one step at a time.

Firstly, this book needs a new edit and a reprint. Sorry, but basic errors where quotation marks are left off the start of dialogue so you can’t tell when the character starts speaking and issues where in a fight sequence the wrong character name was used leaving me entirely confused until I realised what had happened actually make some parts of this story a little more painful to read then they should be. In the fight example, Raphtalia points to draw Naofumi’s attention to Filo but the line about Filo uses Raphtalia’s name again making me wonder what on earth was going on until I re-read and subbed in the other name. Then it all made sense. Equally problematic are the scene and chapter transitions that regularly either reiterate information for seemingly no reason or are just really awkward. My personal favourite was the end of chapter 14 into 15 where they are discussing that they have been told there’s an area in desperate need of weed killer and there was money to make so they hurried to the Southwest. That seems fine as a chapter end as it gives us direction for where the story is going. Chapter 15 starts:

So there was a village that needed a large quantity of weed killer. We hurried there.

Um, wasn’t that exactly what I was just told only in a more interesting way at the end of the previous chapter? Even if originally these chapters were released separately or if this was originally a story told in a different medium, that’s a really simple thing to fix. Book chapters should not link like this. So yeah, new editor and fix it. Because this is a great story and has a real unique feel to it. Don’t make it needlessly difficult or annoying to read because when the story is flowing well, there’s some really good stuff here.

What is this good stuff?

As I said before, Naofumi is problematic as a protagonist and as a hero, but that’s what makes him so fascinating. He literally hates everyone in the world he is being forced to save (except Raphtalia who has become his life-line and beacon of hope and is probably the only reason he has actually continued on in this ridiculous adventure and not just laid down and waited for a wave to wipe him out). However, regardless of what a lot of book 1 set up, this is a world. It might have a lot of gaming gimmicks and the like, but it is full of people. Not everyone sucks. What book 2 does is lets the audience see the struggle inside Naofumi as he holds firmly onto that hate for everyone, but then realises he can’t act so incredibly coldly to others. What he ends up doing for the most part is fairly mercantile but his actions are good and save many of the poorer citizens who are equally treated like dirt by those in power, even if he demands payment for those acts and steadfastly denies any righteous actions.

That doesn’t mean he really gets close to anyone else though. Raphtalia, and later Filo, both work their way through his defenses but everyone else either falls into the category of potential money source or source of hatred. Still, Naofumi’s ongoing wavering and responses to events continue to be interesting.

Again, we are faced with the complex issue of slavery in this world as Naofumi already bought Raphtalia (though she chose to regain her slave curse after being forcibly removed from Naofumi last book) and now he has purchased a monster egg that grew into a Bird-God that of course can transform into a blonde girl with wings. Why not? These two are Naofumi’s slaves and he has considerable power over them, not just because he owns them, but because of the curse on them that will hurt they if they deny his orders. The fact that Naofumi is painted as someone with reasonable moral standing in a fairly corrupt world makes his slave ownership a really grey area. He doesn’t mistreat them but at times does treat them like objects and he certainly gets annoyed when they deny his commands (though usually they are commands meant to keep the pair safe).

I’m really hoping this line continues to be pursued in future books. I would love to see him release both Raphtalia and Filo from their curse and have them simply continue to work with him by choice (they pretty much would anyway but as Raphtalia has correctly pointed out at this point in the story Naofumi would never trust them if they weren’t owned by him). So yes, it is very grey and it is interesting because of it.

I also like that while there are some fight sequences depicted in this book, the majority of the time we’ll spend watching Naofumi develop his medicinal and crafting skills in the back of a carriage and trading with others. We see a lot more of the world in this book as the wave isn’t coming for over a month, and Naofumi is working to raise money for better equipment before the next wave. They do spend some time fighting to level up, but really the focus is on the other skills Naofumi can learn and develop while in this world. That does mean we are essentially reading about a character grinding in an RPG style fashion but to be honest, I enjoyed it well enough as there was a nice range and variety. A bit of jewel making, mixing medicines, gathering ingredients, collecting ore, learning magic, trying out new shields; it all just kind of flows on naturally from one thing to the next broken up by the occasional side character that they either give a lift too or the occasional monster fight.

The other heroes all get kind of a mention at times throughout the story. They are obviously still around at the start as we literally pick up where the last book left off, but then we mostly only run into Motoyasu who is one of the main causes behind Naofumi’s general hatred of humanity. Still, it is interesting that this book chooses to focus on the chaos that remains after the acts of the other heroes as a lot of Naofumi’s time is spent cleaning up something that one of the other heroes set in motion or failed to deal with adequately. While a lot of this world is based on a game design, when you kill a dragon it doesn’t just go poof and disappear. There’s a rotting corpse to deal with in this world and all the concerns that go with that. I like that touch it adds to the realness of the fantasy world.

Overall, the characters and story remained interesting and a bit different while also being much the same, but the writing didn’t feel as well edited this time round and that was a little disappointing. Still, I will definitely be on the look out for the next book.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 2 it is available on the Book Depository.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody 2 Light Novel Review: The Harem Expands

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Review:

When I reviewed the first book in this series I was pleasantly surprised by the writing even if the plot did seem padded and there were definitely moments in the story I could have done with out. As we plunge into the second book, I have to wonder why people think more is better? I get that you are setting up a harem for Satou and all that but how many girls really need to be in it? Given some of the characters get completely forgotten in this book at times (even though they are apparently still hanging around) it is possible that two books in this one has already over-expanded the harem to insane proportions.

However, let’s look at this a bit more sensibly.

The plot this time around kind of confirms that this isn’t really an adventure or questing story. Satou is literally playing tourist. He’s stuck here, it is kind of a game world, and he’s more or less unkillable at this point, so he really does seem kind of content to site see and look after the tragic girls in his ever increasing harem. He isn’t out to right the wrongs and injustices, but he isn’t totally indifferent to the plight of others. Basically, he’s just an extremely overpowered guy having a chill out because prior to being trapped in a game like world he was overworked and burning out.

What this means though is that while there are certainly dungeon sequences and fights, don’t expect much from them. These exist more as an obligation (which even Satou comments on as he finds the shortest possible path through one and conquers it in about thirty minutes because he isn’t really interested in playing around in a dungeon). And the fight sequences at times get intense but more because Satou is either not fighting and just looking out for the girls as they ‘level up’ or because he’s holding back so that he doesn’t accidentally kill the person he is fighting. There’s very little reason to feel concern during a fight and it is more a question of how Satou will win without inflicting too much damage or burning down the building he is in.

So what does that leave us for plot if we aren’t actually actioning our way through dungeons and the like? Well, for the first half of this book Satou does what I really think more protagonists should do and yet now I realise exactly why they don’t. He sits down and asks another character for details about the world. All the details. Not just get one answer and not ask any follow up questions or figure out what it means. He drills in and wants to know. The fact that a lot of the answers we get contradict Satou’s own observations are kind of interesting and it sets up a lot of possible future story pathways, but what it isn’t is a fascinating read. Something even the author must have realised given they chose to punctuate this particular sequence with a naked girl climbing into the protagonist’s bed and end it with the two being found there by one of the potential love interests. But it was all a big misunderstanding! (Really fighting the urge to roll my eyes here.)

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So while I appreciate the information we’re given and some of the points are very interesting, this wasn’t the most fascinating starting sequence to the story. When this is followed up by more shopping, watching a play, and then touring some possible houses for rent, part of me started wondering if this story would in fact find a story.

The answer to that is maybe and maybe not. There’s certainly the over-arching issue of Satou being trapped in the world and meeting people who have apparently either been summoned or reincarnated into the world and have memories of his world. The how and the why of all this remains the one overall consistent plot point. Everything else is kind of just Satou exploring, meeting people, sticking his nose into things, learning new skills, playing with the pay, and so on and so forth.

Probably my biggest issue reading this is Arisa’s character (naked girl from the first scene and reincarnated character). Her personality is all over the place but 90% of the time is just obnoxious. She has a lot of information and has helped set up quite a few things but mostly she’s an irritant to the other characters (who already had enough outside antagonists given half the party are beast girls) so we really didn’t need someone in the party stirring things. I kind of get that her character will probably connect us to other plot points later, but seriously I wouldn’t mind her having an accident in a dungeon and just never coming back.

This remains relatively fun to read overall and Satou remains a pretty fun narrator. My issues with the plot and characters became a bit more foregrounded in this second book but I’m curious enough to check out what happens next.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Volume 2 it is available on the Book Depository.

The Rising of the Shield Hero 1 Novel Review: Why Annoy The Hero?

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Overview:

I cannot remember who, but someone recommended this series to me so I picked up the first volume to give it a go. Naofumi Iwatani is your basic otaku college student with no drive who suddenly finds himself summoned to a parallel universe where he becomes one of four heroes. Unfortunately for him, his weapon is a shield so he’s pretty weak, and soon after he is betrayed, framed, and more or less turned on by every single person, but somehow he’s still expected to contribute to saving the world.

Review:

Naofumi is not a particularly likeable protagonist. Admittedly, a lot of what happens to him isn’t his fault, and really for most other characters you would end up feeling pretty bad for them if they were framed for sexual assault and left penniless and unable to use a weapon in a world where literally everything was trying to kill them. But that doesn’t make him any more likeable. What is strange is that not liking Naofumi doesn’t actually stop this from being a relatively fun read despite some of the issues the story suffers from.

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Basically the world the characters are summoned to is set up like a game (what a surprise for a light novel). This is complete with levelling up and information screens and icons and all the usual based on a game mechanics that you either don’t mind or will drive you completely crazy. There’s some momentary originality thrown into this set up when the four heroes realise that they don’t all come from the same world and that while they all lived in Japan they all have a different memory of Japan. They could have done something with that and maybe further down the line they will, but basically it was kind of an excuse to have Naofumi on the outs to begin with. Why the other three somehow instantly bonded is still a little beyond me.

Unfortunately, the story is narrated in first person by Naofumi. He isn’t a bad narrator to be honest and some of his observations are actually kind of funny, particularly when he’s in the mood to feel sorry for himself.  But he isn’t even a little bit unbiased and he kind of decides the other three heroes are jerks on first meeting (though they kind of prove that assessment on second meeting at least from how the narration tells the story) so the audience is really kept at arms length from these characters.

The other issue with Naofumi being the narrator is that a lot of the story is basically Naofumi and Raphtalia (the slave he ends up buyng out of desperation to have someone near him who can use a weapon) just kind of surviving and hunting to earn some coins and level up. Basically we’re reading about level grinding for large chunks of chapters and I hate to say it but that isn’t exactly riveting no matter how twisted the context is for why the character has been forced into that position.

While I’m picking on Naofumi, and before I get to some of the things I really enjoyed, I found his attitude early in the book a little hard to take. I get that he had issues after being accused of raping someone and that he felt betrayed by Myne but his general attitude toward all women was really uncomfortable to read for a few chapters. Slowly, it softened and through his interactions with Raphtalia became more tolerable and understandable (he still hate Myne and rightfully so but the entire female population are no longer targets of his ire). As I said, as understandable as having some issues might be, the first person narration makes it really hard as a female reader to get through. If it had gone on in the same tone for a little bit longer I may have set the book down and walked away.

Which is why the second half of the story needs to have its praises sung. From a generic set up with one or two original twists (at least the hero isn’t an overpowered tank cutting a path through enemies left and right), some uncomfortable moments, and way too much time levelling up, the second half of the story works over time to reconcile readers with Naofumi as a character.

By the time the wave comes and the heroes face off against it, to the after wave banquet and that ridiculous farce of a duel, you kind of want Naofumi to succeed. He hates the people in this world, he hates what they’ve done to him, he has no reason to save them, and yet he still acts as their shield. When he’s ready to give up and he finally gives in to the fairly logical despair at his situation, Raphtalia is there for him (no longer a slave because she was forcibly removed) but by her own will because she has seen the kind of man he actually can be. It is kind of cheesy but it works phenomenally well.

The other thing I liked (though at times it might be a bit of a minus) is the attention to detail in the story. Small things like Naofumi not being able to taste anything he eats is used well to highlight his emotional state but it isn’t shoved in your face. It is just another detail that is there fleshing out the world. Naofumi’s interactions in the weapon shop and his haggling and bartering with people (sometimes underhandedly when they deliberately try to hinder his survival) are all pretty delightfully done.

However, what does suffer terribly in this first book is a reason to care about the plight of the people or the world. Realistically, this first book gives the audience every reason to cheer Naofumi on if he just walked off into the sunset and never returned or better yet, actively brought down the other heroes. And the King. Please let someone kill the king in a future book.

So yes, the book has a few problems, but it sets up an interesting story and by the end manages to bring you around to liking the hero of the story. Obviously there’s slavery and a rape set-up so if either of those put you off, pass on this book. Also, if you are wanting a hero who can cut down any kind of enemy, not for you. Our hero at the moment is strictly block and hinder the enemy until someone else manages to cut them down. There’s some indication he might develop some attack skills but not a lot of progress yet (not even a shield slam which seems like a shame – though he can pin humans with his shield). Still, glad I gave this one a shot and glad I completed it.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.

Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody 1 Light Novel Review: And We’re Once Again Trapped in a Game

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Overview:

Suzuki is a programmer who has worked way too many hours with way too many caffeine hits when he finally manages to catch a nap under his desk. Unfortunately he begins to have a very vivid dream about being inside a game world with new powers and a much younger looking face. With the in-game name of Satou, he needs to find a way to wake up.

Review:

On finishing this book (which I devoured in three night reads – read until I fall asleep, usually book on face) I started a conversation with someone about the book. I’d really enjoyed it and had a lot of fun, even knowing some of the obvious flaws that I will get to later in the review. Alas, I did not sell the story very well and they gave me a look. I think all anime fans know that look. The one where someone has just wondered what planet you are on when you are trying to defend a show that has literally just shown a guy fall onto some girl’s chest.

And that’s probably the issue here. Protagonist trapped in another world which is based on a mashed up combination of games. He has menus and inventory and all the in-game things you could want, except an exit. He is rapidly building up a harem. Even though he starts as a fully employed adult, his in game age is closer to a teenager and to be honest a lot of his narration is way closer to a teenager (tell me again how flat that girl’s chest is, I dare you). And to make it even worse, while he started for about two seconds as a weak character who was actually at risk of dying, due to a beginner help spell (fortunately foreshadowed – blatantly telegraphed – by an earlier real world conversation) he wipes out literally hundreds of enemies including apparently unkillable ones (good thing the game is buggy) and ends up on such a high level it is difficult to believe he will ever face danger again.

Oh, and I can already see some people scratching another title off of their list.

After finishing reading I looked up this title (backwards order I know) but I found out it started as a webcomic, became a manga, then light novels, and there’s an announcement of an anime (though how confirmed that is I am not sure). So why such appeal in a story that it can get transformed that many times when it doesn’t appear to have a single original idea anywhere in sight?

As to the webcomic and manga, I honestly wouldn’t know, I’ve never looked at them. But I know what the appeal of reading this was. When I read Grimgar my biggest complaint (other than reading fanservice fuelled moments) was the writing itself and just how poorly expressed things were even for a translated text. Death March on the other hand… Well it it clearly a translated text and some words get repeated awkwardly because of that and other sentences don’t quite flow, but on the whole, the writing is pretty good if you compare it to a standard YA novel.

There’s a natural flow to most of the descriptions, the action sequences never linger too long, the dialogue helps bring out the characters, and the inserted in-game references like skill acquisitions fit kind of perfectly with the story they are constructing. I would point out the obvious issue with their being a little too much world building and set up given we spend nearly two entire days with Satou just escourting one girl and then another around the city. Admittedly, we learn a lot from the experience (as does Satou), and the second trip is needed as it leads to the dungeon sequence which leads to the climax of this story, etc, etc. There’s still a lot of plot padding so it is a really good thing that I enjoyed Satou’s internal thoughts, criticisms, evaluations and just his general tone (when he wasn’t looking at one of the girls in the story).

Before I move on from the writing though I would like to share this gem (a lot of sarcasm there) from page 66:

“Every time she moved, something – well, two things, which were presumably D cups – asserted their presence with a distinct jiggle.”

There are some things you cannot unread and that line tragically stuck to the point where I even remembered the page number two days after passing that point of the story. I’m really starting to think there’s some obligation to include these lines in order to prove that you are actually writing a light novel but at least now all those fan-service scenes in anime based on light novels make more sense.

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What is a little surprising about the direction the story takes in Death March is that Satou doesn’t immediately set out to make himself defender of the downtrodden. In fact, he goes to great lengths to hide his true level and abilities most of the time letting other characters take the lime-light with occasional assists in the form of flicked coins or rocks from the sidelines. This doesn’t last as he dons sword and cloak for a fight sequence toward the end, but having a protagonist actively avoiding conflict makes a nice change even if even he knows that can’t possibly last given the game like nature of the world.

So while there are plenty of things I could sit and criticise about this book, the one undeniable point is that I had a great deal of fun reading it and I want more. There’s a number of plot threads that have been developed that clearly are going to be continued further down the line, and while the world building in this first volume detracts from the story of this book, it has set the foundations for a lot of possibilities, many of which might be interesting.

Basically, if you can ignore the fact that this is literally a story we have seen done to death at this point, there’s quite a bit of fun to be had. Swords, demons, dragons, magic, slaves, and pit toilets. It all makes you wonder which one is the worst danger Satou will face.

Affiliate Link:
If you’re interested in reading Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody Volume 1 it is available on the Book Depository.