Durarara!! Volume 1 Light Novel Review: Everybody Has Some Story To Tell

I’ve mentioned this before, but the anime of Durarara is one of those that I’ve tried repeatedly to watch and repeatedly walked away from. It’s never managed to really grab me but I just keep thinking that maybe if I’m in the right mood it will work. However, still having not watched the anime I finally decided why not try the light novels? What’s the worst that could happen? And so I dove into Ikebukuro district with these characters for a spell and now I have to wonder what I thought about the story.

The problem is, much like with the anime, I think I should like this. The ideas are interesting, the characters are pretty interesting, everything about it seems like it should work for me. And yet, I found myself regularly putting this volume down and at one point I even read two volumes of the Natsume Yuujinchou manga before returning to finish this story. I wanted to see how it ended but at the same time I found reading this really tedious.

Normally when that happens it is because of the style of writing. However, the writing itself isn’t really a problem. It is descriptive enough without tripping over itself to use flowery speech. Events move along and a good enough pace. Again, it all seems like it should work.

I think what ultimately does this story in for me is I don’t feel I can relate to any character in the story. They all have goals and motives but I don’t seem to find myself caring what they do or whether they accomplish their goals. Even the climax of this volume, which is actually a really nice culmination of lots of events and stories all coming together and should be quite satisfying is more just kind of there and I closed the book feeling more like a burden had been lifted.

Still, there is plenty I can recommend about this book to others.

There’s a large cast of characters who all have their own idiosyncrasies which I think most people would find someone of interest. Even though there is kind of a protagonist, the story isn’t told from any single character’s perspective and chapters chop between the different groups and individuals helping many of the cast members feel more fleshed out and realised than they might have been.

As I mentioned before, the plot builds nicely to a climax. Even though early on it feels like a lot of events are random or of no consequence, everything does come together in the end and there is a sense of resolve about the whole volume despite it leaving plenty of loose ends to come back to in future stories. It really does feel very nicely planned out.

If you were thinking of picking up a light novel, and you really don’t want it to be an isekai, Durarara!! seems like it might be a fairly decent place to start. As for me, I’m probably not continuing this series. The feeling of utter indifference to each and every cast member means that no matter how quirky they are or how well constructed the plot is, I’m kept an arm’s length from events emotionally and I just can’t get into the world being described here.

But how about you? Have you read Durarara!! and if yes, what did you think?

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Karandi James
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DURARARA OST BEST HIT IKEBUKURO PSYCHE DE REMIX
DURARARA OST BEST HIT IKEBUKURO PSYCHE DE REMIX

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Black Bullet Volume 1 Light Novel Review

I previously reviewed the anime of Black Bullet and I found it fairly problematic but enjoyed the underlying story. I decided to try the light novel to see if it left a better impression. The answer… well I’m still on the fence.

Review:

There’s a lot to like about this light novel. The characters are interesting, the world we’re plunged into is tragic and yet feels like it could be a potential yet horrifying future. There’s action and drama and social commentary on a whole range of issues. Really it should work beautifully and be right up my ally.

For those who have never watched the anime, Black Bullet follows Rentaro and his partner Enju. They are civil security officers which essentially means they hunt down creatures that are infected with a virus called Gastrea and wipe them out. Renatro is fairly young still being in high school but Enju, like all civil security officer partners, is a child. One of the children born infected with the Gastrea virus making them not quite human enough to be given actual human rights but useful enough that they are employed to help humans. At least until they cross a certain infection threshold.

It’s a bleak kind of world we’re dropped into as it is after humans have already lost the war and the survivors live in cities surrounded by monoliths that keep the Gastrea out. Despite that they are still facing an ongoing threat and Rentaro and Enju are kept busy from start to finish in this book.

However, I feel my problem with this book is more or less the same as the problem I had with the anime. That is, we have a lot of characters and a lot going on but so much of it doesn’t feel fully utilised or necessary. Perhaps if the whole thing was expanded or if we weren’t spending so much time following Rentaro and we gave these other characters sufficient time to be fleshed out and made to feel more real the story would sit a lot better but as it is it feels like names are thrown at you, characters appear for a scene and then vanish before they suddenly return and are seemingly important.

Black Bullet 2

Then there’s the nature of the story. Admittedly, the links between the different events that Rentaro and Enju get caught up in are better explained in the light novel than they were in the anime, but the overall impression while reading is that we’re jumping from event to event. The ‘and then this happened’ approach to plotting almost as though the story can’t bear to put the brakes on for even a moment to deal with some of the ideas its already thrown at its readers.

Still, there are plenty of readers out there who will love this approach. The book moves quickly through the events never getting bogged down on details for too long. The characters are given enough description and characterisation but again the story doesn’t linger. The action is fun, the escalation of tension works, and the final sequence really sticks the landing. For those who like that sort of pacing in their stories, this is a really great read.

Which is why I’m sitting on the fence. I get that this book actually works quite well and there’s a lot to like about it, and yet I couldn’t get into it. This was one I constantly put down and found other things to do rather than completing and it took me nearly two weeks to actually get to the end of the story (and in that time I devoured several other books that I picked up for a break).

I’m leaving this one to personal taste. If you like your stories to just get to the events and keep moving then you will probably have a great time with this one. The plot that you get is solid  and there’s some fairly decent action sequences to be be found.

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Karandi James
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Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest Light Novel Review – I Dare You To Call the Protagonist Overpowered

Arifureta Volume 1 Cover

This one a novel I picked up off a recommendation from the Book Depository when there happened to be a sale and I had 10% off. I hadn’t heard of the title or read anything about it. As a result, it ended up fairly low in my read pile and I passed over it a number of times before I finally decided one day to start it over a long weekend. Well, a day and some eye strain later I’d devoured it, but was it actually any good?

Review:

Look, if you have an issue with isekai stories, stories where the weak guy suddenly becomes an unstoppable killing machine, or stories that insist on making the vampire girl look like a pre-teen and finding any excuse for her not to be wearing clothes, right now you already know that this book isn’t going to work for you. This book definitely ticks off pretty much any trope you want to throw at the isekai genre and it does it with a smug sense of ‘look what I did’. Yet that is what probably works in the book’s best interest. It doesn’t try to hide its genre or shy away from it. It isn’t ashamed to be exactly what it was trying to be and as a result this is a story full of excitement, danger, slightly uncomfortable moments when turning a page and finding a fairly unclothed vampire girl staring at me, and generally a lot of fun.

So what is Arifureta about?

Essentially Hajime is your standard protagonist for these kinds of stories. He’s an otaku who likes to sleep during class and doesn’t have many friends. Then his entire class get summoned into a fantasy world where they are tasked with saving it. And they all have powers, only Hajime’s is considered pretty lame and useless and he ends up being beaten up by some of his own classmates.

So far, so standard, and only some fairly decent writing managed to get me into this story. It isn’t exceptional, but considering some of quality of writing in some of the light novels I’ve read in the last year, it is perfectly readable and occasionally there’s some very nice description thrown in amongst what seems to be a fairly hefty exposition dump setting up the scenario.

Despite that, the story manages to draw you in as the students deal with some fairly real challenges with suddenly gaining power but having no training or actual skills and dealing with a world most of them thought only existed in stories or games. There’s a lot going on with the political situation of the world and plenty of what is happening in these pages is set up that could potentially be very interesting further down the line though remains fairly underused in this volume.

Page 106 is where it all just decides its had enough of the play nice with the class where the biggest issues involve avoiding being bullied. Hajime is literally tossed under a bus by one of his own classmates in a misguided fit of jealousy while the teens are training in a dungeon and the next thing he knows he’s sent plummeting to the very bottom level far below where anyone even realised the dungeon reached. It’s a pretty tragic event and one that isn’t over.

See the next 250 or so pages deal very much with Hajime climbing his way back out of the dungeon. There are impossibly tough monsters around every corner and our protagonist is not getting off unscathed. I may have warned you earlier about the nudity, but here’s a warning about the violence. In a very early monster encounter Hajime has his arm torn off and eaten. No joke and no get out of jail free card for the kiddo. He’s just traumatised and it takes him a fair while to do anything after that event. However, it is a magic based world so at least he doesn’t die and he does find the mean to begin rebuilding himself into the nastiest thing to ever crawl out of a dungeon.

Arifureta Volume 1b

And that’s where this book does distinguish itself quite well. Other than the occasional flashes to what the rest of the class are up to, we spend the rest of this adventure watching Hajime fight for his life and develop the tools he’s going to need to become a seriously overpowered hero. In the process he’s going to lose most of what made him human. Some things are ripped from him (like his arm) but others are things he willingly discards in a quest to become something that can survive in this world.

In that, his meeting with Yue becomes pivotal because it was possible Hajime would become something totally unrecognisable and relatable but the vampire girl manages to reawaken some of the humanity inside of him. The dynamic between the pair might be awkward at times but it was most definitely an essential development in this journey.

Overall, there’s a lot of fun to be had in this adventure and it clearly isn’t done with volume 1. There’s ridiculous amounts of world and lore still to explore and the characters have clear goals to continue to work towards. While this is hardly the best thing ever written it was incredibly bingeable and I most definitely added the next book to my wish list as soon as I finished this one.

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Karandi James
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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.

Yona2

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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Karandi James

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Kieli Volume 1 Novel Review: Finding A Place To Be You Is Always Hard

Kieli is a lonely girl with only a ghost roommate for company until the day she meets Harvey, an undying soldier who is being pursued by the church. These two unlikely companions will travel together and may just find what they are looking for in one another.

Review:

I have to admit, there was something interesting about reading Kieli even if I’m not thrilled enough to go looking for a second book. For me, this story was great to read and I loved watching Kieli and Harvey interacting with the commentary of the ‘corporal’, a ghost who lived inside a radio they carried. But I’m also kind of feeling that for me this was enough of that story. Certainly there are wider implications and more that can go on in the world, but I liked where this story chose to finish and felt a sense of completion from it. So I am going to recommend reading this book even while I decline to read any further in the series at the moment (I may eventually change my mind).

There’s a lot of fairly familiar antics going on in Kieli with the orphan girl who is a bit different getting picked on by others in the school and being the target of mistaken charity from others. Even her interactions with Becca, the ghost roommate, are all pretty much what you would expect. However, the familiar set-up is taking place in a world that is fresh and new even while it reflects a lot of what we’ve seen before.

kieli1b.jpg

Set on a world colonised long ago and all but out of resources after a devastating war, there’s a sense that everything here is coming to an end and the people are just going through the motions of living because there’s nothing better to do. From a technological point of view there’s a strange mix between old and new as there are weapons and machines left over from by-gone eras that are pretty fantastic, and then there are things more reminiscent of more of the 19th Century. The mix works well to create a world that feels fresh even while a lot of what it presents has been done before.

Where it really missed a chance to distinguish itself was in the main antagonist of the novel, the controlling church and the bureaucracy beneath it. While religious organisations and dictatorship governments are pretty easy targets for dystopian settings, it felt like Kieli could have really tried something different if it wanted to given the nature of the setting and the history, and yet it does make perfect sense that the people did fall back to a theocracy of sorts.

Despite the intriguing setting, this is very much a story about Kieli and Harvey and while they are both products of the world they live in, they are first and foremost people who have been deeply hurt and for various reasons have cut themselves off from others. Despite Harvey’s secrets and the fact that they both see ghosts, they are both characters that it is easy to emphasise with and that is one of the greatest strengths of the story.

Some decent action sequences, including a train escape, and some supernatural goings on with the ghosts all make for a fairly interesting plot while we watch the two characters slowly come out of their self-imposed shells.

As I said, I really enjoyed reading this book and found it quite interesting, but for me the end point it enough. It’s like getting to the end of a movie and the characters get their happily ever after and then you realise there’s a sequel where they just kind of mess everything up for the characters again. I’m happy where this ended and where the characters are so for now I’ll leave Kieli and Harvey alone but if you are looking for something a bit interesting to read, than Kieli might just be what you are looking for.

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Karandi James
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The Devil is a Part Timer Volume 1 Light Novel Review

The Devil is a Part Timer is one of those rare comedy anime I fell in love with. It was even my very first series review on this blog. So now I’ve tried the light novel. What did I think?

Review:

I’m wondering how I would have taken to this book if I’d never seen the anime. Mostly because, I really didn’t enjoy reading it very much. The few moments of genuine enjoyment I found came when I was remembering how a scene was portrayed in the anime, rather than the words on the page. And given the length of time it took me to finish this as I regularly would stop reading to do literally anything else, kind of indicated I wasn’t getting into it.

Part of that definitely comes from my personal distaste of comedy. While the anime managed to pull off the absurdity of the situation the characters were in the book feels like it is playing it more straight and the whole thing doesn’t quite connect. The other issue being, that when I think of this series in book form, I was expecting something more along the lines of Douglas Adam or at least Pratchett in terms of sardonic tone to the narration and that was utterly missing. As was any tone really.

That isn’t actually an exaggeration. There is literally no personality in the writing here. The dialogue that the characters are given, has personality. The narration does not. Or rather it does but it hasn’t quite committed to the absurdity of the situation and the end result is something quite flat.

For what it is worth, the plot works really well. If you’ve seen the anime, you know it, though you will get a few more details about Emi and some of the politics behind things, but essentially the Demon King lost to the Hero and fled through a gate ending up on earth where there is no magic. As a result, he resorts to working at a fast food restaurant while he waits to reclaim his power, but in the meantime he’s determined to work his way up the management chain to take over the world in the most ordinary of manners. All that would be fine except the hero followed him as well and she wants to make sure he never returns back to their world but she also can’t bring herself to kill him when he’s defenceless.

Devil1b

This plot works well and when both the Hero and Devil King are attacked, the threat plays out really well as does the reluctant teaming up of the two enemies who now have learned to see each other in a different context.

Basically, the plot and the ideas behind it are solid enough if a little undeveloped.

The support cast aren’t used overly well and Chiho tragically gets thrown into the role of love-sick teen followed by damsel in distress with few traits in her favour. While it is all well and good to have her character there, the fact that both Maou and Emi end up protecting her and liking her in their own ways kind of feels like her character should have a bit more going for her than being sweet. And yet, nothing. She doesn’t do or say one interesting thing in the story and exists purely as a plot point. And Alciel is even more ridiculously useless in the novel than he was in the anime and I wouldn’t have thought that was possible.

This is one of those rare cases where for me the adaptation was much better. The comedy worked for me in a visual form with music and the character voices driving the dialogue. As a text, I just didn’t feel it and the story, while it works, isn’t interesting enough without the comedic edge to push it into the realm of memorable.

Lots of people seem to like this one as a light novel, but for me its another pass and I won’t be going on any further with this series.

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Karandi James
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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.

Alice2.jpg

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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Karandi James

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