Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria Volume 1 Review


danmachi-on-the-side-sword-oratoria-volume-1Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?
(henceforth referred to by its Japanese abbreviation DanMachi) is one of my favourite light novel series, so when a spin-off series was licensed in the form of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria (henceforth known as Sword Oratoria) I was excited. I love this universe and the chance to experience it from the perspective of different characters was a welcome one. However, has this first volume managed to live up to my love of the main series?

Sword Oratoria focuses on the famous adventurer Aiz Wallenstein as the main character, someone that readers of the main DanMachi series will be familiar with. Aiz belongs to one of the most powerful Familia in the city, Loki Familia. This first volume takes place during the same time frame as the first DanMachi volume and starts off with Loki Familia’s expedition down to the deepest depths of the dungeon. The dungeon is where all adventurers go to battle against monsters to earn a living. This is the journey that eventually led to Aiz saving Bell from a Minotaur, which had gotten away from her while she was hunting a pack of them. Her encounter with Bell is one that we know changed his life significantly, but seeing it from Aiz’s perspective is also quite interesting.

The furthest we’ve been in the dungeon with Bell thus far (as of Volume 6) is down to around the 20th floor, so being able to go much further in with the Loki Familia group is a welcome change of pace. Author Fujino Omori openly admits that Aiz is too powerful a character to frequently use in DanMachi (she’d instantly save the day for Bell just by clicking her fingers) so giving her a series all of her own works out very well. Sword Oratoria gives Aiz the chance to take on enemies that are more suited to her level and fighting abilities. It also gives Omori the chance to write more about Loki Familia and spend some time with the characters we’ve come to know through DanMachi itself (like Loki and Bete).

Being the same author as the main series, Omori has the ability to freely overlap the Sword Oratoria and DanMachi plotlines. Thankfully the overlapping is kept to a minimum for this volume, which I feel is important because it allows a new story to develop. Aiz and Bell interact a lot more going forward in DanMachi, so one of my main concerns for Sword Oratoria is that portraying the same scenes as DanMachi could begin to feel redundant beyond being from Aiz’s prospective. Running Sword Oratoria alongside the main series also means that nothing of importance can happen that could impact on the main storyline, at least not until it catches up with the timeline of the latest volume.

I think Sword Oratoria is important to the DanMachi series as far as newcomers are concerned. While not everything is explained in as much detail as it was in the main series, stuff like Familia, levels, stats and the world are explained in enough detail that even if you’ve never watched the anime, or read the original books, you’ll still be able to slip into Sword Oratoria quite comfortably. It’s not just a good starting point, though, as veterans of the DanMachi series will find a lot to love here too. Omori has very obviously set out with the goal of exploring Aiz as a character and leaves various hints throughout the plot that Aiz wasn’t always the quiet, often emotionless girl we’ve come to know. Couple this idea with some impressive battles and we’ve matched the quality of DanMachi at its best – although I will confess that I do miss our usual dungeon exploring with Bell.

Omori has written Sword Oratoria from a third person perspective with the occasional jump to first person if Aiz has anything on her mind (which, admittedly, is rare), and his usual style of writing shines through in his detailed explanations of the world around the characters. This series has a new illustrator named Kiyotaka Haimura (he also provided illustrations for A Certain Magical Index) and the art on offer is really good. One of my favourite pieces is a two page spread dedicated to Aiz delivering the final blow to a high level monster, but the opening colour pages also depict this same battle with other members of Loki Familia and looks pretty cool in its own right.

While I have some concerns about the future of Sword Oratoria and the overlap and consistency it requires with the main series, I’m equally really excited by getting to spend some real time with Aiz. I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed my time with the first volume as much as I do DanMachi itself but I’d still highly recommend it to other fans of the series and newcomers alike. This is definitely a series to keep an eye on.

Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Volume 6 Review

is-it-wrong-to-try-to-pick-up-girls-in-a-dungeon-volume-6The first five volumes of Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in A Dungeon? (or Japanese abbreviation DanMachi as I’ll be referring to it now) have proved to be a fascinating read full of wonderful adventures. That said, I’ve been eager for a brand new adventure; something uncharted and full of surprises – in other words, something the anime didn’t adapt. Thankfully that’s what Volume 6 of the light novel series is here to do and I couldn’t be happier with the result.

This volume is set just a few days after the end of Volume 5, with Bell taking a few days off from exploring the dungeon to recover from the battle with the 18th floor boss. As tales of his adventure spread throughout Orario, it’s not long before our hero is the centre of attention, but not every adventurer is happy with the ‘Little Rookie’. As Bell, Lilly and Welf celebrate their safe return from the 18th floor battle, Bell has a run-in with members of Apollo Familia, which leads to all kinds of trouble! Conflicts between Familia are never a good thing but this time Bell’s rash judgement could cost him everything he holds dear.

What started out as a simple bar-fight quickly escalates as god Apollo, who has taken an interest in Bell, declares that he won’t forgive Hestia Familia for the harm caused to one of his own. He informs Hestia that the only way to gain forgiveness is for Bell to join his Familia instead! After a swift refusal from Bell and Hestia, Apollo sets a plan into motion to force Bell to join him – including the kidnapping of Lilly and the destruction of Bell’s home!

After Bell and Hestia are chased through the streets of Orario and reach the realisation that Apollo will stop at nothing to obtain Bell, Hestia agrees for the two Familia to face one another in a war game to settle things once and for all. Outnumbered and with their back to a wall, can Hestia Familia really make it through this crisis or will Bell soon be the newest recruit of Apollo Familia?

For a volume that never once sees Bell set foot inside the dungeon, it’s certainly full of action and excitement. The first couple of chapters set up the overall arc while also tying up loose ends from the previous volume (including confirmation that Bell, thankfully, hasn’t levelled up again) but also offers the chance for some fine character development. Apollo decides to host a meeting of the gods but bends the rules so that every god can bring one member of their Familia to the party. It’s entertainment for the gods and an excuse for them to show off, but for mere humans like Bell it’s perhaps the most nervous he’s ever been! Fortunately he’s not alone in his awkwardness and it’s not long before he stumbles across Aiz, who is also feeling out of place. With some interference from Hermes, the two get the chance to dance together (as depicted on the front cover) and it is the most adorable scene I have had the chance to witness from this series.

This is a volume that focuses on Bell and Lilly more than anyone else, so I’m glad that author Fujino Omori still found some time to fit in development between Bell and Aiz. Their relationship hasn’t really progressed since previous installments but I think it’s safe to call them friends now –  and reading through their interactions is always satisfying. Bell is still terribly shy and awkward around her, while Aiz is as quiet and clueless as ever, but that actually works remarkably well for the two. If anything, I haven’t found myself wishing that they’d get over their shyness as I usually would be with other characters at this point.

I won’t say too much concerning the war game as we’re fairly far through the book when it takes place but I do want to mention how well written all of the action scenes are. It’s not the first time Bell has fought against other adventurers – as there is always someone looking to pick on our hero – but it is the first time that the battle has been notably significant to the plot. I was surprised that the action held up as well as it did, given that there are no monsters to fight, but Omori has done wonders to capture the readers’ imaginations.  

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that Omori’s writing has improved a great deal from where he first started with Volume 1. I blasted through this volume in a couple of sittings, which is unusual for me with anything that isn’t a manga, and that’s purely because of how easy it was to become completely engrossed in the story. I’ve commented in the past that DanMachi is likely my favourite light novel series and I think I finally understand why it is. DanMachi always feels like I’m right in the middle of the action with Bell. Even while he was dancing with Aiz I could feel just how embarrassed the poor kid was! None of the other fantasy genre light novels I’ve read or am currently reading draw me in quite this much and the fact that DanMachi does is purely down to Omori’s abilities to create these scenes and characters.

The illustrations for this volume were also handled very well by Suzuhito Yasuda, as they usually are, but were more interesting to look over than the previous volume. My favourite image on offer is definitely that of the front cover, but there were also some nicely drawn shots of Welf that I’m fond of. Overall it seems as though Yasuda’s art is improving volume by  volume and he’s starting to have a good handle on the scenes that really deserve depicting.

It’s amazing that, for a series set around exploring a dungeon, a volume in which we never once set foot in the dungeon could be so engrossing! It’s also refreshing to read a story that the anime didn’t cover (hopefully in a Season 2 though?). Considering that we were offered some solid character development for all of Hestia Familia I can definitely say that I’m satisfied with what I’ve read. My excitement for the next volume is already building and if you’re someone like me who has loved Bell’s adventure up until now, then Volume 6 is definitely both worth your time and a fine example of the series at its best.

Re:Zero #1Review

Re-Zero Light novel 1If you asked me which anime was being talked about the most from the Spring/Summer 2016 season then I’d answer without a doubt with Re:Zero. For better or worse the series has captured viewers and held them on the edge of their seats. Today I’m here to review the first volume in the original light novel series and find out if it holds my attention the same way as the anime does.

Re:Zero tells the story of a fairly average teenager, Subaru Natsuki. One day Subaru is magically transported from his local convenience store to a fantasy world. There’s no one in sight to inform him why he’s been brought there.  Surrounded by unfamiliar sights and sounds, just what has Subaru gotten himself into? Filled with determination to work out why he’s been summoned to this place (and to live his life like you would in a video game), Subaru sets out to explore this brave new world.

Okay, I know this all sounds very generic but stick with me. I promise by the end of this review it won’t feel quite as familiar as those fantasy stories you’re used to.

It’s not long before Subaru gets himself into a spot of bother with three thugs. Just when things begin to look their worst, he’s saved by a silver-haired girl, who introduces herself as Satella. Satella uses ice magic and has a spirit familiar named Puck, who introduces himself as Satella’s father and is quick to mention that he works from 9 am till 5 pm. It turns out that Satella has had something very important stolen from her and was in the process of searching for it when she encountered Subaru. As thanks for saving his life, Subaru agrees to help her find the thief and reclaim the item.

It’s not long before Subaru and Satella work out where the thief intends to sell off the stolen item, but when the two arrive at the tavern/storehouse they find that everyone inside has been murdered. Stumbling upon this gruesome scene ultimately leads to the deaths of Subaru and Stella as well by the hand of the killer (who was still lurking in the darkened tavern). In his dying moments Subaru wishes that he could have protected Satella and spent just a little longer in this world.

Unsurprisingly the story doesn’t end with the deaths of our protagonists. It turns out that Subaru has some kind of special ability that allows him to return from death, which he’s dubbed “Return by Death” as upon dying it sends him back to a designated point in time. Perhaps with this ability he can prevent the deaths of himself and Satella, while also helping her retrieve her stolen item.

Return by Death is an interesting ability and author Tappei Nagatsuki handles it rather well. You would think that reliving the same day multiple times over would become boring, especially in book form where there isn’t much to distract you from the fact you’re rereading the same situations over and over, but that’s simply not true here. The first time Subaru experiences the day over again, some things are very similar but they’re also different just enough to keep it interesting. However, as the plot progresses we get the chance to see a new plot line where instead of travelling with Satella, Subaru ends up becoming close to Felt (the thief) and comes face-to-face with the one who killed everyone at the end of his first ‘life’.

Nagatsuki has written Re:Zero from a third person perspective, which works very well for the drama and character interactions. I’d say it’s a shame that we’re not inside Subaru’s head but as he has a tendency to voice all of his thoughts aloud there wouldn’t be a notable benefit to writing the story from his perspective. I found this to be an interesting style of writing because it’s not one that I’ve personally stumbled across in my light novel collection (although when a good portion of my collection has been written by Reki Kawahara perhaps that explains some of it).

Re:Zero started life like a lot of popular light novels, in that it was originally a web novel that was later edited and published as a series. Some of the exchanges between characters go on too long and there is a bit of awkward wording here and there, which has no doubt resulted from the original web novel being rough around the edges compared to a professionally published book. That said, I think Nagatsuki has a good handle on how to write this story and future volumes will likely solve all of the problems in Volume 1.

Illustrations for the series have been provided by Shinichirou Otsuka, who currently doesn’t appear to have worked on anything beyond Re:Zero (at the very least I couldn’t find mention of anything online). Either this is the first (now major) work Otsuka’s produced art for, or the internet just cannot provide me with answers! Regardless, what we have on show for the first volume of Re:Zero looks very nice and character designs are suitably detailed. Volume 1 opens with various colour pages that showcase the characters which, I have to say, look a lot better than the fan-service- laden images we’d usually have for other series. It’s sad that none of the action scenes have been drawn in favour of a picture of each of the main characters, but hopefully future volumes can deliver. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing more of Otsuka’s work.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about the writing and the story, so let’s talk about the characters now. It’s worth saying that Subaru is not going to win any awards for being a likable member of the cast. He’s annoying, doesn’t know when to stop talking, and more often than not I wanted to punch him. Having said that, Subaru has a good heart and his determination to do his best (despite really not having any redeeming qualities) is perhaps what keeps him from being a total waste of space. In a way it’s actually refreshing that Subaru wasn’t made to be a likable character. There are far too many series that try their hardest to make a lead that you’ll be rooting for from the start and I appreciate the fact Re:Zero hasn’t fallen into that cliché.

Satella, Puck, and Felt are all interesting characters whom I grew immensely fond of. Satella has a cold manner but inside she has a good heart. There is obviously more to her than what we see in this volume, and having watched the anime I know just where her story is going. Puck and Felt don’t get quite as much time in the spotlight as Satella but when they are present they, too, shine and leave me wanting to know more about them. It’s a good cast which is only going to grow to become even better as the story progresses.

For those of you who are watching the anime (as I am) it’s worth noting that the light novel handles itself better than the anime adaptation does in certain ways. To begin with, the light novel doesn’t spend as much time on how Subaru was in Japan one minute and then the fantasy world the next. Rather than dealing with his shock and surprise we’re dumped into the scene about 20 minutes after, where things have calmed down and Subaru calmly explains what happened to him. I found this a much better way of starting the story because it’s refreshing to not have the protagonist overreacting to every little thing in a fantasy world. Overall the light novel also has a much better handle on the flow of the plot due to the anime studio creating certain inconsistencies in the story. For example, in one anime scene Puck knows Subaru’s name despite not yet having met him in that life. Subaru is also a lot more tolerable in the light novel than I found him in the anime, which has got to count for something.

Overall Re:Zero Volume 1 makes for a good read and handles the ‘transported to a fantasy world’ idea in an interesting way that, hopefully, won’t become stale anytime soon. Subaru might not be the most likable character but his future in this world seems like it’ll make for an interesting story. I’m a huge fan of the anime and reliving the story through the light novels is something I’m very much enjoying.

Score: 7/10

Light Novel Quick Information
Title: Re:Zero
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Tappei Nagatsuki
Illustrator: Shinichirou Otsuka
Published by: Yen On
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Age rating: 13 +
Material length: 231 Pages

Attack on Titan: Lost Girls Review

Attack on Titan Lost Girls novelBy now we’re all very familiar with Attack on Titan and the various characters that make up its cast. Today I’m here to review the Attack on Titan: Lost Girls novel, which shares two short stories about a couple of important female characters from this universe. I’ve commented in the past that I’m not a huge fan of the series, but despite that I’m always happy to read new stories set in its world.

Lost Girls is based off two mini visual novels that were included with the third and sixth volumes of the Attack on Titan anime Blu-ray releases in Japan. The novel has been written by Hiroshi Seko, who acted as a scriptwriter for the anime and wanted to share stories that fit in-between some of the anime episodes. Seko has also worked on the Seraph of the End and Ajin: Demi-Human anime. Lost Girls doesn’t just bring the two visual novels together though, it also includes an extra story and an introduction that explains where the stories take place within the timeline.

This review will contain spoilers for the Attack on Titan series due to the timeline of the stories, so if you haven’t watched the anime or read the manga through to the 8th or 9th volume then stop reading now!

As previously mentioned, Lost Girls is made up of three short stories. The first of these, titled “Lost in the Cruel World”, tells the story of Mikasa and Eren as kids. It’s set when Mikasa still lived with her family and Eren would visit her home with his father, who was attending to Mikasa’s mother’s health. At first the two didn’t really get along but slowly Mikasa and Eren became incredibly close – until his obsession with the Survey Corps and the outside world grew, at least.

Although Eren is present in this first story, he’s not the driving force behind it. “Lost in the Cruel World” very heavily explains the feelings behind a young Mikasa: how lonely she sometimes felt before meeting Eren, and how, after the two become close, she wishes to protect Eren from harm forever. I’ve always felt that our heroine was quite standoffish and found it hard to understand her feelings, but this offers a really good look into how her mind works. I’ve now come away appreciating Mikasa a lot more.

The second story, “Wall Sina, Goodbye” revolves around Annie Leonhart the day before her mission to capture Eren. This tale gives us the chance to live a day in Annie’s shoes as she works to solve the case of a young girl who has gone missing. I’m a big fan of mystery stories, so while I certainly liked the focus on Annie (although not as much as Mikasa) I was far more interested in working out the case. Despite the fact that I’m not the biggest fan of Annie herself, those who do like her will get a lot out of this story because it fleshes out her life outside the main canon.

Our final story is a very short affair, no more than 15 pages, that features a short interaction between Annie and Mikasa and gives a small insight into their feelings for one another. It also ties the previous two stories together rather well.  

Overall Attack on Titan: Lost Girls is a nice package. It’s well written and the scattering of artwork on offer (handled by Ayumu Kotake) fits nicely with the stories. It has to be said that the artwork is mostly very rough pencilled drawings with some watercolour effects in places. While it’s usually something that I’d complain about for anything else, with this novel I think the illustrations do well to compliment the raw emotions of Mikasa and Annie. Seko has fitted the stories into the timeline comfortably and now that I’ve read them I certainly couldn’t imagine Attack on Titan without these tales! I also want to quickly praise publisher Vertical for their work as this is the first novel I own from them and it’s nice to see that they’re doing such high quality releases.

If you aren’t an existing fan of Attack on Titan or have no interest in Mikasa and Annie then this really isn’t a novel for you. However, for those of you who are like me and like to indulge in all the universe has to offer, Attack on Titan: Lost Girls is a great read that gives solid character building and an all-round memorable experience.

Score: 8/10

Quick Information:
Title: Attack on Titan: Lost Girls
Original vintage: 2014
Author: Hiroshi Seko
Published by: Vertical
Genre: Drama, Action, Fantasy
Length (page count): 240