Invaders of the Rokujouma!?, Vol. 29

By Takehaya and Poco. Released in Japan as “Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Warnis.

I’ve been saying for a while now that the “harem total” in this series is not going to get larger or smaller, and in this volume I am proved wrong. That said, if you’re going to add someone to a pile of girls who are as much a found family as romantic rivals, go big or go home. God joins the party here, in the presence of the being who greeted Koutarou in Volume 1. For a while it was thought to be Harumi/Alaia in some way, but now we know that that wasn’t thinking quite grandiose enough. Before we get to that point, though, we continue the theme of the previous books, as one by one the cast vanish from Koutarou’s life, essentially his worst fear, and he has to deal with it. He doesn’t deal with it very well. Fortunately, the dwindling group of women in his life are able to figure out what is going on long enough for him to go back to the place it all began… and also set up some intriguing alternate universes.

The cover art… and the plot… and every single thing about the book, really… might make you assume this is the last book in the series. It’s certainly the final part of the “main” plot that the author originally came up with – this is where he envisioned it ending, no matter how many books it turned out to be. But the cast are becoming third-years (except for the graduated Harumi), and we’re going to be seeing what happens next starting with Vol. 30. As for this book, there’s not much to it aside from emotional beats. They’re very good emotional beats, don’t get me wrong, but I do wish Koutarou had sort of figured out that when he is standing next to a girl and reminiscing about all the good times they’ve had since book 1, she’s going to be the next to go. There is a bit of a “memory reset” at the end, but it’s entirely voluntary, and you understand why they did it.

The interesting thing, to me, was the concept of the alternate universes brought up by Nalfalaren. The one we’ve been reading is the only one in like 5 billion or so where Koutarou revives her with all nine girls who are “part of her” at his side. In other words, this is the only harem end universe. We see one of the alternate universes towards the end of this book, as Koutarou has to deal with a world where none of the cast ever showed up in Room 106 and he ended up dating Shiori Kashiwagi, who readers may recall as having a crush on him a few books back, and is entirely a normal girl. It’s good to know someone is there to help Koutarou get over the tragedies in his life regardless, but it’s still nice to see the ending I think readers wanted, which is ambiguous but also feels right.

Next time we’re getting a continuation, but we’re also going to start to see some of those “alternate universes” where Koutarou was able to settle on one of the girls. Either way, you don’t have to worry about the cast vanishing from your lives anytime soon.

Kitaro: The Trial of Kitaro

By Shigeru Mizuki. Released in Japan as “Gegege no Kitaro” by Kodansha and Shogakukan, serialized in various magazines. Released in North America by Drawn & Quarterly. Translated by Zack Davisson.

This is the final volume of D&Q’s Kitaro collections, and, while Kitaro has never really been serialized in a plot or characterization way, it picks an apt final story to end on. The largest story in the book is the titular Trial, where Kitaro is brought up against the Yokai Supreme Court and charged with helping humans at the cost of yokai. Which, admittedly, there’s a grain of truth to. A number of Kitaro’s adventures have featured him helping hapless humans who are being used and/or outright tortured by yokai – indeed, we’ll see some later in this collection. That said, no surprises for guessing who’s really gotten Kitaro into this mess. After much foofaraw, the trial ends with Kitaro agreeing that he will not only help innocent humans beset by yokai, but also the reverse – such as not helping the shady TV producers who are manipulated by Nezumi Otoko into the documentary stat starts this all off.

As this is the final Kitaro review I’m writing up (presumably), I’d like to expound once again on Nezumi Otoko, the Donald Duck to Kitaro’s Mickey Mouse. The trial story features perhaps Nezumi Otoko at his most iconic – setting up the entire situation in the first place for cash, teaming up with an even worse yokai, framing Kitaro and testifying against him, and then quickly rolling over when things turn against him. Of all the many and varied yokai we’ve seen over the course of the series, Nezumi Otoko’s actions are perhaps the most jaw-dropping – even the evil yokai are more consistent in what they do day to day. But of course Kitaro gives the reason why Nezumi Otoko is who he is – he’s half human, and it’s the humanity in him that makes him crafty and a bit of a complete snake. That said, for Kitaro to continually hang out with him after everything shows he has the patience of a saint… or that Nezumi Otoko has the love of the author.

The rest of the stories in the volume are more typical, featuring the classic Kitaro way of doing things… get devoured and killed by the enemy, then come back and do something about it. The most interesting story other than the trial episode has to deal with a cursed toilet in the middle of the woods (yes, really) and Kitaro also losing all his hair… which, as is pointed out by Nezumi Otoko, is one of the sources of his strength. Honestly, without it he’s almost unrecognizable. I also liked the story of the merman who blackmails/tortures Kitaro into getting him fish, and actually ends up living in a mansion as a human. This leads to the dark punchline where Kitaro agrees to turn him INTO a human, and then the merman finding out that life as a human is not all that greater after all. Also, watch out for the cute maid working in the merman’s mansion who walks off with Kitaro in the end – Mizuki rarely drew cute girls in this series.

The seven volumes of Kitaro released over here, as well as the compilation that came first, do so much to show off the strengths of Shigeru Mizumi as an artist and storyteller. They’re a must for any library. Ge! Ge! Ge-ge-ge-no-geeeeee…

In Another World with My Smartphone, Vol. 18

By Patora Fuyuhara and Eiji Usatsuka. Released in Japan as “Isekai wa Smartphone to Tomo ni” by HJ Novels. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson.

Any Smartphone book that manages to put Touya in actual danger is automatically more interesting than most. This one actually does it twice. Not that anything actually happens to him… remember what you’re reading. But the Mutant Phrase descend with an anti-God weapon that is so poisonous that it takes Touya out for three days, and later on an inadvisable attempt at waking an ancient weapon results in time literally being rewritten to make sure it didn’t happen… something Touya is aware of but no one else is. Unfortunately, neither of these crises serve to move Touya beyond his typical bland facade… generally the only thing that can do that these days is mentioning love, as per most awkward overpowered male leads in isekai. Sadly, the weddings are still a fair ways away, but at least we’re seeing a number of other plots starting to come together. Could the end be in sight? (Probably not.)

At the start of the book, the regular Touya world and the Reverse World finally merge together, and much of the rest of the volume is spent dealing with the political fallout from that. It does not help that the bad guys choose this moment to launch their ‘anti-Touya’ poison attack, which destroys one of the kingdoms we’d seen previously. (Not Touya’s own hand this time, so that’s good.) We actually get a few Phrase battles this time around, including Ende getting his revenge against the evil twins who mopped the floor with him last time. And we finally get an idea of what happened back in ancient times when the Phrase first invaded, and hopefully a way to avoid it happening again. In between there’s the usual wacky slice-of-life stuff… a young idiot prince comes by to show how strong he is and gets his ass kicked; Hilde’s sister fights a dragon; Sakura sings Freddie Mercury songs. The usual.

I admit, much as I grouse about the series when it’s doing things wrong like having Touya be history’s greatest monster, when it doesn’t happen there’s very little TO talk about in a review of Smartphone. Touya is bland. His fiancees, though they have more emotional range, are equally bland. There’s the royalty of the neighboring kingdoms… they’re pretty bland as well. This is sort of like a “slow life” series without the slow life part. The author says that we’re going to be fighting the Evil God next time, which is good, because when there are fights at least something is happening on the page. The wedding might also help, but that’s still a few books away. That leaves us with Touya wandering around doing Touya things, which is… boring. Dull. Nearly getting killed was the best thing to happen to him all book.

The series is still worth reading for the tiny little things that make it bearable – Sue’s Hammer Throw was great – but I suspect most readers, like me, are waiting for Touya to get married and simply paddling along ill that happens. 2 out of 5 Smartphones this time around.