Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 18

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Airship. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Lorin Christie.

Well, I got my wish. Sort of. Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, like My Next Life As a Villainess, has a problem. It has cultivated a large yuri audience it absolutely does not want, but it cannot afford to piss that audience off too much as they’re one of the big reasons that it’s a success. It doesn’t help that Yuna has accumulated a “harem” of underage girls, which yes is the main draw of the series (the moe aesthetic, I mean), but also makes the yuri a bit creepy. Still, here at least we do have Yuna straight up saying that she isn’t interested in men. Unfortunately, she says it to a girl her own age who has expressed attraction to her, and Yuna’s response is “just because I’m not interested in men doesn’t mean I’m interested in you”. Honestly, as with many other series of this type, Yuna seems to be fairly asexual in general. But hey, a bone thrown to the fans. Now back to beating people up with magic bear powers.

As everyone predicted, Yuna’s discovery from the cliffhanger to 17 ends up being the Land of Wa that the author has threatened us with for so long. She heads over there on her bears, and finds it pretty much is just Japan in a vaguely fantasy setting. And I do mean vaguely. She can buy tatami mats, stay at a hotel with futons and a hot spring, and get artisanal candy shaped like animals (the bears have sold out, for some reason). Then she goes to the adventurer’s guild, there’s a quest to take out a dangerous predator that no one wants to take except her… and a very suspicious ninja girl named (try to contain your shock) Shinobu, who insists on accompanying her. Is there some secret plot going on? And does it involve trying desperately to break Yuna out of her shell of “whatever, I don’t care, I’m headed back”?

I was reminded the other day of a series I dropped .like a hot potato a while back, Wandering Witch. It has quite a bit in common with Kuma Bear, in that it stars talented people who try not to get involved in things but end up doing so anyway, and who have a large element of selfishness to their personality. For Yuna, though, this is mostly a front. When she finds out what’s happening to the country, and that it’s been predicted by the country’s prophet, she’s still fairly apathetic. But when she finds the prophet is a 10-year-old girl whose parents have died… naturally, she decides to help. Yuna rarely thinks about her parents much anymore, but there is a definite subtext of “kids need to be allowed to be kids, even when they are orphans and have to grow up fast, no one deserves the childhood I had”. She is a surrogate big sister to every girl she meets, and she will move heaven and earth for them. And then deny she did anything special.

This is a multi-part arc, so I assume next time will have lots of fighting. Till then, enjoy another review where I overanalyze a title that really doesn’t deserve it.

An Introvert’s Hookup Hiccups: This Gyaru Is Head Over Heels for Me!, Vol. 6

By Yuishi and Kagachisaku. Released in Japan as “Inkya no Boku ni Batsu Game de Kokuhaku Shitekita Hazu no Gal ga, Dō Mitemo Boku ni Beta Bore Des” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Satoko Kakihara.

I’ve talked before about how a lot of these sugary sweet high school romance books tend to be written as a handbook for the awkward teenager reading them, who no doubt does not have a hot big-breasted gyaru girlfriend but would like to know the best way to get one. This really becomes apparent in a scene where Yoshin in checking with his online friends because Nanami is, frankly, coming on really strong to him. He’s a horny teenager, so of course he’s interested, but he wants to make sure that he’s a good boy and doesn’t push. Of course, as is patiently explained to him, if Nanami is pressing to go further and he keeps pushing back, that’s ALSO not listening to her own needs. As for Nanami, she’s getting sex ed from the school nurse… who is giving perhaps more sex ed than anyone really expected. Basically, this volume is even hornier than previous ones.

Yoshin and Nanami are still trying to figure out who left that note in her locker asking about the dare. They even confide in her parents and best friends, but they have no idea who it could be. Unfortunately, Yoshin can’t afford to get too distracted – exams are coming up, and if he manages to do well in every class, Nanami has a special reward for him… that she hasn’t quite thought through fully, but that’s Nanami for you. After this, it’s summer vacation, which means festival time! Nanami in a yukata! A yukata that falls open at a really inconvenient moment! You can tell which anime this author was watching in their teenage years. Unfortunately, their one lead on who wrote the note (which would also have tied in nicely with a previous book) turns out to be wrong. Could it be the new character we’re only introduced to this book?

First off, I agree with Yoshin. The old “I skipped a line and so all my answers are one line off so I fail” thing really does read like a bad manga, and it’s annoying that it shows up here. That said, while this is definitely a hornier volume than usual, I’m pretty sure “have a bath with me” (the winning prize) was absolutely going to lead to places that editorial does not want this relatively wholesome high school romance to go. This is despite the fact that he’s bought condoms, and that the school nurse is pretty much assuming they’re already having sex. Honestly, everyone around them assumes that they’re the closest most loving couple in the world. But for now, we get kisses (mostly on the cheek), lots of discussion of Nanami’s breasts and how big they are, and the one erotic piece in the book, where Nanami straddles him on the bed and you wonder if things might actually go farther. Sadly, there’s a knock at the door.

So I assume that next volume will wrap up the note subplot. Till then, this is a decent volume in a series that wants to push the envelope without opening it. Also, that afterword deserved to be about 8 pages shorter.

A Young Lady Finds Her True Calling Living with the Enemy, Vol. 2

By Syuu and Fujigasaki. Released in Japan as “Oguni no Kōshaku Reijō wa Tekikoku nite Kakusei Suru” by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Cross Infinite World. Translated by Kashi Kamitoma.

The thing I think I enjoyed best about this short series (it ends with this second volume) is that it is 100% dedicated to its title. This is not about a young lady finding romance living with the enemy, though the book does end with her marriage. That’s not as important, though, and the confession almost seems like an afterthought. What’s important here is Bertine coming alive in this new country, deciding that she’s going to introduce new cuisines, spices, and finally start up a hotel in order to gain financial independence and make herself happy. More to the point, her determination enables others to achieve the same thing, with one boy seemingly deciding to change the world just because he fell in love with her at first sight (this is not quite true – like Bertine, the love is actually secondary, but it is there). Oh yes, and we also overthrow a terrible royal family, for those who read light novels for the overthrow of terrible royal families. Like me.

Bertine is not only trying to do great things for herself, but for others as well. Her old friend Diana is the Emperor’s concubine, and she is apparently getting passively abused by courtiers because of it. She wants to gift her an amazing necklace to wear to cheer her up. This also allows her to meet Diana’s son Claudio, a twelve-year-old boy who is second in line for the throne but dealing with his father being distant, his half-brother avoiding him, and his mother being unhappy, so he’s not having a good time. Seeing Bertine galvanises him. Meanwhile, Bertine goes to Cecelio’s hometown, meets his parents, and discovers a ton of seafood and spices that the locals think are boring standard stuff, but to people not on the shore is utterly amazing. It’s time to charge rich nobles to eat some more. Then we get a slightly more serious plot: how about a revolution?

I appreciate that, in terms of the revolutio9n itself, Bertine serves as a passive influence on others rather than a direct part (though she is there). For Claudio, she is a reminder that he does not have to passively stand and accept bad things just because of his birth, but can seek his own fortune. This aligns with the Empire, who want to get rid of the lousy San Luenne royal family and now have a much easier way to do so. In addition, the fact that she and her former fiances (who had to break up with her because of politics) are still close allows them to navigate treacherous waters with ease. Everything is about making good contacts and being a good businesswoman. Until the end, when Cecilio says “by the way, marry me”, that’s her relationship with him as well. Partnership comes first.

That said, I’m glad this wrapped up fast. Two volumes seems just about right, especially give that Bertine accomplished so much in so little time. I look forward to the Soup Forest book, just licensed by CIW, from the same author.