I Shall Survive Using Potions!, Vol. 4

By FUNA and Sukima. Released in Japan as “Potion-danomi de Ikinobimasu!” by K Lanove Books. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hiroya Watanabe.

To a degree this volume of Potion Girl is not as interesting as the other three, mostly because the author has settled down and found Kaoru’s voice. There’s absolutely no danger of her going to the extremes we’ve seen before, starting from the beginning of the book when she goes to a new town and starts up a perfectly ordinary convenience store. Of course, there’s still the one-two problem that most isekai people have: she’s not well-versed in the products of this world, and she’d ludicrously overpowered. As a result, suddenly it comes out that she has access to incredibly rare medicine (that she created out of thin air) and is once again saving the lives of mobility (who are starting to learn not to talk when a girl with scary eyes comes by). It’s a lot of fun, and Kaoru’s combination of practicality and exasperation is mined for good humor. It’s just a bit more predictable.

The other characters, as if to contrast Kaoru getting more normal, are getting a bit more eccentric. Belle’s desire to sacrifice her life for Kaoru turns out to have been driven by Francette (the two give me a Pearl-and-Connie sort of vibe), and Francette herself seems to be far less interested in taking advantage of her regained youth to be with Roland and far more “obsessed with Kaoru to a terrifying degree”, though thankfully it’s not the sexual kind of obsession. Indeed, poor Roland is starting to realize that his fiancee is very likely to abandon him and run off with their benefactor, much to his dismay. (As with most FUNA books, the woman are awesome and the men tend to be schmucks, and if this bothers you you’d do well to read a different author.)

Two other major events are in this book: first, Kaoru uses her ability to talk to animals to help to solve the murder of a noble family and the punishment of the man who did it. This is probably the strongest chapter in the book, with lots of funny revenge stuff (as with many light novels, the villain is just a horrible man you don’t sympathize with him even a little bit) and Kaoru being goofy (she even fixes her eyes to be droopy so no one recognizes her). We then get her party going to a hot spring, where they are tricked into helping a far-off village defend itself against an attack by bandits. This helps to show off Kaoru’s brutal practicality, which is another way that she distinguishes herself from the more amiable Mile. Kaoru is not here to save your village for you. You’re going to have to save yourself.

The artist has a lot of tiny interstitial art here, which helps to add to the illustration count. The illustrations are also getting more and more ‘cartooney’ by the volume, delighting in evil grimaces and the like. This isn’t going to amaze anyone with plot twists of shocking character swerves anymore, but it gives us a healthy dose of what FUNA does best: super powerful young women having fun.

Full Metal Panic!: Dancing Very Merry Christmas

By Shouji Gatou and Shikidouji. Released in Japan by Fujimi Fantasia Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Elizabeth Ellis.

Well, this is, to a certain extent, somewhat lighter in tome than the previous book. But only just, and the author apologizes afterwards for having far fewer wacky hijinks than he promised last time. That said, we also get a funeral in this book, as Tessa’s chances in the romance sweepstakes finally die as Sousuke says to her face that he loves Kaname and likes her more than Tessa. Note he does not actually say this to Kaname – they’re edging closer to being a couple, and have what may be the sweetest ending in the series to date, but this is not really about Kaname (birthday: Christmas Eve), it’s about Tessa (birthday: Christmas Eve), who may share Kaname’s brain at times thanks to the Whispered but cannot be her. Which honestly is all for the best, as seeing her try to help on this cruise ship mission and be the sad dojikko in snow is really pathetic. Hopefully getting rejected by Sousuke can allow her to relocate her inner badass.

Kyoko is on the cover, and to be fair gets a little more to do than usual. The class, after their school trip got hijacked by terrorists, have been invited on a Christmas Eve banquet about a luxury cruise ship. Meanwhile, Sousuke and MITHRIL are trying to track down AMALGAM based on Gauron’s last words, which (after a nice action sequence where Sousuke takes a missile to the chest) leads them… to the same cruise ship, which it turns out is a giant trap to capture Kaname, who really has had a series of very bad days in these books so far. Especially given it’s her birthday. To stop things, MITHRIL pretend to be terrorists attacking the boat themselves. Unfortunately, various things go wrong, from a gung-ho wannabe hero to robot killer weapons to Tessa getting captured and taken away by plane. Fortunately, Sousuke has reconciled with Al… mostly… and is here to save the day again.

The book’s strengths are many. It really is, despite the drama, far more upbeat than the downer of the previous two. Kaname beats up Sousuke once, but otherwise is starting to think before she acts, and is also starting to use her Whispered abilities far better to help the others. The action sequences are top notch, crying out to be animated (sadly, it wasn’t, being the only early volume to get an audio CD adaptation) and helping the reader gloss over some of the more ludicrous aspects by having Sousuke and Al refer to “Christmas miracles”. It has a stunning cliffhanger, which I won’t spoil, and shows off the seemingly nebbish Mardukas as a hidden badass. The books one big flaw is Killy B. Sailor (a Navy man!), who not only has the most ludicrous name in all of anime, but is also an idiot who should not be rewarded for his extremely stupid actions. He’s a parody of action heroes, but I felt he was one part of the book that wasn’t funny.

Despite that, this is a strong volume in the series, and definitely recommended to anime fans as they won’t have seen it, and light novel fans, as it’s the first FMP! novel not done by Tokyopop 10 years ago.

Owarimonogatari: End Tale, Part 01

By NISIOISIN and VOFAN. Released in Japan by Kodansha BOX. Released in North America by Vertical, Inc. Translated by Ko Ransom.

Yes, I know. This came out in mid-December, and here it is the following April. Part of it is that it’s still print-only (Kodansha is doing e-books for the series, but not right away), part of it is that it’s a long book even in a series with many other long books. But mostly it’s the subject matter. Monogatari in general has been a series that tends to be overdramatic and over the top, be it Araragi’s narration or the events involving a bunch of vampires, ghosts, cat demons, snake demons, devils, corpses and Senjogaharas. And, let’s face it, Ogi Oshino, who is all over this book, is not simply going to end up being Meme’s precocious niece. No, the real star of this book is a brand new character, who arrives and leaves all at the same time – Sodachi Oikura. She loves math and hates Araragi, but there’s so much more to her story than that. And it’s that story that is told here, in excruciating three-part detail.

The first story, Ogi Formula, sees Ogi at last get a proper introduction – she’s been around since the 8th book, but always after the fact; here we get the context of her meeting Araragi for the first time, and the two of them getting trapped in his old first-year classroom, which helps set up Sodachi’s story but more importantly tells us exactly how and why Araragi went from a mostly well-adjusted kid to the “I don’t need other people” guy we met in Kizumonogatari. Sodachi Riddle then shows Sodachi returning to school after a two-year absence, and (after a brief fight with Senjogahara which is probably the highlight of the book) Ogi and Araragi then go back to an abandoned house to see how he met her in middle school and had forgotten it. Then, in Sodachi Lost, after Araragi recalls he also met her even earlier… and also forgotten it… he and Hanekawa try to get Sodachi to return to school while battling her own family past and the even-more-annoying-than-usual Ogi.

The stories told here are strong, don’t get me wrong, and I liked some of the writing. The characters, though, just make me miserable. Araragi, when he’s around Ogi, is a pale shadow of his usual self, and ends up being almost as pathetic as she makes him out to be until right at the end. Ogi is designed to be thoroughly irritating, of course, but so far the series has used her sparingly – here she’s in the entire book, and we are thoroughly irritated. (Her petty rivalry with Hanekawa is probably the highlight, as it turns her smug glibness into actual childish nastiness.) And Sodachi is a child of abuse who has gone through far too much, but is also thoroughly unpleasant in very explainable ways. I can’t blame her, but I admit I’m quite happy she’s not returning. Hanekawa comes off best here… but she announces she’s leaving the country, probably to investigate Ogi, who she finds 8000% more suspicious than Araragi does.

This is a necessary book, as the series has been setting up Ogi to be the villain, and this does a whole lot to advance that. It’s also a reminder that when it comes to actual real-life issues, as opposed to oddities, there’s little Araragi can do. But man, reading this book is like eating your beets. Next time we’ll go back to that incredibly busy four-day period in August – already seen in Tsubasa Tiger, Mayoi Jiangshi, AND Shinobu Time – for the one untold story we still have – what were Kanbaru and Araragi up to back then? Fortunately, as I dawdled reading this book, I can start that one right away.