The Unwanted Undead Adventurer, Vol. 2

By Yu Okano and Jaian. Released in Japan as “Nozomanu Fushi no Boukensha” by Overlap, Inc. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

Last time I mentioned that I found Rentt fairly dull, but the story being told around him fascinating. Unfortunately, this second book sticks with Rentt the entire time, and suffers from it. It’s divided fairly evenly into fourths, each of which sees Rentt telling us about what’s going on very matter of factly. And speaking in that “I… am a zombie… sort of tone…” to boot. The stronger part of the book is at the start, as I really enjoyed the Bronze Adventurer test he took with the young adventurer couple. And the chat he had with Sheila was also good, though signposted something that I was hoping this book would avoid. (It’s a light novel series, guess what? It’s not avoided.) Unfortunately, the last two stories aren’t as interesting, and by the end of the book I found myself skimming, never a good sign when the ending features a fight to the death against a giant dragon creature.

The start, though, is very good. The test that Rentt and the adventurers he’s paired with take is quite vicious, which is fair given what adventurers of this level have to go through. More monsters than expected, ambushes from guild members, and also ambushes by other adventurers trying to take them out, given that only the one team who gets there first passes. This allows Rentt to show off his knowledge and experience. The adventurer couple are cliched (they reminded me a bit of the brother/sister team from Log Horizon) but cute. After this, we see that, as expected, Rentt’s attempt to hide himself by taking on a different last name and putting on a cloak and mask are not QUITE as effective as he’d imagined. Unfortunately, this then leads to the thing I thought we’d avoided. Sheila is clearly in love with Rentt, and when brought back to the house to meet Lorraine, Lorraine immediately knows it. I don’t really need undead harem adventures.

The third story has Rentt going to a village whose ritual sacrifice festival has gotten a bit too literal about its ritual sacrifices, and she steps in to save the day and figure out what’s going on is not as supernatural as people would think. The final story is the one ending in a cliffhanger, as Rentt takes on the task of finding a rare plant to help heal the head of an orphanage (the orphans are the ones hiring him). The most interesting part of this is when Rentt tries to kill a giant rat creature and instead finds himself getting a familiar, and a rather snarky one at that. Unfortunately, this is almost entirely Rentt by himself and Rentt without other people to bounce off of is far, far too dull. Things aren’t helped by the fact that, due to a rumor of adventurers disappearing, he has to stay out of the dungeons to avoid being suspicious. As a result, he’s stagnated a bit.

So now that we’ve had that dreaded second album syndrome, can things pick up? I believe they can, but I suspect it relies on how large the cast is for the third book. Too much Rentt can be deadly.

Kakafukaka, Vol. 1

By Takumi Ishida. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Kiss. Released in North America digitally by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Erin Proctor & Molly Rabbitt.

I’ve talked before about the fine balance that some titles need to walk with character development. It’s good to have characters with notable flaws, so that you can show them growing, learning, and changing. On the other hand, particularly in manga where a casual reader can drop a series after the first volume (when most stories have only just laid out the basics), if a character is too unlikable they risk annoying the reader too much. Kakafukaka is a josei series with two people who, at separate points and together, may grate on the reader’s nerves. The supporting cast also has its own issues, and there isn’t really a character that I can hang my hat on here and say “well, at least they’re sympathetic”. On the other hand, this sort of cast and plot is the reasonIe’ve been wanting more josei in the first place, and seeing these broken twenty-somethings blunder through life is why I’m here.

Aki is a young woman who feels it’s been a bit of a downhill slide since middle school. She’s drifting through life, can’t find a steady job, and has a self-loathing complex a mile wide. Oh, and she walked in on her boyfriend screwing another woman. Which means she’s now looking for a new place to live as well. Fortunately, one of her friends is getting married (which comes as a surprise, as she hadn’t told Aki yet) and is looking for someone to take her room in a share house she’s living in with three other boarders. To her surprise, she knows someone else who lives there: Tomoya was her classmate in middle school… and also the boy she lost her virginity to. That said, everything got awkward after that and they drifted apart. Now we’re ready to pick up where we left off? Not quite. Tomoya, it turns out, has erectile dysfunction… something that seems to be cured when he’s around Aki, much to his surprise and Aki’s discomfort. As a result, they reach a very uncomfortable agreement.

Kakafukaka’s issues are front and center, and also the point. Tomoya asks Aki to sleep in the same bed with him, both so that he can get a good night’s sleep (he’s been dwelling on this) and also so that he can see about curing himself. He promises not to “do anything dirty”, but as Aki herself notes, the entire premise kind of revolves around his getting hard when in contact with her. In addition, Tomoya is not all that happy with Aki’s super-low opinion of herself, one of the other flatmates has a crush on Tomoya to a disturbing degree, and Tomoya himself is simply hard to read – one of those “mild-mannered” mellow but stoic types that you see a lot of in titles like this, so Aki can’t help but receive mixed signals.

And so you have a series that shows a lot of promise, but has working against it the personalities of the two leads and the basic premise of their needing to be together. I’m optimistic that the series is going in a positive direction, but the reader might want to wait till a couple more volumes are out and read them in one big gulp.

Durarara!!, Vol. 10

By Ryohgo Narita and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

I had assumed that this would be another of those “all the plot guns fire off at once” volumes, but I was wrong. Indeed, Narita suggests he’s saving everything for the endgame, which is coming up soon. That is not to say that what’s in this volume is without interest. For one thing, we’re introduced to a new Big Bad, who not only lets all the Yodogiri Jinnais (yes, multiple) get crushed, but also gets to crush Izaya as well, something that always pleases me. What’s more, she seems to have a Saika’s power. This makes THREE independently running Saikas who can control people, as we have Anri, Haruna Niekawa (whose absence from her family life is a large plot point here as well), and now Kujiragi, the cliched “secretary secretly running everything behind the scenes”, who is also apparently older than she seems. She also has a fondness for cat puns. She’s a cool new character.

Thought Erika and Walker are hamming it up, Kadota’s presence on the cover is no accident, though it’s his absence that drives most of the plot. What’s been happening in Ikebukuro lately has been like a grenade about to go off, and the two things that stop it going off are Shizuo (because of sheer physical strength) and Kadota (because he’s the Only Sane Man in this entire series). So when Kadota is hospitalized by a passing mystery car, and Shizuo is arrested by cops for… well, they’ll think of some crime or another… all hell is ready to break loose. That said, it’s made clear in their scenes together that Erika is on a more even keel whenever she’s with Anri. She may be a fangirl of Anri’s supernatural powers, but she also knows that Anri needs a big sister, and when she fulfills that role she can avoid running around town threatening everyone with a car and a motive, the way Walker and Togusa do.

It’s been a while since we checked in on the three ‘main’ cast members (though, as always, Narita insists the star of Durarara!! is Celty). Mikado continues his downward slide, though at least we see he hasn’t gone full villain when he gets totally terrified on meeting Akabayashi. It’s hard to sympathize with Mikado, and I get the feeling that if he admits that he’s doing this so that he can feel excitement and be “special”, he’ll have lost. So he blunders on, not really caring that Aoba is just using him. Masaomi seems to be thinking that the best way to get through to Mikado is to kick the crap out of him till he’s a sweet boy again, and has mobilized the Yellow Squares to do this. As for Anri, all she wants is for things to go back to where they were so the three of them can have their talk. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen, and I suspect the presence of two other Saikas will goad her into more definitive action next time.

So the pot is still simmering, but the stew inside it is smelling even more delicious. DRRR!! proper ends with the 13th book (please don’t ask about SH yet, I beg of you), so we’ll see how much more setup can be forced in before Narita simply has to serve it all up.