An Archdemon’s Dilemma: How to Love Your Elf Bride, Vol. 10

By Fuminori Teshima and COMTA. Released in Japan as “Maou no Ore ga Dorei Elf wo Yome ni Shitanda ga, Dou Medereba Ii?” by HJ Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hikoki.

This has been such a relaxed, somewhat sweet series that it actually can be startling when bad things happen. For the most part, the bulk of this book involves building a giant bath at Zagan’s castle, which he doesn’t really care about, but the rest of his increasingly large cast of women staying with him want very much. There’s discussion of the different kinds of baths, lots of teasing of various people who are still not quite hooked up with anyone yet, and a huge fight between Zagan and Barbatos, taking out large chunks of the forest, that basically revolves around “is it OK to peep?”. (Zagan says no.) Even when we cut to the bad guys, things are seemingly a bit more calm, with the twin assassin girls being given pocket money and sent out to the city, whereupon they buy a giant parfait. Unfortunately, horrible things do still happen here, and there is actually a real plot burbling underneath.

It can be a bit difficult to figure out who the major evil that needs to be defeated is in this series. First of all, Zagan has ended up turning a lot of former enemies into his allies. Secondly, of the current evil forces group, the twins are actually very cute when they’re in downtime mode (which makes the fate of one of them all the more tragic), Shere Khan is essentially a non-entity here, and Bifrons, the closest thing we’ve had to a big bad to date, ends up helping Zagan at the end – sort of. He’s still plenty evil, as the leading archdemon will attest, but there seems to be something even more evil behind all this – perhaps related to Azazel. Speaking of the twins, the serious part of the book has them both realizing they’d sacrifice their life to protect the other one, and then getting in situations where this is required. It’s touching and also a bit horrifying.

Then there’s the flip side of all this, which is Zagan and company. He’s still trying to figure out his own past, and there are several new revelations here about his childhood with Stella and Marc. Indeed, one of Archdemon’s Dilemma’s conceits is that everyone has connections to each other person in the series that they either don’t know or forgot about – ranging from serious (Marc’s identity in the church) to somewhat comical (where Chastille learned how to be such a good swordswoman at such a young age). Zagan and Nephy, fortunately, just get to be a cute little couple, again not actually achieving a romantic breakthrough just yet but this time around they manage to have a bath together with washing of the backs, which is nice. Certainly they’re miles ahead of the other not-quite-couples in this book.

So yes, this is mostly sweet and fun, but be warned it gets quite dark about 3/4 of the way through. Still a solid entry in the series, though.

Act-Age, Vol. 1

By Tatsuya Matsuki and Shiro Usasaki. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz Media. Translated by Camellia Nieh.

In general, when you think of Weekly Shonen Jump, a certain type of series comes to mind. Lots of boys shouting at each other. Friendship/Training/Victory. Tons and tons of characters getting more and more powerful. Or you think of the goofy romantic comedies, usually involving a hapless guy and the bevy of girls who beat up/like him. But lately Jump has been going outside of its comfort areas quite a bit. And this new series (if you can call it new when it already has 112 chapters out in Japan) is certainly not the cliched Jump title. Indeed, the first thing a person might think, even after reading the first volume, is that someone put this on the wrong label and that it should be running in Betsuma instead. But no, this is pretty shonen. It’s just that instead of pirates, or volleyball, or superheroes, it’s acting that gets the Jump treatment. Best of all, the protagonist is a teenage girl, still a rarity in Jump titles.

The start of this series makes it seem like it’s going to be darker and more depressing than it is. Kei Yonagi is raising her twin sister and brother by herself, trying to hold down jobs, go to school, and still have time to go to acting auditions, where so far she’s had no luck. Her emotions sometimes flow out of her when she thinks of her life, so she “resets” by recalling times when she was happy and smiling. That said, her method acting has not gone as unnoticed as she expected – the main reason she wasn’t cast is that the head of the agency refuses to let her act as it would be bad for her mental health. She’s opposed in this by a young hotshot director, who feels that Kei would be strong enough to get over the issues that method acting can bring about. More importantly, he just really wants to work with her. So begins Kei’s life lessons in how to act.

As someone who got a drama degree in college, let me be honest: I hate method acting. I would not say that it leads to mental stress the way that this manga does, but I feel that it should be used as one of many kinds of choices, not a be-all-and-end-all. Still, the manga does a pretty good job of portraying Kei’s burgeoning talent, as well as showing why she hasn’t gotten anywhere so far – she’s far too raw and has trouble with directions. What’s more, she draws the camera to her even when she’s playing an extra – which is bad. Fortunately she has director Kuroyama, who does some questionable stuff here (please do not kidnap girls off the street), but knows that Kei’s abilities can further both their careers. She’s arresting when she really tries. It’s that sort of thing that makes me want to read more.

This series struggles at times to keep its audience – Usasaki’s art in particular is highly variable throughout – But I really liked Kei’s character, and also her “character type” – stoic airheads are one of my favorite things. If you enjoy acting, or just like unusual Jump titles, this is definitely worth your time.

I Refuse to Be Your Enemy!, Vol. 2

By Kanata Satsuki and Mitsuya Fuji. Released in Japan as “Watashi wa Teki ni Narimasen!” by PASH! Books. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Tara Quinn.

In my review of the first volume I said that light novel fans would be disappointed but romance fans should be happy. This volume dials back the romance (though it’s still there), and I’d argue that it may be fans of RPGs who get the most out of the series, as it’s become a military fantasy novel, which Kiara’s choice to become a spellcaster having far more of an impact on the plot than whether she likes Reggie or Cain. (It’s Reggie, btw. Of course it’s Reggie.) The cliffhanger is resolved fairly quickly, but the overall situation is not, as the King and castle are still very much under attack. We also get a couple of good choices for ongoing villains in this book, and see quite a few people on both sides die, which impacts Kiara more than anyone would like. But most importantly, Kiara and Reggie show how incredibly similar they are to each other, and how that’s a VERY bad thing.

Last time I noted that Kiara’s life in Japan was far more vague than in most reincarnated isekai protagonists, and that’s still true, but we do see a bit more of it here, including some of her life in Japan as Chisato, when she was essentially pretty happy but also alone much of the time, having no siblings and two parents who were working much of the time. She’s determined to avoid the fate of everyone in the game, and we’re pretty sure what she’s managed to avoid turning into an evil spellcaster, at least, but saving Reggie is not as simple as stopping the soldiers from killing him that one time. This is a constant war, and Reggie is in constant danger. As is Kiara, much to Reggie’s chagrin – the woman he’s falling in love with is not one who would take kindly at all to him shutting her away to keep her safe, so he doesn’t, but boy does he hate that.

This series is a romance. And it ends with Vol. 6 in Japan. Not to spoil hideously, or anything, but the final volume has a wedding couple on the cover. That said, you might be surprised at that when you read this book, where you’re wondering if the series may actually kill Reggie off a third of the way through it, or kill off its heroine by the end of the series. It turns out that the thing that he and Kiara both share is a flagrant disregard for their own safety that verges on suicidal tendencies at times. In fact, in the dream we see Kiara have in the epilogue side-story, her reaction in the original world to being killed by Alan was essentially “oh, thank God”. In the second half of the book this turns almost comical, with both desperate to save each other at the cost of their own lives and then getting really upset when they do just that. They really are perfect for each other.

This is a smooth and easy read, with the translator change not really noticeable. If you’re here for the romance, I hope you like slow burn. If you like turn-based RPG strategy books, though, this is right up your street.