The Devil Is A Part-Timer!, Vol. 2

By Satoshi Wagahara and 029. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

The second volume of this series does what is expected of it. It expands on the themes and characters of the first book, adds a new villain and a new sort-of heroine, and relies on its comedy and its action scenes to carry it through. Luckily, the writing style is excellent, so this works pretty well. Out of all of Yen’s recent releases, this is one of the most smoothly translated. It also flies by, even though it’s easily the longest book to come out in August by a good 40-50 pages. We’re dealing with fallout from the first book, as back in Enta Isla, the fantasy world our hero and heroine came from, political machinations war with religious purpose in order to find out how to deal with what’s happened. This results in a literal Inquisitor being sent to deal with Maou.

diapt2

As with A Certain Magical Index, those of a religious inclination might take offense at some of the things this series has to say about the Church, which is portrayed as rather Machiavellian in nature. Suzuno is meant to be of a purer, more moral type, but that doesn’t mean she has not killed people in order to properly serve the church. And, like Emi in the first book, she’s disturbed and distrusting whenever she sees Maou not being evil. In fact, Emi continues to be disturbed by this, and her pursuit of Maou has drizzled down into a sort of “OK, I guess I’ll go stalk him now” duty. Again, I really wonder what sort of horrible things Maou personally did (as opposed to having other evil people doing things for him) in Enta Isla – Chiho speaks for the reader when she says that she can’t judge him based on things she hasn’t experienced.

The main reason to read the series continues to be the comedy, which remains excellent. The narrative voice gets in several cutting remarks as well, without sounding intrusive. There are the standard anime gags – both Emi and Suzuno are annoyed at being flat-chested in comparison to Chiho, and it comes up several times – but there’s also genuine character-based humor. I was especially amused at everyone’s treatment of Urushihara, whose tendency to have everyone think the worst of him is matched only by actually being the worst most of the time. Chiho’s straightforwardness is also refreshing, as she’s straight up admitted she’s in love with Maou, and said so to his face. This does not resolve anything, really – for all the sexual desire he’s shown in the series so far, Maou could be asexual – but it’s still nice to see.

There were a few things that annoyed me towards the end. Sariel is meant to be a gross villain, but the series really goes above and beyond, making him a wannabe rapist who sexually assaults Emi and has delusions of taking Chiho back to Enta Isla as his bride. Maou seems to imply these tendencies were known about Sariel even back in Enta Isla, which is also horrible. The fact that he’s allowed to stay as comic relief (rather than. say, end up in prison, as Olba did) irks me. Still, overall this was another very strong addition to the series, which manages to combine fantasy, humor, and slice-of-life in ways that make the pages fly by.

Sword Art Online, Vol. 5: Phantom Bullet

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen Press.

I had wondered at the end of Fairy Dance how the series would justify there being more MMORPGs and not just having the entire virtual genre banned due to massive deaths. Well, Phantom Bullet answers that – the Seed that Kirito got from SAO’s creator is now all over the world, and basically the genre has ballooned to the point where it’s impossible to legislate – much like the internet, actually. As a result, more and more people are doing different types of games, including Gun Gale Online, the FPS that’s featured in this next arc. It’s not really Kirito’s genre, but he’s become a sort of government gun-for-hire (he feels he owes them due to the help he got rescuing Asuna), and he has to go into GGO to find out who might be, once again, killing players in real life. The answer turns out to be something a lot closer to the old SAO game than Kirito expected.

sao5

Once again, anime fans may be well ahead of light novel readers. In the LN continuity, this is the first we’ve heard of Laughing Coffin, the guild in SAO made up of players who kill for the thrill of it. The anime needed to pad out its episode count, and to be fair it’s a great way to do it, so added the guild to its ongoing story. Even SAO Progressive’s novels have introduced what may be a precursor to the guild in the volume out this June. So seeing it here is not as much of a surprise as it is seeing how they’re once again succeeding in remotely killing people, and we’re not even sure how yet. It also triggers a bit of PTSD in Kirito, who is still having issues coping with the fact that he had to kill several times over the course of SAO. Which leads nicely into his heroine this time around.

Asuna and Kirito complement each other well, but only share a few similarities. The same could be said of Kirito and his sister suguha. Shino Asada, though, aka Sinon, is a lot closer to Kirito. Like him, she’s naturally quiet and introverted except when in the confines of a game. Also, like his current self, she’s coping with PTSD, this one stemming from a real world incident when she shot a bank robber to death in order to stop him killing her mother, and found that Japan now regarded her as a monster. That said, like Asuna, she reacts poorly to embarrassment and the author attempting to be funny. I don’t blame her for that, really. And like Suguha, she has a ‘nice guy’ real-life wannabe boyfriend who I suspect will, also like Suguha, come second place to Kirito.

My experience of FPS games is next to nothing, so I’ve no idea how well the Gun Gale Online concept works as a system. It does make for exciting action scenes, including the final duel between Kirito and Sinon, framed as a bit of a wild west duel. The novel does not so much end as stop, and it’s clearly another two-volume arc which we’ll need to resolve in December. Still, there was no nasty cliffhanger. And no threats of rape, always a good thing. I’m sure we can keep that up for next volume. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic, do not reply in the comments.) If you like SAO and were irritated by Fairy Dance, you might want to give Phantom Bullet a try – Sinon is another in a line of very different heroines. I wish she got the cover, though, even if she is wearing a battle bikini with bulletproof vest combo.

Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, Vol. 3

By Fujino Omori and Suzuhito Yasuda. Released in Japan as “Dungeon ni Deai o Motomeru no wa Machigatte Iru Darou ka?” by Softbank Creative. Released in North America by Yen On.

The thing that struck me most about the third volume of this light novel series was how tightly paced the whole thing is. The second book followed directly from the first, and this one follows on right from the second, with Bell and Lily discussing the fallout of her leaving the Soma family, and introducing her to Hestia. The narrow focus allows us to really get a handle on Bell, his desire to be the best, and his frustration at being unable to progress as fast as he’d like – this despite the fact that he is making the fastest progress in the history of this world. Many overpowered light novel protagonists try to balance their perfect heroes with a massively low self-image, and Bell is no exception. He’s getting there, though – his goal isn’t to get a harem anymore, it’s to be a hero.

danmachi3

Of course he’s getting the harem anyway, though he’s totally unaware of this. Hestia and Lily jealously jockeying for position is highly amusing, though once again Hestia is very much a minor character in the book. This is surprising given how much her popularity has exploded in Japan – you’d think she were the only character. Instead, this time around we get a closer look at the mind of Aiz Wallenstein. While she’s not exactly knocked off the pedestal that Bell has put her on yet, he is at least starting to realize that Aiz is quite eccentric in her emotionally stunted way. Another comedy highlight is seeing Aiz beat the tar out of Bell over and over, and his waking up with his head in her lap then freaking out. It’s also a good plot moment, as Aiz really wants to find out how Bell is getting so good so fast – he learns from her teachings (which are mostly “I beat you up a lot”) astonishingly well.

Then there’s the minotaur. The series began with Bell about to die from having a run-in with one of these, and Freya’s underling Ottar is convinced that it’s his fear of that incident that is stopping him from progressing even faster. So, the decision is simple. Have him face off against another one. If he dies, oh well, he wasn’t worthy of Freya. Of course bell does not die. The sequence is utterly badass, even more so that it happens in front of the high-level adventurers of Loki’s family, who offer a running commentary. I will admit that the book pretty much stops right after the fight, as if the author is working to a set page count. But it’s a great fight to go out on. Oh, and I have a suspicion about Bell’s grandfather. Let’s just say I think I know his name, and I bet he’s gotten a harem by appearing as a bull or swan.

Again, I remain very surprised at how good this series has gotten, particularly with that cliched light novel title. Which was apparently by editorial fiat, I’ve found out. If you love fantasy series, absolutely give this a try.