Reign of the Seven Spellblades, Vol. 3

By Bokuto Uno and Miyuki Ruria. Released in Japan as “Nanatsu no Maken ga Shihai suru” by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alex Keller-Nelson.

The third volume in this series is very much “Part 2” of the second volume, as we ended with a nasty cliffhanger last time. Pete is in the hands of Ophelia, along with several other boys from the school, and is not expected to be found alive. Our heroes need to go after him, but the labyrinth is not off limits for no good reason, and there are also upper-year students also searching for them. Still, Nanao, Oliver and Chela are actually good enough to survive it, and are joined by a former enemy who turns out to be helping them… though not necessarily out of the goodness of her heart. While this is happening, we get the tragic backstory for Ophelia, who is a succubus whose scent can inflame male passions, and therefore not only had trouble making friends when she first got to school, but was slut-shamed to the point where it drove her to… well, bad actions. Can she be saved? Can she at least have a remotely peaceful death?

It was mentioned to me on Twitter that this series probably would work better in animated form than it does as prose, and I can certainly see why. There are an awful lot of cool battles here, and while they are definitely cool enough being described to us they cry out to be seen. Each of our six protagonists gets something to do… though Katie and Guy can only help in indirect ways, and Pete, of course, has to do something about their own kidnapped situation. Pete’s reversi nature is rapidly becomeing a far more well-known secret, which I suspect might have consequences in future volumes, especially given the fate of one of their support mechanisms here. And yes, Oliver is clever, Chela is clever, and Nanao is… well, NOT clever, but she’s very battle savvy, and her not cleverness can provide some of the few light moments in this book.

Those who have read my previous reviews know that I have been studiously avoiding mentioning a certain other well-known fantasy series that Seven Spellblades reminds everyone of, and that comes into play here as well, as a lot of what Ophelia goes through is reminiscent of another group in that series. That said, Ophelia’s is far darker and more tragic. Her backstory is welcome mostly as it shows us that she was once also a first-year who was slowly drawn into a group of friends, just like our heroes at the start of the first book. It shows us that we should not get too comfortable, and that any of of them could easily be sharing an equally tragic fate in the next few books. My money, in fact, is on Oliver, who may be the main character but also has far too many weak sports.

The main weak spot of this book is the ending, as the book simply stops like a Target Doctor Who paperback that has reached Page 128. I’m not sure if the author was trying to set a somber, downbeat book with that or was working to a pagecount, but either way, I think an epilogue would have been better here. That said, it’s still another strong volume in the series, and I eagerly await the fourth book, where apparently our heroes move up a year.

Also, love Milihand, and I really hope she sticks around as a regular character, or at least a mascot.

How to Melt the Ice Queen’s Heart, Vol. 1

By Kakeru Takamine and Ichigo Kagawa. Released in Japan as “Kouri no Reijou no Tokashi Kata” by Monster Bunko. Released in North America by Tentai Books. Translated by Alejandro de Vicente Suárez and Noor Hamadan.

We’ve discussed this before. In order to make the male lead of a romance – be it light novel, manga or game – appeal to the average reader who is basically plastering their face on his, they must have as few defining traits as possible. They should have middling to lower grades – but not actually failing – and either be average at sports or avoid them altogether. They tend to be members of the Go Home Club, unless of course the romance in question involves a club, which it usually does. This is all very well and good, but it always leads to the question: what on Earth does she see in him? In fact, “they”, because usually these sorts of books have multiple girls all falling for the hero. Fortunately, How to Melt the Ice Queen’s Heart, in addition to avoiding most of these pitfalls, has an excellent answer as to what she sees in him and why her heart melts: HE CAN COOK.

Asahi is a young man who is somewhat reserved, not really prone to sarcasm or cynicism, and his biggest problem seems to be dealing with his best friend and his best friend’s girlfriend – who are both very loud, energetic, and flirty with each other. He doesn’t pay much attention to his classmate Fuyuka, a stoic young woman who is the Ice Queen of the title – she avoids interpersonal relationships. One day, when she does not show up for school, he finds that not only does she live next door to him in the apartment complex, but she’s also suffering from a bad cold and high fever. Initially throwing off all attempts at his help, she finally gives in after passing out in the hallway. After he cares for her and makes her food to feel better, she tries to pay him back, at first with plain old cash (he refuses), then by helping him study. From here, romance blossoms.

There’s not really a great deal to this book beyond the romance – it is here for one thing and that is seeing these two nice kids slowly start to fall for each other. Naturally, Fuyuka’s ice queen reserve is more “socially awkward” than anything else, though she seems to have a tragic past. Asahi does not have a tragic past per se, but he does have two “famous” parents and their restaurant, which is the main reason he’s living by himself. The two mostly bond through cooking lessons (him) and study lessons (her), and we also get a sports festival which involves a prize which traditionally is given to the person you love, trying to hide your not-quite-relationship from the two Worst Best Friends out there, and how to negotiate a night out on Christmas Eve when it’s spent at a restaurant not only run by Asahi’s parents but literally named and themed after him.

It’s sweet. It’s heartwarming. It’s got virtually zero drama or wacky comedy shenanigans – there’s not even any fanservice! It is a light novel you could happily introduce to your parents – though beware if your parents are as goofy as Asahi’s. I liked this a lot.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear, Vol. 7

By Kumanano and 029. Released in Japan by PASH! Books. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda.

Last time I talked about how one of the most interesting aspects of the Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear series for me was the fact that it kept getting dark, despite being about cute girls doing cute things. Naturally, this new volume therefore has none of that, with no dark moments and very little real conflict at all. It is almost pure fluff. Fortunately, I am at a point right now where I need pure fluff, so this book was like a nice balm to my soul. If there’s any conflict in the volume it comes from Fina, who is still terrified whenever she has to be around nobility, and here is passed off the Ellelaura and the actual King. She’s convinced that she’ll do something to screw up and get herself executed, and spends the entire time in a froth. Yuna, of course, does not understand this at all, not even when Fina spells it out for her later in the volume. Yuna has no issues interacting with anyone, of course.

We start off with Yuna going into the mines to deal with the pesky respawning golems. She’s joined by the friendly adventurer party we’ve seen before, and also opposed by a rival adventurer party, whose leader is quite a jerk. (Yuna, amusingly, compares the rival party to the Power Rangers.) Unfortunately, most of the things Yuna does to defeat enemies would also cause a cave-in, so trying to get to the golem that’s the cause of all of this is going to need a bit more strategy. After this, Yuna manages to score mithril knives for Fina and her sister (who is seven, but it’s never too early to give a child a knife) and some mithril weapons for herself. The rest of the book is made up ,mostly of cooking, as Yuna finds one of Morin’s relatives in the capital who wants to be a baker and sends her to Cremonia to meet up, and then invents strawberry shortcake.

In general, the funniest parts of this series involve either a) Yuna getting belittled for wearing the bear onesie, or b) Yuna having no concept of social customs, mores, or ethics. We get both of those here, with the highlight being when Yuna gives Fina the mithril knife – for free – and then tries to give her another one for her sister, and Fina simply loses it, berating Yuna in the middle of the street about how much mithril costs normally, and that Yuna cannot simply live her life not giving a crap about the economy, giving away all this and expecting nothing in return. This is especially true of Fina, a very serious girl who is unfortunately saddled with Yuna for a best friend. Other highlights include Yuna visiting the royal family with her bears in cub form, and finding it very hard to get Flora and the Queen herself from letting go of them.

So yeah, nothing much happens, but it’s cute. This is what folks think every volume in the series is like. That’s not really true, but this is fine too.