Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, Vol. 8

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. Translated by Andrew Gaippe.

I knew going in that this was going to be a short-story collection, but it turns out that’s not quite true. What it is is more “A day in the life” – there’s still an overarching plot going on, and stories do affect other stories, but each of the six main stories is also self-contained and stars a specific member of Hestia Familia. Omori said that he wanted to write stories about love in this volume, which may make some readers cringe, and rightly so. DanMachi works best when the harem romance is used as a spice, in my opinion, and this is definitely a heaping helping of main course romance. That said, I have an easy way to tell whether you’ll enjoy a story or not – the longer the story, the better it is.

Unfortunately, that means the book begins with its worst story. I’ve never been a fan of “we’re not blood related so it’s not really incest” stories, and so Mikoto’s crush on her adoptive God father Takemikazuchi merely aggravated me, especially as it’s surrounded by a host of other cliches. I suspect the author meant it to be the funny one of the group. Eina’s story involved Bell protecting her from a stalker, but was probably the most boring of the stories, much like its female lead (sorry, Eina). Syr’s story was all right, but it teased that it was going to finally show off how she was related to Freya – fan rumor suggested she IS Freya, but that seems unlikely – but left things a bit too vague to be satisfying.

The longer stories fare much better. Lilly and Hestia are the only characters who get to definitively talk about their love for Bell openly in the series, and we see that love being put to the test on Lilly’s end, as not only has the rest of the group been told about Bell’s special skills (and thus that his stats are literally driven by his love of Ais), but she’s feeling useless in the dungeon as well, and ends up with a huge case of self-hatred (which honestly is always sort of boiling beneath the surface of Lilly). Help comes in the form of Finn, who is not only the only other hobbit – sorry, prum – in the book, but also far more savvy about romance (well, except for the advances of the amazon with the crush on him). As for Welf, his is the least romantic story in the book, though we see his respect for Hephaistos borders on love, and she also loves seeing his growth. Welf actually drives the main plot, as his magic sword skills are now well known – and people are trying to use them for evil.

The final story stars Hestia, Bell and Ais, and I enjoyed it a great deal as well, though a brief caveat that people who dislike jealous, petty Hestia will probably dislike it a bit more. That said, Bell finally seems to be catching a clue about how Hestia feels about him, though it’s not clear whether he’ll actually do anything about that. (Finn mentions harems to him at one point, but I honestly don’t think this is going to be that kind of series.) As for Ais, she’s showing a lot more emotion in her own stoic way than she ever has before, and we see her as furious as she ever gets when seeing how a reclusive village worships an ancient dragon. I suspect this may be related to backstory we’ll get more of in Sword Oratoria.

So in the end a bit of a mixed bag, but still well worth reading for fans of the series, especially if you like Lilly, Welf, or Hestia. There’s a bit of a tease for the next book at the end, and I sense we’re about to get a more serious arc next. Perhaps with a more normal focus on action rather than romance?

Princess Jellyfish, Vol. 4

By Akiko Higashimura. Released in Japan in two separate volumes as “Kuragehime” by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Kiss. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Sarah Alys Lindholm.

I’ve mentioned before that I read this book more for Kuranosuke than Tsukimi, mostly as I keep waiting for everything to come crashing down on him and it just hasn’t yet. Kuranosuke is a giant whirling ball of poor impulse control, and while most of the time this is channeled in a good direction, and I do like that he’s helping the others in his own way, I always grit my teeth a bit when the moral seems to be “consequences are for other people!”. We get a bit of backstory as to how he came to the mansion as a child, and a bit more insight into the relationship he has with his older brother. I liked this, it makes sense for the character. Best of all, though, we have several moments, especially in the second half of the book, where Kuranosuke is thrown off his game, and forced to actually deal with unplanned things. He really shines then.

Speaking of the second half of the book, Nisha is a highly welcome breath of fresh air, and provides a dose of reality to the series that is desperately needed, as Kuranosuke has his head in the clouds just as much as Amars seems to. In particular, they are reminded that if they expect to make any money at all, Tsukimi’s jellyfish dresses need to be priced as haute couture, which is to say way, way above anything that the Amars crew could ever afford. We get a visit to an outlet store for expensive clothing, and while Tsukimi remains horrified, it really is a good object lesson in how the other half lives. She is not the target market for her dresses – people like the rick old ladies who came to the fashion show are. It will be interesting to see how well the dresses succeed in future books.

As you’d expect, there’s also lots of other things going on in these two volumes. Tsukimi and Shu get closer, even as she still has tremendous trouble dealing with a man AS a man (Kuranosuke dressing as a woman helps), and the residence is still very much on the chopping block, which gives Inari a chance to give a magnificently villainous speech tearing down Tsukimi – it’s cliched by design, and after all, if it does what it intended, why not use the cliche? That said, I think Tsukimi will be fighting back soon thanks to her fellow neighbors, who now that they know the strength of their resolve are prepared to bring them in to the protest fold.

There’s more tiny little character moments – I loved Jiji agreeing to run operations for the newly minted Jellyfish fashion business, if only as it gave her something to do for the first time in the entire series. Essentially, Princess Jellyfish’s fourth volumes shows the work of an assured manga artist continuing to draw us into the world of fashion and introverts, and you eagerly read on to see what happens next.

Sword Art Online, Vol. 10: Alicization Running

By Reki Kawahara and abec. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Stephen Paul.

If the 7th Sword Art Online novels felt rushed because we weren’t used to the pace of a single volume story, then this book has the opposite issue. Alicization Running is filled with cool scenes, exposition, and character development, but it is the very definition of “Part 2 of 10” – it doesn’t stand on its own as a novel, really. For those who expected we’d see Kirito and Eugeo reuniting with Alice in this book, she’s barely even mentioned except as a goal, because to get to her they have to become Knights, which means winning a tournament, which means going through sword training school, which means winning ANOTHER tournament. Kawahara is stretching this out, for good or ill. Fortunately, it’s partly good – this is still readable, and by now I hope the average Sword Art Online reader takes Kirito’s success with a sword for granted and does not grind their teeth at it.

The other good news is that the first third or so of this book is devoted to Asuna in the real world, who is trying to figure out what happened to Kirito, who is not, as we may have expected, in a hospital but has instead completely vanished. We do eventually find out where he is, with a lot of seeming villains who are really helping out heroes and the like. We also get more of one of my least favorite things in Sword Art Online – praising Akihiko Kayaba, the villain of the first arc who condemned thousands to death, but is really just a misunderstood man with a dream, something that even Asuna says she can respect, which just makes me shake my head. Unfortunately, the rest of Asuna’s section is taken up with huge swaths of technobabble as Kikuoka explains what they’re trying to do here, why they’re trying to do it, and why Kirito is here. Some of those explanations are a bit disturbing – the author even has to remind us in the afterword that he does not necessarily agree with his characters (I’m guessing he’s meaning the use of DELICIOUS TASTY BABY SOULS).

Meanwhile, Kirito’s having an adventure, and while he does think of Asuna and the others, and misses them, his focus is on getting to the central capitol. This involves a lot of showing off, because this is Kirito after all, as well as forging him an amazing weapon that can be the equal of the sword Eugeo possesses (which is a black blade almost identical to his Aincrad one). He also gets to face off in a battle with the #1 swordsman at the school… who sadly is not the young woman on the cover. She’s the second strongest swordsman, and the plot is set up to build to a final battle against her that never happens. I’d like to say it’s not just because she’s a woman, but let’s be honest, it probably is. As always, Kirito is at his most interesting when he’s upset or something goes wrong, such as when his classmates’ petty bullying and destruction leads him to the literal power of prayer to fix things (fortunately, this is a gaming world, so it succeeds).

I wish we had more of Eugeo, who’s a nice sweet kid but not much else – he got far more development last time. As for the regulars who aren’t Kirito or Asuna, well, Leafa and Sinon get to have a confab with Asuna at the start of the book, but Lisbeth and Silica are reduced to begging on the back cover. Yui actually fares better than they do – her discussion of AIs, and how in the end she isn’t the amazingly self-aware fairy daughter she appears to be, is well-written and also chilling. This is a necessary volume of Sword Art Online if you want to read more of Alicization, but by itself it’s a bit frustrating. Recommended for fans of the series, but I’m hoping for a bit of a Turning point next time…

Also, Kirito spends most of the book being protected by invisible sentient head lice, who I can’t help but picture as Jiminy Cricket. I just want to throw that out there.