Demons’ Crest, Vol. 1

By Reki Kawahara and Yukiko Horiguchi. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by James balzer.

I had heard, for some reason, that this was Reki Kawahara wanting to do something different, and if you look at this book superficially, you might laugh. It’s about a bunch of folks who get trapped in a gaming environment where they can actually be killed, and most of the battles and technical talk is straight from the gamer handbook. And we also have eye/ear tech that bonds with your body and is used by absolutely everyone in the real world, as this takes place about 10 years in the future. Fans of SAO and Accel World must be going hrm. And yes, it does feel sort of like an author of romance fics featuring the same couple deciding to do something different by doing a Pirate AU of that exact couple, but I do think this has a few things that really do make it different. First of all, these are 11 and 12-year-olds, meaning for once being immature jerks is actually not only tolerable but expected. Secondly, it’s clear that what Kawahara REALLY wanted to write is a Death Game. (Yes, yes, SAO, but…)

The kids of Yukihana Elementary School are excited. They get to try out a brand new, still in testing virtual reality game that feels just like real life!… well, mostly. They’re still working on smell and taste. We follow Yuuma Ashihara and his twin Sawa, as well as their childhood friend Nagi and Yuum’s best friend Kenji as they try to capture monsters, card-captor style, and defeat dungeon bosses. Then suddenly Yuuma finds himself back in the VR capsule… and when he gets out of it, he finds the class idol, Sumika, stumbling towards him, with her face blank except for a row of ravenous teeth and holding a severed arm, presumably of a classmate. Now he has to join up with his sister and best friend (childhood friend is missing) to try to figure out what’s going on and survive.

This does do some things well. The romance is kept to a 12-year-old level, which is a bit of a relief, frankly, especially as the body count starts to get higher. The action scenes are as good as you’d expect for this author. I admit I was a little annoyed with Sawa clearly putting off telling her twin brother (and the reader) what really happeneed till the cliffhanger ending, as it felt forced. There’s also a guy in here… I forget what his name in the book is, because I just called him “Monoma Neito” as soon as I read him, and anyone who’s read My Hero Academia will do the same. Only, unlike Monoma, this guy looks to be actually evil. Lastly, I did enjoy the fact that folks think about what will happen if they do escape this. The monsters are not all game-only, some are classmates or adults turned into monsters, and I don’t think “I killed them because it was a death game” will fly if they get back to reality and have to explain things.

Still, reality looks a long way away. Fortunately, there is a 2nd volume coming soon, which hopefully features Sawa actually talking. Till then, for fans of ‘trapped in a game’, death games, or this author.

An Archdemon’s Dilemma: How to Love Your Elf Bride, Vol. 17

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 by J-Novel Club. Translated by Hikoki.

This series started off with very powerful characters, and it’s only been adding more and more of them as it goes on. Even the comedy relief crybaby girl is an incredibly powerful archangel, and there are all new archdemons, each of which are, when viewed apart from the story itself, utterly terrifying. As such, it’s rather refreshing that we spend a chunk of this story with Micca, the lowest-ranked archangel, who is on the team merely because the swords choose their owner, and thus still feels like a teenage boy struggling to provide for his lower-class family. He’s a nice kid, and will happily help the mysterious, robotic-sounding maid girl try to find her master despite being obviously suspicious. So of course this guy finds himself, at the climax of the book, to be the fifth person in a battle to the death between four of the most powerful people in the world. Some days you really should stay in bed.

All Zagan and Nephy want to do is have a cute ice cream sundae date, but things keep getting in the way. Well, mostly it’s Asmodeus, who wants to try to make a deal with a somewhat irritated Zagan because she knows that “throw demons at Zagan till he’s overrun” is indeed a strategy that could work. She’s also, like many villains in this series, slowly turning out to be not so bad after all. The same cannot be said for Glaysa-Labolas, who is definitely the villain this time around, as he finds the location of Forneus, an archdemon who might be able to help Zagan, as well as Shax and Kuroka, who are supposedly on their “honeymoon” but in reality are trying to gain his support. Unfortunately, Forneus also turns out to be the owner of the maid girl I mentioned above, so when she and the teenage archangel all arrive at the same tavern, everything gets very messy.

This series tends to run on “very powerful people who can destroy the world are useless dorks when it comes to love”, and no one has been a bigger dork in the past than Shax, who the reader has wanted to throttle many times. But eventually (I assume, the anime only adapted two volumes, meaning it could theoretically come back for 8 more cour) this series is going to have to end, meaning that some of these people are going to have to get their shit together at some point. And Shax and Kuroka look to be the closest to doing so, as Chastille and Barbatos are stuck in comedy relief land (I love that her “curse” is “no, you’re just that clumsy”) and Zagan and Nephy are stuck in Archie Comics-style romance. They both get several chances to be cool here, and there’s even some accidental kinky ear biting, showing, as with every other catgirl in Japan, the ears are an erogenous zone to Kuroka.

One complaint: if the text is going to describe a dead person as “diced”, don’t draw interior art showing them with a bit of blood loss. Beyond that, this was a decent Archdemon’s Dilemma, a series that really should wrap up soon, please.

Goodbye, Overtime! This Reincarnated Villainess Is Living for Her New Big Brother, Vol. 1

By Chidori Hama and Wan Hachipisu. Released in Japan as “Akuyaku Reijō, Brocon ni Job Change Shimasu” by Kadokawa Beans Bunko. Released in North America by J-Novel Heart. Translated by Rymane Tsouria.

First of all, because I know it’s the first question on everyone’s mind, there’s no incest subtext in this book. OK, there’s no sexual incest subtext. There’s tons of Brocon/siscon stuff, and the usual “I’m never marrying anyone I’ll just stay with you” nonsense, but there is zero sexual attraction between the two leads beyond Ekaterina thinking her brother is hot. Which he is. Secondly, in the afterword, the author says they got the idea for this series after reading another villainess book. They don’t say which one, but if it’s not My Next Life As a Villainess, I’ll be very surprised. This, like quite a few villainess books, reads like someone wanted to write the same series only with the main character being less of a complete dipshit. And this not only includes Ekaterina trying hard to avoid her doom, but also includes her befriending the heroine, who seems to fall deeply in love with her. That said, this will likely be about as canon as Bakarina as well.

Rina Yukimura is an OL in a Black Company-type job, who ends up dying of overwork and exhaustion while playing an otome game she loves. Now she wakes up as… the game’s villainess! Ekaterina Yulnova is the sister of a duke, and spends most of the game bullying the heroine until she eventually gets her comeuppance. So Rina has several things she has to do. First, she and Ekaterina start off as very different people, and meshing their personalities (well, more like Rina takes over) takes a lot of energy. Secondly, she has to work hard to not be the villainess, which means actually study hard and also read up on her family history, which was not gone into in the game, and turns out to be a lot darker than she expected. This is all before she gets to school, and meets Lady, Flora, a commoner who is now the adopted daughter of a baroness…

If that summary made you roll your eyes a bit, I don’t blame you. It’s a bit boilerplate, yes. Ekaterina is fun, though. Having died from overwork in her past life, she sees her brother running the entire dukedom and panics that he’ll do the same thing… while remaining blissfully obvious that she’s fallen into her own overwork habits from before. Flora is a shyer, more reserved Maria Campbell, but they even bond over good food – in this case, potato and bacon crepes rather than sweets – and seems to hero worship Ekaterina just as much, and some other ladies also look smitten by the end of this volume. That said, she’s also gaining male followers. In addition to her brother, who reads like Keith Claes only without all the creepy, there’s the Prince, who reads a lot like Jeord but without all the creepy. Oh yes, and there’s also monster attacks, which Bakarina doesn’t do as much but does allow Ekaterina to help save the day with her “common” Earth magic… which again, feels like a comment on Katarina Claes and her Earth Bump.

If you like villainess books, this isn’t bad. If you want Bakarina with the serial numbers filed off, it’s also not bad. Just… expect the yuri to go the same way it’s going to go in Bakarina.