Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, Vol. 2

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.

My initial review of this title was a bit lukewarm, mostly expressing surprise that I didn’t immediately hate it given the premise and ‘light novels with long titles’ cliches. After reading the second volume, I’ve had to change my mind. This isn’t merely adequate, it’s quite good. Yes, there are still a few issues with Bell as the typical harem hero, and Hestia can be a bit annoying at times, as you’d expect from a series like this. Yet as with the first book, both seem to recognize their flaws and try to grow from them. Actually, I’d argue Hestia’s biggest issue is how little she’s been in these books given she’s the heroine, and also apparently the next big meme now that the anime is appearing in Japan.

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Instead, this volume has as its main female lead Lilly, who is a hobbit (yes, I know it’s translated differently, but come on, she’s a hobbit) with a tragic backstory, who fills the role of supporter in Bell’s party, since this is not one of those worlds where you have infinite inventory. This also serves as another look at how this ‘game world’ would work in a semi-real-life setting, as supporters are basically the lower class poor here, sneered at and abused by adventurers who regard them as little better than pack mules. Needless to say, Bell is different, but Lilly is so beaten down by the cruelty of everyone else in her sphere that it takes her the entire book to realize that.

I did have issues with Bell’s response to “Why did you save Lilly?” at the end. “Because you’re a girl,” was the first thing that came to mind, which is annoying, as “Because I felt empathy for your situation and could have been like you if things had gone a different way” is far more accurate. There *is* still a major harem aspect to this book, don’t get me wrong. Lilly clearly falls for Bell a bit here; Hestia is going on “dates” with him; Eina admits to herself that she has feelings for Bell; Aiz, the object of his intense adoration, spends much of the book in a depressed funk as he ran away from her in a panic; and of course Freya wants to hug him and squeeze him and call him George. Indeed, the other issue I think I have with the book is that the nature of Bell’s ‘skill’ makes him get far too good at things too fast. This is lampshaded by others, but still, I’d like to have seen more actual work put into it given we already have a glut of perfect fantasy heroes at the moment (hi, Kirito).

The main reason I think this works as a novel is that you don’t get the sense, as you often do with series like these, that the world vanishes once Bell walks out of the picture. These characters have lives and ambitions that don’t all revolve around Bell, and certain teases from the first book are followed up on here. (I was very happy that a character who I thought was a red herring in the first book turned out to be me being right here in the second.) When I finished the first I thought “Well, I guess I might as well get the second volume.” After finishing the second, I’m really looking forward to the third. Though I’d still pitch this more to fans of fantasy than fans of harems.

No Game No Life, Vol. 1

By Yuu Kamiya. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On.

I can only imagine that being someone who wants to read No Game No Life for the plotting, characterization, worldbuilding and excellent sense of dialogue is sort of like being someone who genuinely does read Playboy only for the articles. There’s that realization that you’re sort of enjoying something except for that one thing, but that you can’t actually tell people about it or recommend it to anyone, and it’s intensely frustrating. This is particularly the case with NGNL because the fanservice is so… unimportant. Yes, having Sora be a bit of a loser pervert allows Stephanie to feel conflicted so that she doesn’t simply give in and start crushing on him right away, but as for Shiro… there’s just no need for naked 11-year-old bath fanservice here.

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Luckily, in prose format, this is a bit easier to gloss over. Ignoring the art (provided, unusually, by the author, who got his start as an artist for light novels, which perhaps also explains a lot of the service), I’m still really drawn into this world and these two broken losers who are brought into it. I had reviewed Seven Seas’ manga adaptation a while back, which covers about the first third of the book, and it applies here as well. Sora and Shiro have glorious overconfidence that’s really a mask for their crippling social issues, which can only be resolved when they aren’t separated from each other. This even extends to relationships, as Sora, while he does say “fall in love with me” to Stephanie (before, I think, he really grasps how things work here), points out straight away that nothing can happen for the next seven years as he literally can’t have Shiro not in the room so is waiting till she’s 18.

Much of the second half of the book is devoted to a chess match which has an excellent premise – the pieces move based on your determination, and won’t sacrifice themselves if they don’t want to. This is disastrous for genuine logical minds like Shiro’s who see every scenario provided the rules are correct, but Sora is familiar enough with warfare and dynamic speaking (seriously, Sora’s speeches are amazing in this novel… love the JoJo’s reference) to get the whole board on his side. It’s a great way of showing how [ ] works as a team. Likewise, I loved their discussion with Tet at the end, where it’s revealed he’d never lost before he met them, and they point out they’ve both lost many, many times… to each other. They know how to use that feeling to win again.

There’s a lot left unspoken here that I want to read more volumes to find out about. Actually seeing some of the other races, whether Sora or Shiro will actually bother to rule or just push everything onto Stephanie, whether Stephanie actually does have feelings for Sora or if it’s just the mechanics of that world at work… I’m likely going to read on, because of a keenly developed ability over years of reading questionable material to put my fingers in my ears and say la-la-la. But sadly, in the end this is another series, even in novel form, I can only recommend to the ‘otaku’ demographic it’s going after. And honestly, I suspect most of those people will be screaming ‘boycott, deal breaker!’ because she’s spelled Chlammy anyway.

12 Beast, Vol. 1

By Okayado. Released in Japan by Fujimi Shobo, serialization ongoing in the magazine Dragon Age. Released in North America by Seven Seas.

When something sells, it makes perfect business sense to get 5 other things that are similar to that thing. This tends to irritate a certain type of reader, but it’s true. This is why I joke about the newest vampire manga being licensed all the time – vampire manga tend to sell. Even the really mediocre vampire manga. The same holds true for ‘real people end up in fantasy/game world and are forced to fight’. Oddly, it doesn’t really hold true for ninja manga – Naruto was a huge hit, but other attempts to bring ninjas over here haven’t quite caught on. And of course there’s the ever popular ‘lots of fanservice and suggestive sexual scenes with no actual sex’ manga genre. Add to this the realization that Monster Musume was a much bigger hit than expected (I think) and the desire to license something else by the same author, and 12 Beast is perhaps one of the least surprising licenses ever.

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Of course, the question is, what happens when you try to take multiple popular genres and cram them all into the same work? The answer is a bit of a mess, unfortunately. Our hero is the heir to a ninja school who would much rather spend his time playing games, and who is quite happy to humiliate himself in order to avoid any sort of trouble. Of course, this can’t possibly stand, so into his world comes Aero, who is a bird-woman demanding that Eita come and save her people with his amazing hero skills. He spends much of the volume trying to run away, or at least talk sense into the berserker bird-woman soldiers whose idea of attacking the enemy is ‘hit it till we die’. But naturally, when push comes to shove he gets to show off his awesome ninja skills and talent at battle analysis (via gaming, which we all know from other manga is a perfect preparation for real warfare). And of course he starts to amass a harem of bird-women who are falling for them, possibly as he keeps rubbing their wings, which are oh so sensitive.

If you imagine that last paragraph read out by me in a sort of flat monotone, you get my general impression of the book. I will give Seven Seas credit, the adaptation is excellent, and almost a reason to get the book on its own. It’s filled with humor and in-jokes from page 1, where we not only get a reference to No Game No Life (another SS series), but also a nostalgic reference to “attacking its weak point for massive damage”. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the manga itself, which, like its hero, is content to coast. Almost everything here has been done better somewhere else. Hell, even the blatant fanservice is not as blatant as it is in the author’s other title Monster Musume. Basically, if you’re looking for a hero coming to a fantasy kingdom and saving the day, amassing women as he does so, and want to collect the entire set of manga that feature this plot, pick this up. But I’d wait till the very last to get it.