Toradora!, Vol. 1

By Yuyuko Takemiya and Yasu. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by J.P. Sullivan.

This really isn’t a review for the Toradora! newbie. It’s been about 8 years since the manga debuted over here, and I still think the main reason Seven Seas licensed the novels is that they got tired of the slow schedule for the Japanese manga releases. The anime is also ten years old this fall. And, sorry about this, but like A Certain Magical Index, Toradora! is one where I did read the fan translated novels, as I had no confidence it would ever be licensed. I mean, there’s no supernatural content in it! But the novels are finally out in North America, and I am pleased, as I really love the story and characters and want to experience them the way they were originally intended. Which, oddly enough, means reading this book like a stand-alone, as it was clearly written. Despite the author’s afterword saying to look forward to more, the book itself wraps everything up (if slightly ambiguously) in one package.

I’ll do a quick summary, just in case any readers who hadn’t experienced this series finished that last paragraph. Ryuuji is a young man who has “angry eyes” (see also Haganai), and has dealt with people misunderstanding him because of it. But now he’s in high school, and can make a fresh start. That is until he runs into Taiga, a short and angry girl who is a giant cloud of issues all bubbling to the surface. Due to various misunderstandings which make up the bulk of the book, each realizes that they love someone else – Ryuuji loves Taiga’s best friend Minori, and Taiga loves Kitamura, a charming and bespectacled young man in their class. Ryuuji, who is a very nice guy, and not in the modern sense of “nice guy”, tries to help Taiga win her love. This is difficult, because it’s really clear from the start that Ryuuji and Taiga are perfect for each other.

Later in these volumes (the series runs to ten books plus side stories) there is an attempt to try to ‘balance’ the harem a bit, adding another girl and showing more of Minori’s feelings about Ryuuji. But honestly, I hope anyone who doesn’t like Taiga knows enough to stop reading and find another property, because Taiga is absolutely Best Girl here. Taiga is less of a tiger and more of a miniature hurricane, leaving chaos and destruction in her wake. As for Ryuuji, he’s a sweetie pie, something Taiga straight up says near the end of the book. He’s dealing with a lot, and his natural inclination is to try to help this chaotic event that has just strolled into his life. Fortunately, he is the rock that Taiga can cling to.

There’s a few things in this book that make it feel like a first volume – in particular, Minori and Kitamura aren’t given the chance to be as eccentric or deep as they become later on. And Seven Seas’ translation has a few issues – I did notice one point where Ryuuji’s mom, Yasuko, should have been speaking but the paragraph got mangled a bit. Still, any Toradora! fan will want to read this, primarily for the amazing chemistry between its two leads.

Dorohedoro, Vol. 22

By Q Hayashida. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hibana. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by AltJapan Co., Ltd. (Hiroko Yoda + Matt Alt).

In general, one does not really read Dorohedoro for the romantic pairings. That isn’t to say there aren’t any in the fandom, or even in the manga itself. Noi pretty clearly has a giant crush on Shin, though it’s uncertain if it will be requited. There’s something going on between Ebisu and Fujita, though given the way the author uses Ebisu as sort of a walking disaster, I’m not certain if that will go anywhere either. And then there’s Caiman and Nikaido, which honestly has gotten the least attention. Yes, Caiman has a lizard head, and they’ve spent a great deal of the story separated from each other for one reason or another, but the writing of the series also seemed to indicate that these two were more “best buds” than anything else. But romantic or no, the two have one of the strongest bonds in the series, and the events of this volume try their damnedest to strengthen it and tear it to bits.

Actually, Nikaido gets more to do here than in any of the volumes since we found out about her backstory. She’s finally fully evolved into a devil, and is ready to take on the massive sorcerer-killing THING that’s walking all around the Hole and its environs ramping up the body count massively. (Yes, despite the fact that I say this literally every review, a word of warning: this volume of Dorohedoro is astonishingly violent and gory.) But even the Store Knife that cuts everything may not get them out of this one. The creature (which Chidaruma, who spends the entire volume essentially being Deadpool, nicknames “Holey”) has a one-track mind, immense powers, and the ability to defend itself to a ridiculous degree, which includes making miniature rainstorms to wipe out a group of sorcerers who took shelter in the hospital. It’s really not a good volume to be a sorcerer, and lots of the future corpses mention that they’re connected to En’s group. That said, the characters we actually know from said group seem to be OK for now.

As for Nikaido, she does an awesome job, but let’s face it, by the end of the volume she’s been killed, used up her time travel abilities, is no longer a devil, and then is killed AGAIN. It’s just not her day. The most interesting part of the volume may be her discussion with Asu and Caiman about the way she views time-travel, which doesn’t quite mesh with most time-travel narratives a reader may have come across before. It’s always nice when Dorohedoro slows down long enough to have these conversations. Of course, the question now is whether they’ll be much of a cast left to deal with things after this. I’m taking a wild guess that Caiman will be able to do something about Nikaido, but that likely doesn’t fix the overall disasters that are befalling this entire world, and En and company aren’t in good shape either. Can Dorohedoro ever get back to some sort of equilibrium by its finale? Dunno, but I’m in this for the long haul.

The Unwanted Undead Adventurer, Vol. 1

By Yu Okano and Jaian. Released in Japan as “Nozomanu Fushi no Boukensha” by Overlap, Inc. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Shirley Yeung.

My readers by now should be well aware that it doesn’t take much for me to be happy with what I’m reading. Usually, particularly in the case of light novels, I either really like a unique take on the standard premise, or I like a book that is the standard premise but with a twist that surprises and pleases me. This new series definitely falls into the latter category. Despite the fact that I can’t really remember a book over here that begins with the hero dying and becoming undead, the execution of most of the book is pretty much what you’d expect. He tries to come to terms with his new unlife, he fights monsters in the dungeon and levels up, he meets the occasional newbie adventurer and helps them, and he tries to see if there is any way that he can somehow evolve enough to regain his humanity. Where I feel the book really succeeds, though, is in showing the reader the disconnect between our hero’s perspective of himself and the rest of the cast.

Our hero is Rentt Faina, who is a bronze-level adventurer hunting monsters in the lesser of the two dungeons his village has. He’s one step above newbie, but still a bronze level adventurer – after ten years of trying. The problem is that he has a little talent in everything but not a lot in anything. What’s more, he accidentally finds an uncharted part fo the dungeon… and immediately runs into a dragon, who essentially kills him. When he wakes up, he’s a skeleton, but still retains his memories – and powers, which is surprising given one of them is basically godly blessings against undead. Everything that Rentt narrates about himself paints him as a useless, somewhat stubborn schmuck who should have realized he’s just not any damn good at adventuring and retired ages ago to find something better to do.

Except we then slowly learn about the village Rentt lives in, its adventurers, guild, and other associated parties. And to them, Rentt is not only one of the most important people in the village but the reason the village is so successful at all. He’s only a bronze level adventurer because he has low abilities, but his KNOWLEDGE is that of a 10-year-old veteran. What’s more, he’s a decent, moral person. The Guild essentially relies on Rentt to train all the newbies so that they learn and grow the proper way. The higher-up adventurers who travel through the larger, more famous dungeon in town all got their start with Rentt. The idea that he hasn’t returned from the dungeon worries and upsets them. I cannot say enough how much I loved this. There’s a scene where Rentt visits the blacksmith and his wife, who knew him before, and tries to pass himself off as this cowled, mysterious OTHER guy who happens to have Rentt’s exact power skill. From Rentt’s POV, he feels bad he can’t say anything but is happy he can at least get a new sword. From the POV of the blacksmith and his wife, it’s “why isn’t he saying anything? Doesn’t he trust us?”.

This is, honestly, one of the two reasons to read the book. The other is Lorraine, one of the three women on the cover (don’t worry, it’s not really a harem), a young mad scientist and Rentt’s best friend. Her mad science is amusing, as is her devotion to the (of course) clueless Rentt, to the point where she’s willing to let him bite and drink her blood in order to save him, and is rather sad when he heals her completely later. I like female mad scientists in general, b ut the other thing about Lorraine is that when she’s giving exposition about the world and its mechanics, it actually sounds interesting. When Rentt is doing it in his monologue – which is sadly a great deal of the book – it reads like, well, the other 85 light novels you’ve recently read where the lead takes one hundred pages to explain the mechanics of dungeon crawls to the reader.

So yeah, there’s a lot of Rentt, and Rentt’s own monologue makes him seem like someone you would not want to read about. However, the alternate story being told around Rentt is fantastic, and I want to see more of it. As such, I’d definitely recommend carrying on with this series.