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.

[New Life+] Young Again in Another World, Vol. 2

By Mine and Kabocha. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by David Teng.

There were certain things I asked for in my review of the first volume of this series, and to its credit I sort of get some of them. The writing is far more consistent in tone for this second volume, and while there are still “gosh, big breasts!” scenes, they’ve gotten smaller in number. I also think I have more of a handle on why this series in particular may have been licensed – the hero’s pragmatism I think would greatly appeal to the sort of online reader of isekais who hates isekai heroes. Several times in this book Renye does things that are, while not exactly bad, at least on the morally grey end of the spectrum. That said, he also gets to have a nice cool fight at the end, so it’s not all cynical. I would like, however, to see if this series has an overarching plot beyond “I want to buy a house and make better bread”. So far, it doesn’t seem to.

For those of you looking at that cover and thinking “gosh, I hope that’s real yuri and not just godawful pandering”, I’m afraid to say your hopes are in vain. In fact, the big drawback in this second volume is that both Shion and Rona get much less to do this time around. Shion is a big shiny ball of naive gumption, so it doesn’t matter as much in her case. But given that Rona was the main reason that I read this series beyond the first volume, the fact that she spends most of the time being the “long-suffering minder” sort is quite disappointing. Also, while I usually don’t really care as much that the heroes is so overpowered it’s ridiculous, it did bother me in the ending fight here, as it meant that all the other cast had to be beaten so hard that it amounted to a one-on-one battle. Which is a shame, as Renye is, to be honest, not the most charismatic person in the world. I prefer bland and nice to bland and grim.

Other things to mention: Since I brought up Renye’s overpowered skills already, I will note that his magic training did amuse me greatly, and it’s always funny whenever he thinks that he’s really weak or average at something but it turns out to be ludicrously over the top instead. There is also a lot of discussion of the making and preparing of food – I realize that foodie series are the new vampires/ninjas/Alices, but still wasn’t expecting it in a series like this. (Speaking of which, it’s surprising that Cooking with Wild Game hasn’t been licensed by now…) And there’s a side story where Renye briefly turns into a woman, causing Shion and Rona to briefly lose their minds. I’ve come to the conclusion that when I see “side story” at the end of these isekai volumes, it’s almost always going to be annoying fanservice.

As I said at the start, the prose is settling down a bit, and I’m starting to see why this ran for so many volumes in Japan. But I think it needs a better hook than it has, and an actual overarching plot. Till then, I’d only recommend New Life Plus to people who like more cynical heroes, or who like to admire the girls.