Bluesteel Blasphemer, Vol. 2

By Ichirou Sakaki and Tera Akai. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

In general, I tend to divide up books to review on this site into four categories: Great, Adequate/Good, Adequate/Bad, and Bad. The first and the last are obviously the easiest to review, as there are any number of things that you can say about them to show why you think they’re worth reading (or, in the case of the bad books, not worth reading). Adequate/Bad is tougher, but at least you can usually get away with a laundry list of things that the title is doing wrong. But oh dear, those books which are good but that’s about it. You really have to work at the review, because “good but that’s about it” makes the reader not want to read a book. But they *are* good, and very readable. It’s just there’s really nothing that stands out and makes you go “wow, that made buying this book worth my time’. Such a series is Bluesteel Blasphemer, which is adequate. HIGHLY adequate.

This second volume picks up (after a short setup prologue) right where we left off. Yukinari is settling in uncomfortably as the new erdgod of Friedland, and trying to figure out how to make the village prosper, less by sacrifices and more by irrigation and trade. He’s accompanied by Dasa, who fulfills both the Rei Ayanami clone and Clingy Jealous Girl types in one; Berta, whose love/worship of Yukinari continues to be vaguely disturbing – it makes sense for her character given how she was raised, but I’d really like her to get a hobby or two; and Fiona, the de facto mayor of the village, who sometimes acts as a tease but more often fills the straight man role. We also add Ulrike, who is the main familiar of the erdgod the next village over, a giant forest/tree who uses humans whose lifespan is at an end to become its familiars (Ulrike is seen in the prologue, a cute young kid who dies by getting impaled on a tree. Fortunately, she was impaled by the right tree). Together, they fight against a cadre of grumpy priests whose job is suddenly gone, and some grumpy soldiers who are still trying to be zealots.

If I were to pinpoint things I didn’t care for with this book, it would be the same as the last – the harem stuff feels false and tacked on, and I wish it would go away. Other than that, this is a very smooth, easy to read book. I enjoyed the motivation of the other erdgod, and how a village that doesn’t have much beyond LOTS OF WOOD might turn to it as an alternative to more modern-day thinking like medicine. I liked the examination of what happens to the priests after Yukinari takes over, particularly in regards to the orphanage that suddenly doesn’t have villagers paying to feed its orphans. I liked the vaguely evil foreshadowing going on between the evil old priest and his stacked alchemist which will clearly become the climax to the final book. And the slingshot was hilarious.

So this is a good, solid book that fans of the light novel genre will enjoy, particularly if they like Kamen Rider-style books. But if you’re thinking “I need to cut back on light novels, what would be good?”, this series also comes to mind immediately. I’m happy it’s not 20+ volumes, I can tell you that.

Infinite Dendrogram: The Beginning of Possibility

By Sakon Kaidou and Taiki. Released in Japan by Hobby Japan. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Andrew Hodgson and Nick Nomura.

The cliche has become that every single light novel released over here in the past four years or so has been a variation on “fighting monsters in a fantasy role-playing game”, but each of them have had their own little variations to separate them in some way. There’s the old ‘trapped in the game’ variation, like Sword Art Online or Log Horizon. We’ve had ‘the mechanics of the world are game-oriented but it’s just a fantasy’ like Danmachi and Death March. We’ve had ‘resurrected into fantasy worlds that are clearly based around cliches’ like KonoSuba and Isekai Smartphone. It’s been rare that we’ve actually seen a light novel that is just ‘let’s watch the hero play a new VRMMO game’. Playing to Win is closest, but even there the conceit is not that of the average guy playing a game, it’s that Ichiro is a arrogant rich guy. With Infinite Dendrogram, we finally have a book that (at least so far) is only ‘let’s explore the new game’.

Our hero is not playing the game the day it comes out – he had to study to pass college exams first. So it’s about a year and a half later, and he’s well behind his older brother, who’s been somewhat impatiently waiting for him to join. Once he does, Reiji (aka Ray in the game) picks out his weapon, his home base, and his Embryo, which is basically a sentient weapon/defense that grows along with the player’s character. His turns out to be a sword (later a halberd) which can also become a cute girl (because of course – come on, it is still a light novel) who essentially serves as his partner – though sometimes reluctantly, especially when dealing with zombies and the like. Together they try to level up while dealing with player killers, the fact that the home base they chose is rapidly losing its population due to wars, and the usual inconveniences that come up in a game.

The idea is that the game has more variations than almost any other known to man – we see a journalist as one of the minor characters, not a normal character type in a game like this, and one player is even a pimp with his own succubus. (This is actually the most amusing part of the book, as the player is underage, so his succubus specializes in things like really soothing backrubs because of the age restrictions). That said, Ray and Nemesis (his Embryo) are fighting types, and while there are indeed signs that he is a Very Special Hero indeed, for the most part we see him fight, explore, learn, and fight some more. The fights are quite well done, and the book as a whole reads very well. If there’s one thing that disappointed me, it’s that I was expecting more of a twist, I suppose? There are suggestions that the game is meant for some higher purpose, but here in the first book it’s just a lot of cool fights, RPG exploring, and endless bear puns. There’s no ‘gimmick’ yet.

Still, if you like this genre, and want something uncomplicated, this is an eminently readable book. Recommended for light novel and RPG fans.

Oresama Teacher, Vol. 22

By Izumi Tsubaki. Released in Japan by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions.

After the previous volume’s ups and downs, I’m pleased to say that this Oresama Teacher is back on target with a very strong entry, as we discover just who has been impersonating Super Bun. It’s not exactly a surprise, particularly once you realize the evil doppelganger is not all that evil. The rest of the volume is devoted to the graduation of the third years, including Okegawa (at least), and Hanabusa, who this volume is really all about. Because yes, spoiler, he was the Super Bun impersonator. We finally get a lot of answers in this book regarding just what he was planning to do and why the Student Council is filled with so many broken people. And throughout it all we get Mafuyu, running forward no matter what as always, showing off the qualities that make her one of my favorite shoujo heroines.

The best scenes in the volume, as I said, revolve around Hanabusa. He’s always been a somewhat ambiguous villain, and the reason for that is that he’s not really much of a villain at all. The revelation that the Student Council members, with a few exceptions (Momochi, who’s still recovering from events of the last few books, and Shinobu and Wakana, who luckily fit the bill anyway) are there to be PROTECTED rather than to be the PROTECTORS turns a lot of events in the series on their ear. It also shows how far Hanabusa himself has come, as now he feels it’s safe enough to leave his friends behind and go to school in Tokyo. The final scene in the book with Mafuyu, where he thanks her for everything she did the past year and says she’s his hero, is one of the two scenes in the book that made me choke up (the other being the ending to the hide and seek game).

As for the rest of the cast, Takaomi once again takes a back seat except to provide helpful advice. Hayasaka is also not given much to do, but that’s fine as I’m assuming that the finale, which should be in a few more volumes, will feature him heavily. Okegawa gets more focus, though, mostly as he too is moving on, though I have a feeling we’ll see more of him in future volumes than Hanabusa. His relationship with “Morse” has always been subtly different from all the others, and I felt that if this is the last we see of him, it got a good sendoff. And of course there are any number of hilarious moments here – it’s no Nozaki-kun, but it acquits itself admirably, especially with the various alternate Super-Bun masks and the over the top reactions to everything.

We don’t get this series all too often since it’s caught up in Japan, but I always enjoy each volume we do get. I have a feeling it may be wrapping up in 2-3 more volumes, but for now we have this. Go get it.