Invaders of the Rokujouma!?, Vol. 9

By Takehaya and Poco. Released in Japan as “Rokujouma no Shinryakusha!?” by Hobby Japan. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Warnis.

There are many things that I greatly enjoy Rokujouma for, but it has to be said that surprises and plot twists are not one of them. This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it does need to be said: if you’re reading Rokujouma and wondering what is going to happen next, “the most obvious thing” will be the correct answer. In this book we see Ruth getting an arranged marriage visit – given she’s the princess’s attendant and closest friend, she’s a bit of a hot commodity. We meet her theoretical fiancee, who is handsome, turned his father’s business around, donates to so many charities it’s ridiculous, and no doubt spends his spare time petting kittens. There is no reason to refuse this marriage except, of course for two things: 1) she’s in love with Koutarou, something that she finally accepts by the end of this book, and 2) he turns out to be… well, let’s save the gripping suspense for the next paragraph.

If you guessed “turns out to be secretly EVIL!”, congratulations, you can now write an anime series. In fact, not only is he secretly evil, but he turns out to look exactly like the sneering evil guy that Koutarou fought in the past in the previous mini-arc, something Koutarou lampshades. Actually, that arc is becoming the kick off for a lot of new plots – Koutarou is teaching Ruth sword fighting now because he wants her to fight like her ancestor did. More importantly, Ruth figures out the truth of what happened, that Koutarou is in fact the Blue Knight. She almost kneels before him in worship, to be honest, which made me a little uncomfortable, but given who Ruth is and the appearance of their biggest legend before her as the man she loves, it’s very much in character. Actually, given this book is almost all Ruth’s book, it’s pretty well characterized. Which isn’t surprising, as likeable characterization and development is the strongest point of this author.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s Valentine’s Day, and we are briefly reminded that Koutarou was supposed to, at the start of the series, be one of the “unpopular” guys that never got valentines. The very idea is laughable now, of course, so instead we’re treated to a comedic series of his love interests handing out chocolate one by one to an increasingly baffled Koutarou. Harumi is satisfied just saying it’s “obligation chocolate” when she knows it’s not. Theia gets the prize, however, as she says it’s definitely love chocolate, leaving Koutarou poleaxed. (She also implies that she’d be perfectly happy sharing Koutarou with Ruth, making me wonder if this is another series that’s going to have a harem ending of some sort.) The other girls also do well for themselves, apart from poor Yurika, who’s stuck in comedy relief mode this book, so is totally useless.

So now we have a new enemy, and I’m pretty sure he’ll be back, but probably not next book. Shizuka’s on the cover of this one, and of the main heroines she’s the least developed – in fact, is she a heroine? Perhaps she’s the best developed of the supporting roles. I wonder if she’ll get more focus next time. That said, the cliffhanger for this book implies Kiriha will get the bulk of the next one. Rokujouma remains a delight, even if it’s a very predictable delight.

Hayate the Combat Butler, Vol. 31

By Kenjiro Hata. Released in Japan as “Hayate no Gotoku!” by Shogakukan, serialized in the magazine Shonen Sunday. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by John Werry.

To the displeasure of a majority of Western fans, Nagi Sanzenin is the lead heroine in the Hayate the Combat Butler manga. And given that its hero is basically perfection in a butler costume, it makes sense that a large part of the plot development would involve forging Nagi to grow up and develop as a character. But Kenjiro Hata, the creator, knows two things: first of all, that he has to drag this out as long as possible so that the series can still run, and secondly, that people who have Nagi’s basic flaws and issues don’t change easily at all, and constantly fall back on the easy, the lazy, and the quickest way out. And, at the climax of the manga competition, that’s exactly what we see. Nagi is intelligent and can get things done, and her idea for SELLING is excellent, even though it objectifies Maria. But the point was CREATING, and there, Nagi fails. Again.

It’s telling that Nagi’s rival is Ruka, who is similar to her in many ways. They both have a thing that they are naturally excellent at, but all too easily fall into fannish habits: playing games, watching anime, and (in Nagi’s case) sleeping. But Ruka is seen here to buckle down and take Hina’s good advice, and her doujinshi (which Hata reproduces at the end of the volume) is short and cute. More importantly, it makes sense and attracts the reader’s eye, which nothing Nagi has ever created has done. Nagi does make a profit, but only after she gives in and allows Maria’s sexy candid photobook to be sold separately without her manga, which people are throwing in the garbage. (Maria has been reduced to a comedic character who gets humiliated for a while now, but this volume may take the cake.) The arc ends with Nagi saying next time we’ll do better, but… we’ve heard her say that before.

It’s very frustrating, and very true to life. That said, I suspect readers of Hayate the Combat Butler don’t really want true to life. Perhaps the new girl who is introduced near the end might help, but we know nothing about her. As for the other heroines in the book, mostly they stand to the side. Hina does a good jjob helping Ruka (and offers Izumi the same “hardcore” help later on, but Izumi’s drive to succeed is even lazier than Nagi’s). The other real subplot here is Wataru finally manning up and telling Isumi that he… loved her, as he seemingly is able to let go of his one-sided crush and move on. I’m not sure how I feel about Wataru and Saki as a couple, but you get the sense that the only thing preventing it from happening is the 20 volumes we have to go before the end.)

Hayate the Combat Butler is still funny, and enjoyable provided you don’t take the harem too seriously. I do not know of a single Hayate fan who does not take the harem too seriously, though, and that’s the rub. Still recommended for Hayate fans, though. You read the scans, now support the official release.

Outbreak Company, Vol. 2

By Ichiro Sakaki and Yuugen. Released in Japan by Kodansha. Released in North America by J-Novel Club. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

Sometimes when you’re reading a novel, particularly if it’s a series, you find that it’s not paced exactly the way you want it to be. You’d really like the author to focus on the hints he dropped at the end of the last book, and he eventually does and it pays off quite nicely. But he’s content to wait around to do that, and instead meanders through various other plots that you don’t care about so much. Of course, the entire point of Outbreak Company is the enmeshing of the two plots, so you can’t say I shouldn’t have seen it coming. For all that I’m in this for the political intrigue and drama, Outbreak Company is about a man introducing a fantasy world to the wonders of otaku life. Manga, light novels, games… and the fandom wars that ensue when you have a bunch of people arguing about manga, light novels, and games. It’s certainly working out pretty well. In fact, it might be working out a bit TOO well, as Kanou realizes with a growing horror.

We do get a new character introduced in this book, a very bad spy who also turns out to be a very good artist. Elvia is a beast-girl, much to Kanou’s delight, and again what is thought in their own world to be a trait that inspires prejudice and hatred is looked on by our resident otaku as simply really cute. Throughout this book, Kanou is seen winning over everyone simply by virtue of being nice and not having pre-existing biases. He doesn’t look down on elves, dwarves, lizardmen, or beastgirls. The one flaw he has he shares with the rest of the Japanese forces, which is that he assumes that just because this country is based on “fantasy medieval kingdom” rules they’re a bunch of rubes. Instead, it’s Japan that ends up getting handed their asses, even when they try to threaten Kanou with the safety of his family near the end. These are not the brightest bulbs.

The main cast is excellent. Kanou may be an otaku, but his reasoning is very logical and thought out, and his solution to how to avoid having Japan simply steamroll over everyone is quite clever. Myucel is sweet and kind and helps Kanou when he’s at his lowest ebb, and also packs a mean magic punch. We get a bit more depth to Petralka, seeing why she’s so driven to succeed as the ruler and why her fuse is so short. She also gets possibly my favorite moment in the book, just by speaking a single sentence in Japanese. If there’s one drawback, it’s that, given this is written in Kanou’s first-person POV, Minori comes up a bit short. The author is at his most comfortable writing her as a BL fangirl – when he has to write her as a member of the JSDF, it works less well, and I wish we had a bit more of her own thoughts and feelings on this situation.

These are pretty short books – the anime dispensed with this one in a mere two episodes – but I think that works to their benefit, as otherwise I worry that the series would get bogged down in shout-outs to other anime and manga series and otaku trivia (which I understand the anime does). If you’re looking for a light, breezy read with more depth than you’d expect from its premise, Outbreak Company is a very good choice.