Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Vol. 3

By Ishio Yamagata and Miyagi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

I have to say that I was groaning when the beginning of this third volume dealt once again with “which one of us is the traitor”. Fortunately, like Book 2, the question quickly gets set aside as we deal with an ever-growing threat. We also deal with the return of Nashetania, who’s still trying to pursue her goal even if she has to kill a bunch of people. Her loopy amorality was a highlight of the first book, so I was looking forward to this. Sadly, we don’t get nearly as much Nashetania in the book as I’d like. Chamo is also sidelined, and Mora reduced to support. The first half mostly focuses on Adlet, Fremy and Rolonia getting into various fights and trying to figure out how to stop Nashetania – or at least find her. The other half of the book focuses on Goldof, as you might have guessed from the cover, and we get his backstory and see why he is so devoted to his princess.

The main problem with this is that Goldof is fairly stoic, with his quirk being a berserker rage and urge to destroy that only turns off around Nashetania. His past is tragic, but his churlish acceptance of it (and violence against women and children) make it harder to sympathize. Nashetania is the most interesting part of the flashback, and we also learn a bit about how she got to be the way she is (pretty much brainwashed since birth into being a cultist, which… well, fits her pretty well). In the present, Goldof’s narration shows him trying to figure out what the fiends are doing, who’s lying, and how he can be both a Brave and save Nashetania. I found it rather frustrating that Goldof kept thinking of himself as not as smart as Adlet, particularly as Adlet has never been all that smart in this series. He’s not all that smart here either, basically just running around till he arrives at the climax.

The best part of Rokka continues to be the mysteries of each book, which are pretty hard to figure out – the revelation about how one trick is done is sort of impressive and also rather disgusting. Even if the solutions aren’t as satisfying as the author thinks, it did keep me constantly trying to figure things out, the goal of any mystery. Sadly, the main issue with Rokka continues to be that I just don’t find the characters all that compelling. I enjoyed Mora when she was the focus in Book 2, but without her backstory she’s basically dull. Adlet is nowhere near as main character-ish as he should be, and as I said before, Goldof is supposed to be dumb muscle, but can come across easily as unlikable dumb muscle, especially when give the standard “save the world or save the woman you love” choice.

We’re now halfway through the series, and I’m not ready to give up on it just yet, but I really would like the real traitor to be found so that the book can move forward, and I’ll be honest: this series cries out for a manga spinoff that’s a high school AU. Mildly recommended, with reservations.

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Vol. 2

By Ishio Yamagata and Miyagi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

(Despite the fact that this isn’t a whodunnit beyond page 1, I won’t reveal the culprit’s name in the first paragraph of the review. After that, though, I will. FYI.)

The first volume of this series was strongly concerned with the ‘whodunnit’, and did a decent job, but also left us with a cliffhanger that made me worry we’d have to go through the whole thing again. Sensibly, the second book dispenses with the ‘who is the traitor’ question right off the bat, for the most part (there are still hints there’s yet ANOTHER traitor, but I’ll leave that for now) and tells us on the very first page. And then we get a flashback as to how we got to that situation, though there’s no record scratch noise, nor does the guilty party look towards the camera. So instead of whodunnit, or why did they do it, we have a sort of ‘how are they gonna get out of it?’ situation, as a very nice person has been personally put through the wringer the past three years and may have to commit the worst act to save those they hold dear.

Mora was presented to us in the first book as an overly serious woman, perhaps a bit stubborn, but determined to fill her role as a Brave and defeat the Evil God. And to be fair, she really IS a Brave, rather than a fake. That said, she’s being blackmailed, and being (I think) the oldest of the Braves, she has to deal with a very old and familiar form of blackmail. Do what the villain says or your daughter will die horribly. The strongest part of the book is taking us into her head and her tortured motivations for doing exactly what she has to do to save her family and yet also try not to take a life. Tellingly, the book still keeps some information secret from us, but it’s obvious why, and I don’t blame it a bit, as suspense novels need, well, suspense.

As for the rest of the book, there is still a ‘who is it?’ aspect to the book, and lots of debate about same, but as with the first book, the debates are interspersed with enough action so as not to be tedious. Also, unlike the first book, we get a great number of scenes of our heroes fighting demons… though they don’t do as well as they could, given that they still suspect each other of being a traitor. Adlet remains the ‘hero’ type character, but is a bit more likeable here, possibly as he refers to himself as the Strongest Man in the World slightly less. I did have one egregious moment of “OK, I call no way” involving searching for a ludicrously tiny thing across the ruins of a battlefield, but every book leads at least one time when the disbelief suspension bridge breaks and you plummet to your death.

The main reason I’m still interested in reading this is that it’s not very much like a lot of the other light novels we’re getting these days. Yes, it’s a fantasy with fiends, magic, etc. but style-wise we’re a long way removed from ‘I am in another world and dungeon crawling’. That said, I do wonder how many volumes it will drag out “one of us is a traitor”. But overall, well worth your time, and if you missed the insane bunny girl, there’s a cliffhanger here with your name on it.

Rokka: Braves of the Six Flowers, Vol. 1

By Ishio Yamagata and Miyagi. Released in Japan by Shueisha. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Jennifer Ward.

(contains mild spoilers for the end of the novel, meaning I don’t use the guilty party’s name but still make it obvious who they are)

For a book that is supposed to be about the gathering of six warriors to traverse the country and defeat the evil demon lord, there’s surprisingly little fighting of demonic creatures in this first volume of Rokka (which is the one that was adapted into an anime). The reason for that is fairly simple; there’s actually seven brave warriors who show up, and thus one of them is a fake. What follows is pure mystery, as we spend time gathering clues, suspecting other people, and watching our hero get the ever-loving crap beaten out of him by the rest of the cast. Fortunately, as he tells us constantly, he’s the Strongest Man In The world, so he can take it. All of this, plus the series’ rather abstract art, makes it a nice change of pace in the ‘swords and dragons’ novels we’ve seen so much of in light novels lately.

Adlet is the aforementioned Strongest Man, and is very much your prototypical shonen manga protagonist, being filled with confidence, pluck and a burgeoning optimism. He is joined by an eccentric princess and her sullen bodyguard; a cheerful yet immoral child who can control Earth (think Toph but slightly evil); a serious-minded priestess; a big, seemingly goofy cat-eared assassin; and the girl on the cover, Fremy, who is stoic and suffering and also half-fiend, which makes her everyone’s natural suspect as the seventh evil Brave. She isn’t, of course, but she is a bundle of complexes, and seeing her and the eternally perky Adlet banter and flirt is one of the high points of this book. The action is also well-told, showing off everyone’s abilities and superhuman strength and endurance, though honestly Adlet’s endurance stretches disbelief a bit by the end.

If there’s a flaw in the book it’s the actual mystery itself. It wasn’t too obvious, at least not for me, but I don’t think we had enough development of the character for it to really make an impact, especially given that the character is supposed to be somewhat schizophrenic to begin with. (Actually, the ‘I am a gadfly with no real sense of how to actually behave’ made them my favorite character for a bit, though it goes away when everyone has to act seriously and track down the mole.) It’s unclear whether we’ll see them again, and the cliffhanger is very much a “The End… OR IS IT?” situation, as we get ANOTHER Brave showing up late meaning there’s ANOTHER mole among them. That promises to be the main plot of book 2.

But overall I enjoyed myself reading it, though at times the back and forth betrayal accusations can get to be a bit much. It’s a serious book, but not as dour as some other light novels in this genre; you don’t get the sense that their lives will be terrible forever, even though they’re going to battle the Evil God. If you enjoy light novel fantasies, especially ones that aren’t ‘sent from another world’ sorts, this should meet your expectations.