Strike the Blood, Vol. 14

By Gakuto Mikumo and Manyako. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Bourque.

This is definitely a stronger volume than the previous one. It starts off by slowly removing all of Kojou’s allies, which gives a nice feeling of impending doom. Asagi is supposedly helping with the rebuilding the island needs by being… a pop idol, but anyone who’s met Asagi knows this is fake. In reality, she’s being held hostage. So is Motoki, who is recovering from his grievous wounds from last time, and thus can’t put up much of a fight when he’s used in a corporate struggle. And even Yukina ends up being a liability when, due to the various events that have been happening since the start and her own superweapon, she’s now turning into a faux-Angel, just like Kanon was. Fortunately, Kojou still has his own typical battle plan, which is use his Beast Vassals, see them fail, get nearly killed, and drink someone’s blood to power up. So far it’s been a sound strategy. Of course, there’s a little catch here.

The subtitle for this volume is Golden Days, which is how Yukina views her time here with Kojou. Leaving aside her romantic feelings for him, this is the closest thing she’s ever had to a normal life, something that Sayaka and Yukina’s mentor Yukari both point out. Yukina’s past has been shown to us on occasion in bits, and we certainly have no doubt that this is true. As such, despite his good intentions, when Kojou readily accepts that, in order not to be turned into a faux-Angel, she’ll never be able to see or help him again, she is very quick to reject this. It’s a lot of good, solid scenes. As for the solution to the problem… well, it’s sort of a macguffin, really, but I suppose we could do worse. While “fiancee” may be a bit much (mostly as it would require Kojou to admit to actually having romantic feelings for a girl without another one beating him up), certainly they’re much closer after this, and Yukina can stick around.

There were a few things I wasn’t as thrilled with. As ever, Strike the Blood’s attempts at humor are terrible, and the whole “this isn’t really a pregnancy test but” joke, even with it signposted a mile away, still made me roll my eyes. Asagi’s skills are shown off here, but – as she herself is quick to point out – all she did was sit around for two weeks. I like books that are more Asagi-heavy. And of course, despite having stronger scenes in general, the overall plot of this book is remarkably similar to about five or six others in this series – I’ve joked before about it being written by an AI, and the joke still holds up. It is designed to be made into an anime. I like the characters, but, except for Yukina a bit here, they simply don’t have the depth to elevate this series above “satisfactory”.

Still, satisfactory is not bad, and this book should please those who enjoy Strike the Blood, particularly Yukina fans, which I’m sure there must be one or two of. Next time we get the “end of Part One” of the series, but I’ll believe it when I see it, to be honest.

Strike the Blood, Vol. 13

By Gakuto Mikumo and Manyako. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Bourque.

The author mentioned in his afterword that this volume was meant to be something of a return to “traditional” Strike the Blood volumes, and it certainly succeeds at that. We’re back on the island, which is under attack by a terrorist organization that seemingly has all the cards. Half of Kojou’s allies are taken out, and he’s weakened by a Beast that can do something no one else had thought possible. Fortunately, by biting Yukina, as well as another girl, he’s able to save the day. And Yukina gets to say “No, senpai, this is our fight!” It’s all here, all present and correct. Unfortunately, that also includes the less-than-stellar parts of the series – for the first time in a while, I was thinking of this as book-by-numbers. This series has a tendency to feel like it’s a novelization of an anime rather than the other way around, and plot, characterization and action scenes are so smoothly written and precise that they come across as dull some of the time. Nothing is particularly surprising in this book.

The head of the terrorist organization has a past connection with Natsuki, something that cries out for a flashback or more detail but sadly no. He’s also a rather crap terrorist, trying to get Kojou to join him by mentioning that some of the Island’s leaders are evil while also causing events that will kill massive numbers of innocents and yeah, sorry, your #2 love interest also has to die too, but join us anyway. Needless to say, this doesn’t go well, and he ends up being killed off by one of the evil leaders of the island, whose identity is meant to be a shocking surprise but is not. The other members of the terrorist organization are essentially plucky orphans who no one ever loved, and I’d feel sympathy if we got more time with each of them, which we don’t. The other leader is December, who does manage to be interesting, but she’s also a spoiler, so I’ll just end it there.

I was going to complain about Nagisa briefly being in peril for no reason at all (actually, there is a reason, and it’s relatively benign, but we don’t figure it out till the end of the book), but then I realized that this is essentially “Peril: the Series”. Nagisa is obviously #1, but Natsuki also gets to be removed from the field for a while, and the author even jokes about “Asagi having another bad day”. The only ones NOT in peril are Sayaka, Shio and Yuiri, who actually manage to save the day to an extent. Speaking of Yuiri, I’d like to remind the author that he is absolutely shit at writing humor, so stop it. I’d rather read A Certain Magical Index’s humor than yours. That’s how bad the “he sucked my blood/took my virginity” scenes were. Stay in your “action adventure” lane, please.

There were a few elements here I liked, including seeing Astarte do something again for the first time in like ten books. But sadly this attempt to go back to the basics of Strike the Blood reminded me that the series’ basics aren’t all that interesting. Go outside the box again, please!

Strike the Blood, Vol. 12

By Gakuto Mikumo and Manyako. Released in Japan by ASCII Mediaworks. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Jeremiah Bourque.

At the end of my review of the 11th book in this series, I had a lot of questions that I wanted to see answered in Vol. 12, and unfortunately, and somewhat frustratingly, none of them are. Natsuki isn’t even mentioned, and since it takes place entirely off the island we’ve no idea what things will be like the next time she sees Kojou. Yukina does run into two other members of the Lion King Agency, but they seem to get along just fine, and there seems to be no real consequences as of yet to her breaking off from doing what the Agency says last time. In fact, Kojou and Yukina almost end up being guest stars in their own series, as while they do eventually show up and figure in the climax (and yes, the “this is my/our fight” running gag is present and correct), much of the book seems designed to introduce us to those two other Lion King Agency members, one of whom gets stacked on the harem pile. As you’d expect.

In case you’re curious, Yukina is the heroine on the cover of this volume of Strike the Blood. It’s always interesting to see who’ll be featured next. Meanwhile, she and Kojou do finally get off the island, mostly due to Vattler, who is here to save the day and even donates his harem of young princesses – who also seem to be a crack combat squad A-Team style – to help with this latest crisis. And it is a crisis, because kidnapping Nagisa to try to kill off what’s inside her proves to be a big mistake, and now there’s lots of things to deal with. For one, there’s a dragon named Glenda, who can also turn into a young teen girl (and gets to be Koujo’s snack of the week so that he can get a new beast vassal). And there’s also the JSDF, who seem to spend half of all Japanese light novels being useless until our heroes arrive, and the other half being evil. It’s a little of both here.

As always, the book reads fast and the fight scenes are good. Thre’s always one bit of annoying fanservice that I twitch at, and this time around it’s Asagi spending the entire volume in a school swimsuit-like plugsuit for no real reason other than to be humiliated and gawked at. That said, as always Asagi doesn’t do much but her scenes count – I liked her relationship with the descendant of the Second Primogenitor, Iblisviel, and her complete lack of fear or loathing at his existence – not to mention her airport ramen recommendations, which may be the funniest scene in the entire series to date. That said, at the end of the book I have even MORE questions (we also find Asagi may not be the ONLY Priestess of Cain) and even fewer answers. If I’m going to sit here and read about Yukina getting jealous at every single thing Kojou does, I need to have some sort of plot payoff. Maybe I’ll get that next time when we get back to the island. Till then, enjoy some fights and heavily dropped hints.