Strike the Blood, Vol. 9

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

After a couple of volumes that were deeper and more complicated than usual, we’re back to business as usual at Strike the Blood, Inc. That means we get a new girl for Kojou to save, lots of cool battles that do a tremendous amount of property damage, a number of blatant flirting attempts that Kojou completely misses because this simply isn’t one of whose kind of harem titles, and lots of jealous rages that allows Kojou to get snubbed for “humorous” effect, although as always Mikumo’s attempts at being funny are funny only in a 90s anime “hey, what if the girl is a tsundere!” sort of way. And yes, you know things are back to normal when Yukina says her catchphrase, though it’s slightly less of a proclamation than usual. That said, this is, as always, a solid, average volume of Strike the Blood, and those who’ve been following along will be pleased by it – while also grumbling that Yukina is on the cover again, no doubt.

The girl being saved this time around, is Yume, who seems to be a standard “child who’s lost her parents” at first but ends up being a succubus. Fortunately, given that Yume looks to be about 12, she doesn’t do any seducing herself, but instead slips into the minds of the girls and brings out their inner desires. Unfortunately, the fact that she is about 12 means we get a lot of “lol Kojou is a lolicon” jokes, though mercifully there aren’t as many as I expected once I gleaned the plot. She’s a sympathetic character, and the way that she tries to get past her trauma reminds me a bit of Beatrice from Umineko, but unfortunately the author has too much fighting going on to really give her tragic backstory much of a look-in – a flashback to her abusive parents and classmates might have helped. The other new character here is Kiriha, who looks like she’s Yukina’s dark mirror, and I strongly suspect we haven’t seen the last of her.

Speaking of Yukina, the more we delve into her agency and the various other agencies connected to or in competition with it, the more suspicious they become. Indeed, at times it feels like Yukina is the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on. After seeing Kojou’s actual secrets in the last book, here we get someone finding out the truth about Asagi – but tellingly, it’s Sayaka, rather than Asagi herself, Kojou, or Yukina, those who would be most impacted by knowing that secret. It’s unclear if Sayaka will ever reveal this secret to anyone else, but I’m going to guess probably not. On the bright side, the action sequences are always the best part of Strike the Blood, and tehre are a lot of them this time around (to the point where, as I noted before, I felt some could have been replaced with better backstory). When your “villain” is a 4km-long sea monster, you’ve certainly hit the big time. And we get a new Beast Vassal, meaning of course more sexy vampire biting.

I feel somewhat sad that after the highs of the previous two books we’re back to business as usual with Strike the Blood. But it’s still a decent title, and reads very quickly and easily. And as always, it reads like it was meant to be animated – which it has, as there are now OAVs with this volume’s story. I’ll be back next time to see where the series goes.

Strike the Blood, Vol. 8

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

This does not quite hit the highs (relatively speaking) of the previous volume, mostly as the entire volume is “let’s reveal the backstory the reader has been in the dark about for so long” and not much else, but it’s still a pretty solid volume of Strike the Blood. While we’re technically carrying on from the end of the last book, most of this is Kojou (and Asagi, along for the ride for some reason) remembering the events that led to him becoming the Fourth Primogenitor, which took place just before the start of the series. There’s a lot of attempts at worldbuiding and introducing potential new antagonists, which doesn’t work quite as well as the author likes. The good news is that there were a couple of genuine surprises in this volume, which is especially impressive given that Strike the Blood is one of the most by-the-numbers light novels out there.

Despite being on the cover as always, there’s very little Yukina in this book, which makes sense given it’s predominately a flashback. (This, by the way, means we have now gone TWO WHOLE BOOKS without her catchphrase of “No, sempai, this is OUR fight!”. I feel like I’m going through withdrawal.) She and Natsuki have removed Kojou and Asagi to her dream prison space so that Kojou can recover the memories of what really happened and be controlled if that happens to drive him insane (spoiler: it doesn’t.) What we see is not particularly surprising: Kojou is a natural at empathizing with others, which is why all the girls fall for him, and that also works here for Avrova. I hate to break it to people who may roll their eyes at the appearance of another one, but Avrova is, in fact, a blond vampire girl with the body of a child. That said, while she occasionally tries to be haughty in a Shinobu Oshino sort of way, she’s really more introverted and scared. Her bonding with Kojou was the best part of this book.

I’d mentioned surprises, and it comes in the form of Veldiana, who we’d met in the prior volume as a somewhat harried colleague of Kojou’s father. (Speaking of which, both Kojou’s parents appear quite a bit in this book, and while they are admittedly trying their best to save Nagisa’s life, it doesn’t change the fact that they are terrible, terrible parents.) Veldiana is played, in the first half of the book, as something of a comic relief character, and we assume that this is going to be her role in the book. But no, she’s here to teach a darker lesson about what happens when you let revenge consume you, and (leaving the epilogue aside, which I wasn’t too fond of) it works very well. There are also one or two scenes that are not surprises, but the way that they work out with precision timing is also well handled – watch for Kojou bribing the enemy with ice cream.

Strike the Blood is never going to rise to the level of the top light novels being released over here. But it has at least risen to the level where I don’t feel the need to make fun of it or wonder if it’s written by a Light Novel artificial intelligence. As always, the fights are well written and make you want to see them animated. It’s a decent volume in what has become a decent series.

Strike the Blood, Vol. 7

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

Let the drums roll out and the trumpets call, strike up the band as well as the blood because I am here to tell you that this is easily the best Strike the Blood to date. It has finally moved above its decent but uninspiring attempts at makework writing and had me say, after finishing this book, “yeah, that was pretty decent”. And it should come as no surprise to find that the main reason for this, in my opinion, is because it doesn’t abide by the formula of the first six books. Oh, yes, the middle section may make an awkward attempt at it, and indeed the section in the classroom was my least favorite in the book. But overall we get backstory revelations, setup for future books, a reasonable amount of character development… it makes me cry that we haven’t bothered to have this before now, but I’ll take it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to overhype this too much: this is rising to the level of ‘pretty good’, but that’s all it’s doing. I would not recommend reading through the previous six books to get to this point. That said, the first third of the book, which is a flashback to when Kojou and his sister meet the Fourth Primogenitor, is well-handled, and exists pretty much to tell us that what little we’d heard to date, including Kojou’s own memories, was pretty trustworthy. We also meet his father, who seems an Indiana Jones sort, and while he’s a pretty cool guy it’s not hard to see why he is divorced from Kojou’s mother. The last quarter or so of the book also does another “finally” and focuses on Yaze, who has occasionally helped out (and gotten beat up a lot) but whose thoughts we rarely get much beyond surface. He gets his own backstory here, and shows us he’s not merely someone who is Kojou’s friend because he has to be.

As I said earlier, I was annoyed at the wacky comedy in the classroom with Vattler’s minions, mostly as it once again felt cookie cutter, Strike the Blood’s worst fault – you have a feeling his editor had a line [INSERT COMEDY HERE] at the first pass. Once Natsuki passes out and the drama starts up again, though, it’s reasonably gripping and entertaining. Despite its lack of risk-taking, the series does fights well, and that’s true here too. The villain (if she is one) is a reasonably clever fake-out, which makes you wonder if the series is going to be turned completely on its ear. It’s not, but it does come with one big benefit – Asagi is present to see both Yukina and Kojou whip out their powers, and does not lose her memory, get knocked out, or otherwise forget afterwards. I’ve wanted her to find out the truth for 7 books now. Her reaction (as Yukina observes) is understated, but she explains why that makes sense. More to the point, setup for the next big arc hints that Asagi’s secrets are about to become big news. Will she learn about her own supernatural abilities?

This isn’t going to pick up any new readers, and old readers will be continuing the series anyway. But as for me, I’m just happy not to have to end a review with “well, yeah, it’s Strike the Blood, whatever”. This was solidly pretty good. 7 out of 10, maybe? Oh yes, and it gets bonus points for Kojou saying “this is my fight” at one point and Yukina not actually responding “No, sempai, this is OUR fight”, even if it feels like it’s only not there as the author forgot.