Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!: Love, Witches & Other Delusions

By Natsume Akatsuki and Kurone Mishima. Released in Japan as “Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku o!: Chūnibyō demo Majo ga Shitai!” by Kadokawa Sneaker Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Kevin Steinbach.

First of all, I would like to state, for the record, that it was Yen On’s decision not to use an oxford comma in the subtitle. I am merely replicating their choice. And if you think that’s a somewhat silly way to start a review, then you’re clearly not the right audience for KonoSuba, whose second light novel is content to replicate the choices of its first, showing that it is quite happy to have its dysfunctional cast behave badly in hilarious ways. Kazuma whines and moans (and tries to get laid with a succubus, which works about how you’d expect); Aqua is the brattiest goddess you’ll ever see (indeed, the book begins with a much nicer example); Megumin cares about explosions and nothing else, and Darkness’ masochism is in full force. There’s a hint the next book will advance what passes for a plot, but in the meantime, enjoy the antics.

The book starts off on the right foot – indeed, it may be my favorite part – with a story about a foolish young man, seeing Kazuma surrounded by hot girls and not much else, offering to switch parties with him for the day. Kazuma, who is no fool, accepts, and you’d think we’d stick with other guy and watch the fallout. But no, instead we follow Kazuma and see his normal day with a normal party. He uses his adventuring powers wisely, helps save the day, gains the respect of his teammates – it’s peaceful, heartwarming, and would no doubt be incredibly dull it it lasted any longer than it does. We then return and see the aftermath of Dust’s day with Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness… and yup, he’s begging to switch back. Predictable, but still hilarious.

Even when the book takes a turn for the slightly serious, there’s still gags lurking in the background. That’s a good thing, to be honest – this really isn’t a series you want to see depth and feeling in. Taking it too seriously would ruin the point. So when we get the climax with everyone fighting against the giant spider mecha with the bomb inside it, it’s undercut by the creator’s hilariously mopey diary about the building of the thing. There’s even some mild romance in this, though as ever I see the group as more of a family than anything else. When Kazuma requests a “dream visit” from a succubus, he’s clearly expecting Darkness based on his reactions – we’ve heard before that were it not for her masochism, she’s exactly his type – and Darkness’ atypical reactions seem to suggest she’s far more open to this than you’d expect a comedic harem girl to be. Of course, nothing comes of it…

The book ends on a cliffhanger, and the afterword is already announcing side-stories to be released (which have not, as of yet, been licensed here, I add for clarification). Clearly it was a runaway success in Japan. You can see why. It’s mocking a very popular Japanese light novel genre, and doing it well.

Toppu GP, Vol. 1

By Kosuke Fujishima. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Afternoon. Released in North America by Kodansha Comics.

It is somewhat mindboggling that we did not arrive at this point a good 35 years ago. No one has put more effort into writing motorbikes into series that did not necessarily need a lot of motorbike attention as Kosuke Fujishima has. You’re Under Arrest was a buddy cop manga, but right from the start it was clear that both girls were about driving fast, and making their cars and bikes as fast as possible. Oh My Goddess! had goddesses, demons, heaven, hell, and so many motocross races it wasn’t even funny, to the point where entire volumes barely focused on anything but racing. Even minor series such as Paradise Residence or EX-Driver have found a way to show off bikes and souped-up engines. Yet somehow, Fujishima has never written a pure, modern-day racing manga until now. Can we blame Initial D?

For the most part, it’s been worth the wait. You can argue all you want that Fujishima sometimes skimps on characterization, but there’s no doubt the man knows how to write a race. The racing here is sort of like the dancing in Welcome to the Ballroom – exciting, understandable, fast, and it makes you want to find out more about it yourself. The hero, as you might guess from the title, is Toppu, a young kid who was just interested in building Gundam models and not much else. But he has two big things going for him to get him into the world of Grand Prix racing: a) an ability to analyze how to best race by merely watching others, and b) a massive crush on the girl next door, Myne, who’s a very talented GP rider and is convinced that Toppu could be even better. And, after finally getting on a bike to try it, he discovers a love of racing himself.

As you might guess from Toppu’s grumpy mug on the cover of this volume, he’s not exactly filled with the joy of everyday living. Myne makes up for that, being such a force of pure cuteness and verve that I had to check to make sure this wasn’t being written by Mitsuru Adachi. (Actually, like Adachi, I wonder if Myne might end up being a posthumous character as this goes on – Toppu’s “I hope you’re watching this” to the skies in the starting flashforward is ambiguous – but I suspect Fujishima is not the sort to kill off his cast quite like that.) She gets some development as well – when two brothers bend the rules in their favor to try to topple Toppu (say that three times fast), she goes after them in the next race out of pure vengeance – which she realizes, thankfully, pulling back and reminding herself of the joy of racing.

And really, that’s why you want to read this, more than the plot or characters. It is a giant love letter to motorbikes, their care and maintenance, and the way that they move around a track. I’m not sure when the next volume will be out – we’re already caught up with Japan – but I can’t wait for more.

The Asterisk War: The Phoenix War Dance

By Yuu Miyazaki and okiura. Released in Japan by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Melissa Tanaka.

The Asterisk War, quality of writing or no, has a tendency to be overly cliched. Sometimes, in fact, it’s so cliched it actually throws me off my game and surprises me. We’re introduced to a pair of sisters here, who end up fighting Ayato and Julis towards the end of the book. Given that we first meet the older sister literally chained up in a subbasement, I expected her to be the barely controllable psycho one gets chained up in subbasements. As it turns out, she loves to fight, but is far nicer than it would seem (though she was right to ditch the weapon trying to overpower her mind). As for the younger sister, I naturally expected her to show that the sweet girl act was a facade, and that she was really the evil one and the brains of the outfit. Hope. She’s just as sweet as she seems, and is there to cook and be rescued. You can second guess yourself on how cliched this book can be.

This is not to say I did not enjoy the book – I did. It’s as deep as a puddle, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Actually, the one time I think that the book really succeeded in creeping me out was when Claudia (who gets the cover art this time) explains the price she pays for the ability to use her weapons, and what it does to almost everyone who isn’t her. One wonders just how much of the flirty yet manipulative student council president is an act – though probably not much, I’ve already learned my lesson on second guessing myself. As for the rest of the harem, Julis is tsundere, though as always it’s a mild case; Saya is cool and seemingly stoic, and Kirin is shy, and they all still like Ayato a lot. I suspect we can also add Priscilla by the end of this book. Ayato is, of course, completely unnoticing, not getting at all why the girls want him to rub their head.

As you may have gathered, we’ve entered the tournament arc part of the story, and it appears it’s going to last more than one book. This allows us to see Ayato and Julis curbstomp a few opponents into the ground, as we know that they’re going to make it close to the finals as, well, they’re the heroes. In fact, given Julis’ wish, I suspect they pretty much have to win. Not so for Saya and Kirin, and I was pleased to see that they also live to fight another novel. Of the new characters, easily the most memorable – even more than the sisters who are the focus of the book – are the two AI robots, who seem deliberately written to be cartoon cliches. In fact, their interaction reminded me a lot of The Poet and Sickle from the later Baccano books, though thankfully Ardy does not speak nearly as floridly as the Poet. They to pummel their way through the contest, and I suspect we’ll get a confrontation between them and our heroes soon.

To sum up, this book is much like the last two books – hilariously unoriginal and yet fun to read in spite of that. It’s the perfect book to take on a vacation – just be aware the books are short, you’ll likely need to take something else as well.