Accomplishments of the Duke’s Daughter, Vol. 1

By Suki Umemiya and Reia. Released in Japan as “Koushaku Reijou no Tashinami” by Kadokawa Shoten, serialization ongoing in the magazine Young Ace Up. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Angela Liu. Adapted by Tracy Barnett.

There has been a bit of a backlash online about the constant flow of “isekai” stories into North America in the past few years. Of course, that’s because they’re incredibly popular in Japan. Indeed, they seem to be so popular in Japan that we’re starting to see authors who have an idea of a story that need not involve an isekai try to shoehorn it in anyway to get readers. This is a good example of it. Now, I may be wrong – it’s taken from a light novel that is itself taken from a webnovel, and future volumes may take more advantage of the fact that its heroine has been killed and reincarnated in another world. But honestly, if you removed the isekai aspect from this manga series, very little would change at all. Fortunately, the story is strong – which is probably why I’m complaining that an isekai wasn’t needed. I’m perfectly happy to watch Iris save the world.

As I mentioned earlier, it begins, as many series like this do, with a death by car accident. A young woman who works overtime at some company or other and spends her spare time playing otome games is killed, and suddenly finds herself in the climactic scene of the game she just cleared. Sadly… she’s the rival who’s just being taken to the cleaners. She knows what happens next – her character leaves the school and gets exiled to a nunnery for the rest of her life. Yeah, that’s not happening. Oh, she’ll leave the school, but she decides instead to confront her father with all the political machinations that have been going on in the game, pointing out that he had plans and backup plans. He’s impressed enough by this that he decides instead of exiling her to a nunnery to exile her to one of his fiefdoms, and basically tells her she’s in charge. So, with the help of a seeming army of orphans she’s picked up over the years, she sets out to make her country a better place.

I enjoyed this, but there are, let’s face it, a few moments that made me raise an eyebrow in disbelief. For a “villain” character who is seemingly an expert at verbal abuse in the game itself, Iris actually turns out to be a sweet girl who constantly wants to save everyone. Iris claims it’s “first love sickness”, and I guess we’ll go with that, but I’d have liked better use of the actual gimmick. Likewise, Iris immediately having a large force of bodyguards, maids, accountants and such that she can immediately marshal to the cause is a bit… easy? That said, honestly, if it’s going to lead to “let’s see how we’ve neglected the poor people and try to make it so they have a better life”, I’m fine with it. And the supporting cast seem fun, even though, as I noted, none of them seem to regard Iris as the villain type. Honestly, given this runs in a seinen magazine, the best audience for it may be those who enjoy the light novel How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom. It has a similar vibe. In any case, I look forward to future volumes of this flawed but fun book, even if it did not have to be an isekai.

Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest, Vol. 7

By Ryo Shirakome and Takayaki. Released in Japan as “Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou” by Overlap. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by Ningen.

I’ve talked before about Hajime as Christ figure, and Hajime as simply another example of the overpowered hero going after the kids that bullied the author in middle school, but in this book it’s also worth taking a look at something that has remained a core part of Hajime’s character despite every possible attempt to extract it: Hajime the nerd. (Yes, yes, I know, chuuni. I never saw that anime, so feel uncomfortable using the expression.) Hajime’s inner monologue has had the occasional taste of otaku culture throughout the series, but this volume really sees it in full flower. When he’s in the bar gathering information, and has to impress the bartender, you can almost hear him squeeing. And while the core purpose of his “arranging a distraction” was to humiliate and get a bit of revenge on Shizuku for laughing at him, the fact that he dresses them all as a sentai team also shows this off. Hajime is badass, but still a nerd.

We seem to have run out of cover girls, as we’re back to Yue. (Technically it should be Liliana, but honestly ignoring her in favor of Yue is perfectly in character.) That said, in terms of content, Shea should really be the one on the cover, as she and her rabbit tribe own this book. Considering that turning the rabbits into savage killers was a passing joke in the 2nd book, it’s become quite a large thing, and the best running gag of the volume was everyone giving Hajime the stink-eye as they realize how much he brainwashed everyone into being Rambo. (They also inherited his nerd tendencies, coming up with hilariously bad “names” for themselves.) Since the Empire is doubling down on Beastmen being enslaved, the rabbits take matters into their own hands – with a little help from Hajime, admittedly, but mostly entirely on their own – to convince the Emperor to change his mind. Again, those who like over the top battles will be very happy.

The demons also get their asses handed to them by the rabbits, but they have a much stronger response, coming up with 400 or so of the Angels that Hajime had a little trouble with in Book 6. I suspect the eighth volume will deal with the fallout from that. One last thing that impressed me, though, was the final extra story. Usually in light novels these extra stories are pure fanservice, but this one not only advances the plot but makes a nice refreshing change from the “all religion is evil” trope we’ve seen in Arifureta and other light novels. A new pope is appointed to fill the void caused by the events of Book 6, and he proves to be an excellent choice, coming across both Yuka (the girl Hajime saved in Book 1) and Aiko and helping them get over their dithering and try to move forward. It comes across as a confessional, and this is exactly the sort of thing that confessions should be about. I really liked it.

A very strong Arifureta book. Except for Tio. God, I hate Tio. More accurately, I hate the way the author writes Tio.

Yona of the Dawn, Vol. 13

By Mizuho Kusanagi. Released in Japan as “Akatsuki no Yona” by Hakusensha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Hana to Yume. Released in North America by Viz. Translated by JN Productions, Adapted by Ysabet Reinhardt MacFarlane.

As we watch Yona and her bunch wandering through the nations doing good and saving people, it would be all too easy to cut back to the usurpers back at the palace and make them simple, cookie-cutter antagonists. But one reason that Yona of the Dawn is so strong is that Su-Won is not a cookie-cutter antagonist. In fact, the reader might occasionally be thinking to themselves, “You know, Su-Won being king may actually be a very good thing?” Yona is dealing with the world at the lowest level, going from small village to small village for the most part, while Su-Won takes on major threats to his kingdom and also tries to get the leaders of the various tribes to think better and learn more. It’s micro vs. macro, and neither choice is bad. And it also means that when Su-Won and Yona see each other towards the start of this volume, the tension involved is absolute dynamite – and it can only last a few seconds before being taken away.

If you do want a more typical evil antagonist, there’s always General Su-Jin, who cannot conceive of a situation where he loses to this upstart new king. But lose he does, as right from the very start we see horses dressed up as tigers (some nice historical research from Kusanagi-san there) and it just goes downhill from there. Su-Jin is the classic example of the obsessive who cannot let something go, and I felt sad that he did not have a moment where he threw up his hands and screamed “THIS CANNOT BEEEEE!”. The best part of his attack on Su-Won was actually when Yona confronted him, as her concern is not only t stop the violence but also to tell him how far Tae-Jun has come. Sadly, it’s all for nought, but it does lead to that beautiful shot of her and Su-Won seeing each other (there is some absolutely gorgeous art in general in this volume. I may not mention it all the time, but Yona of the Dawn is extremely pretty).

There’s also a bit of reverse harem here, but honestly, every single time that one of the other guys (usually Jaeha) shows that they’re in love with Yona, it’s there to underscore how obvious Yona/Hak is as the OTP. Here we see Yona getting a bit jealous when Hak uses his natural charm to get customers at a bazaar, and also tamping it down because she knows one day he’s going to leave her and go with someone else. That will never, ever happen, but hey, this is why you don’t hook up the main couple in the first book. Hak and Yona are perfect for each other. That said, the other guys all have their charms, and I am certainly content for things to simmer a bit as they are now. This is a bit of a transitional book, as we see that Tae-Jun, much as being a nurse is something he’s awesome at, having to return to the Fire Tribe to be temporary leader while his brother studies. As for Yona and friends, I’m sure we’ll be starting a new arc next time. I can’t wait.