I Swear I Won’t Bother You Again!, Vol. 3

By Reina Soratani and Haru Harukawa. Released in Japan as “Kondo wa Zettai ni Jama Shimasen!” by Gentosha Comics. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Molly Lee. Adapted by T. Anne.

I remember when I read the first volume of this series, I was impressed at its ability to take a stock plot, “villainess goes back in time to try to avoid her fate”, and seriously examine what traumas they might actually carry back by doing so. In the second volume, I was impressed (but also a bit wary, as it’s clearly the end pairing) at showing how disturbing and obsessive Yulan’s love for Violette is, and also at how the series shows that even if you do have a “safe haven” at school, and make new friends, there’s still the abusive family at home. And now we have the third volume, and by the end of it I am reduced to begging the author to please make it stop. This is still an excellent, compelling read, provided you can get past, well, the entire plot. But let’s face it, at this point we’ve switched genres. It’s not a villainess book. It’s a horror novel.

In the first two-thirds of this book, things are looking relatively good for Violette. She manages to apologize to Claudia for her previous behavior, closing the book on that chapter in her life. She’s managed to make a good friend in Rosette, another noble who hides her true self behind a facade. Sure, Yulan tells her that he can’t study with her this round of exams because he has to study with Maryjune, but that’s… she can deal with that. She may not like it, but she can deal with it. Heck, she’s even having Marin come up with new hairstyles for her, which is a big, big change, because her hair is one of her triggers from her childhood abuse by her mother. Then even more good news: her abusive father is called away to her grandfather’s place for the week! Now mealtime will be peaceful… OR WILL IT?

There’s no sugarcoating this, the last third of this volume is straight up terrifying. We haven’t really seen much at all of Lady Elfa, Violette’s stepmother, in this book, and given how absolutely terrible Violette’s father was, and how innocently terrible her sister is, I wasn’t sure we needed another terrible person. Sadly, I proved to be incorrect. (Indeed, the author states that the head chef, named in this volume, is literally the only non-terrible adult in the series.) Elfa feels like a horror parody of all the smiling, “ara ara” moms that you see in anime, and her words and actions towards Violette come uncomfortably close to a line I really really do not want this series to cross. That said, the most terrifying parts of the book involve Marin, Violette’s maid. She’s not the heroine, so does not have plot immunity, and I am very, very worried that she will not live to the end of the series.

I can’t recommend this series for everyone anymore, as it’s just become far too harrowing. If you don’t care for emotional torment as a plot device, Tearmoon Empire would be a better “villainess goes back in time” book. But for those who love a good soap opera that’s not afraid to get dark as pitch, this is a nightmarish yet thrilling ride.

Bride of the Barrier Master, Vol. 1

By Kureha and Bodax. Released in Japan as “Kekkaishi no Ichirinka” by Kadokawa Bunko. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Linda Liu.

Sometimes you get the feeling that you’re reading something in the wrong medium. Bride of the Barrier Master is a shoujo manga. Everything about it screams shoujo manga, and the personalities of the two leads are designed so that we can watch the expressions on their faces as they react to each other. Unfortunately, while there *is* a manga adaptation of this light novel, this isn’t it. I mean, I get it. Sometimes the written word is all a creator has. It’s fine. The problem here is that without visuals, everything just feels a bit too harsh. We’re supposed to admire the perseverance of the heroine and laugh at her biting cynicism, but I found her a bit too mean. Likewise, the main guy has a bit of that “I can be an asshole to you because I’m hot” vibe that really doesn’t work when you can’t see him being hot, so it just makes him seem controlling. This isn’t a bad book, it’s perfectly readable. It just feels off.

We are, for once, in modern Japan, but it is a supernatural-tinged Japan in danger of being overrun by Shades. To combat this, five huge pillars are set up as a barrier, each pillar controlled by one of five families – who are very rich and powerful as a result. A family in the biggest clan has twins, Hana and Hazuki. They’re delighted with both of them… till Hazuki shows off impressive supernatural power, and Hana shows off bupkus. Hana is immediately shunned by her parents, who don’t physically abuse her but certainly there’s plenty of mental and emotional abuse. Over the years even her sister, sympathetic at first, grows to look down on her. Then, when she turns 15, Hana suddenly comes into a huge amount of power. Sadly, she’s far too worldwise and cynical at this point, and does not desire any sycophants saying they always knew she was wonderful, so she hides it. But can she hide it from the head of the family, who is looking for a bride?

This is something like the 4th title in a few days I’ve read featuring an abusive family and their daughter, and that might be tainting my viewpoint a bit. Hana’s bitter wit can occasionally be amusing, and I do like the genuinely loving relationship she has with the three shikigami she has created. You certainly sympathize with her desire to simply forget about the supernatural altogether and become an OL. As for Saku, well, we’ve seen his type in shoujo manga before. He’s attractive, powerful, and smart. Women throw themselves at him, and he’s totally uninterested in them. Hana, on the other hand, is rude and dismissive towards him. It’s almost love at first sight. That said, I’m nev3er fond of the “I will manipulate you into loving me by this written contract” as a plot device, and I don’t like it here. He’d be better off being sincere… except I’m not sure Hana can even accept sincerity at this point in her life.

Again, this isn’t bad, it just feels a bit sour and fatalistic. I’m sure if the manga is licensed (only one volume is out in Japan to date), it will be more pleasant to read.

Sasaki and Peeps: Psychic Battles, Magical Girls, and Death Games Can’t Contend with Otherworldly Fantasy ~Or So I Thought, but Now a Storm Is Brewing~

By Buncololi and Kantoku. Released in Japan as “Sasaki to Pi-chan” by Media Factory. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Alice Prowse.

It’s getting better. There are still a few times where I wince while reading the series, mainly whenever the neighbor girl is trying to manipulate Sasaki into sexually assaulting her (he doesn’t), but for the most part the series is doing what it does best: mashing up genre after genre and watching our deadpan salaryman crush all of them as he flies past. Sasaki may be a bit of a stoic sad sack, but the series wouldn’t work at all if the protagonist were, say, Kazuma from KonoSuba. It not only requires his experience as a Japanese salaryman to drive a lot of the plot, but also his reserve helps the reader glide through the plot without taking anything too seriously. Which is good, because this series is still mostly a comedy, but also bad, because there are a lot of things I think could do with being taken more seriously, such as getting the neighbor girl some therapy.

Sasaki continues to juggle the various light novel plots he finds himself in. In the fantasy world, the count’s daughter Elsa is being taken as a “concubine” by an evil Duke, so Sasaki agrees to help fake Elsa’s death and take her with him to Japan, where she can hide out in a hotel. In the “psychic” world, he continues to investigate mysterious happenings (most of which have to do with one of the other genres he’s in) while trying to get enough blackmail material on his suspicious boss. In the “magical girl” part of the book, he finds her trying to murder another psychic. Sadly, before that gets anywhere, he’s dragged into the “angels vs. demons death game” genre we started to see last time, and finally discovers what the neighbor girl has been up to. Unfortunately, everything completely is blown to hell and back due to one fatal mistake: he lets Peeps get drunk.

I do suspect a lot of the salaryman humor in this lands better in Japan than it does here – he’s constantly apologizing to the girls around him, and thanking them for their support of him, in a way that is meant to evoke the office even as it happens while they’re watching demons blow teenage girls’ heads off. The best part of the book was seeing the neighbor finally get drawn into the main plotline as opposed to being a very uncomfortable side story. She’s still very uncomfortable – I hate using the word yandere, but it does apply here, and her rape/suicide fantasies are deliberately disturbing – but now that she’s involved with everyone else, hopefully she can get a little help? Maybe? The book ends in a four-way Mexican standoff between all of the various underage girls Sasaki has pulled into his orbit – none of whom he’s remotely romantically interested in, but I see what you’re doing there. And that doesn’t even count the traditional “looks nine but is decades older” girl. Which, again, light novel trope.

It appears we’re adding aliens to the stack of plots if the cliffhanger is to be believed, though if I were Sasaki I’d worry more about calming down his not-harem first. This series is absolutely not for everyone, but if you have drenched yourself in light novel plots over the years, it can be a lot of fun.