Ouchi ni Kaeru made ga Mashimaro Desu (Marshmallow All the Way Home)

This visual novel is about Ryo, an hardworking and straightforward teenage boy, that ends up homeless and starving to death in a public park. He is saved by Kasukabe Kanon, who despite being in high school is the owner of a once successful but now failing cake shop called Marshmallow Tree. The common route of this VN involves Ryo and the rest of the cast of Marshmallow Tree doing their best to bring back to revive the cake shop and make it successful once more. They have to deal with all sorts of problems, ranging from simple and standard ones like how best to advertise and what to have on the menu, to more complicated ones like what to do when they lose their wholesale supplier, to completely unexpected and genuinely shocking ones, like when they get framed for smuggling drugs.

This is all pretty well written and paced with good build ups and good conclusions thus it’s pretty satisfying to watch the shop grow little by little. The staff starts off with only Ryo, Kanon, the manager and baker Ushio, and the gyaru waitress JC. Over the course of the common route it eventually also includes the genius patisserie Raiha and the picture book author Sasa, with each of the new additions having some pretty solid character development and relationship development with Ryo leading up to them joining. The chemistry of the protagonist, heroines, and side characters is all pretty solid which results in some pretty solid humor and their interactions in general being pretty amusing.

As usual, eventually the common route branches out into routes for each of the heroines, Kanon, Ushio, Sasa, and Raiha. It really feels like JC should also have a route but she just doesn’t. Throughout the common route there are two brief branches where you can essentially choose which of the heroines Ryo hangs out with. These have no effect on route branching, but since there’s no particular reason not to you might as well read them based on what route you’re planning on going down. The actual route selection is very explicit and based solely on a single choice at the end of the common route after which it immediately branches into the selected heroines route.

The start of each route is pretty similar, with it involving shopping for and then attending a training camp. The writing tries to change things up by having a different instructor in each route and of course the protagonist pays more attention to the selected heroine. It still got pretty repetitive though to the point I feel it would have been better to keep this part mostly exactly the same across all routes and just let the player use “Skip Read Text” to go through it. The rest of each route is much more distinct. Still, I felt all heroine routes were pretty weak across the board.

Asaka’s route like, every single one of the heroine routes, begins with some sort of misunderstanding. I’m not a fan of a misunderstanding being what starts out a relationship, but here it’s played for comedy and gotten over with pretty quickly so it’s not that much of an issue. Beyond that however, the route felt like it didn’t have much substance to it. Asaka doesn’t really get any sort of character arc in the common route or in her route so she felt underdeveloped as a character. She’s a year older than the protagonist but looks like a kid which she has a complex about and thus she does her best to be an “onee-chan” type character. That’s a solid enough set up but the writing doesn’t really use it for anything beyond comedy and romantic fluff. The romantic fluff is great, best in the VN even, but without anything else of substance surrounding it it gets kind of repetitive. She didn’t really get any relationship development in the common route and her going out with Ryo comes about as a result of a misunderstanding so there wasn’t really any relationship development in her route either, so their relationship overall wasn’t that well developed.

The plot of Asaka’s route is centered around Ryo overcoming his inability to eat cake and Asaka baking a special cake that allows him to do so. While his trauma regarding cakes is somewhat explained in the common route, the full explanation is only found in Kanon’s route. That explanation really should have been in the common route, as without it not being able to eat cake is just kind of weird and him finally being able to do so isn’t that satisfying. Furthermore, he also regains the ability to eat cake in other routes, and while in some it feels well written and deserved, in other’s it just happens randomly without any effort, which further makes how big of a deal it is in Asaka’s route feels weird and results in the plot of her route feeling completely pointless.

Sasa route involves her being a picture book author and her inferiority complex. Over the course of the common route, she ends up getting pushed by the protagonist to become more positive, which results in a pretty decent character arc and relationship development. Her switch to being positive isn’t complete, though in that she’s basically bipolar and constantly switching between super positive and super negative. She’s also thirsty as hell for Ryo, to the point they completely talk past each other at times. That’s what the misunderstand leading up to them going out is centered around, but it’s just so utterly dumb that I couldn’t even hate it. It’s hilarious.

I felt she had the best chemistry with Ryo in that they have really good manzai comedy constantly, wherein that they’re switching roles pretty often results in good variety. I felt her route is the only one that had solid comedy, in that in the other heroine’s route it didn’t feel like scenes with just Ryo and the heroine worked all that well. The substance of her route involves her character going too far in a sense. She’s determined to become more confident and a go getter, but that results in her becoming someone that isn’t really her, which manifests in her picture books. Thus, her route is ultimately about growing without losing sight of who you are. It’s not amazingly well written but I thought the concept was solid enough that I found the route pretty satisfying.

Raiha’s route is as far as I can remember the route I hate most in a VN I otherwise like. She’s actually pretty great in the common route because she has a solid plot with good relationship development with Ryo. Her mischievous personality is also pretty amusing. However, that turns out to be only in low doses as in her own route where it’s much more concentrated I found her unbearable. Furthermore, the entire route involves a misunderstanding that she forces into existence for reasons that are completely nonsensical. She’s the daughter of Finnish nobility which apparently involves a lot of danger. She doesn’t want to put Ryo in danger, so despite being in love with him and Ryo confessing to her, she turns him down. Instead, she becomes his friend with benefits.

This is just a complete mess all around. Despite being friends with benefits, they’re basically acting like actual lovers. To any outside observer they would be seen as lovers. So how is that protecting him? Furthermore, it’s not like Raiha is trying to keep Ryo emotionally distant or anything like that. Rather, she does her best in order to get him to loving her more. She’s pretty successful but since she’s still maintaining the illusion that she isn’t in love with him, as Ryo falls even more in love with her, he becomes even more desperate to have her fall in love with him. The forced insecurity is incredibly annoying to read about. And this continues through pretty much the entire route. The final stretch throws in some extra plot regarding nobility and such, but it was rushed and resolved way too easily and thus it and the route overall were not enjoyable at all.

Kanon’s route ties most closely to Ryo’s backstory and to Marshmallow Tree as a whole. The relationship here also begins with an annoying misunderstanding, but it has basis in an overarching plot thread that began pretty early in the common route and thus isn’t completely random so I’ll forgive it somewhat. The initial relationship development is a bit weird, but pretty typical as far as anime tropes go so it’s fine. It definitely did drag on longer than it needed it too though. It has a pretty solid plot beyond that too which is pretty good for most of it, though the serious parts wraps up way too simply and easily.

There is once again a pretty big focus on Ryo finally being able to eat cakes again, however it’s not the sole focus but rather ties into both his and Marshmallow Tree’s backgrounds so it’s actually fleshed out well and felt pretty well written. Kanon didn’t have much character development in the common route and her character development isn’t particularly strong in her route either. Still, it all ties in directly with Marshmallow Tree so by virtue of the shop growing it feels like she has a pretty strong character arc as well. As such, her route feels like the most natural continuation of the common route and the ending feels like it wraps up things well for the visual novel overall, making it a really good route to end on.

As for general comments, there are some minor issues in the script here and there, though nothing that completely breaks things. The largest of these issues is how the the two brief branches don’t factor into things at all even when they definitely should and thus there are some clear inconsistencies where stuff that happened in the branches is ignored afterwards, and in Kanon’s route it’ll refer to stuff that happened in her branches even though it isn’t a requirement to go down her branches when doing her route.

The translation is pretty solid and in general does a good job of maintaining character’s distinct voices and had pretty good prose. However, there were definitely some localization choices that I disagree with. Some I think are just bizarre to the point I don’t get the logic behind them at all, such as translating Raiha calling someone a “chicken” (as in using the English word) to calling them a pussy, which as far as I know is a much more extreme and vulgar word to use compared to the use of “chicken” as a loanword in Japanese.

The majority of the rest of the issues come down to the translation feeling like it was geared towards general audiences when that really shouldn’t be the case as pretty much only weebs or soon to be weebs buy stuff like this. The most common complaint along those lines is honorifics, but I don’t have much a problem with that one way or another as it’s clear enough what it being referred to. My complaint is more along the lines of going to extreme lengths to avoid using Japanese specific terms that weebs would generally know to the point to the point the English translation uses uncommon words in a way that don’t actually make sense and can be confusing.

For example, there’s essentially a joke made about how ‘double’ is the new politically correct term for ‘half’ in the original Japanese script. The translation for that is about how ‘hapa’ is the new politically correct term for ‘mixed’. So maybe it’s just me but I think the audience would be overwhelmingly more familiar with the term half than hapa, and I’m basing this solely on a quick search as the term is new to me, but I don’t even think the usage of the term hapa is correct in the context used. What makes it even stranger is that there isn’t even an attempt at trying to translate things that would be much more obscure to English audiences, such as Raiha’s casual reference drops to old Japanese commercials.

The art in this VN I thought was pretty great. I think some people have a problem with the eyes due to how big and shiny they are but I liked them. There’s a solid amount of CGs and good chibi art too. The sprites also have animated expressions, not with movement in the characters but rather hearts or flowers popping up around them. Character designs for the main cast were pretty solid, though I found it kind of strange how Sasa and Raiha’s casual outfit’s looked like school uniforms. Some of the side character designs were really weird though in that they’re drawn with shadows instead of eyes, which just straight up looks creepy to me and I have no clue what they were trying to achieve in doing so.

The soundtrack is decent enough but none of the tracks stood out. The OP and each of the heroines were really solid in terms of the visuals and the songs used however. In terms of UI/UX the VN is solid enough and does everything it needs to without issue. It doesn’t have things like instantly going back and forth between choices, but there’s only one choice that matters so it didn’t feel needed either. I will note that the game is surprisingly performance intensive and was giving me pretty high CPU load even though I see no reason for it to do so, though I don’t know for certain if it’s the game itself or Johren’s DRM.

A great and pretty lengthy common route, though the heroine routes range from bad to decent.


Sasa > Kanon > Ushio > Raiha

Hello World

This manga is an adaptation of an anime film. I really don’t like the art and animation of the film however, due to how it’s heavily CGI based with not particularly good CGI, so I’m reading this instead. Thus, this is from the point of view of the manga only with no use of the film for context or comparison.

The story involves an indecisive high school student named Naomi, getting visited by his future self (who is henceforth referred to as Sensei) so that Naomi may save his soon to be girlfriend, Ruri, from a tragic lightning strike. The interesting twist is that Naomi isn’t exactly a time traveler, rather the world that the world Naomi lives in is a virtual recreation of the real world running on what’s called the Alltale. Something like this turns out to be the final major twist in a lot of stories, but what makes things somewhat fresh here is that this is explained from the start and it builds off of that in terms of Sensei’s motivations and how Naomi chooses to proceed.

The first half or so of the manga is pretty solid. It involves Sensei helping Naomi grow closer to Ruri while also training him in how to use what are essentially special admin powers. The protagonist works hard in following the plan Sensei lays out for him, and his character shines through even stronger in the parts where he chooses to deviate from said plan. His interactions with Ruri also result in pretty solid relationship development and help establish Ruri’s character to a decent degree. The sci-fi pretty much comes down solely to “that’s the way to the world was programmed to work so just deal with it”, which isn’t a particularly deep explanation, but is a reasonable enough explanation for pretty much anything so it works well enough.

The second half definitely jumps the shark and becomes a mess. The sci-fi becomes nonsense. Lots of crazy stuff happens beyond the scope of the virtual world, but the only explanations given are a bunch of random terms thrown around that are only loosely related and don’t explain anything. Thus, it’s pretty much just a stream of sudden events to make whatever the plot needs to happen happen with no proper world building. The ending is pretty strong in a vague sense, but due to how messy everything is the emotional beats just don’t land all that well.

The plot becoming a mess is fine if it allows the characters to shine through better, but in this case the writing involving the cast fell apart too. Naomi’s character arc is rushed, but it still progresses and concludes in a decently solid manner so overall it fared well enough. However, Ruri is also implied to have gone through major character growth, but this was never properly developed. The relationship between Naomi and Ruri is also supposedly super strong, much stronger than the relationship between Sensei and the Ruri of Sensei’s world, but that too isn’t really properly developed either. And everything regarding Sensei’s personality and motivations in this phase just seems like a mess with lots of inconsistencies. Thus, it’s really hard to stay invested in the cast and thus nothing has much of an impact.

The art was pretty nice in terms of style and quality and character designs pretty solid. It felt like there wasn’t enough of just using nice art to establish tone and atmosphere, with essentially every panel being used to advance the plot, and thus the art didn’t shine through all that well.

A decent enough first half followed by a complete mess of a second half.


Bokura wa Minna Kawai-sou (The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behavior)

This manga is centered around the strange residents of Kawai Complex boarding house, the most important of whom are the protagonist, Usa, who just moves in and the fellow resident he immediately falls for, Ritsu. Ritsu is a somewhat anti-social bookworm, however Usa has a lot of experience dealing with people who don’t fit into the mold that society calls normal, so he’s perfectly fine with getting close to her according to her rules and at her pace. This at first results in an interesting relationship dynamic between the two of them as it involves an extroverted guy getting close to an introverted girl, but rather than the extrovert pulling the introvert into being more outgoing as how such stories generally go, Usa allows Ritsu to be herself and simply likes her as she is without pushing her to change.

The first third of the manga is centered around that, though afterwards I feel both they and their relationship gets a lot less interesting. Usa doesn’t really get much of a character arc at all and Ritsu’s character arc ultimately becomes the standard arc of a loner becoming more social. It’s not like she changes completely, though she does change enough that the manga starts feeling less unique. This results in the romance between her and Usa becoming much more generic and the writing begins throwing in a lot more forced drama with things like Ritsu thinking Usa was kissing another girl when he was getting dirt out of her eye. And with that what was a unique comfortable slow moving relationship begins feeling a lot more like the typical one where you just want the two to get together already but it just drags on and on. The ending in terms of their relationship was reasonably solid, in that it wasn’t especially powerful but hit all the notes it needed to.

While Usa and Ritsu are certainly most important of the residents of Kawai, the rest of the cast is still pretty important. While the manager is a pretty standard strict but kind grandma type, the other three boarders are wild. A surprisingly wise masochist NEET named Shiro. A resentful and incredibly rude but hot office lady named Mayumi. And a mischievous and manipulative playgirl named Sayaka. They all have terrible personalities. But despite that they’re pretty fun and downright hilarious constantly. Still, as the manga progresses it feels they get worse as characters. Starting out, while the dynamic maybe bizarre, there’s a weird sense of family that gets developed between the residents of Kawai. Sure, Shiro is constantly an embarrassment and Mayumi and Sayaka are constantly trying to screw things up.

However, there are also moments where they, Usa, and Ritsu get along well, feel each other’s pain, and help each other out. During the latter half of the manga these moments were much scarcer, as it felt that the positive roles the three had during the first half were taken up new side characters, mainly Shina and Hayashi. As such, the three are a lot less likable, with Mayumi especially just feeling unbearably bitter, so the comedy involving them doesn’t land as well either. The writing goes in a pretty interesting direction with the three in the last third, and how it deals with Shiro and Mayumi was interesting enough to make up for how Usa and Ritsu’s story was getting kind of dull. However, the manga ends before dealing with any of the three properly which was pretty unsatisfying.

The art was solid enough in terms of style and quality. The character designs were also pretty solid for a grounded setting like this, and were also used pretty well I’d say.

A manga about a very unique group of characters that slowly gets less charming as it progresses.


Imamade Ichido mo Onnaatsukai sareta Koto ga Nai Onna Kishi wo Onnaatsukai suru Manga (How to Treat a Lady Knight Right)

This manga is about a male mage named Fooly that falls in love with the female knight named Leo, heavily in part due to him having an abs fetish and her having amazing abs. Leo doesn’t think of herself as womanly and thus finds her ever being involved in a romance ridiculous, but Fooly remains undeterred and becomes her party member. The vast majority of the manga is really short chapters centered around Fooly being obsessed with abs and Leo being a tsundere that doesn’t want to admit that she’s actually happy that a guy is confessing to her.

With that said, it’s not like Fooly solely loves her for her abs, as can be seen in that various other women including those with great abs fall in love with him and pursue him, but he turns them all down due to his love for Leo. Leo gets violently jealous over the other women liking him and often tries to get them to back off but does so in such a way that she doesn’t express she’s in love with Fooly. The comedy that arises from this is the core of the manga, and due to how short each chapter is and how many chapters there are, it can get quite repetitive. It tries to throw in things to change things up, but even when they start out going in a different direction they pretty much end like they always have eventually, such as with Melvie.

The plot is pretty minimal. Leo and Fooly go on various quests to defeat demons or duel other adventurers, but Leo is the nation’s strongest knight and can take out pretty much every threat pretty easily, and thus the battles only really matter to show off how she’s emotionally unstable due to something related to Fooly, sometimes making her even stronger and sometimes making her weaker. Fooly himself is also incredibly powerful, perhaps even more powerful than Leo. However, his powers are only fully awakened when he gets to indulge in his abs fetish, so his combat is also pretty much entirely just for comedic purposes.

The last arc tries to give more depth to both Fooly’s powers and Leo’s character arc, but I don’t feel that either worked all that well as neither was built up to properly. One of the side characters, Helga, gets some character development over the course of the series, but outside of that none of the side character’s get any development either. The ending is pretty much a generic ending for a manga like this, and is as good as one can get for a manga like this, though I don’t think the manga was able to build up strong enough investment in Fooly and Leo’s relationship for it to be all that powerful.

The art is okay. It gets the job done in regards to the story it’s trying to tell though quality wise I’d say it’s on the somewhat lower end of things. It is very strongly centered around abs however, both from a character design and fanservice perspective. If you aren’t into abs this will do nothing for you.

A manga with a mediocre romance and some pretty solid comedy here and there, though the core of the manga is very much abs.


Ajin: Demi-Human

This manga is about Ajin, otherwise known as demi-humans. They’re normal humans for the most part, except for the fact that if they die of anything other than old age they revive immediately fully healed. As unnatural deaths are pretty rare in Japan, most go their entire lives without realizing that they’re demi-humans. But the ones that do are left with an interesting choice. Do they exploit the fact that they can’t die to do crazy things, or do they do their best to lay low and just live out the rest of their lives peacefully? At the point that the manga begins, the default was the latter. However, that’s not always possible, as is the case of the protagonist of this manga, Kei, a studios and pretty cold high school student whom dies and revives in a very public manner, resulting in an immediate manhunt by the police.

The manga starts off seeming like it’ll be focused on a number of complex issues with a heavy focus on themes like discrimination and how easy it is for society to “other” people it suddenly deems different. It feels like faced with that, Kei will go through a character arc where he becomes less cold and more human due to becoming a demi-human. This character arc being helped along by an old friend that he had abandoned but who was still helping him despite the danger, and a little sister that hated him for abandoning said friend because she seemed to have a crush on said friend. The manga also stresses supernatural abilities that certain demi-humans have, the ability to control others through voice as well as to summon and control black shadow creatures called IBMs. It also has somewhat of a horror-oriented vibe. However, the author bailed on the manga at the end of the first volume, and the artist had to pick up the slack and do the writing as well.

At first it very much does not go well. I don’t really blame the artist for it as he was forced to take over someone else’s story, and who knows if the original author would have handled it better. Still, the manga gets incredibly messy. It keeps trying to deal with the themes regarding discrimination and such established in the first half and try to make things somewhat complex regarding the different factions involved. However, the writing simply doesn’t work, being nonsensical a lot of the time and just in general a lack of imagination or understanding of what it’s trying to tackle. IBMs are still certainly relevant, but they work differently from the first volume and aren’t the core of combat as they seemed to be in the first volume. The voice powers just kind of stopped mattering at some point. The horror vibe also mostly disappeared.

Character wise, it also seems to reset the board essentially, with what felt like were going to be main characters pretty much completely dropping out in favor of new characters. I think the mangaka even tried to switch protagonists at one point before realizing it wasn’t working and going back to Kei. As for Kei, there’s an attempt to give him depth and make him a complex character, but it really doesn’t work and he just feels really inconsistent. The same applies to most of the rest of the cast that remains, with it feeling like they’ve all been given roles different from what was originally intended even if it had to be forced into.

The first half or so of the manga is attempts at big things and a lot of depth, but just not managing to execute anything well. However, as it goes into the second half it seems to abandon what it was originally trying to do in favor of doing something it’s actually good at, blockbuster action. At this point, all that matters is that the antagonist, Sato, is a smart psychopath that uses his demi-human powers to have fun regardless of who he kills or how much damage he causes in the process, thus making him very much a bad guy, while the protagonist, Kei, while cold and logical, is motivated by wanting to prevent Sato from causing damage and hurting others, thus making him a good guy.

It throws out all the complexity for something simple, two immortals fighting each other and all the insanity that ensues. Both have their own sets of allies and plans that they put in motion, with each having to adapt to the situation. It goes all in on the action with guns, explosions, and crazy stunts galore. It gets incredibly unrealistic and downright ridiculous at times. But it’s a wild really fast paced ride that’s a lot of fun. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the characters are all one dimensional and hard to care all that much about. With that in mind, I suppose the ending is as good as it ever could be considering the rest of the manga, though that just means it’s pretty forgettable and not particularly dissatisfying.

The art I wasn’t fond of. The character designs are okay but the IBM designs are pretty weak imo. It also never really feels like it’s trying to look particularly good, which I suppose fits the horror theme it was originally going for but feels out of place once it’s more action oriented. The IBM designs especially felt pretty dull.

A manga that doesn’t handle any of it’s depth well, but hits it’s stride once it stops trying in favor of fast paced action.


Gun X Clover

The highlight of the manga is definitely the protagonist, Morito. He does his best to generally look like a meek little boy and is supposedly the lowest rank possible when it comes to mercenaries. However, he’s in actuality a master rank mercenary, of which there are only thirteen in the world, and though his exact age is never disclosed he’s old enough to have trained a number of other successful mercenaries. The setting makes incredibly good use of this dual identity, in that he’s pretending to be a student at Mikado High School, an academy for mercenaries as well as those that need mercenary protection. To the students, he’s just a weak kid that’s seen as either lame or cute.

But to the staff, many of whom are his former pupils, he’s a monster worthy of both fear and respect. The gap between him acting weak and kind of pathetic one moment to then incredibly powerful and somewhat sadistic the next is hilarious. And this comes into play quite often, because while he’s overpowered and often quite wise, he’s also really petty at times. Having to act weak with the students often pisses him off, resulting in him letting his anger out on his former pupils. Him, just being overpowered and shocking people that expected him to be weak, both allies and enemies, is also written in a pretty satisfying manner.

While he is incredibly powerful as a master rank, there are twelve others at the same level, so it’s not like he’s completely overpowered. A heavy amount of the action in this manga involves fights between him and other masters while underlings on both sides also fight each other, and the moment-to-moment action here is pretty exciting. The cast overall is packed with colorful personalities that are a lot of fun and the manga is also pretty good about having lots of fun interactions between them. The most interesting as one would expect is the heroine, Kotonoha, who has seven distinct personalities, each with their own design and abilities. The manga handles introducing all of them pretty well, and them having conferences in their head discussing how to handle various situations is generally pretty amusing due to how different they all are. Morito having to figure out how to deal with all of them due to his main job being to guard Kotonoha is also pretty well written, and the initial relationship establishment between him and six of them is handled well. The art is pretty great with a good style and pretty solid quality. The character designs have a good amount of variety and are generally used pretty well for a lot of good art. The action too has a lot of variety that the art showcases well.

The problem that lies at all the issues in this manga is the lack of any overarching cohesiveness. There are a lot of plot threads that seem interesting when they are introduced, but they never go anywhere. For the most part it just keeps pushing them along at a minimal level while constantly adding new ones, and in the end it just kind of throws half of them away while rushing to quickly resolve the rest. The world building has a lot of interesting concepts, both in terms of the mercenary system and supernatural elements. However, they don’t really fit with each other, often contradicting what came before. This makes the action especially hard to get invested in as it’s just all completely random with powers and abilities that don’t mesh at all. The world building for each arc works well for the arc, but falls apart at a larger scale, and that builds up to making the world overall not feeling cohesive.

Similarly, while there are a lot of great characters, the manga is really bad at using them after introducing them and giving them some basic development. A lot are reoccurring but it doesn’t feel like anyone, not Morito, not any of Kotonoha’s seven personalities, not a single character in the entire manga has a proper character arc with development beyond the arc they’re introduced. Similarly, showing how a lot of the cast fell in love with Morito is written pretty well, but then absolutely nothing romantic happens after that with any of them. The manga also does try to give a serious take on various themes, primarily centered around why humans go to war. However, a lot of that it is just random monologues or infodumps which are then never brought up again. It ultimately feels like all of it is more for the aesthetic of appearing like it’s dealing with serious themes, rather than actually dealing with them. As such, the manga is really enjoyable chapter to chapter, but ultimately leaves no lasting impression whatsoever.

A manga that’s full of enjoyable characters, action, comedy, and art but that ultimately buckles under the weight of how it can’t really stick to anything.


Refrain no Chika Meikyuu to Majo no Ryodan (Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk)

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is a dungeon crawler developed by NIS, a developer most famous for the Disgaea series. The game is somewhat of a second person game, in that it doesn’t involve controlling the protagonists of the story, the dusk witch Dronya and her apprentice Luca, but rather a book known as the Tractatus de Monstrum, generally abbreviated as Tractie. Dronya wishes to explore a dungeon under the town of Refrain. However, it is impossible for living creatures to survive long down there, so she throws Tractie down a well and it summons a bunch of puppets to carry it around and fight through any obstacles it encounters.

As such the vast majority of the game has a very strong separation story wise between what’s going on above ground and what’s happening in the dungeon. Each dungeon is connected to other dungeons through what are called Antechambers. Each dungeon is it’s own little world with it’s own story. These stories are incredibly minimalistic and they don’t matter much at all beyond the fact that Dronya sent Tractie to search for three magic keys. The exceptions to that would mainly be the final and post game dungeons where the story wraps back together and the dungeons are fully integrated into the overarching story. While progressing through all of the dungeons other than those two , Tractie has to go back every so often to report to Dronya. The reports themselves don’t matter, and aren’t even shown most of the time, however going back results in VN segments of the story that does matter, the one involving Dronya, Luca, their interactions with the residents of Refrain, as well as the flashbacks that flesh out Dronya’s past.

Ultimately, I liked the three main characters, Dronya, Luca, and Isara quite a bit. Dronya especially is a really interesting character with how haughty she’s always acting and how downright cruel she can be, while also still being really caring with Luca and Isara, though in a tsundere fashion. That gives her a really fun dynamic with Luca who’s overtly nice and pretty naïve, but can still see through Dronya and does her best to support her. It’s very mother and daughter like while also not like that at all. It also leads to a pretty fun dynamic with Isara who basically just makes fun of her, but in a playful manner. The bonds between the three was well established and due to the strength of that the credit roll of the main game did hit a really strong emotional beat, even if I definitely wasn’t a fan of the bittersweet twist.

The story beyond that was very lacking however. The main issue would be that the pacing can get ridiculously slow as it essentially involves having to push through a completely unrelated dungeon to get new cutscenes, with some of said dungeons also dragging on and on. Even beyond that however, the story is very much concentrated into a certain dungeon involving Dronya’s memories and then the final dungeon, so what little progress there is in all other segments is pretty slow even without the interruptions from dungeon crawling. Things being so end loaded I think also resulted in a major waste of potential because as is revealed in the final stretch the town of Refrain has a lot going on with some really interesting concepts and a lot could be done with it’s side characters. However, it doesn’t have enough time to use any of that properly because the game ends not long after this is revealed. As such, the story and main ending overall weren’t all that satisfying.

If the game is finished after beating a series of secret bosses, it unlocks a post-game dungeon that leads to the true ending, though it’s the ending to a completely different story than the main story pretty much. I did appreciate how the post-game dungeon wrapped up a plot thread that I really didn’t expect to be resolved, though trying to throw all of that into a single dungeon resulted in the story suffering from the complete opposite issue as the rest of the main game in that it moved way too fast. Still, surprisingly enough I found the ending a reasonably satisfying note to end on. In addition to those two, there is also a series of unavoidable bad endings, in that you can’t avoid them and they kick you back to the main menu after a quick credit roll, though when you reload the associated save the story will automatically go in a direction different from the bad ending. The writing in general has a lot of dark stuff in it, but the bad endings especially can be really messed up, though it fits the tone the game is going for so it is what it is.

The gameplay in dungeons is a pretty typical dungeon crawler. You explore a grid based dungeons looking for objectives or doors/stairs to other areas with those objectives. The map is completely blank at first but every tile you step on gets added to the map. While exploring you can pick up items and fight monsters. Exploring itself can be pretty fun at first, but the problem is that it really drags on for too long without much variety. Dungeons look very different but they pretty much play all the same. Some may be bigger or smaller or a bit more maze like than others but the differences don’t feel strong enough for differentiate them enough so as to keep them interesting with how long the game can get. A lot of the differences also happen to just make things more annoying without making them more fun, such as the dungeon where essentially every wall is breakable but most don’t lead anywhere or the dungeons that involve reversing gravity, but all that does is make things more annoying to control.

The combat similarly is incredibly simplistic and very repetitive. You can have up to fifteen active puppets and twenty five support fighting for you divided into five groups known as pacts with turn based commands given on a pact basis. There are all sorts of different pacts you obtain over the course of the game with differing set ups and various bonuses such as stat boosts. Additionally Donus, which are basically spells, are also based on the assigned pact, so choosing the right pacts is key. However, I think this in general wasn’t designed very well, as what the better pacts are is pretty clear and you won’t be switching around much for tactical purposes outside of certain pacts that have abilities designed for specific bosses. Rather, it’s pretty linear in terms of just switching to better pacts as you get them. Additionally, the game outside of bosses is incredibly easy. 99% of battles you’ll just select auto attack and let it do whatever. There are a lot of minor mechanics but since they don’t matter most of the game, when they suddenly pop up it’s more annoying than anything. Especially gore hits, which break a random puppet park completely randomly regardless of any stats, and make it unable to use the equipment in that slot, with a head break instant killing the puppet. Furthermore, the only way to recover is through going back to base which means recovering is impossible during battle, which can be immensely frustrating with bosses. There should be some degree of resource management to combat, but there really isn’t as it’s so easy to leave the dungeon and come back with the penalties being negligible. The obvious solution would be to switch to a harder difficulty, but the bosses would be too difficult. And ignoring how annoying it would be to constantly switch back and forth, even if you really wanted to it would be kind of difficult as changing difficulty costs Mana, a limited currency you gain in the dungeon. Thus, just in general the combat isn’t very good.

The growth systems were also incredibly annoying. The basics are levelling up and getting new equipment. However, you can’t just level up, at least if you’re going to do the post game dungeon. Rather, there’s something called soul transfer that allows you to switch one puppet into a different puppet. The benefit of doing so is that they have increased soul clarity and thus get better stat increases on level ups, and also that you can transfer across classes while keeping abilities, thus allowing more flexibility. The negative is that doing so reverts a puppet back to level 1. Additionally, you’re probably not going to want to just use items you picked up off the ground, but rather synthesize stronger ones by combining up to eight items. Both of these mechanics are fine to a degree, but the thing is that you have a lot of puppets. You only really need to do this for the fifteen active puppets and not the support, but even then keeping up with the equipment and managing how to get good abilities on fifteen puppets is a major time sink that can get really annoying. There are also a lot of other minor things like affinity, personalities, weird mechanics regarding luck, and such that I don’t feel like add much to the game, just make it more complicated for the sake of making it more complicated, which I think just makes things more overwhelming.

The visuals of the game were okay. The art on the main characters was decent, but kind of dull to be honest and in general not used very well. It was also kind of weird how some sprites would have lip movement while others didn’t, even with just different expressions for the same character. The art in dungeons was a mixed bag, with both puppets and enemies ranging from looking amazing to terrible. The dungeon visual design was pretty nice and had a lot of variety. The 3D graphics in the dungeon were decent enough to get the job done and that’s about it. The music was very unique and also used really well. That combined with the prose and visuals created a very strong sense of tone and atmosphere in the style of Grimm’s fairy tales that fit the game incredibly well. The voice acting was also noticeably good, especially worth mentioning being Luca’s yelling and complaining at Dronya. QoL features while exploring the dungeon were pretty solid with very good button short cuts and such, though the menu system could be pretty cumbersome and the lack of ability to sort by stats other than attack and defense was frustrating. The VN portions were also pretty lacking functionality wise, not even having a backlog.

A game that has a good trio of main characters and pretty fun dungeon crawling at times, but that is also incredibly rough both in terms of story and game play.


Hello Lady!

Hello Lady is a visual novel with an incredible protagonist, Narita Shinri. His personality is completely absurd, a combination of extreme arrogance and selfishness that allows him to act haughtily extravagant regardless of circumstances. However, he is generally competent and wise enough that his narcissism feels well deserved. He does what he wants and sticks to his creed regardless of the situation and what others may think of him. However, while heavy portions of his creed may be things that most would think are noble and chivalrous, others not so much, such as his belief in the divinity of large breasts and his duty to ‘worship’ them. At one point he’s described in game as “having the audacity to spout complete nonsense” which I feel is a very good description of him, because while he does actually say some deep things at times during critical points in the story, most of the flowery language is just waxing poetic about nonsense.

The common route of Hello Lady showcases him incredibly well. The setting is Tenkawa Noble Academy, a boarding school for HMI, those that have some sort of supernatural power called Halos, with most having been shunned by society and having some sort of darkness to their past as a result. While they may have all led complicated lives to some degree or another, none of them have lived anywhere near the life Narita did. Watching the heroines of the VN encounter him, interact with him in such a manner that leaves them completely baffled that someone like him could even exist, but slowly come around to seeing he’s pretty amazing, was hilarious and immensely satisfying. The common route also establishes Narita’s background, motivations, and goal, which are all pretty simple as they’re centered around vengeance against those that killed his family, but that makes them incredibly easy to get invested in. It does a good job of introducing the rest of the cast and foundational world building. It’s beyond the common route that things start going downhill.

Throughout the common route, choices are presented that increase or decrease affection with the four main heroines as well as increase or decrease what is known as zeal, which is essentially a measure of how passionate Narita is about his revenge. Getting into one of the heroines endings requires having the right amount of affection and the right amount of zeal. Not having enough zeal can result in Narita abandoning his revenge, though in different ways depending on heroine affection which results in different bad endings. Though getting too much zeal also results in a different type of bad ending. There is also an enforced playing order in that certain options aren’t unlocked until certain routes are completely, making it impossible to have the right numbers to get onto certain routes before others. Though the first two can technically be swapped around, the general play order for the main routes is Tamao’s, Sorako’s, Eru’s, and Saku’s. The main heroines are four of the six Etoiles, which are the highest ranking HMI. The sixth being Narita, and the fifth being Mitori who gets a route in the fandisc which is integrated into the main game in the complete edition and can be selected after completion of the four main routes. The fandisc also had a route for Narita’s maid Hishia. And after all those are complete it unlocks the true route, Superior Entelecheia.

I usually would go through each of the routes one by one, but my opinion on the main routes is all pretty similar so I’ll talk about them holistically. Firstly, the romance in this VN simply isn’t very good at all. There’s not really much substance to it as they just start going out suddenly and their isn’t really much in terms of relationship drama afterwards either. Narita’s revenge goals conflict with the goals of the heroines which does lead to conflict including actual fights, but it wasn’t all that well written and generally resolved itself too easily so it can instead focus on other plot elements. There also isn’t much good in terms of romantic fluff either. It definitely tries and Shinri’s wild personality does help, but while it was good from a comedic point of view it never really felt all that romantic. Narita’s relationship dynamic with Saku was the only of the four that felt like they actually had chemistry, and even then I don’t think the route was very good at showing it.

The character development was a mixed bag. The only route that Narita gets any development at all in is Saku’s route, and I wasn’t particularly fond of it due to the plot events it was tied to. The rest of the heroines get development in their route but nothing in each other’s. Tamao is a girl who is similar to Narita in that she has a secret background and reason for being at the academy, and her character development involves overcoming it through pushing Narita to overcome his own motivation and background. This was kind of strange in that it felt like she changed too much in pushing for Narita to change, while Narita himself didn’t change at all, but worked out decently enough. Sorako has a difficult relationship with her parents and her character development involves overcoming her past and reestablishing who she is. This felt pretty badly written and really random and thus didn’t work well at all to the point she’s my least favorite heroine. Eru is a girl with a complicated background that resulted in her not having emotions and only pretending to, with her character development involving her actually realizing she does have emotions. A core part of her character is that she’s weird and hard to understand, which makes her a lot of fun during the lighter portions, but it makes the more serious parts of her character too ambiguous. Saku’s route is centered around how she feels out of her depth and struggles with what the right thing to do is so her character arc involves her gaining confidence in herself and the values she chooses to live by. Her character arc was the best in the VN and pretty well fleshed out, with the only real complaint I have with it being that it teased it as having darker and more interesting aspects but then having those lead to something only loosely connected to her character.

The overarching plot regarding Shinri’s revenge and the goals of the villain were where I think the VN falls apart the most. Each of the first three routes involve Shinri pursuing revenge and partially getting revenge, with the reader gaining more background on Shinri’s past and the tragedy that brought things about. He also learns a bit more about what the antagonist’s are trying to do, which involves world building regarding various Halo related concepts. This overarching plot is a core focus of all three of these routes, but the story doesn’t reach anywhere near completion in any of them. Rather, each route conveys very little about the overarching plot. And as mentioned, the romance and character development in each of the three routes wasn’t particularly strong either. As such, each of the routes felt hollow. Saku’s route goes through and solves all the mysteries and resolves all the overarching plot threads. However, the actual conclusion to everything was immensely disappointing.

Shinri’s battle with the overarching antagonist has way too much infodumping and monologuing. It really felt like the antagonist didn’t really have all that well defined of a character so in the end they threw a laundry list of motivations for why he was doing what he was doing, ranging from broad ideals to personal grievances. It was really half assed and cliché and furthermore completely threw off the pacing because the writing spent considerably more time on that than the actual fighting. And then there was a final twist that was a complete mess all around. It was a good concept in theory and led to some really cool scenes as well as character development in Narita in him overcoming his past and having a sense of self beyond his desire to obtain revenge. However, it wasn’t built up to at all and felt completely out of nowhere and like it didn’t really fit in with everything else at all. It needed build up somehow, even if it was through some ambiguous out of context interludes. As is, it just felt kind of dumb. Still, in the end I suppose it did resolve everything, so Saku’s route has a satisfying enough ending.

The two fan disc routes are very different from the main routes. Hishia’s route is basically Saku’s route but with Narita getting romantically involved with Hishia instead. I suppose romantically involved is the best term for it, though she’s more a loyal servant than a girlfriend. However, they have a lot of background, so it actually felt like the two had pretty decent chemistry so the relationship was better than all of the main routes except Saku’s. As the plot is pretty much the same as Saku’s route, in order to make the route different from her’s the majority of the route is from Hishia’s perspective, and includes background on her and Narita in flashbacks, as well as her interactions with other characters independent of Narita. While Hishia doesn’t have any character development over her route itself, her route does show how she’s grown due to Narita compared to how she was long ago. It was a short and sweet route that while similar to Saku’s cut out a lot of the unnecessary fat while improving on the action so it was pretty solid. It was still somewhat repetitive though playing it right after Saku’s.

Mitori’s route is completely different from all the other routes in that it’s completely disconnected from the overarching plot of the main routes. Instead it focuses on Narita and Mitori being on the run from the academy. She wasn’t fleshed out at all in the main routes, so here it actually gives her a personality, which is a pretty typical ojou-sama, but a decently executed one. Her route shows how she’s grown as a person compared to when she first joined the academy and looked down on people, and also how she grows over the course of the route as she decides to continue persevering regardless of the circumstances. Furthermore, Narita gets pretty solid character development in this route as well, leading to him question if revenge should be his life’s purpose. The romance between the two is purely a result of the suspension bridge effect and there’s no romantic fluff at all, but despite that it still felt decently well written. The route also throws in a bunch of random world building that ultimately doesn’t lead to anything but is interesting in it’s own right. This overall felt like the best written route in the game.

On the other hand, the true route was definitely the worst written. It felt less like a cohesively written route and more like there were a bunch of scenes and match up fights they wanted so they just wrote nonsense in between to get to them. How characters behave is completely inconsistent with the other routes and makes no sense considering their personalities, motivations, and relationships they have with other characters. On top of that, it essentially redoes or expands on elements relating to world building that make no sense and feel contradictory and like they’re making things overtly messy for no reason. It’s especially bad with all the main characters getting enhancements to their powers that make them all nonsensical and able to do whatever the plot demands of them which makes all the action feel kind of dumb. Also, it goes way too hard with the false choices. Having one or two during critical points or for comedic purposes is fine and that’s how the rest of the VN handles it, but here it just throws them out like candy and they lose all meaning. It does a decent job of fleshing out parts that were just abruptly thrown out there at the end of Saku’s route including Narita’s character development, but beyond that it felt like a complete failure.

As for more general comments, the action outside of the true route was pretty solid as powers were decently well defined and things flowed in a way that made sense. Still, the trigger to activate powers was very awkward. Shakespeare and his plays are a running motif in this VN, and character’s full abilities are invoked after they recite a few lines from a play that corresponds to their ability. The problem is that the voice actors clearly aren’t very good at English, so to English speakers it sounds really weird due to the complete lack of rhythm or flow to what should be poetic. The lines themselves aren’t all that great either, feeling kind of forced, so it feels the lines are there more to just seem cool being in English than for the meaning of the lines themselves, which obviously doesn’t work for native English speakers.

The voice acting outside of that was pretty solid, and I especially appreciate that Narita was voiced and voiced well as protagonist’s in VNs like this usually aren’t. The soundtrack was really good with a lot of great and memorable tracks. The OP songs, both of them, and the ED are pretty solid and were also used well as inserts during key portions of the plot. The visuals of the OPs are both solid as well, though the second OP has the full song instead of a cut version like they usually do which I felt like dragged on too long. The visuals of the ED are just text on a blank background which I suppose isn’t that abnormal but I still prefer more elaborate ones. The art in the VN is solid in terms of style and quality and there are a good amount of CGs. It was kind of weird though that Mitori didn’t have a second clothes sprite set and was wearing her school uniform even when everyone else was wearing casual clothes. The engine worked well enough and had all the QoL features I want to the point that I don’t have any complaints. The translation was full of typos and mistakes, though the prose in and of itself was pretty good considering how purple it was trying to be at times.

A visual novel held up entirely by an incredibly protagonist that’s pretty weak whenever he’s not in the spotlight.



Saku > Mitori > Hishia > True > Eru > Sorako > Tamao


Saku > Hishia > Eru > Mitori > Tamao > Sorako


This manga is a light novel adaptation that is strange in that it’s a generic harem series that isn’t actually harem. The premise is that Inukami trainers exist who can form contracts with dog spirits known as Inukami and then take jobs dealing with various supernatural phenomenon. Inukami trainers can form contracts with multiple Inukami and Inukami seem to mainly be cute girls, so it’s a pretty standard harem set up. However, the protagonist Keita, only forms a single contract with a single girl named Yoko. Keita is a pervert and very much wants to contract more girls. However, Yoko is super clingy and refuses to let him.

At this point it’s just a standard romance story, but what makes it weird is that it feels like it’s very strongly emphasizing that it’s not a harem story. This comes into play with Yoko basically playing the part of jealous girlfriend a lot, but it also kind of plays into broader aspects of the story. Mainly in that the vast majority of reoccurring side characters are pretty much part of Keita’s cousin, Kaoru’s, harem and it serves as a contrast to Keita and Yoko. But at the same time, it’s not like its criticizing harems as it portrays Kaoru and his relationships with his Inukami in a positive light. So really, it feels like the whole point of everything is for it to be funny that Keita can’t get a harem. But at the same time, a lot of Kaoru’s Inukami seem to be really fond of Keita, so in the end I have no clue what it’s trying to do. It’s just a weird dynamic all around.

As for the Keita and Yoko themselves, they’re a decent couple, I guess. They do get relationship development and grow closer over the course of the manga, but it’s really not fleshed out well at all. I feel like it’s skipping portions of the light novel dedicated to this, though I haven’t read the LN so I don’t know for sure. Yoko gets character development in that she starts the series just straight up mean but softens up a good amount and though it isn’t handled amazingly well, it’s handled better than the relationship development. There’s an overarching plot thread regarding Yoko’s background, but as far as the manga gets it’s basically just touched on and doesn’t go anywhere.

Thus, the plot is pretty much entirely just small episodes of the cast dealing with various supernatural phenomenon. These episodes are generally pretty solid due to good comedy. It wasn’t very good at getting any investment in the cast or plot though. The ending is pretty much what you’d expect from a manga forcing an ending to an adaptation of a story that’s still going. Insignificant and lacking in substance story wise, but still trying to a hit a good emotional beat to end on, which managed to land decently well I guess.

The art is cute focused and overall okay. Both in terms of quality and style it’s not particularly great but not particularly bad either. It gets the job done without issue but this definitely isn’t a manga that you’d read for the art.

A somewhat weird romance manga that while lacking in substance is still pretty amusing.


Bokurano: Ours

A quick glance at this manga may make it seem like a pretty typical mech story where a group of teens are chosen as mech pilots to defend the Earth against an alien invasion. However, it doesn’t take all that deep of a look for it to be clear that the mech aspect is just there to provide structure for the character stories. While the battles are obviously important to the plot in terms of them happening, they aren’t that important to what the manga is trying to convey. At times they matter so little that the manga even skips on showing the battles themselves. Rather, what’s important about the battles is that only the pilot selected randomly from the group may take control of the mech, Zearth, and use it to fight off the invading mech, but the price of using the Zearth’s power is the life of the pilot. However, if the pilot loses the battle or doesn’t manage to defeat it within 48 hours, the entirety of Earth and everyone living on it will die. Thus, either way, the pilot is dead.

Furthermore, though the battles occur randomly without any prior indication, who the next pilot will be is indicated immediately after the end of the previous battle. Thus, the core of this manga is each of the main character’s struggles in how to use what little time they have left. The manga is episodic with each arc focusing on a single character. There is a progression to the world in that at first the pilots are operating secretly, while still living their normal lives, but as the battles go on their identity is revealed to the military and then to a degree to the media and rest of the world, thus making it impossible to live their normal lives. This combined with the fact that each of the main characters is incredibly different results in there being a lot of variety to each arc. The core theme remains using death to show the value of life though how each of the characters question what’s worth living for, dying for, and killing for. This is a theme that has a tremendous amount that can be done with it and this manga manages to explore it with a very wide breadth. The depth of each arc as a result is somewhat lacking but holistically it feels like the writing manages to convey everything that it wanted to convey while hitting really strong emotional beats and delivering some major gut punches.

This very much isn’t the type of manga where anyone gets a happy ending, nor does everyone’s ending even reach the level of bittersweet. Still, all in all while wrapped in melancholy, it does manage to give everyone an ending that’s reasonably satisfying. Near the end of the manga it does a follow up on the stories of all the characters that passed away, which while not perfect definitely helped in providing some level of closure. The exception to that, the horrible terrible exception to that, is with Chizuru’s. A lot of characters had complicated circumstances, but only one character’s story felt like it had a true out and out villain, and for all intents and purposes he gets off scot free. And furthermore, despite villain being absolutely vile, the manga ultimately reads like it’s trying to portray him as an inspiringly good person who has a point actually, which is so utterly ridiculous that it actually made me angry.

The biggest weakness of this manga is the art. It’s overall too simplistic and not very good. The mechs while not great are fine and the action is decent enough considering it’s not important. However, the art is terrible at showing human expressions which results in emotions not being conveyed properly which I think significantly detracts from the work. This was especially bad during portions heavily focused on characters just talking, such as a long stretch of Kirie’s arc, as it’s basically just lots of text with the art contributing absolutely nothing. Furthermore, while having eye pleasing art wouldn’t really fit the manga, the art it does have completely lacks characters. It doesn’t really build atmosphere or establish tone at all.

An incredibly well written series of stories of characters struggling with finding meaning in death, though one with unfortunately bad art.