A Christmas collection review

Instead of posting pictures of my collections, I thought it’d be useful to write up a bit about what I’ve read. Obviously, opinions vary and I know some series that I didn’t like others have found very enjoyable, but hopefully if anybody finds they have similar tastes, they might find another series here to try out or perhaps recommend a series for me to pick up.A bit about my tastes in general: I enjoy authors who know how to tell a story and can write well. I prefer characters that struggle in their stories; OP MCs who can just waltz through their life tend to be uninteresting to me. I tend not to enjoy world-building for the sake of world-building itself, but only if it really adds to the story; in general, I like tightly written, well planned out stories rather than meandering adventures through a new world. I’m probably a bit older than the target audience of most LNs and use LNs mostly as some light entertainment for my subway commutes to and from work.So below is what I’ve read, in roughly descending order of personal enjoyment. I tried to avoid spoilers, although I briefly mention the general plot of some volumes.10 - A masterpiece regardless of mediumYeah, there’s nothing here for me. As a yardstick, the only anime I’ve watched that I’ve rated a 10 is Madoka Magicka.9 - Very good, strongly recommendedMy Youth Romantic Comedy is Wrong, As I Expected This series is certainly not the tightest--there is plenty of filler material that's been released. But the real star of the show is the narration--8man’s voice is unmistakable, and an absolute pleasure to read. It’s endlessly fun to read all of his observations and little monologues. How can a character be so sharp and observant of social cues, and yet as a result have such a warped view of human relationships? I don’t think there’s any other series that reads like Oregairu, and if you’ve only read the anime, you’re missing out on the best part of this series.Book Girl One of the first series that I read, and I still have a soft spot for it. The first thing to say is that the writing is gorgeous; in case it wasn’t obvious from all the literary references, this is an author that takes reading and writing seriously.The premise sounds ridiculous: a girl who eats books? But don’t get fixated on that point; it’s just a plot device that’s convenient for the story. The author never really explains it, and honestly, she doesn’t really need to for this story to work, at least in my opinion. Otherwise, this story is set squarely in the “normal” real world. And while the series sometimes ventures into the realm of being oversentimental and maudlin (I’ve read opinions that the MC is just an oversensitive whiny coward, and it’s not a completely unfounded criticism), the big emotional moments are built up so that when they hit, they hit with the force of a freight train--the ending of, for example, Book Girl and the Corrupted Angel was absolutely devastating.Also, to quote /u/VzVegeta: “Tohko is best waifu, would write her dinner.” If only...WorldEnd: What Do You Do at the End of the World? Are You Busy? Will You Save Us? Yes, this title is ridiculous, and the nickname SukaSuka is perhaps just as ridiculous. But this series has the best world-building I’ve read in a LN. The fantasy world here is imaginative, it has history and lore, but most importantly, it sets a tone for the series. I think the author says it best when in the afterworld of Vol. 1, he writes:In the corner of a dying world, little survivors who wish to live for just a little longer lead desperate, do-or-die, comfortable, lazy, declining lives. Does salvation really exist for them? If it does, what does it look like? That’s the sort of feel I want to evoke with this story.The story is absolutely beautifully written. If you only watched the anime, you really haven’t seen the whole story. The anime focused on the relationship between the MC and Chtholly, which was important for the first three volumes, but the LNs are so much more than just another fantasy romance novel. It’s really about people trying to find their place and purpose in this fantasy world, and a romantic relationship is just one aspect of that struggle. In particular, Vol. 4, which was not adapted in the anime, is stunning in its imagination and story-telling.One note on translations: I usually prefer official translations as I find they read better in English, and in general, I’ve been pretty satisfied with Yen’s translation quality. On this one, however, I find the translation to be stilted and not very natural-reading. Luckily, the fan translation of this series by /u/fgilan is one of the best fan translations I’ve read. This might be the only case where I prefer a fan translation to the original.Goblin Slayer After this season’s anime, Goblin Slayer is pretty infamous. Yes, the series is bloody and violent, depicts rape, and in general is pretty horrifying. No, you would never call the series deep or introspective, and the characters are honestly pretty simple and easy to understand.But the draw here for me is that the author here might be the most natural story-teller that I’ve read in the LN world. The writing is sharp and to the point: the fights are violent, but then they are done; you don’t linger on every cut and slash of the sword. The character interactions may not be profound, but they are so fun to read; the pre-dungeon campfire scene in Vol. 1, for example, is light, fun, and yet accomplishes so much in characterization.I don’t have much more to say about this one. A write-up by /u/DiGreatDestroyer got me to try this series so I’ll just link it here.On the violence and rape, I will say that the manga is significantly more graphic. What I mean by that seemingly obvious statement is that while the manga doesn’t shy away depicting rape scenes, the LN tends to skip over the actual act and spends no time describing it; the focus is much more on the effects of the violence and how people (both the victims and others) cope with it, which is much more interesting to me.8 - I enjoyed theseToradora! A classic. The premise might simple, but it’s still a really well-written, well-planned school romance series.In this case, though, the anime adaptation of Toradora! was also excellent, and this may be the only series where I think that if you’ve only watched the anime, you’re not missing out on much. If anything, some of the big moments might have more emotional impact in the anime (e.g. that Christmas episode…).Kokoro Connect I haven’t seen the anime, but the novels are just another well-written, enjoyable high school series. Definitely while reading these, I sometimes think to myself that the characters are just being dumb teenagers, but then I remember that that’s the point. Perhaps I’m just getting old. Nevertheless, an enjoyable read.Defeating the Demon Lord is a Cinch, If You Have a Ringer Ah, finally, the first isekai. Just like in SukaSuka the MC is completely OP but his skills aren’t just a ticket to instantly solve all his problems. The story is told with a great mix of darkness and comedy, but I enjoyed reading this series mostly for the voice of the narrator; the MC is intelligent, grumpy, cynical, ruthlessly calculating, and doesn’t trust anybody around him, and yet a complete softy inside and in some ways kind of an idiot. Yes, this kind of character has been done a thousand times before, but I found it enjoyable nonetheless here.Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai Started reading after the anime aired this season. What to say about this that hasn’t been said already? The MC can somehow magically solve everybody’s problems and all the girls are best girls, but yet this series is so fun to read. Would love to see this series get licensed, although the fan translation by Mountain of Pigeons is already pretty good.Amagi Brilliant Park I’m not sure any LN has made me laugh as much as Amaburi. Some of the humor is completely absurd, and the second volume in particular has a couple jokes that rely on breaking the fourth wall, but I found that the jokes worked for me.While plenty of scenes from the first two volumes were adapted in the anime, I found the tone of the LN to be quite different: the anime shone with brightness, innocence, and almost child-like playfulness, while the LN comes across as a bit darker and more cynical. Certainly from a plot perspective, the anime covered up some of the darker detailed. But I enjoyed both.JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World This time, the girl ends up as a prostitute after getting isekai-ed. Yes, it’s, um, very explicit. The first couple parts are mostly just sex and being snarky about sex, but once the novel gets going, it evolves into a story about the relationships the MC builds despite, or perhaps because of, her station in life, and I found the story to be quite touching (not in that way, you hentai!). The ending is a bit abrupt and leaves a couple story threads hanging, but I’m okay with that.I Want to Eat Your Pancreas I don’t have too much to say about it. You know it’s going to be a tearjerker going in, and yet I definitely felt down for a couple hours after I finished it. The novel doesn’t break any new ground or do anything new, and many of the tropes I would argue other works have done better. But it was a good read, and I’m glad I read it.7 - Recommended with ReservationsMonogatari For me, a real mixed bag, but mostly good. And when Monogatari is good, it’s very good. Even just from Bake, I thought the Mayoi Snail and Suruga Monkey stories were absolutely fantastic pieces of writing. But in my opinion, there’s also plenty of unnecessary filler to get through--I found Nise, for example, awfully hard to get through. A lot of people say that the pages and pages of banter and wordplay and general debauchery are part of NisiOisiN’s charm, but I don’t agree.The Empty Box and Zeroth Maria This is the top-rated LN on MAL, and I can understand why. In terms of ambition and the complexity of the story, Hakomari takes second place to noone. The twists and turns and the crossing of genre boundaries with each story arc are really something unique.The actual execution, alas, doesn’t quite live up to the author’s vision in my opinion. I tend to agree with Frog-kun when he writes:I don’t know how any of the characters can actually understand each other, as I usually need to re-read their conversations several times before I can piece together what they are even trying to say. [...] It reminded me of my experience reading Pandora Hearts, where everyone stands around making dramatic-sounding statements and pointed commentary about how nobody is acting like a normal human being. The Hakomari characters are self-aware about how abnormal they are, but that doesn’t make me connect with them any better. And it doesn’t make the psychological drama very effective either; all the psychology is explained in excruciating detail in the narration because none of it can be inferred through the character interactions themselves. Hakomari is definitely more on the “tell” side than the “show” side when it comes to its storytelling.Am I glad I read it? Yes; it’s different and ambitious, and I would encourage others to give the series a try as well. But I can’t whole-heartedly call this series great; it could’ve been with better writing, but it falls a bit short here for me.Suzumiya Haruhi I struggled with how to rate this series. Yes the characters are iconic for a good reason, and the books are written with wit and charm.If I had a complaint, though, it would be that too many plot lines are ended with solutions that make me ask, “wait, that’s it?”. A good example is the infamous Endless Eight story: without getting into spoilers, there’s such a great build-up of suspense, the story is engaging, and then the solution is...that?The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya is the exception to this--I found the story engaging from beginning to end. But I can’t say that for most of the entries in this series.Faraway Paladin I’ll start by saying that Vol. 1 is one of my favorite light novels. The story of the boy and how he grows up in the City of the Dead with his “family” is so touchingly and beautifully written that as a standalone novel, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.But after the MC leaves the City of the Dead, the novel becomes less notable. The MC travels, defeats some enemies and starts his own mini-country, and the series starts reading like a relatively well-written but still fairly generic hero/kingdom-building novel.Spice & Wolf As an economics major myself, I looked forward to seeing what kind of trading shenanigans would happen in this series. The first volume was promising, focusing on currency debasement, but then it goes downhill. Smuggling in Vol. 2, and speculation and futures trading in Vol. 3? Sure, less interesting, but I guess still trade-related. But the longer the series goes, the less focus there is on economics and trade, and the more on the relationship. Fighting over ownership of a mythical creature? Investigating a possible angel? Just not very interesting to me economically.So then we’re just left with the story of Lawrence and Holo. And honestly, I didn’t find the writing of the story compelling on its own. To me, the prose was thick and difficult to read, to the point where I had to reread several passages multiple times to figure out what was going on. And the characters love to be mysterious and hint at what they want to say in conversations instead of just being clear; I guess it’s supposed to be clever, but at a certain point I just found it frustrating to read. In the end, would still recommend for the first couple of novels being interesting plot-wise and Holo being Holo, but I’m not sure I really enjoyed the latter half of this series.6 - Dropped, not bad but not for meWhen Hikaru was on the Earth As somebody who loves Book Girl as much as I do, it was difficult to drop Hikaru, which is by the same author. The only explanation I can come up with is that I don’t like harem. I can believe 2 or even 3 girls liking the same boy, but harem novels like Hikaru are difficult for me to buy into, even with how much each girl’s motivations and characterization is fleshed out. Combine this with an extra strong serving of dense LN MC, and I just couldn’t enjoy this novel. Nevertheless, the writing in this work is very strong, so it may not be my cup of tea, but you might still enjoy it.Rokujouma Perhaps another case of if I liked harem, I might like this series. The first couple of novels started slow, but the middle volumes I found interesting--the side volumes 7.5 and 8.5 I actually enjoyed a lot (and coincidentally had the least harem). But by Vol. 13 or so, the novels spend a bit too much time dwelling on just how much each girl loves the MC; the word I would use is oversaccarine to the point of needing insulin injections.Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash Based on the premise, I should’ve loved this one. A underpowered MC who has to struggle in a new world and learn his own style of leadership? Yes please.But I found the execution disappointing. I found the writing and character dialogue to be stilted--I compare the party interactions with, for example, Goblin Slayer, and find Grimgar lacking. The fight scenes are in my opinion too long and tedious, and I find the world-building unnecessarily elaborate--the author introduces so many new settings and characters and monsters, only for the party to move through them in half a volume and never see them again (did the Choco arc even matter in the end?). I think in the end, I prefer my stories to be more structured; I believe the author even said that he doesn’t plan out his works but follows where his stories go, and that style doesn’t work for me.Konosuba: God's Blessing on This Wonderful World! I think a lot of the gags worked a lot better when adapted into anime. The novels were funny, sure, but I didn’t find it compelling enough to keep reading.The Saga of Tanya the Evil This is a series for war buffs. If you want to read about how an cute anime girl would survive with magic in WW1 (and later some WW2-like scenarios), then read on.In the end, what I found lacking was the characterization of Tanya herself; the novel tries to portray her as evil, but in the end I simply found her cold, calculating, and frighteningly objective and unsentimental, which might be unpleasant but not really evil. I dunno, maybe that makes me a terrible person too? In any case, I don’t know if I’d actually want to read a novel where the MC is actually evil, especially in a war setting, so I’m not sure how I would have preferred this novel to go.How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom I didn’t find this series particular realist or Machiavellian. In the first novel, the MC is faced with a kingdom that is running out of food and money, and he solves the problem by…holing up in the castle with his administrators and working really hard? I mean, the novel touches a bit on agricultural reform, but the explanation of how farmers switching to cash crops is hurting the economy doesn’t even make sense--if farmers are switching to only growing cotton, that implies the price of cotton has gone up more than the price of food, so the economic gains of switching to cotton should more than cover the cost from the increase in the price of food. But in general, the novel kind of hops and skips over the major problems and jumps right to the talent show, where we get introduced to the interesting characters.Similarly, there’s really not much political intrigue there. One of my favorite novels is Shogun by James Clavell. Set in 1600s Japan, the political leader (based off of actual shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu) has to carefully plan his way around political rivals, forge secret political alliances, keep ambitious subordinates under their thumb, and most importantly, make sacrifices in the great political game of chess. Comparing a LN to an actual novel may not be fair, but in comparison, the MC of Realist Hero has to make roughly one difficult decision in the span of the first four volumes; mostly, all he has to do is be competent and intelligent and he wins. There are no trade-offs, dangerous gambits, or secret maneuvering.So what’s left is the story of the MC hero and his group of advisors and harem as they run a kingdom. It’s decently well-written and a fairly fun read, but in the end, this was a drop for me.So I’m a Spider, So What? A fun read with an interesting narrator. But the heavy emphasis on game mechanics was not my cup of tea.Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? The MC’s defining characteristic, as far as I can tell, is youthful optimism and a willingness to work hard. Perhaps I’m just too old and cynical at this point for these traits to resonate with me.Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? An interesting premise, in that the MC is OP but desperately wants to hide it. I’m not sure it’s translated into a novel that’s meaningfully different from the standard isekai fare, though, so I dropped.In Another World With My Smartphone I thought that the premise would be that the MC would use his smartphone cheat in the new world to succeed. But then they gave him OP magic powers too, and as far as I can tell, the smartphone helps in enhancing his magic but isn’t really necessary in any way. Again, this becomes just a light fluffy novel about a hero and his harem running a kingdom.5 - Dropped emphaticallyA Certain Magical Index I wouldn’t be the first person to opine that Kazuma Komachi is good at coming up with really unique settings and systems, and perhaps not so good at actually writing. At least in my opinion, the first 3 novels had reasonably interesting plot ideas but were blandly written and didn’t catch my attention.Re:Zero: Starting Life in Another World I can’t comment on the story or characters or setting or anything like that. I had to stop reading halfway through Vol. 1 because the writing was so amateurish. No idea if it’s the original text or the translation that’s the problem, but this was literally unreadable for me.Arifureta:From Commonplace to World’s Strongest I’ll ignore how laughably OP the MC is, since that’s part of the charm of this series. My real complaint is how the characters act and their relationships. I mean, as far as I can tell, the entire basis of the relationship between the MC and Yue is that they kill monsters together and they flirt. Oh, and he saved her. Guys, guys, that’s not how relationships work at all.Last thoughtsIn terms of who licenses novels, I know Yen gets a lot of flak here for their slow pace of releases, but in general, I think they’ve done good work, with the exception of SukaSuka and maybe Re:Zero. Certainly, they’ve adapted novels that fit my taste better. Seven Seas also seems to be doing well. I know JNC is a favorite on here, and I’ve been really impressed with their recent work on Kokoro Connect and Amaburi recently, although I also skimmed Elf Bride on their website and thought that the quality was at best a mediocre fan translation, hardly what I’d expect if I had paid for the series.Novels that I hope will get translated soon include:Saekano (come on, Yen, what’s the point of DMCA-ing the fan translation if you’re not going to translate it yourself?)Golden Time (by same author as Toradora!)Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (although as I said before, the fan translation is very good)Violet Evergarden via /r/LightNovels http://bit.ly/2BEK3Io

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