Kazunari Kakei – Viz – 2010 – 9 volumes

Ahh!  I was worried about this!  I wasn’t sure how the story was going to fill out another volume, since most everything wraps up nicely in volume 8.  It doesn’t fill the whole volume, and the second half features two short stories, including one that was the pilot for the Nora series.  I liked the short story quite a bit, since it lacked the plot about the resistance and was mostly about Nora and Kazuma making each other angry and being themselves, which is what I love so much about this series.  Usually I dislike pilot chapters like that, since it’s clear that the ideas evolve quite a bit by the time they get turned into a series, but this time, all the good ideas were right there to begin with, which is pretty cool.

The second short story was unrelated to Nora.  It was called “The Severer,” and was hilariously terrible.  The dialogue was so bad that I suspect the person doing the adaptation had a lot of fun punching it up with lame-but-still-awesome English phrases.

The conclusion to Nora absolutely crushed me.  I like this series quite a bit, and I was hoping that with an extra-long ending we’d get to see a lot of wrapup with Kazuma and Nora, but there’s one last conflict, and the story ends abruptly on what seems like a cliffhanger.  Literally, the final chapter just cuts off in the middle of an action scene, with no resolution.  It’s totally unfair.  There’s a sequel series called SUREBREC: Nora the 2nd, but it hasn’t been licensed in English yet.  Tragic.  I hope this was popular enough to warrant releasing the sequel.

As I’ve said before, I have a ridiculous fondness for this series, which has a lot to do with Kazuma and Nora being great characters that work together quite humorously.  The plot was only average, but that was easy for me to overlook since I tend to like demon-oriented series.  Nora and Kazuma more than made up for any weaknesses in the plot, though.  There were some really cool plot twists along the way, to be fair, and I was more-or-less highly entertained until I got to the end.  This was probably one of my favorite shounen series from last year, and while it seems like a mediocre offering, it’s definitely worth reading from the beginning.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kazunari Kakei – Viz – 2009 – 9 volumes

I still love this series, but it has to wade through the mess of mediocre shounen manga ending here.  It’s kind of lame, honestly, since it is literally all about Nora and Kazuma wanting to win so badly that they conquer evil.  I didn’t really pick up on a better reason than that for their success.  They just wanted it more.  And all the generals and bad guys are in this volume, running around while both the human and demon world are being destroyed… I never really bothered much with the side characters, aside from the ones that were around from the beginning, so most of these random characters thrown into the final fight are lost on me.  Oh well.

I still can’t help but like the whole final battle mindset though, especially since I’m so fond of Nora and Kazuma.  I kept hoping one or both of them would get to be the Dark Liege, though it was made rather clear last volume that the current Dark Liege is quite popular, and she is one of the main characters, so a death/fade away isn’t very likely.  Nora and Kazuma’s partnership and teamwork is fun to watch, especially when Nora is controlled and commanded to kill Kazuma.  The other fairly amazing thing, what made it worth sitting through the rather boring final fight, was what Kazuma admitted about both himself and Nora.  Not so much the friends crap, because we’ve seen that inferred, but more about himself.  It was pretty amazing, and made even more so by being in character.  We did get one callback to the beginning of the series that I was very glad for, and I was hoping to see it again before all was said and done.  It went down a little differently than I imagined, but it was still pretty cool, despite the fact it was a huge shounen manga cliche.

There’s one more volume, but the way this volume finishes… it’s like it would only take about one chapter to wrap it up.  Well, except for the whole “Kazuma is an adult now” thing.  I’m kinda curious to see how that will be handled.  I’m sure it will be hilarious and terrifying.

I love this series.  I love it even when it crashes and burns.  I hope very much that the sequel series will start coming out when this concludes, though I suspect I won’t like that nearly as much since I’m a little less impressed with every volume of this series, but all the same, I’d love to see more of Nora and Kazuma.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Kazunari Kakei – Viz – 2009 – 9 volumes

This series is a lot like Law of Ueki, in that both are pretty typical-looking shounen manga that do pretty typical shounen manga things, but if you look closely, there’s lots of awesome things that set them apart from the pack.  The problem is that it’s hard to get people to look close, and sometimes you get volumes like this, where shounen manga tendencies override all the good stuff going on.

This volume is pretty much the windup to the final battle, and all the characters are running around the tower in the demon world looking for Fall in order to stop him from killing the Dark Liege, Nora, Kazuma, and pretty much every human and demon in existence.  The Dark Liege has her turn at fall, and slowly but surely Kazuma and Nora make it to the group by the end of the volume.  There’s lots of fighting and lots of “never give up!” moments, along with Kazuma’s promise that he will blaze his own path when it comes to making his decision about the Dark Liege.

None of that is out of the ordinary, but I get a particular kind of pleasure from Kazuma saying it, since Kazuma is just so cocky and is pretty much always, always right.  Similarly, when Nora is yelling at the Dark Liege at the end of the volume, the words coming out of his mouth are the same I’ve heard from 100 other shounen characters, but coming from Nora, they turn into something special.

Great characters and great ideas always stand out, and it’s easy to weather and even enjoy standard shounen battle patches like this.  The fights were only okay, and I’m no longer very impressed with any of the character’s powers (except for the snake lady at the end, who was just awesome).  But waiting to see what would happen to Kazuma and Nora, and the Dark Liege, made me sit on the edge of my seat while reading this.  I love them so much, and the novelty of the decision that Kazuma and Nora have to make still hasn’t worn off.  I want to see it happen, no matter what.  Kazuma needs that position like nobody’s business.  I don’t think it will happen, not after what the Dark Liege says in the last few pages here, but all the same.  Kazuma’s the man.

If you like shounen series at all, this one is worth reading.  Do not start with this volume, because you won’t believe me.  This is definitely one to start from the beginning, because otherwise you will miss out on the great clash of personalities between Nora and Kazuma, and how indeed Kazuma is proven right no matter what he says.  There’s a great sense of humor, there’s lots of interesting things about the magic and the way the human and demon worlds work, and this Dark Liege decision just won’t mean anything if you don’t start there.  It’s well worth it.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Oh man, I love this series so much.  This volume is full of all the important plot points that have been building up.  All secrets are revealed here, and the fruits of all that exposition are delicious.

Well, that’s true, and it’s not.  I get a ridiculous amount of pleasure from reading every new volume of this series, but it can be guilty of using common shonen plot devices.  And when I say “can be,” I mean “most of it is,” but somehow I forgive it a thousand times over.  For instance, the nature of Nora and Kazuma’s relationship is revealed, as is their proper positions in the demon world.  Now, I didn’t see this coming at all, but I can’t say I was surprised since the story does take a well-beaten path for those two.  On the other hand, the only thing running through my mind when they talked about it was “hell yes.”

Similarly, there is a character death toward the end of the volume.  It is sad, and it plays out exactly how every significant death in a shounen manga plays out.  It’s even used as a lesson for a bad guy on one of the last pages, which did make me roll my eyes a little.  But Nora’s reaction to it was truly sad, as was the flashback that we got to see afterwards. I thought it was marginally more successful than similar death scenes, just because Nora is so terribly sad, but that could just be because I’m horribly biased.

Again, I think it’s because the nuts and bolts of the plot and characters are pretty good.  Kazuma is an especially entertaining guy (his response to his role was an even bigger “oh hell yes” from me), but the friendship between Kazuma and Nora, Nora’s treatment by pretty much everyone in the series, the relatively entertaining despite her fanservice factor Dark Liege, and the whole demon world thing… I mean, I wouldn’t call any of it fantastic, but it does have its flashes of brilliance, and it’s pushed all the right buttons for me.

Also, I think it helps that Kazunari Kakei seems especially gifted at choosing the shounen plot devices that work best for him.  Many authors write lame stories that use those as a crutch, but they feel really fresh here despite the fact that I’ve seen them many times before.  I honestly don’t think the story would have been better had it used more intricate and original plot and character development, but again, I like series about demons, and I think I like this one a lot for the “woah, AWESOME” factor, which is admittedly high.  You know what I mean.  It’s why Guts has a big sword, too.

Anyway.  I love it dearly, and it’s one of the series I look forward to the most.

Amusingly, I tried to see what the Japanese covers for the series looked like, but the fact that the series has an entirely English/Roman name meant that a search for it got me this instead.  It lacks the class of the old Loveswept covers and the subtlety of modern romance covers, sadly, but more importantly… is Nora Roberts really big in Japan?  That’s amazing.  I figured cheap romance was something that could be cranked out domestically in any country, it’s strange that the stuff leaves the country.  Then again, maybe Nora Roberts really is fantastic.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

I was ridiculously excited about reading this volume. The Kazuma cliffhanger from last time was just too much, and I was barely reading anything the first part of the book until I got to the part where he reappears. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on as soon as you see the first page, actually, but it takes awhile to reveal things.

Actually, it takes the whole book to reveal what exactly was going on with Kazuma. I was not disappointed, even though what happened to him was much different than what I had imagined. Not only was it different, it deals with what Kazuma’s payment with a different twist than what you usually see for these time-as-payment things. I was quite impressed with what was going on with him.

I was equally impressed by his motives, and Nora’s reaction to them. This doesn’t come until the end of the book. To be fair, they are kind of shounen manga-y, but in the context of the series, between those two characters, it was great. Plus, the entire volume kind of builds up to first Kazuma, then Nora’s reactions. And then there’s a great fight at the end that serves to reinforce their decisions.

While all this stuff is being explained, the characters are almost constantly fighting. I actually wasn’t paying attention to these fights at all while the plot was being explained. I’m not sure if that was because the fights were bad or the plot was that good. Probably the latter. The fight scenes are actually pretty decent… but again, not the best thing this series has going for it.

I LOVE THIS SERIES. I have a feeling nobody else can appreciate this series like I do, but I love it. Mostly this has to do with the mysteries it sets up for itself surrounding Kazuma, the way the characters are “training” Nora, why Nora is important, and what exactly is going on between the Dark Liege Army and the Resistance. I was drawn in because I wanted to know what was going on (and what is going on is quite interesting), and I continue to be impressed with the way everything is unfolding and being explained. It’s quite good.

But again, I think a lot of people will read it and see a middle-of-the-road shounen manga. It does use its share of typical shounen plot devices. Nora is the biggest trap, because he’s very egotistical, but in a comical way, and the other characters enjoy insulting him and knocking him down a few pegs. The dog jokes are still going on, but I actually didn’t find them all that annoying.  Sometimes they’re even a little funny.

The cliffhanger for next volume involves Nora, and what exactly his deal is. Not even Nora is sure why being Cerberus, the hound of Hell, is significant, and why it is that both the Dark Liege and the Resistance show such a high level of interest in him. He’s arrogant, and he just wants to be stronger, but next volume we’ll find out why it is that Nora being stronger is a bad thing.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

I actually like this series quite a bit, so I’m glad I finally got to go back and read the first volume.  It’s one of those shounen series that probably should be middle-of-the-road action, but isn’t.  Or perhaps it is, and it just strikes all the right things for me to be something kind of special.  I do like demons, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before.

I actually thought Kazuma was portrayed as a bit more of a good guy in this volume.  I probably should have known better.  He’s sort of an evil guy with good intentions.  He’s president of the student council, but even in that capacity, he seems to enjoy ordering people around and torturing them.  The students can’t argue with him though, and sort of like him for it since he helps them out.  I guess.  I was a bit curious how his contract with Nora started too, because he just doesn’t seem like the type of character that would bother.  I was right, he simply agreed to things because he was bored.

We get to see Nora as Cerberus twice in this volume, which I thought might be the case after he came back in volume 4.  It’s kind of interesting, but the fights in this volume don’t make that much sense after reading the next three, where he’s going through all sorts of magical training.  I was under the impression he couldn’t use magic at all.  He uses it to fight Resistance foot soldiers, but they do point out that he doesn’t really have enough control to fight someone like Knell, a character that not even Kazuma can really lock horns with yet.

And I still enjoy Kazuma’s part of the story immensely.  I like the types of series with fights that are won by outsmarting the opponent rather than overpowering them.  Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure is like that, where every stand user battle is sort of a puzzle, some with more hilarious solutions than others.  I also like that Nora is driven to fight by Kazuma’s insults, and that this is also part of Kazuma’s plan.  Though Nora is sort of… obtuse (I laughed really hard when he labeled the parts of the body to show Kazuma he’d been educated), I like that he hates so bitterly to be insulted and belittled.  This is true through the next three volumes too, but it’s established pretty well here.

So yeah, I’m pretty fired up about this series.  The cliffhanger in volume 4 is killing me.

You know, I kind of like this series.  It’s not very good, which I may have said before, but it’s got a lot of things I like in it, like demons and a couple of really awesome main characters.  And actually, it starts to get a lot better in this volume, so my patience was rewarded in this case.  We actually get to see the fully released body of Nora in this volume, which I was not expecting.  It’s actually pretty epic, and the whole scene, which includes groups from both sides of the war, is a good one since everyone seems at a loss as to what to do with this gigantic hellhound that sucks away their energy.  Meanwhile, Nora is having an inner struggle while he tries to deal with all the magic.  His conscience takes the form of Kazuma, which is kind of amusing and terrifying at the same time.

I was a little unclear what happened at the transformation.  It was clear that Kazuma and Nora still had a master-familiar relationship since Kazuma still had his tattoo, but the “I forbid” commands stopped working… and then somehow they put a new collar on him?  How did this happen?  Did they have to do this while he was unconscious?

Even more terrifying than Nora’s transformation was the fact that Kazuma seemed uninterested in going toe-to-toe with demons with nothing but Nora for protection and sought power of his own.  The volume leaves this up to your imagination, both the power and how he pays for it, but Kazuma is kind of a scary guy.  I can only imagine this going wonderful places.

Some of the things I dislike about the series are being toned down, like the Dark Liege.  She only actually appears once or twice, which is great because the story becomes more about Nora wanting to destroy her than her making jokes about how pretty she is and how Nora is her doggy and all that.  The general characters are a little unclear in my mind, though, and other than the one that likes to fish and the one that periodically shows up to antagonize Nora, I can’t tell the rest of them apart.  They don’t appear that often, and are usually background noise when they do, but it’s gotten to the point where I should probably learn.

Now not only am I looking forward to the next volume, I’m actually pretty excited about getting to read the first volume since I think that will clear up a lot of things.  This volume was pretty good, and while it’s not quite good enough to require an immediate purchase of the entire series, it is picking itself up out of mediocre shounen territory.  I’ll be excited if the story lives up to some of the things I’m imagining for it.

And to be fair, some of the humor is funny.  The weird and persistent obsession every character has with donuts, offhandedly mentioning them every so often, is a great gag.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.