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review 2019-09-29 06:38
Ao Oni: Vengeance by Kenji Kuroda, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson
Ao Oni: Vengeance - Kenji Kuroda,Karin Suzuragi,Alexander Keller-Nelson

This review assumes you've read the first book, Ao Oni. If you haven't, be aware that I include major spoilers for that book.

Ao Oni: Vengeance takes place only a week after the events of the first book. Shun is the only one who remembers what happened. He has completely stopped going to school, instead choosing to focus on the next version of his game while keeping an eye out for any signs that someone else has been snared by the Jailhouse. He asks Hiroshi to make sure no one else enters the house, but it's already too late: two of their classmates have gone inside and met horrible fates. Takuro, with Takeshi and Mika in tow, goes as well. Hiroshi finds the building's European architecture too interesting to resist (yes, really) and ends up trapped inside the building with all the others.

As in the various versions of the game, the overall setup feels familiar, but there are enough differences to keep it from feeling like a rehash of the first book. Shun and Anna are safe at Shun's home, desperately trying to help the group trapped in the Jailhouse using the knowledge Shun gained from his time there. Meanwhile, the situation in the Jailhouse initially plays out similar to the way it did in the first book, but quickly goes a different route.

Parts of this book were almost more gory than I could take. The very beginning was particularly awful, and I wasn't sure my stomach was going to be up to the task if the whole book turned out to be like that. It seemed like the Oni was more inclined to savor its kills this time around, although thankfully the gory bits weren't all as lovingly detailed as the book's first scene.

It may sound like I hated this, but I actually thought it was better than the first book, even if I wasn't fond of the increase in the level of gore. I had worried that this book would basically be the first book with slightly different deaths. Up to a certain point, I suppose it was: Takeshi was still a scared kid hiding in a closet, Mika was still too desperate to be loved and needed to see Takuro for who he really was, and Takuro still sucked. The overall level of tension was better than in the first book, however, and the parts of the house and story that no longer matched up with the first book's Jailhouse had me on the edge of my seat, wondering whether any of the characters would manage to make it out this time around.

I found that I liked Hiroshi a little more this time around. The bits from his POV helped, as did the fact that, this time around, he didn't spend a good chunk of the story staring at a fellow classmate's severed head like it was no big deal. I wasn't as thrilled about Kuroda's attempts to humanize Takuro, however. I don't care what Takuro's father was like, or what Takuro told himself about how he needed to approach life, or how he felt after he realized he'd betrayed maybe the only person in the world who actually cared about him. The fact of the matter was that he bullied a classmate to the point where the kid committed suicide and then, instead of feeling any sort of guilt or horror, proceeded to bully another classmate the same way. Takuro's sudden change of heart and ability to empathize with his victims was unconvincing.

The

"time travel + reality manipulation + ghostly vengeance"

(spoiler show)

explanation for the series' events was weird and messy, and I still don't understand why Shun, who knew his game was connected to the horrors at the Jailhouse and possibly even causing it all, created an updated version of his game. Hiroshi would have had a much easier time if Shun hadn't gone and changed things around. Even so, I enjoyed this entry in the series and plan on reading the next book. From the sounds of things, Takeshi might be its focus. Here's hoping at least one of the remaining books features Mika successfully cutting herself free from the emotional hold that Takuro has over her.

Extras:

An afterword written by the author, a character guide, textless color illustrations, one scene from the book included at the very beginning in manga form, and several illustrations throughout.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2019-09-13 06:33
Ao Oni by Kenji Kuroda, illustrated by Karin Suzuragi, translated by Alexander Keller-Nelson
Ao Oni - Kenji Kuroda,Karin Suzuragi,Alexander Keller-Nelson

Content warning for the book: suicidal ideation, gory descriptions of severed body parts, on-page bullying.

Shun, Hiroshi, Takuro, Mika, Anna, and Takeshi are all students at the same middle school. Takuro is one of the most popular kids at school. He's also a bully who may have been involved in a past student death and who is currently tormenting Shun. The few bright spots in Shun's life are the computer game he's creating in his spare time, his friend Hiroshi, who's smart and doesn't seem to care what anyone thinks of him, and Anna, the class president and one of the few people who's friendly towards him and encourages him. Mika and Takeshi are Takuro's friends (or, more accurately, his lackeys), although they're not usually involved in the worst of the bullying. Takeshi is a coward, and Mika secretly wishes her emotionally distant parents would spend more time with her.

One evening, Takuro, Takeshi, and Mika cart some boxes over to an old mansion that Takuro's father supposedly bought. The mansion, now nicknamed the Jailhouse, was supposedly last inhabited 20 years ago by a young couple and their daughter, who used a wheelchair. Shun, Hiroshi, and Anna all end up going inside with Takuro, Takeshi, and Mika, and the six kids suddenly find themselves trapped in what appears to be a haunted house. If they can't figure out how to escape, they may all end up as food for the giant blue monster that roams the halls.

I haven't played any of the Ao Oni game versions, although I did watch parts of a few "let's play" videos. I didn't really expect all that much from this, but it actually wasn't bad. I'm curious as to the intended audience, though - it read like a Middle Grade book, and yet included gory scenes that would have been a better fit for older readers.

As seems to be the case with pretty much every J-Novel Club title I've tried so far, the writing was occasionally awkward and clunky. One example:

"Shun noticed that the bags under her eyes - something he ordinarily found charming about her - were darker than normal." (34)

This sentence is structured in a way that makes it seem like Shun found the bags under Anna's eyes to be charming, when in fact it was probably her eyes that he found charming.

The overall story might have been scarier had the writing been better, but there were still parts that I thought worked extremely well and were genuinely creepy. My top two favorite moments were the "this is why you can't hide in a closet forever" scene, which featured a really effective use of illustrations, and one of the last deaths, when the few survivors tried to figure out whether the person was still alive (even though they almost certainly were not, and it was foolish to check).

Takuro was 100% horrible - of all the characters, he was the one I was most hoping would end up dying. Takeshi didn't really make much of an impression on me, Hiroshi struck me as being fairly creepy (although it turned out that there was more going on than I realized), and Anna was annoyingly underutilized. I cared most about Shun, who'd been ground down by Takuro to a depressing degree, and Mika. Yes, Mika had opted to side with a sadistic bully, but she'd done so because she'd convinced herself that he could provide her with the love her family didn't give her. I felt bad for her, even though her willingness to forgive Takuro just about anything made me grit my teeth a few times.

The ending was...weird. Most of the book was slight creepiness, gore, and occasional appearances from a ridiculous "blueberry-colored" monster. Then it all took a sudden "very special message" turn at the end, morphing into a suicide prevention story. This would have been fine, although heavy-handed, but the steps the story took to get there felt like a cop-out. I had been wondering how the series was going to continue, despite everything that had happened, and I wasn't pleased with the answer.

Still, I liked this well enough to want to continue on. I also tried to hunt down some "let's play" videos of Ao Oni version 3.0, the one this book was based on. Unfortunately, I have yet to find one done by someone whose voice/sense of humor I'm able to stand.

Extras:

  • Prior to the start of the book, there are a few manga pages depicting a later scene.
  • Several black-and-white illustrations.
  • An afterword written by the author.
  • A brief note written by the illustrator.
  • Two pages of the illustrator's initial character designs.
  • A couple color illustrations.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-12-10 06:45
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party (manga, vol. 2) story by QuinRose, art by Riko Sakura, translated by Angela Liu
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party, Vol. 02 - QuinRose,Riko Sakura

Alice comes back to find Blood threatening Julius. She refuses to go back to the mansion with him but does agree to visit. When she visits, she, Elliot, and the twins decide to have a picnic lunch together (Blood is too "tired" to go). Blood

deals with some rival mafia, but not before Alice is kidnapped as bait. She's sure she isn't important enough to Blood for him to come get her, but he does. After that, he finally explains who Vivaldi is to him. The volume ends with Alice trying to figure out what Blood's "type" is: she's worried she's too young-looking for him, not sexy enough.

(spoiler show)


This was a vast improvement over volume 1, but it was still essentially a rehash of the first English-translated Alice in the Country of Hearts release and at least one other entry in the franchise that I can't currently recall.

This felt like someone looked at the first volume and said "we need a do-over." The beginning even recapped how Alice arrived in Wonderland. It was kind of weird, actually.

This had nicer artwork than the first volume, but story-wise it still crammed a lot into one volume. For example, there were little creepy bits that indicated that Peter and Nightmare were teaming up to keep Alice in Wonderland, steering her to the point of taking her ability to choose away from her. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough space to both include this stuff and also explain it, so I imagine it'd be terribly confusing to newbies. Actually, I'd only recommend this to Alice in the County of completists like myself.

Am I done with this franchise yet? I think I have a little more to go, but it'd be nice to know how much. I feel like I need a guide of some kind.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-12-10 06:37
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party (manga, vol. 1) story by QuinRose, art by Riko Sakura, translated by Angela Liu
Alice in the Country of Hearts: The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party, Vol. 01 - QuinRose,Riko Sakura

This speeds through Alice's arrival in Wonderland, leaving the palace, staying at Julius's, and ending up at the Hatter Mansion. Alice has sex with Blood. It's supposed to be a casual relationship, but she

feels hurt when she starts to think that Blood only keeps her at the mansion to spite Vivaldi. Blood's feelings turn warmer, but Alice can't bring herself to believe him, especially after seeing him with Vivaldi in his garden. She leaves to go back to Julius's place, but Blood pursues her there.

(spoiler show)


This is garbage. Very nearly incoherent, with hardly any story. It speeds through too many things too quickly, and I shudder to think of a newbie to this franchise picking it up. If it was written for franchise veterans, then a lot of stuff should have been left out so that Alice and Blood's relationship could be developed more. But if it was written for franchise veterans it was also largely unnecessary: this was basically a much sloppier and more condensed version of the first Alice in the Country of Hearts release in English, right down to the scene with Blood and Vivaldi in Blood's garden. It contributed nothing new.

There was zero decent relationship development, and it didn't give readers a very good feel for the characters, other than the very basics. It also contradicted itself. It said that Peter abandoned Alice after taking her to Wonderland, but she's with him at the Palace right from the start of the volume.

I read this right after My Fanatic Rabbit, and one of the things that struck me was how different Alice seemed. My Fanatic Rabbit was a Yen Press title translated by Ajino Hirami, while The Mad Hatter's Late Night Tea Party was a Seven Seas title translated by Angela Liu (who, if I remember right, might have handled most, or maybe even all, of Seven Seas' Alice in the Country of translations). The Alice of these two volumes had more of a mouth on her than the Alice of My Fanatic Rabbit.

At any rate, this was probably the worst Alice and Blood pairing I've read so far. The volumes with this pairing are usually pretty good, if only because they dig into Alice's past more than many of the volumes with other pairings do, but this just felt like a cash grab. It would have been too confusing for a franchise newbie, it didn't offer anything new for franchise veterans, and, even though it introduced sex way earlier on than I'm used to this series doing, even that felt tepid. Unfortunately, the artwork wasn't good enough to carry it either - it felt like a riot of screentones.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-12-10 04:28
Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit (manga, vol. 2) story by QuinRose, art by Delico Psyche, scenario by Shinotsuki, translated by Ajino Hirami
Alice in the Country of Hearts: My Fanatic Rabbit, Vol. 2 -

Peter saves Alice from being beheaded by Vivaldi, and Elliot takes Alice back to the mansion. Alice and Elliot are suddenly a lovey dovey couple, but things take a turn for the worse when Alice spends time with Ace and Julius. She learns about the clocks, and that Elliot

was once in prison for irreparably breaking his friend's clock. Elliot gets mad at Alice for being chummy with Julius, the man he hates, so Alice decides that she should drink the vial and go back to her world and her sister. However, Nightmare intervenes with a vision of Elliot killing himself after Alice leaves, so she decides to stay.

(spoiler show)


This started off as a mediocre series, featuring one of my least favorite Alice in the Country of pairings, and then took a turn for the much worse. First we have attempted rape on Elliot's part -

he begins to force himself on Alice in anger after she spends time with Julius, his enemy.

(spoiler show)

Then we have Nightmare's emotional manipulation of her.

Alice was going to leave Wonderland for good, and for a very good reason (a borderline abusive boyfriend). In order to stop her, Nightmare produced a vision of Elliot killing himself out of thin air. It reminded me of the horrible boyfriend a family member of mine used to have, who'd try to get her to stay with him by telling her he'd kill himself if she left.

(spoiler show)


Not only that, the way the story was told was choppy and just plain bad - it went from Elliot taking Alice back to the mansion to them being a couple in the space of a page or so. I also felt that the artwork took a bit of a nosedive, becoming scratchier and less appealing.

If this were a horror series, it'd be one thing, but these stories are supposed to be romances, albeit occasionally kind of dark ones. This was garbage.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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