Category Archives: Review

Review: Reborn as a Polar Bear

[This review originally posted at The Fandom Post]

Creative Staff
Original Story: Chihiro Mishima
Art: Houki Kusano
Character Design: Kururi
Translation: Christine Dashiell
Lettering: Thalia Sutton

The most important thing to note about this title is that the art is stellar. The establishing shots are incredibly lush and detailed, and the character art has a lot of personality. The main polar bear looks realistically bear-like while still expressive and cute, which is a difficult balance to pull off. There’s a real sense of motion here, whether Kumakichi is squaring off against another bear, or we’re just seeing the breeze tease one of the girl’s hair as they forage for food. Sometimes the storytelling does degrade into a bunch of typical talking heads, but the other art is more than high-quality enough to make up for it.

That said, I have mixed feelings about the story being illustrated. Maybe I’ve just been spoiled by the likes of Polar Bear Cafe and A Polar Bear in Love, but I expect these talking bear stories to be rather whimsical. Reborn as a Polar Bear seems to be on the fence about whether it wants to be whimsical or not. Sometimes, it’s all sweet and cuddly, yet other times painfully realistic. Our bear hero’s first introduction to Lulutina, the main heroine, comes when he saves her from an attempted gang rape.

To the manga’s credit, the assault isn’t eroticized; no ripped clothes or questionable positioning. But if this is supposed to be a charming story of an out-of-place polar bear making his way in an enchanted forest, this seems a rather inauspicious beginning. The manga seems to want to have its cake and eat it too in terms of tone, and I’m not sure it works. Some manga can pull this off, but the inherent ridiculousness of Kumakichi waking up as a talking polar bear after falling off a mountain make it hard to take the story seriously when it gets deeply serious.

The volume isn’t without its charms. As opposed to a lot of selfish isekai protagonists, Kumakichi is almost immediately concerned with protecting the wolf sisters. The fact that he’s less worried about the how and why of becoming a polar bear and more worried about helping someone else makes him a likable protagonist. However, I’m not sure there’s much of a pull to read the next volume. Kumakichi seems to be even stronger than a normal polar bear, to the point of being nearly invincible; how worried about him can we possibly get? I think we’re supposed to worry about the werewolf girls, but hey, they’re werewolves; not exactly chopped liver. They may be weak compared to Kumakichi, but still tough in their own right. Despite the dark opening, somehow it just doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of danger here. I could probably never read this series again and be content in the knowledge that Kumakichi and his gal pals are off building a log cabin somewhere, happy as can be.

This volume may break my streak of absolutely loving every anime and/or manga about polar bears, and for that, I’m a little annoyed. I love the art, and Kumakichi is a good protagonist, but the rest of the series is just lacking. Lulutina and her sisters feel like stock protagonists, and what hints there are of a larger plot have yet to pique my interest. I may keep up with this one just to look at the beautiful art, but that essentially means that this title has succeeded as an art book, but failed as a manga.

In Summary:
A beautifully drawn manga with a likable everyman protagonist that unfortunately lacks a strong narrative hook. You probably won’t regret buying this, but you won’t exactly be waiting on pins and needles for the next volume either.

Review: Dark Roast Houjicha

I’ve gotten really into drinking tea in the last few months, so I figured I could take advantage of this blog to review different types of Japanese tea. I was going to start with a classic green, but after watching the first episode of The Helpful Fox Senko-san, where Senko serves Houjicha to Kuroto, I realized I had to try this mysterious, roasted tea.

No thanks, Senko-san, I have brewing instructions from the vendor.

I ordered some Houjicha from Yunomi, a really cool online tea retailer that I recommend. In addition to sending me delicious tea, they also sent me a little “guide to green tea,” with brewing advice. I even got an email from the owner, thanking me for buying their tea. If you’d like to support a Japanese business that really appreciates its customers, try picking up some tea from Yunomi.

Some technical info: Houjicha is roasted over charcoal, so it has a different flavor from most other green tea, which is steamed. It’s made from late-harvest leaves (Bancha), which have less caffeine than leaves picked earlier in the growing season. This is part of the reason why Senko-san served houjicha to Kuroto after dinner; since it has less caffeine, it’s a good tea to drink in the evening. Some versions of houjicha are made with younger leaves, and thus are likely to contain more caffeine, but I didn’t try that kind; the kind I bought is a more standard houjicha, assuming “standard” is an appropriate term here.

An appealing package.

Tea: Dark Roast Houjicha from Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms. Roasted Yanagi Bancha

Aroma: The tea smells a bit like fish and seaweed, which I found off-putting at first. I think it’s just a general umami smell, which can smell like fish if you’re new to Japanese green tea. It also has a bit of a coffee smell, but that could just be the term “dark roast” playing tricks on my mind.

Flavor: It tastes like toasted rice. Imagine you toasted rice in a frying pan, and it has just started to caramelize; that’s the kind of toasted flavor this tea has. Originally I thought I wouldn’t like Houjicha that much because I really like the grassy, sweet flavor of a good Japanese green tea, and I thought the roasting would obscure the grassiness. That’s not really what happens though; instead, the roasted flavor and the grassy flavor play off of each other. As the roasted flavor recedes, you get the more typical sweet/astringent green tea taste, so the tea has a sweet aftertaste. It’s a lovely, refined flavor.

There is definitely a mild seaweed flavor, so keep that in mind if you hate seaweed with a passion. I think the roasted and grassy flavors overpower the seaweed, but if you hate the idea of your tea tasting like seaweed, this is likely not the tea for you. The amount of seaweed flavor may also be related to brewing temperature; I may be brewing at a higher temperature than the package directions call for.

Verdict: I’m really happy with this purchase. It’s always a relief when a tea I like has low caffeine so I don’t need to worry about upping my caffeine intake too high, plus this provides a nice alternative to my typical green without changing things up too much. Also, I can take the leaves and re-steep them in cold water for an even lower caffeine cold-brew, so I can really get my money’s worth out of it. I haven’t tried this tea cold-brewed yet, but usually teas that I find delicious hot only improve in cold water, due to the lower astringency.

I have some other teas from Yunomi that I have yet to try, so expect more tea reviews. I probably won’t get another perfect anime tie-in like I had for Senko-san, but we do the best we can in the otaku-blogging biz.

Review: How to Write Light Novels and Webnovels

Lately I’ve been reading a bunch of books on writing and self-publishing, and this one suddenly popped up on my Kindle the other day.

There’s some good information here, particularly on all the different genres of light novels and web novels. I thought I knew what all the different light novel genres were, but come to think of it, I’ve always been a bit confused about the difference in categorization between, say, Sword Art Online and Is it Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? This book does a good job explaining the differences between all the different genres and subgenera that are popular in web fiction and Japanese LNs in particular. It’s especially useful to have information on Chinese and Korean-specific genres, since that whole realm was a big unknown to me.

However, there are some major editing problems here. Normally when I say that I would be referring to typos, but if anything, that’s less of a problem here than it is with most self-published Kindle books. Either R.A. Paterson is a good proofreader or got someone experienced to proof his copy, and more power to him for doing it.

The problem here is a lack of content editing. The book is way too wordy and repetitive, and a good editor could have easily cut the fat here. Somewhere during Paterson’s description of the Rising Hero Stories, I realized I was reading the same thing over and over again and started to get really bored. He also makes a point of emphasizing things that anyone who takes fiction writing seriously should already know intuitively, which is a common problem in writing books in general.

Yeah, everyone can benefit from some tips, but if you really need to be told that your characters need to have character and the action needs to have stakes, a writing book may not be able to do much for you, you know? You mean…the audience needs to care about your characters? Wow. That is grade-A information right there.

Another problem with the book is one of authority. Paterson does have a portfolio of writing work online, but his real expertise seems to be in producing audio dramas. Has he really had the level of success with these varieties of fiction specifically to be providing advice? Maybe he’s racking up the reads on Wattpad or something, but if he is, I’m not aware of it. I certainly don’t want to be too critical of Paterson, because he’s made much more progress creating otaku-centric fiction than most people; I’m just saying that, if the book is about writing light novels, you would typically expect it to be written by a successful light novel writer.

That said, if you’re really interested in light novels and web serials and happen to have Kindle Unlimited, it’s not a bad idea to give this a borrow. You’ll probably learn something about a genre you didn’t know existed (like I did) and may find yourself psyched up to get moving on your writing projects. Just don’t expect a fully professional, polished book; I certainly wouldn’t recommend paying the listed price of $6.99.

This book should be edited and polished, be sold for a lower price, or preferably, both; otherwise, I only recommend it to those who can borrow it through KU. However, if Paterson or his team make the necessary changes, I will be more than happy to revise my review.