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I Shall Seal the Heavens
June 2, 2016
Status: c1614
Meng Hao walked into the McDonald's. The cultivator taking his order gave a derisive snort, but Meng Hao did not really care, because he had repressed his aura down to the Single Patty Realm, and a fool would not be able to tell his true level of burger eating.

"Give me... a Happy Meal!"

The cultivator's face flickered before he finally regained his composure and laughed. "You couldn't afford a Happy Meal. Get lost! Don't you see that there are Double Quarter Pounder Realm eaters waiting behind you?"

Meng Hao slapped his bag... more>> of holding and threw 80 billion spirit McDonald's coupons onto the counter, causing an earthquake which demolished half of the restaurant. Everyone dropped their jaws. None could see how this was possible!

"I'll take that Happy Meal with a side order of fries, " Meng Hao said. He was as calm as the ocean in a painting of an insanely calm ocean. "And let me see your manager!"

The cashier cultivator coughed up a mouthful of ketchup. He simply could not handle Meng Hao's killing intent, because he was only at the Quarter Pounder with Cheese realm himself. Even though Meng Hao had suppressed his aura, because he had cultivated the Heavenly Burgin' Qi, this was enough to kill people a few levels higher if he truly wanted.

It was then that another man which a much more fierce aura stepped forward. "You dare make trouble here?"

"P... Patriarch Hamburglar!"

Patriarch Hamburglar was 99 cents of the way into the Big Mac Realm, plus tax! Meng Hao was pushed back two feet, knocking over a soda machine. Powerade Mountain Berry Blast geysered outward, killing several onlookers.

Of course, Mayor McCheese saw all this happen through the window.

Meng Hao coughed up a mouthful of blood, snorted, constricted his pupils, and then his expression went calm. He unleashed the aura of 64 patties, condensed down to a 2 patty stack that could fit into his mouth!

Mayor McCheese coughed up a mouthful of cheese. His pupils constricted.

"Is this... Seeking the McRib stage??"

Meng Hao had the gentle air of a scholar, but it wouldn't stop him from killing several people in a McDonald's.

"Burger Devouring Scripture! I'm Lovin' It!"

With the first keyword of the Burger Devouring Scripture, everyone below the early Quarter Pounder With Cheese stage exploded into purple mist. The light of the immense heavenly burger shone down with the contours of a golden arch as 9 illusory burgers floated around Meng Hao's body, which is probably an important xianxia number that matches the number of lakes in some sacred Chinese province I've never heard of. But that was only a fraction of Meng Hao's power. He waved his arm, bringing forth thirty more cultivation techniques that hadn't appeared in over 400 chapters!

"Heavenly Tribulation Fries! Eastern Everburning Egg McMuffin! Fruit Smoothie Guillotine! Soul McCafe Mocha Incarnation!"

Meng Hao's expression was the same as ever as he slapped his bag of holding, and brought out his karmic ketchup packet, Fry Cook Lord medallion, seventeen different wooden time spatulas, a five-coloured resurrection coupon, the silk burger wrapper, various souls of lightning McNuggets that he may or may not still have, and his mask of the legacy of Ronald McDonald. Oh, and the image of a flying Chicken Snack Wrap dragon appeared. Remember that? It was basically his Main Thing at the start of the novel, but quietly faded into irrelevance. Until now!

All of this takes some time to describe, but actually happened in the space of only a few breaths.

"What! Impossible!"

Meng Hao wanted to summon the parrot as well, but it was too overcome with eroticism by the purple fur depicted on a nearby poster of Grimace, and was busy drilling out a glory hole straight through the poster, and the wall it was pinned to, with its strong parrot erection.

But it was more than enough. The Hamburglar's soul flew out and was absorbed into his mask! He screamed as his body was destroyed completely.

Meng Hao brushed off his robe and swept up his spirit coupons and everyone's bags of holding which probably didn't have any cool sh*t inside unless I write him into a corner later, and anyways, don't worry about it for now. He surveyed the rubble that was all that remained of the McDonald's.

"Guess I'll be taking that Happy Meal... to go!"


With the jokes out of the way, I have some real thoughts about where I stand on ISSTH. If you're currently in the process of reading ISSTH, or are planning to read it all in spite of me saying you shouldn't, I will be talking about the overall big picture of the series, which necessitates spoilers. I won't deliberately mention "plot twists" where I can help it, but I think this review will be best appreciated by people looking to talk themselves out of wasting their time reading the whole novel, or those who have finished reading and are looking to commiserate or else nail down what they did and didn't like about it. Otherwise, you may be best off just stopping after the McDonald's jokes.

Unfortunately, ISSTH was a real slog to finish. I only kept going because of the time I'd already put in, and feeling that I might as well go the rest of the way. But this amounted to a few hundred tired and unstimulating chapters; after a long interplanetary war arc, the story never revitalizes itself.

Frankly, I don't think Er Gen is a great writer. Some might say he's a good planner, because he interweaves a bunch of world lore across thousands of chapters and maybe even his other novels before resolving his setting's mysteries, but it's not terribly hard to randomly sew a few seeds around to reap later on, and I find that he doesn't fully remember all of them, nor are they particularly clever or even fun to read in terms of the resolutions. I don't want to be mean here. I think the series' translator is incredibly diligent at finding, adjusting, and appending footnotes to all the little vague quotes that turn out to mean something later, even though I have no interest in continuing with other Er Gen novels. I actually feel a little bad for caring so little when all this obvious work was put in.

But I find it formulaic and boring. Most of the time, it's just going through the motions. It's no wonder Er Gen seems so taken with his own brand of numerology; it really helps pad things out to have a character break through nine barriers in nine chapters when one barrier and one chapter would have the same narrative impact. 300 kilometers will be traversed in 300-meter increments. Some people will probably disagree that it's solely intended as padding, but to me these chapters are joyless and rote. 80% of the series feels like reading a checklist. "Meng Hao has climbed 5 of the 9 towers, igniting 94 of his 120 soul lamps." OK. "The beam of light that judges his power level has shot up to 2400 meters now." Uh huh. "The bad guys have broken past 2 out of 9 mountains, and 3 out of 9 seas." Great.

I think Er Gen likes to drop little story nuggets behind that he has no real plan for what to do with: it's hard to believe, after all, that things like Dong Hu's pearl were always intended to just be some footnote in Meng Hao's arsenal--he probably just overlooked some opportunity to work it in a thousand chapters ago, and then kept it in his notes to meet the minimum requirements by shoehorning it in later. Countless treasures and abilities that MH obtains are totally forgotten or never used satisfyingly, because MH powers up too fast to ever truly get stuck in as many bad situations at the Dao Seeking realm the treasures belong to, or whichever. It's fine if the story mentions little details on the side that don't ever get incorporated into MH's personal journey; for example, never personally walking the Transcendence Path or learning the full Mountain & Sea scripture. But I think it's a different story when you say stuff like how there's a second statue guardian somewhere out there, waiting for MH, and it never comes up again. Or what about his immortal slaughtering sword collection? If the hype about MH's various fortunes and legacies that he stole or fortuitously encountered had any actual meaning, his ability to turn into a roc would have been up there with finding the copper mirror, while the dragon core in his cultivation base would have been some trinket he obtained in the same chapter as a dozen other forgotten things.

Really -- he turns into a roc basically every other chapter, and it isn't even conveyed just why it's so apparently effective to for an immortal to be a bird when they hit someone. There's no weight to this writing and it makes each fight insufferably boring. Where in another series the hero might have some appropriate exploit that makes readers grin, like going to rock some tournament in the poisoner capital of the word after obtaining full immunity to all poisons, MH instead just uses the same moves interchangeably in some stunlocking fighting game combo. And despite all the actual little nuggets which the writer leaves behind to ostensibly find a use for later, often when he does suddenly pull some new move out it's instead something that's never been hinted at before, like a certain teleportation ability (chapter 1408), or a certain ability MH gets to possess a lamp, which wasn't mentioned when he got it; only when he needed it. Ultimately, fights devolve into something a lot like those mentally fought between elementary schoolers: one says that he has "the power to destroy everything" and the other replies that he has the power to destroy everything times infinity. This is barely an exaggeration.

Of course, there are parts of the series I like. It's hard for anything to go 1600 chapters without having some good ideas. I liked a simple mortal, Little Treasure, being able to decide the mighty Meng Hao's fate. I loved his trick with Greed... although this was entirely recycled when he went to Planet Vast Expanse. Going back further I probably liked the series best in the Violet Fate Sect disguise arc. That's no surprise: Down-to-Earth interludes with alchemy trial exploits and character moments are of course more enjoyable than reading MH cycle through his god steps and hexes for the thousandth time. But this story arc mostly repeats itself too, in the Feng sect. Even so, generally I think the series could have spent more time away from the big picture checklist Er Gen had to work through. And many opportunities for getting back to what made the original heart of the series good are also overlooked, like when MH has a young clone and they blow through the clone's early life in a single chapter.

Other parts that I liked a lot about the series early on are essentially subverted later. MH was a scrappy kid with no valuable background, an unremarkable bloodline, and even average talent. For those who have read the first hundred chapters, remember he stole good fortune beyond what he was born with, from the heavens themselves? But even back then I suppose the series put too much of an emphasis on the quality of your foundation as a cultivator, where if you made one wrong step you were no longer perfect going forward, which meant that we would always have an existing, incontrovertible benchmark for how perfect MH had to be. That's writing yourself into a corner.

Some people might like the quaint folk-cosmology where being able to topple mountains is more impressive than destroying the stars in the skies. I think it's good to have some unique influences as a writer, but I found these cultural fables and origin stories kind of expressively fake: when some Native American god is said to sweep all of the stars into their pocket to impress some human girl, I always end up wondering what it means to live in a world where objects don't necessarily get larger when they're brought closer, or what happens to the life on the planets orbiting those stars. Of course, whoever came up with such a story wasn't expected to know anything about how far away the starlight was, or what it signified. To suppose the same things, but then have your characters also visiting those other stars, is just a weird choice.

The author's philosophical passages and talk of enlightenment of natural laws also always ring hollow to me. MH is described as needing buddha-like philosophical breakthroughs to reach higher levels as a cultivator (and let's just laugh off his enlightenment on the physics of time and space, without bothering to get into it) but at every new level of power-creep there's a million more people there and they're still as dumb and arrogant and immature and "silkpants" as the last bunch. So being an immortal seems like nothing much, and at the same time we're not grounded by anything; we rarely know or are expected to care about the perspectives of, say, the mortals who are ostensibly affected by the goings-on of these trillions of figures more important than them.

The series borrows a lot from IET novels like Coiling Dragon, and I think it uses these influences as a crutch sometimes. IET novels are flawed in their own ways as well as in similar ones (such as the missed opportunities to tell human stories, and love interests who lack character), but they at least tended to elaborate more on the presence of things like interspatial rings and lightning tribulations and explain what it really meant to have such things there. In ISSTH these and other things are just sort of there inexplicably: an idea was liked, so Er Gen used it without really providing the concepts with their own two legs to stand on in his world. These aren't the only things that tend to mean little; when a character "sacrifices some of their own longevity" with some technique? If I were an Er Gen character I'd sacrifice my longevity to win every time, because it's never going to affect me later.

The hundred-plus-chapter wars are naturally the worst part. If you loved the third Hobbit movie, then maybe it's for you. But I also really dislike the fundamental ideas presented in these large-scale conflicts. When MH is destroying the homelands of his opponents, he is able to look into their hearts or something and see that they're all fundamentally beasts anyway, so it's okay to commit war crimes like killing their non-combatant family members, which sounds a lot like something out of a manual on how to justify ethnic cleansing. He does the same thing with the Ninth Sea. At least have the guts to just say that what your protagonist is doing is unethical and then paint him as an antihero instead of trying to portray it as good, you know? It's cowardly, and it's doubly ironic for a Chinese writer, considering that these things were said about them in the most grotesque parts of the Second Sino-Japanese war. And the biblical-scale sadism of burning people's souls for eternity, for reasons that Er Gen could just barely contrive them to be responsible for (when you include children who weren't alive when the initial crimes were committed) is absolutely the kind of thing that makes me want to see the main character lose.

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Warlock of the Magus World
February 27, 2017
Status: c413
This is a series where the hero, Leylin, is the villain, and that's not for everyone. I'm not spoiling anything or saying he wants to destroy the world; his goal is just to advance through the levels of cultivation, like most heroes. But he's willing to bring extreme misery to other people to get what he wants, with no exceptions, not for love interests or childhood friends. He robs and kills people and makes the first attack himself, unlike other protagonists who often take spoils from bandits. He has absolutely... more>> no empathy. He's a sociopath and the way he rationalizes it -- with a Randian "rational self-interest" philosophy and the idea that it's only natural to not care about anyone in a dog-eat-dog cultivator's world -- it makes it seem like maybe the author himself is a sociopath. After all, many other characters share these views as well. It's a world where most people are bastards, where one faction is straightforward and evil, and their rival faction's apparent good-naturedness is in truth just being hypocritical.

That may seem like an interesting twist--something that might draw a curious reader in, who's looking for something different. But it makes it very hard to do a very fundamental thing, which is to care at all if the protagonist of your story succeeds. If you can't root for your hero, then you're not invested in the narrative. There's not really a supporting cast of other characters to pick up the slack either, apart from some interesting characters who will come and go for the duration of one or two story arcs at most.

With that out of the way, the story does have some clever ideas and neat tricks. Leylin's "hook" is being a reincarnator with an AI chip in his head. I like this because I've personally always wanted the power to be able to recall things like text in perfect detail, and to be able to sort and filter these details at will. The power remains relevant to Leylin's life, too, but only by becoming more magical, and never by making use of his original world's scientific knowledge. In other words, like most series, the reincarnation gimmick itself rarely comes into play.

Although I dislike having a protagonist with no empathy, there are things to appreciate about him, too. He's tactful and he assesses risks. Most heroes can get away with butting in on any situation where they see something they don't like, such as a noble on the street abusing common folk, which is why most protagonists end up drowning under heaps of enemies who have friends in high places. It's fun but serious consequences make fictional worlds seem more substantive, and because Leylin often has to keep himself in check, it makes the setting have more weight behind it. Plenty of series like to talk about how massive their settings are, how this planet is a bazillion miles in circumference, but for all that size it's like they have the weight of a balloon, because one guy can walk in and do whatever he wants there. For example, right off the bat, Leylin subverts a cliche by not stealing something that would lead to a problematic grudge.

And it's hard to imagine heroes like Yun Che or Meng Hao having to sacrifice their own possessions, or ever paying somebody not to kill them, or even having to spend their money at all--particularly when it comes to money that was hard-earned, instead of effortlessly stolen. Leylin has the problems a real thief would have, in that an "expensive item" has no true value if you can't use it or sell it, and finding a reliable fence is often going to be harder than committing the theft itself. Admittedly, both styles of novels can be good; it just depends what you're looking for as a reader.

It paces itself steadily and has been a bit more inventive than many of its Qidian counterparts when it comes to dealing with "power creep". Most series will move the hero to the Strong Realm or whatever whenever they become a big fish in a small pond. It isn't the worst thing ever to do this, as it's better than a battle novel with no conflict, but it often feels like a lazy way out, and as a reader, you often have to suspend your disbelief. WMW does this stuff too, but we're informed in advance about how isolated these "small ponds" are by the geographical conditions and world lore. The main character will also suppress his own power level to blend in at times, seeking some knowledge or specific object, which is usually more fun than just going straight to the new Strong Realm and powering through more levels of cultivation.

It's tempting to see this novel as a kind of specific response to Coiling Dragon. A lot of the tropes of that series are played with in this one, and there are references and twists on a lot of its ideas. I wouldn't dare to spoil the more clever ones, but even the hero's name, Leylin, is basically CD's Linley just twisted around.

I definitely liked some aspects of this, feeling that it remained somewhat interesting despite a huge handicap in the character department, but ultimately, against my own expectations, I just put it down for a while when it was still being translated, and I never could really bring myself to pick it back up again. I think there are too many great novels in the world to bother with long (and sometimes poorly-proofread) ones that have a few good things going for them, but don't really stir one's passions. <<less
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My Disciple Died Yet Again
May 10, 2018
Status: c393
To start with what I appreciate the most, this is a comedy-focused work that also provides a good critical commentary on other cultivation novels. So often in these works, despite heavily employing spiritual imagery and religious iconography, the path to immortality has nothing to do with enlightenment in the manner of buddhas or saints. Many of them will describe how cultivation improves the hero's cognitive ability or gives them a heavenly aura, but it's unconvincing, because they act like bratty and arrogant children no matter how many thousands of years... more>> pass. They age slowly, but mature even slower -- if at all. If anything, the mortals are more enlightened than the immortals, and this doesn't change no matter how many times the immortals ascend. "My Disciple Died Yet Again" is a kind of response to this issue.

The point is made both overtly and subtly: the heroine, Zhu Yao, says outright that there's nothing profound about killing everyone to get what you want, while we also have characters that mock some of the more common literary conventions. For example, a young hero who "is kind to his friends but repays each slight ten times over" -- a description which happens to apply to most male xianxia protagonists -- and it sounds cool until you think about it for a minute and understand that if everyone was so unforgiving, society would fall apart in no time at all, which is exactly what happens when people start emulating this character, forcing Zhu Yao to step in.

Zhu Yao exploits a little bit of scientific Earth knowledge in the ancient setting she's dropped into, and that's something I love to see, but what's more important is that she brings the thinking of the Age of Enlightenment as well. Every other novel where a character comes from Earth has them adopt their new world's reasoning -- "On Earth I would not try to murder someone who stole from me, but it's different here" -- but Zhu Yao brings her way of thinking with her. I think that's very beautiful, even if it gets in the way of the quick payoff of just taking the easy way out and killing all the bad guys. In this way it's perhaps most similar to "Release That Witch", a favorite webnovel of mine. I like any series where reincarnation -- especially the appearance of a reincarnator from modern Earth -- isn't just a one-time gimmick to give readers a familiar perspective in chapter one.

It's an excellent foil for another series I stopped reading, "History's Strongest Senior Brother", which had a similar premise, but wasn't able to execute on it engagingly for more than a few chapters, and which fell into the cliches it set out to subvert. Early on, both have a "main character who isn't the main character", and for both it can be frustrating on the audience when "the main character" gets what they want, as main characters do. But MDDYA doesn't give up on its own premise half-way, and it manages to be funny and at times romantic.

So that's the good part, but there's a lot I'm not happy with here. A lot of jokes don't really land. Yes, sometimes it's wonderfully funny: Zhu Yao's Azoth Core cloud tribulation, for example, or getting the wood spirit, or seeing the effects of the dragon aura on demonic beasts. But the jokes that do work tend to get recycled endlessly, or are just childish and not very daring at all. (Some setups are wasted: she gains the ability to switch genders at one point and does absolutely nothing with it until she loses the power.)

It becomes a plodding read, especially by the time of the underworld arc. Coincidence and convenience are sometimes uncomfortably relied upon to propel the story forward. Character templates and goals seem to be constantly reused. These are big hurdles for a novel that sells itself on its own cleverness: a more typical cultivation novel can have its hero move from the nascent soul realm to the demigod realm or whatever even as it repeats its own ideas, and in doing so, it's presenting a kind of "progress" to the reader that helps mask creative stagnation. But in MDDYA, the frequent drops back to square-one really take the wind out of the story's sails in a way that can't be hidden, making it fail at some of the things that draw me to the genre in the first place. Although the setup of frequent reincarnation gives us what should be interesting ways to explore character development, allowing for Zhu Yao to make a second first impression on existing characters who would just be stepping stones in many other works, most characters are abandoned by the wayside anyway, especially upon ascension to higher planes or reincarnating into different lower realms. Each new reincarnation comes with a new hook that grabs attention for a short while -- simple mysteries like "Whose egg is this? What creature is inside?" can captivate me for a while -- but it then falls back into familiar jokes.

It's also hard to follow, and I don't say that for just any complicated series. If I stop reading for two months waiting for several new chapters to come out, that's enough to forget virtually everything. You might call it detailed, but I would call it needlessly convoluted. It's nice that early events in the story don't get forgotten, but when they're tied together by multiple reincarnating characters getting preincarned, time-warps and half-reincarnations into ghosts, and possessions that are distinguished from reincarnations and so on... frankly, it's a mess. The connections between characters are confusing, the cosmology is confusing, and there's no clear relationship between Zhu Yao's completed tasks for Realmspirit and her place in the worlds she inhabits, nor other signs that anybody is actually making any progress toward anything.

Factor in the repetitive formulas -- like the three or four Mary Sue villains who act theatrically put-upon and victimized to direct the hatred of sycophantic men toward Zhu Yao -- and as I reader, I began to feel like I was traipsing toward the finish line, instead of reading for the joy of each individual chapter. It felt lacking in energy in a way that I would usually only see after thousands of chapters.

I truly respect the author's more emotionally-mature perspective in comparison to an author like, say, the True Martial World guy, who is fantastic at writing some really entertaining "snatching the treasures out from the hands of jerks" kinds of plots, but has some clearly warped views on women that leak through into his work. And yet I'm sorry to admit I have more fun reading True Martial World than this.

The translation gets the point across perfectly well, but can be a little dodgy. It sometimes fails to explain a pun or joke, but these are sometimes translated in the comments on one of the two sites the chapters have been hosted on. Readers will find grammatical errors quite regularly as well, so it definitely needs proofreading, but I wouldn't let this stop me from reading if none of the other issues did. <<less
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Cultivation Chat Group
July 19, 2017
Status: c435
When I started reading this, I had been having trouble figuring out what novel to get into next after several false starts with other novels which I just couldn't take to. I think that a single premise that immediately jumps out at you is often worth more than all the five-star reviews on Novel Updates combined, because Cultivation Chat Group's premise just can't be ignored.

There are a number of reasons I hold this series in high regard. From the start, it hinges on the misunderstanding that the protagonist Song Shuhang... more>> actually "belongs" with these high-level cultivators (similar to the great manga Mx0), and I was initially worried that the series would lose its charm when the initial misunderstandings were inevitably corrected. But turns out to be just as funny when he begins to cultivate in earnest. There are chapters that read like something out of a more traditional cultivation novel, to be sure, but it remains creative. Being surrounded by powerful figures of the seventh stage while the hero is only in the first cultivation realm also gives the novel a very unique perspective.

Most crucially, Song Shuhang doesn't leave his "mortal life" behind: he still attends classes and spends time with his college friends, like a super hero with an alter-ego. I'm not at all surprised to find out that I like stories about immortals best when the mortal world isn't left behind. SS is a very likable protagonist, too: he likes to help his friends out, and even his insecurities as a cultivator feel very down-to-earth and relatable, such as his wanting to learn elegant sword techniques that give him a noble and scholarly disposition, but constantly finding fate with Buddhist monk skills and bloodthirsty sabers instead. Poor guy!

The mortal perspective also means you don't see the author skipping forward 6 months or 2 years or 100 years in closed cultivation, as he's capable of filling all these spaces in the timeline with interesting events. (By chapter 400, it's been maybe 2 months since the start of the novel.) This requires more planning ability, as the author has to plan out how long things take in between breaks in the school calendar and such instead of just making the hero train until it's time for something else to happen. I feel that I like this kind of pace a lot more, especially in a comedy.

Most characters are defined through their gimmicks, but I don't think this is a bad thing at all in a comedy, all the more so when considering that many "serious" cultivator novels don't really bother to develop their characters anyway. (Venerable White alone has three or four wacky traits, and I've died laughing at a number of his escapades, like when he breaks everything in the house and Song Shuhang just feels that everything from the refrigerator to the television just seems "different", because all the broken appliances have been replaced by illusory formations.)

This is a top-shelf series, highly recommended, especially now that the QI/Webnovel dot com translations go back to chapter 1 instead of simply picking up where former translators left off. The current translations are in excellent shape, and new readers don't have to worry about switching and getting confused by new terms and names for characters, like I did. <<less
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Dungeon Defense
July 14, 2017
Status: v3
The first chapter of this series was good. Real good. We have this clever hermit hero who is forced into some type of high-stakes cosmic joke, but he uses his wit and the game mechanics to uproariously overturn the whole situation, first quietly making a mockery of his brutish captors, and then basking in their despair after he finally plays his hand. It seemed well-written and joyful in its ridiculousness. It was exactly the kind of fun story I come to this site to find, and I'd have read ten... more>> volumes of that no problem. Only, I wasn't allowed to, because that first chapter was the end of it. Our hero soon suggests that he worked too hard during chapter one, so he becomes a chronically lazy protagonist for the rest of the volume. This gets old fast, so the author completely erases this character trait by the next volume. He no longer seems to detest being around other people either, as the author settles him into the character he's most comfortable writing: a psychopath with no civility who constantly waxes philosophical, without anybody asking him to, either ranting about the obvious in too many words, or saying abject nonsense, or occasionally something which the translator -- who does an admirable if awkward job otherwise -- wasn't fully equipped to put into English.

When I say that a bloviating psycho is the character the author is most comfortable writing, I don't just mean because Dantalian's personality stabilizes there. I mean because it also describes the next four most frequently-appearing characters as well. Lapis. Barbatos. Farnese. Elizabeth. All quickly coalesce into a whole f*cking harem full of the same person: power-hungry, contemptuous of human life, intimidating, sadistic, and full of "insights" no reader in their right mind should care about. If the author wanted to be Georges Bataille and write transgressive fiction about people screwing underage-looking girls, abusing animals, burning innocent prisoners alive or otherwise violating the Geneva convention as efficiently as possible, he should have done that up-front instead of trying to wallpaper over all the game mechanics from the first chapter, upon deciding he just wanted to use Saving The World as an "end" by which all insane sadistic tendencies could be excused as "the means".

I kept giving it a chance up through volume 3, but should have given up sooner. I'm not saying I found nothing at all to appreciate: I liked the Go matches, for instance; maybe because two characters managed to do something for a few minutes other than congratulating each other for their shared lack of morality. And any story that quotes Diogenes can't be all bad. But the more I look at it, the less I like it. From the "dark and transgressive" side, Dantalian can't seem to be consistent about whether he cares about anyone or anything. If you've really got an itch to see that stuff done properly, just look up what books are banned in your country or at your local library or school and go to town reading all of them.

And to see it critically from the fantasy side, the "Ars Goetia" demonology is a cliche source -- apparently this is not even the first series to use the name "Dantalian", among the 72 others, as the name for its main character -- but maybe excusable given that it's supposed to be sourced to a generic fantasy video game, one that names its nations uninspired stuff like "Polish-Lithuanian Kingdom", at that. But it also leaves too many obvious questions unanswered for too long, like: how the hell have the Demon Lords never died before if there's only 72 of them, they can be killed conventionally, and they've been around for hundreds to thousands of years? And if new ones are born to fill vacant positions, what does any of this matter? Or: what was with that reverse-loyalty test Humbaba and the other witches pulled on Dantalian? How did they actually envision that working out for them?

Read something else. <<less
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Black Tech Internet Cafe System
March 29, 2019
Status: c95
People may want to give this novel a try when they see the ridiculous premise, but the synopsis is a bit of a misdirection. People in a traditional cultivator world drinking Sprite and saying "What is this sorcery?" sounds hilarious, but in practice it's mostly about the customers playing existing games from the real world on the cafe computers and talking about them.

Like the novel Terror Infinity, there's a lot of unprofessional borrowing of other intellectual properties. All the more so here, the writing itself is poor and can't stand... more>> on its own two legs, so it talks about Resident Evil 1 for thirty chapters. And then Diablo 2 after that. It may be that you have nostalgic feelings for both of those games that will easily carry you through these chapters. But what about when you don't? When they start to talk about the plot points and characters of The Legend of Sword and Fairy, a Chinese-only game I had never heard of, my eyes were glazing over with disinterest. This was before chapter 100. A bad sign.

There's a line between referencing the games that are being played, and making your novel crossover fan-fiction. I think that line is crossed when the protagonist is rewarded with a Resident Evil T-virus to inject himself with outside of the game. I don't want to read another series where everyone is using magical techniques stolen from some other writer's copyrighted material. Besides, a good novel about managing an internet cafe should either not focus on the games themselves so much, or if it does, it should invent its own games, instead of saying "Remember fighting Andariel?" (Sort of.) "Remember that time when Xiaoyao went to the Devil-Locking Tower?" (No, I never played that.)

There are other signs of weak writing. Characters are introduced far faster than they can become memorable, causing the cast to spiral out of control with a bunch of names I can't remember. By chapter 100 there are about as many characters, and many of their names routinely come up, but only 3 or 4 of these people are even slightly distinct. Each time a new customer is introduced, the whole process is repeated of them reacting to the computers and games, and it feels very formulaic.

World-building is slow and shallow. The presence of the cafe would have been funnier if we knew more about the setting it was contrasting with. But we're not even really told much off the bat about what the limits are in their fantasy world. It also seems to make little sense how anything works; the players are immersed in full VR while also being able to see and chat with the people around them in the cafe at any given moment. They just seem to always be paying attention to the world around them when there's a reason to be, and you're not expected to think about it.

It's a very funny idea for a novel, but there's no lasting appeal. I don't recommend it. <<less
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Coiling Dragon
December 18, 2015
Status: --
A pretty good story with a couple arcs that are rather solid in particular, and a few noteworthy characters (namely Bebe). Worth reading if you have too much time on your hands, but it only really stands out in that there are so few modern-classic Chinese fantasy epics fully translated online.

It takes a while to get going, and still is often somewhat bland later. Though the concluding arc tied a lot of things together really well, most of the rest of the story didn't feel planned out. The MC gains... more>> weapons, items, and skills that get largely forgotten about, and it lacks delicious moments of the hero truly exploiting his advantages in the manner that you'd see in Against the Gods, Tales of Demons and Gods, etc.

Later ideas, like giving everybody clones, put a lot of hard limits on what could happen and lowered the narrative tension. You know the MC's clones will never die, because it would permanently weaken the hero in a series that is all about advancing through the ranks of power. Magic Plot Crystals turn people into gods, but they also define a person's absolute skill level, and why write yourself into a corner that way? That whole idea was essentially a poorly-conceived promise to the reader that the entire supporting cast would fade into obscurity.

The series' approach to cultivation was interesting before that, though. It was more academic in feel; instead of being a thing of going from level 9 to level 10, it was more like being a scientist trying to discover a new particle or some such thing. These people would first spend years as a child and young adult learning things from the cultivation world's equivalent of an educational system, and then they would push upon the limits of what anyone in the world knew in their field, and would start gaining personal insights into their Law that nobody else had found before. People in the same field of study could fight each other to exchange insights, for the benefit of both people hoping to unlock the mysteries of the world, sort of like reading and publishing in a peer-reviewed journal... and then the series stepped beyond the bounds of its world and it became a story about gods evolving into super gods and it totally lost that appealing framework. Ah well.

The MC experiences little in the way of hardship with the exception of a few arcs, and often has the protection of powerful figures. To put it plainly, his life's too easy. You can do a power-fantasy novel where the hero's better than anyone and still make it tough on him: the perfect example of this is "The Name of the Wind", which everyone should read if they aren't restricting themselves to xianxia only.

CD also falls short of ever feeling romantic. We're told that the MC's love interest is his other half and that he thinks about her constantly, but that's all: we're just told it, we don't see it. In practice she barely figures into the story at all. Finally, the story likes to do big time-skips, passing right over what could be really core moments of the MC's life, such as experiencing school life, or raising his own children. To skip over life itself to hurry toward more powering-up is inexplicable--those are the things that give the cultivation meaning in the first place. <<less
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Mushoku Tensei (WN)
June 2, 2016
Status: v24 epilogue
If you haven't read this (excellent) series yet: I would recommend to read the official translations of the revised Light Novel version instead. Mushoku Tensei was my introduction to isekai fantasy novels, and I loved it and couldn't put it down, but you should not have to suffer through messy amateur translations as I did, years ago. It'll take a while for the rest of the English light novels to come out, but you should be patient, and read it as it does.

This is a story that keeps itself interesting... more>> through to the end because of a really strong delayed school arc and big plot twists with the central villain and a supporting Vegeta-esque cast member. It's highly creative, with sympathetic and highly-developed character writing, certainly when compared to fellow works in the genre.

As for our hero, Rudeus is awfully perverted, and often comes off as unlikable or disgusting because of it. If it bothers you too much in the early arcs, don't force yourself, because he's not going to change. But I think he's a good protagonist. Even if he's a frustrating dunce sometimes, and slow to realize the full potential of his own magic, I think he's very human, and isn't supposed to be read as cool. I don't think it's hard to sympathize with him.

But my biggest problem with the story is with its harem route. When Rudeus first marries the girl I'd been most invested in him settling down with, I was thrilled, but then an old flame comes back into the picture. I'd have really been impressed if the hero could've said to her, "I loved you back then, and I still care about you, but you really hurt me, and after we went our separate ways, I learned to fall in love again and married someone I never want to hurt, so I'm sorry, " instead of just marrying the second woman too, and going on from there to play Gotta Catch 'Em All with objects of varying breast sizes. But this is hardly surprising for an adolescent Japanese novel.

I'm actually on board for harem novels, but this polygamous marriage felt sad and pathetic to me, as all of Rudeus' wives end up living together in one big house, taking turns for his affection. I think harems are more engaging when the male lead is in a more casual arrangement with them than marriage. Maybe it's possible to write about a more appealing polygamous marriage than this one, but it would probably entail closer relationships between each of the women while the male protagonist is still getting to know them. <<less
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Sovereign of the Three Realms
June 16, 2016
Status: Completed
When SoTR started, it was a decent, simple, over-the-top sort of cultivator novel. It was never my favorite, but there were some fun parts. Jiang Chen taking in a dragon, unleashing a swarm of rats on his enemies, shocking people with absurd pill recipes... it could get me hyped or make me snicker. Then it got repetitive. You see the same mediocre formula of throwaway sects and characters on loop, but there are lots of novels like that, and I kept reading. Then it became terribly plotted and outright bad.... more>> Still, I kept on hate-reading it, because I'd picked the novel up when there were only like 200 chapters out, and after three or four years, I had sunk enough costs to justify reading to the end. If you're in the same position and have stopped to read reviews, quit now. If you have never read this novel, don't.

I take no pleasure in saying this after sticking with it for so long, believe me. But what did sticking around turn out to be worth? Loose ends are either forgotten, retconned, or resolved so late that the original drama just dwindles to anticlimax and afterthought. (Sorry Etvo. I appreciate your years of work on the translation, okay? Don't be mad at me, lol.)

Bad writing
I thought it had a good hook at first -- the son of a Celestial Emperor replacing a useless lout, and so on. Admittedly, even that part was messy. It never really sets limits on what Jiang Chen's past memories can do for him, so you just kind of swallow what the narration says about this at any given moment. If it says a mental exercise is a breeze for him, we nod and go along with it, and if it says some pill or formation is seriously challenging, we swallow that too. But we have no investment in what he can do; there's no tension. At most, he should have remembered the recipes and academic details about ingredients from his past life, having to figure the rest out for himself.

Cultivation development is a stand-in for character development, which is common enough in these low-intellect novels, but him already being like a million years old doesn't really help either. His love interests may as well be toys for him to play with and throw away.

I thought the romance with Huang'er was good, at first. I like a scenario of star-crossed lovers kept apart and all that. But the author apparently gets bored with Huang'er and once she's all sorted out, decades pass without her even being mentioned. Imagine if halfway through Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare said, "But what if... there were TWO Juliets?" It loses all impact. A star-crossed polycule is flat-out ridiculous, as is a large gang of beautiful women tripping over themselves to prove how magnanimous and cool they are in sharing their boyfriend. Meeting different women is cool and all when you're a ronin, but not when you've settled down.

The novel is also quite pointlessly sexist elsewhere. "Women only exist to be beautiful, " one chapter goes, and that one's more cringe than offensive. In one chapter much later, JC reaches a base and is shocked because they put a FEMALE in charge. What? Huh? Was this world always like this?

JC feels inconsistent and fails to impress me the way he constantly impresses everyone else in the novel. In one chapter he mutilates an innocent kid to get revenge on the kid's grandfather, but he's treated like a saint. He exterminates a clan's whole bloodline -- I'm sure they were all total brats down to the last five-year-old, though. You know, "Against The Gods" gets a lot of sh*t for this very thing, but it actually has character development and comeuppance... In SoTR though? We forget about it a chapter later.

He often gets into arguments where he says some extremely childish crap like "I know you are but what am I?" and the entire rest of the cast marvels at this as if he just nailed 95 theses to the front door.

The pacing is terrible. Several times, I built up a stockpile of 200 chapters or so only to read them all and realize that nothing happened. The chapters are short to begin with, but it burns a lot of time on recycled commentary and padding chapters that recap the present state of progress instead of advancing it. Even when there are only ~400 chapters to go, it's surprising how much time is spent stalling or repeating things.

Bad planning
Worst of all is that this novel clearly just bullshitted for thousands of chapters with no clear plan. A well-planned dumb novel is as enjoyable to me as a smart novel, or even more so. But poorly planned xianxia novels offer nothing.

Treasures are picked up, never to be used, or dismissed later anticlimactically just to tie up loose ends... storage rings he went to great trouble to wipe the seals from, only to never examine. For example, what the hell was with that highly special piece of Bluesmoke Jade he fought to acquire after it rippled the seal in his consciousness, and then he never did anything with? Did he just sell it with the others in a single line 300 chapters later?

He rarely ever actually uses up his consumable talismans. Some, like the Divine Veluriyam Defense Talisman, he doesn't use at all. If you give your character a talisman that you can use three times, you should plan three uses for it. You should not use it zero times and then forget it in your storage ring. This goes for the talisman he gets at the end which can attack with 100% of his dad's power, too.

It isn't just about items. JC found a secret realm in Celestial Cicada Court territory on one returning visit. Did it ever come up again? Of course not.

It's also a problem of missed opportunities -- and I'm spoiling things here, but you should be glad I'm saving you the trouble. Early on it's noticed that due to JC's celestial heritage, his cultivation breakthroughs are causing more dramatic effects each time, and it becomes clear that he won't be able to hide the next one, and the "low-profile" status quo will be shattered. It's something in the future the reader can actually get excited for -- only, the next time he happens to be in a secret realm during his breakthrough, so he successfully hides it again. The next time after that, it's again hidden, and there's barely one line about it -- all that promise dwindles down to nothing.

It was very clear that the novel never originally intended to stick around in one plane for so long. The messiest example would be what happened with Emperor Peafowl -- when he was introduced, he was "close to ascending" to a higher plane, but the author wasn't nearly done wrapping up things on the continent, so that got retconned as a mere "rumor". Even if you ignore the fact that they later introduced a large number of recluse Empyrean Realm figures that Peafowl probably was in a position to have caught some wind of (and even later than that, a couple of Divine Realm recluses hidden about)... he's talking to the son of the Celestial Emperor. Jiang Chen didn't know that Peafowl wasn't going to be ascending? Or didn't think it was worth mentioning? What a joke.

The consequence of this poor planning is that things lose their value after so long. Peafowl returns; so what? It's not for any dramatic purpose, but just an afterthought, even though he was initially set up as this character who could see the threads of fate, and would be considered "formidable even on the divine plane". Mang Qi is freed from confinement after like two thousand chapters, but then he's no longer an awe-inspiring creature stronger than JC, just another minion at a lower cultivation realm, who never does anything. And with the novel revising everything upward, it has to pretend everything else was better than it initially was. When JC finds the legacy of the Ancient Crimson Heavens Sect after passing all their crazy succession tests, the formations become a major tool in his arsenal, but later this is all retroactively deflated when the continent is supposed to have Divine Realm heritages. "By the way, " the novel goes, "that heritage Jiang Chen found was actually a fake one." Riight. Wasn't that the one he passed with flying colors due to his super-godking dad personally having taught him the same puzzle?

Nothing comes of JC taking a disciple, or having a child. Their only purpose is to be ignored. When JC's surprise daughter entered the story, I was expecting something huge to come of it -- she's the direct lineage of the Celestial Emperor! Wouldn't it be expected if crazy phenomena started happening around her, or something, at least? But no. She seems like a sweet kid, and then he ignores her and cultivates for like 50 years. Eventually, he gives two more children to Huang'er just so the main girl doesn't lose out to the sidepiece. The author doesn't even bother to name them.

Bad ending
The last several hundred chapters are like tedious housecleaning. All difficulty or suspense are foregone. JC gets a lamp/torch with like a dozen described abilities, overpowered even before he's fully mastered using it. This is bad enough, but then he starts unlocking the gifts from his father, and can suddenly one-shot the invading demons we've been warned about for the last thousand chapters. He can bind or kill enemies stronger than himself, without limit to these items' uses. He doesn't even need these new invincible cheats, because the demons are incredibly s*upid, and they split up their numbers over and over again so they can be outnumbered by JC and his pokemon army, even after their leaders arrive.

Hundreds of chapters are wasted on an utterly joyless war arc killing dozens of divine-level demons, an uninspired box-checking exercise where they'll introduce a fire demon whose name is like "Forefather Hotfire" or something, kill him, and move on to a winged demon named "Forefather Birdflight", and kill him the same way. It couldn't be worse.

This one's a bit nitpicky, but his new absurd tools are all given the properties of "feigned mundanity" so the terrifying figures in the higher planes won't recognize or come looking for them, except that one of them is just his dad's undisguised signature sword, so uh, nevermind I guess, forget about all that mundanity stuff.

I began to think the novel would never even get to JC's father, but they clear up the demon stuff and rush toward a resolution with about 60 chapters left to go. It provides a little burst of life at the end, but it still has all the problems of the rest of the novel. Our understanding of the conflict on these upper planes originally seemed so much grander. In the early setup, it sounded like the novel spoke of the apocalypse -- the Great Cataclysm, the shattering of the heavens -- but we get there, and there is a chapter with the line "the previous so-called shattering of the plane simply referred to the disruption of the political ecosystem..." Lol.

The final chapters on the higher planes even include a (very short) tournament with arrogant buffoon characters, even though all these people are in the later stages of the Divine Realm. I think "Divine thug" should be an oxymoron, don't you? But the author doesn't know how to do anything else.

The climax is a farce. We spend a handful of chapters questioning who out of seven or eight characters is responsible for actually putting JC's dad behind bars, and then it commits a cardinal sin for mysteries: the actual culprit isn't even among them. In the words of Ronald Knox, 1939: "The mysterious stranger who turns up from nowhere in particular, from a ship as often as not, whose existence the reader had no means of suspecting from the outset, spoils the play altogether." There was no ship here, but the final battle is against someone introduced like two chapters earlier. It feels so utterly pointless, and again: an afterthought. I'm also not sure what the point was in having JC's dad bust out before JC can even step forward in the meeting between the godkings. Apart from the fight itself, which happens *after* his dad is already freed, his only role in the end is handing off one of his cheat tools to his new girlfriend! It all happens off-camera and I'm not even convinced she wouldn't have gotten it done without him.

So, awful to the end. Again, let me be clear that I'm not gloating. I had far higher hopes for this. And to Etvo, welp. All I can say is I hope you've picked your next projects better. <<less
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World of Cultivation
January 29, 2019
Status: c915
I don't recommend this one. I won't say it's bad. In some ways it is. But it has creative ideas, some very likable recurring characters, and a number of engaging story arcs. I liked seeing Zuo Mo gradually develop his talents, only making money after experiencing many setbacks, and actually having to pay for stuff, so his fortune doesn't just unrealistically climb up without ever diminishing. I liked some of the twists on normal xianxia works, and it was funny to see Wei Sheng fit the mold of "main character"... more>> even better than Zuo Mo would at times, like being sent to purge the creatures on every floor of a special realm while Zuo Mo is paying off debts for his pill forging ingredients. The farming was great: it's rare to see a protagonist develop a place over time and to see his progress, being a constructive member of society as opposed to just slaughtering brainless enemies and taking what he needs from them. The world has depth and doesn't bend its own logic to suit Zuo Mo, and the world undergoes changes without waiting for Zuo Mo to be the one to cause them.

And that's well and good for the first one or two hundred chapters, but the series pulls away from its low-stakes roots, and in doing so it loses a lot, including most of what I just got through praising. I need to be very careful the next time I start a novel about farming or whatever that I'm not actually reading six hundred chapters of the conquests of a large and often unmemorable ensemble cast, each battle a frustrating diversion. It's one thing to see the main character's fights and the growth in his battle techniques, but man: I can't bring myself to care even the slightest bit about how some energy took the form of a dragon, or a lotus, and crossed with the sword wave of so-and-so, shifting into the shape of this or that. Even when the more forgettable commanders of Vermilion Bird Camp are fighting enemies who are clearly just fodder, they can never just be killed in a surprise attack. They always manage to get their defenses up and show us their signature formation and talisman. Nobody ever dies comically fast from one punch just to cause some exaggerated reactions from the peanut gallery. What's even the point, then? At most, ZM should have left the battalion behind after leaving Little Mountain Jie, maybe calling upon them later for a favor.

And while it's clearly not as if the author makes it all up one chapter at a time, I can't call it well-planned. Many loose ends are *technically* tied up, but not to anyone's satisfaction, and it's always clear when the author got carried away with something else and forgot someone for 200 (or 700) chapters. Whenever anything *is* resolved, it feels late and phoned-in, and by that time it's hard to care. In one noteworthy example, there's no way that the originally intended purpose of the Mist Tribe's "restricted land" was to give one side-character a nice set of armor to use in one minor skirmish (before never showing up again). I think we can make a good guess what happened: there was originally planned to be something useful in the short term there, but by the time the author left himself an opportunity to resolve it, the growth in the power of the protagonist's forces was such that the item would have been useless, so after hundreds of chapters he quickly made up something else, just to have it over and done with. Although it's a relief to have things resolved, when you have a question for so long and the answer just comes like "Oh, yeah, it was this by the way, " it feels kind of annoying. Fu Feng was like that too. In the case of Zong Ru's spy embedded in the dhyana sects, he never comes up again at all. This is all not to say there are no good payoffs, but they're few and far between.

There are many cases where he obtains some new tier of amazing artifact that seems like it could be his next ace in the hole at a clever moment of need, only to be kept in the storage ring for fifty chapters and then handed off to a sidekick with a shrug. In other cases they're used once just for the sake of doing so, and never seen again. This includes ZM's much-hyped high-spec black ship, and his sky mo weapon. You can forgive him for not using every random crafting ingredient that's described when he picks it up, especially when there's a whole forging division always randomly experimenting with things off-camera, but it's a little weird when you see something like the major treasures of the Sun Shen Hall never come up again. (Like the bronze mask?)

Many skills go undeveloped as well, to the point where his relative lack of talent with the sword seems more a case of this than an actual character flaw. These things should not have been introduced if there was no plan for them. The "Ling Eye Abhinna" sounds like the main power of the protagonist in True Martial World, but here it's just something to be forgotten after one chapter. Pu's core Thousand Leaf Hands skills are abandoned. Even his main thing, the five element glass bead in his body, is said to convert ling power to five-element "base source", but when does that matter? And it's hard to get a satisfactory feeling of growth and progression from such a chaotic list of flame seeds that mutate and split apart and half-embed themselves into mutating physiques and so on. "Is Zuo Mo still at the Fifth Stage of Embryonic Breathing? Okay, now he's at the Second Spirit? It's a good thing I'll never hear about this again, or I might actually have to puzzle over what that means." It's not just techniques that fail to reappear either, but entire ranking systems.

These aren't the only signs of weak planning. Inexplicable coincidences tend to bring characters together, as is the case when Wei Sheng is first reunited with Zuo Mo. But even more frustrating is how this damn foot-fetishist author puts his best characters to waste. The crane girl, Li Xian'er, is criminally underutilized -- she should have been gone for maybe 50 chapters at most, not like 700. That's probably the one thing I can truly never forgive this series for. It's not just her, either. Mu Xi was the first yao and was one of the few to really put ZM under the microscope over the whole "Stars in Daytime" thing, and then she does nothing. In fact, the only woman in ZM's inner circle for probably over half the series is the one woman who is f*cking *mute* -- unless I'm supposed to be counting Pu and Gongsun Cha as women -- and the rest of them are wasted, only showing up briefly near the end to mechanically push the story forward, as if contractually obligated, with the least possible screen time. Any other women are written in some incredibly cringey way, like Kun Lun's only female battle general, who runs one of the world's top battalions, all women, who somehow blanch at the sight of gore, because they're ~~females~~.

While the series doesn't rely too much on the sequence of arrogant young masters and offended elders to line up as stepping stones for Zuo Mo, and it tries to put a little more thought into them, some of the political and military decisions made by the big powers in the latter parts of the story are just laughable. Like sending someone important over as a hostage to the same sect they're planning to assassinate someone from. Literally handing their enemies leverage. I point this out for you to take into consideration if you see another review talking about how clever and multi-faceted the characters are. That is the lowest possible bar for clever.

I haven't talked about the translation, and while as always I respect the colossal effort that has gone in (especially if some of it was as tedious to translate as it was to read), I'm not fond of it. The translator has a nuanced understanding of the characters and the elements that work best for the series, but they don't seem to care too much about editing their work. There are still typos in every chapter, with some very awkward and stilted passages. This is especially a problem in the earlier parts of the novel, where the translation quality is honestly the biggest hurdle to reading on. It's the type of translation that loans tons of foreign words that mean nothing to English-speaking readers, like "zhuji" instead of "foundation-building", "dan" instead of "pill", or "shixiong" instead of "senior brother". Readers who stick around for a few hundred chapters will become slightly more comfortable with these words -- being able to tell jingshi apart from jinzhi, shishi from shibo, zhuji from ningmai, mo from yao -- but the beginning of a novel is the easiest time to lose readers, and it's highly irritating to see two dozen footnotes on a chapter explaining terms that could have been substituted for English ones without consequences. The names of characters, artifacts, and skills are sometimes romanized or translated inconsistently, especially when they haven't shown up in a while. There are frequently typos in character names, which make it that much harder to look someone up when trying to recall who they are. Then there were three or four times I saw a translator note saying they would start using a different translation for an ability or the name of a place... only to go back to using the old name later. Even the website is a pain to navigate, though of course I'm not going to rate the novel lower over something like that.

Looking at the work as a whole, it's one where I constantly vacillate from high enthusiasm to utter boredom. I found myself most interested whenever ZM would go off on his own or with a very small group, such as his first excursion into yao territory and the Ten Finger Prison. I thought that was really cool, even if it's another case where we're told about the ten floors and yet it doesn't really build up to anything. But I applaud many of the novel's ideas. For instance, setting the series in a period of transition to "shen" power, reducing the effectiveness of an elder generation that had missed their best chance to adapt, was an effective change to the basic formula where a protagonist just fights progressively older and older people. But every time the fights started up again, I'd just find it tiresome to read. It's a story that's better in theory than in execution. I finished it for closure, not because I was deeply invested. If it had gone on longer than 1000 chapters, I probably would have dropped it altogether. <<less
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No Game No Life
May 28, 2019
Status: v1
I only read one volume, but in spite of its popularity in Japan, it's a mess. In the world of No Game No Life, nobody is capable of inflicting bodily injury upon each other, nobody is capable of theft, and all conflicts must be settled by playing games. Now, I like a radical premise. I also get bored of battle novels. But despite that opening pitch, this world is that of common fantasy tripe, self-described as "looking like Skyrim", with kingdoms and social relations of the middle-ages. In other words,... more>> it radically reenvisions the most fundamental forces that have shaped society, without imagining how such changes would impact that society at all. This falls apart under any scrutiny.

It also has some seriously tr*shy content, with the protagonist's actions of mind-control and sexual assault -- normally some pretty dark ideas (such as seen from the victim's perspective in Sword Art Online) -- dressed up as nothing more than harmless ecchi comedy. As much as I like reading vulgar tr*sh, this is too uncritical. The author has designed a terrifying world where such things are at the power of anyone's fingertips with simple word games and differences of opinion... and doesn't even seem to realize it.

Our protagonist is Sora, who uses cleverness to prevail in this world. That's the elevator pitch, but he doesn't actually depend on intelligence. He depends on plot armor. What else can you call it when he challenges other people at their own rigged specialties and wins anyway, without even bothering to have the rules clarified before accepting a match? Putting aside him repeatedly putting his little sister up as collateral like a f*cking a**hole, what part of that is supposed to be optimal play?

The author has no understanding of game design, or even more generally, of rules -- whether they're game rules, laws, or inviolable commandments -- and how these rules influence and incentivize the behaviors of people. (He has no understanding of Chess, either, but I'll let that go.) You see this, for example, in the contest to determine the next king or queen, where it's a last-man-standing contest which begins informally but has a deadline to register. All the participants enter well before the deadline and defeat themselves to the last person, so Sora just walks in right at the tail end of it and has to face only one person instead of, who knows, maybe a thousand, all back-to-back. Why would anyone at all opt in early? And what would have happened if any contestants deadlocked over who was challenging whom? Instead of worrying about any of these obvious considerations, it all just sort of gets quietly settled to the hero's convenience.

Let's put that aside and look at how this society is actually structured. You have a bunch of territories divided up by various intelligent fantasy races, such as the elves and elementals. As things stand, the human kings have continually lost territory to the other races, shrinking back to one city-state. This raises so many questions, all of them glossed over. What authority does the king have to gamble away entire cities, and the properties of the people living there? How are there "property rights" at all, without someone first monopolizing the use of force? Our world's whole notion of a ruling class is contingent on violence. Kings are just men whose ancestors forced everyone to obey them under threat of death. In this world, one person would literally have to win a game against every other person in order to hold actual power over them, and even then I don't know how ones' descendants would be expected to play along. Even if your king gambles away your territory, what's to keep you from staying exactly where you are, doing subsistence farming, and refusing all challenges from the elves or whomever it is that shows up later? Their ten commandments talk about establishing an "agent plenipotentiary" to manage conflicts with the other races, but their internal authority isn't explained in concrete terms.

Frankly, all the rules need clarification. If person A can be made to fall in love with person B through the results of a contest, what are the limits here? Can person C then defeat person A while imposing the condition that they won't love person B anymore? If person B forces person A to "do whatever I say", could person A plug their ears and run off and find a friend, and deliberately lose to them under the condition that "you will no longer do whatever person B says"?

But to criticize this from the other side, let's say that people actually do still have to fear physical force. After all, even though we see no evidence of this beyond impotent "bandits" who can't actually steal anything without winning a game of their victim's choice, couldn't a group of people just use the police tactic of "kettling", where they gather up riot shields and take shifts forming a tight enclosure around somebody without ever inflicting "bodily injury", while the trapped person shits themselves and starves until they give in, and agrees to wager their mind, body, and soul in a game that they can't win? The larger force doesn't even have to propose the challenge. And even if they did, it's obvious that the challenging side has a chance to back out after a game is proposed. After all, the games clearly don't have to be fair. Anybody being challenged could just say "Let's play the knife game. You stab yourself until you die, and then I stab myself until I die, and the loser is the first person who dies."

In fact, it takes about five seconds of game theory to realize that nobody would ever agree to any game in this world unless forced. Even s*upid people would have this drilled into them, as common sense. Even ignoring the power differential, how can two people ever fairly resolve conflict if each is far better at something than the other, and the challenged party selects the game? Doesn't the entire premise boil down to who can provoke the other into challenging them first, with everyone just doing super passive-aggressive sh*t to their neighbors at all times? Libeling each other? No conflict would ever be solved and everyone would just hate each other. And to the limited extent that people would agree to compete, this would become a society of lawyers, who would spend days locking down the specific terms of each wager in rigid contracts, investigating the history of the challenger to make sure they're not hustling, and so on. Especially someone of as high status as a princess, who immediately loses everything to Sora, due to some childishly simple wordplay!

How s*upid could the non-magical, easily-duped humans have been to accept matches with other races in the first place? In fact, wouldn't humans only want to live in a racially segregated "human kingdom" because they know it's against their interests to compete with the other races? And how do they enforce their borders, not even from armies, but individual migrants? There's no commandment that says a human can't live in elven country. How are readers supposed to swallow that this state of affairs came about? This whole premise only works on the assumption that everyone, throughout history, has been a massive idiot, and not one of them has ever taken full advantage of the rules for their own benefit.

... Of course, I'd be shocked if later volumes didn't at least try to reconcile some of these obvious flaws. But if the story is this sloppy already, I would much rather move on to another novel. <<less
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The Legendary Moonlight Sculptor
June 2, 2016
Status: v45c7
This has woefully inconsistent translations, and later volumes only have machine translations (though proofread to be more grammatically correct), obliterating all nuance -- that is, if there was any to begin with. I would recommend dropping this series by that point. I had a great time reading the earlier volumes, so I don't want to say it isn't worth reading at all. If a day comes when it gets official or at least better translations, it might even be worth picking up again. But it gets to a point where... more>> it's frequently repeating itself, and loses all momentum.

It's a funny series. I liked Weed's rotten and irrational personality (I've since seen the same type of hero in numerous other webnovels, though). It's very amusing and bizarre to see a novel that embodies the Korean MMO player's mindset of "grinding is not bad game design; being able to grind a lot is a hero's virtue" and other ridiculous ideas. It doesn't take itself very seriously, but it's very engaging, at least for a while.

The really good stuff is in his creation of sculptures and accumulation of other overpowered sculptor skills, and his exaggerated reputation with other players. The author even has some smart takes on virtual economy and market strategy -- it's not so academic in its approach as Spice & Wolf, but it's still a treat for some types of readers.

Some of the more interesting women of the series tend to get underutilized, but the main heroine Seoyoon is pretty fun herself. Though there are a lot of bad "mute heroine" tropes, as a comedic device it works better than usual due to the running gag that due to her inability to communicate, everything she does is misinterpreted as viciously as possible by the protagonist. She's also a magnet for "exaggerated public reaction" moments because of her joke-level good looks. But generally the characters aren't too interesting. You should be reading this more for the gags and the sense of progression from skill-growth.

Sadly, a lot of the impossible quests that get thrust upon the hero are resolved in the exact same way--he rallies an army of NPC followers and crawls across the map to grind up their levels. The speed of Weed's growth in sculpting and other skills hits a harsh plateau as well. It's at this point, where readers start to notice the formulaic nature and the tedium of it all, that I recommend putting LMS down, perhaps for good. <<less
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Skyfire Avenue
September 28, 2017
Status: c319
After sticking around for a while after my interest waned, I've dropped this a bit past chapter 300. It's not as if I'm throwing away a disgusting mess and saying "good riddance", but sticking around wasn't paying off for me. I might come back some day if it all gets wrapped up and proofread some more, but I think I'd really have to be at the bottom of my barrel of things to read.

I think this is a pretty clever webnovel, and there have been parts where I felt really... more>> enthusiastic about what I was reading. But most of the time that was unfortunately not the case. Its characters are its greatest strength -- they're likable, distinct, and decently developed, and far smarter than the characters in anything else I would rate 3 stars -- but the series can also get annoyingly self-indulgent. If any tasteless Saudi princes (or Donald Trump) are out there and considering reading this, they may love the gaudy displays of wealth in a world that we're apparently told still has poverty and slums in it. Others will probably find that it tests their patience. It'd be one thing if it were some idealized Star Trek setting where people can make food out of thin air and all basic needs are met, but to present a futuristic world stratified by social classes and to have our hero Lan Jue give so little of a sh*t -- for his lifestyle to be in contempt of the poor -- is galling.

Some of the worst and most ostentatious examples of this do feel like scathing irony by themselves, but when you see how it's baked into our amazing hero's personality, you instead get the sense that these massive symbols of waste are just the author's best attempts to depict a predilection for "the finer things"; our hero is a perfect suave James Bond character, he must be classy. What is classy? Apparently, literally just money. Poor people only really seem to figure into the story as simple devices to demonstrate the values of rich characters. I could try to ignore it, but Lan Jue even goes on a long revisionist "noblesse oblige" rant at one point, conflating wealth with moral integrity, and using the sinking of the Titanic to justify the existence of a ruling class. Don't worry about the part where 97% of women in first-class survived, but only 46% of women in third-class did. Lan Jue doesn't. Why the hell is all this in a story about magic mecha pilots? Later in the story, he does begin acting more in the interest of other people, which I think is a blessing, but it isn't as if he looks back at his tastelessness and says, "What have I been doing?" It just feels disjointed. Random bits about wine-tasting never go away; I just grew attached enough to other story elements that I became a little more willing to put up with it. For a while.

I certainly found a few story hooks to keep me interested by chapter 20 or so, like the action of the shuttle robbery or the wedding, and the unique dilemma that Lan Jue walked into with Zhou Qianlin. The author writes young love well in addition to just being able to set up a good school arc where the hero is deliciously twinking people on the school combat simulator network; I'd forgotten how much I used to love those Gundam tropes where people are shocked by someone pulling off some insanely high-coordination mecha-piloting move.

However, it also takes no time at all to be thrown into an arc where a bunch of side-characters fight a group of villains from the "Seven Archangels", which feels like a low-tier Shounen Jump manga series on the verge of cancellation. It was too early in a series to be feeling bored out of my mind, but others said the series only got better, so I read on. But fights remained a slog to read through. I think in part this is because you come in from the middle of Lan Jue's story, and the specific magical battle skills used by him and his harem squad are just noise to the readers, rather than stories in themselves.

The gundam-esque mecha combat is often far better than the magical discipline-cultivation fights, because they really ham it up with people going through all the cliches of "How can he pull off a Damiano Defense? That requires a skill rating ten times above pro level!" Here in the real world, it's said that pro Starcraft players will do 150 actions per minute. Lan Jue's mecha combat skill is often pointed out through his ability to do 90 actions per SECOND. It's extremely s*upid, and I was totally into that brand of s*upid. But when the author fully commits to a battle arc, like the public DreamNet god-battles, I found that even this better half of combat got tiresome.

I only continued for so long because I truly was enjoying those school-life and romantic segments, in addition to the scenes with Lan Jue's brothers. There's a TON of great characters, like the Tang siblings, Jin Tao, the school faculty... and this is not a series where characters continually appear just to be killed to feed someone else's growth. What may be a counterpoint is that it does do a pretty shameless harem thing, where scores of attractive women are obsessed with Lan Jue. More annoying to some readers may be that he doesn't actually lay his hands on any of these women. Some people who hate a dickless-harem setup might appreciate that it's because he's hung up on his dead wife, rather than because he's dense or nervous around the opposite sex. Perhaps the reasons won't matter. I could go either way on harem stuff: having a one-true-soulmate character is obviously bad news for it, but when a hero has officially broken things off with their one true love (tempestuously and temporarily), that tends to be an opportunity to briefly play the field... to the thrill of the audience.

The series has been translated into readable English, with little trouble getting the meanings across, but it desperately needs a proofreading pass. Some characters see their names spelled very inconsistently, and "it's" is used in place of "its" roughly a million times per chapter. I hoped the translator would get past this sort of thing or find some help, and I appreciate the incredible labor that goes into translating something I get tired just reading, but after 300 chapters, the translator probably should have learned the difference between "in to" and "into". In this sense, I actually think it gets more annoying over time. <<less
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Stellar Transformation
September 8, 2016
Status: v18c45 part3
I really enjoyed parts of this novel, but the author's bag of tricks is very limited. What's more, it has many of the same problems as Coiling Dragon (which was written after this), like giving the hero too much good fortune and no narrative tension. Early on, when Qin Yu is outsmarting beasts like Sang Mo & Cha Hong in the ocean, the story planning seems a bit tighter and there are at least stakes involved, but later, he can just hide in his shell and level up every time... more>> there's a problem. And the idea of being an immortal has no real feeling of romance or gravity, because at every ascension to a new realm, all we see are more smug idiots, only, this time, these idiots are quadrillions of years old... which just means they can punch harder.

A lot of arcs feel kinda phoned-in, too. The mountain fight at the end turns out to have no consequences at all. The bride search 10-year competitions have largely the same effect, and the premise is really frustrating when most of the arc goes by with the bride in question not even telling her father who she wants to marry.

The one area where I think it's much better than CD though is in romance and slice-of-life, as love is actually the central driving force in the series' narrative rather than some boring side-note. But overall, ST is Training Arc Porn. If you like hearing about how the protagonist went from lifting a five pound rock to lifting a ten pound rock (and as foolish and repetitive as it is, I admit it's a guilty pleasure for me too), you might enjoy it. But if you're really looking to see the hero actually raise his children or teach his disciples or do anything beyond fighting and getting stronger, you'll be disappointed. Coiling Dragon didn't handle that stuff any better, mind you. In some ways it was even worse.

My biggest problem though is how little planning IET seems to follow. With a novel like this where the main character is constantly picking up treasures, acquiring favors, and following a timeline, you really need to write an outline for how plots are supposed to develop alongside each other. Instead, every time the hero goes into some 10 year training meditation or whatever--and god knows why he even comes out--another bad guy with a grudge becomes completely irrelevant, and a loose end is quietly forgotten.

Remember the seemingly-amazing "Nameless" book of Xiumo cultivation skills and other numerous treasures of Lei Wei, or the AI cat Starlet, before the sci-fi angle was completely dropped? Remember the combined fire-ice-gravity ring which he uses like one time in the whole second realm? The Heaven Sundering Sword Technique was also extremely hyped, and he never even used it despite getting a sword that was endowed with the full technique. Remember the lightning talisman from Li'er? Remember setting the stage for some scheme by claiming the existence of the "Zhenyang School"? Remember Xiao Yao, the suspicious friendly guy who wanted to exchange phone numbers? The favors owed from Wu Lan, Ao Wuxu & Ye Qu? Or the "Dark Origin" weapon? I could honestly go on, but Qin Yu gets so many cards up his sleeves and is so comfortably positioned that he uses maybe half of them when he's in danger and forgets the rest entirely. The author shouldn't be giving his characters any kind of weapon or ability unless there's some clever way he can use it later to get out of a jam.

And of course there are the forgotten plots and hidden dangers: Remember Yan Mou & Yan Xin, the two who were forced to swear an oath to carry out revenge on behalf of their boss? Never came up again. Remember Jade Blade Boy and Bai Yi, whom Qin Yu exposed himself to save, and the latter of which swearing to make trouble in the future for one of Qin Yu's opponents? Remember when the narration suddenly foreshadowed that everyone would soon come to see how much of a terror the new Flame Emperor really was? Remember Qin Yu's solo 4X power ascension that was said to have been visible to figures of the divine realm, who were supposed to be alarmed of his coming as a result? All totally forgotten.

Also, unfortunately, the translations are bad. The early ones are in good shape at least as far as grammar and proofreading, but nowadays I think the translating scene is a lot better about not arbitrarily leaving terms untranslated, because of the efforts of translators like alyschu & DB. For example, you don't know what "yuanying" means because it's not in your language, but "nascent soul" is intuitive. But even that's fine--later the translations get a lot worse. They're completely inconsistent with the old translations, so it's very confusing to figure out who or what is being referred to, or how strong an artifact is, and so on. Even if they had their own preferences, they should have left editor's notes as soon as they made the switch. And yet the translators are never shy about leaving notes when it's their unwanted commentary [Translator's note: whatt! I didnt think that would happen!!1]. Readers have to keep their own notes about character names and how strong everybody is if they don't want to get lost--although I recommend doing this anyway.

The translations are also really poorly proofread. Even when they do manage to use punctuation where it's needed, the translations are often really awkward--one example I remember is "an astonishing level of frighteningness" in place of "astonishingly frightening".

Maybe the worst thing of all is when they say, "Okay, Chinese people use 'li' basically the way we use 'miles' so let's just pretend a 'li' is a mile even though it's actually a third the size, so a 350 meter object in IET's novel becomes 1 kilometer in our translation." I mean, yikes. <<less
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I’m Really a Superstar
August 17, 2016
Status: c773
I was hooked on this series and quickly binged through over 200 chapters, so I can safely say that it starts strong and that it has some good points. It's funny at times, and it has a unique premise, which always helps a series stand out among cultivation novels that all seem to have the same description. Unfortunately, this novel also has serious flaws that only become more problematic and annoying over time.

To look at the series' premise of "becoming the master of plagiarism" in a charitable light, it can... more>> be thought of as an author's toast to great works that are "worth stealing". I like that it introduces me to fields I don't know anything about, like classical Chinese poetry. Ancient poems aren't usually the sort of thing you want to see attempted by an amateur translator, and it could definitely use a quality pass at times, but the translator sometimes makes use of existing translations of major works, and I like reading them.

But as a story element, the plagiarism stops being amusing, and it becomes hard to have any respect for the main character. He seems completely satisfied with the vain pursuit of fame, even though he's becoming famous for things he didn't even create. This sounds like the setup to some cautionary parable, but the author plays it completely straight and has no idea how lame it is.

The "reaction/public commentary" chapters are also extremely formulaic and tiring, and you'd probably have to be as irrationally obsessed with fame as the main character is to want to hear a dozen people on weibo talk about how they don't think he'll do nearly as well in his newest endeavor for the millionth time.

It's also dissatisfying how often things just work out in his favor, without him doing anything clever. Nothing ever comes back to bite him in the ass. So far nobody's ever been reminded that he originally "wrote" his first poem in Russian, and nobody's ever tried to speak to him in Russian or otherwise put his lies at risk of exposure. When he needs to reference a piece of culture, it just happens to exist in both worlds already, and when he needs to steal it, it doesn't. And everything just works out so he's able to put his skill points to use, even though he spends them like an idiot. (If you've read any of Terror Infinity, where the stakes are extremely high and the author puts a lot of work into planning and foresight, you might notice that it's the complete opposite on this point, though I largely dislike TI for other reasons.) I like heroes with cheat powers but they need to be competent. Zhang Ye is terrible at using the lottery wheel and merchant shop available to him.

Worst of all, the author's Chinese nationalism is extremely irritating and racist. 95% of the foreign characters have been idiotic strawmen who are too afraid to debate him. Every time I would start getting into some new story arc where Zhang Ye gains a hundred skill points in computer hacking or whatever, it meanders back into another excruciating arc where he throws a big tantrum at a foreigner, or is otherwise completely unlikable in public, yet ultimately ends up gaining more popularity for it.

The author seems to have the brain of a child, given how the crowds always play along with his transparent fantasies. They laugh until they fall over when Zhang Ye tells an okay joke. When Zhang Ye says something that the author believes, they give him a standing ovation and retweet his weibo posts (or whatever). And apparently Chinese racists are the same as American ones, because there's even the cliche where Zhang Ye is considered "the only one brave enough to tell it like it is" and "isn't cowed by political correctness culture". I would have probably overlooked this stuff if the series was otherwise amazing, just as I can overlook moderate propaganda from Chinese authors who have to answer to Chinese censors, but it just keeps on coming, and it's so tiresome. Not really the kind of story I want to read. <<less
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Overlord (LN)
June 2, 2018
Status: v13
Most of the time, this series has been an absolute pleasure to read. There are so many precious characters inside and out of Nazarick, and the absolute disparity between Ainz and everyone else in the world -- 4th tier spells are at the peak, 6th tier spells are mythical, and Ainz can cast 10th tier spells no problem -- is a delight. Every once in a while, we're exposed to some new low-level character's perspective, and we get to be reminded just how terrifying Ainz really is to everyone he... more>> meets, capable of killing them all with his unrestrained aura alone.

Some small spoilers follow:

I liked these novels more when the focus was more purely on expanding power through creative schemes, where Ainz tries to make Nazarick self-sustainable in this new world by recruiting apothecaries and having his alter-egos perform heroic deeds. In volume 4, when we first actually see Nazarick seemingly as a negative force on the world, threatening to annihilate the lizardmen, I was uneasy with where things appeared to be going, but the lizardmen ended up with a brighter future than they had before. A couple of those who died were even resurrected from death. "Okay, " I thought, "still a bit of a callous approach, but I can get on board." But then in volume 7 we had the explorers pointlessly tortured in Nazarick, and then most recently volume 12 & 13, which I didn't really care for much at all (despite liking Neia), as it's pretty much all war. I thought the point of the elaborate schemes was to conquer the world without Ainz and Demiurge swatting whole armies like bugs, but here they end up doing that anyway.

I also find it rather strange that we haven't seen any deeper insight into the NPCs' thoughts by now. They never even question the nature of their teleportation to the New World, or show any perspective on the changes, despite Ainz encountering obvious differences in the very laws of nature there. His followers are otherwise fully self-aware, and even have abandonment issues, but never directly wonder where their old creators are, or even if they're still alive, or how long it's been. I can obviously understand Ainz not trying to explain that he's a lame salaryman gamer, but to say nothing? He might have said that each of the Supreme Ones was like a great bodiless cosmic being, each having created a puppet body in order to conquer the world of Yggdrasil, and that due to whatever profound magic transported their guild, Ainz ended up with his consciousness stuck to the form he created, whereas his old companions would now have no way of finding him even if they wanted to. It's kind of sad as-is.

Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent. I still highly recommend Overlord, but I'm a little nervous about the future of the novels. I feel like there's no point to the current trend of iron-fisted conquering, as it's a foregone conclusion when Ainz is so powerful, and not suited to the overpowered protagonist genre. (For more on that, just look at the One-Punch Man manga). It's a very creatively built world, and I would rather see more low-key exploration of it. <<less
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History’s Strongest Senior Brother
October 9, 2017
Status: c100
This series is kind of misleading; it starts out with an extremely funny first couple chapters that poke fun at tropes. It's not entirely clear from the description, but there's basically a twisted sense of authorial "destiny" in play that the protagonist Yan Zhaoge is wary of getting in the way of, lest he and his whole family become a stepping stone in the stock-hero-character's rise to power.

So while Yan Zhaoge is hilariously mocking the stock-hero's "portable grandpa ring" (see: Coiling Dragon), it's also kind of a scary-seeming force to... more>> be caught on the wrong side of. And there's a lot of things you can do with that idea: I sort of thought it might continue with a comic tone, with Yan Zhaoge trying to resolve the misunderstandings between him and the stock-hero and trying to survive as a kind of cliche support-character next to the ticking bomb that is a xianxia hero (who, if he's like many of them, would be constantly slaughtering people for small crimes, and regularly endangering entire planets).

And maybe that was the original idea, before the author decided that the premise didn't really have legs. For example, if the powerful legacies Yan Zhaoge wanted kept ending up in the stock-hero's hands, it would be like a form of artifact-cuckholdry, and people don't read power-fantasy genres to see that. As a comedy though it might have been quite good if it toed that line well and creatively kept our real hero quietly in a position of advantage.

Instead, though, we see a complete shift in the story into more of a traditional power fantasy. And I'm not necessarily against that in theory; it's a genre I love, tropes included, as long as it's written well and creative. Unfortunately, I just don't think this author is great at it: I found it to be a bit clumsy with massive dumps of exposition all at once and battle after boring battle. Why am I being asked to care if someone trains in the Chaotic Elements Uniting Blade or the Eight Sceneries Spirit Blade? What bearing does it have on the story?

I tried; I wrote down names to tell Elder Xu from Elder Qin from Elder Kong from Elder He, and to know the difference between the East Elder and the East Disciplinary Elder, and who's subordinate to whom, but few of these characters show any personality and it just wasn't paying off. Series like True Martial World, Against the Gods, Tales of Demons and Gods and so on are pretty straightforward and occasionally maligned, but they're far, far better about these things.

I did like the protagonist, as well as the schemes and gambits in the less common parts of the story where that was the focus instead of the battles between various elders. And the story does have a few good ideas and seedlings for future development, but getting to chapter 100 has at least resolved a few plot points, and I think I'm at a good spot to set this one aside and look for something more interesting. Thanks as always to the translators who have given me the opportunity to try something new. <<less
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Library of Heaven’s Path
May 29, 2018
Status: Completed
I was sometimes earnestly amused by LoHP, but I think I was hate-reading it as often as not. It's definitely not the most boring cultivator novel I've read, but it may be the most s*upid one. It can be fun for a while if you never think about anything. But as cultivator novel, it's poorly designed, and as a comedy novel, it's too repetitive and brainless. I never formed an emotional connection to any of it.

There were several points where I considered dropping it in the middle, as the chapter... more>> count seemed to stretch on forever and the story repeated itself, moving the goalposts and extending the cultivation realms -- there are seriously like 56+ large cultivation realms in this novel, or more, depending on how you count them. But I decided to keep going to the end once I learned the novel had actually ended, and due to the later accelerated pacing -- it gets moving a lot faster later, but that's not to say that it ever really fixes anything.

The series has a fun hook, which is probably what made the first couple hundred chapters so easily bingeable: Zhang Xuan has been transmigrated into a world where your strength is determined by the quality of cultivation manuals you're permitted to read, but access to libraries is limited, and he has the ability to read entire books in an instant just by touching them. Cool, right? But this is also one of the novel's biggest problems: his powers are poorly defined and never strictly limited, yet the author tries to have it both ways, not just writing strictly low-stakes comedy but attempting to write a dramatic story with life-and-death struggles. I'm reminded of a review (by veteran internet writer Seanbaby) of a low-budget Justice League cartoon from the 1970s:

  • Superman had at least 150 powers, and the writers were making up two or three more every episode. If a script called for it, Superman would leak paste out of his ears that can control the weather. His fingernails might cure cancer and create food, he may never remember. For example, Superman had heat-ray eyes and freeze breath. He could kill you by looking at you or breathing on you. From across the room with no hands. But he didn't. If a villain tied him up in a crappy rope, Superman would just sit there and watch the guy launch a nuclear missile at a kindergarten. The super power he used most often was getting a 10 year old boy to scream at his TV, "Your eyes shoot lasers, you s*upid f*cker! LASERS! Blow a hole in his head! Do you want the kids to die, super donglicker?! ASS!"
ZX is like Hanna-Barbera's Superman. With his "Library of Heaven's Path", he can compile a "book" on any object -- or any person, as long as they perform a technique in front of him. This is trivial, especially later on, when people channel their zhenqi into every minor action they make, so even just moving quickly is enough to form one of these books. The books contain all of the subject's "flaws", and even a synopsis of a person's entire life history, which ZX can also read instantly. Need to figure out who the traitor is, or if someone is trustworthy? Just check the book. He almost never does, of course, but he can.

Nevermind that "flaws" are a relative concept. We're told that ZX's cultivation has no flaws? But he requires exponentially more resources to cultivate than anyone else, isn't that a flaw? Sorry, but if you've ever wondered this, you've already given it more thought than the author. The premise gets extended too far, and it's hard to see any logic behind it. He can get good at painting by reading books about painting, but his pill-forging and blacksmithing skills remain strictly theoretical? Why is that?

But I'm not done explaining his overpowered skills. He can collect "golden pages", which have nearly unlimited power and versatility, by finding any random stranger off the street and earning their gratitude. These pages can be used to kill people more powerful than ZX himself in one hit, or can strengthen ZX's soul, or virtually anything else -- we never learn the limits of the pages, because any time he wonders if the pages can do something, they are able to do it. But wait, he can do something even more overpowered! ZX can determine whether FACTS ARE TRUE OR FALSE BY WRITING THEM DOWN. Yes, that's right: he can unlock the secrets of the universe with a short game of Twenty Questions, and it costs him nothing.

ZX goes really long stretches without using these powers, so you might sometimes think the author has realized with great shame and embarrassment that he wrote himself into a corner, and wants to bury an idea under the rug. When you release a new chapter every day, you can't really go back and fix the old parts, so I'm willing to look the other way sometimes. But then, a thousand chapters later, he suddenly does the true-or-false thing again. All sympathy goes out the window -- I thought we were stealth-retconning this! You could have been doing that all this time, you dumb bastard?!

The author does sometimes does casually make excuses to set limits on these abilities, but never does any serious reflection on the fundamental problem, and soon trips over these limiters and ignores them. He dodges every opportunity to clean up the messes he makes for himself. At one point he decides (far too late) that the library only works on people within a few cultivation realms of ZX, only for him to successfully use it on someone well above that limit soon after. In one case the author realizes he messed up by letting ZX compile a book on a character that would have ruined his whole story arc, so he says the Library compiled a "fake book", creating new rules that only apply to this one person, and never again after.

If I tried to list every nitpick, my review would take all day to read. I'm trying to stick to a few central points, and so far this boils down to thoughtlessness and poor planning. And there are countless examples of that. All beasts beyond a certain cultivation realm are self-aware beings with language and deserving of all rights given to humans, but are fundamentally designed as s*aves due to the "taming" system. All weapons and pills above a certain level are born with spirits, which is a terrible idea because he's technically committing murder every time he breaks a sword, such as by sticking one into a spatial vortex to test how dangerous it is. None of the characters care at all, and it drives me nuts. It would have been easy to change tack and say that past a certain level, beasts' souls are no more vulnerable to subordination than people, or that it turns out swords only develop consciousness if you forge them wrong. But the author never reflects on these problems. At the risk of spoiling a bit (and saving you some time), the higher realms are a perfect opportunity to drop a lot of the baggage, and we're even told that his folded space explodes and all his items are destroyed. But the author forgets, and he somehow still has these things when he needs them.

I also know some fans of the work will read my complaints about the lack of planning or logic, and will roll their eyes and say "But it's a comedy novel." And in response, I could point to hundreds of chapters about cultivation or battle which don't have a single joke. Or I could say that a great comedy series requires as much or more planning as a serious dramatic story, which is why I like "Cultivation Chat Group" so much. But above all, the comedy is far too formulaic to carry the novel past its faults. The novel has a dozen gags that it recycles infinitely:

  • How many times has ZX "traumatized" some elder by using an absurd cheat to accomplish something difficult, and not bothering to hide how easy it was for him?
  • How many times has ZX given some beast tamer the misconception that beasts are masochists by "pummeling" them?
  • How many times has ZX asked if it was allowed to use his tamed beasts in a duel, and then brought out some absurdly overpowered beast to beat someone for him?
  • How many times has someone spied on him while he absorbed millions of books into his library, and had some "He's not even reading anything!" reaction -- even after the realm where it's said that anyone can read books with their spiritual perception?
To the novel's credit, it has some really fun plotlines (well, some are; others are boring), and there are other ways of being funny. There are many situations where I think it comes down to matter of taste whether it's a good thing when it doubles down on being outrageous instead of planning things out carefully. It's really up to a reader to decide if it's idiotic or just extremely funny that, for example, whenever ZX needs to impress someone with his medical skills, everyone in a 500 km radius seems to be in terrible pain from some curable cultivation injury, sick of a rare disease, or cursed by evil spirits. When ZX decides he needs to earn money, it just so happens that the richest billionaire in the city has a sick wife and is willing to pay anything to see her cured. There are many examples of this farce. Strictly speaking, it's an over-reliance on coincidence, but there's a deliberate comic absurdism there which largely defines the humor of the series.

It's really ridiculous and I take some enjoyment in that. Characters will say, "Ah! He reached the fifth realm of painting!" There's no way it's not intentionally being foolish sometimes. The "Honor Defend Realm" of student-teacher relationships? How can that possibly not be tongue-in-cheek? It's over-the-top when ostensibly dignified experts in their fields behave more like Bulk and Skull from Power Rangers in some misguided attempt to punish ZX for some minor social infraction, but I really do like the insane misunderstandings and absolute shamelessness of so many characters. There have been a few characters I never expected to see again who ended up popping up again in some creative way, and I think it's nice that few people ever die in this novel, as it's better if each arrogant foil for ZX has a chance to make a return later in some comical way.

But there's never any real wit. Why need cleverness when everything works out in your best interests no matter how badly you screw up? Why get smart when all your opponents remain s*upid? ZX makes random assumptions that turn out to be correct. He creates a convoluted web of alter-egos for himself and leaves a trail of bread crumbs back to his true self that nobody ever follows. Even when word finally gets out about his ability to instantly kill people of higher cultivation realms than himself, nobody follows up on it. Real creative opportunities are missed -- especially with his clone. Even when -- and I'm spoiling this here -- he's told that he must stop using his library power, he keeps using it, and never suffers any consequences. Near the end of the series (chapter 2145 for those who have read this and don't remember), he gets a prophetic dream telling him he must start collecting more golden pages, and at the end of the series? He has one left over that he doesn't even end up using.

The character writing is no better. I can't bring myself to care about anyone. ZX himself is morally incoherent. He's supposed to be a kind-hearted teacher, but often humiliates random people who have done him no wrong, just so the sociopaths in the audience can chuckle at their aggrieved reactions. He shows great magnanimity to some enemies, but then kills people for trivial reasons, or steals from morally upright people, or puts millions of lives at risk without ever reflecting on his own wrongdoings (the volcano story arc). Side-characters are purely one-dimensional, and even his direct disciples get no time to shine, becoming completely blank slates once their personal plots are resolved. Bai Ruanqing doesn't go beating anyone up after becoming ZX's disciple, she just loses all character traits, like a wife in the SNES version of Harvest Moon.

The writing of women in particular is abjectly terrible. Cultivators strengths are constantly (and pointlessly) measured as forces in the billions of kg, but the differences in the natural average body mass and strength between the sexes is preserved, as that's part of the author's fantasy. So we're told that women can't become top pillmasters because they can rarely stand the heat of an apothecary cauldron, or that it's unfair for a man to fight a (willing) woman one-on-one in an official duel. ZX introduces a new pill, and it's described like this: "Ladies would be able to preserve their youth by consuming it, and men could heal their internal traumas, enhance their talent, and advance their cultivation..." Ugh.

The romance is no better. Though ZX is the emotionally obtuse type who never reciprocates, every love interest goes through the same predictable template: a woman starts off in higher social standing relative to ZX, whether as a higher-ranking teacher or the princess of a greater empire. (The more formidable they are, the more "rewarding" it is when they become filled with unending admiration for our hero.) Almost all of them end up getting left at the side of the road after a month, due to ZX's blistering growth rate. And then -- and I can't help but spoil this one, so quit now if you still care -- the novel ultimately sets up a "star-crossed lovers" plotline with one single woman ZX actually does care about, but still ends up backtracking in the end, with the bride's own father insisting that he marries another woman at the same time, strictly because a past love interest ended up sticking around in the story due to scrapped plot points, and the author was too chickensh*t to have winners and losers in love. So really all the novel manages to do is sabotage itself.

Anyway, there's no substance here. The struggle of cultivation has no meaning because past characters keep getting free rides back up to the top, and even ZX himself breaks through previously unsurpassed realms just by contemplating obvious truisms about love or duty that virtually every human being on the planet has thought about at one point or another -- and these parts are definitely not trying to be funny or ironic. Skip this novel -- even readers who think I've come down too hard on it can surely agree that there are other ones more deserving of your time. <<less
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Zackarotto rated it
The Legend of Sun Knight
July 13, 2016
Status: v8 epilogue
At first, it's kind of funny, but you may have mixed feelings about the unbelievable premise. Generation after generation of knights each pretending to be someone they're not, never going wrong? But it makes it all the more touching when Grisia ultimately says, "A little pretense in exchange for eleven brothers, what a good deal!" It takes a while for each of the ensemble cast members to come into their own, but they do.

I found this series somewhat fun, and very emotionally touching towards the end. Memorable characters, clever plots,... more>> good running gags, and often-predictable but still-appreciable twists. It's written by a woman, which is great for a change from the other things I've been reading on here, and it has some cool perspectives on some classic tropes like the evil demon king. I didn't burn with a desire to binge the whole thing, but it's only 80-90 chapters and it feels well-planned and neatly tied up without overstaying its welcome.

It's also well translated with ample footnotes to explain puns and the like. <<less
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Zackarotto rated it
True Martial World
June 26, 2016
Status: c1710
Reading TMW was quite a long and fun ride for me, lasting from 2016-2019. Though TMW has its weaker moments, it's not a series I ever considered dropping. But looking back on it now that it's over, there are a lot of loose ends. And it would be different, reading this now. For me, my problem was not getting enough: the chapters seemed so short, I felt like a thirsty man getting water one drop at a time. But for someone just getting into it, they would just see 1700... more>> chapters, and I'm unsure if they would even think the whole thing was worth tackling, next to the hundreds of other series to choose from. I still think it's pretty good, but it's a flawed work.

It's somewhat by-the-book for xianxia, but it scratches the common desires. Most of the series is focused on gathering and using cheat-like cultivation techniques, outmaneuvering elitist school rivals, and making its protagonist look cool. It's ludicrous with smug elitist antagonists who were born to get knocked down several pegs. Yi Yun is usually a very competent person, and fights don't drag on too long.

When you talk about combat-themed novels, it's good to distinguish novels like this -- where battles are frequent but short, and mainly used to advance the plot -- having the protagonist establish himself in a new city by quickly killing some local tyrant -- from novels where combat appears for its own sake and you have five chapters in a row describing the way some throwaway enemy character wields his sword. Even if TMW is childish wish-fulfillment and showing-off, I would much rather read it than the latter kind of novel, which bores me considerably more.

It's entertaining, but fairly simple and childish. There's not a lot of world-building, and much of what there is tends to be forgotten. The world of TMW is a series of static, non-developing environments for Yi Yun to keep growing out of. It's also formulaic, but I happen to like the formula. For example, it happens more than once that Yi Yun is warped away to an immensely distant location where a young lady passed by to save his life. But what's wrong with that? It's great to see him take it easy for a while and slowly make a name for himself in these new environments, and the particulars in these arcs don't play out in exactly the same ways.

Main characters in webnovels are always given some sort of "edge" as part of the series' premise to help them stand out and to get from weak to strong -- the so-called golden finger or grandpa ring -- and among these, I think Yi Yun's purple crystal is a very good standard, both in terms of how it's used as a story element, and how it remains relevant and indirectly powerful without just being a mindless instant-win tool.

But it's messy. This is my biggest problem with TMW: The Nine Neotenate, Evil Energy, Draco First True Gold clone, and various other treasures which first appear to hold some deeper meaning end up forgotten, as Yi Yun grows faster than these threads in the story can appear to keep up with. I prefer to know exactly what a protagonist is carrying and how he might soon use it when he gets into a sticky situation. It's boring when the hero has a big undefined and forgettable pile of spirit stones, rare herbs, and treasures. Even 50 or 100 chapters away from the ending, Yi Yun was still picking up treasures that the author made no plans for -- as if he didn't know his series was going to end. Wasn't Yi Yun supposed to light up the seven runes on the Mirage Snow sword? Wasn't the Pure Yang broken sword set up for some greater purpose? Not really, I guess. "Against the Gods" has its detractors, but it was always great at planning things out and avoiding these kinds of pointless plots that just fizzle out anticlimactically, and that attention to detail is a big part of why I like it more.

Although a thousand characters get forgotten or left behind over so many chapters and locale changes, those who stick around to the end are very likeable. Like Old Snake. Even the author seems to understand that Luo Huo'er (the best character) stands out from the boring, demure women he filled most of the novel with. And there are far worse primary love interests out there in other cultivator novels compared to Lin Xintong, who may be a little straightforward and underdeveloped, but has at least had her own life to lead at times, and personal goals that weren't directly about Yi Yun.

TMW isn't above having terrible double-standards for women sometimes, mind you: Evil women are always slutty, and any woman who seems slutty is pure evil. (What's wrong, Cocooned Cow? You bitter about something?) Don't even get me started on the "Paradise Chapter" sect, where men cultivate by "giving in to their urges" and the women cultivate by being chaste. But at the same time, I've seen far worse. You could say that it's not great, but it's not outrageously bad, which is where the bar usually rests for the genre. At least Yi Yun doesn't lust after any girls who look thirteen years old, or treat women like collectibles. (Though I'd prefer a harem route to the weird puritanical portrayal of promiscuity.)

The author is obviously a bit immature. He'll write scenes that are obviously supposed to make Yi Yun look cool, but just seem kind of pathetic, like when he shows off and face-slaps his juniors of a lower cultivation level. Even if they were sort of being rude, heroes are supposed to punch up, not down. He also occasionally calls attention to himself for no reason, instead of having it happen as a consequence to stepping in to defend the innocent, or however those old wuxia standards go. He even kills a couple people for disproportionately small offenses. Still, Yi Yun has a much better moral compass than the protagonists of other Chinese novels that were big in that 2015-2016 period, like ATG or ISSTH, if I'm being fair.

Some of my criticisms are probably nitpicks. In the end, none of them bothered me so much that I didn't want to keep reading, because at the end of the day, it's a lot of fun. I'd say that if the genre interests you, give TMW a fair shot. <<less
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