Kokoro Connect, Volumes 9-10: Asu Random

Book Info

Kokoro Connect, Volume 9: Asu Random, Part 1
Kokoro Connect, Volume 10: Asu Random, Part 2
  • Format: novel
  • Author: Sadanatsu Anda
  • Cover Artist: Shiromizakana
  • Translator: Molly Lee
  • Publisher: J-Novel Club (volume 1, volume 2)

Summary

Summary’s coming up front this time because I can’t figure out how to talk about the text without major spoilers.

In short: An excellent climax for the series. The Cultural Research Club’s final phenomenon sees the Club having to work on a bigger scale, and watching them figure out how to strengthen their connections to get through it is a delight as always. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Review

Kokoro Connect is unusual for a light novel series in that it has a finite ending instead of stalling or getting cancelled. Not only that, but it managed to stick the landing too.

(Okay, there’s one more epilogue volume to go, so this may be slightly premature – but I doubt it.)

Asu Random is very much a book in two parts, rather than two distinct entities, so I’m going to talk about them together. One note: if you haven’t read Step Time yet, I suggest reading at least the last story first. It’s actually doing more setup for Asu Random than I suspected at the time.

The first volume takes a little bit of time to get going, but that’s something it can afford. It starts off by giving us a contrast to the last story in Step Time. There, the CRC was seen by a number of other students as being “cool”, even if the first years weren’t quite sure why. Suddenly, we see them being feared. It isn’t until Heartseed shows up halfway through that we finally learn why… and also learn about the giant ticking bomb. This time it’s other students going through phenomena, not the CRC; but if they don’t do something, they’re about to lose all memories of the past two years.

The second volume is where things get interesting. What could have become a repetition of the earlier volumes in the series is turned into something bigger. By adding the memory loss threat into the mix, stakes are raised; by not giving the CRC their own phenomena, interesting conflicts with the other students are sparked. But seeing the same phenomena play out for others also serves to showcase just what makes the CRC so special.

The climax of the book requires the CRC to yet again put the title of the series into action, forging connections with the hearts of the people impacted by the phenomenon. That’s hard enough with a group of five or seven people; but now they need to do it with dozens. But when they do, Sadanatsu Anda manages to make it feel like the CRC earned it; it’s not hokey or hollow.

The one complaint I have is that the two first-year club members are given shorter shrift than the second-years. That’s perhaps inevitable when you are adding two new cast members to an already-large series; but I would have liked to see them contribute more, or even just be included in more of the “Club” scenes that left them out.

But even with that, the two first-years still had their moments to shine. Overall, Asu Random was (were?) fantastic, and I’m glad the climax was everything I could have hoped for.

Kokoro Connect, Volume 8: Step Time

Book Info

Kokoro Connect, Volume 8: Step Time
Kokoro Connect, Volume 8: Step Time
  • Format: novel
  • Author: Sadanatsu Anda
  • Cover Artist: Shiromizakana
  • Translator: Molly Lee
  • Publisher: J-Novel Club

Review

It’s been over a year since read the previous volume in the Kokoro Connect series, so Step Time was a great reintroduction to the series for me. The second (of three, it looks like) anthologies in the series, it’s split between the beginnings of the Cultural Research Club, and the current-day Club happenings.

Unfortunately, these stories are all Heartseed-free – no supernatural phenomena this time. Instead, the Cultural Research Club members have only themselves to blame for their awkward shenanigans…

“First Encounter”: This story is exactly what it sounds like: the gathering together of the Cultural Research Club at the start of their first year at school. There’s not much to the plot here, but it was a good character piece, showing how much these characters have, and haven’t, changed over the series.

“A Tale of Two Loners”: Another flashback, to about a month into the Cultural Research Club’s first year. This time it focuses on Inaba and Iori, showing how they became friends instead of just clubmates. This is the most plot-heavy story in the book. It felt a bit weird seeing Iori as she was back at the start of the series; thinking about it, she’s probably the character who’s grown the most.

“DATE X DATE X DATE”: The back half of the volume is set in the present, and is more heavily focused on romance. Iori, the only member of the second-years without a partner, and another member of her class (Kurihara Yukina – I don’t remember her, but I won’t guarantee she’s actually new) are frustrated with the lack of romantic progress for the two couples, as well as another couple from their class (that I believe *is* from earlier books). So they champion a massive group date where the two loveless ones can teach the three couples the ropes.

This is my favorite story in the book. While there’s very little plot, there’s lots of fun character moments for all three couples. And most importantly, they realize at the end that it doesn’t matter if their romance isn’t “normal” – as long as they’re happy, everything is good.

“A Mad Dash Down My Destined Path”: While Iori cheers on her fellow second-year students in their romantic lives, the first-years (with the help of the Love Guru) try to figure out why the CRC seems so “cool” to both them and their fellow students.

Despite being an investigation of the other CRC members, this ends up being more about the two first-years better understanding themselves. There’s always been hints that they’re interested in each other, but now they both seem to finally realize it.

Summary

Overall I liked the anthology. While none of the four stories seem particularly essential, none of them were a duff either. They were enjoyable character pieces that helped jog my memory going into the finale. ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Banner of the Stars, Volume 3: Dinner With Family

Book Info

Banner of the Stars, Volume 3
  • Format: novel
  • Author: Hiroyuki Morioka
  • Cover Artist: Toshihiro Ono
  • Translator: Giuseppe di Martino
  • Publisher: J-Novel Club

Review

Where earlier volumes of the Stars saga did a good job of keeping both of the protagonists in play, Dinner with Family sees its focus firmly set on Jint. The “family” here is his family on Martinh, going back to the beginning of the saga in the first volume of Crest of the Stars. As promised in the epilogue of the last book, What Needs Defending, Jint finally goes home to take over as the Count of Hyde, lord of his home planet of Martinh.

So far we’ve mostly seen Jint in a military context. Dinner with Family shows that he’s familiar with his political duties as well. The book starts with Jint staffing up his countdom, preparing for his work as the Count of Hyde. While Lafier doesn’t get much of a spotlight in this volume, she’s still by Jint’s side, giving him advice and reminding the reader of the Abh perspective on things.

Of course, with the Empire still at war, Jint’s trip home isn’t as straightforward as he might have hoped. Martinh is chosen as a site for military maneuvers, not only delaying Jint’s return but increasing tensions with the reluctant landworld.

When Jint finally gets home, he is forced to confront the fact that Martinh doesn’t want him. The volume ends on a bittersweet note; Jint ends up having to do what’s best for his people’s future, even if it hurts him personally.

In the afterword, the author mentions that the original plan was to have Jint and Lafier part at the end of this volume. I’m glad that plan changed – seeing these two characters bounce off each other is always a delight, and I’m looking forward to that continuing in future volumes.

Summary

While “let’s go home” doesn’t seem like enough to sustain an entire book’s plot, author Hiroyuki Morioka manages to provide enough political and military hijinks along the way to keep the reader entertained on the way to the unexpected fate for the Count of Hyde. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro, Volume 4

Book Info

Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro, Volume 4
  • Format: manga
  • Author: Nanashi
  • Translator: Kumar Sivasubramanian
  • Letterer: uncredited
  • Publisher: Kodansha

Review

I’ll admit that the first few volumes of Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro haven’t shown the most wholesome of relationships. But outside of Nagatoro bullying her senpai, we’ve gotten hints of her actual interest in him – the asides in the omakes, and how she tries to protect Senpai from her friends’ bullying.

Nagatoro protecting Senpai is almost a running theme in this volume. It starts off with Senpai going to a festival alone, and getting captured by two of Nagatoro’s gang. She ends up rescuing Senpai, after which they almost act like a normal couple: going around the festival, enjoying the fireworks, and even making plans to come back together the next year.

Several of the remaining chapters of the main story also feature Nagatoro stepping in-between Senpai and her friends, protecting him in various scenarios. It’s good to see more signs of her interest in him – that he’s not just a target for bullying.

The final chapter of the main story doesn’t adhere to that theme, but it’s so lighthearted that I almost thought I was reading Teasing Master Takagi-san instead.

In the end, neither character is still willing to admit interest in the other out loud. But both characters seem to be willing to admit it to themselves, finally. It’s good to see their relationship slowly progress from the early bullying into something more recognizable as romantic.

Summary

If you’re uncomfortable with the bullying, volume 4 won’t change your mind. But if you find it amusing, then this volume manages to provide in both the comedy and the romance. ⭐⭐⭐⭐