Light Novels – Issue 4
Light novels are different from traditional novels in that they are much shorter, the length of what we call a novella, sometimes even shorter than that. They consist of small story arcs, what you would see in one to five episodes of an anime adaptation, and feature drawings every few pages to help with a crucial scene’s depiction, even if it’s just showing a character sitting and having something to drink.
Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (Legend of the Legendary Heroes): Yeah, that’s the name, slightly redundant but who cares. Set in a medieval fantasy world (like most high fantasy to be honest), it follows Ryner Lute, a Mage from the Kingdom of Roland, who under the order from the king, Sion Astal, is on a mission to study and recover ancient artifacts called Relics of Heroes. With him is his partner Ferris, a blonde swords-woman who at first is all but incapable of showing emotion.
Ryner bears the Alpha Stigma, a type of cursed eye common in that world. Alpha Stigma bearers tend not to make it to adulthood, as most die when their powers overwhelm them, but not before going berserk and killing people. Ryner’s the first to have come back from the berserker state and displays a great degree of control over his power. Alpha Stigma bearers are often shunned by society, the people treating them as monsters.
When activating his power, pentagrams appear on his eyes and he can analyse and replicate any magic used against him. This is a powerful ability in the Legend of the Legendary Heroes world, where each Kingdom practices magic differently and does its best to keep those secrets from others.
What makes this series so fantastic is its multi-layered plot. There’s a fantasy element, with demons and ancient spirits, but also a political one, with alliances and warfare between the kingdoms, secret plots, conspiracies and betrayals. What makes it a fun world to jump into is that the fantasy and the medieval aren’t separate. It’s not like Game of Thrones where the political takes centre stage and the magical takes a back seat, but instead they’re tightly interwoven. There are alliances based on ancient rites and pacts, old gods and demons influencing the mortal realm. Yet another layer is centred on the characters and their own motivations and back-stories—some of which are quite dark—and how those play into the events happening around the world.
Fate/Zero: Fate/Stay Night is an adult visual novel turned world-wide hit anime, telling the story of a battle for the Holy Grail fought between mages and their Servants, heroic spirits called from beyond to fight in their name, all for the wish-fulfilling capabilities of the grail.
Fate/Zero is about the grail battle preceding Fate/Stay Night, ten years prior and starring Emiya Kiritsugu, the adoptive parent of FSN’s protagonist Emiya Shirou, his wife Irisviel von Einzbern (mother of FSN’s Illyasviel) and his servant, Saber.
In Fate’s world, the servants have different classes and they themselves are usually referred to by their class names: Saber, Lancer, Berserker, Assassin, Rider, Caster, Archer. The mages themselves come from various backgrounds, though a few come from great magic lineages, families that are recurring participants in the Great War.
The characters of Fate/Zero are complex and have plenty of depth to them. Kiritsugu once held the ideal of saving everyone, of being a true hero, but life and harsh lessons made him abandon that. He’s a mage killer, the perfect choice for the war; someone specialized in killing others like him. But over the course of the war, there is a clear conflict between what he has to do to achieve victory and what he truly wants. A reserved man fighting his own nature and selfishness in pursuit of happiness, his is a story that will ring true with many people.
The servants themselves come from all over the world and different mythologies and histories. Rider for example is Alexander the Great, while Assassin isn’t just one but the entire Hashashin Clan. Archer is Gilgamesh and Saber wields Excalibur, do I need to say more?
The best thing about Fate/Zero is that it’s not all about the fighting, but it takes time to explore each of the characters, even the secondary ones Fate/Stay Night fans know won’t make it out alive. By the time the novels end, you know the characters pretty well, which is quite an accomplishment.
While it will be a joy to read for all Fate/Stay Night fans, newcomers will find it the perfect introduction to the Fate world.
Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn: I love Gundam, I really do, from the original series to every iteration since then, so of course I was going to get my hands on the Gundam light novels.
Gundam Unicorn takes place, chronologically speaking, three years after the events of the (quite famous) film Mobile Suit Gundam: Char’s Counterattack, the 96th year in the Universal Century calendar. In U.C 0001 a colony called Laplace, where Earth Federation’s Prime Minister offered a speech about the new calendar, was destroyed in an attack. The colony’s location and what transpired there are central to the story, as all factions are looking for a mysterious item called “Laplace’s Box.”
Banagher Links is just a normal Gundam-universe kid, but a sudden meeting with a young girl called Audrey Burne leads him to uncover secrets about his parentage, into the secret war for Laplace’s Box and inside the cockpit of the Vist foundation’s greatest secret: the key to Laplace’s Box, the Unicorn Gundam, a completely white Mobile Suit with a single horn on its forehead. The horn splits into the traditional Gundam V fin when it activates its NT-D mode (NewType Destroyer).
Gundam Unicorn keeps the focus on the socio-political aspects of war that made the UC Gundam series so outstanding. And in addition, there are several moments that delve into war crimes and psychological warfare and brainwashing. Take away the mechs and Laplace’s Box and you are still left with a brilliant story about the horrors of war and its causes.
The mystery of the box is just one of the major plot points. Audrey’s true identity as well as her allegiances and intentions and how those coincide or clash with Banagher’s are another drawing point. Their relationship is slightly forced, as if the author wanted to pair them up, but it gets much better. Even more, the way other characters fall for her in obsessive and slightly creepy ways is wonderfully handled.
Even if you don’t think much of Gundam you should give this a try. It’s a wonderful cold war story at its heart.