The Four Champions of Rubrum return to base to find that Kurasame and Aoi have gotten significantly closer, and it appears that romance might be in the air. However, it comes to light that there are spies within Akademia, forcing Kurasame to figure out who to trust and how to protect those close to him in this spin off of the hit Final Fantasy Type-0 video game.

Now a member of the Four Champions of Rubrum with his closest friends, Kurasame has been tasked with guarding Aoi, the daughter of a Rubran aristocrat, while an important agreement is brokered with the nation of Milites. After multiple attempts on Aoi’s life are foiled by Kurasame, romance starts to blossom between the two to the amusement of Kurasame’s comrades. After another attack, Kurasame is informed that there are likely traitors within Akademia, forcing him to question who he can trust to protect those most important to him. When the family of one of his friends is taken hostage, Kurasame is forced to prioritize what his duty is as a cadet and as a person when the enemies close in.

This volume picks up right after the previous one’s cliffhanger ending which saw Aoi being kidnapped after an ambush, getting this volume off to an extremely rocky start. Kurasame rescues Aoi with ease, setting off a bit of a romantic jaunt for the two that lasts the rest of the first half of this volume. Quite oddly, Aoi’s rescue takes place almost completely off-screen, going immediately from her being held by enemy soldiers to her being back in Kurasame’s arms. This seems to have been a stylistic decision to show Aoi’s wonder at suddenly being rescued by Kurasame, but the transition shown in the panels was very poorly done and obscured this point firmly.

Aoi and Kurasame begin to realize their feelings are mutual immediately after Aoi’s rescue, setting up the romance which becomes a dominant theme running through the rest of this volume. The first half of the volume becomes dedicated largely towards exploring this romance as the two do things such as sneaking up to the rooftop and bantering in a cafe. However, the romance itself comes off as a bit of a throwaway because of how shallow it felt. Between this volume and the previous one, Kurasame and Aoi go from just meeting each other to being in a semi-solid relationship in the span of about two chapters, with little besides a number of nervous wayward glances to ground this development. This might have been enjoyable in other cases, but the story later tries to pass their relationship off as a serious matter worthy of our sympathies as Kurasame fights to protect it. It felt strange given how shallowly and rapidly this relationship developed without any real sort of characterization to speak of, making the entire thing feel a bit contrived. This undermined the portrayal of Kurasame’s newfound determination to fight onwards, and this relationship could really have done with some more development.

While the love story was generally a bore and lacking in context, this volume doesn’t do a whole lot better when it turns next to try a political mystery angle. While Kurasame and Aoi are flirting it up, it becomes clear to everyone that Akademia has been infiltrated by enemy spies. To find the traitors, cadet commander Takasugu calls for Kurasame to endorse a plan which would entail spying on the rest of the cadets. This entire storyline just happens out of the blue and felt like a weirdly abrupt change of pace without a lot of context given. There’s an attempt thrown in to try and show Kurasame’s own moral conflicts about this, but sadly it comes off as flat because Kurasame’s morals hadn’t been given the type of detail necessary to make this conflict feel affective.

The volume finally gets going in earnest in its second half, delivering some fantastic action scenes which went a long way to assuage my dissatisfaction with its first half. The first action scene follows Kurasame and the other champions as they go on a mission to save some Rubran researchers, encountering Militesi general Quator Bashar. A battle between our heroes and Bashar’s mech erupts, leading to a number of great moments as the Champions use their magical skills to fight a fast-paced battle. A second excellent moment happens at the end of this volume as Kurasame goes on a mission to rescue a hostage from an enemy fortress. This scene ends this volume off in a thrilling and exciting way, somehow managing to bring together the various unremarkable bits of story in this volume to create a scene that is remarkably engaging. After going off track for a significant part of this volume, this high-stakes moment does a create job restating the emotional stakes in an affective way which made me interested again in seeing where this is all going.

The art in this volume is a very mixed bag - the first half is quite weak, while the second half is much more enjoyable to look at. It isn’t a coincidence that the first half also happened to have no action scenes, as the stationary scenes of dialogue between characters were generally poorly done. The characters came off looking quite bland, with their faces in particular inconsistently drawn at a few points. The art style felt very flat without any of the shadowing used in the action scenes to create a sense of depth, and I wasn’t a big fan of the art in the first half for this reason. The second-half is much better, with the quality level clearly going up as the action picks up. More shadowing is used to create a better sense of depth, and author Takatoshi Shiozawa does a great job as usual making the action scenes fairly easy to follow. These scenes have an excellent amount of motion in this, and I liked the way he was able to up his quality level to complement the emotional tension later on.

This volume is a decent continuation of this storyline, with some fantastic action scenes to help make up for the underdeveloped romance which bogs down the story significantly. The first half is pretty disappointing in general, with the story suffering due to the lack of characterization needed portray Kurasame’s internal conflict. The art in the first half isn’t very good either, but much like the story gets back on track in the second half the art gets significantly better. Thankfully, the action scenes in the second half of this volume are very good and made this volume worth reading in the end. If you’re already invested in this series then this volume won’t do anything to seriously turn you off of it, but there are definitely a number of ways it could have been improved to provide a less shallow story.

What do our scores mean?

Final Fantasy Type-0 Side Story: The Ice Reaper Vol. 3 was translated by Alethea and Athena Nibley and published by Yen Press on January 26th, 2016. Authored by Takatoshi Shiozawa and supervised by Tetsuya Nomura, the series is a prequel to Square Enix’s Final Fantasty Type-0 video game. The series began serialization in 2012 in Square Enix’s Shonen Gangan magazine, with the series being completed with four volumes released and volume 4 will be published in English on April 26th, 2016.

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