The Fall 2018 Manga Guide
High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even In Another World!
What's It About?It's a new take on the isekai genre from mangaka Kotaro Yamada, who readers might know from his work on The Sacred Blacksmith as well as from the Fire Emblem franchise. Seven high school prodigies are meeting for the first time since middle school. As they all leave their busy lives to reconnect, their plane crashes and they land in a world where elves, dragons, and people with animal ears and tails inhabit villages and ports.
Together, these high schoolers must find a way to get back to their home, but to also help the village that has so kindly nursed them back to health.
High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World! was published in October 2018 and is licensed by Yen Press. Volume 2 will come out in January 2019, and both are available for $13.00 in hardcopy and $6.99 in PDF format through Comixology.
Is It Worth Reading?
Despite its unwieldly title and the fact that artist Kotaro Yamada can't draw an adult woman's upper body to save his life, High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World's first manga volume is quite a bit of fun. Essentially it combines the basic isekai trope of dying and ending up in another world (or at least, appearing to die; technically their plane just vanishes) with the super-smart child theme, landing a group of preternaturally gifted high schoolers in a medieval fantasy world. Since each teen is differently talented – a doctor, a businessman, a politician, a ninja, a swordswoman, an inventor, and an illusionist – it keeps them from feeling too overpowered. As of this volume, we only really get to see the politician and the businessman in action (although a few others have small moments), and that's actually okay, because that keeps the cast manageable.
That said, teenage prime minister Tsukasa really is the most interesting of the characters thus far. His backstory for why he went into politics at such a young age is convincing within the context of the story, and he very calmly and naturally slips into the role of leader both of his group and of the village that rescued them. He's got practical people skills that make him personable, but there's never a feeling that it's all a veneer, especially once we get his history. This is perhaps why he's also the character who seems on track to have a romance subplot as well; Lyule, the busty elf, is clearly being set up as his romantic interest. She's a bit bland as a character thus far, but not necessarily a doormat.
Spice & Wolf fans may find something to enjoy here as well, as the second half of the book is devoted to Sanada and his financial reformation of the market town nearby. He's no Lawrence to be sure, but author Riku Misora does seem to have a basic grasp of making financial matters simple enough to use in context without feeling totally made up. Sanada's less likable than Tsukasa as a character, but watching him root out corruption is still fun.
The art skews more on the fanservice side here, but it doesn't feel like that's the be-all-and-end-all of the piece. Mostly it looks like the women have balloons hanging off their chests, and we get some leg shots, but it is relatively clean despite the cover. The panels are very crowded, however, and it's hard to get a sense of where things and places are in relation to each other, which is an issue when “traveling to market” is a plot point. On the whole, however, this is an enjoyable adventure, and one good enough that it makes me hope someone picks up the source novels for translation.
It's bizarre that a series in which transporting to another world populated by elves and furry beasts—a hallmark of the isekai genre—is the most believable aspect of the series, but with seven real world “high school prodigies” that excel in their fields to a ridiculous, laughable degree, that's the more bizarre thing that stands out. While it's the entire crux of the series—and kudos to Misora for sending a team of kids there, including girls, instead of one hapless or perverted young man—but how rapid-fire each of their specializations has to be laid out upon the page, how paper-thin most of the characters are by volume's end, is off-putting. There is, however, a storyline that starts in the last fourth of the volume in which one of the seven prodigies manages to put a feasible if complicated plan into action and uses his genius to help the people of the fantastical world. He still feels like a one-note character, but he's more than just a joke on the page. He maneuvers people into the best economic opportunities without ever dehumanizing them, unlike the rival he's up against. The manga is likely to follow this pattern going forward, giving each of the prodigies a storyline in which to shine and it'll be all the better for it. It just might be difficult to get through this clunky beginning to get there.
Yamada's character art, based on Sacraneco's original designs, is generic to the point of being unoriginal, though each of the prodigies does at least stand out visually from the rest, largely due to their respective attire. Backgrounds are a balanced mix of blank spaces/screentones and detailed depictions of the medieval-like world, skillfully helping establish the setting and emphasizing characters' feelings as necessary.
High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World! volume 1 is off to a slow, almost cringeworthy start, but by volume's end, it establishes what could be a more compelling plot pattern going forward. Characters are shallow and often preposterously strange, but with so many titular personages, it makes sense that the series would struggle to develop them properly in its first outing. Isekai fans will like the variation on the average formula, but beyond that, the first volume may struggle to captivate its audience.
High School Prodigies has a similar premise to Dr. Stone, a manga I quite enjoy. Both are fantasies about genius intellects using their abilities and the resources of a non-modern world to bring technology and social developments. Though it doesn't have the frenetic energy and sheer love for its subject as that manga, it does have a similar entertainment factor.
This isn't to say it's anything special, or even all that good. Just that it pushes some buttons, does some things that make it fairly readable. This is certainly a manga in the dropped-in-another-world tradition, and a power fantasy to boot. But there is something inherently compelling about watching people who are good at something utilizing their skill sets, taking advantage of their surroundings and thinking tactically so as to overcome obstacles. Seeing exactly how a modern business genius navigates medieval mercantilism to great monetary success is engaging on principle.
The problem is that when the story's scope broadens to explore the socio-political context of the world out heroes are dropped in, it falters immensely. The inclusion of slavery in this book feels super tasteless and at odds with the tone. That is a loaded topic, one of the most painful and horrific in all our world's history, and a slavery subplot is dropped in here with all the grace one could expect of a manga partly about ogling big-boobed cat-girls. And slavery isn't explored in terms of psychological or social effect, as an institution, it's just used as a means to an end to acquaint our adventuring party with another character. Exploration of loaded topics in a fantasy setting is fine, but when your manga is so explicitly designed to appeal by way of basic fanservice and fantasies of competence, including them in such a nonchalant way was offensive to me.
‘Entertaining enough’ really is not much of a stirring recommendation for a manga, and I'm honestly kind of glad High School Prodigies has enough issues I can't sign off on it in full. The art is alright, the high melodrama is alright, the world-building is alright. It's just let down by laziness. Not much else to say.
Seven teen prodigies have become the next generation of household names. From magic to economics, nothing can stop them from reaching their goals. Friends since middle school, while traveling together, their plane crashes and they land in a world called Freyjagard filled with dragons, elves, and people with animal ears and tails. For seven ordinary high schoolers, this may be something to fret over, but with these high school prodigies, getting back to their original home and saving their new home will be no problem. Each of these students are smart, competent, and work together to solve their problems, all while unraveling the mystery of how to get home.
The biggest shortcoming of High School Prodigies, however, is that all of the characters are boring as hell. All of them have this certain sense of justice about them that can only be seen as pious. For instance, one character goes as far as whistle blowing on his own father for being a corrupt politician all in the name of justice. Another almost makes a trading company go bankrupt just to teach them a lesson. These are just the prodigies. The cast also includes a blushing virgin elf who baby-birds food to the current prime minister of Japan and a fox girl who's old enough to have an adult child but looks like she's 18 at most. I found myself growing tired of adults looking like children all the super binary, black-or-white morals. That's not exciting.
High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even in Another World! is nothing to write home about and is frankly a slog to read due to how little depth it held. Oh, did I mention they're clearly the chosen ones for some age-old prophecy? There's a fresh concept.
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