The Spring 2019 Manga Guide
Skeleton Knight In Another World
What's It About?A young gamer has awoken to find himself inside the body of his player character in his favorite MMO. He finds that, having changed classes multiple times throughout his play-cycle, his skeleton paladin not only has the abilities of his class, but that of others as well, meaning his power and abilities are immense.
He put this to the test after encountering bandits victimizing some hapless travelers, making quick work of them. And so, the Knight known only as Arc begins to immerse himself inside this strange new fantasy world, taking contracts to earn coin and making a name for himself, all while hiding his identity as a skull in a suit of armor. But as his reputation grows, so to do the great powers of the world begin to take notice, as he begins to impede on the human slave trade of Elves. But nothing will stand in Arc's way. It seems the title of hero suits the reincarnated boy well, as he fells monsters and shakes the established order of the world to its very core.
Skeleton Knight in Another World is written by Ennki Hakari and Illustrated by Akira Sawano. It will be published by Seven Seas in July, retailing for $12.99 physically and $8.99 digitally. It is based on a series of light novels also by Ennki Hakari. The books are also available from Seven Seas.
Is It Worth Reading?
Several Manga Preview Guides ago, we successfully found the worst butt in all manga. Now it is my very great honor to present to you the worst breasts – behold! Look at that manga panel over there. Yikes. Fortunately, that's not really indicative of the quality of artwork in the manga adaptation of Skeleton Knight in Another World. While it can lean towards the fussy, or at least the slightly overly detailed, it generally is fine with basic anatomy, and a few of the fantasy animals are either adorable (Ponta, the fang-boar) or interestingly menacing. Also of note is the way that hero Arc towers over everyone else on the page, something I somehow didn't get from the original novel.
On the whole, I actually prefer the manga to the novel. In large part this is because a lot of the world details are eliminated here, with only the things that absolutely can't be shown in images being given a lot of explanation. It makes for a smoother read and allows for Arc to be funnier than I felt he was in the novel version. Of course, some of this is simply because the manga is intentionally lighter and funnier than its source material. The prologue is a good example of this – while it is still upsetting and relies on rape as nothing more than window dressing (a major issue I have with both versions), it isn't dwelt on as much in the manga, and it's decidedly less explicit. The same is true for the freeing of the elf slaves; it isn't a great plot device in the first place, but it at least isn't over emphasized.
As you may have guessed, most of this book's problems come from the fact that it really isn't all that creative with its use of isekai staples. We've got the gamer transported to the game world, violence against women, slavery, guy with a skeletonized body (can you believe this is the third released in English in that subgenre?), overpowered hero…not all of these things are present in all isekai stories, and most of them can be used in service of an interesting plot, but it feels like this one is just trying to check all of its boxes. Again, this is less of an issue with the manga adaptation than the original novel, but it's still noticeable enough to give you pause. If your appetite for the isekai genre as a whole (or the skeleton dude subgenre specifically) hasn't waned, this certainly is one of them. But it isn't among the best at this point, and can probably be left until you run out of the better ones.
I don't think I've read even one of these Light Novel Isekai things before. I never watched SAO, nor Overlord. And yet, reading Skeleton Knight, I felt the keen, creeping sense of a lack of invention and cookie-cutter writing tropes that seemed so familiar as to make things utterly predictable.
Perhaps this is purely through cultural osmosis or having read enough fantasy novels in my youth to know the cloth these stories are cut of. And this isn't to say Skeleton Knight is entirely devoid of things that make it unique in the isekai space. The main wish-fulfillment vector, a young teen known only as Arc, isn't devoid of personality or purely hypercompetence the reader is meant to wallow in. He's actually kind, and makes a point of giving aid to the marginalized; his abilities aren't just a means to power fantasy, they're a tool to make the world a better place (and he has some sweet moments that speak to his childish spirit, like when he lies to a little girl's mother about a monster encounter to make sure she can keep playing as she likes). It's nice to see one of these stories that values basic kindness as a virtue and not naivete.
But those things are sparse and hard to see. The root of Arc's altruism is selfishness; it's less a default goodness and more ‘I want to be the hero of the story so people can be grateful to me’ (though that's more an overriding subtext than character facet). The volume opens with a sexual assault, which is framed in as disgustingly leery a manner as you'd expect. And anytime the book began one of its longed-winded explications of power sets or the way mercenary contracts work, my eyes glazed over. It's not interesting to have these exposition dumps if the world you've created is just a run-down of high fantasy clichés (an oppressed Elven society straight out of Dragon Age, a nobleman's son whose moral character has been rotted by privilege like in Game of Thrones, etc.). If there's no twist in the presentation or new ideas to add to the pile, then you're effectively re-reading a less compelling version of a book you like.
Skeleton Knight is a little more than what it portends, but not much more. Though sometimes I was charmed and entertained, mostly I was annoyed and bored. Ultimately, you can do a lot worse, but you can also do a lot better.
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