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The Fall 2019 Manga Guide
Arifureta Zero

What's It About? 

Orphan Oscar has an incredible talent as a Synergist, one so impressive that the head of the most respected workshop in the city adopted him and made him his heir. But Oscar has no interest in showing off his skills or in making the weapons the workshop is known for – he's much more interested in flying under the radar and keeping his family at the orphanage safe.

All of that is jeopardized, though, when a strange girl calling herself Miledi thrusts herself into his life. Miledi is determined to make Oscar join her in her quest to take down the corrupt religion governing the land, and she's willing to do anything to ensure that he does.

Arifureta Zero is based on the light novel of the same name by Ryo Shirakome. The manga is drawn by Ataru Kamichi. It was released by Seven Seas in October and is available in print and digitally ($12.99).

Is It Worth Reading?

Rebecca Silverman


The original Arifureta novels may be fairly generic power play isekai stuff (although the anime is far worse than the source material in that sense), but its spin-off, or more properly, it's prequel, Arifureta Zero, is basically straight fantasy. Taking place long before the protagonist of the original series is summoned to its world, this series aims to tell how things got to the state they're in during the main story, while also providing a basic history of those events. It works surprisingly well as a standalone piece, too – while there are definitely things that will make more sense or little details that main series readers will notice, those feel more like Easter eggs than important pieces of this story, and that seems like a plus for readers looking for a good old-fashioned fantasy experience.

The downside is that the heroine is intensely annoying. The afterword seems to indicate that the creators are fully aware of this, which hopefully means that it's on purpose, but none of it takes away from the fact that bursts into the story, and protagonist Oscar's life, like a seagull pooping on your ice cream cone: unexpected and ruining a perfectly good time. While the latter half of the volume does make a decent attempt at explaining how and why she became the way she is, we still have to deal with two chapters of her being a twit, and that may turn out to be a deal breaker for some readers.

Fortunately those chapters do exist, though, because along with explaining Miledi, they also give us a good sense of the general corrupt state of the world. We know Oscar is hiding his talent so that he won't be used by those in power, but Miledi's past gives us a much fuller idea of the extent of the problem, touching on issues of religion used for ill and power run amok. It isn't hugely innovative, but it is interesting, and that's almost enough to save the first half of the volume. Whether it's ultimately going to be enough remains to be seen; if Miledi can tone it down and the art can maintain its level of style and detail, this may be a worthwhile read for fantasy fans.

Faye Hopper


I know nothing about Arifureta other than vague murmurings regarding its absolute disaster of an anime adaptation. I went into this spin-off volume (which apparently takes place a long, long time before the isekai shenanigans ever start) with a certain degree of dread as a result. Ultimately, though, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. It's certainly shackled by the tropes of its genre (our lead Oscar getting called a ‘pedo’ after some dumb hijinks sure is something I'd expect of this), but what is smart and good about it is very smart, and very good.

Arifureta Zero takes place in an oppressive theocratic society ruled under the iron fist of an unjust god and makes no bones about it. The way various characters react to this world-state (like with Miledi's joining a rebellion, Oscar hiding his magical aptitude in order to keep him and his friends safe) resonates with how people really do navigate tyranny, and is not the only piece of emotionally resonant thematic content, either. The second half of the volume is focused on Miledi's backstory and is the meat of the volume. Miledi was once the daughter of a high-ranking noble and was forced to play the unquestioning, unfeeling judge, jury and executioner of heretics. Miledi's characterization as mercurial only to turn severe when her motivations are broached, in the current day, is exactly how the noblewoman who taught her manners and what true freedom was, being the member of a rebel faction herself, acted. In Miledi's own way, it's both liberation and a means of paying tribute to dear, lost friend. It's smart characterization, surprisingly, that both embodies the core themes of fighting against an oppressive, stifling society and accurately depicts someone who has freed herself of the shackles and bonds that held her from happiness.

But this isn't to say that Arifureta Zero is entirely free of the grating aspects you'd assume to be in a light novel isekai spinoff. Miledi's absurdity might be justified structurally and emotionally, but how it plays in the moment is as a hyperactive, unlike-anyone-I-actually-know anime girl. Miledi and her manners-educators' interactions do not scan as genuine or authentic, even though they have a very clear, very powerful thematic purpose. The distance between Arifureta Zero's structure and overall themes (which is on paper really good) and its execution (which a lot of times really isn't good) is the main thing that lets it down.

Overall, however, I liked Arifureta Zero far, far more than I expected to. It's let down at points, but what is good is so good that I can't help but admire it. If you're looking for a solid, skeptical fantasy story that has some actual insights into dealing with and revolting against an oppressive society, you could do far, far worse. And I'm still a little shocked to say that.

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