The Fall 2020 Manga Guide
Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill That Got Me Into a Top-Tier Party
What's It About?Note Athlon was really looking forward to becoming an adventurer with his best friend (and crush) Miya. That is, until he drew Mapping—a rare skill with practically no purpose. In other words, it's trash. This kicks off a vicious spiral for Note, who plummets further and further into the depths of self-loathing despair when Miya leaves him. He now spends his days drinking away his earnings, wondering how things might have been different if only he'd pulled a better skill. But little does he know his trash-tier skill is about to score him an invite to a top-tier adventuring party.
Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill That Got Me Into a Top-Tier Party is based on the light novel by Udon Kamono with original character designs by Hitomi Shizuki. The manga is illustrated by SAVAN, and J-Novel Club will release the digital version of its first volume on December 9 for $8.99. The original light novel is also available on J-Novel Club digitally for $6.99 per volume.
Is It Worth Reading?
That's where Note is when the story starts, and part of it is his own fault. He was upset when he first discovered at age fifteen that his god-given skill was mapping, and assuming that it meant he was worthless, he never bothered to train meaningfully in any fighting or other arts. Possibly he thought that he couldn't learn them, because mapping takes up all three of a person's “slots” for skills. (Why yes, this is another fantasy set in an RPG-like world. Thankfully there are no stats thus far.) Whatever the reason, he essentially made himself as useless as he thought his skill was so that no parties of any stature wanted him to join, and that and his general sad-sack attitude even made his childhood friend Miya (who got three awesome skills) kick him to the proverbial curb. It isn't until Jin comes along and believes in Note that he starts to realize that he doesn't have to be as useless as he's let himself believe.
On that level, as a fantasy not of power, but of self-esteem, this story works and is fairly interesting. It still buys into a lot of the very basic tropes we see in light novels (upon which this is based), but Note isn't looking to be amazing or super powerful, he's just after a little self-respect and recognizes that he needs to change his attitude if he's ever going to feel better about who he is. Being approached by one of the top adventuring parties, the Arrivers, blows his mind, but he also sees that this as his moment. He may not easily get over the hurt of being booted from other parties or being ditched by Miya, but all of a sudden he's ready to try.
The rest of the story, unfortunately, is rather less engaging. The Arrivers have the basic complement of characters both in terms of class and personality, and Note's Gonna Try His Best™ to make sure that they don't regret inviting him in. Right now the biggest stumbling block for me is that I think Note has more chemistry with Jin, the male rogue, than he does with Erin, the tsundere female mage, with whom he's ostensibly being set up, but that may not be an issue in the source novels, which are also available in English from J-Novel Club. But there is a good sense of continuity, with Note's brief time in jail over a misunderstanding feeding into the sudden declaration that swordsman Force is going to leave the party, because the woman who seems to be behind it may also have had something to do with the three other guys in the cell being sent to jail in the first place – something Note wouldn't have known had he not been hauled in for “abducting a child.” (He was jogging with Neme, an adult female dwarf.) So there's potential here, and I'm at least a little curious to read the light novel now, even if it doesn't look like its illustrations have the same pleasing roundness that the manga's art does.
It's kind of funny – not far into the volume, I realized where the story was going. Note's Mapping skill may be considered garbage, but when the background characters started talking about the high-level group of adventurers going into dungeons, I knew that they'd recruit Note for that exact skill. I didn't realize until later that the title actually spells the plot out, making my prediction seem much less clever.
Even robbed of that small victory, I liked Mapping well enough. The premise feels contrived; anyone who has played Etrian Odyssey or Persona Q knows that mapping is an extremely important skill. Do most adventurers really not venture far enough into dungeons to realize that someone who can map is a huge asset? How are the Arrivers unique in appreciating Note's contributions? It just never felt right to me, even as I tried to shove that aside and enjoy the manga for its strengths.
A lot of isekai and fantasy light novels/manga fall into one of two slots: either the main character is just so very nice, and everything comes easily to him; or he has to fight and claw his way through everything and turns out to be a real prick. Mapping falls into a happy medium – Note is at a disadvantage and must work hard for everything he has, but he's a good kid overall. His fellow party members are caring and helpful, but they don't coddle him either. It's a good dynamic, even if I don't like the leader Force, who is apparently a serial sexual harasser. No thanks, the leader making a female teammate so uncomfortable she had to leave is just not funny.
Mapping also plays around with the concept of nature versus nurture in a way I find very appealing. In this world, everyone is assigned 1-3 skills, which are immutable and play a huge role in determining their future. Since Note doesn't gain any combat-oriented skills, he's resigned himself to being a gofer at best and a liability at worst. However, once he gets recruited into the Arrivers, he realizes that even if his divinely-assigned skill can't be altered, he can supplement it with skills he builds the old-fashioned way, i.e. time and effort. It's a comfort to see worldbuilding where the main character is at a disadvantage, but allowed to find workarounds instead of everything being specifically engineered to make sure he never gets a break.
It's a pleasant change of pace, having an MMO-based fantasy plot that's actually about something. Mapping weaves a story about everyone having value and the potential to contribute, self-acceptance, and taking pride in oneself. It's a worthwhile read for fans of the genre.
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