Reviewby Christopher Farris,
Karate Survivor In Another World
Nozaki Hitoshi died and got transported to another world, and he hasn't even been given any power-ups for his trouble! All he has are his hands and his feet, but thankfully he also has enough survivalist knowledge and karate training to give himself a fighting chance. The wilderness of this fantasy realm is harsh and unforgiving, but it's a challenge Nozaki can take in stride. Even as things ramp up with mightier monsters and the introduction of a cruel human element, Nozaki's abilities will allow him to do the only thing he can in this world: Survive!
Alright, another new isekai, what's the deal with this one? Thank goodness for those customarily descriptive titles, and this isn't even one of those ridiculously long examples. Karate Survivor In Another World, a manga adaptation of Yazin's original story, takes the unapologetic thought-experiment route so endemic to isekai as a genre these days, dropping 34-year-old Nozaki Hitoshi into an RPG-inspired fantasy land without any of the customary wish-fulfillment power-ups, instead relying only on his own survivalism and karate skills. I think I've gotten to the point where I can appreciate stories like this cutting to the chase, particularly in service of the clear-cut content the creators are so confident in constructing. Better yet, I found the ideas being illustrated by Yazin and Takahito Kobayashi here entertaining enough even aside from the obligatory isekai framework.
One thing to note is that, for about the first half of Karate Survivor, it's the 'Survivor' part of the title that's given more focus than the 'Karate' part you might be more expecting. Apart from not receiving any abilities or skill boosts, Nozaki is dropped off in a fantasy forest with no supplies nor proximity to any civilized areas he might be able to procure resources from. This immediately turns the exercise into sort of a 'Man Versus Wild' situation if said Wild also had goblins in it. The basic beats are all covered here: Nozaki must find water, shelter, build fire, and prep for hunting and gathering food. It works because the guy takes it all so earnestly in stride (he's positively upbeat about it) that he's able to carry this as an effective one-man-show. Nozaki's never overtly cocky about the survivalist tips and tricks he's cultivated, and we know from his briskly-delivered backstory that he's a decent enough dude to throw himself in front of a truck in order to save a kid. So even though we are following him basically by default, he becomes easy to root for in seeing the necessarily simple ways he approaches the challenge of not dying in the fantasy wilderness.
The book is helpfully carried by that kind of good-natured tone. A lot of other isekai takes that appeal to more 'realistic' or 'grounded' angles can have an air of mean-spirited down-talking to them, dismissing the fantastical foundations of the overall genre to assert how this author knows better and can show how things would really work. Karate Survivor, in a very noted contrast, seems far less up its own ass (for lack of a better term) with regards to its hook. Nozaki never feels like he's being punished by the realities of the world for any expectations of powerful, magical indulgences, nor does he come off like he's showing off the raw powers of survivalism to the untrained masses of this RPG world. That tone is further exemplified in the chapter-break columns by Yazin, where they discuss the real-world survivalist logistics of things like finding drinking water without dismissing the fictional utility of simplifying the approach or glossing over points like that in more fantastical stories. This extends to their take on martial arts, making time to explain how 'secret techniques' could be interpreted in a real-world context, while making clear that this is simply an angle they were interested in exploring, rather than a pointed refutation of broader storytelling tropes they considered 'wrong'. The result is an overall narrative voice that feels more refreshing than anything else.
This becomes more apparent once the 'Karate' element really gets going in the latter half of this volume. Nozaki is effective at using his martial arts, but also smart enough not to be cocky through his situations. The writing in these segments does a good job of convincingly explaining his choices and techniques for dismantling various opponents, from a heavy hobgoblin to an angry group of villagers. And as effective as it had been at depicting Nozaki's simple survival life, these fights are where Kobayashi's art becomes a true asset to this version of the story. They make calculated use of silent set-up panels, sparse backgrounds in moments, and depictions of split-second impacts to thread that needle between 'realistic' and 'exciting' that this kind of story is going for. As well, in the key points where specific movement needs to be conveyed, like Nozaki's application of a Brazilian kick to circumvent a shield-wielding villager, the art is able to dedicate smart use of motion lines, multiple panels, and impact to show it off. It all makes this a strong example of the benefits of adapting stories like these to a visual medium, elevating the entertainment of the action more than any detailed description could.
If there are any drawbacks to Karate Survivor's well-honed focus, it's that it won't be what everyone's hoping to get out of a story like this. Apart from the broad strokes of his survivalist-interest background and general decent-guy attitude, we don't get much insight into Nozaki's personality. The most glaring glossing over of this component comes after he (accidentally) kills a few of the villagers during his fight for his life against them. There's an acknowledgement that the life-or-death nature of the situation makes it easier to shrug off in the moment, but apart from one more quick reference to his feelings afterwards, the story seems uninterested in exploring the psychological effects of its titular karate skills being used for manslaughter. That's not necessarily a bad thing given the tone of the piece, and said ending even begins hinting at some broader elements of Nozaki's nature that could be interestingly followed up in future chapters. But in the moment it feels a bit shortchanged on personality compared to all the technical details it so strongly depicts. It leaves us with simply a glimmer of hope that following volumes may expand on the human element that the final pages here make clear the writing isn't entirely opposed to.
But for what we are given, Karate Survivor succeeds on the same simple, technical level of its titular survivor: It just works, and it's pleasant to experience doing so. I think this one definitely fits into the column of "Isekai to check out if you think you're sick of isekai", as it bucks enough of the expected conventions and passes the test of simply being an interesting story in its own right, regardless of genre genesis. But I'd also say that more dyed-in-the-wool isekai fans might have a good time with this one as well, given its aforementioned propensity for not talking down to said genre conventions. Karate Survivor is simply happy to present its own take on that well-worn structure, and that confidence can carry even the simplest story a long way.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Confident depiction of an interesting spin on the genre; Feels good-natured in its distinctions; Strong art that's suited to elevating this story
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