Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
School of Horns
In a world similar to our own, humans and beings who can use magic have worked out a system for comfortable coexistence. Part of that does include intermarriages between the two similar species, and that can result in some highly specialized magics unknown to most. Eru is the son of a human and a mage, but he's pretty sure that just means that he's got weak magic. He's about to enroll in a magic-users' high school, but his tiny horns and uncertain skills make him an easy target for bullies. Is there any hope for Eru and his odd magic?
Mito Aoi's School of Horns has an interesting concept: in a world where humans and magic users coexist, mages are identified by the horns growing out of their heads. There are four basic types of horns (branching, bull-like, curling, and crooked) that all correspond to different magical abilities, and the amount of magic a mage has access to is indicated by the size of their horns. The humans and the mages have a symbiotic relationship and even intermarry sometimes. That's what series protagonist Eru's parents did – one parent is a human and the other a mage. As a result, however, Eru's apparently got little-to-no magic and tiny horns, two things he's incredibly insecure about. When he enrolls at a mage high school, this makes him ripe for being picked on, especially since both of his roommates are very, very gifted.
So not hugely original, but definitely fun as far as concepts go. The problem with this volume lies in the execution. School of Horns moves at a breakneck pace, introducing characters and events and then flying right through them at the rate of one (or maybe one and a half) chapters per story. This means that we get very little time to actually get to know Eru beyond his insecurities or Rihito on anything more than a superficial level. Given that we're supposed to be sympathizing (if not empathizing) with Eru's perceived imperfections and that Rihito is being set up as the future best friend (or light romantic interest; three-quarters of the cast is male, so BL feels like a possibility), this doesn't allow for much on that front. This means that the characters mostly come off as shallow stereotypes – The Insecure One, The Perfectionist One, The Girl, and The Mysterious One, with The Bad Guy coming in at the end of the book.
While there is something to be said for a light reading experience, this comes off more as a shallow one, which is a problem. A light story would still allow for character development and a progressing plot; a shallow story makes passes at both of those things and ultimately comes up empty. This may be due more to author inexperience than anything; there's a distinct feeling that Aoi is still honing their craft and feels like any and all story developments must be got down on paper as soon as possible, a fairly common mistake.
That said, there is some very interesting world-building going on here, and Aoi deserves props for not making Eru's special power be the usual nullification skill. It's clear that a lot of thought went into developing the horn system, and apart from the bog-standard usage of card suits to designate each type, which is more of an issue because it simply doesn't make sense in the context it's being used in, it works to explain the values of the story's world. Likewise Aoi does a good job of implying without saying that while it isn't frowned upon for humans and mages to marry, it is considered unusual, and at least part of the bullying and teasing Eru is on the receiving end of is because he's half-human. The use of the horn sizes to explore magical skill does seem ripe for metaphorical measuring contests, and there certainly is some of that going on, but mostly it's just used to help Eru express his discomfort with his skills. To be honest, that feels like a bit of a missed comedic opportunity, but readers can certainly make all of the requisite jokes on their own.
Aoi's art style is soft and attractive. Each character looks distinct, and the effort to create four different types of horns generally works. The curved bull-like horns and the crooked horns can look a little too similar at times, and Rihito's horns do seem to change girth and length and even position on his head depending on the panel, but this is the only really noticeable issue. Backgrounds aren't always present, but when they are, there's a nice level of detail that helps give a sense of place.
In the end, School of Horns' first volume is more miss than hit. It can't quite execute its concept to the point where we care about the characters and the storyline beyond anything superficial, and while the art is pretty, it isn't enough to make up for the deficiencies in the execution. This may get better later on, but if it keeps rushing through its storylines in the space of a chapter, this is one school you can probably skip.
Overall : C-
Story : C-
Art : B-
+ Nice art, clear effort at world-building
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