Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Seirei Gensouki - Spirit Chronicles
Novel 1: Kingdom of Lies
Haruto lived his life with the goal of reuniting with his childhood love, only to be dually thwarted by her sudden disappearance in high school and his own death in a bus crash at age twenty. The next thing he's aware of is waking up in a freezing cold room in the slums of another world – at age seven. It seems that after his death Haruto was reborn as Rio, an immigrant child in a fantasy kingdom, and now with the knowledge from his former life, Rio is about to enter into an entirely new phase of life.
There's an old saying that at this point embodies the still-popular isekai genre: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. That's essentially what's going on with Seirei Gensouki - Spirit Chronicles' first novel. The story fits comfortably into familiar genre patterns, with our protagonist Haruto dying in a traffic accident (caused by a truck, of course, but to shake things up, he's riding in a bus at the time) and suddenly reawakening as a child in another world. At first it seems as if perhaps Haruto hasn't been reborn so much as he has come to inhabit a new, younger body, possibly after the death of the body's owner, but later chapters show that not to be the case, which is a bit of a disappointment in terms of playing with the genre. However it seems that despite some early promise on that front, Yuri Kitayama's series is instead invested in sticking with the tried-and-true.
That's not necessarily a bad thing if you're a fan of the isekai novel, and this first book is rather darker than some of its brethren. That's not to say that it achieves Goblin Slayer levels, but it is more in line with Arifureta's first book than something like Didn't I Say to Make my Abilities Average in my Next Life or other lighter fare. Largely this comes from the world Rio, Haruto's reborn self, inhabits. As the child of immigrants, Rio is generally looked down upon by the residents of his kingdom (even though he was born there), and his status as an orphan seems to do even more damage to his social standing. The general consensus is that he can't be trusted and is probably inherently criminal because of his family background (or lack thereof), a prejudice that does him precisely zero favors. Not only does he begin the story as the slave of a gang of kidnappers and human traffickers, but his rescue of the kingdom's second princess results in his torture at the hands of the Royal Knights, who refuse to believe that he wasn't involved with taking her in the first place. When he is granted admission to the Royal Academy as a reward for his bravery (and a palliative to his punishment), Rio is bullied constantly by his classmates, who cannot overcome their own biases and insecurities.
Kitayama's writing is strong enough that it is easy to feel anger at Rio's treatment at the hands of the nobility, especially since Rio himself seems to barely react. Whether this is because of Haruto's more mature consciousness residing within him or simply because after having been enslaved by the gang nothing seems that bad isn't clear, but the unfairness is still painfully obvious. That's why it's a pity that years go by in the change of a paragraph, which is really the biggest issue this story has. Before we know it, the five years of Rio's time at school are over, and he's setting out on a journey to his parents' homeland after having been left for dead by his classmates.
Part of the issue here is that we miss most of his transition from uncomfortable orphan to surly teen, to say nothing of the loss of relationship building between Rio and one of his ostensible love interests, his five-years-older-than-him professor Celia. (There are definitely a couple of other girls in the wings as well, so there's a clear harem being built.) While this doesn't affect the plot unduly, it really does the characters a disservice, and that may come back to bite Kitayama's storytelling later on, depending on how things develop. We also never get to see if there's any true reason for his classmates' ire beyond his heritage – we're told that Rio's more talented than most of them in ways that make them unhappy, as well as the fact that his use of magic differs greatly from theirs, but not seeing it beyond two fight scenes towards the end of the book doesn't do much to make Rio's detractors seem anything beyond petty. True, they're twelve-year-old kids, so there may not be any more to it than that, but it still feels like we're getting just the basics of a much more interesting story.
It may simply be that Kitayama is building towards a certain point, and that seems like an acceptable theory right now. There's clear suspicion that Haruto's lost love is also somewhere in this new world, and the fact that the other three passengers on the bus with him were clearly described and also died in the crash makes a good case for them floating around the new world as well. Since Haruto's entire focus was reuniting with his childhood love, getting him to where he can actually find her makes sense, and while it would speak of not great planning if this whole novel were essentially a prologue to that story, it wouldn't be surprising.
With little to distinguish it from other similar novels and some major pacing problems, Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chronicles is probably best enjoyed by fans of the isekai genre. It's firmly average at this point, although there are hints that that may change going forward. It is, however, an easy read, and perfect for when you just need something to take you away for a few hours, so if that's what you're looking for, this might just fit the bill.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : B
+ Some interesting plot being set up, writing is strong enough. Lots of nice illustrations.
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