Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Seirei Gensouki - Spirit Chronicles
Omnibus 1 - 3
A young boy named Rio living in the slums of a fantasy realm's capital city suddenly awakens to his memories of a past life in modern Japan. Confused by the sudden influx of “Haruto”'s memories, Rio soon finds that they give him a bit of an edge, namely in that he can use a magic-adjacent system known as Spirit Arts. After using his new skills to rescue a kidnapped princess, Rio is admitted to an academy for nobility, where he's unfairly treated and framed, resulting in him fleeing the kingdom to search out his deceased parents' homeland. Along the way he meets a young werefox named Latifa who has been sent to kill him; once he frees her from that compulsion, he discovers that Latifa is also reincarnated from modern Japan! As Rio continues his journey, he and Latifa venture to the village of the spirit people, who tell him that a powerful spirit is sleeping inside of him. What will happen when the spirit eventually awakens? And when, years after he first became aware of his past life memories, people from Haruto's life suddenly appear in the fantasy world alongside summoned heroes? It's definitely going to take all of Rio's and Haruto's knowledge to figure out what's going on and how to keep everyone safe.
Although the digital releases of Yuri Kitayama's Seirei Gensouki - Spirit Chronicles light novels are in the high teens as of this writing, the physical books are coming out at a much slower pace. The good news? They're being released as omnibuses, with two novels to a book, meaning that as of these three omnibuses, we have up through volume six of the original releases. While that doesn't quite make up for the gap between physical and digital (and it should be noted that J-Novel Club is not the only publisher to do this; Yen Press is in a similar position with their releases of the Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun (manga), getting two books each time you pick up a volume does help soften the blow. All color artwork for both included books is present in each omnibus as well, so you're not missing out on anything if you prefer a hard copy. Really, apart from the gap the only issue that I could raise is that the paper is very thin, so much so that you can see through each page just a bit; more translucent than transparent and still easily readable. On the plus side, this does keep the weight of the book down a bit, which your hands may appreciate.
The novels contained in these volumes more or less equate to what was covered in the anime adaptation, with a few major differences. Chief among them is that the content of volumes four and five was reversed for the anime: volume five's story about Professor Celia's terrible near-wedding appears in the anime, whereas only the very beginning of volume four's story – when several people from Rio's past life as Haruto appear as summoned in the grand old isekai tradition – is broached in the anime. What this means for anime viewers who want to become novel readers is that you can't just skip over any of the books; even those that were fully adapted leave a lot of key points out, so this isn't a case of starting to read where the viewing left off.
It's also a shame in terms of the adaptation, because volume four is among the strongest of the novels in these books. Mostly this is because it fully addresses the conflict that Rio has between his two selves. Unlike in many other isekai titles, Rio and Haruto are clearly two separate people – they may share a soul, so to speak, but their personalities have been shaped by their lived experiences, and that means that while they started from the same baseline, they've grown in two different directions. Throughout the first three books (or two and a half, really) we see Rio try to accommodate Haruto's sensibilities; he tries to a degree to live as if he were still a denizen of modern Japan who just so happened to be whisked away to another world. But the fact of the matter is that he's not an isekai victim; he's someone who has grown up in a realm of swords and sorcery, emphasis on the “swords” in terms of his experiences. In volume three, when he finally reaches his parents' homeland of Yagumo and meets his cousin, he's forcefully reminded that Yagumo isn't Japan, not really, and that even in its familiar trappings are the violent reminders of a world run on a very different set of values. When his cousin and her friend are assaulted and very nearly raped, Rio discards his “do not kill” sensibility from Haruto's life and realizes that he can't live as if he were in a modern, peaceful country and hope to protect the people he cares about – or himself, for that matter. It's a major turning point for him, and one that is jostled somewhat when volume four hits, because all of a sudden he finds himself face-to-face with Miharu, Aki, and Masato: the girl Haruto loved, Haruto's younger sister, and his younger half-brother.
This is also where we see how Kitayama is playing with the established isekai formula. In an earlier book, Kitayama mentions that the first three novels are, in essence, the prologue of the main story. That's a real risk, because it means that while everything was in service of the eventual main action, it wasn't actually the point of the story. In some senses, getting into Rio and Latifa's backstories was tantamount to developing the helper characters that the heroes meet upon being summoned to another world. That's actually a great idea, because it grounds the upcoming action in a way that we don't always get to see; we learn why there needs to be heroes apart from the usual “bad stuff is happening in a nebulously bad way.” That Miharu, Aki, and Masato aren't the summoned heroes is another nice twist on the norm, albeit one that we see a bit more frequently in titles such as The Magic in this Other World is Too Far Behind! or Campfire Cooking in Another World with My Absurd Skill, where some poor schlub just happens to be in the vicinity of those summoned and gets dragged along. That's what happened to the trio Rio meets (and saves from slavers) – two of their friends were summoned, but since all five of them were together, the other three got sucked in as well. Further complicating things is the fact that the other two were summoned to specific locations, leaving the other three stranded in a random location, where, fortunately, Rio can find them. Needless to say, suddenly coming in contact with his past life is confusing for Rio, who has been working to fit in with the world he currently lives in. But the lingering feelings he has for Miharu motivate him to continue the journey he began when he realized that he wouldn't be able to live as a modern Japanese man in this more violent world, creating even more internal conflict for him.
The writing really is at its best when it's looking at Rio's conflicted feelings or exploring the shady motivations of Reiss, who is established as the main villain (or at least a major problem) across these omnibuses. It's also interesting to see how Rio, Latifa, and another reincarnated Japanese person, Liselotte, all interact with the summoned people, particularly Liselotte in volume six with one of the actual heroes. In some ways it feels like they're suddenly seeing their own (past) culture from an outside perspective, and that's both awkward for them and a little uncomfortable, something that will hopefully be built on when the next omnibus releases in January of 2022. Kitayama also does a decent job of managing different people's perspectives and voices; yes, a few too many of them think Rio is irresistible, but everyone has their own reasons and motivations and most of them feel like real characters rather than “blonde elf girl” or “silver-haired loli.” There are some unfortunately clunky descents into fawning and fanservice that feel a bit like they're there because they're supposed to be rather than any great desire on Kitayama's part to write them, and much of the back half of the Celia's wedding storyline feels a lot like the Miharu storyline from book four with the same events happening with a different girl.
On the whole, however, these are good, quick reads. Seirei Gensouki - Spirit Chronicles probably isn't going to blow anyone away in these first six novels, but it is an interesting story where clear effort has been made on the part of the author to make it their own story while still maintaining the isekai brand. Rio may be overpowered, but he does have issues that he needs to deal with, as do all of the characters, each relatively unique to their individual situations. Even if the anime didn't wow you, these are worth picking up when you're in the mood for a fantasy adventure that plays the isekai game just a little bit differently.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Rio/Haruto situation is interesting and well-used, volume four is especially strong. Everyone feels like they have their own motivations.
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