Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest
Gaius was the greatest magic user in the land, but because he was born with the First Crest (of four), his progress was halted before he was able to do as much as he wanted. To that end, he cast his final spell: he would be reincarnated in the future in hopes of securing a higher Crest and thereby fulfilling his goals. The spell works, and one day Gaius realizes that he's Matty, a six-year-old in the far-distant future – and he has the Fourth Crest! But the future is a little too far-distant and not only has most of the progress magic users made in his time been lost, but now his Fourth Crest is called the weakest? How did things backfire so much?
Even the best plans can go wrong if you don't think about all of the factors. That's what happened to Gaius, a great wizard whose magic crest, the determinant of his magical powers, was the weakest of four. Gaius, like most powerful people who can't get what they want easily, has a plan: he'll cast a reincarnation spell, end his life as Gaius, and be reborn, hopefully with a stronger crest. Sounds easy enough, right?
I think we all know that things are never that easy.
Gaius is, in fact, reborn in the future, as the third son of a minor noble. And in his new life as Matthias (better known as Matty), he does have the crest he dreamed of, the coveted (in his time) Fourth Crest. But everything else appears to have gone at least slightly sideways, because Matty lives so far in the future that the magic he knew as Gaius now exists only in his memories. Moreover, the Fourth Crest and the First Crest have switched places in people's estimation, meaning that rather than being the strongest, his new crest puts him right back where he was before, as the owner of the weakest. To say that he's confused would be an understatement, although he doesn't let it hold him back and quickly turns his family's expectations on their heads.
That, however, is actually the least interesting part of the story. The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest, based on the light novels of the same name by Shinkoshoto and unavailable in English as of this writing, has an implied backstory that supports this more pedestrian power fantasy. Not that the exploits of Matty aren't entertaining, because they are. But they're also a retread of a lot of other similar tales (albeit more typically isekai ones, which this is not) wherein someone is reborn, awakens sometime during childhood to their previous memories, and then proceeds to use said memories to outshine all others. It is a consistently fun genre for the most part, and there is something enjoyable about watching the assumed underdog take down a vicious hellbeast with his little finger. But the more intriguing piece of Matty's story is the fact that he has memories of his previous life and his current one but virtually no idea what happened in between them to create such a discrepancy in magical knowledge.
What's most striking about this is of course the reversal of the valuation of the crests. While there are perfectly plausible answers, such as a shift in what kinds of magic are regarded as the most useful since each crest does have limitations based on the type and range of magics that can be used, the bigger question is why those changes happened. Certainly the fact that Gaius is now worshipped as the God of Magic (something Matty remains unaware of, although it's a bit credulity-straining that he would be) might have something to do with it; since Gaius had the First Crest, his death could have lead to it being legitimized somehow. But that feels almost too easy an answer because so many more basic skills that Gaius, and now Matty, used have been lost. For example, no one appears to know how to use body enhancing magic, such as making yourself run faster, and magic appliances have been lost, putting the world on a lower technological plane than during Gaius' lifetime. Both could be the result of ignorance as people die off, like chair caning or cooking in a woodstove in our world, but they could also be because someone at some point decided that they didn't want people to have those skills.
It's too early in the series to lay any blame or to say definitively that there's a nefarious reason for the lost magics, but the possibility is there, and it's what lifts the book above “dull retread” to “average but decent.” It's perhaps a thin distinction, but an important one, because without it, Matty is just another basic-looking kid who shows people how overpowered he is several times a chapter. The introduction of a romantic subplot is likewise fairly standard – he meets two girls, shows them how awesome he is (unwittingly, of course), and then the shyer, more retiring of the two falls head-over-heels for him while he also finds her attractive. Granted, the deficiencies in the romance's introduction and the time skips in the story otherwise (from six to nine to twelve, with an age jump once a chapter) can all be explained away by the fact that adaptation really is more art than science, and that more time could have been spent on these things in the source novel(s). But in terms of what's in front of us, both of these issues are at least somewhat detrimental.
The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest isn't necessarily going to win over any new fans who aren't already fond of its particular fantasy subgenre. It is worth at least a second volume to see how the past is revealed and what it tells Matty about the state of the current world, because that could propel the action forward quickly if done well. But this first volume is just okay, with its weaknesses and its strengths in a tug-of-war as to which will come to dominate the series as it goes on.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : B-
+ Interesting hints about the past, art works and shows Matty aging fairly realistically. Has potential.
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