Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest
After Matty passes the entrance exam with not just flying colors, but nearly unrecognizable ones, the headmaster realizes that he's got a bona fide star pupil on his hands. In exchange for Matty's help, Edwart grants him access to the dungeon under the school, and Matty quickly begins training his classmates with an eye towards figuring out how magic theory got so warped from his last life and what, if anything, he can do about it. The interschool magical tournament may just provide an answer – but whether it's one he'll like is another question.
If we assume that The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest's manga is following the usual route of light novel adaptations, this volume should cover material from the second half of the first novel. That means that, pesky set up out of the way, the author is now beginning to get into the story he really wants to tell, one of a great sage reincarnated in the far future with all of his memories intact only to find himself dealing with a state of technology that looks a lot more like he's gone backwards in time than forwards. In the case of this series, “technology” means “magic” in practice and theory, and Matthias, popularly known as Matty, is simultaneously aghast and curious about how much less everyone seems to know now than during his previous lifetime.
He basically knew that he'd be fighting something of an uphill battle last volume, when he discovered that his Fourth Crest, what he wanted more than anything because of its strength in magical combat, is now “known” to be the weakest and least respected mage mark. Even working under a social handicap like that (it's in no way an academic one, although no one knows that), Matty went to the city to enroll in the Second Royal Academy for training, where he quickly threw all of the teachers and most of the students into a total tizzy by not just acing the entrance exams, but blowing them up. Mostly, he quickly realizes, this is because magic is currently practiced by using clumsy incantations, which are not only unnecessary for spellcasting but both weaken and slow the entire process down.
The question, however, is why this has become the prevalent method despite it being much less efficient, as well as how on earth the value of the four magic crests was reversed. That, almost more than anything else, is what drives Matty in this second manga volume, and it's this element of mystery that makes the book more engaging than the first. In the opening volume the story was much more concerned with Matthias' transition to his new life and how he was so much more powerful than anyone else despite how others perceived him. That's fine, but power fantasies are a dime a dozen. And while this is hardly the only fantasy reincarnation (not, it must be noted, isekai) story to look at how history is warped by the passage of time, it's a genre we don't see quite as often and has a somewhat wider appeal than the tale of an ordinary kid turning out to be the most overpowered ______ of all time.
Matty does begin solving the mystery in this volume in that he figures out what happened and to a degree why it happened, but he's not sure how it was pulled off. (He may have the uncomfortable sensation that, having ended his past life a bit early in the pursuit of a more powerful reincarnation, he facilitated it, but that's largely subtext right now, albeit an idea that bears watching.) But even if he's incredibly powerful, this is not an issue he can solve on his own, and that means that he needs to train other mages and gather spell components – quickly. Fortunately he does have built-in trainees in his new friends Alma and Lurie, and with Edwart's support he gains official backing swiftly, so all that's left to do is get to work.
The balance of this volume is definitely better than the previous, in part because Matty's more focused on what he needs to do. Scenes are divided between school, the interscholastic tournament, and the dungeon-delving, and it never really feels like things are moving too quickly, although we can see where things might be condensed. In most of those instances, the art more than picks up any storytelling slack, with the best example being when Matty takes Lurie and Alma into the dungeon under the school and just sits back and watches while they work on killing monsters. The juxtaposition of Matty just hanging out on a tree branch or a rock, casually watching while the girls are being chased by weirdly cute (yet deadly) creatures or actively causing a bloodbath, is very well done and not just a little funny, too. Lurie is still the less engaging of the two heroines (and the clear romantic interest, which is kind of disappointing but may also explain why she comes off as too sweet for her own good), but she's entertainingly obsessed with learning how to enchant items, and that helps to balance things out.
It is worth mentioning that the translation has some very amusing words for spells that I hope are intended to be funny. Apart from the probably unintentional line about Devilus's true identity, words used include “sharpify,” “sturditude,” and “tenacify,” which sound like the sort of deliberately fake words used by high schoolers playing a fantasy game. “Edwart” also stands out as a not great name, although that one may be deliberate given how over the top he is as a character; his habit of wearing a cloak over his bare torso – but with strategically placed tassels to hide his nipples – is definitely erring on the side of humor. The art is good at that sort of detail in general, and if it isn't quite as strong in fight scenes, it's really worth paying attention to.
The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest feels like it's beginning to hit its stride in this volume. It's not quite as good as it could be, but things are definitely headed in the right direction.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ Doesn't feel obviously condensed or adapted, story begins to hit its stride with the mystery component getting more attention. Nice art with good details.
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