May 14, 2022
By Shelley Pallis.
Yuri Kitayama’s Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chronicles has several different beginnings, and to be frank, I am not sure that it has stopped beginning yet, even as I get to the end of the first novel. Sometimes it’s a sprawling political saga about feuding nations, and sometimes it’s a path to power of a disadvantaged Royal Academician, and sometimes it’s a harem story about a bunch of women who have nothing better to do than be nice to some kid because he is apparently nice to them. But that’s not the kind of light novel “beginning” we are used to, is it? Surely, at some point someone needs to die in some sort of arbitrary accident and get whisked away to somewhere that sounds like it’s been named with fridge magnets… ah, here we go…
The first chapter presents a humdrum Japanese tale of “childhood friends”, starting with the trauma of a house move as Haruto and Miharu are obliged to say their eternal goodbyes at the age of seven. Except it’s not sodding eternal, is it? They still live pretty close to each other, and they even end up at the same high school at sixteen. But before Haruto can sidle up to his now-gorgeous former playmate, and ask her if she remembers their proclamations of undying friendship a lifetime earlier, she disappears from the school and nobody will say where she went.
Haruto mopes his way through his teen years, and then one day is killed in a bus accident. The End… of the first chapter.
Because now he wakes up again, aged seven, in the fantasy kingdom of Beltrum, where he and the rest of his black-haired family are immigrants from the distant land of Yagumo. In an unnecessarily confusing whirl of flashbacks, we get a sense of his rags-to-more-rags life story, an orphan scraping to get buy in the slums, persecuted by local racists and exploited by those more powerful than him. He even comes to the rescue of a princess, only to be tortured by government officials convinced that he must have been part of the conspiracy to kidnap her in the first place.
Yes, there is an awful lot going on in Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chronicles, a light novel that is clambering over itself so fast to get on with things that it leaves it original Japanese title pointlessly on the cover. Is this the story of Rio the seven-year-old orphan, or of Haruto, the spiritual tourist from Japan, who is somehow also inhabiting his body? What we get is Rio’s life as witnessed by Haruto, which one would hope would be something of a lesson for a privileged middle-class kid from a first-world country, tardily realising that he wasted twenty years in Japan whining about how hard-done-by he was, when there were people elsewhere who had it really tough. In that regard, Kitayama’s story offers something different from your average light novel – a grittier, grimmer account of what it might be like not to be the princesses and generals of some fantasyland, but the proles and plebs.
It takes a while, but eventually Rio is scrambling out of the ghetto, and slowly but surely up through the ranks. The degree to which Haruto’s consciousness makes much of a difference is not all that clear – it is suggested that, as with a similar set-up in Tearmoon Empire, Haruto brings a sort of moral compass to what would have otherwise been a feral street kid, doomed to self-destruction. Regardless, by the end of the first book, political enemies are ready to send a deceptively cute were-fox assassin to kill him, so there’s sure to be more drama.
Like many J-Novel Club releases, this ends with an author’s afterword, although here Yuri Kitayama is offering some different material to the usual. She points out that the book that has been translated here is not the original novel as serialised online, but a substantially reworked version sufficient to call it a different text. One wonders, in fact, what it must have been like before she started fixing it, since the version we have here comes complete with a five-year time-jump that glosses over any character development, and only the faintest implication of where the plot might be going.
There is a sense that the other three passengers killed in the Japan bus crash have also been transplanted somewhere on Haruto’s new world. Why this would really matter, I don’t know, but there Haruto’s long-lost childhood sweetheart, of course has also been whisked away to Beltran, too – as if the events of C.S. Lewis’s The Last Battle had not been the act of some sort of kindly Lion-god, but a series of haphazard bodges by an over-worked and incompetent bureaucracy, flinging a bunch of dead Earth people into a fantasy land for no good reason. It will take them literally years to find each other…
Not unlike Infinite Dendrogram, there is a sense that our Japan-born hero is developing a duty of care towards the underprivileged, under-written creatures he encounters in his new home. But it is difficult for this reader to give much of a toss about a long-lost “love” in which boy met girl and barely said hello before they were parted. Are they soulmates? Well, we’ve only got their word for it.
Seirei Gensouki: Spirit Chroniclesis published in English by J-Novel Club and released in the UK by Anime Limited.