I have decided that I like the light novelization of this story better, and this is unusual for me. Usually I run into the manga or anime first, then check out the light novels which tend to seem repetitive by comparison even if they actually came first. This is a warning that this will be as much exploration of why that is as it will be review.
So, The Alchemist Who Survived Now Dreams of a Quiet City Life has, besides a long unwieldly title, 2 volumes of manga out so far in English, and I here review/consider volume 2. The premise is a little generic for fantasy but has potential; Mariela is teen alchemist who seems to have recently finished her training when a bunch of monsters go on a stampede and she panics and puts herself into suspended animation. The thing is that there’s a minor goof and she wakes up 200 years later. Thankfully she makes some friends who help her get settled and used to her new surroundings because the world has really changed, and alchemists are incredibly rare, which means Mariela’s skills are very lucrative and that might put her innocent waifish self in danger if she is discovered. Besides getting herself settled and keeping a big secret, there is the always looming threat of The Labyrinth, which is full of all kinds of threats, known and unknown.
This part of the story focuses mostly on Mariela getting herself set up in town by getting licensed as a chemist (so she can sell medicines etc.) and setting up shop, and on Sieg’s character development. This is one of the places where I see a little squick. Sieg is a slave whom Mariela purchased/saved in volume 1, and she seems to be a generally nice person but has no real problem owning another human being. This seems to be accepted in some ways in the world of the story, but her presenting as a sweet well- meaning but often naïve person doesn’t quite line up with owning a slave even if she is nice to him and want to be more like family than master-slave. Then there Sieg’s trying to work through his feelings. He’s grateful to Mariela and seems to be struggling with how to feel about her. Does he want her to be happy for himself or for her? Does what he feels about her equate to gratitude, family, friendship, love? Is any of that ok for his position? Does this make him a good or bad person? Granted, what we are given from Sieg’s backstory suggests some profound trauma in his not too distant past which means he does need to do some self-reflection and acceptance, but the focus on Mariela and how he should feel comes off as trying to give a little reality in a place where it doesn’t quite fit, given how it compares to Mariela and everyone else’s apparent view of the situation.
The novelization actually does hint at these very issues, but so far nothing much of that in the manga. The other thing with the manga is that for me, the art is a little bland. Sieg has about 2 facial expressions in this volume: tormented and thinking, and Mariela’s are surprise/thoughtfulness and earnest/grin. Their face also aren’t always very detailed, and since they are the main two characters, a little more detail or depth would help with some of the characterization, which Mariela especially really needs. The narrative voice of the light novels has enough personality and suggestive insights to smooth over some of the problems, but the graphic version just doesn’t do quite enough for me.