I don't believe I've ever had such a strong reaction to reading a piece of written literature as I've had towards Kenja no Deshi wo Nanoru Kenja – or She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man as it's localized as.
Note that this review/analysis will be based on the first two volumes of the series. With that in mind, readers should proceed with caution as spoilers are inevitable.
The review/analysis is split into multiple parts, each discussing the relevant parts in some detail.
The story is much like any other isekai out there. The main difference is that we're getting a man who falls asleep playing a VR game, and wakes up as a little girl instead. That is, VR isekai with a hint of gender bender – although the relevancy of the gender bender-tag is arguably more for show.
Our main character has no real goal of his own, and will not be having one for the entirety of the first two volumes. The vague goals that he does have, are solely that which are from errands given to him by his friends that he meets; as well as his personal, incredibly vague mission of: restore the image of summoners' in people's eyes.
Early on, we get a hint that the demons, which have been thought to have been destroyed, are coming back and are planning something huge. The main character does meet and clash with said demons on a few occasions during the span of the two volumes. However, no further solid information about the obvious main plot will be revealed during this span.
While many long running light novel series tends to be incredibly slow to build – the reason to which is fairly obvious, seeing as the author has to pad it out for content – this series feels especially slow to develop anything in the way of plot. Coupled with a world that feel artificial and hollow, the work offers little incentive to keep turning those pages.
There's, obviously, a strong contrast between how our former male gendered main character looks like, and our newly minted female gendered character looks like.
We never get to see how the real-life Sakimori Kagami looks like, but we do get a grand look at how his legendary Danblf character looks like. Likewise, we will indeed be getting plenty of chances to see how every look and cranny (almost) of how his new character looks like – to a completely unnecessary level in fact.
This illustration, alongside the introductory prologue, gives the reader a clear picture of what kind of "ultimate creation" the main character has set up for himself. Danblf is how he's been playing the game, immersing himself in the experience of the VR game for a long time; wherein he made friends and created a name for himself. We need to keep this in mind for later, as our presumably heterosexual, testosterone rich male transitions from male to female.
Mira / Danblf's "Apprentice"
His pronouns takes a sudden shift from a masculine "he," to feminine "she," at one point, never to look back again – at least until such moments where it's desirable to do so. Examples of such are typically those moments where the series needs to remind the reader that they are, in fact, reading a "gender bender" series. Otherwise, however, the man has, according to the translation at least, gotten really comfortable with his new female self, really quick. To the point where this character is literally no longer, in any way shape or form, distinguishable from any ordinary female written protagonist; save for their somewhat "masculine-ish" way of speaking at time.
The book's writing is initially all over the place. This includes the mental state of our main character, as well as being unable to make up its mind about how our main character is supposed to be referred to – whether in first person monologue, or third person narration. This gets settled fairly quick – one singular chapter in – and the male character will forever be but a long forgotten tale of yore.
While it would be easy to continue to simply rant about the writing – to dive deep into the wiring, for many a page, on how incredibly frustrating many bits of the writing feels – there's nothing like a direct excerpt to look at:
Everything was exactly like he remembered. He hadn’t logged in with the wrong character. Danblf hadn’t been deleted. These were the stats that Kagami spent the last four years developing.
But as he tabbed over to the equipment list on the status screen, his hope evaporated.
The avatar was clearly wearing Danblf’s bespoke wizarding gear—one-of-a-kind and commissioned by the King of Alcait upon Danblf’s ascendance to the role of Elder of Summoning. Each piece was specially ordered and produced by other players who were craftsmen of renown. Only the dignified personage of Danblf would have access to those items; that was the problem.
At any prior point, it would have been the elegant, refined personage of Danblf, resplendent in his robes. But just like the mirror image in the knight captain’s armor, a beautiful young lady stared back from the status screen.
Convinced this had to be some sort of mistake, she grasped the hem of her robe and pulled it over her head. The corresponding equipment line on her status screen changed to None. Letting the robe hang in one hand, she began to check over her now-exposed body as her silky silver hair fluttered in the breeze.
Her pert breasts were just a handful, and she had fair, almost translucent skin. A modest butt sat atop a pair of shapely legs. This was absolutely the female avatar Kagami had created with the Vanity Case.
“Whoaaa! Whoa, whoa, whoa! What are you doing?!” Having finished issuing orders to his subordinates, the captain turned to find the woman naked and oblivious. In a single graceful motion, he swept his red cloak around her shoulders. The rest of the knights within eyeshot exercised steely self-control and hastily turned their backs on the scandalous display.
*Well, this seems like a bit of an overreaction*from the NPCs, thought the woman.
(Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco, 2021)
In the span of eight paragraphs we've gone through five different ways this character is referred to.
The final paragraph particularly stands out, where the inner monologue has put the final nail in the coffin for the once male protagonist. From this point onward, our male "he" protagonist is no longer a man in a woman's body, but for all intents and purposes, a woman – or more precisely, a young girl.
While there's few obvious grammatical errors and little incorrectly formatted text present in the translated text, the writing itself is borderline acceptable as a piece of published written material. With emotionally hollow and one single purpose characters, the world the book paints ends up feeling shallow and uninteresting.
Many characters will be introduced along the span of the first two volumes, but none of them stands out due to their one dimensional nature; and ends up getting easily forgotten once one have closed the book. It's hard to relate to any of the characters, and most of them serves one singular purpose, and their personality reflects this. One character might need to elevate the lightheartedness of the tone of a group's encounter, and so that character ends up doing nothing but being the token clown of the group.
The knight we initially meet is only the first of many more encounter of that nature we will meet. Just like how he has served no use beyond being the straight man to the petite Mira's "outrageous behavior," the recursion continues until each volume ends.
This issue stretches beyond the characters themselves, manifesting itself in the world building itself. If the main character need to enter a location, this location will end up feeling like it serves no purpose besides for the character to enter and execute his task to then exit.
Translation & Localization
To clarify before we plunge fully into this section, there is a stark difference between translation and localization, despite what some certain people might claim. To translate a sentence is taking the source language and, well, translating it. However, localization means you have gone a step further than that. In the latter case, you convert references and cultural meaning for something the target demographic will have an easier time understanding.
With that out of the way, now let us get on with the novel in question.
While I can not say fore sure that some of the issues with the writing comes from the novel being badly localized, I also can not discount the idea completely either. Considering Seven Seas' history with editorializing and "localizing away" whole pages worth of content, it is especially difficult to not constantly think about whether or not the issues with pronouns and such comes from the localization.
To refer back yet again to the previous example, there's a strange disconnect between how the character himself should think of his self, and how the novel's prose portrays him. While of course this might very well be present in the original work, it gives off a strong feeling of translation issues.
But as he tabbed over to the equipment list on the status screen, his hope evaporated. (Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco, 2021)
Here, the prose is written in third-person omniscient point of view, and refers to the character with masculine pronouns.
Convinced this had to be some sort of mistake, she grasped the hem of her robe and pulled it over her head. (Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco, 2021)
While here, upon the character himself finally realizing what's happened, it switches to feminine pronouns. While this might be explained by considering the the narrator to be completely isolated from the character himself, the next example can't be in the same way.
*Well, this seems like a bit of an overreaction*from the NPCs, thought the woman. (Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco, 2021)
Now, in italicized text, indicating the inner monologue from the main character, a male now trapped in a woman's body, it explicitly says that it's a woman who thinking as such. However, this isn't consistent with how the narrator, even if isolated away from the main character, knows perfectly well that it's a male thinking the thoughts, albeit now inside a woman's body.
Was there really a need for such an overreaction? So wondered the girl while finding herself amazed that all those knights could actually be players, considering how they had just reacted. (serioustututz, 2016)
When referring to a fan-translation of the same book by Hot Cocoa Translations' "serioustututz," the same paragraph effectively reads the same, greatly lowering the possibility of this purely being an artifact of over-editorializing on Seven Seas' part. However, the fan-translation of its equivalent in the web novel, it reads radically different:
You need not react excessively to this. Although Kagami thought so, whether or not these knights were all players or not he admired their reactions. (Nomad, 2020)
These examples comes within the span of one or two pages, and it perfectly highlights one of the major issues with the book: consistency in writing. While, as mentioned previously, this might well be the original work's fault, there's a plausible theory that it's due to the translator and/or editor localizing a bit too much.
As most likely every fan of Japanese media knows, the language doesn't feature much in the way of direct pronouns, but rather uses masculine and feminine language cues to convey this. One example might be "John shat himself," in which Japanese this would be "ジョンは漏らしてで。" In here, there's no mention of which gender the target might be, instead the name would be the only clue.
So, while I can't say for sure whether or not the translation is bad, I lean towards saying this, and many other instances or odd writing, is due to yet another case of bad translation/editorializing on Seven Seas' side.
Considering how the rest of the writing are done, the fanservice has stands out like a sore thumb as well.
First there's the third person prose which, upon meeting our main character's female avatar, and when he's finally realized he's a she:
Her pert breasts were just a handful, and she had fair, almost translucent skin. A modest butt sat atop a pair of shapely legs. (Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco, 2021)
This comes across as in bad taste, considering the choice of words and how it objectifies (literally) this new body of his. This isn't a critique in line of the typical feminist argument either, but an issue with how vile this sort of writing comes across in a novel that's not just simple erotica – it's juvenile writing with fancy words.
Then we've got the visual attacks that our retinas will have to endure.
Volume 1 + Volume 2 Fanservice Illustrations While there isn't many of them, compared to overtly ecchi series, we do get a number of titillating peeks at the main character's "ultimate (loli) creation".
This is a mediocre novel through and through. The story is not something for fans of gender bender-type stories, and it's certainly not for the even slightly "nitpicky" reader when it comes to story-logic consistency in writing.
The author seems to have been torn between wiring a grand and serious fantasy adventure akin to Lord of the Rings, and your everyday typical "comedic" ecchi-sprinkled isekai, which in the end they have ultimately failed both.
The illustrations aren't badly drawn per se, but the fanservice, in relation to the story, are hard to appreciate.
An alternative series to recommend to the casual fan of laid back isekai/fantasy, would be In the Land of Leadale, published by Yen Press. Although this series isn't a gender bender either, it does a far better job of at least delivering an enjoyable ride.
Romaji: Kenja no Deshi wo Nanoru Kenja
English: She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man
Volumes: 15 (Ongoing)
Author: りゅうせんひろつぐ (Hirotsugu Ryuusen)
Illustrator: 藤ちょこ (Fuji Choko)
Publisher: Micro Magazine
First Published: June 30, 2014
Nomad (2020). Chapter 2: Exposed Preference | Re:Library. [online] re-library.com. Available at: https://re-library.com/translations/pupil-of-the-wiseman/volume-1/chapter-2-exposed-preference/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2021].
Ryusen Hirotsugu and Fuzichoco (2021). She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man. Vol. 1. Santa Barbara: Airship.
serioustututz (2016). She Professed Herself the Pupil of the Wise Man – Volume 1, Prologue, Chapters 01-02. [online] Hot Cocoa Translations. Available at: https://hotcocoatranslations.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/she-professed-herself-the-pupil-of-the-wise-man-volume-1-prologue-chapters-01-02/ [Accessed 27 Oct. 2021].