Originally Posted: November 22, 2020
“I was completely worthless. It was only natural that Miya cast me aside. She wasn’t to blame.
The root of the problem was me, after all. I was the one at fault. It was all because of me. Miya had done nothing wrong. If anything, she was a saint for hanging in there for fifteen long years.
I sneered at myself as I knocked back another drink.” – Note Athlon, whining at a pub.
With his fate determined from the age of 15, Note Athlon moves from party to party in hopes of adventure. But with his bestowed Skill, he’s relegated to non-combat roles and treated like a lower class. If he’s going to continue pursuing his dream, will he look for change externally or internally?
Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill That Got Me Into a Top-Tier Party, Vol. 1 is the first entry to a fantasy-adventure series of crappy skills, dungeon dives, and two-faced dates(!). Our protagonist, Note Athlon, is a young man who dreamed of being a prolific adventurer, at least until he was bestowed the Mapping Skill at his presentation ceremony. With this notoriously trash-tier Skill, he finds himself hopping between parties, jobs, and drinks. But it turns out Mapping is just the Skill a top-tier party – the Arrivers – is looking for. How will Note use this opportunity to change his life (and personality) for the better? In this story of action, adventure, and romance(?), Udon Kamono brings us a tale of picking oneself up and working with what you’ve got. Hitomi Shizuki’s stylized designs then add to that fantastical feel.
Hey! So, does this series pique your interest? I picked up Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1 on a whim because it was on sale. I started reading it about a month ago but put it down to finish some advance reviews. And after doing one for Berserk of Gluttony, Vol. 1, I felt it was time to continue my Skill-based readings. (My schedule also opened up). Hopefully, I can inform your decision to pick-up this book in the future! For this spoiler-free review, we will cover the premise, plot, cast, and world-building. We will also make small comparisons to ROLL OVER AND DIE and Berserk of Gluttony for the LitRPG basis and trash-Skill usage. Now, let’s get into it!
To start, it’s always the first impressions. The cover is pretty bland, to put it bluntly. While it conveys a fantastical feel through Erin’s outfit, that’s all you get from it. Where’s Note, Jin, Neme, or Focus (of the Arrivers)? And what about the tone, main elements, or genre? And what about the background? All in all, the cover is not well-designed. I wouldn’t blame anyone for skipping over this book because of it. Moving on, we’ll talk about the length of the book. I haven’t been able to get a word count from any of my usual sources, so I used a page comparison instead. My calculations show Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1 is about 45,000 words – which is on the low end of light novel sizes and others of its trash-Skill kind. (Berserk of Gluttony, Vol. 1 and ROLL OVER AND DIE, Vol. 1 are about 59,000 and 77,000 words, respectively.) Lastly, we’ll mention the coloured-inserts, which are at the back this time around. We find (1) a clean cover, (2) an odd illustration of Roslia, and (3) a great introduction to the Arrivers (see above), sans Note. The first two are pretty lacklustre and I wish such efforts were directed elsewhere. Understandably, there is a focus on the female characters for appeal, but that isn’t a focus in the novel. So, I’m confused as to what they’re trying to convey here. With all this, I wasn’t confident in the execution of the rest of the book – which we’ll jump into right now!
Let’s start with Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1‘s setup. The hook and premise rest on Note’s trash-tier Skill, his subsequent abandonment by a childhood friend, and opportune pick-up by the Arrivers. So, let’s break it down, shall we?
Mapping is a Skill that allows the user to generate a mental geographical map 1 km in radius about a previously traversed point. Pretty neat, right? However, it is known as trash for the following reasons: (1) it leaves no room for other Skills, (2) Skills like Area Map and World Map make it redundant, and (3) maps are readily available due to users of World Map. This pushes Note towards dejection and he’s left by Miya, his childhood friend, who decides to pursue greater adventures without the human baggage. Now left to work odd jobs and drink his earnings away, Note is a sad individual who’s given up. This makes him hard to empathize with and frustrating to listen to. So, it’s an understandably low start.
However, it turns out that Area Map and World Map don’t work in Dungeons – locations that exist on other planes and are filled with great rewards. And due to the associated danger in their exploration, maps aren’t available for the public. With that, the Arrivers scout out Note and invite him into their party. They’re a Dungeon-delving group and need help with navigation. And so, Note gets his opportunity of a lifetime. This is where the adventure starts in earnest.
There are a few things I like that make Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill acceptable. Firstly, after finding out the use of his ability, Note doesn’t immediately become overpowered (e.g. Fate Graphite of Berserk of Gluttony). Secondly, the low start and upward trajectory are great for development and progression. Lastly, there are some motivations presented that direct Note in the future: catching up to Miya and making it as an adventurer. Overall, it’s pretty well-designed. Instead, my only issue comes from the idea that Mapping is considered a trash-tier Skill. For something that eases dungeoneering, I find it hard to believe that governments haven’t been collecting such users for their greedy purposes.
Now, from the setup, where does Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1 go from here? If you’re looking for action and adventure, I recommend you go elsewhere. There is a short section of dungeoneering at the start, but this is mostly to introduce the Arrivers and their powers. Otherwise, we’re treated to a slice-of-life-esque plot in which a lot of nothing happens. Without detailing too much, the majority of the words are spent on improving Note into a usable party member. To start, he is without a Role, Arts, or Stamina (i.e. a Job Class, Techniques, or Physical Ability, respectively). Then the training arc involves repetitive running, trap dismantling, and enemy tracking. There are some hijinks and drama sprinkled within, but there is a lack of focus on Note’s development as a party member. Because of this, when he eventually does improve, it doesn’t feel well-earned. Then, we find ourselves in a battle of wits where the story does something with the drama and action to resolve a conflict. This is where Mapping, Vol. 1 starts getting good – too bad it’s about 4/5’s through the book. In short, I’m disappointed in the amount of time spent in developing Note with little satisfaction. One could skip the entire training arc and miss nothing of importance.
With the plot so uneventful, the characters hopefully colour the dialogue and interactions. The most important in this aspect is Note Athlon, the protagonist and the 1st-person perspective. He’s down on his luck from Day 1 of adventuring and wallows in his situation. This is evidenced in his constant whining and reminders, which he’s done for 6 months before Jin of the Arrivers shows up. By the end of Vol. 1, this part of him has improved a bit, but it still leaks out from time to time. I just wish he’d put that effort into bettering his situation. Thus, to put it concisely, I can’t stand Note. If this is Udon Kamono’s intention, it is expertly done, but it doesn’t make reading any less frustrating. And being confined to Note’s perspective is especially grating. Additionally, he also doesn’t have much agency; anything he does is chosen or laid out for him. (The exception to this is near the end of Vol. 1.) To summarize, because he’s not the most interesting or motivated, it feels like he’s just a vehicle with sad-tinted windows to look out from. However, with the upturn at the end, I’m half-hopeful for his development in future entries.
Then, alongside Note are a handful of other characters. The most numerous and prominent are his party members. Without delving into each one, we’ll just mention their Roles and personalities. In order of introduction, we have (1) Jin, the de facto party leader and Assassin, (2) Focus, the bombastic, lecherous Fighter, (3) Erin, the crabby Mage, and (4) Neme, the child-like, dwarven Priestess. From their descriptions, one can determine their manner of speech and personality. This is good for the setup as it is efficient with the time spent. However, it takes those savings and wastes it on Note’s whining, uninteresting observations, and boring dialogue. None of his party members are any more developed by the end (except maybe Focus), and act as their trope-like selves throughout. While this is played for laughs (to some chuckling success), it usually comes off as unimaginative and cliché. But what’s most aggravating is how some members throw around their weight as top-tier adventurers. Erin and Focus are particularly bad with this issue. Of them all, Jin is my favourite – he’s understanding and trying to help the party grow. However, he doesn’t make up for the lacking developments and poor personalities of his party members.
Now that we’re done with the characters, let’s explore. The world of Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill is founded in the tropes of LitRPGs. Monsters, Skills, Roles, and Arts all make an appearance in this story. However, unlike ROLL OVER AND DIE & Berserk of Gluttony, there are no numerical indicators of strength involved. I appreciate the adherence to a less video-game-y world. This also means there’re no stat sheets (thank you), and power must be demonstrated rather than told. However, Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill doesn’t add anything new or interesting to the mix. These elements feel like they’re in the story because a LitRPG dictates that they should be. And there is only one connection between elements: Roles determine the learnable Arts. The simplicity is nice but lacks the feel of a cohesive world. Moving on, the setting is a non-descript kingdom with a small collection of named towns and one dungeon. With it being mostly undefined, the setting falls back on a generic fantasy feel – except there’s electricity. This detail doesn’t play a role later on, but it was weird to include. The dungeon is the coolest element, but its absence past the beginning 1/4 means we don’t get much from it. In short, the world-building is lacking. Thus, the pattern should be obvious now. Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1 doesn’t veer away from the tropes its foundations are set in. It fails to create anything new or interesting and is as bland as its cover.
After all the foundations, let’s briefly go over some of the different aspects mixed into Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1. First is the action. Like our plot discussion says, it is sparse in presence. And unfortunately, none of the action is particularly interesting; tactics and clever Skill-use are absent in every battle. There is spectacle, but the lack of description and poor use of illustration take away from its strength. If the action was used for something more than the ‘cool’-factor for character introductions, Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill would be stepping in the right direction.
Following that would be the adventure. Unfortunately, Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill fails at this aspect too. The bland world, the limited setting, and focus on slice-of-life means there isn’t much to see, and what is there isn’t interesting. For a series that lists action and adventure in its entry, it falls flat here.
Lastly is the slice-of-life. Note’s development and the battle of wits is full of day-to-day shenanigans in the town of Puriff. From being arrested to obtaining undesirable nicknames, there’s much time spent on jokes and drama. Some scenes are fun, and others are bogged down by Note. It’s a mixed bag for something I wasn’t expecting from this story.
In summary, the execution for what Mapping, Vol. 1 promises is disappointing but not horrendous. If only it took its own advice and tried to do something more, it would be better.
Finally, let’s talk about some additional details. The writing in Mapping: The Trash-Tier Skill, Vol. 1 is as expected from a light novel: simple and easy to read. However, there is a lack of description for the world and combat. With the words spent on Note’s wallowing, one could instead better present the spectacle and fantasy. The short length of this book further adds to this issue. Moving on, let’s talk about the art. Hitomi Shizuki’s style reminds me of MMO fan comics I used to read (hush!). There are a total of 10 black-and-white illustrations in this entry, two of which are used for action shots. The rest are related to the slice-of-life antics or character introductions. I would consider a couple wasted on their particular inconsequential scenes, but that’s in-line with the rest of the book. With this evidence, I don’t have high hopes for future entries, but I’m not discarding this as a ‘do not continue’ just yet.
Overall, Mapping, Vol. 1 is an inoffensive read of a fantasy story packed full of LitRPG elements. Compared to other trash-Skill-turned-useful stories, Mapping is certainly lacking. One part of the premise I enjoyed was that Note doesn’t immediately become overpowered (and won’t for some time). However, from there, it sits on trope-like foundations and fails to create anything cohesive or interesting with them. The characters (especially Note) are frustrating and don’t develop significantly throughout the story. The former is worsened by taking Note’s perspective. The world is forgettable with its lacking detail and tiny scope. The action and adventure are near absent and replaced with slice-of-life scenes. The latter having made me laugh at least a few times. The writing lacks descriptions to strengthen critical scenes, and the illustrations aren’t used to the best of their ability. I wouldn’t recommend Mapping to readers unless they were looking for anything to sate some Skill-based desire. For now, I’ll probably put off reading Vol. 2 until I have another gap in my schedule. See you all next time!
3.0 / 5 – Conditionally Recommended
To readers of fantasy-adventure with a mix of LitRPG tropes and slice-of-life aspects to juggle.
To lovers of crabby mages, lecherous fighters, childish priests, and trash-tier protagonists.
Hello! Thank you for taking the time to read my review (even if you scrolled straight to the bottom). I hope that you take home even a little of what I’ve written down. Are you tired of Skill-based series yet? :S
Since you’re down here, let me give you something extra. I’ve heard that this series gets a lot better in the following volumes. Considering it has 7 Japanese volumes, I’m sure that feeling isn’t unfounded. And so, I will be giving it another shot sometime in the future. I just hope there’ll be more dungeoneering and less meandering with the slice-of-life.
I’m 春華 or Haruka, aspiring novelist, light novel reviewer, and the recently titled “Effortlessly Effervescent Embodiment of Eloquence.” I’ve only started diving into light novels, so please bear with my naiveté. You can follow my Twitter for updates on my reviews and writing progress. And if you want to talk about light novels with me and many others, consider joining our Discord here! Let’s all get along!