Goodreads: (Re)Birth by Flame
Series: Saigami #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Published: 2015, 2022
Ayumi is normal teenage girl until she finds herself in the world of Aesztrea, where people have dragons and some wield elemental powers. When Ayumi discovers she has the ability to wield fire, she decides to compete to become one of the elite Saigami warriors.
Often, very standard books prove the most difficult to review. The first volume of Saigami feels very familiar. A teenage girl does not feel like she belongs–until she finds herself in a fantasy world, where she possesses the ability to control fire. Her father is shrouded in mystery and her powers are abnormally strong. But, to help her pass the test to become an official Saigami, she has the goofy boy-next-door and his handsome, broody friend. Basically, I’ve read this book before. Several times in fact. It was never going to impress me, even though it is solid. I think teens newer to this plotline will enjoy it more, though.
I admit I do not read much manga in general because a lot of the covers I see are, frankly, off-putting. I hear good things about some series, but I simply cannot take them seriously when the female characters all have gravity-defying watermelons for busts. I know some people argue that this is “empowering,” but when these characters are designed by men and appear to cater to the male gaze, it feels objectifying to me, not empowering. So I was relieved to see this cover, where the female protagonist looks rather normal. It seemed like a book I could read and maybe even recommend, without having to wonder about the dynamics of guiding people towards teen reads that objectify girls. That was genuinely encouraging for me. So, points for having a realistic-looking protagonist who is depicted as powerful and not as an object for the male gaze.
Ayumi’s personality is realistic, as well, and I think that could draw teen readers to the series. Though she is clearly being set up as a type of Chosen One, Ayumi is still new to this world and to her powers. Consequently, she can come across as annoying and whiny as she adjusts to the Saigami lifestyle. And, that’s fair. Many people who found themselves in a world they could not understand and then had to journey into the wild and learn how to camp and sleep on the hard ground for the first time would probably whine, too. Ayumi makes up for this by having a kind heart. I think readers will want to root for her.
The plot, as stated above, feels rather bland. The artwork I had trouble following; I had no idea what was supposed to be happening in the fight scenes, and had to rely on the dialogue to (hopefully) tell me. But I think teen readers will like the dragons and the fire scenes. There are also hints of mystery surrounding Ayumi’s past and a gesture towards some potential romance and some drama as Ayumi trains to become a Saigami. While this is not a standout for me, I do think teen readers will be more generous to the story and more excited about it.