The son of a regular human and a mage, Eru has the worst of both worlds. Ordinary people tend to be nervous around magic users (though they’ve technically lived in peace with each other for years and are allowed to intermarry) and as a half-human Eru’s magic is weaker than that of the average mage. The worst part is that since the mages of this world sprout horns that grow with their power, Eru’s horns are so tiny as to barely be noticeable. This has made him a target of mockery among mages since he was a child and a frequent target of bullies.
Eru hoped for a new beginning as he started high school, but that dream was dashed on Day One. Eru immediately earned the animosity of Rihito—an Ace-level mage and a Spade, the most powerful and versatile breed of magic users. Worse yet, Rihito is now one of Eru’s roommates and assigned partner and he has made it clear he has no intention of being held back by a half-breed who can barely cast middle-school cantrips and has no idea what his magic talent is. At least Eru’s other roommate—a Diamond named Noin—is nice. Eru also befriends a Heart girl named Mone who seems to like him, even if her familiar goes crazy around Eru. Still, Eru wishes he could find a way to earn Rihito’s trust, even as he wishes that his horns were bigger and that he were capable of developing a talent for something besides messing up everyone else’s magic.
School of Horns has a unique setup for describing the magic of its world and Mito Aoi does a fair job of establishing the rules of their world early on, with little forced exposition. Mages are divided into four classes based on the classic playing card suits, with “Ace” being used to designate the top mages in each class. Diamonds are unique in their ability to perform alchemy, for instance, but only Ace Diamonds can create rare minerals like gold or transmute living tissue into minerals.
Unfortunately, the characters are the usual stock stereotypes found in most school manga. Eru is the nervous every man desperate to succeed despite his shortcomings. Rihito is the classic overachiever, driven to dominate by a dark secret. Noin is the supportive and loving balance between Eru and Rihito’s extremes. And Mone is… the girl. The plot moves too quickly to develop the characters beyond the depth of cardboard cutouts, which I personally find to be preferable to the repetitive misunderstandings and awkward situations that usually fill school manga. Instead, the focus is largely upon explaining the rules of magic and establishing the setting as something unique. Perhaps the characters will get a chance to grow in future volumes?
The artwork is similarly rote-driven. Aoi’s art is competently rendered but nothing about it really stands out. I will say the character models are all visually distinctive, even ignoring the horn patterns unique to each class of mage, so you never have trouble keeping the characters straight. However, there are some incongruities in the artwork and the horn sizes for some characters.
This volume is rated T for audiences 13 and up and I consider that a fair rating. There’s no violence beyond bloodless battles with magical monsters, no nudity, nor even a mention of sex. Even Eru’s insecurity over the size of his horns is played completely straight, without any discussion of the obvious Freudian implications. All in all this is an utterly inoffensive magical school manga, but there’s nothing to really recommend it over similar series apart from the unique setting.
School of Horns, Vol. 1
By Mita Aoi
Yen Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 13+