I’ve always been kind of a dummy when it comes to learning other languages. I was terrible at the mandatory French classes I took in grade school and my short-lived attempt to learn Japanese in University was a disaster. It’s just not something that comes easily to me, so I greatly admire people who can speak multiple languages. On the other hand, Anthropology is something that I’m very interested in and enjoy studying, so Salt Seno’s Heterogenia Linguistico, which is a fantasy manga series about the study of language and cultures and how the two intersect, proved to be a real treat for me.
When Hakaba’s linguistic professor throws-out his back, he’s assigned to take over his research trip to study the languages of the various peoples of the Netherworld. Hakaba has determination and youth on his side, but zero first-hand experience with linguistic research. Luckily, he’s armed with his professor’s research notes and is accompanied by a knowledgeable guide: Suzuki. Half human and half werewolf, Suzuki may be young, but she speaks multiple languages and is eager to help. Together, the two of them embark on a journey of cultural discovery that leads them to cross paths with many intriguing individuals whose ways of communicating, and looking at the world, seem completely alien to Hakaba. However, thanks to his willingness to open himself to other perspectives, Hakaba proves that, despite language barriers, differences in values and biological makeups, understanding is always possible, with enough effort.
I love the idea of telling a fantasy story from the perspective of a linguistic researcher and exploring how the languages of magical creatures, like slimes, krakens and werewolves, would have developed and what their cultures would look like to an outsider. It’s clear that Salt Seno put a lot of thought into how the characteristics of the different species would influence how they communicate with each other. For example, when Hakaba is staying in the werewolf village, the residents seem curt to him and they will frequently cut off conversations abruptly before Hakaba can have the chance to get all of the information that he needs.
He initially thinks that werewolves just don’t like talking, but Suzuki later explains that a lot of communication between werewolves occurs through their heightened sense of smell and he’s just not aware of a lot of the information that is being exchanged because he’s solely paying attention to what is being spoken. This is an important lesson for him on how easy it is to completely misunderstand a culture if you’re missing key pieces of knowledge and are viewing a situation through the lens of how your own culture operates. Hakaba is quick to adjust his thinking as he gains new information and I found all of the details surrounding the different languages and modes of communication he has the chance to observe to be fascinating.
Hakaba’s is a great point-of-view character for this journey of discovery, as his curiosity and open-mindedness make him well suited to research. He’s inexperienced, but eager to become a great linguist, just like his mentor, and he strives to follow his professor’s example and welcome all of the new experiences he’s having on this journey.
Despite his willingness to embrace other cultures, there are still some things that Hakaba encounters that seem bizarre, and even wrong, to him. For example, he discovers that it’s common for many people in the Netherworld to eat the body of their deceased loved ones and Suzuki is shocked and hurt when he tells her that he could never eat her if she died.
Hakaba manages to smooth things over with her, but the thought of consuming the flesh of his dead friends still gives him the willies. Despite this, he understands that, to the denizens of the Netherworld, this practice is a sign of respect to the deceased and not an act of callousness, as some humans believe.
Suzuki is the other major character in the manga and she’s spunky and up for anything, accompanying Hakaba wherever he wants to go and never complaining about the journey. All she wants is to be useful and she’s absolutely adorable! Her status as a product of two worlds never comes up as being a problem in the Netherworld. Everyone is very accepting of her, probably because there are already so many different kinds of people living together in harmony on the Netherworld. Personally, thinking about her origins makes me feel a little weird, since the werewolves look like just straight-up wolves that are walking around on two legs!
Heterogenia Linguistico is a captivating exploration of fantasy-languages that focuses on a good-natured young man’s efforts to see things from other people’s perspectives and to come to understand them better. It’s interesting, relaxing and cute and I loved discovering the intricacies of this strange world alongside Hakaba. I would highly recommend this manga to fantasy fans and to anyone who’s interested in linguistics and anthropology.
Final Score: 8 out of 10.
What did you think of this manga? What mythical creature do you hope Hakaba researches next? Let me know in the comments.
For more information on this series, visit Yen Press’ website.
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