The isekai genre has absolutely exploded with so many different quirky titles that, even though a lot of them fall into a similar template, you can never quite know what to expect. Here in Masamichi Sato’s Quality Assurance in Another World, we explore the arduous world of video game QA testing in an entertaining but critical look at the profession.
The story begins by introducing us to Nikola, a young girl from a small village in the Kingdom of Bayle. While out with a group of villagers collecting lumber, they are attacked by a group of dragons, gigantic creatures that look like a cross between a toad and a catfish. Too scared to move, she risks being crushed by the dragons, but is saved by a random dude who grabs her leg from the bushes and tells her not to move. This person is Haga, a researcher that one of the villagers describe as being part of “The King’s Seekers”, a group of elite adventurers that have been sent out by the King to investigate the strange goings on in the Kingdom.
Except, that’s not it at all. As we soon find out, this world is actually a virtual reality video game and Haga is a “Debugger” whose job is to test it. However, while this was only supposed to be a one-week job, all the Debuggers quickly found themselves unable to log out of the game. While some testers, like Haga, continued to take their job seriously, others began to take advantage of the situation, activating the forbidden Debug Mode and going around doing whatever they pleased. After losing several friends who did this to glitches and bugs, Haga resolves to continue to test and go through the entire game, hoping that when he eventually clears it, all those trapped within will finally be able to log out.
While the “guy gets stuck in a video game” setup is standard at this point, Quality Assurance in Another World makes it into a bit of a dark comedy by upending things and making Haga pitifully powerless. It tosses the harem-stuffed male power fantasies out the window and what you get is some dumb and grimace-inducing adventures with an ordinary guy who suffers from motion sickness and is clearly too obsessed with his job. This is something I found quite refreshing, as there’s no stereotypical toxic male ideal here, just an ordinary guy who’s quite easy to latch onto and sympathise with. The first fight pits him against one of the massive dragons, with only a bow and a bunch of home-made explosive barrels where he’s completely out of his depth but, like the villagers he’s trying to save, you can’t help but want to cheer him on.
This is amplified by his backstory which is pretty bleak – he’s pretty much lost everything at this point now his friends have been gruesomely caught in the game’s glitches. This is where it can be pretty dark and ruthless as it takes what would be minor annoyances or funny moments in real life to literally life-ending degrees. Clip through a wall? Enjoy falling through nothingness for eternity. Teleport somewhere you shouldn’t? Enjoy spending the rest of your days glitching in the same spot. Tried to fly? Spend the rest of your days floating through the sky like a lost balloon. It does a good job playing with these situations, particularly when the bad guy debuggers show up, and for the kind of vile stuff that they do, they more than deserve it.
While these are more “ouch, I didn’t think of these things that way before” moments, it also knows how to have a bit of a laugh it has no qualms in exploring silly scenarios like taking on a monster with the weakest weapon, or ramming into walls to see if you can clip through them. Having dabbled in the games industry myself, I can say that the way it handles the entire situation is pretty true to life as these are things you have to look for. Casually it can be funny when you find something wrong, but I think what this manga captures well is the laborious nature of it all, as we see Haga being worn down from having to face the same scenario multiple times or spend hours smashing his face into a wall.
This is where I think it will be a bit make-or-break for most readers, as it’s filled with in-jokes, references and critiques of the profession that would only make sense to people who have really been in those situations before. What it does it does well, but looking in from the outside, some things might get a bit lost on people.
However, this is where Nikola comes into play as the newbie, and it’s definitely fun seeing her experience these things for the first time. A lot of this is down to how well she works with Haga as a duo, as the pair click instantly on the page. There’s an interesting dynamic of pairing an older, disillusioned guy with an eccentric young kid, and her energy really rubs off on him so instead of just going through the motions of his job, it feels like he’s interested in showing her the world and what he does, which makes you as a reader feel a lot more involved in the story.
Things progress well as the volume initially focuses on them getting to know each other and taking out some bad guys, but towards the end it throws in some twists which kind of ruin the overall vibe it’s going for. We do get some additional backstory and a goal for going forward, but it hints at it turning into a standard “save the world” type of adventure and I’m not entirely sure that that is what I want from this? I more want to see how they can turn testing into a fun comedy and it’s most likely how it balances this with the save the world plot going forward as to whether this is worth sticking around for in the long run. On one hand if it becomes too generic it could lose its unique space, but going too far the other way could become boring.
Masamichi Sato’s artwork melds a lighter, more comedic style with the rougher and more detailed one you’d expect to see from a fantasy manga, and I think it works rather well in giving distinct contrasts between each of the different characters. The monster designs can get pretty freaky though, and there’s definitely some sexual elements in here with one particularly phallic-looking creature as well as a shot of one of the bad guys being surrounded by women in a particularly lewd position. The latter is just something to be aware of content-wise, but I generally liked the look and feel of it all.
Quality Assurance in Another World is brought to us by Kodansha in both physical and digital formats. Translation is credited to Jacqueline Fung and the agency Local Manga and reads well with no issues to note.
Overall, Quality Assurance in Another World makes a decent start, offering a unique type of isekai story that provides plenty of laughs through the adventures of its very underpowered protagonist and his energetic new assistant, but also isn’t afraid to get into the nitty gritty of its main subject matter and provide a darker, more morbid spin on it. While those unfamiliar with the topic may struggle to connect with it, I think it does have potential if it can balance out its main story with its more industry-focused comedy as it goes forward.
Read the first two chapters for free on the Kodansha website.