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What's the Point of Isekai? The Cultural Implications of the Genre


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cchigu



Joined: 15 Feb 2020
Posts: 57
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 12:18 pm Reply with quote
Rant: Ascendance of a Bookworm is extremely overrated. Just because it trie something more fresh doesn't automatically makes it good. There are so many conveniences in the plot and the main character is extremely overpowered and has a 50 inches thick plot armor. Although the first season made it seem like it had potential, the second season destroyed the anime for me. The second season was either a sleep-fest or a cringe-inducing cheesy and unrealistic drama.

Kemono no Souja Erin is one of my favorites stories in the medium and I feel bad about myself for thinking that Bookworm would fill the hole that Erin left. feelsbadman
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John Thacker
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Joined: 28 Oct 2013
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PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 12:25 pm Reply with quote
I think, oddly enough, it's actually related to a common complaint about literary fiction. Modern literary fiction is stereotypically full of books written by middle-aged men that feature main characters who are middle aged men, often unsuccessful writers or college professors, trapped in a loveless marriage (or left by their wives) who end up in relationships with beautiful younger women. My wife and I love Haruki Murakami, but we also have enough awareness to laugh at how this basic description applies to Killing Commendatore, 1Q84, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, etc.

I think that the current emphasis on writing what you know, avoiding appropriation, etc., feeds into this, but it's always been the path of least resistance to write about characters exactly like yourself but achieving your dreams. In the isekai genre of bringing modern technology to an alternate past-like setting, Twain got there long ago with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. The difference there, of course, is that it goes a bit wrong at the end and he returns home.

That marks one of the differences between current stories and those popular 10 and 20 years ago-- there's much less of an emphasis on returning to your original world, unlike such tales like Fushigi Yuugi, Vision of Escaflowne, The Wizard of Oz, and others. Does that reflect a greater underlying dissatisfaction with one's life, that anime fans are less "realju?" Perhaps. Interesting to contrast it with Twelve Kingdoms, where the genre-savvy character (added for the show) who hated home and really wants to be in the alternate world totally fails to use her genre-savvy powers because of an abundance of bad luck and not being the chosen one, whereas the chosen character (for all that she was a cuckoo or changeling) is much less interested in staying in the other world at first.

Meta shows didn't just spring into existence in the '90s, either, though I'll grant that they are a lot more common. GoShogun is an extremely meta super robot series from 1981.
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Shay Guy



Joined: 03 Jul 2009
Posts: 1141
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 1:06 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
I for one, think it's interesting that a bunch of people who spend time writing stories about how unsatisfied your average otaku in the workforce is with their humdrum life, only to warp them to a world where they can keep going about their humdrum life except within the context of a fantasy light novel.


I don't think this is a complete sentence? It looks like everything after "a bunch of people" modifies that phrase, and there isn't an actual verb.
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ThatMoonGuy



Joined: 13 Oct 2017
Posts: 161
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 1:13 pm Reply with quote
The focus here is in stories like Knight and Magic but what I can't stop thinking when people mention Isekai is Parallel Paradise and its specific appeal. There, you have a protagonist who is transported to a world where he is the only man around and every woman has an almost automatic desire to get laid by him. It's pretty trashy stuff but I think that is hints to an interesting direction.

A lot of Isekai, I feel, is about individuals trying to feel validated and useful, to have their odd obsessions become something that's dignified. Now, this is by no means a new reading or anything but what I find interesting here is that this hints to a very fundamental dissatisfaction that never truly turns into anger. Their dream is not becoming a super hero or superpowerful person in the normal world and then realizing all their power fantasies here. If that was the case, then you could say that this kind of story is somewhat proto-revolutionary, in the sense that it holds a desire that things could be improved. But no, the desire is always to go to another world and I believe that may come, in part, to a thought that maybe this world isn't worth it and can't really be salvaged at all. "What's the point of being supremely powerful here, this world just isn't worth the effort". There's a deep disillusion with reality so going to another world where other rules apply is the only true exit. When I think about isekai in that sense, I wonder how it relates to japanese politics and a larger feeling that things have been the same for very long and don't necessarily seem like they may change anytime soon.
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Dark Mac



Joined: 17 May 2008
Posts: 71
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 1:43 pm Reply with quote
Why's the preview picture from Princess Connect even though it's not an isekai?
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XaelOstigian



Joined: 25 Oct 2019
Posts: 49
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 2:22 pm Reply with quote
This reads less like an article, and more like a dissertation about why isekai is still so popular in the social context. That's not an insult, it is my way of showing praise. A very well written piece indeed.
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JR-1



Joined: 02 Oct 2012
Posts: 45
Location: Southeast Asia
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 4:43 pm Reply with quote
It’s definitely interesting to think isekai (specifically narou-kei) as a kind of subculture within the larger subculture of otaku. There’s definitely a kind of comfort food like flavor that keeps readers, who are in different extents aware of the triteness and/or problematic aspects of it, keeps coming back for it the way people keep watching viral youtube vids or twitch streams.

As a primarily manga reader, I think it’s interesting to note is that the trend has definitely cause B and C list manga authors to ride the wave and write otherworld stories, but the more it diverge from trope-fixation and more into actual worldbuilding like typical fantasy manga the less it seems to catch on with narou-kei readers.
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Arale Kurashiki



Joined: 24 Aug 2015
Posts: 627
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 5:04 pm Reply with quote
"While you may not have heard of the site, you've definitely read or watched something adapted from a story that started there." Incorrect. (I'm arguably being pedantic here, but some of us are pretty discerning about what we watch.)

But in any case this is both very interesting to learn and makes me actually dislike this stuff even more. Comparing it to the algorithm-controlled world of YouTube where human beings turn themselves into robots for maximum SEO paints a dark picture in my mind.
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Probablytomorrow



Joined: 04 Aug 2019
Posts: 82
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 6:57 pm Reply with quote
I know what isekai is, but what's narou-kei and shousetsu?
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Shay Guy



Joined: 03 Jul 2009
Posts: 1141
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 7:03 pm Reply with quote
Probablytomorrow wrote:
I know what isekai is, but what's narou-kei and shousetsu?


The piece explains the latter as being short for Shousetsuka ni Narou; the former basically means "the type of stories you see there". I tend to think of it as referring more specifically to fantastical stories that are about the protagonist not having to try hard for anything. (Pretty sure the kanji for "kei" is this.)
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all-tsun-and-no-dere



Joined: 06 Jul 2015
Posts: 203
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 7:29 pm Reply with quote
Shay Guy wrote:
Probablytomorrow wrote:
I know what isekai is, but what's narou-kei and shousetsu?


The piece explains the latter as being short for Shousetsuka ni Narou; the former basically means "the type of stories you see there". I tend to think of it as referring more specifically to fantastical stories that are about the protagonist not having to try hard for anything. (Pretty sure the kanji for "kei" is this.)


Shousetsu is just Japanese for novel, maybe isekai novels as opposed to other forms of media?
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Kazzy Buns



Joined: 21 May 2020
Posts: 3
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 7:31 pm Reply with quote
It's not even just Japan anymore. These kind of isekai stories dominate even in English webnovel sites nowadays. Pretty often, these are driven by anime fans elsewhere, which adds a unique perspective of the otaku culture in their respective country into their stories. As one such writer of them myself, I pretty much agree with this article. And it's certainly true that the popular ones in English aren't driven by quality, but by how fast one can churn out material. Therefore, isekai stories end up all over the place in how good they are.
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Dr. Wily



Joined: 09 Nov 2007
Posts: 119
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:05 pm Reply with quote
Quote:
I for one, think it's interesting that a bunch of people who spend time writing stories about how unsatisfied your average otaku in the workforce is with their humdrum life, only to warp them to a world where they can keep going about their humdrum life except within the context of a fantasy light novel.


I mean, the obvious thing thing in isekais is that the protagonist's (and probably writer's) humdrum life skills become very very useful and important in the fantasy world. Look to the huge number of isekai where the protagonist is basically superhuman because they're a gamer in real life.

Everybody watches movies/plays games/reads books where the protagonist does something they dislike and goes "Oh if I were there, I'd do [x]". Isekai are where people (presumably like the viewer, because as mentioned, a lot of the protags of isekai are themselves otaku) see the genre/game format they're tossed into and can turn it to their advantage. Isekai is basically like armchair quarterbacking the fantasy genre.

And one understated final aspect, perhaps more important to those NEET/salaryman writers you mentioned than to the readers, is financial freedom. In the fantasy worlds, cash comes easy. Whether it's because the protagonists powers/knowledge of our regular world allow them to easily gain capital, or because they can crash on the couch of some quirky new friend and/or future love interest, in an isekai, no one has to pay rent. Maybe they're never filthy rich, but when the protagonist is in their other world, they can go... I don't know, slay a dragon and get a reward at their leisure, instead of working a soul-crushing 9 to 5. No one worries about paying off their mortgage in isekai, or saving for retirement. In many ways, this is more the fantasy than all the superpowers and the harems that we commonly associate with the genre. The ability to go about their humdrum life... without the worries lingering in the back of everyone's mind.
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Arale Kurashiki



Joined: 24 Aug 2015
Posts: 627
PostPosted: Fri Aug 21, 2020 8:27 pm Reply with quote
Dr. Wily wrote:

Everybody watches movies/plays games/reads books where the protagonist does something they dislike and goes "Oh if I were there, I'd do [x]".

This is also incorrect. But also understandable that people who understand stories on this level would write stories on that level.
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Jose Cruz



Joined: 20 Nov 2012
Posts: 1718
Location: Brazil
PostPosted: Sat Aug 22, 2020 5:18 pm Reply with quote
ThatMoonGuy wrote:
The focus here is in stories like Knight and Magic but what I can't stop thinking when people mention Isekai is Parallel Paradise and its specific appeal. There, you have a protagonist who is transported to a world where he is the only man around and every woman has an almost automatic desire to get laid by him. It's pretty trashy stuff but I think that is hints to an interesting direction.


I watched and anime and read a manga with a title in English "Knights and Magic", it's was basically about a mecha otaku who gets turned into a little kid who also becomes the king of mecha engineering. It had tons of female characters but they don't behave like haren lovers of the main character, they are just "there".

Quote:
A lot of Isekai, I feel, is about individuals trying to feel validated and useful, to have their odd obsessions become something that's dignified. Now, this is by no means a new reading or anything but what I find interesting here is that this hints to a very fundamental dissatisfaction that never truly turns into anger. Their dream is not becoming a super hero or superpowerful person in the normal world and then realizing all their power fantasies here. If that was the case, then you could say that this kind of story is somewhat proto-revolutionary, in the sense that it holds a desire that things could be improved. But no, the desire is always to go to another world and I believe that may come, in part, to a thought that maybe this world isn't worth it and can't really be salvaged at all. "What's the point of being supremely powerful here, this world just isn't worth the effort". There's a deep disillusion with reality so going to another world where other rules apply is the only true exit. When I think about isekai in that sense, I wonder how it relates to japanese politics and a larger feeling that things have been the same for very long and don't necessarily seem like they may change anytime soon.


I wouldn't go that far. People love fantasy, what isekai does is that the main character is aware that he is in a world that is not his original world. It's just escapism from there on: although some like Shield Hero are a bit like deconstruction of the genre. Overall, there is great variety in isekai stories these days. Some are just slice of life with videogames (Bofuri) while others take themselves more seriously.

But I guess it's all about entertainment and as many young people in East Asian countries grow up playing fantasy RPGs then the natural evolution is fiction about people living in fantasy RPG world's.
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