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Mushoku Tensei Is Not the Pioneer of Isekai Web Novels, But...


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Cam0



Joined: 13 Dec 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:20 am Reply with quote
I had heard of Naro before and I knew it had something to do with these isekai light/web novel adaptions but I didn't know exactly what people meant when they were talking about Naro-kei or Naro novels or Naro something something. This was a very informative and interesting read.

Thanks.
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Shiroi Hane
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:28 am Reply with quote
While there are reincarnated people in the world of Death March (Arisa most notably) Satou isn’t one of them; while he was certainly overworked he didn’t actually die and while he did get a younger body he wasn’t reborn as an infant.
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Brook09



Joined: 10 Jan 2021
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:46 am Reply with quote
Great article, really informative.

It had great insight, for various stuffs, and the timelines of what novel made it first etc.
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Greed1914



Joined: 28 Oct 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:36 am Reply with quote
Appreciate the article. I've seen discussions that characterized it as that way, but when I looked up how long it had been around, it didn't quite add up. I kind of wondered if it wasn't somewhat like how Resident Evil isn't the first survival horror game, but it is the one that ended up defining what people expect from the genre.
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SilverTalon01



Joined: 02 Apr 2012
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 11:47 am Reply with quote
Great read!
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Eddy564



Joined: 14 Sep 2008
Posts: 336
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 12:50 pm Reply with quote
As someone who has been getting into Isekai anime as of late, this article was a great read. Mushoku has been one of my top seasonal winter anime so I look forward to supporting it once the anime finishes.
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Shay Guy



Joined: 03 Jul 2009
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 1:00 pm Reply with quote
I was so excited for this piece, and it did not disappoint.

You know what was the first story I saw where a nerd gets hit by a truck and finds himself in a fantastical world? The 2004-2007 English-language crossover fanfic Hybrid Theory, which I discovered in the late 2000s. And I'm sure there were death-triggered anime self-inserts on rec.arts.anime.creative and the FanFiction Mailing List before then*; I even vaguely remember seeing one with a serial reincarnator, sent to one anime universe after another, including an "oh crap now I'm Shinji Ikari" bit.

*If anyone's interested about that history, I have people I can ask.

Back in 2008, I privately toyed with ideas for a reincarnation-based Naruto self-insert fic that never went anywhere. In 2011, another Naruto fan used that concept to write Dreaming of Sunshine, which later became the most popular Naruto fic on FanFiction.Net. And when I discovered Mushoku Tensei in 2014 and then Kenkyo, Kenjitsu o Motto ni Ikite Orimasu in 2015 (the latter best explained to anime-only fans as the most prominent precursor to My Next Life as a Villainess), I had the same reaction both times: "It's like fanfic, but for something that doesn't exist."

This was how my intuitive understanding of Japanese webnovels developed. On November 27, 2015, I tweeted, "A big part of the Japanese webnovel world is basically Spacebattles." This was in reference to a website that was originally devoted to videos of spaceships blowing each other up back in the '90s, but has since become much more famous for its message boards. (Traditional joke that gives a good idea of the culture: "How many [something innocuous] does it take to beat [something intimidating]?" "One, at sufficient velocity.") The most active board is the Creative Writing forum, where the vast majority of threads are for fanfic. If you look at the most-viewed threads there from 2003 to 2006 or so, the fandoms you'll find represented are about what you'd expect from a site called Spacebattles: Star Trek, Babylon 5, Stargate, Battlestar Galactica. And then in the late 2000s, you start seeing Eva represented, and other anime with it. And in the early 2010s, a whole phenomenon bloomed of people writing crossovers that combined every fandom and its mother with... The Familiar of Zero, beginning with the Louise-summons-Shirou-Emiya fic The Hill of Swords.

I swear, when I first made that joke five years ago, I had no idea of the influence FoZ fanfic had had on Narou, or fanfic at all. Not until I saw some of Kim's tweets that came out of the research for this piece. But when I did learn it, it felt like a circle had closed. Like a piece I hadn't realized was missing, but made perfect sense in retrospect. Narou looked like the spaces I knew because it was them.

Every now and then I'll see commentary on the cultural significance of fanfic, and a lot of it focuses rightly on the prominence of women and queer people, and how it serves as an outlet for desires that aren't reflected in mainstream publishing, showing an audience for broader minority representation and coffeeshop AUs and such. Or thinkpieces about the market exposed by former Twilight fanfic Fifty Shades of Grey. And as true as all that is, it always feels weird to me, because those were never the types of fanfics or communities I ever ended up in. The desires of straight dudes manifest in fic too, and are especially prominent in some communities. Even though fandom as a whole might be significant as a space where cishet males don't dominate, I think the trends of dude-fanfic are worth studying in themselves. Even the overpowered self-inserts, the absurd harem scenarios, the persecution fantasies, the 100-plus-fandom space-opera crossover universes dating to 1991, the Draka-curbstomping-the-Conversion-Bureau hatefics. And now that so much of the same communal psychology is seeping into anime, it feels all the more so.

That includes the relationship with porn, shown in the eroge influences on Mushoku Tensei mentioned, an unfiltered view into the desires of straight men if there ever was one. And when you surround yourself with media devoted to indulging your desires and comforting you? You get blind spots.

Mushoku Tensei is described as fundamentally the story of Rudeus's coming of age. Any such story carries ideas about what adulthood and maturity and suchlike mean. In otaku culture, the most prominent and acclaimed such story has to be Evangelion. But if you look at that story? In large part, becoming an adult means developing the capacity for harm, and that makes it terrifying. It's there from the first battle to Third Impact, and also in Shinji's fear of his own sexuality. In Eva, you can't extricate yourself from the systems of harm around you, including the desires of powerful men to control women. The same dynamics that perpetuate cycles of abuse operate within you.

In a recent thread, I speculated that the real issue Mushoku Tensei has that repels so many is that it just... isn't interested in the way Rudeus can harm others, and doesn't see it as so important. And so the covert sexual abuse of a child just gets tossed out there as a bit of flavor, where the main focus is on his "worthlessness" -- a way of expressing that his value as a human is so low it's actually negative, because that's totally how it works, right? Your impact on the world around you isn't what matters. Just how impressed you can be with yourself.

But the fact is, we all have an id. We all have desires that we need to enjoy escaping into sometimes. As long as we're honest about what we're using to satisfy those desires. Because when people talk about the faults of a work of fiction, or the way toxicity can sneak in? It's not a threat. We don't have to be afraid of there being something to dislike in the soul of something we love and value, even something connected to centuries-old systems of harm. It doesn't taint us, if we can understand what others are pointing at and reflect on it sincerely.

And everything we get from it is still there.



Well, that got a bit heavy. When I started writing this, there weren't any comments here. But yeah, Narou has fascinated me for half a decade now. It's why I keep my spreadsheet, and why I sort it by webnovel debut date, because that keeps the focus on the history of the platform itself, its community, and their tastes, which has always been the most interesting thing to me. The development of its inroads into the world of light novels and eventually anime are important too, but for me, the heart of it is in a whole bunch of Extremely Online people feeding into each other. More than any of the individual stories, the space that spawns them is what I love.
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TUSF



Joined: 11 Oct 2013
Posts: 191
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 1:11 pm Reply with quote
Huh… As someone who read Mushoku Tensei's web novel ages ago (around 2014-15?) and has been reading different Narou web novels since, I had long recognized the very fanfiction-like style in which trends spread between isekai stories as if every story is based on several others with character names changed… but I didn't know that was because Narou itself was once a fanfiction website that dropped the fanfiction. lol.
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OtherSideofSky



Joined: 19 May 2016
Posts: 224
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 3:06 pm Reply with quote
I guess that explains why one of the first of many anime references in Mushoku Tensei is to Familiar of Zero (with one character of every proper name censored for copyright reasons).

When I first started reading Japanese novels, I remember thinking that the style of making almost every sentence its own paragraph must have come from the web novel boom, but I've since seen it in a bunch of fantasy novels from the 90s as well. I'd be interested to know who or what made that such a popular way to write. (Even older children's novels, for example, have longer paragraphs on average.)
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TarsTarkas



Joined: 20 Dec 2007
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 3:10 pm Reply with quote
Thanks for the article, it was quite interesting and informative.

Shiroi Hane wrote:
While there are reincarnated people in the world of Death March (Arisa most notably) Satou isn’t one of them; while he was certainly overworked he didn’t actually die and while he did get a younger body he wasn’t reborn as an infant.


I'd always assumed he died in his sleep, from overwork and probably not a healthy lifestyle. After all, you hear about gamers, playing till they drop (i.e. die). The Light Novel and the Manga didn't see to spell it out either, forcing us to assume that Satou was some kind of outlier.

Is there something in the web novel, that spelled out what actually happened to Satou, because for me that is one of the novel's biggest mysteries.
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GhostD



Joined: 07 May 2016
Posts: 820
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 4:49 pm Reply with quote
Very informative. I finished the Mushoku Tensei WN years ago but I didn't think about its origins or the life of the author until now. I didn't even know Meikyuu Harem was older than Mushoku and I read that too
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Shiroi Hane
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Joined: 25 Oct 2003
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PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 5:30 pm Reply with quote
TarsTarkas wrote:
I'd always assumed he died in his sleep, from overwork and probably not a healthy lifestyle. After all, you hear about gamers, playing till they drop (i.e. die). The Light Novel and the Manga didn't see to spell it out either, forcing us to assume that Satou was some kind of outlier.

It’s clear from his discussion with Arisa at the start of the second volume that he isn’t a reincarnation like her (he wasn’t reborn, didn’t meet a god and doesn’t have the standard skills all reincarnations have), but nor is he a traditional summoned hero (i.e. heroes start at level 50 while he started from level 1, again no standard skills and didn’t meet a god, and there was no summoning circle where he arrived). In one of the later translated LN volumes spoiler[we find that there are other transported people with no skills and he thinks briefly he may have been one of them since one went missing, but that turns out to be a red herring].

Quote:
Is there something in the web novel, that spelled out what actually happened to Satou, because for me that is one of the novel's biggest mysteries.

Right at the end of the WN it is revealed how and who brought him there but that’s obviously a huge spoiler (albeit one that largely confirmed what a lot of people had guessed already): spoiler[he was summoned by the Dragon God Akonkagura, who is also the god of his local shrine on earth, Ame no Mizuhana, and his killing of her and her kin was planned from the start. IIRC his “soul vessel” is so large because he is an amalgamation of infinity minus one versions of himself from the entire multiverse, the “minus one” being the Demon God who is the one and only lolicon version of him who thus reciprocated the love of the childlike Ame no Mizuhana and ascended to godhood to be with her, but went evil somewhere along the way.]
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Merxamers



Joined: 09 Dec 2013
Posts: 700
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 7:35 pm Reply with quote
This was a fascinating read; i was always wondering why these stories tend to have such a "plug and play" template nature to them, and the fanfic origins explains it. Of course, i read tons of these works at the risk of alienating my friends, so i won't judge Anime hyper
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KitKat1721



Joined: 03 Feb 2015
Posts: 409
PostPosted: Fri Mar 19, 2021 10:41 pm Reply with quote
I didn't end up sticking with Mushoku Tensei, but this was a great read! Lots of neat tidbits about the development & growth of the "genre" as a whole, and you can tell a ton of research went into the article.
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animemaster1
CEO of The Champion's Trial Escape Room League



Joined: 13 Sep 2008
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 20, 2021 1:16 am Reply with quote
I don't get it. What makes something like .hack//sign not an example of isekai anime if that would be an early example of a series literally about being stuck in a game world?? just to name one example
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