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Interview: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Author Rifujin na Magonote

by Kim Morrissy,

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is one of the most popular web novels ever to be serialized on Shо̄setsuka ni Narо̄. The series inspired a television anime earlier this year, which tells the epic tale from the beginning. In this interview with ANN, series author Rifujin na Magonote looks back on his experiences writing the novel and offers his perspective on its distinctive themes.

© Rifujin na Magonote 2014

You first started writing the web version of Mushoku Tensei in 2012, and almost 10 years later, your work has become an anime. Has working on the anime changed your impression of your original work?

Rifujin na Magonote: My impression towards the original work hasn't changed because the anime and novel are different things. What do you think? No matter how wonderful and polished the anime is, it doesn't make the original work any better. On the flip side, if the anime were so bad it makes you want to avert your eyes, it wouldn't make the original work any worse.

Mushoku Tensei is sometimes called the “pioneer” of Narо̄-kei light novels. How do you feel about this label?

Rifujin na Magonote: It's an honor, but I also feel it's mistaken. When I first started writing on Shо̄setsuka ni Narо̄, my work was already deeply influenced by the stories on there, so from my perspective, there are plenty of pioneers above me.

Some of the most controversial aspects of Mushoku Tensei are at the very start because it begins with Rudeus at his lowest. Looking back, are there ever times when you think “Maybe that was a little over-the-top” or “Maybe I should have held back a little”? Or do you think the balance was right for the story you wanted to tell?

Rifujin na Magonote: I think the balance was right. Because he's a controversial character, his mountain of regrets makes the act of redoing life more meaningful. 

Of course, I have no issue with criticizing Rudeus at the beginning stage, and it's up to you to decide whether you don't want to see the story because of that. With that said, if there's someone like Rudeus close to you and that person were to have even a slight change of heart and try to start over, I sincerely hope that you won't abandon them on the spot.

A relatively large part of Mushoku Tensei is about the sexual lives of the characters, including the side characters. Deviant sexual behavior is often depicted as well as a natural part of the world. What inspired you to take this kind of focus in your storytelling?

Rifujin na Magonote: In Japanese creative works, there are two polar opposite approaches to depicting sexual life: As “sacred” or as “pleasure.” I suppose I got my inspiration because I thought there wasn't enough representation of the viewpoint that reproductive activity is natural to organisms. 

I think that, among the instincts of a living creature, the urge to breed is the strongest even when put alongside the urge to eat. Most living creatures will generally live their lives driven by the natural desire to leave offspring behind. That inevitably goes hand-in-hand with sexual activity. Basically, it's a natural and important aspect of being a living creature.

Because it's an important part of the life of an organism, it's not wrong to call it sacred. However, it's also true that sex is associated with pleasure. You could also say that it's natural for people to treat sex as pleasure for as long as pleasure is intertwined with the act. With that in mind, when depicting the world of Mushoku Tensei, I aimed for the middle ground between “sacred” and “pleasure.” That's the vibe I was going for.

Incidentally, when writing the opening act of the story, I strongly emphasized Rudeus's perspective on sex as a thing of pleasure. It's only natural because he had no experience in his previous life, so the pleasure aspect was the only side he came into contact with. Consequently, there might be a lot of people who strongly feel the pleasurable side. But that shouldn't be a surprise—you don't broadcast something sacred for all eyes to see.

Although the story is told through Rudeus's point of view, Mushoku Tensei also feels like a story where there are other characters who could have been “the main character.” If you could tell the story through any other character's point of view, who would you choose?

Rifujin na Magonote: Norn, I suppose. I think that every character has their own story to tell, but I think she would be interesting as a character who treats trivial things as matters of great importance.

How much do you think you've changed as an author over time? Are there any significant differences between Mushoku Tensei and some of your more recent works?

Rifujin na Magonote: I don't think I've changed much. But more often these days when I get praised, I get a compulsive desire to make sure that what I write is proper, so my writing speed has slowed.

You've often talked about the influence that fighting games have had on your outlook, but this is not a fact that's well known in the English-speaking world. Could you explain your relationship with fighting games, and if that's impacted your writing at all?

Rifujin na Magonote: I started playing fighting games when I was around 18. Back then, I wasn't really good at dealing with people. In a fighting game, you compete against other people, so by taking up fighting games in an arcade, I started interacting with people without even knowing their real names. Most of them were older than me; it was thanks to them that I learned communication and proper manners. 

But it wasn't as if they gave me verbal tips, like do this or do that. I tried to imitate the behavior of the people I thought were good and avoided being like the people I thought were bad or often stirred up trouble… Basically, all the common-sense things that every human picks up from somewhere finally came to me in an arcade when I was around 20 years old. Basically, fighting games were what taught me how to clear the minimum bar.

As for how they influenced my writing, besides what I've expressed above, there's one other thing. I applied myself to fighting games in my own way, but once I reached a certain stage, I started thinking, “I've reached my ceiling.” To put it another way, I thought, “I'm done.” 

As far as competitive standards in Japan went, I was firmly in the middle of the pack, but in my local area I was the strongest. But I also knew that it wasn't really true that it was impossible for me to get any stronger. For example, I could have left my home town and challenged people who were stronger than me. Despite knowing that, I didn't want to experience the frustration and setbacks, so I ran away from it. Even though the truth was that I really did want to get stronger.

That feeling of regret was what supported me when I was writing Mushoku Tensei. When I was having a particularly difficult time writing, I would think, “If I flake out here, I'll be the same as back then.” It was what allowed me to steel myself.

As a result, I was able to write the web version of Mushoku Tensei all the way to the end. If I didn't have that experience with fighting games, I would have been satisfied at a much earlier stage, and when things became tough I would have run away from writing. Needless to say, I don't think I would have reached no. 1 in the rankings, and it wouldn't have gotten an anime either.

Do you still keep up with other works on Shо̄setsuka ni Narо̄? Are there any works you'd recommend?

Rifujin na Magonote: I wouldn't say I actively follow them, but when I have free time, I check out stories that have been recommended to me every now and then.

Here are some of my recommendations:

  • Ore ni wa Kono Kuragari ga Kokochi Yokatta (The Darkness Was Comfortable for Me)
  • Jakushо̄ Ryо̄chi no Seizon Senryaku! ~ Ore no Ryо̄chi ga Nando Kurikaeshitemo Metsubо̄ Surundakedo. Kore, Dо̄shitara Tasukarimasu ka? ~ (Survival Strategy for Weak Territories! ~ My Territory Will Be Destroyed No Matter How Many Times It Is Repeated. How Can This Be Saved? ~)
  • Nageki no Bо̄rei wa Intai Shitai ~Saijaku Hunter wa Eiyū no Yume wo Miru~ (The Grieving Spirit Wants to Retire ~ The Weakest Hunter Dreams of a Hero ~)

Do you have any advice for aspiring novelists and web novel authors?

Rifujin na Magonote: I hope you can start writing immediately and post it on the web.

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