The Fall 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?
How would you rate episode 1 of
Didn't I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life?! ?
What is this?
Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? Is based on a series of light novels, and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll on Mondays at 11:30 EDT.
How was the first episode?
For the sake of time and my own sanity, I've been referring to this show as Average Isekai in my notes, because that title is just too damn long, but it turns out that my shorthand is a pretty solid descriptor of the series in general. Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? is, in every sense of the word, an average anime. It's heroine, Mile, is the typical self-aware everywoman who comes into this fantasy world with a healthy knowledge of anime tropes and the comedic sensibilities of an otaku (her fixation on boob size isn't just a font of lame jokes, but a major plot point in the episode's climax). The other characters Mile meets are explicitly labeled as stock fantasy/light novel archetypes: The tsundere mage, the overeager knight, the ditz with big boobs, etc.
Given that it is their second isekai light novel adaptation this year, Studio Project No. 9 is doing a decent job of keeping the animation light and fluid, and I'd say the art style is more appealing than High School ProdigiesK by far. The plot of the episode is your usual stew of exposition, silly humor, and basic worldbuilding: Mile arrives in town, meets the rest of the cast, goes on a low-level RPG mission, roll credits. All that being the case, most modern isekai are pretty bad by my metric, so a perfectly average isekai gets bumped up half a point simply by virtue of not making me roll my eyes so hard that they fall out of my skull. I was worried from the get-go about Mile being a preternaturally gifted teen in the body of a twelve-year-old, because that almost always serves as an excuse for the skeeviest kinds of fanservice, but Average Isekai pleasantly surprised me by being a pretty classy production all around. The boob jokes were pretty lame, and there's one gag that tries to play the potential rape of a child as a bit that falls embarrassingly flat, but this premiere sticks with being cute and charming for the most part, and it works. Ironically, Mile has just a skosh more personality than your “average” isekai hero; she can be awkward, hot-tempered, and even tricky when the mood calls for it. Sure, it's nothing we haven't seen a million times before, but I'll take “cliché dork that is just doing her best” over “cliché slab of hero putty with a hairdo” any day.
At this point, I don't think it's any secret that the currently trendy stew of light-novel sensibilities and age-old isekai tropes does positively nothing for me, so I don't think I'm going to revisit Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life? For those of you who enjoy modern style isekai anime, though, this one feels like a better time investment than the likes of High School Prodigies or what have you. It's mostly inoffensive and even occasionally entertaining, which may be a low bar to clear, but this show manages to clear it without falling flat on its face, and you won't find me complaining about that.
My inclination as a reader of the original novels is to spend this entire review just sort of screaming, “Why?!!?”, but I am going to attempt to be better than that. Partly this is because while the episode does butcher the first novel of author Funa's series, it isn't an objectively terrible show – it just isn't the one I wanted to see.
So where does this go wrong for novel readers? Certainly one answer is right there in the screencap – the addition of a mascot character who is meant to represent the nanos. While I can appreciate that the concept as presented in the books would not translate well into a visual medium, turning the invisible (and generally silent) authors of reality into a cute little floating kitty feels like an odd choice in general. For one it feels like it downplays some of Mile's intelligence; while she still seems a little weird without the whole talking to herself bit that the nano cat brings to the table, now she's having full-out conversations with what is essentially an imaginary friend, which not only doesn't help her issue with being perceived as younger than her twelve years, but also allows for more people to observe her talking to thin air. While Mile certainly does communicate with the nanos in the books, it's generally a much less public affair, which makes her lack of understanding of her “average” powers being anything but the chief reason people find her odd.
The decision to start when Mile is already twelve and getting ready to enroll in the Hunter Academy is also a little strange. It's almost certainly going to require a flashback episode or two somewhere down the line, because the ending theme indicates that her friends from her time as Adele are going to put in an appearance, and later developments rely on the two groups meeting. I would say that it was to move the story forward more quickly, but it does so at the expense of naturally learning about Mile's powers along with her, and once again takes her from being intelligent but lacking in common sense to just making her look somewhat less brilliant, since we don't see her developing the awareness of her skills that occurs during the missing story arc.
What we're left with is an episode of a very average, pretty textbook isekai story that just so happens to star a girl instead of the usual boy. That doesn't mean that part of what makes the novels so enjoyable – that they're largely devoid of fanservice and romance and are just about a group of girls being awesome and going adventuring – but this episode's increased emphasis on Mile's unhappiness with her chest size and the whole kidnap-girls-for-a-harem thing makes me worry. The character designs look right and I like the voices, but I'd have to say that this adaptation is probably going to go down better with those who haven't read the books. Novel readers should proceed at your own risk.
Though I have not read the original novels, I have read the first volume of the manga adaptation. Between that and what I've heard about the novel, I think I can say with confidence that this is the odd isekai series which might play better to those new to the franchise than to established fans. That's because it adjusts a lot about the basic set-up, but unlike with Arifureta, it may not be obvious to franchise newcomers that a lot was truncated. Also, such individuals are less likely to be bothered by the extrapolation of one effect that was physically manifested into a dragon-like mascot critter.
However, the charming aspect of the manga which encouraged me to label this as one of my higher-priority new titles for the season is mostly still there. This title isn't exactly a comedy – definitely not in the vein of a Cautious Hero or Kemono Michi, anyway – but it still falls decidedly on the lighter side of isekai series. That helps take the edge off of how comparatively grossly overpowered Mile is for her setting. In fact, some of the best humor in the episode comes in Mile's horrified reaction when she realizes that she has just shown off her true power to the group of girls who assemble with her to thwart the kidnapping ring. The episode doesn't get far enough to show how the girls react to her after that, as the episode ends with Mile discovering that they will be her roommates in Hunter (read: adventurer) school, but this already has the hallmarks of a cheery, heartwarming story so I suspect that they will get along just fine.
On the downside, the main issue I had with the manga version still remains: the way the story is stretching to use “average” in a situation where “midpoint” would be a much better fit is still irksome from a mathematical perspective. (Gods can interpret things like that however they want, I guess.) I could also do without the overemphasis on breast size comparisons, which starkly contrasts with how the series goes out of its way the other way to minimize how sordid the kidnapping scheme seems. The series doesn't need a fan service angle and it wouldn't fit well anyway. On the plus side, that magic in the setting is actually the operation of nanomachines in the atmosphere acting on the mental will of people is quite an interesting angle, one which I hope will get explored more.
One place where the first episode does come out truly average is in the technical merits. In fact, on the whole this episode practically sets a baseline for isekai series; you have to be better than this to be considered a good isekai series and worse than this probably isn't worth watching. I'll almost certainly watch more because I find the cutesy aspect to be a refreshing change of pace and I mostly like Mile as a character, but in general this series is as middle-of-the-pack as they come so far.
Clocking in as this season's fifth isekai, we've got the characteristically long-winded Didn't I Say To Make My Abilities Average In The Next Life? Starring the diminutive Mile, Average's hook seems to be that in spite of possessing nearly unlimited power, our heroine doesn't actually want to conquer this world. In fact, she'd rather just attain “absolutely average, completely unremarkable, everyday happiness.” So how does Mile's quest for everyday happiness measure up against the pack?
Quite well, as it turns out. Though I haven't personally enjoyed the great majority of properties in this recent isekai boom, I still like the fundamental conceit of the genre, and particularly sympathize with it as a totally understandable reaction to an alienating modern world. My issue with most isekai is not the pain that drives their protagonists to desire a new life, but the sense of anger and grievance they carry with them to that life. Shows like Arifutera or Shield Hero often seem to most prioritize empowering their protagonist beyond belief, and making everyone else either directly subservient to or indirectly worshipful of them, which is a fantasy I can't relate to at all. While I agree the modern world is cruel and alienating, I also believe we're all in this together, and that merely reasserting the arbitrary hierarchies of our own world with ourselves at the top is a tragic way to react to our unhappiness. In light of that, Mile's desire for “ordinary happiness” feels far more sympathetic to me, while still harnessing the sense of personal injustice that often spurs these narratives forward.
Mile's strength as a protagonist extends beyond her understandable desire for a normal life. Though this episode is still peppered with lots of the lazy “hey, it's just like an isekai” gags that tend to drag down these properties, Mile tends to react to these situations not with dismissive snark, but honest glee. Her positive attitude keeps the tone light throughout this premiere, and that style of sympathetic characterization extends to the supporting cast. No one here is “out to get” Mile; everybody is just struggling through, a choice that keeps this episode feeling lighthearted throughout, while avoiding the misanthropy that tends to hobble these show's attempts at genuine human insight.
Tone aside, this episode moves quickly through an episodic conflict that naturally introduces a whole adventuring party worth of characters, while simultaneously setting up a longer arc, giving this premiere a solid sense of progression and forward momentum. Mile also gets plenty of fun expression work, and what exposition dumps exist are fairly brief. My biggest issue with this episode was its severely hit-or-miss comedy; along with the lame fourth wall gags, there are also a fair number of tired boob comparison jokes, and an equally wince-worthy variation on Edward Elric's old “who's calling me short” gag. There are certainly a fair number of jokes that land as well, but the episode's strike ratio is significantly below where I'd like.
Still, on the whole, Average stands as the clear best of the more traditional isekai this season, with only the fully satirical Cautious Hero matching its appeal. I'd be happy to see more isekai that echo the positive tone of this one, and recommend it to any fans of the genre.
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