The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
By the Grace of the Gods
How would you rate episode 1 of
By the Grace of the Gods ?
What is this?
One day, the life of middle-aged Japanese businessman Ryoma Takebayashi came to a rather sudden and disappointing end. Ryoma had never had a blessed life, but after his death, three great gods sought his cooperation and reincarnated him as a child in another world with swords and magic. Receiving a most cordial and divine welcome from the gods, Ryoma decides to live leisurely on his own in the forest for the time being. Working diligently at magic and hunting, Ryoma's greatest passion comes to be researching his tamed slimes. Training a variety of slimes (some newly discovered), the curtain rises on this easygoing life fantasy celebrating a second life with kind people in another world.
How was the first episode?
You know that feeling where as a kid you were driving to visit a relative with your parents, your dad is listening to talk radio, and you can't read or play a game because it'll make you carsick, so you just kind of stare out the window at the endlessly repeating scenery? To be more specific to all the Californians out there, the feeling of traveling along the 5 instead of the 1 because your dad insists on getting there as fast as possible, ocean views be damned?
Or maybe you know the feeling of sitting in an airport, having caught up on your Twitter timeline but not wanting to start something else because you're supposed to board soon and don't want to get into it only to be interrupted. It's already past the time printed on your boarding pass but they haven't made any announcements about delays so you have no idea when things will start happening.
Or you have to read through a bunch of tortured metaphors when you really wish the reviewer would just talk about the anime already…
Those are what watching By the Grace of the Gods feels like. It's that specific kind of boredom where you're not uncomfortable or in pain, you just really wish you could be doing anything else and just want to move on, but you're stuck with it until someone says so, or in this case, until the episode ends.
When Ryoma Takebayashi died suddenly of an aneurysm brought on by severely bonking his head, the gods decide to reincarnate him in another world as an eight-year-old for… reasons, and give him high stats so that he can live as chill a life as he wants. He chooses a life of total isolation, raising slimes, until one day three years later he stumbles on a group of knights with one injured. Luckily he can heal the injured knight with potions because he's just that versatile despite having the body of an 11-year-old.
The animation in this episode was extraordinarily limited, to the point that the episode was practically a slideshow with moving mouths and slightly bouncing slimes. It's possible to pull that off, but you need to make up for the lack of motion with stylistic competence, like Toilet-Bound Hanako from a couple seasons ago. Here, the character designs and backgrounds are the very picture of genericism, matched only by their blandly pleasant personalities and slow-moving dialogue.
I hated watching it, hated its complete lack of artistry or any kind of emotion. It's paste. It's the yellow hills of the Central California valley in late summer. It's the sterile lifelessness of an airport terminal. The ending credits rolling felt like getting your boarding group announced, like stumbling out toward grandma's house once the car parks. It's the relief of finally moving forward.
If I had to sum up By the Grace of the Gods in one phrase, that would be “mostly harmless.” My second choice of phrase would probably be “slime farming,” because wow, does the protagonist love slimes. Certainly more than the fellow who was reincarnated as one several years ago. Just why Ryoma has devoted so much of his time to them since his reincarnation from our world into the fantasy realm of Seilfall isn't really discussed – the first being he met upon arrival was a slime, so maybe he imprinted? But it's clear that by the time we enter the story, three years post-arrival, he has spent a lot of time learning about slimes, breeding slimes, and napping with slimes. He's basically the slime equivalent of a crazy cat lady.
If I've spent most of the review thus far discussing his predilection for slimes, that's because that's really the most memorable thing about the episode, which is otherwise fairly standard isekai fare. Ryoma died from hitting his head (although there's a strong implication that he was in such bad shape because of first his abusive father and later his abusive work situation), the gods of a parallel world felt badly for him and really needed to beef up their world's magic content, and so took charge of Ryoma's next life in a pseudo-medieval realm by reincarnating him at age eight with the cheat skills necessary to survive. Done and done.
For all that this episode is lacking in terms of substance (although given his previous life, I think the decision Ryoma made to avoid people for a while makes sense), it also isn't anything worse than being a bit dull to watch. The pastoral scenery is really soothing and lovely and the slimes are pretty cute, albeit bland. That the group of men Ryoma meets in the woods when he's eleven don't immediately try to either take advantage of his skills or force him to leave the forest out of concern for his well-being is a nice touch, although now that they know there's a kid living in a cave by himself it's clear that they aren't going to just ignore his existence. Mostly this episode just sort of meanders along, doing its mild isekai thing in a vaguely iyashikei manner, and ends with a theme song that implies that Ryoma may end up with a beast girl harem. It looks like it may cover all of its isekai bases.
So things may not stay gentle or slow for long, but while this episode wasn't offensive or anything, it also didn't do a great job of convincing me to stick around and find out more, even if I am vaguely curious as to why the bunny girl in the ending theme appears to have extra tails in her ears.
I've long accepted that my taste in iyashikei anime is just not going to mesh with some of the most overt examples of the genre. I can enjoy a good healing anime, but usually it's the kinds with some sort of hook, be it the fluffy hugs and shrine priestess chores in Gingitsune or the somber supernatural musings of Mushi-Shi. Stories about people living mundane and conflict-devoid lives just don't heal me; they bore me, and so I bounced off By the Grace of the Gods pretty hard.
Like sure, it's sweet of these three random Gods to give an overworked salaryman who died in his sleep a cushy pastoral life in a new world, and if that kind of escapism speaks to you then more power to you. But as the episode meandered along, expositing about Ryoma's backstory and introducing an equally lukewarm support cast, I felt my attention wandering away from the screen and it became an effort to finish the episode. It doesn't help that I'm just tired of fantasy settings with diegetic RPG stats and classes. It makes the world feel decidedly artificial, and in a show that's all about vicariously enjoying a permanent vacation in a new world, that kinda kills any warm fuzzies I might experience.
I certainly don't dislike this show, but it's something I'm not going to get anything out of, I don't think. Ryoma as an adult is a nice enough guy, but once he's hanging out inside an 11-year-old body he loses any charm that came from his burly businessman design before. The countless slimes he raises are cute enough, and it's a neat twist that he turns them into different types by feeding them different things, using those to create supplies and medicine while he lives out his days in pleasant isolation. But none of the dialogue or what little comedy is present leaves an impression. If I can't get invested in any of these characters or what they talk about, then it feels like taking a vacation in a doctor's waiting room. “Bland” feels like too mean of a descriptor for such an innocuous little production, but that's the only one I'm left with.
We've reached a strange point in the popularity life cycle that isekai light novels and their adaptations have been enjoying for some time now. Anime has always been steeped in self-reference and conscious iteration built on the success of other works; sometimes it's motivated by pure love of the original classics that made the tropes and clichés popular in the first place, other times it's the result of pure capitalistic opportunism, and most of the time it's a healthy mix of both. Point being, anyone that has more than a passing interest in modern anime is well aware of just how damned many of these “Reborn in Another World with [Insert Gimmick Here]” series we get every year, and that isn't even counting how many cheaply-produced light novels don't get a fancy anime adaptation, or even a translation, for non-native fans. Sometimes, when the starts align just right, you'll get a series that at least tries to be experimental or playful enough to stand out from the crowd, like that one about the Slime that everybody seems to love so much, or Ascendance of a Bookworm, which I really do plan on getting around to someday on account of all the good things I keep hearing about it.
A lot of the time, though, it seems like we're stuck with shows like By the Grace of the Gods. Here is a premiere that is so aggressively bland and predictable that it took me well over an hour to finish just one twenty-minute episode. Even with my daily dose of ADHD medication, my brain could not get through more than a couple of minutes of this featureless mush of a show without screaming at me to do literally anything else. What makes this show so indicative of that strange place in isekai anime's popularity that I mentioned earlier is that it is the kind of show that spends five entire minutes rehashing the tedious specifics of who our hero was before he died, the motivations of these gods that are in reincarnating him to their generic fantasy world as a tiny boy, and so on. Even the protagonist himself admits that he's perfectly fine rushing through his post- mortem orientation, because this is just the kind of thing that you see in anime all the time. No big deal.
To recap, here is a show that is purposefully lacking any meaningful sense of identity, one that even admits to your face that it is the exact same thing you've seen time and time again, and it still somehow manages to waste an entire episode on pointless exposition, boring characters, and nerding out over more weird-looking slimes than you can shake a stick at. Just…why? The end-credits animation seems to suggest that there's going to be a bevy of cat-girls that will take a shine to Ryoma at some point; I'm also guessing that this Reinhardt guy is going to factor into the story somehow, and there's that little blonde girl who shows up in the OP, too. Maybe there's something to this story once it actually gets going, but I didn't see even a hint of that in this premiere. I could start going off about the uncomfortable vibes that would come from putting this middle-aged-man-turned-10-year-old into any kind of intimate relationship with either little girls or fully-grown women/cat/whatevers. It's too much effort to expend on a show that was never going to appeal to a guy like me in the first place. Even isekai die-hards would be better off searching for any of the other similar series that are saturating the market at this point, because I have to believe that they are more worthwhile than By the Grace of the Gods.
By the Grace of the Gods is a different kind of isekai series than ones which normally get adapted into anime. Whether that is a point in its favor or not depends heavily on what one seeks in an isekai title. At the very least, it is maybe the most low-key isekai title adapted to date.
The light novel realm has a whole class of isekai series that are more developmental than action- oriented in nature, and this is one of them. Much like Ascendance of a Bookworm, the protagonist is thrust into this world without a clear purpose; in fact, he is specifically told just to live his life however he sees fit by the gods who brought him here. Thus the series will focus much more on the minutiae of everyday life than on big events. Sure, this episode has a crisis involving a man who almost dies, but Ryoma has medicine handy so no problem at all. The rest of what transpires simply shows his encounter with the three gods who send him to the world of Seilfal, explains a bit about his life in the previous world and how he plans to live differently in this one, and briefly shows how he got started with researching slimes. In other words, very standard situation-establishing fare.
What gives this title a bit of separation from others is the emphasis it places on slimes. Rather than the protagonist being a slime or killing them for experience points, Ryoma decides to tame and study them. The first episode already shows a sampling of what he has accomplished with developing slime types, and considerably more of that will play out as the series goes forward. If the episode has a potentially fascinating aspect to it, it's the way it takes this normally-lowly creature and shows how it can be fostered into something more powerful and especially more versatile. This is never going to be explored to any earth-shaking degree, but expect to see business applications of what you see here coming up eventually.
All of this is executed with some very ordinary artistic quality and animation, but on the plus side, the anime at least emphasizes the game stats-based quality of the setting far less than the source novels do. It also reorders the first part of the first novel quite a bit and makes some significant trims, but I do not see that as a problem. On the whole, this is a respectable adaptation so far, and if it isn't necessarily the most exciting thing out there, it at least has potential as light entertainment.
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