The Fall 2020 Preview Guide
I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives.
How would you rate episode 1 of
I'm Standing on 1,000,000 Lives. ?
What is this?
Third-year junior high school student Yosuke Yotsuya is a reasonable kid but he doesn't have any friends. Suddenly, Yosuke is blown away into another world. Now the guy who avoided fights with his female classmates and loved being alone is supposed to be a hero, somehow.
How was the first episode?
I've been playing a lot of Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, lately. It's not a terribly good game, even after all of its patches. The story is nonsense, the systems are clunky, and anyone that has played an Ubisoft open-world game before knows exactly what to expect with it. Still, I've been having a surprising amount of fun killing time with it. There's just something about coming home after a long day of teaching and writing, putting on a really long history podcast, and zoning out to some checklist gaming at its most functional.
What does any of this have to do with the premiere of I'm Standing on a Million Lives? Well, I've come to realize that fantasy RPG-themed isekai anime have a lot of the same appeal to me as middling open-world action games: They're predictable, easy to pick up and understand without having to expend much energy, and they scratch some basic entertainment itches in a way that even a genre skeptic like me can't deny. The problem for me, personally, is that I would much rather play the generic video-games that these shows keep recreating than watch other characters mimic the gameplay via cheap animation and lazy direction. Anime, especially, requires a lot more energy output for viewers like me because of the reading involved, so it isn't like I can simply turn off my brain and zone out while a podcast plays when I watch a show like ISoaML. So instead, I force myself to pay attention while yet another token isekai hero gets a whole bunch of exposition dumped on him, meets at least two other token anime girls who have vaguely defined personalities, and then spends a bunch of time fiddling around with a literal user interface as he wanders a landscape that would be made entirely out of stock Unreal 3 assets and thinly veiled Elder Scrolls reskins, if it were an actual video game. It's someone's idea of fun, but it certainly isn't mine.
To the show's credit, ISoaML isn't anywhere near as insufferable as some of its more aggressively unwatchable counterparts (*cough* Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody *cough*). Yosuke is actually a character, for one. Sure, he's a misanthropic twerp that's as much of a cliché as anything around him, but that gives us something to work with. Also, the concept of their deaths being impermanent unless the whole party wipes is admittedly an interesting one, as it allows for genuine conflict and growth to occur between Yosuke, Shindou, and Hakozaki. If I were the kind of person to enjoy the simple pleasures that anime like this can offer, I'm Standing on a Million Lives would be worth at least a few more episodes of my time. I'm not that kind of person, however, so I'll be more than happy to bid my farewells to the world of…whatever this game is called, and set sail for greener pastures.
I remember not being all that impressed with the source manga for this title, so I can't say I was particularly looking forward to this episode. That said, I didn't care for the manga for entirely different reasons, so there's another lesson in not judging an adaptation by its source material. The biggest issue here is how disjointed the episode feels, jumping between scenes with little in the way of transitions, but also in the all-too-familiar trappings of the story. Protagonist Yotsuya is your average disaffected teenage boy for reasons we're not currently privy to, but he doesn't appear to have any outstanding conflicts with his classmates or parents; he's just not keen on life for plot purposes. What he does love is his video game, an RPG, which is the story's cue to lift him out of Tokyo and drop him into a similar setting. Unfortunately for him, it's the world's least-forgiving LARP session, and now he can be grumpy in a fantasy world as well as the real one.
Not that we can really blame him for being upset or frustrated with his luck, because Yotsuya is hardly living the isekai dream. The whole world he's been brought to seems pretty random, and when the weird half-headed man spins the wheel for Yotsuya's character class, he lands “farmer,” which is more useless than it sounds. So he's a beginner with low stats in a not-beginner area, and to make it worse, the two girls from his class who essentially roped him into this mess are also useless, albeit for different reasons. If anything, I'd say he has more reason to be angry in this new world than in the real one, at least based on what we've seen here.
The problem is that all of this makes Yotsuya and his two female companions all very unsympathetic, which is odd given that their situation ought to do the opposite. It even makes sense that shy, unathletic Hakozaki would be scared at suddenly being plunked down in a dangerous world and handed a sword, but in fiction, I like to at least see characters try to rise to the occasion, not immediately turn into useless baggage, which is basically what Hakozaki does from the get-go. Shindou, an equally useless wizard, fares a little better, but it seems very apparent that both girls exist in the show only as a means for Yotsuya to prove that he's better at playing the game, because neither of them do much in the way of training or trying. (Not that Shindou has much chance to before she gets eaten by a troll that looks like a fat Titan, which is hardly her fault.) It's all adding up to a power fantasy that uses its female characters as props to make the male lead look better as he grumpily eschews ideas of “friendship” and other family-friendly fare to prove that the series is edgier than its peers. That could change, but based on the opening scene, I'm not really holding my breath.
For pretty much its entire premiere, I struggled to get a handle on what I'm Standing on a Million Lives is going for. It opens in medias res with our hero Yotsuya slaughtering countless orcs and proclaiming his new fantasy life to be way more interesting than his life in that “shithole” Tokyo. From there we see him sleepwalk through his every day life at school, existing in isolation until he can retreat to his room to play video games and look up magazine spreads of his hot classmates. That raised some Arifureta-esque flags early on, because as tired as I am of dull, overpowered isekai potatoes nat-20'ing their way through life, I am even more done with the anti-social edgelord variant who smirks in constant self-impressed resentment towards anyone with a social life or ambitions.
After that, though, the tone of the episode shifts hard. Yotsuya finds himself in an isekai adventure with two of his classmates, yes, but the presentation of it all is intentionally absurd. Their time-restricted mission is delivered by a faceless mannequin with handprints over his nipples and a giant star emanating from his crotch. Yotsuya gets the goofy class of Farmer with a flimsy hoe and sickle as his only weapons, while his companions are revealed to be even more inept and unsuited for their roles. By the time it's revealed that death is just a 30-second cool down, this whole situation was starting to feel like a goofy farce aiming to emulate the energy of a bunch of DnD neophytes scrabbling their way through a campaign.
Then a giant troll shows up out of nowhere, eats one of the cast (conveniently negating her respawn), and Yotsuya leaves his only remaining companion to go level grinding in the woods, smirking evily as he once again gives us the line about preferring this new life. The whole setup emulates whiplash, and it leaves this premiere feeling like it was scrabbling to figure out its own premise as it was being written. It's not necessarily bad – there's room here for our misanthropic doomer protagonist to grow, and the strange mechanics of this isekai setup at least warrant some curiosity – but between the middling production values and polarized narrative beats I came away not knowing what this show wants to do, and not particularly interested in sticking around to find out.
Look out, we've got a badass over here.
I'm new around here, so some of you might not know this about me yet: while I don't inherently hate isekai, I consider the great majority of the ones made after, oh, 2005 to be either boring wish-fulfillment or misanthropic garbage, and sometimes both. Maybe I'm weird, but I like my stories to actually be about something. And thus, I went into I'm Standing on a Million Lives expecting to hate it. But then, something strange happened.
I didn't hate it. I didn't hate it all.
Perhaps it's because, for all his misanthropy and dislike of modern Tokyo and its society, Yosuke doesn't wallow in his hatred, and actually gets along pretty well with Shindou and Hakozaki. Maybe it's the weirdness of the gamemaster, a mannequin with half a head, handprints over his nipples, and stars over his crotch. Maybe it's because the girls' costumes are actually pretty cute. Maybe it's because Yosuke was neither constantly beaten down nor sailing through his second life with a doofy grin, but experienced both highs and lows.
Overall, I liked the varying, more balanced tone of the episode, but it did present some issues. For one thing, I don't really get just why Yotsuya is such a misanthrope. We see him in the real world sitting alone in his classroom and eavesdropping on gossip, then playing video games alone in the dark at home. But in the fantasy world, he gets along with the girls he's with easily enough. It also leads to some odd moments, like just how casual he was when Hakozaki's hand won't regenerate. If Shindo getting bitten in half is supposed to be a Madoka-style “shit just got real moment”, it certainly doesn't land.
Probably my biggest problem comes from just how useless the girls are compared to Yosuke, despite belonging to more powerful classes and having done more quests than him. It seems like they're mostly there to make him look more cool and powerful, and emphasize how better-suited he is for this world than normies like them. There's a sour, misogynistic note there, especially since he's the only major male character judging from the OP, and the fact that a lot of misanthropic male nerds just really hate women.
I would hesitate to call I'm Standing on a Million Lives “good”, but it's not terrible either. I might give it a couple more episodes, just to see how quickly it wears out its welcome.
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