The Summer 2021 Preview Guide
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom
How would you rate episode 1 of
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom ?
What is this?
Kazuya Souma found himself summoned to another world and his adventure--did not begin. After he presents his plan to strengthen the country economically and militarily, the king cedes the throne to him and Souma finds himself saddled with ruling the nation. What's more, he's betrothed to the king's daughter now. In order to get the country back on its feet, Souma calls the wise, the talented, and the gifted to his side. Five people gather before the newly crowned Souma.
How was the first episode?
Before we get into it, there's one important disclaimer I have to make. I'm intimately familiar with the source material for this series, having read the manga and first few novels—even more so having re-read the manga only a few weeks back. Because of this, it's hard to separate what I know is going on with what is actually shown on screen. I know all the proper nouns, where the countries and dukedoms lie on the map, and the political issues at stake going in.
That said, I can't help but wonder how all this comes off to new viewers. It seems like an awful lot of information is being thrown out there right away—a lot of it not relevant to the episode's main plot of Souma paying off the Gran Chaos empire so he doesn't get shipped off as collateral.
Regardless of how it plays out to new viewers, I can see what the creators are attempting to do. The cutaways to the three dukes, the ruler of Gran Chaos and her knight, and the mysterious young lady with her butler in Amidonia are an attempt to A) introduce us to characters who will be important down the line and B) show us outside reactions to the events surrounding Souma without having someone tell Souma that the dukes are unsettled with him taking the throne. Instead of Souma simply saying he sold off some national treasures, we see the person who bought them—which adds a bit of intrigue as that person is in a neighboring country. It's a bit of “show not tell” that shows the writer and director are doing more than the bare minimum to adapt the story to the screen.
My favorite bit of this is how the Queen of Elfrieden is handled. She has a total of four lines in the episode but is constantly looming in the background. The King and others look to her before big decisions are made, waiting for her to interrupt. It is a great way to hint at who really holds the power in the Kingdom without saying anything directly.
Likewise, I like how the King is portrayed. While he looks like a bit of a coward at first, his unsure demeanor is simply because he has empathy for Souma's situation. It's clear he didn't expect the summoning to work and, now that it has, doesn't want to callously send Souma to an unknown fate. When Liscia confronts him about abdicating the throne, we see the other side of his personality. He doesn't stumble in his response—he doesn't even look to the Queen for guidance. He simply states that he believes he's doing the best thing he can for his country and that's the end of it.
All in all, while this first episode may have been too much of an info dump to those new to the franchise, to fans of the source material like myself, I feel it worked quite well.
Here's the deal: over the last several years, I've watched more mediocre isekai premieres than I can count. I've watched very few of them past the first episode, and even fewer of them to completion. Most of them have been very popular, much to my chagrin, but then largely forgotten almost immediately afterward. I mean, who even remembers The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser of Einherjar or Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody? How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is just yet another power fantasy, with a super-special main character who comes in and fixes everything with his super-skills.
This is one of a particular sub-genre, where the hero isn't granted super power video game skills and high power levels, but instead uses his modern knowledge to impress the ignorant medieval society and rocket himself to the top of the heap immediately. This sort of series usually carries a stench of colonialism, and Realist Hero positively reeks of it. Kazuya is summoned to the Kingdom of Elfrieden intended as a sacrifice to the Demon Empire, but manages to impress them so much with his 101-level knowledge of economics that the king abdicates and hands him the throne and his daughter, no questions asked.
The idea that you can come barging into a delicate situation and culture that you know nothing about and just fix everything with your superior modern knowledge, or that it will even be an improvement for the people under you, is exactly what fuels colonizing forces all over the world throughout history. Countless atrocities have been committed in the name of “modernity,” countless cultures wiped out because they dare to have a different way of doing things from their conquerors. The only difference here is how easily the king hands the keys to the kingdom over; Kazuya has no knowledge whatsoever of what drives their culture, their values, their economic systems.
It's horrendously superficial, and only works because the culture of Landia (seriously?) is a poorly-considered generic fantasy world, giving Kazuya a basic framework to work within, instead of a rich culture of its own. Kazuya himself brings little to the narrative as well, since he doesn't have much personality to speak of. He's a walking, “Destroyed by FACTS and LOGIC” YouTube video, and we all know how much unbiased, logical reporting happens in those. (None. The answer is none.)
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is the most obnoxious kind of power fantasy, one where it thinks it's deep and smart but is actually facile. It's a college freshman who thinks they're an expert because they got a B in their 101-level course.
On its surface, How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom shares some superficial similarities with one of my favorite anime comedies, Amagi Brilliant Park, namely in how both series are about a no-nonsense human with a keen sense of fiscal responsibility is given the reigns to reform an entire fantasy kingdom. Obviously, Amagi Brilliant Park operated within the gimmick that the fantasy kingdom had to present itself as a kitschy amusement park to blend in with human society. In Realist Hero, on the other hand, our protagonist Souma simply gets whisked off one day by the usual hero-summoning spell to the land of, um, Landia.
If that subtle bit of naming convention didn't already clue you in, don't worry, it only takes a minute or two before it quickly becomes apparent that Realist Hero also differs from series like Amagi by abandoning any pretense of creativity or originality. The whole world is populated by the bog-standard groups of humans, elves, dwarves, dragon-folk, and also at least one anthropomorphic bear. There's a horde of demons that hail from the creatively named Demon World, and they're led by — get this — the Demon Lord. The king of Elfrieden that ordered Souma's summoning is literally just the guy from the royal suits of those Bicycle card decks, for crying out loud.
There are virtually no jokes, and barely even any discernable conflicts for the majority of this premiere. Souma is summoned to this brain-meltingly bland fantasy realm, an event that he treats as little more than a mild nuisance, and it takes 15 minutes for the show to just get through all of the exposition that lays the groundwork for the story, an impressive feat considering how rote and cliché every single element of the setting and story is in this first episode. Now, it would be one thing if this were a deeply funny parody that was aping the usual genre conventions with its protagonists' more bureaucratic approach to world-saving, but that really isn't the case. There aren't really any jokes to laugh at here, and the reliance on cheap light novel conventions smacks more of laziness than any desire to be playful or witty. Souma himself has no discernable personality to speak of, and the only real character interaction he gets is with his would-be betrothed, the princess Liscia. She's a little miffed that her father went and abdicated his throne to some stranger from another dimension, but Souma's not about to pressure her into marriage — he just needs someone to bounce his restructuring ideas off of while he gets the nations finances in order.
So, if the jokes aren't there, and the conflict isn't there, and our two ostensible leads have zero chemistry to speak of, what does Realist Hero have to offer? As of right now, I'd argue almost nothing. It's too aggressively bland to be offensive, so I guess it will do if you are in desperate need of something to put on while you fold laundry or whatever, but I can't imagine anyone going bananas over this show when there are just so many better options to pick from out there.
Another season of anime, another slate of otherwise identical isekai adaptations with precisely one (1) gimmick to differentiate themselves. Last season we had Isekai But With a Big Hat and Isekai But I'm a Spider, and now we have Isekai But I'm Dull. We've actually got a large slate of isekai series coming out this season – don't we always – and instead of a bang or a whimper, Realist Hero has started off this season's otherworld offerings with a noncommittal shrug before turning back to its computer screen and starting another game of Civilization VI.
Okay, the basic premise of this story isn't bad, per se. It's essentially taking the Futurama joke about Calculon doing his taxes to its logical extreme; instead of being summoned as a destined hero with supreme magic powers, Souma finds himself becoming an Isekai Secretary of Treasury to keep from being used as political collateral. Thus his adventure will not have any dragon fighting or demon killing, but involve digging through the financial realities of actual statecraft to keep his new home afloat and avoiding famine. That's a relatively funny swerve that could make for plenty of laughs as you and your friends riff on the idea in a group call. But you can't make it into a full story for the same reason you can't make Mazingolfer into a real show; it's a purposefully thin premise that can't sustain a real, full-length narrative.
The result is a premiere that is mildly amusing for a few minutes before turning deathly dull. Souma is a blank slate who always makes the “realist” decision that everyone else would overlook, and the most personality he displays is a single Yu-Gi-Oh! joke in the final minute that totally clashes with his personality before that. The rest of the cast are either hand-wringing failsons like the king our hero quickly replaces, or the equally generic princess who takes all of two minutes to be charmed by our hero's ability to make the decisions the writer agrees are the best. Compounding all this is flat, boring character designs rendered on a clearly shaky production schedule. There are also several attempts at simulating 3D rotating camera movements that never look right, and only draw attention to how every scene is people standing or sitting in a room and talking at each other.
There are series that can take the granular, “boring” details of their world and make exploring them interesting, but Log Horizon this is not. Maybe as the scope of Souma's kingdom building grows and we get a larger look at this fantasy world, things will pick up, but for now this is a total snoozefest.
Do you love the concept of isekai but think that there are too many power fantasies? Is Machiavelli's The Prince one of your favorite books? Have you ever wished that a show focused more on paperwork? Then come on in, How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is the show you've been waiting for!
That's not an entirely fair way to sum up this episode, but it does make me think that perhaps this was not the right choice of light novel to make the jump to the screen. Things that work well, or at least well enough, in the source books – such as protagonist and unwillingly crowned king Souma realizing that he has to rework the entire basic financial plan of the kingdom – simply do not make for thrilling viewing. While the episode tries to make up for that with a lot of narration in an attempt to get to the introduction of the princess, it doesn't quite cut it. That makes this episode consist of a lot of relatively incompetent (or at least unimaginative) king looking pained while an eighteen-year-old college student asks him very basic governing questions which he cannot answer. Marx, the ostensible prime minister, is a bit better at telling Souma what he needs to know, but he's old and ineffective, to say nothing of being prone to quailing at the merest confrontational gambit. The queen may have more of a clue, but she mostly just stands there smiling vaguely.
One of the standout pieces of the episode is how angry Souma is. He was happily doing homework in the library when he was yanked out of his world, and the information that he was basically summoned to be a sacrifice and financial stand-in does not please him one bit. In a different story (and I can think of two that do this) he would have stormed out and left the king to solve his own damn problems. And really, he has every right to be upset; between him being surprised with a throne he never aspired to and Princess Liscia storming home, he appears to have aged a couple of years, and his questions to her about her very basic level of education indicate that the palace was run by poorly-educated incompetents before his arrival. He's more or less been forcefully recruited into a black company.
Now, none of this means that things are going to maintain this level of non-adventure. Book readers know that Souma does eventually get out of the office to make things work. But if you're going into this without having read the source or the manga adaptation, this episode is not giving us tons of inducements to keep watching.
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