The Winter 2021 Preview Guide
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
How would you rate episode 1 of
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation ?
What is this?
A 34-year-old virgin NEET who is kicked out of his house when he runs out of money. He's regretting his life when he's suddenly killed in a traffic accident, and he's reborn in another world full of swords and sorcery. As a newborn baby, he resolves to live his life without regrets and make the best of his knowledge from his previous life. While developing his skills in magic, he meets a small girl who is a magic tutor, and a beautiful quarter-elf with green hair.
How was the first episode?
Rating: Five flipped tables
One of the long-standing issues I've had with reincarnation-type isekai anime where the main character retains their memories and personality is, what about when they're a baby? It's one thing when they're old enough to be cognizant human beings, but what about when they're helpless little toothless bundles unable to walk, speak, or use the toilet? Some of them sidestep it by having their former selves reawaken later, either from a conk on the head or other means, but many of them just kind of skip over that phase.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation addresses this long-standing concern, in a way that sucks and I hated watching. Its protagonist, who was a 34-year-old hikikomori virgin before getting hit by a bus and dying, is reincarnated in another world as Rubeus Greyrat, and we get to hear his inner monologue from the very first moment he opens his eyes and comments on how amazing his mother's tits are. As he grows, he continues to have the mind of a nasty pervert in the body of an adorable toddler, doing things like wearing his maid's dirty underwear on his head and making her uncomfortable.
Rudy sucks. Seriously, I hate him so much I can't stand it. When he meets his magic tutor Roxy, he thinks to himself about how she probably doesn't have any pubic hair, calls her a loli, and then says he'd marry her if he could. Not that I enjoyed spending his inner monologue before, but that was truly the breaking point for me. What an awful, disgusting person.
If this were your standard factory-produced isekai, I could have shrugged it off, given it a low rating, and immediately moved on with my life. But instead, it had to have one of the most lavish productions I've ever seen in TV anime. The way Rudy moves as he goes through his stages of development, from immobile infant, to mobile infant, to toddler, to young child, perfectly captures how actual children of those ages move. The world is typical medieval Europe-inspired fantasy, but in a way that feels natural and lived-in with farm-workers out in the fields, instead of the game-inspired starter towns. His parents seem like kind, caring people who are also hot as heck (though I could do without him overhearing them having sex. That was kind of weird, but also, good for them.) Hell, I know it's just a filter they put over digital animation, but it has film grain. Film grain! The effect is so warm and inviting that you just want to sink right in and immerse yourself.
That is, until Rudy starts up again and says something crude, ruining the effect. It makes me positively livid, to have such lush animation wasted on panty-sniffing human chamber pot like him. I get that he's supposed to start out terrible and improve, but you know what, I draw the line somewhere. That somewhere happens to be him thinking about how a girl probably doesn't have any pubic hair and then saying he wants to marry her in the same breath. This could have been so easily avoided too; if it's about him being a hikikomori and feeling like maybe he wants to start over, he doesn't have to be trash garbage at this level. He could just be your average crappy, selfish person without being a pedophile. I hate this.
I can see this series rubbing some people the wrong way, as certain elements in it are definitely cruder than they strictly need to be. However, those elements did not bother me so much, and I liked the attention to detail that the first episode showed in certain aspects. Somewhat counter-intuitively, I also appreciated the fundamental lack of a clear direction here. Overall, it exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations for it.
First, concerning the cruder elements. I can completely understand how a young child with the mind of a mid-30s man might be off-putting, as he acknowledges sexual interests that would not be expected from a child that young. However, it would be unnatural for an adult guy in that situation to not process the thought that breast-feeding was not sexually stimulating. A later scene has Rudy overhearing his parents having vigorous sex, but nothing would be unusual about that for the setting; in pre-modern times (especially among poorer folk), “sexual education” often involved kids either witnessing or overhearing their parents having sex in the same room (or sometimes even in the same bed). Anime, manga, novels – even detail-focused ones like Ascendance of a Bookworm – just typically overlook things like that.
I also appreciated the attention to detail on things like not understanding the language at first. Isekai stories which bother with this at all are rare; usually characters have some kind of work-around to ignore that problem. (The Twelve Kingdoms immediately comes to mind as a rare case where this is a plot point.) Granted, the episode eventually hand-waves this by indicating that he learns the language over time, as a child normally would but at an accelerated rate. I also liked seeing how he worked out his magic over time, through steady experimentation, rather than that also being hand-waved, and the suggestion that he might be able to do something unusual because he has dared to analyze what is actually necessary for casting spells rather than just being indoctrinated into standard procedures. The maid, at least, is also not oblivious to his behavior being abnormal for a little boy. The jury's still out on the girl called in to be his tutor, but she at least has the potential to be likable.
While nothing about the visuals and animation in the first episode dazzle, the look of the series is at least respectable on both character design and background art fronts, and the animation isn't bad at all. Overall, I ended up liking this one more than I expected. It's definitely not in the league of So I'm a Spider, So What?, but it could prove to be a worthwhile second option.
Rating: 4 for animation, 1 for everything else
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is a premiere that I have to review on two fronts, because there is a vast gulf between the quality of its artistry and that of its writing. From a purely visual standpoint, this episode is a knockout; it is exceptionally well-paced and directed, with its lush and fluid animation often attaining a nearly cinematic quality to it. Every single artist and animator working at Studio Bind should be commended for having produced such a stellar debut for their company. If I could mute this show, remove the subtitles, and just enjoy it as a piece of silent, visual spectacle, I would be giving Mushoku Tensei high marks all around.
I can't ignore the story and script, though, which is where Mushoku Tensei takes a hard spiral downwards into the land of borderline unwatchability. I'm going to stop here in an attempt to get out ahead of the more enthusiastic commenters by saying that I've been told many times that the light novel series that this show is adapting is supposedly the Ur-Text of isekai anime where a fully grown man with a practically non-existent personality gets reincarnated into a fantasy world where he uses all of his super-adult-smarts to get real good at stuff. Fine, this is maybe one of the texts that originated a lot of these boring, tired cliches, but that doesn't award it any points in my book. About 90% of this script is your average, bland-as-hell isekai mush, whether it be watching young Rudeus give us a play-by-play of his new surroundings or explaining how learning to read and do magic works; even if I were to forgive Mushoku Tensei on account of being one of the seminal texts for modern isekai tropes, that wouldn't make it any better. If anything, that just makes me more frustrated, since now I know that I can partially blame this series for all of the other mind-numbingly boring isekai anime that have been gumming up the works for years, now.
Then there is that last ten percent of the story that is simply unacceptably gross. You see, despite lacking almost all of the qualities that would normally constitute a basic human personality, the one thing we can say for certain about the man currently inhabiting the body of little Rudeus is that he's a pervert. Not only are we introduced to this guy with him getting all skeevy over getting to grope and breastfeed on his mom, we also have to watch the family's poor maid, Lilia, deal with the little creep's panty-sniffing antics without anyone believing her. For the love of all that is holy, when Rudeus is assigned a magic tutor that turns out to be a young girl instead of the old wizard he expected, these are his exact thoughts: “Forget a beard; she looks like her bush hasn't grown in yet. Maybe middle-school age? Loli, scornful gaze, unsociable: three traits that equal perfection.”
This dude has no business being the main character of a power-fantasy being written mostly for men, at all. Even if you wanted to argue that this behavior is a character flaw that will be fixed by learning to be better in this world, when he shows kindness to Roxy later on, it's still framed from the perspective of him exploiting techniques he used from dating sims. Even in being kind, other people, and specifically women, are just games to be played with.
This doesn't make me want to learn more about the guy or where his journey goes in the future at all. And let me be frank: Porn is one thing, and I don't have the expertise to say whether there is a direct correlation between people exploring taboo kinks with purely fictional media and real-world harm. But the way that mainstream anime has been normalizing and profiting off of making these off-putting traits the normal qualities of their “relatable” heroes is a huge problem. Every day that passes where it goes unaddressed makes the entire industry and fandom worse off. It gives people reasons to feel ashamed and afraid to watch anime. Please, for the sake of the culture at large, give your time and money to other, better stories.
There's an interesting dichotomy between the two major isekai anime this season. So I'm a Spider is a middling production with a potentially interesting premise buoyed by a singularly charming performance for its lead characters. Meanwhile Jobless Reincarnation is almost the opposite; a lavish production with a premise that's been done to death, anchored to the floor by its deeply uncharismatic protagonist.
To an extent that's probably a sort of Seinfeld effect. The light/web novel series this show is adapting is apparently the granddaddy of this past decade's isekai trend, and is just getting an adaptation years later than many of the series that took influence and inspiration from it. Maybe in 2012 the idea of following a shut-in who's reincarnated into a fantasy world and gifted prodigious magical powers was way more novel, I don't know. What I can say is that this opening episode is at least more interesting than the typical setup of a tracksuited dumbass being plopped into a fantasy world and instantly knowing everything and being great at magic and fighting and hey all these anime girls are in love with him suddenly. We actually see “Rudy” navigate infancy as a fully conscious adult, trial-and-error his way through learning magic, and at least partially come to terms with being in a new world. Weirdly he's not all that interested in getting to know his new family, who are both way more entertaining than his internal monologue, and that disconnect is probably key to what left me sour on this premiere.
Well, that and the fact that Rudy makes a terrible first impression. His first act upon being reborn is to try to fondle his new mother's breasts with his tiny baby hands, and the next several minutes include him bragging about getting to “suck on a hottie's tits for free” and later stealing a pair of her underwear to wear over his face. It is god damn creepy, and attempts by the show to make it funny fall flat. It also doesn't seem like he grows out of that either, as even post-toddler he gawks at his magic instructor's panties and comments on her chest size. This is an all around terrible way to endear me to your protagonist, and any smaller attempts at building his character feel undercut as a result. There's subtle moments that suggest Rudy's still not over the anxieties that made him a shut-in pre-Isekai, like how he's uncomfortable having his magic lesson outside at first, and his ending monologue about wanting to start over and better himself is a solid goal, but so long as the weird perving persists it's going to be hard to get me to root for this guy.
Honestly I would probably rate this show a lot lower if it didn't look absolutely fantastic. While the color palette is a little too brown for my taste, the animation, direction, and editing are all top-notch. The frequent perspective shots do a fantastic job of centering us in Rudy's world as he explores the house from a child's eye view. The music works wonderfully to emphasize both the magical and mundane segments of this premiere. It's a really gorgeous-looking premiere, only possibly beaten out by Horimiya or Sk8 for pure eye-candy this season. The vibrancy of it all does a lot to make the so-far underdeveloped extended cast likable, though that also has the effect of making Rudy the least entertaining character to follow.
In a weaker season I might be tempted to follow Jobless Reincarnation, but whatever potential it might have is outweighed by the flaws and the sheer apathy I have towards this style of isekai storytelling.
Seen as an adaptation of the original light novels, I'm not quite sure how Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is going to stack up. What I'm sure some viewers who started out as readers are wondering is whether or not the sexy bits are going to be left in, and right now that's still an open question – we hear Zenith and Paul having sex, but Rudy doesn't comment on it, and that's it thus far. Since that may be one of the more divisive elements of the show, it's worth pondering how much of it is going to be incorporated later on and whether or not it's going to be better integrated than in this episode, which has it just feeling kind of random. Likewise we're not really given a clear idea of the circumstances of Rudy's life and death back in Japan – there are some hints that he was not a great guy, but that's really it. Since that's a more pressing story element, it's going to need to come out a bit more clearly next week.
Those adaptation issues aside, this episode is just kind of dull. It follows the basics of reincarnation isekai to a T: Rudy dies in modern Japan, is suddenly aware that he's a baby, figures out he's been reborn in another world, and sets out to make the most of it. In his case, learning that he's been reborn in a fantasy world where magic is possible is the major perk of his new life. That his new mom, Zenith, appears to be a mage is even better, because that means that he has the talent to actually do something with his dream of using magic. To that end, little Rudy learns to read so that by age five(ish) he can cast intermediate-level spells competently, leading to his parents hiring him a magic tutor named Roxy.
The whole episode is narrated by adult Rudy, which is presumably intended to remind us that he wasn't always an adorable little kid. In fact, this is the closest we come to learning about his previous life and personality, and let's just say that that doesn't do him any favors in the likability department. From his comments about Zenith's breasts (which he's surprised don't turn him on when he nurses) to his musings about wanting to use a computer and previously only having to bang on the floor to summon food, we can assume that he wasn't a great human being even before he lets us know that he was a shut-in for twenty-odd years. Why he's been given this second chance is implied in the opening moments of the episode, but it's clear that it's going to take him a while to fully overcome his previous personality. That he's willing to try, as announced at the end of the episode, is predictable but still undeniably a good thing.
As of right now, there really isn't much that sets this introductory episode apart from any number of other isekai power fantasies. While this may grant it limited appeal outside of genre fans, it also isn't horribly offensive – just kind of cookie-cutter.
discuss this in the forum (324 posts) |
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history