Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
by Theron Martin,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation ?
I knew this series was going to be controversial because of the nature of the protagonist's character, but based on the lengthy discussion of the series in multiple threads since last episode, I clearly underestimated just how vociferous the negative reaction was going to be. That also means that I grossly overestimated the ability of episode 2 to win over people with its quality. Based on episode 3, this series is going to continue to rub people the wrong way, and all of the quality production merits are not going to change that. The short version is that if episode 2 did not win you over then episode 3 probably will not, either. The content still looks gorgeous, the animation is on another level, and there are some quality character moments, but it also still has Rudy being Rudy.
So let's get Rudy's bad behavior out of the way first. Rudy secretly keeping Roxy's panties and treating them as a holy artifact is an ideal example of how the series is inextricably mixing its skeevy elements with its more serious ones. On one level this is a classic panty fetish, but on another the panties have also become an important and meaningful memento of the instructor who had a huge impact on his new life. It sends a mixed message to the audience, but that's appropriate because Rudy himself does not seem to know anymore where the boundary between his perversions and respect lies. Later, when he still thinks Sylph is a boy, he comments on Sylph being a shotacon. While that term is nowhere near as prevalent in anime as lolicon, it is still a clear sexual reference even if Rudy is saying it matter-of-factly here, and so scores high on the Tasteless Meter.
The third main problem spot is the bath scene. Rudy's descriptions of male members are vulgar, but no worse than what could be heard in typical dick jokes. The real issue comes when he pulls down Sylph's undergarment even though Sylph clearly didn't want him to. It was a childishly stupid thing to do, something that wasn't appropriate regardless of what gender Rudy believed Sylph to be at the time. Reacting by making comments about how he used to masturbate to what he is is also tasteless, but that at least more convincingly establishes the transition going on here. Despite that comment, he isn't leering over this; he knows he's done wrong and how it affects Sylphie bothers him so much that Paul does not have to scold him into being contrite. Ironically, this is the point where he seems to stop thinking about Sylphie in a sexual sense and more as a person and friend. Granted, whether this is going to hold up going forward remains to be seen, but this is a similar kind of transition that he had with Roxy, and the way he fumbles through trying to apologize and make up with her feels genuine. Disappointingly, the scene does not explicitly draw parallels to Rudy's own experience of being stripped down in his former life, though that could be implied as part of his "I did something wrong here" reaction.
The rest of the content shows Rudy in a better light. He has made real progress by now going out and exploring on his own, and given how he had been bullied in high school, he was naturally going to step in to thwart the boys picking on Sylphie. As much as his inner voice is still crass about his motives for befriending Sylphie, he also seemed to be trying to justify to himself why he befriended her since he could not fully accept that he just liked the idea of making friends this time and/or sympathized with her; clearly he has some progress to make there still. He also, for the first time, has some good conversations with Paul, though amusingly, who is the adult and who is the child in those conversations varies. Getting a bit of Paul's inner thoughts also provides some insight on him, though nothing surprising; yeah, who would have guessed that he was a womanizer before getting married? Even if Rudy was not a reborn thirty-something, he might still have ended up as a cad just by watching his father.
The other development this episode which seems significant for the long run is that Rudy was able to coach Sylphie into using magic without an incantation. That shows that the ability to do so or not may be more about a fixed mindset than ability. That has parallels in child development: some skills, once learned a certain way early on, cannot be learned a different way later on.
I'd be remiss in failing to emphasize, once again, just how fabulous this series looks. The scenic vistas, the fields of wheat, the various flowers that Rudy examines. . . all of these just explode with color and texture while still being restrained enough by earthy tones to not come across as garish. Combine that with Rudy's incremental growth and the lessons he is learning and this a good series so far – if you can put up with Rudy. Really, it's a shame that Rudy's character and behavior are driving people away.
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