Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
An unemployed, mostly shut-in otaku, after being kicked out of his house by his enraged family, dies saving some teens from a car accident...and wakes up being (literally) reborn in an alternate land as the magically talented son of a mage and a knight. With all of his memories of his past thirty years intact, Rudy Greyrat decides that this time he's going to live life right, get the girl, and do things to be proud of. Who cares if he's only three years old when he begins? This time around, life is for living.
Based on a web novel turned light novel, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation's first volume is a bit of an odd duck. While its premise is interesting and watching its protagonist, a nameless thirty-four-year-old otaku NEET reincarnated as a child named Rudeus Greyrat in a fantasy world, mature as he realizes that his memories of his previous life may actually help him with his new one, grows more rewarding as the book goes on, there's also a niggling sensation that this was probably better in its novel format. The plot feels rushed, possibly because Rudy begins at age three and the book ends with him at age seven, and there's also the vague feeling that this may be some sort of self-insert story for the author, which is ever-so-slightly uncomfortable. And yet there's also something appealing about this story of second chances.
The story opens with an unnamed, stereotypical otaku being thrown out of his house by his siblings for missing their parents' funeral, which is an effective, if heavy-handed, way of showing us how bad his life has gotten. Shortly thereafter, he saves at least one teenager from being run over by the usual sleeping truck driver (seriously, are there no laws about hours a driver can work in anime and manga?) only to die himself. When he regains consciousness, he's in the body of a baby in an alternate world, the son of Paul and Zenith Greyrat. Now named Rudeus (going by Rudy), he has all of his memories of his previous life and starts out resenting his father for getting in the way of “snuggle in Mom's boobs” time, an adversarial relationship that continues throughout his childhood. This is one of the more interesting aspects of the story – because Rudy remembers his past life, he never really feels like Paul and Zenith's child. He even thinks of them by their first names rather than as “Mom and Dad,” and he makes deliberate choices in how he talks to them based on what he wants from them. He's consciously acting like a child rather than just being one, which at times makes the story feel a little awkward. It's more than Rudy just appearing precocious – there's a disconnect that makes it difficult to sympathize with him as a character.
That does change a bit as the story goes on. The plot really gets going when Rudy is three and decides that he's going to learn to use magic as efficiently as he can in order to prevent his life from going down the same path as it did in Japan. This leads to Zenith hiring Roxy, a magic tutor, to come live with the family for two years and instruct Rudeus. Roxy as a character serves as both an opportunity to Rudy in the form of fanservice and realizing his potential and a catalyst in terms of making him realize that if he really wants to start over, he has to do it in all things, not just his unfulfilled fantasies about women. By the end of the Roxy chapters, Rudy has become a much more likable character, even if that development seems rushed; my guess is that this manga volume covers most of the first prose novel. On the one hand, that does make sense, because the story can only really begin once Rudy is old enough to leave his parents' house, either as a physically mature teen or when he is old enough to foster out for more training. On the other hand, wow, this goes by so fast that we never quite get the chance to fully develop a sense of the characters or the world. This becomes more of an issue at the end of the volume, when Rudy befriends Sylphie, a young child of mixed-race heritage, and also when we learn that Paul has impregnated not just his wife, but also Lilia, the family maid. Zenith's reaction to this would make more sense if this was a world in which plural marriages are accepted; as it stands, it simply reads as difficult to believe.
Given that Rudy is essentially a thirty-four-year-old in a three to seven year old's body, some of the more sexualized aspects of the artwork make sense, in that he has a more mature sexuality than a normal child would. That does not stop it from feeling uncomfortable when Sylphie, who is the same age as Rudy, is drawn in a sexualized manner, so readers who shy away from that will want to go in prepared. Nothing overtly sexual actually happens beyond the usual walking in on someone in the bath or stealing underwear (although Rudy does hear his parents having sex every night), but it is present, and in a story about a child, that won't work for everyone. Other than that, Yuka Fujikawa's art is very pleasant to look at and the pages are easy to follow. Seven Seas' edition contains some color images and the under-the-dust-jacket matter printed on the inside covers, which is always a nice treat.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation has promise as a story, and I think that once we get out of Rudy's early childhood the plot stands to really pick up. This volume, however, feels like it is rushing things to get to that point, and both the story and the characters suffer for it. It seems worth giving it another book or two to get itself together, though, because the if this take on the “brought to a magical/game-like world” plot takes off, it could be a good one.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B
+ Interesting premise about second chances and learning to take them, characters have promise, especially Rudy and Roxy. Art is pleasant and reads well. Includes a prose short story extra.
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