The Winter 2021 season brought us almost 40 new anime series to choose from and among those were the requisite isekai series, of course. Steve and Jean-Karlo go world-hopping to find which series will give you the most bang for your buck.
These series are streaming on Funimation and Crunchyroll
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Jean-Karlo, I've been thinking. Since the dawn of humankind, people have wondered what happens after they die. Entire civilizations and religions have been built in the pursuit of this question. However, it's only very recently that we, as a species, have finally reached the answer-rich cul-de-sac of this long obsessive road. The greatest minds of our generation have pondered hard on this question and seen beyond those inescapable and heavy iron-wrought doors of death.
Also those doors belong to Truck-kun and what lies beyond is reincarnation in a fantasy world that more often than not has some bullshit video game angle. Sorry, Christianity, you were just a little bit off.
I know Japan has some kind of "decatora" culture going on, but how many people gotta get smacked by an 18-wheeler before we start doing something about it? At this rate, they'll be a bigger threat to the population than the baby bust! Come on, 57th Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe! The population needs your help!
On that note: today we'll be looking into several of the many isekai-themed anime that are airing this season. We picked out four to cover, and seeing as we already talked about baby-making we may as well bring up the first of these four shows: Jobless Reincarnation
And speaking semi-specifically about Jobless Reincarnation, this is probably as good a time as any to be upfront and say that I don't really like the isekai genre all that much.
I'm gonna be real with you, Steve and readership of the Anime News Network Dot Com readership: neither am I. There were some really good isekai during the 1990s like Twelve Kingdoms and Red River and the superlative Vision of Escaflowne, but the industry is so desperate for the next big thing it's churning out chaff faster than it can make it, and few of the isekai that have made waves appeal to me in any capacity. If you were to try to appeal to me with Jobless Reincarnation
, you sure wouldn't change my mind.
Thanks to this column, I've watched about 500% more isekai than I would have watched on my own volition. This hasn't been without its merits, mind you—it's a big genre tent, and I like Re:Zero, for example—but in a general sense I find the material often bloated, vapid, and amateurish. And Jobless Reincarnation
has the gall to take all that and add a horny baby.
So, as the title implies, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
is about a NEET who gets run over the one day he goes outside and finds himself reincarnating as a newborn son of a pair of adventurers. His adult memories are intact, so he pervs on his well-endowed mom and maid while perusing old magic tomes to pass time. And wouldn't you know it, he has aptitude for magic power even his mother doesn't have, and there's a demon lord, and blah blah blah...
Like, you know how this goes. We all know how this goes. And I wish I could etch this into the skull of every aspiring fantasy writer: I do not care about how your magic system works. I don't care how many experience points you need. I don't care how many rules there are. Unless you tie it to some meaningful character development or worldbuilding, I just. Don't. Care.
At least in Konosuba, Kazuma has to leverage his lack of skill into finding other people who can train him in stuff--and we get to enjoy seeing him miserable at meeting a new weirdo to get on his nerves. I get that this stuff is written as wish fulfillment, but come on. Rudy's magic aptitude basically trashing his world's understanding of magic may as well mark him as a Nasu protagonist. Thankfully, Rudy isn't creepy like one--I feel a Nasu protag would have peeped on his parents knocking boots,while Rudy patiently tunes it out as he keeps up his baby genius thing.
Still, tho, why even have that scene? I really don't need to know that he can clearly hear his parents banging. Especially when, not five minutes ago, he was thinking shit like this.
Rudy's just a pretty rancid protagonist and person in this premiere, and he does not make me want to spend any more time with him.
The idea that he's basing his social interactions with everyone upon his years of experience playing VNs is also pretty boneheaded. In a better series, Rudy would get laughed at by every serf, guy-in-stocks and village idiot, because even in a fantasy world people don't just like
you because you have a canned line and a weird grin.
About the best thing about Jobless Reincarnation
is the production values. Someone paid top dollar so that
this show looked as fine as possible. And the OST is pretty nice, gotta admit. It reminds me of Maoyu
in its attempt at replicating medieval folk music. But I think it's best to leave this kid out of your will. If I were Rudy's parents, I'd hope the next kid was the "good" one.
Lol yeah it was quite a jarring sensory experience to hear how nice and lush the ending credits song was after being subjected to this garbage.
And like, to be real for a second, I understand—and am even sympathetic towards—the wish-fulfillment angle and the desire to undo/redo past mistakes. It's rough out there. But that doesn't excuse lazy and downright offensive fiction writing. And before people in the forums start yelling at me: yes I've heard Rudy gets "better." He's still given me no reason to wait and see that happen here. Maybe in the next life.
You know who did do better in their next life? This little bundle of joy.
Oh yeah, it's slime time.
Or, rather, season 2 of slime time.
I hadn't actually seen Slime
before this (though I did go to Brittney Karbowski's Slime
panel at a convention once, bless her and her Rimuru plushie collection). So the first episode being a refresher was nice. For those late to the party: Rimuru is the reincarnation of a 37-year-old who dies taking a knife to the back for a friend. Upon resurrecting as a slime, he uses his ability to consume anything to somehow become the leader of a community of monsterfolk, up to the point where they form an entire city
[shameless plug voice]
There's also a helpful primer for season 2 right here on The Internet's Most Trusted Anime News Source!
Which was also good for me because I too had not watched very much of season 1. Unlike Jobless Reincarnation
, however, my slime aversion had much less to do with the quality of the series and much more to do with the fact that isekai just isn't my bag. If isekai is your bag, then Slime Time seems like one of the better series to fill that bag. And not just because Rimuru's jelly-like form would conform effortlessly to the contours of said bag.
is leagues better than Jobless Reincarnation
by virtue of Rimuru being such a better character. Where Rudy's main goal is to just fly under the radar and "win at life", Rimuru genuinely feels for the people around him. Where Rudy's death was just an "unfair accident", Rimuru's death came from an act of heroism--he was saving someone from a mugging. And his kind streak continues in the fantasy world. Sure, he's still got the broken Predator ability that lets him eat anything and gain its powers, but it's easier to buy into a guy with unlimited superpowers when he's a genuinely nice person. As Brittney Karbowski would say, Rimuru is "a good slime".
Most importantly, he's also cute.
There's a reason this little blob has so much awesome merch!
I mean I don't think you can design a more easily merchandizable character than a featureless blue blob, but that is one adorable blue blob. I like, too, that Rimuru is popular enough to have his own in-universe merch line, from custom pottery
to bath accessories
to even ice cubes!
Even though that last one is kind of chilling, in multiple senses of the word.
Also, I love that Takehito Koyasu is the voice of the big bad Demon Lord. You might know him as Dio, I know him as Tekkaman Evil. God, what a voice you just love to hate.
Look at this smug piece of crap. You know he's mad because he has eyes and Rimuru doesn't.
That said, while the recaps helped, the season 2 premiere picks up the story without much fanfare, so there's little to grasp on if you aren't already primed for slime. Like, once they started getting heavy into the proper nouns, my eyes started glazing over.
Yeah, Slime is a fun isekai, but it's still an isekai. Rimuru is nice, but he's still largely invincible and becomes king of a city of monster folk, and the monster she-folk all want to know the gentle caress of his slimy appendages because... slime, I guess. It's a really good Big Mac, but it's still fast food. And I don't want people to think I consider this show "lesser"--I really want to watch this show and I will proudly love it. But as amorphous as slimes can be, this is still not that deep a show.
That echoes my own feelings, more or less. Still, I want to stress that even though I might not ever board this slime train, its existence alone is reassuring. It's just nice to know there's a reasonably good-natured isekai out there that doesn't weigh itself down with misanthropy. And maybe there's a trigger-happy tiger girl or two for good measure.
Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs clearly lists "cute slime mascot" and "tall women in business attire that can snap my back like a twig" somewhere...
They're pretty high up there, I recall.
I can prove it in my psychology text. Lemme just pull it out from my closet, and--ah! This isn't a psychology book, this is a colony of spiders! How'd that get there?
What a horrifying-yet-convenient place to transition to our next show!
Like any genre that's been around the bend more than a couple hundred times, isekai eventually found itself needing weirder and weirder premises to keep itself relevant. Or maybe the author watched a few too many nature documentaries about spiders. Either way, here we are.
It's no reincarnation as a vending machine, but at least it's something different. And it's better than a horny baby.
Featuring everyone's favorite seiyuu who is definitely Shuten Doji made manifest and passing for human, Aoi Yūki, as the titular Spider in So I'm a Spider, So What?
wastes no time in dropping us into the meat of things. A classroom of people, teacher and all, is blown to heaven, and a mousy shut-in of a girl finds herself hatching from an egg and escaping from her cannibalistic arachnid brethren.
Much like Rimuru, Spider
thrives off of the abdomen of its protagonist. Where Rimuru was a nice guy who gets shoved into a seemingly puny body, Spider has an unfortunate girl who finds herself having to make the best of a really bad situation. She has no powers, wastes her skill points on a useless ability, and only barely manages to survive by both increasing her resistance to Acid and Poison (by eating a disgusting giant frog) and earning "bad" skills by eating other dead spiders. She'd rather do anything else--for now, all she can do is survive.
Again, the skill acquisition stuff teeters dangerously into "I don't care" territory, but at least Spider
relishes in the gross and cutthroat existence of an actual spider. Like, there's a lot of great flavor in those close-ups of her family—and then herself—just going to town chowing down on themselves and their enemies.
There just... has to be a more elegant way of demonstrating these kinds of RPG-esque power systems without a literal disembodied voice counting off your skill points.
If only there were fantasy novels more than twenty years old that authors could reference for inspiration. Alas!
It's funny that those old novels that are literally based off of an author's adventures playing 2e D&D are still more elegant than modern-day attempts at riffing RPGs.
I'm glad, tho, that Spider is immediately established close to the bottom rung of the literal food chain. She has a hell of an upward climb ahead of her, and that in itself makes for a journey with a hell of a lot more potential than "horny baby grows up to be immediately perfect at magic."
Also, sorry, I'm not going to stop harping on the horny baby thing.
The other funny wrinkle is that apparently, the rest of Spider's classroom got isekai'd along with her! Even the homeroom teacher! They're all consolidating and comparing notes over a lavish feast while Aoi Yūki voice acts the crap
out of eating Cave Frog.
It's an interesting angle! No idea where it's going to go, but in abstract, I like the concept of a bunch of people experiencing a fairly routine swords-and-sorcery isekai narrative while the class nerd has to figure out how to be an arachnid.
Worth noting too that Spider
is by far the jokiest isekai of the ones we're covering here, and I think that also helps endear me towards it. Granted, other people might not have as much of a tolerance for Aoi Yūki's shrill spider-sized motormouth (er, motormandible?), but I love
Eh, they're just mad they haven't rolled Shuten Doji in FGO
yet. Let 'em be bitter. Spider
can go either way, but so far it does a great job of having an intriguing set-up and a loveable protagonist. If all goes well, we could have a perfect follow up to Slime Time™️. Worst-case scenario, the spider makes for some cute merch.
I still haven't fully recovered from that ED, lol.
Spider idols. Spidols. What a concept.
Everyone's hardcore until the spider starts singing Enka.
For the last stop on our isekai roundup, we totally cheated and decided on Otherside Picnic. I'll be honest: in no way does this conform to the usual expectations of the isekai genre. But on the other hand, that's why I like it.
I watched this right after watching Horny Baby Reincarnation
, and the difference was night and day. Jobless Baby
has the production values, but not much else. Otherside Picnic is so much more workmanlike in its presentation, much more grounded and mundane. And yet, it has so much more heart.
So, a college student named Sorao finds herself in a puddle in a strange, ruined clearing, where she bumps into Toriko--and a creature they call a "wiggle-waggle". Hitting it with rock salt turns it into a reflective cube that does not obey the laws of physics. So Toriko decides to collect more of the cubes for a quick buck, dragging Sorao along for help.
See, I'm a loner with too many games, and even then I identify with Sorao so much more than I would with people like Kazuma or Rudy. This is the kind of thing that gets under your fingernails. I've been there, staring at the ceiling and wondering who'd find me if I went missing.
It's so good and real! And it's a wonderful way to both introduce Sorao and
explain why she almost instantly latches onto the bubblier and brighter Toriko.
What we have here is a mousy introvert who makes friends with a much-more outgoing girl with a sharp eye for fashion. And Toriko continuously drags Sorao into more and more supernatural goings that Sorao isn't outright refusing to join in on.
Harold, keep tight, I'll have an answer for you in a few episodes.
The nature of the "otherworld" is what makes this story of world-hopping so fun. It looks like a post-apocalyptic Earth, but there are weird quantum Wiggle-Waggles going around. It's ostensibly separated from Earth, but there are a bunch of ways to reach it that all read like weird creepypastas. Just getting to the otherworld risks you meeting weird, dangerous creatures, like The Specter From Floor Five.
As the name implies, it's also heavily influenced by the novel Roadside Picnic
, as well as its abstract and sprawling film adaptation Stalker
. The dangers in the Otherside are supernatural and resist understanding, and the show's aversion to simple explanations makes it all the more interesting.
Like, why are there cubes? Who knows! But they can sell them for cash, and what could be more important than that?
Best of all is the reminder that Sorao and Toriko are, at the end of the day, just a pair of college gals being pals. The intro has a nice bit of them just booking
it from a monster, and the show itself does not deny us their undercranked escape from the otherworld after an encounter with the Wiggle Waggles.
Yep, all they have is the power of Gun.
And even then, Toriko isn't exactly the most reliable partner.
This story of a pair of goofs exploring a bizarre world for fun and profit definitely has the potential to become the sleeper hit of the season. The protagonists are as engaging as you could hope for, and the otherworld is far more interesting than any fantasy series established this season. Just what are the Wiggle-Waggles? What happened to that place? Who is The Woman From The Fifth Floor, and why does she feature in the intro? There are some great hooks in this show.
Yep, the premiere does a smart job of setting up just enough
to make the world and characters compelling without succumbing to the temptation to tip its hand about too much stuff too early on. Also, Roadside Picnic
But With Lesbians is just an A+ abstract. It would have to screw things up pretty royally for me to not enjoy this show.
Also, just goes to show, you don't have to adhere to what's currently isekai-fashionable to make a compelling story about traversing across world boundaries. There's still a place for "conventional" fantasy and science fiction, and I'm perfectly content plumbing those depths.
Yep! People forget Inuyasha was an Isekai, and Kagome neither got hit by a truck nor was permanently trapped in her fantasy world--and it wasn't so much as a fantasy world so much as it was just "historical Japan with extra demons". And that went on to get an entire generation of people hooked on anime.
That said, my only isekai-inspired call to action this season would be to not-so-gently nudge you away from Jobless Reincarnation. Slime Time and Spider seem like better choices in almost every conceivable way. Also, there's always Re:Zero (which we'll cover in full in a later column because jeez there's a lot going on in that show lol). I'm sure there are other contemporary options too, but that's all I have at the top of my database.
You could also catch up on Twelve Kingdoms and Magic Knight Rayearth to get a better idea of where isekai came from, but that's just me.