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This Week in Anime
Venture Into the Dark Underbelly of Isekai

by Steve Jones & Christopher Farris,

Chris and Steve wade into this season's swamp of isekai series to see if there's anything worthwhile to undercover. It's sex, drugs, and slimes in This Week in Anime!

These series is streaming on Crunchyroll, Netflix, and HIDIVE

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.

@Lossthief @BeeDubsProwl @NickyEnchilada @vestenet

Since this is my first opportunity to officially do so, allow me to extend a warm welcome to the “This Week In Anime” team, Chris! Thanks for hopping aboard our biweekly anime pain train. And to celebrate our inaugural column together, I thought we could do my favorite thing and take our quarterly wade through the never-ending surfeit of isekai premieres! Here, I even got you this special card to commemorate the occasion.
Ah, good to see I'm already having respects paid. isekai main characters usually rely on their past accumulated gaming skills to carry them through their fantasy-RPG worlds. But while I'm hardly the strongest gamer myself, at this point I feel like if I had a fateful encounter with Truck-kun, I'd still be able to handle myself just fine thanks to all the information and knowledge I've built up from watching so dang many of these shows!
Me, I haven't been shy about my disdain for many of this genre's proclivities—proclivities that, due to the nature and origin of these stories, tend to be Xeroxed ad nauseum. I've had good times with a select set of exemplars, but I do try to avoid isekai as a rule. However, my pain is apparently the readers' gain, so here we are yet again. Same as it ever was.

We've got five shows on the docket this season. Technically six with Overlord, but that's on its 4th season, I haven't watched a lick of it, and I also can never remember whether it's actually isekai or not, so we'll skip over that one.
And since we're apparently on the same wavelength with our opening volley of illustrative images, we might as well go ahead and start with Black Summoner, the series that starts by asking the important questions of the gamers.
I mean, at this point, I wish I hadn't.
Imagine if this were in fact your first isekai anime ever and introduction to the genre. So many of these series nowadays just assume some level of familiarity with the setup (the same way earlier entries assumed some familiarity with the generic fantasy-RPG worlds their heroes were getting teleported in to exploit the rules of). So in that respect, there could be an amusing thought experiment in questioning how a complete neophyte might react to getting all this thrown at them right away.

And because with the quality of this and several of these other shows this season, you really do have to make your own fun.
I'll admit, the inherent flaw of surveying premieres in this way is that most isekai stories begin in the exact same way. Like authors have a checklist of tropes, and if the first chapter doesn't include the main character looking at a stat screen, the story may as well be worthless. And if I'm being charitable, I can imagine the appeal of being a part of an online writing community and having a structure like this to work with and bounce more unique ideas off of later down the line. But if I'm not being charitable, there's nothing to make Black Summoner stand out in this first act.
In fact the sheer irony of electing to cross it off the docket first is that probably the most interesting thing about Black Summoner this season is how it feels like a mash-up of two of its other contemporaneous shows. What kind of isekai do you have around here? Both kinds: Slimes and Slavery!
The slavery thing comes so left field though! As bland as the rest of the episode is, the protag acts like a pretty normal guy up until then. Then bam, with one minute of runtime left, the dude sees a bunch of girls locked in a cage and instantly thinks "hmm, that would make an interesting addition to my collection."

Psychopath shit.
Yyyyyeah, okay full disclosure: As I was watching Black Summoner, for the first couple episodes I confess I actually found myself getting into it. It's absolutely a case of critical bias, in that compared to the other couple shows it so closely resembles, its MC (his name is Kelvin, by the way) and the show along with it had just enough personality to carry it. It was nothing revolutionary, but there was at least some amusing enough banter framing the hero and the gaggle of internal voices he was accumulating.

BUT THEN the third episode rolled up to suddenly go hard on the slavery mechanic, and I side-eyed so viciously I think I went blind for a minute.

I suppose, in that regard, I have to respect Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World for being upfront about what it is. That's about the only thing I'll respect it for, however.
The absolute absurdity of Trojan-Horse-ing in a slave-owning subplot after lecturing your audience-insert on the importance of consent in summoning contracts.

But by all means, if you wanted to bring it up as the next one, let us move on to my assigned arch-nemesis this season and closest reminder of your days in the World's End Harem trenches: Harem in the Labyrinth of Another World.
Speaking as your fellow harem expert, I'm personally partial to the unapologetic ugliness of World's End Harem's glitchcore censors. But Harem Labyrinth puts up an admirable fight, and the audio censoring is, I must admit, a brave new frontier in unintelligibility. It's actually impossible to understand certain lines of dialogue. That's kind of beautiful in a depressing post-modern way.
I legit tried forever to puzzle out what that specific line was supposed to be. The gist of it from context clues is that Roxanne, main-character Michio's agency-challenged attendant-to-be doesn't come with any worries about pregnancy or STIs, but I can't begin to think of what specific censor-worthy words would be utilized there.

Combined with the fact that 'slave' is perfectly acceptable to say unbleeped by this show's standards, but 'sex slave' is apparently a bridge too far, and it starts to come off like the series Doing A Bit.

I mean it's an ontological goldmine for anybody who wants to write a thesis on obscenity in modern anime. There are plenty of softballs too, like the barely obscured gore in the first scene. That's A-OK, but lord have mercy if anyone even perceives a single tit.
I mean, the real answer is of course so they can sell more premium uncensored cable airings and Blu-ray releases later. But then that would require Harem Labyrinth to have any compelling content of that nature, as opposed to endless scenes of Michio paging through status screens.

When I talk about isekai being incestuous, this is what I mean. The exact same scene in both this and Black Summoner, and neither of them are even remotely interesting. Just boilerplate "video games, am I right?" stuff that should have gone extinct with the decline of the gamer webcomic.

Actually I guess there is another way isekai can be incestuous, but surprisingly, none of these shows dabble in that.
Not yet they don't! I mean, I admonished Black Summoner for how sudden its MC's swerve into enthusiastic slave-ownership was, but at least that one was willing to be decisive with it. Harem Labyrinth is nominally constructed entirely around this particular fantasy fetish, but has to spend several sequences setting up some mealy-mouthed manufacturing of consent for its otherwise doormat of a hero to consider getting into it.

Followed by Michio's development via getting freaked out by those scary, untrustworthy free sex-workers.

You know I'm beginning to suspect these authors might not have done any research on the history and realities of slavery.
This lets me momentarily double-back to one of my other issues with Black Summoner, in its utterly oblivious invocation of the 'benevolent slave-owner' role.

Like dang, it would be nice if there were something else you could do for her that would open up her ability to make her own decisions, but I'll be damned if I can think of anything.
I'm not asking these authors to be slavery scholars or anything, but there's a wide corpus of material on the subject, and unless you're writing literal porn, I just think you have an intellectual, if not moral duty to think an iota beyond "boy it'd be cool to own a hot anime babe in a collar."
Like it's maybe too easy for me to invoke my standby favorite How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord in this context, but at least that one knew how to construct its setup to make its protag more likeable and play its premise for comedy so long as it wasn't going to be worrying about the thornier social issues of the arrangement.

Harem Labyrinth barely gets a decent laugh out of me with its otherwise-inexplicable future-flash-forward in the second episode, wherein Michio deduces that a random kid is actually his forgotten son on account of how he looks like every other isekai protagonist.

Gotta pass those potato genes on somehow. And I guess I should start thinking about catching up on the show proper, since I imagine we'll do a full column on it at some point, and something tells me I'm going to be the lucky participant.
You can get the harems away from the Steve, but you can't get the Steve away from the harems.
And speaking of potatoes, I think we can move onto, and quickly move beyond, the dullest entry of the season, called My Isekai Life. Even the title sounds like it's given up.
Oh god I know. Like I guess there's something to be said for the fact that they left 'Isekai' right there in the translated title instead of going with what would have been an even duller 'My Life in Another World', but there I go having to let my mind wander and make my own fun again.

I desperately wanted to like this one more than I did. There's a decent amount of sauce on the visuals sometimes (even if the animation itself isn't amazing), the music's kinda cool in a unique, energetic, butt-rock way, there's cute slimes and a cute doofy wolf, and it hasn't even brought up any slavery apologia yet!

But it is just...so boring and basic all the way through in terms of its actual content.
Yeah, my favorite part is definitely the unique slime designs. I love the one with the thick Groucho Marx eyebrows.

The scene with the sidekick slime going Kirby Mouthful Mode™ on a dragon bone is also pretty good.
The rare delicacy of bone-in Slimes.
But man, nothing happens in the premiere. They fight some monsters with big magic, and the hero does his best Doctor Strange impersonation, but in the end, I know nothing about him beyond the fact that he's a monster tamer of some repute. Would it have killed them to throw an ounce of personality in there somewhere?
He makes just enough facial expressions throughout the next few episodes that I can't even entertainingly joke about him having only one facial expression. But apart from some allusions to his old office job explaining why he prefers to lay low and not cultivate others to rely on him too much, we really don't get much that's compelling about Yuji here.

Honestly, of all the shows that we sampled for this Isekai Charcuterie, this was the one that found me closest to nodding off as I was watching it.
Same. Even if I were an isekai aficionado, I can't imagine choosing to watch this over any one of the others. It actually makes me depressed to think about all the work that went into doing an adaptation of this when it's the equivalent of unflavored agar. If this isn't proof that we're making too much anime, I don't know what is.
Obviously, the solution is start rebalancing things. We need to return these isekai-stranded kids back to their original, natural habitat in the real world.

Finally, we can discuss an anime about a normal guy.

Uncle from Another World has a leg up on the other isekai offerings this summer by a) having a distinct structure and premise, and b) recognizing that hanging around an isekai protagonist would bring nothing but pain.
Like as a conceptual joke, I can absolutely appreciate the recognition that someone from our flesh-and-blood 'real' world winding up in a realm of hot JRPG anime-art characters wouldn't exactly fit in.

Though is that really appreciably different from trying to live as an ardent fan of SEGA consoles?
Just induce the coma again. It'd be the kindest thing for him.

I wouldn't call the this premiere rip-roaringly hilarious or anything, but I think it hits a good balance of isekai in-jokes and more universal jokes about a guy who's been asleep for almost two decades and has no grasp of how far internet discourse has fallen.
It's definitely the sort of thing that's 'funny' in the sense of the strength of its overall idea, even as the actual 'jokes' tend to land somewhat flatter. Like for all the isekai protags I've seen magic up miraculous advancements and powers in fantasyland in played-straight shows, there's a great counterbalance to Uncle and his nephew using his abilities for half-baked YouTube sketches that don't even pull major numbers.

Uncle's never gonna get that Play Button.
Let him worry about getting the cellphone of his dreams first.
How can this series be spitting profound truths like that one second, only to turn around and deliver factual inaccuracies the next?
I'll actually defend that line, because presenting demonstrably incorrect shit as indisputable fact is just a part of being a teenager.
Takafumi insisting that K-On! codified the slice-of-life genre, and dying on that hill no matter how hard he gets ratio'd.
And honestly, I get why the author wanted to do the whole bit about tsundere and Uncle not catching on, because it is a funny idea even as the years don't actually work out. But it's also an example of Uncle From Another World dragging out one decent joke it has to where it really only winds up working as a specific kind of cringe comedy.

Like as a reverse-isekai, I feel like this series is done no favors by sharing the summer with the second season of The Devil is a Part-Timer, which has significantly more going on.
It's also a rather stiff adaptation. I'm just guessing here, but it feels like it's following the manga paneling pretty closely, which is generally not the best way to translate comedy from the page onto the screen.
I actually did read the first volume of the manga last year, and you're absolutely right. The real-world scenes in particular carry a lot of the same framing as the manga version, though the art at least looks a little better. Though thus far they haven't brought in my favorite joke from the manga: Uncle's shock at KochiKame finally ending while he was away!
Well, there's plenty of time left for him to face all kinds of uncomfortable truths! And weaknesses of the adaptation aside, Takehito Koyasu is the goat.
That honestly just adds one more layer to the joke in this version, having a superstar like him take a turn as a schlub who couldn't even make it as an isekai protagonist.

But fine, if taking the protags out of the fantasy worlds altogether couldn't fully mitigate the Isekai doldrums, then what is the cure? Might we have to pursue genuinely...medicinal methods?
Please do not disturb me, I am in my lab using all the knowledge I've gained in this column so far to synthesize the perfect isekai.

And, jokes aside, Parallel World Pharmacy gets points from me out the gate for the micropipette fanservice.
Forget sexy slave girls or massive monster fights, this show knows what we really want: Lab equipment and chemistry!
Mmm nothing turns me on more than the skeletal structure of levofloxacin. And because I do legitimately have a degree in biochemistry, I was primed to enjoy Parallel World Pharmacy the most. Now that's faint praise considering some of the other options, but we all have to work with the hand we're dealt.
And it's fair, as even without that invested level of expertise, I can confirm that this series was also the most interesting of the batch to me. I can't go super-hard in praising it for originality, aware as I am that even Pharmacy Isekai is already its own sub-genre, somehow. But this anime still works simply by virtue of having some concepts to drive its story beyond plopping some dude into RPG Maker and letting him wander aimlessly.
Yeah, like, this is Writing 101 stuff, but the mere mention of the dude's dead sister infuses him with more personality and motivation than any of our other standard isekai heroes this season.
They even use it to construct a solid thematic through-line as the story goes on, as our MC's fixation on family leads him to ponder his business of effectively 'possessing' someone with familial connections in this world, and getting a chance to use his juiced-up pharmaceutical fantasy magic to cure his 'new' little sister's chicken pox.
You know what they say: name yourself for the job you want.
I know thematic names are a thing in anime regardless, but I still pulled a serious spit-take when I heard that one. A lot of the core ideas in Parallel World Pharmacy will feel familiar if you've read or watched Ascendance of a Bookworm, like the main character's drive to advance the medieval-level technologies he's witness to, or the magic system that favors nobility and sees civilians freaked out when way too much of it is demonstrated. But as far as these series go, there are far, far worse isekai setups to seem similar to.
Yeah, Bookworm is solidly in my aforementioned pantheon of Pretty Alright Isekai. And Pharmacy's premiere manages to throw in some outside-the-box hooks too, such as light alchemical experimentation and a possible ghost boy. Mysteries that compel you to watch further? What will they think of next?
Honestly you gotta watch after that just to catch his tutor's response to his otherworldly magic powers, which is to encase herself in an entire suit of armor.
Real brain genius hours. And I probably will continue on! Can't say I'll do so (willingly) for the rest, so I think that means Parallel World Pharmacy wins this round.
There's an embodiment of everything that's made Parallel World Pharmacy that kind of winner so far: It's got a high concept that plays off its isekai hook without making it the gimmick itself, and it's willing to have fun as it plays out its story. That way all the magic chemistry compounding doesn't become the sole, dry focus of the action like, say, My Isekai Life's snooze-inducing magical programming language.

Can confirm that this is definitely the only one of these I can see myself keeping up with consistently as well. (Well, apart from my loving obligation to Harem Labyrinth, that is.)
See, we're not isekai haters. We're isekai sommeliers. It just happens to be that 90% of what we sample is pure vinegar.
Sometimes I wish I could simply spit out a swill of a series I just sampled, but I can only hope that our loss is the audience's gain. Maybe if we all stop watching bland isekai, they'll actually stop making bland isekai.
I'm sure that'll happen any day now...
On second thought, maybe we'd have better luck taking our chances with Truck-kun after all.

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