I’m a sucker for Isekai shows. It’s just the escapism I need in life! Hence, I wanted to talk about Isekai today. For anyone that doesn’t know about the term: Isekai describes a setting where the protagonist (or a group of people) is transported into another world. This is done in a lot of different ways. People can get summoned to another world like in “Rise of the Shield Hero”, “The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent” or “How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom”. People can find themselves in another world in the blink of an eye, like in “Re: Zero” or “Overlord”. Sometimes, people die in the previous world (usually it’s death by truck) and get another chance in this other world like in “Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!” (aka Konosuba), “That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime” or “Kumo desu ga, Nani ka?”. There are even times where people get trapped in games, like in “.hack” and “Log Horizon”. “Digimon: Digital Monsters” is technically an Isekai.
Definitions out of the way, the plot can be about anything. I personally love Isekai that focus on the economical and political systems of the world. When it comes to Fantasy, world-building is important and generally speaking the most enjoyable aspects for me come from the world being built and the protagonist slowly changing it. In Overlord, for instance, the main character wants to stay logged into his favourite MMO until the minute it shuts down forever. What actually happens, though, is that he suddenly is in the game. He’s the lich overlord of this huge domain but it’s not quite like in the game, so he’s set his eyes on the goal of conquering this world… or rather he’s doing stuff and others interpret that as part of his plan, which is a whole dynamic that I love and adore. Meanwhile, in “That time I got reincarnated as a slime”, the main character starts off as a lowly slime but quickly becomes relatively strong by absorbing the skills of other creatures. This is where most shows would portray the overpoweredness of the main character and let him snowball out of control… not in this case! Rimuru, the main character, actually decides to build a whole country where monsters (like him) and humans can live together in peace. This is what drives the show forward but a lot of different aspects of the show actually consists of side plots that happen because of other parties that either are intrigued by or completely opposed to a monster nation.
What I love about shows is also how creative they can get. Sure, the bad shows are incredibly bad… “Isekai Cheat Magician” comes to mind. The good ones are incredibly good, though, and while many people complain about the rise of Isekai… I personally just want a season filled with it.
“Jobless Reincarnation” has a problematic protagonist but eventually grew on me. It’s supposed to make you dislike him but eventually, you just notice that Rudeus is not a scumbag… technically… He’s doing his best and it works out. That paired with the beautiful soundtrack, the amazing spell animation (the best I’ve seen in a decade!) and the nice characters… It’s a great show.
A show I’m really enjoying right now is “Ascendance of a Bookworm”. It’s a show where a bookworm dies and gets revived into a frail and sickly body. “Main” or “Myne” loves books but since those are considered luxuries… and since she’s a pleb or commoner now… she can’t attain them. Hence, she decides to make them herself and that’s effectively what drives her: The pursue of happiness, essentially. This is something that many Isekai shows have in common. The characters have a goal and try to achieve it at all costs. Be it “getting back home” or “saving the world” or even “revenge”, shows like this are usually driven by some sort of plot device that seems either far off or very close but not close enough. You may be thrown into a show without knowing much about it. You may not know what you’re going to get in the end but it’s that goal that makes you cheer for the cast, in the case of the good shows, and I love it when Main gets closer to making her own book, even if it means a lot of hurdles on the way.
In “The Saint’s Magic Power Is Omnipotent”, the protagonist is cast aside after the Summoning, so she’s quite upset because she didn’t ask to get summoned to this world… but because of her interest in flowers and her amplitude for magic, she actually manages to gain a lot of friends and eventually even gets her own little revenge in the form of an apology from the noble that insulted her so much. It’s something that’s satisfying but the show is about so much more than that. It’s about love, it’s about struggling, it’s about putting in the effort… But mostly it’s just entertaining and I wish it was yaoi. Oh well.
What makes Isekai so interesting for many of its fans is the idea of starting anew. It gives me goosebumps when I think of “Hurt” by NIN. Starting again, a million miles away, or… in another world. It’s something that I’d love to do. Getting a second chance. Having the chance to set things right or to redeem yourself. Isekai essentially has that premise: People that didn’t want to, end up in a different world. Do they give up once they figure out that they can’t return? No. They try to make their wishes and goals a reality. In Konosuba, a lot of this gets mocked but in a greatly entertaining way. In Re: Zero, love is the goal but the only “power” that the main character has is to relieve his death over and over again, changing things little by little, only to fail again. This wears Subaru out, obviously, physically and psychologically, but in the end, he goes the extra mile to ensure that he gets the best possible ending. That reminds me… I should mention that “All You Need Is Kill” isn’t an Isekai unless you count time travel as a means for Isekai-fication… In Re: Zero, Subaru has the power to die and come back but from a point in the past… It’s a power, it’s not how he got into a different world.
Speaking of power, btw, most shows’ protagonists have some sort of power or skill given to them that is either completely broken… or it seems weak but actually gets stronger. In Slime Taoshite 300-nen, the main character starts in a new world as a Witch and is hence immortal. She wants to have a relaxed life, so she only kills 25 slimes a day to earn a wage… but she doesn’t do more than that… and she only does that for 300 years straight, to the point where she’s maxed out. Completely. She’s the strongest character in the show now but wants to have a nice life. That’s the premise, kinda. Other shows are more straightforward. Ordinary people get bonuses from getting summoned into this new world and can use magic, all of a sudden. In Isekai Cheat Magician (great show if you’re looking for a dumpsterfire), the main protagonist can use all magic and is incredibly powerful and super overpowered and and and… You get it. In Overlord, Ainz Ooal Gown has his experience and skills from the game world… but in this new actual fantasy world that he lives in. He’s strong and it’s fun to see him clear bosses in the world that are considered strong already… BUT even he has enemies that are evenly matched for him and he hence has to prepare a lot for those scenarios where he could meet someone who’s even stronger than him.
Good Isekai shows handle this sort of dynamic well. Good shows have a powerful protagonist that isn’t too powerful. Meanwhile, great ones can start off characters with a headstart but these characters still need to work for it to work out. I feel like the way that power creep is handled is the most important thing in these shows. The other important thing is what the show is about in the end. I personally love to see the economic and/or political sort of evolution of the world. “Dr. Stone” is a great show for that if you’re interested in science. Meanwhile, Log Horizon has some interesting concepts that a lot of people value. I personally am absolutely loving “Honzuki no Gekokujou: Shisho ni Naru Tame ni wa Shudan wo Erandeiraremasen” aka “Ascendance of a Bookworm” to bits right now and am binging it right now. It’s fun. It’s engaging. It nearly made me cry at one point. In the end, I can highly recommend that show if you need a great show in these times. Otherwise, if you’re looking for an airing show from this season, take a look at “Genjitsu Shugi Yuusha no Oukoku Saikenki”, a show where the main protagonist is summoned into a new world, becomes king, and essentially uses Machiavelli’s theories (among others) to change the world. EDIT: Go watch “Tanya The Evil”. Great show! Absolutely love it! Can’t believe I forgot to mention that one. Thank you.
In the end, I love the genre, while others absolutely hate it. If you have any recommendations, let me know. What are your favourite shows in the genre? Do you like the genre or do you hate it? What are the best aspects of it? What do you hate the most? Let me know! I’d love to hear about that! Also thanks for reading up until here. I greatly appreciate it!