Anime Review

Anime Hajime Review: Mushoku Tensei – Jobless Reincarnation

Original Run: January 11, 2021 - March 22, 2021
Number of Episodes: 11
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy, Isekai
Based on the Series Created By: Rifujin na Magonote

***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation. Reader discretion is advised.***

Series Synopsis

In a tragic accident, a middle-aged shut-in (voiced by Tomokazu Sugita) tries to be a hero once in his life. Unfortunately, this one noble act cost him his life.

Feeling his consciousness slipping away, the man thinks back on the time he wasted closed off from everyone. Then, in an act of fate, the man gets a second chance. He is reborn in a parallel world as the young mage Rudeus Greyrat (voiced by Yumi Uchiyama).

Rudeus remembers the person he once was and is determined not to become that again. No matter what may come, he will move forward.

Series Positives

I want to sit here and tell you I liked Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (Mushoku Tensei). After all, I did get enjoyment out of this series; there were things it did well. I am curious enough to learn what might happen in season two, which, at the time of this review going live, is scheduled for an October 2021 release.

Despite all that, no, I cannot say I liked this show.

I will try to explain myself later on but for the time being, know that I found Mushoku Tensei to be irredeemable.

Putting aside my hesitation, there are plenty of good things that can be said about this series.

First and foremost, Mushoku Tensei was beautifully animated. I was astonished by how amazing this show looked. The settings were wonderfully detailed, magic was a gorgeous thing to behold, and the land felt lush, vast, and whole. 

When this series was lighthearted and silly, the visuals helped convey that. Likewise, when scenes turned dark, you could see how distressed our characters were.

From what I can tell, this is Studio Bind’s first production, and in terms of animation, they made one hell of an impression.

This was no high-fantasy story. Yes, there were demons, magic, and mystical creatures. However, this show’s characters were living an otherwise down-to-earth, simple world. There was an order to society, an order that could have still been prevalent had things like spells not existed.

Although people were born more adapted towards specific skills, someone had to put in actual effort to become a formidable warrior or caster.

In this context – and believe me, the context matters – Rudeus Grayrat did not adhere to a classic isekai narrative trope. He might have had a knack for magic and was a quick learner, but Rudeus did not get reincarnated as the most powerful being in existence. To reach the level he got to by the end of this season, Rudeus had to put in the work. And even then, many characters were much stronger than him.

Through and through, when the actual story was taking place – ignoring the “quirky character” moments (I’m about to rail into that problem) – Mushoku Tensei had a unique feel.

This show was by no means silly, but it also wasn’t dark and depressing. It was in this strange middle ground that would have made it an interesting fantasy story had it simply been a fantasy story. Unfortunately, this series was more akin to a ham-fisted isekai.

Sure, if you were to take away the entire parallel-world aspect, Mushoku Tensei would have been a very different show. Except, I don’t believe that would have been a bad thing.

Series Negatives

Rudeus Greyrat is the primary reason why I cannot like or recommend this show – but it should be noted that all the males in this series were scumbags.

I am not saying Rudeus was a poorly defined character. No, I am saying that the very idea of his character made Mushoku Tensei gross, disturbing, and sometimes sickening to watch.

Before I go any further, let me make something abundantly clear. I understand that when Rudeus was a child in his previous life, he was the victim of harsh and inhumane bullying. His fear of going outside, even after being reincarnated, made sense. But that is where my sympathy for him ends.

Whatever Rudeus may have gone through did not give him a free pass to be a deadbeat who holed himself up in his garbage dump of a room while masturbating to I-don’t-even-want-to-know-what-kind-of porn instead of attending his parent funeral. Also, retaining the mind and memories of a middle-aged creep while in the body of a ten-year-old doesn’t turn pedophilia and sexual assault into something cute.

If you think I am being needless harsh and hyperbolic, trust me, I am not.

Ignoring the fact it didn’t make any damn sense how a freeloading shut-in had the same logical thinking that was on par with a master strategist, one of Rudeus’ primary character traits was his open perversion.

  • He was not subtle when he drooled over big breasts.
  • He was a habitual panty thief.
  • He had a core understanding with his new father, who was a blatant womanizer and adulterer.
  • His motivation for getting close to all this show’s female characters was to have sex with them.

TRIGGER WARNING AHEAD:

There was a scene where Rudeus didn’t hesitate to remove the underwear of a sleeping twelve-year-old girl.

Can season two recover from its predecessor’s trivialization of sex crimes? I’m curious about what direction this series might take because I really don’t think it can.

While Mushoku Tensei’s narrative evolved into something much deeper, Rudeus was no less a pervert than he was at the start of the show. I didn’t and don’t want to root for this guy. And if you’re going to tell me this story and Rudeus get better, you’re fighting an uphill battle. This is a case of too little too late. I am unconvinced this series has its priorities in the proper order; this is a misguided show.

To really drive my point home, let me take this stance – Redo of Healer was actually better in this sense than Mushoku Tensei.

In case you don’t know, Redo of Healer has explicit scenes of rape and torture; they are disturbing and brutal to watch. The thing was, though, that was the point. Did Redo of Healer have to go as hard as it did? Probably not. But at least Redo of Healer didn’t make light of what it was doing; it was f@#$ed up and there is no other way to interpret it.

Mushoku Tensei, on the other hand, was all like, “So you got into the maid’s underwear drawer again, didn’t you, son? Ha-ha, just like your old man, you little scamp. Now you go off and play while I stay here and boink the help behind my wife’s back and face absolutely zero consequences for my actions.”

“Ah, gee-whiz pop, you and I sure do think alike.”

I won’t pretend I haven’t overlooked this sort of thing in past anime. Thinking about it, I can tell you several shows I recommended that had similar traits. Those recommendations were mistakes; mistakes I regret. They were mistakes I will try my hardest not to make again.

Starting now.

Final Thoughts

It doesn’t matter if 90% of a show is blasting on full cylinders. If the other 10% treats sexual assault as just a mere character quirk, then that will outweigh the rest.

Having a perverted character is one thing. Having a perverted character that learns what they are doing is wrong and actively attempts to become a better person is another.

Such growth might take place in season two. If it does, then I will reconsider this series as a whole. For the time being, though, don’t let the beautiful animation and artwork fool you.

This show is fundamentally flawed, and Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation can be skipped.

But these were just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this series? How would you advise Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.

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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.

1 comment

  1. Honestly, I feel like the author has missed some of the point of the show with regard to understanding rudeus’s behavior. I feel like it’s disgenuine to frame an opinion of the show based around a high minded morality without exploring human nature a bit deeper.

    There are a few very important considerations about the situation that need to be addressed. Im not going to make excuses for any “assault” themes, but I would like to point out a few things that rudeus’s thoughts and actions can be used to deconstruct.

    Firstly, it is important to understand that it is impossible for rudeus to ever have a normal relationship with anyone his age. Because he has the mind of a 40ish year old NEET, he will never have the innocence of a child, or the awkward maturity level of a teenager, or the burgeoning sexuality of a young man. He will always see the world through the eyes of a cynical and disillusioned adult who has been marketed to his entire life. He cannot explore his desires innocently, he cannot make friends with someone without thinking one level beyond the surface of what that friendship will entail, he sees everyone for the potential impact they can have on his life over the long term. This level of thinking is something no human does at the age of 10, but we all tend to do as we become adults. We see people and relationships with them very differently as we age.

    This heightened level of self awareness and actualization is what defines his character, he often is conflicted about how his actions could shape the very core of his relationships with those around him. This is all colored by the lens of perversion and cynicism from his trauma and his lack of real world social experience, having spent most of his former life escaping into dating games and masturbation. If we fast forward to his teenage years, any relationship he has is going to be seen as manipulative and self serving because he already knows what the end goal is and, in theory, how to get there by saying and doing the right things. If we describe this behavior as ‘despicable’ then we have to address the fact that every single adult who has ever been on a date is equally despicable. Because we all ‘want something’ from each other and dating is just he cat and mouse game of ‘what words and actions get us laid’. In the realm of nightclubs, bars, and casual one night stands this is well understood, and I would argue that this is the norm outside of conservative and religious communities.

    If we use his first friend, silphiette as an example, when he still believes she is just a particularly attractive boy, he cannot help but think that when they grow up sylph is going to be very attractive to girls and that his friendship will give him a better chance at dating when he’s older. Whether we want to frame this as despicable, narcissistic or manipulative doesn’t matter, the point is that adults think this way about other people. We dehumanize them into ‘what they bring into our own life, what opportunities they provide’. Though it is important to also take note that he gained this friendship by fighting against bullying, and genuinely wants a friendship with Silph because he has never had a friend before.

    After he realizes Sylphiette is a girl, his thoughts move toward the idea that he could eventually have a sexual relationship with her, taking the “childhood friends route” like he has played in his dating games. He reflects that “grooming her” for this is likely a despicable act, because it’s manipulative, but he also still has a lust for that kind of relationship which he never actually got to experience in his old life, since he died a virgin. To be clear, he doesn’t fantasize about his friend as she is now, but he thinks about what it would be like to undergo the age of youthful discovery with her. This is the point where I feel critics start to have real problems, for obvious reasons, it become dangerously tangential to pedophilia, which is a topic that causes extreme discomfort and disgust. It is fairly easy to take the ‘moral high road’ and pass judgement on the show as a whole for even introducing the subject by having this character with his perverse thoughts and actions, but that is also missing the point.

    A universal experience throughout human life is that when we are young we eventually have sexual thoughts, we become aware of our selves and most of us have extremely awkward experiences where we immaturely tried to explore our bodies with our friends, playing ‘doctor’ is a common reference. As adults we rationalize that this is innocent behavior, kids experiencing sexual changes slowly and awkwardly, sometimes influenced by “dirty magazines” or movies they have seen. But what happens when one young person is more mature than another? How do we view this behavior then? Do we condemn the character for desiring to have that normal sexual exploration phase just because he already knows it’s a possibility? Do we judge him for wanting a sexual outlet because he has the knowledge of it before hand? Whether we condemn this behavior or not, it forces us to acknowledge that we all have a desire for sexual experiences and there is no such thing as innocent exploration.

    This brings me to the main character’s mindset, and in fact the primary theme of the discussion as a whole. This is where the point I really want to press upon the critics of the show takes a ‘meta turn’. The main character has grown up in a Japanese culture, where sexuality and mental trauma and legalities involving bullying, sexuality and assault are all very different than the western world.

    We are talking about a culture that is simultaneously super conservative and repressed in terms of physical contact, showing emotion, and defying superiors or elders… And at the same time has ‘normalized’ loli (underage) pornography, teenage prostitution, extreme sexual violence, rape video games, dehumanization ‘toilet’ pornography, and overtly sexualized character designs in popular media. The main character of this show, is someone who fell into the depths of this culture, and is given an opportunity to change his life and move forward in a new world. The most important aspect of his character is that is mindful of the perverse thoughts and actions he takes and his attempts to be a better person than he was last time. If we criticize and condemn the show for touching on this subject matter in an adult manner that makes us actually think about how we view relationships with others, sexual exploration and abuse, then we have to criticize and condemn every lazy show that panders to that behavior and that subculture that we so despise.

    How many shows, in just this season are primarily ‘harem anime’, and how many of those feature a predominant cast of provacatively scantly clad loli character’s? How many of those shows have scenes that start focused on butts and breasts only to pan out to faces or wider scenes after? How many of shows have ‘fight porn’ where the show is gruesome or explicitly drawn to be sexy and violent at the same time?

    My point is that mushoku tensei draws attention to these tropes and discusses them within the framework of the show itself, and that isn’t something to condemn the show over, it’s something to praise the show about. All these other shows with the tsundere girl, the glasses girl, the big breasted girl, the panty shots, they are all pandering and contributing to the ‘perversion’ that the critic here so reviles and openly sexualize child characters and no one bats an eye. It’s normalized.

    Even more interesting to me is that mushoku tensei actually humanizes the characters as this discussion is happening. I can’t even begin to list the number of shows that have random moe trope girl characters in a harem environment, but mushoku tensei actually gives them life and background development to explain their existence. The quiet shy girl is that way because she is a racial minority and has been bullied extensively, the tsundere girl is emulating her wealthy noble grandfather and is spoiled and bratty because she has never had to work hard for anything, the practical glasses girl who is unphased by harassment and inconveniences is actually an demon who will outlive everyone she knows from the human realms so she doesn’t really care about things that are just a spec in time compared to her lifespan.

    The one scene where I feel the show goes into a realm that made me uncomfortable was when the main character attempted to depants a 12 year old while she was sleeping. This falls into the mooky strangeness of japanese culture and the normalization of sexual harassment and pranks within that culture. Over there it is apparently common for children to jam their fingers into the anus of another person as a prank, like over here it is strangely common for young boys to punch each other in the arm. While I am certain this was not meant to depict an attempted rape, I feel the idea of “embarrassing sexual bullying” is somehow a normal experience for japanese young people, since it is a common theme in a LOT of anime. And I’m actually sort of surprised that the character wouldn’t have associated that kind of act with his own embarrassing bullying that led him to be traumatized in his past life, as he was depicted being tied up naked at the school gate, which would have been a very serious crime in the western world but apparently wasn’t so in japanese culture.

    TL;DR – We should be praising the show for addressing such a complex and otherwise ignored topic of relationship with differing maturity levels, sexuality and perversion, and for humanizing and giving agency to characters that would have just been checkbox Moe tropes in other shows. We should be thoughtful in our tendency to distance ourselves from difficult topics, and consider how many other shows, games and media normalize the sexualization and objectification of women and minors. The beauty of the show isn’t just in the surface animation, music or no nonsense storytelling, it is in the subject matter of how we think about the mindset of the main character and the challenge of forming real relationships with others instead of simply viewing them as a means to an end.

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