Mushoku Tensei is a lot of things
Ach ja, as frequent readers of this very blog must surely be aware, I am widely renowned for my impeccable decision making process and utter lack of regret from those very decisions. Astute readers may now wonder how it came to be, that I specifically committed to watching Mushoku Tensei now, as I am also recognized for having the most generic taste in mainstream media imaginable and should have seen this series already, solely on the basis of it being one of the more popular anime in recent years. Alas, it is a tale as old as time: I heard people talking shit about it on Twitter and immediately was like “ayoo, on god?”… yeah, Mushoku Tensei got the Date a Live treatment.
Though, I want to differentiate. Date a Live is a classic case of someone venting about how bad something is, which, of course, directly correlates into how much I then need to see it and then being followed by having to acknowledge the bad thing as, in fact, being bad, very much to the surprise of everyone (Hi, I’m everyone). Meanwhile, Mushoku Tensei got me in a slightly different way, with me hearing that it is bad (or rather having any kind of conversation, rather) in the most fascinating way. This mostly concerns elements of the currently airing second season, which, as of now, I have not yet seen and thus don’t feel comfortable talking about without proper context, as to not just parrot the points from random users on social media, but having seen a short clip of Rudeus attempting to slice his throat and the comments pointing out that this came to be, due to him not being able to get it on with a girl, might just have been the sales pitch I needed to finally give this series a go. Add some apparently new twist on the good ol' slavery apologism and whatever is going on with the two beast girls and I don’t care whether it will be good or bad, because it will at least be interesting.
Now, is this a kind of weird stance to go with into a new series? Probably to absolutely yes, but it is also not like I could have gone into this series unbiased either way. Before the first season aired, I was already fully aware of Rudeus' perversion and the accusations of pedophilia and a friend of mine read the first two volumes and gave me his opinion on them. Then there is the whole legacy of Mushoku Tensei codifying the Isekai genre, and so on. At this point, there would be no other way than me just taking the dive and letting it wash over me and I am kind of glad I did, because, and as I partially hoped, regardless of the anime being good or bad, it is interesting to talk about in numerous ways, which is why the title of this post couldn’t be any more vague. Mushoku Tensei simply is a lot of things and I want to talk about some of them. Spoilers for Season One of Mushoku Tensei ahead.
The first story arc took me a bit by surprise, considering how much “nothing” happens in an otherwise rather self-indulgent Isekai framework, though “nothing” happening is also one of my most favorite things in stories. Mushoku Tensei can be rather easily categorized into the more self-reflective variant of Isekai, most similar to other series like Re:Zero. It still absolutely revels itself in the idea of a power fantasy from the perspective of a nerdy otaku now being able to succeed in a new world, at least on a meta level, but it can be hardly called escapist in a normal sense, accounting for how much it utterly refuses to let go of Rudeus' old self and the events that made him into the person he now is, even when reincarnated into a new world as a baby. At its heart, this is a character-driven story through and through and I adore how basically every character and detail introduced in the first arc ties back into his own.
As such, my attention almost immediately shifted from how the characters are introduced and characterized to what specific way they serve the narrative and what they ultimately mean in terms of Rudeus' development. I don’t want to reduce the others characters to just serving Rudeus, especially since later parts make it clear that every character lived/lives their own lives apart from Rudeus, but the way the arc portrays itself just really lends itself to it. Roxy is pretty much the most blatant example of it and I doubt I have to go much in-depth into how and why, with how much the series itself throws it at you.
Rudeus most obvious, but also most superficial, hang-up is his inability and fear to leave his room, represented first by the new house he lives in and later the bit of garden surrounding it. Roxy mostly serves as an antithesis to one of the many things that lead Rudeus to recluse into his room. Not only is she not openly hostile towards Rudeus, she even respects him for his magic capabilities and shows that there are people outside his world that are willing to lend him a hand and all he needs to do to reach them is leave his room. This eventually culminates into his graduation ceremony and Roxy literally taking him into the outside world. The anime also does a fantastic job of nailing the poetics of it all. In his old life, he was violently dragged out into the rain by his own family, ignored by everyone on the street and eventually run over by a truck in an attempt to do one good thing in his life. In contrast, after being reincarnated as Rudeus, he is gently asked by Roxy, who is technically a stranger, but might as well be his older sister at this point, to celebrate his graduation and greeting everyone they encounter, while the sun is shining. The water spell creating a rainbow is just the cherry on top.
While being able to now “leave his room” doesn’t mean much on its own, it is basically the prerequisite to start his journey of bettering himself. I initially couldn’t really do much with Sylphy’s character. By all means, she is a very pleasant character and considering how buck wild Mushoku Tensei tends to be, I found her introduction, specific details notwithstanding, to be very mundane, compared to how a new “heroine” is normally included in other series. And thinking back on it, I guess this is the point. After Roxy leaves, as she can’t teach Rudeus any more, both emotionally, as well as what magic is concerned, Rudeus now has to learn on his own how to interact with people outside his new family and especially how this whole friendship thing is supposed to work out. Him actually showing agency towards other people is a step forwards, compared to his otherwise indifference towards strangers, even if it comes in the relatively trite form of “protecting someone from bullies”. But most importantly, it forces him to take responsibility for his actions and stop wiggling himself out of uncomfortable situations.
The scene of him stripping Sylphy against her will, beyond mirroring himself, shows his lack of emotional maturity and inability to resolve conflicts between friends. To me, it seems that he genuinely couldn’t handle the situation of accidentally hurting a friend, despite him having no intention of doing so and especially when it stemmed from a simple misunderstanding. However, the damage is done to both of them and it is up to Rudeus to stand up to his own failures in an act of serious character growth. It might seem like a small thing, as his new parents are quick to note, but it is more about setting things straight before they further escalate and hearing someone, who has been who knows how long alone, that he wants to be friends to another, is great character development in my book. I hate the notion of friends being a step down from other serious relationships, but let’s not imagine what crimes would have happened if Rudeus met Eris before Sylphy.
Lastly, there are the other adults in the house. Paul, at first glance, seems like the ultimate ideal of what one can consider to be a cool dad: A mountain of muscles wielding a big sword, accomplished and respected in his community and trying his best to extend the Greyrat family tree on a daily basis. In short, he is everything Rudeus was not in his old life. It is one thing to state to use one’s new chance at life to better oneself and try to succeed this time around, but another to actually know which way to go about it and Paul seems to be a guiding light as to what kind of man Rudeus wants to initially become. After episode 3, I almost tweeted about it and how an adult male perspective is normally missing in these kinds of stories. Thank god I didn’t, because episode 4 quickly pulled the rug from under me faster than I could realize, as Paul not only got the maid pregnant, but it is also revealed he had sexually assaulted her in the past. Despite being technically older than him, Rudeus clearly looks up to Paul and this incident is his first reminder that there is a lot more behind people, than what they show, a lesson in which he will continue to burn himself several times later. Paul being far from a decent human being is also emphasized by several characters and further touched upon in his reunion with Rudeus after the Teleport Incident. It also makes Rudeus more critical of what kind of man he wants to become, especially with how Paul is later contrasted to Ruijerd… if only he learned to keep his hands off girls in this lesson too :D.
The whole incident of Lilia getting pregnant with Paul’s child, beyond being surprisingly engaging drama, is also the last direct parallel I noticed to Rudeus' former life, though in this case the positions are shifted. Lilia’s pregnancy wrecks the harmony the family could enjoy until this moment and it is up to Zenith to decide what will happen, with the most likely outcome being to let Lilia go. The interesting thing in this parallel is for Rudeus to finally take up an active role and develope agency for his own feelings of empathy. In this sense, he takes up the role of his own parents in his previous life, as their absence caused the rest of his family to finally get rid of him and it is this very presence needed to safe Lilia, not just from possible death, but also as her place in this family. Also, comradery between women is good.
Again, the very first arc of Mushoku Tensei feels very dense and focused in both presentation and content, which makes me confident that it is all in purpose of something larger and any questions I have will be covered later. Arguably the most traumatic event of Rudeus former life, him being tied to the school gate naked and sexually humiliated, has yet to be really touched upon, though his parents being constantly at it at least creates an environment in which sexuality can be viewed through a more healthy lense and Eris is also not that far away to bring his sexual insecurity and other attributes to light.
The second arc finally gives off a lot more “Light Novel Isekai” vibes, though it is still rather limited in terms of action, considering this arc also makes it a point of both Rudeus and Eris being children that still need to grow up, so the fake-turned-real kidnapping is all we really get. Instead, it deals with the topic of responsibility and the place one inhabits in society. The irony of Rudeus teaching an angry little gremlin that herself doesn’t want to uphold societal expectations is not lost on me. But while I could dissect this arc for its little quirks and character interactions between the two and Ghislaine, this isn’t really what we actually want to talk about, right? So, let’s dig into Rudeus almost having sex with Eris.
First of, media is seldom able to actually make me feel uncomfortable. I can certainly comprehend, when I am supposed to and also understand what it means, both in the context of a story, as well as how it correlates to reality, but in terms of being genuinely uncomfortable with something, I am most often simply not. Remember, I am the guy that watched Euphoria and mostly just shrugged. That being said, Mushoku Tensei was able to make me uncomfortable not just once, but twice, with the first time being in episode 8.
After celebrating Rudeus' tenth birthday, he finds Eris sitting on his bed in a nightgown and basically insinuates that whatever happens this night is fine. This, beyond the question of where to draw the line of when one is comfortable seeing children in any sexual context, is almost expected. Eris clearly likes Rudeus, her mother jokingly(?) suggested marrying him, her grandfather is already fantasizing about a coup and her father is actually planing to go through with it, so what Eris' family is concerned, they are all in Rudeus' favor, though the father suggesting to have her “tied to the bed and ready for him” is a massive yikes. I get that this comment should probably reflect on how her father sees Eris as the daughter of a noble family first, meaning consent is optional in this matter, but the way this comment flew completely over Rudeus' head and was not further elaborated on, even with the previous sentence being heavily loaded with a lot of other stuff, felt a bit weird… just saying.
Anyway, what is actually interesting to look at is how Eris and Rudeus handle this situation, as well as how this is all framed. Again, Eris is not completely dumb and I doubt she isn’t aware of her grandfather, as well as possibly her father, having sex with the maids. We also learn later that her mother told her at least something about sex, so it isn’t completely out of left field for her to give herself up for Rudeus, even if she doesn’t fully understand why or what she is about to do. On the other hand, Rudeus has been a virgin his entire former life and is obviously very interested in the idea of changing that. However, we, as the viewer, have a certain assumption about Rudeus, that being that he is not actually a child, but someone at least in his thirties, mentally speaking, and thus expect him to see what is going on here, be better and obviously not go on with it.
Part of the shock is that Rudeus does so anyway. He kisses her, pushes her down on the bed and feels her up, before Eris luckily puts a stop to it all, gets him with the good ol' two-hit combo and leaves the room, before coming back and talking about what just happened. Despite being “younger”, she displays a certain amount of emotional maturity, which Rudeus lacks and while setting up a later date might seem a bit weird at first, Eris realizing that she is simply not ready at the moment nicely contrast with how much more thought she put into it compared to Rudeus, whose understanding of sex does not reflect his actual age and most likely stems solely from eroge, which brings me to another topic: Setting any possible discussion about age of consent aside, it feels weird to consider Rudeus either his “old” or “new” age, or even a combination of the two, mostly in context of how he lived his previous life and how it now influences his new one.
I personally don’t think it would have made much a difference, whether he would have been hit by the truck and reincarnated at age 16 or 34, except that the latter makes him look even more pathetic. One can extend his sympathy towards a shut-in otaku if he is a boy still in high school, but with every passing year, this sympathy lessen, which is part of the tragedy, as probably nothing really changed between the years and he might as well have stopped growing up the moment he closed himself off in his room. While his body ages, his mind stays stagnant. For what it is worth, Rudeus might as well be a 16-year-old boy inside the body of a 34-year-old man reincarnated as a ten-year old child right now. He is essentially running a New Game+ until he catches up to his “real” age again, which is also probably the moment he will lose his status as a weirdly advanced wunderkind, as he will have to treat the foreign fields of being an adult.
Does any of this excuse his actions? Absolutely not and assuming his “age” to be 16 would still raise enough eyebrows, considering Eris is 12 at the time. Actually, I think their age isn’t even the main problem here, as the circumstances, in which this whole situation unfolds itself, are messed up from the ground up. In short, Eris shouldn’t do it just to please the birthday boy and we would expect Rudeus to recognize that and decline. However, him not living up to expectations is kind of the point, isn’t it? In fact, seeing how the dynamic of this whole situation gets almost flipped at a later date kind of proves my point and shows how Eris and Rudeus are both flawed human beings, even if it is arguably weird to show it in this way.
As such, how one views this entire scene probably comes down to a mixture of how much one can stomach children being put in a sexual context and how much one is able to get out of it both thematically, as well as from a narrative perspective. At least out of interest, what would actually change if they were the same age, or if the both of them were older? I do however sympathize with the idea of the literal portrayal making the whole things a lot harder to swallow. The anime does not shy away from giving us some risque shots of Eris' body or how Rudeus touches her and I would probably also fall into the group of people thinking this entire scene could probably be a lot more “tame” to get the point across, even if I don’t think Eris looks particularly *insert adjective*, but I am also more a red apple than green apple guy, so who am I to judge? Also, reading this scene must have probably been a lot more awkward.
So… what is actually my opinion about this entire scene? For one, I don’t think the anime was supposed to make me feel this uncomfortable, at least I see no reason beyond the subject matter itself. Part of it was due to me not remembering if Rudeus would actually go through with it, but I guess this would hold true for literally everyone else too and another part is me, despite being a god-forsaken pervert, not being that cool with younger characters being put in this kind of situation in general. Trust me, I am on no puritan agenda, but the combination of children and sex mostly make me feel… well, uncomfortable. Having rewatched the scene just now, I remembered it to be a bit more explicit and longer, probably due to the context of having seen the previous episodes, so your first exposure will probably leave a stronger impression than what is actually there. But again, I am most definitely not the person to depend on when asked for judgement.
At least I consider this scene to go way beyond the normal amount of anime bullshit one is almost supposed to expect in these kind of stories and I have personally become essentially accustomed to, to the point where I would simply sigh and hand-wave their existence under other circumstances. However, this is no “Accidentally falling into the love-interest’s breasts”, no “This is simply how it is done in this fantasy culture”, nor a “Trust me bro, she’s actually a thousand-year old Loli”. If Mushoku Tensei wants me to earnestly engage with itself as a story, I also want to take it seriously and consider the implications of its more taboo content, because otherwise, the alternative would be to simply view a sex scene involving a twelve-year old as just some fanservice of rather questionable taste. Call me an easily offended snowflake, but I assume no one wants the latter to be the case.
From a narrative perspective, I can see what is going on and how it all came to be. After all, I just spend rationalizing this entire scene for a suspicious amount of paragraphs. However, what I am missing is a lot more of the fallout. Sure, Eris suggests waiting until he is 15 years old and officially an adult and Rudeus has a moment of self-reflection on how this all probably turned out for the better this way, but this is also kind of about it. It also seems like he doesn’t actually learn anything from this experience, as he continues to be a menace, enemy to all women and most likely also to a good amount of men. It feels like he should be punished by the story for this stunt, or at least not getting off scot-free. This is what I mean by the framing of this scene. I think Rudeus did something wrong, but does the anime think so too?
This actually brings up an interesting question on Rudeus' character in regards to his position as the main character and point of view for most of the story. How much should we actually sympathize with him? Sure, he can be a pretty sketchy guy at times, but I don’t even have to look beyond the anime sphere to name main characters I am more skeptical about. He also proves that he can be genuinely good towards the people around him and even be a positive influence on some. To me, it reads that we should at least be empathetic towards Rudeus and his struggles, but also shouldn’t assume him to be either right or good all the time and while this seems like a reasonable approach for any character, really, we have to remember that his story is about becoming better than his old self and seriously try if to go to another world, so him doing something one considers to be rather disgusting, only to get away with nothing more than a few bruises, can be a tough ask to continue following him. I know a friend who didn’t.
Welp, this could have easily been its own post… Anyway, episode 8 had another surprise in store. The Teleport Incident is a really fascinating plot point, because it essentially turns the whole story on its head. After all, they basically already set up the magic academy arc, as Rudeus tutoring Eris was in purpose of getting him and Sylphy into this one school and now seemingly everything is destroyed, no one knows where anyone is and this otherwise relatively calm Isekai now has two children surviving in a foreign land far away from home.
Personally, I consider this entire stretch of the story, which mostly takes up the rest of the first season, a lot less engaging. Up to this point, Mushoku Tensei almost exclusively focuses on the whole reincarnation thing and how Rudeus is influenced by growing up again in a new world, which is, quality of the execution being being another matter, certainly a breath of fresh air, compared to diving straight into your fantasy fare. It is not even like I dislike Mushoku Tensei fully committing to it and I am astonished how easy it is to watch the anime episode for episode.
Let’s get the obvious stuff out of the way first: The anime looks amazing. In general, the overall production of the series can be breathtaking at times and the way it visibly differentiates itself from other Isekai anime should not be overlooked. Mushoku Tensei displays some truly S-Tier world-building with the way every place has its own architecture, culture and even their own languages, which they commit to actually speaking. This is some fun fantasy above and beyond the more trite shlock I am normally exposed to. It is just a shame that the moment the possibility arises, they immediately drop the B-word (Boukensha), causing me to lose faith for a second. However, this whole ordeal is actually framed around the travels back to their home, Eris and Rudeus growing up and their relationship with Ruijerd.
Ruijerd is fun. He acts like the dad of this makeshift party and is way more suitable to be a role model, both for Rudeus and Eris, than any other male character up to this point. There is probably half a blog post about his character to be told and how the group is trying to right the name of all Superds, but I am also already at 4.000 word again somehow, so I will skip elaborating on everything that is not tied to a few specific scenes. The Human God is wild every time they make an appearance and I fully support one commenter’s opinion that they move like a Sims character, which makes them really unnerving to watch just walking around Rudeus in his foggy mind. Kishirika “Great Demon Emperor” Kishirisu is also just funny as hell and a joy when she is on screen. Think about the scene of her pulling down her pants in front of Rudeus what you want, but the comical intensity with which it was animated had me hollering.
Time to get kinda serious again. Remember when I wrote Mushoku Tensei was able to make me uncomfortable not just once, but twice? Let’s talk about it. Number two concerns the time Rudeus was captured by Roxy’s former student to use him as bait for her to come back, after she wouldn’t stand his sexual harassment anymore. Now, if you guess I am going to talk about about the tirade Pax was on about and how he would rape Roxy in front of Rudeus once he gets his hand on her, you would have guessed incorrectly. It’s actually the scene afterwards with Rudeus and Zanoba talking about the Roxy figurine. *sigh* Now, I can excuse Rudeus holding on to Roxy’s panties as a sort of memento to his former master and I can also excuse him creating figurines of her for the same reason. I will absolutely not excuse him going into way too much detail and being way too excited to talk about a figurine of a real person he knows and respects with a complete stranger for way too long.
Compared to everything else in this series, two perverts bonding over a figurine isn’t even that bad and I am also normally the type of guy to ignore all reason to appreciate technical finesse, but this scene… I don’t know, it just felt so fucking wrong on so many fucking levels, I am genuinely fucking incapable of properly articulating it. Fuck, I actually caught myself doing my “concerned and disgusted” face, something normally reserved for my degenerate friends being a bit to horny for my comfort. I know that I should take more issue with Rudeus almost having sex with Eris on principle, but this scene made me reconsider my stance on capital punishment. Like, Rudeus should just die in a ditch and be forgotten by time. Yes, this is the hill I am willing to die on. I am the personification of “I can excuse pedophilia, but I draw the line at obsessing over a figurine.”
To get actually serious again, the last scene I want to talk about is Eris having sex with Rudeus in episode 22. After three years of wandering, Eris and Rudeus are finally back in the Fittoa Region, though not all is fine. Ruijerd splits from the group after having protected the two for the last years and Eris is confronted with the reality of her family being dead, the city and surroundings being utterly destroyed and the possibility of having to spent the rest of her life as the concubine of another lord. After demanding to be left alone and crying her heart out, she visits Rudeus' tent at night and again insinuates that the two of them could have sex. However, this time Rudeus initially declines and dodges her advances. After all, he genuinely cares for Eris and doesn’t want to take advantage of her when she is feeling hopeless at the moment. He wants to hold onto their promise, thinking this all comes a bit too sudden and even initially apologizes for not having a gift for her when Eris states that she is 15 and thus an adult now. Rudeus eventually gives in to her demands, but it should be noted just how different this scene played out compared to the one in episode 8.
First of, it is Eris who shows agency and is in control of the situation, not Rudeus and it is her who wants something from him, instead of her giving herself up for him. The scene is also a lot more emotionally driven, than the primarily physical one in episode 8. It is pretty clear from the get-go that Eris wants to have her first time with someone she has an honest connection to, before being potentially send away to fulfil her family duty and the way she unceremoniously leaves Rudeus afterwards, makes it basically abundantly clear that this was more an act of desperation than love. It is also a lot less awkward to watch. Again, not to start a debate about the age of consent, Eris is 15 at the time and we spent a significantly larger amount of time of Rudeus and Eris bonding and starting to depend on another. It also helps that this entire scene is portrayed a lot more tasteful in its presentation, showing less physical contact between the two, having a more dark atmosphere to more accurately indicate the feelings of the both of them and utilizing metaphors like the tent pole visually separating the two to show their dissonance, or the cup disappearing into the puddle the spilled drink created, to not show the actual sex.
Sure, it is still a child and half(?) a child having sex, but beyond this matter, I don’t think there is actually much to criticize this scene for, neither for its portrayal, nor its place in the narrative. Even the weirdly out of tune “I want to have your kittens, nya~” line turns out a lot more bleak, considering we know the context behind the Boreas family’s obsession with the beastfolk. At the very least, I am way more comfortable with this one than the one in episode 8. It also plays out a lot more into the characters and their future. For Eris, it is her final goodbye, before telling him “You and I aren’t well-matched right now” and going on a journey to become less dependant on Rudeus, only for him to fall down an emotional black hole upon the resurface of his trauma, as well as his newly developed one and additional abandonment issues, that will take at least an episode to crawl out of. Good.
The last episode of the season is just an utter deconstruction of Rudeus as a character, revisiting his time before reincarnating and arguing with himself what he is supposed to do now, once again being at his lowest point in life. Beyond being absolutely my kind of trope, it is also filled with much needed development and sympathy for Rudeus, with the main focus being his inability to allow himself to change, despite seeing the people around him doing so constantly, partly even explicitly through his help, as seen with Paul. It also formulates a nice throughline of his regrets into what he wants to do going forward. The way his old mother never really gave up on him, gives him the motivation to not only not give up in himself, but to also search for his new mother, who is the only one who he wasn’t able to encounter after the incident. There is also this really nice shot of Rudeus literally walking past his old self being strung at the school gate, which is just such a nice visualization of his self-realisation.
I opened this post with an easy and cheap parallel to Date a Live, due to how I finally got into watching both series, however, as one should have noticed, I talked about Mushoku Tensei in a way better light than I would ever do about Date a Live, because while it has issues and issues, at the end of the day, I truly enjoyed watching Mushoku Tensei. It is probably one of my better liked “classic” isekai anime, just really fun most of the time and there is always something to talk about. I can’t wait for someone smarter and more critical than me to completely dismantle this series and explain how it actually sucks, only for me to fully agree with every point raised, because this is how it tends to be with me. This is also the reason why I don’t feel sure about putting it on my list of recommendations, as there are simply way too many asterisks attached to this series and just because I could stomach everything in Mushoku Tensei, doesn’t mean someone else would do too.
And that’s about it. As already mentioned, Mushoku Tensei is a lot of things and I just wanted to write about what I found most interesting. I have a feeling this post even started of rather strong, but kind of derailed halfway through and just kept going until we are finally at the end, because I didn’t really had a specific point I wanted to make and mostly went through the events chronologically in very different amounts of depth… sorry about that. Maybe there will be a follow-up post, once I start the first part of the second season, in which I regret everything I said in this post, but this will be a problem for future me and current me should actually work on something long overdue right now. Also, how did I reach almost 6.000 words?
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is available on Crunchyroll.
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