This is not typical isekai. This show is way off the ordinary isekai track. Most isekai shows are subjected, unfairly I believe, to the charge of being very cookie-cutter, sharing too many characteristics, to the point that one seems very much like a copy of the next. Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation definitely does everything it can to buck that label. And it does a really good job not only with that, but with many other things along the way. And I like it.

This show is different, refreshing, edgy as hell, heartfelt and powerful at times, at times annoying (and by that I mean one particular character only…read on), but always engaging. I picked this anime up once I saw all the hype around part 2 of season 1—and, admittedly, after seeing the ten thousandth fanart of Ghislaine—and I was never disappointed. If you like your isekai a bit on the atypical side, this show is definitely for you.

A bit of R-rated stuff in this review, so be advised as always.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 8

Yes Rudeus is the main character. And I like Rudeus. Sort of. But I really like Ghislaine.

Alright…fanservice. This show is highly lewd in many respects. The author is probably a highly lewd human. Be that all as it may: Ghislaine. Phew. She will make you sweat. That’s a body. She’s sexy as hell and doesn’t even act like it. But her behavior and mentality are some of my favorite parts about her. I love how strong she is! Physically yes, but her personality is very strong, and she’s a warrior. I love these types of characters.

When I first saw Ghislaine in my travels around the Internets and realized she was from this show, I said to myself, says I: I see what I like, and I like what I see. Then I began watching this show and I loved that deep voice that went with this visually stunning character. It tickled a memory somewhere in my brain. I looked up the voice actress. It was Megumi Toyoguchi. Oh ok, as in one of the two voices for Winry from Fullmetal Alchemist and Junko Enoshima from the Danganronpa series, and some other miscellaneous anime roles. And Revy. From Black Lagoon.

Revy!

Yes! This character went from solidly on my radar to absorbing my attention! I love that deep, threatening voice that oozes with “I don’t give a f**k.” So while there isn’t anything really much to this character (at least through one season) between her heart-stopping appearance and the godlike voice of Toyoguchi-san, I was enthralled. Man it was good to hear that voice again!

Ghislaine’s banter with Rudeus is really good too. These two are played by solid veteran VAs (more on Rudeus in a moment), and they do a great job conversing as characters. They both look at each other familiarly but curiously. It’s fun watching and listening to them interact. I almost went nuts on the studio and producers when Ghislaine was absent for all but the last episode or two of the second half of S1. That would have been a crime against humanity, to deprive audiences of that experience completely for the remainder of S1. I was glad when she returned, and I tremendously look forward to her reappearance in S2.

It makes me shiver with thoughts I cannot say.

So this Rudeus guy, like most of the characters in this show, gets the wheels turning in my head. So let’s do an episode of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, which, in this case, really means: the good, the curious but interesting, and then the bad.

The good is that Rudeus is nowhere near your typical isekai protagonist. I think the writers did everything they could to avoid those tropes. Rudeus is a kid, true, but he’s clearly a kid. There’s no No Game, No Life Sora or SAO Kirito here, where they’re fresh out of class and ready to conquer the world with sword and brain and brawn. He does do the shut-in thing in his previous life, but that’s one of a very few typical tropes I easily see here, and based on what I see in other areas from the writers, there’s probably a good reason they employed this trope, or at least there’s probably some thought behind it. So he’s not typical, and I always like that kind of thing. It shows awareness and thought from the author(s) and the screenwriters for the anime. 

The bad (the curious but interesting) is kind of general, something I’ve noticed elsewhere before, but is so remarkable to me with this character that I feel obliged to bring it up in regards to Rudeus. Most avid anime fans are familiar with English-to-Japanese phonetic issue of the letters R and L. As in, Rudeus becomes Ludeus by pronunciation, Revy becomes Levy, Rintaro becomes Lintalo, Rory becomes Loli–oh, fascinating, fans of Gate; see the kinds of things we discover here?—etc. Right, this happens a lot in anime and usually is coincidental. I’m going to go way out in the woods here for a minute, but bear with my ramble (lamble?).

If there’s any meaning behind “Ludeus,” it could come from several different places. Here we go into the woods boys and girls. The word “ludi” is Latin for “game” or “sport.” Latin? As in the Romans? Yes, that. While there’s no actual word “ludeus” in the Latin language, as some of you will know, Latin uses roots and endings to create meaning in words. “Lud” (pronounced “lood” like “food”) is the root here. Coincidence?

These two together are almost as good as Rudeus and Ghislaine.

Hawk you’re crazy, that’s ridiculous. And how does that have anything to do with Rudeus? Some odd reference to the connection between isekai and gaming? Really? Truth be told: yes it is ridiculous, and I don’t think it does mean anything for Rudeus. Nor do I want to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out some exotic reason why there might be some connection here. The only reason I even bring this up is the rather Romantic (as in Romans, not love) choice of name in the first place, Rudeus. Would a Japanese author play a word game with a Latin word? Probably not, but the thought is curious and interesting.

Or it could play with the English word “lewd.” Among foreign language word play possibilities, this seems more likely. And this is the finest transition ever! Time for the ugly! The horni boi who’s really a good guy at heart thing simultaneously peaked and got old with Araragi in Monogatari. I get it there. I don’t get it the bazillion times it’s happened since then in male anime protagonists. Once again, perhaps there’s something to the fact that I noticed it with this character where normally it’s just kind of there with any other character, similar to the R and L thing above. But my big problem with it here ties into the good thing I noted about Rudeus: he isn’t typical. Why pick something as boorishly typical as the pervy good guy as a character trait for him? It seems an odd contradiction.

But above all, I like the voice acting for this character. The VA doing Rudeus’ child voice, Yuri Uchiyama (child Rei, March Comes in Like a Lion; Puck, Re:Zero) has to take into consideration how Rudeus is in his subconscious, making her task somewhat tricky, and she does a great job with it. Because the subconscious Rudeus is still the Rudeus from our world, even when he was a baby in his new life and couldn’t talk. That Rudeus is played by the magnificent Tomokazu Sugita. Yep, Gintoki from Gintama. It’s everything you’d expect from that deadpan voice. Subconscious Rudeus is fantastic.

Eris’s mom gets a little too enthusiastic, and Rudeus loves it. Kono hentai.

Eris Boreas Greyrat, cousin to Rudeus Greyrat and heiress to her family’s land, red hair and little body and those fiery eyes, is annoying as hell. Rudeus at one point called her the protagonist of a delinquent manga. Rudeus put it too nicely. I do not subscribe to Kazuma’s feelings on true gender whatever he says in KonoSuba, but I don’t think Rudeus should take all that crap from Eris. He should’ve but his foot up her ass.

I do not like this character. Eris personifies the kind of violent, loli tsundere character type that I (mostly 99%) detest. She always thinks she’s right, and even when she gets to a point where she can even recognize that she’s wrong she can’t admit it. “Hmph!” Stop that shit! I hate that! Rudeus looks at her wrong and she socks him. Rudeus probably deserves it one way or the other, but still. She deserves it too, and no one whacked her over the head for it every time she commits the slightest of faults. Which she commits plenty of. 

Everything about this character is extreme. Extreme violent reactions to ordinary offenses. Extreme strength for a tiny body. Extreme emotions about everything, from the anger to joy to sadness to uncertainty. Extreme loudness. It’s all the extreme of annoying. Speaking of extreme behavior: she acts like she’s a big woman, giving Rudeus a reward by sleeping with him, when she really is just hella horny for him and she won’t admit it, just like she won’t admit anything else. Rudeus feels like his affection for her is being returned and that they’ve broken through the barrier Eris puts between them. I even felt that. Then Eris gets weird and walks away, leaving Rudeus with nothing. No family, no Ruijerd, no Roxy, no Ghislaine even since Eris takes her with her. What the hell was that? 

Does anybody like Eris? I can’t figure out who thought this character would be anything but tiresome to audiences. Is she supposed to be that way? I doubt it. I figure she’s supposed to be a likable character on some level. It’s not a level I understand. If I met someone like that in real life I’d borderline want to murder them, boy or girl, not fall in love with them. I don’t find this character the slightest bit attractive or appealing or even sympathetic. And I love strong female characters. And not just the Ghislaine types. I don’t need appearances to go with strength. But I don’t need that tsundere self-righteousness either. That’s not strength, that’s not confidence, that’s mental immaturity and weakness (see Asuka Langley Soryu in the dictionary for further reference). That’s all I see in this character. A strong body with an energetic personality and absolutely zero mental fortitude if she doesn’t have someone near her to either fight alongside her or for her to bully. My view of her is totally negative. Please tell me I’m wrong about all this.

Protagonist of a delinquent manga. So annoying.

Ruijerd is a fun character. There isn’t much to him, but I will give another shoutout to Daisuke Namikawa for a nice voice performance here. Namikawa is best known for the smooth-talking Hisoka from Hunter x Hunter (another excellent performance), but I remember him best as my man Roku from Black Lagoon. The thing with Ruijerd having the terrifying Superd reputation was a little weak, but that’s more of a storyline thing than a character aspect. He works well as a character.

Roxy is kind of an odd character. She’s a main character until suddenly she’s gone, only reappearing briefly for a short time here and there (unless you happened to see her running around in the background one of those times). Her interactions with Rudeus was one of the first things I noticed that made me think something was off about this show. I knew this character was being voiced by the girl who played Chika Fujiwara (Kaguya-sama: Love is War), Konomi Kohara, but I had a hard time making that connection. Perhaps because those two characters are so different—who else is like Chika after all? That versatility speaks well of Kohara-san.

Sylphiette comes and goes fast doesn’t she? I’ll have to wait until S2 to see what heartache that situation brings to Rudeus. Or happiness, but I doubt it somehow. The thing with Eris is probably affecting him pretty strongly at this point. Regardless of the personality, if one spends that much time with someone in the kinds of situations they went through together, one would easily fall hard for that person, and it would be difficult to recover from if it abruptly ended. So I wonder if the proverbial childhood friend, Sylphiette, will emerge as a lover or not, and how that will affect Rudeus either way. Hey, this is another character voiced by Ai Kayano (Darkness, KonoSuba; Shiro, NGNL), so that’s makes it easy to like this character and look forward to her reappearance in the series.

Eris has a lot of nice frames like this one, which I will readily admit despite disliking her character.

Paul Greyrat is not a very remarkable character, but I like him. True, he’s another pervert good guy type, but it works for him. He makes some bad decisions, but he definitely regrets them. He’s a soft-hearted guy for a fighter, and the writers do a good job showing that in his character. He plays his role well.

There’s a lot of characters in this series actually. I won’t go into any more today. I will say that although I usually dislike when an anime has too many characters, this one doesn’t bother me too bad in this regard. Actually, I didn’t even think about how many characters it really had until I started writing this review. I think it’s not very obvious because the characters are nicely compartmentalized. They’re not all in the same place at the same time, and we don’t flash between locations very often. The action pretty much follows Rudeus, occasionally sidetracking to other characters briefly only. So it’s pretty easy to keep up with whichever limited set of characters is around Rudeus at the moment, whether that’s the extended Greyrat family plus Sylphiette or the beast people tribe or the pirate traders. They’re nicely set apart as groups and limited in number within these groups, so even though the overall number of characters is very high, it never feels that way. I don’t know whether that’s an accident of the way this story is laid out or if it’s done intentionally by the writers. Congrats to them either way, and more praise if it’s intentional.

A good set of characters. A little unremarkable (a little annoying) at times, but mostly nicely made, and they play their roles well in a story-driven anime. We’ll see what S2 does for these characters. The three big character plotlines of course are Eris and Rudeus’ relationship, Sylphiette’s reintroduction, and the continued search for the Greyrat family and others lost in the teleportation anomaly. These should all provide lots of interest for S2.

Artwork

Rating: 6

I’ve learned something recently: people like this underwhelming art style paired with really good animation. While this combination isn’t new, I’ve found that some of the most popular shows exhibit this combo of traits. I’m at a loss to explain it. Could it be that this combination is often paired with a certain kind of story that really appeals to audiences? I don’t know, but I know that really highly rated shows like this one, Nichijou, Ousama Ranking, to name a few, all do this. I’m still pondering why this combination is so popular.

It works well enough, but it’s very obvious to the discerning eye. My first impression of this show was that it wasn’t HD. That wasn’t true of course, and doesn’t have much to do with the artists themselves, but that’s how low-quality the images before me looked. I quickly figured out that the artwork simply wasn’t very detailed or very pretty. Well, it’s kind of detailed, but it’s also not. Take Rudeus’s Demon Eye or whatever it’s called. You can only kind of tell it’s different, and you have to look closely to see it.

While observing all this about the quality of the drawing when I started watching, I also quickly realized that the animation itself in action sequences or anything where the action was quick or detailed was actually really well done. Good enough to redeem any overall negative feelings I have about the artwork itself. The teleportation scene is really good, as are the fighting sequences. There weren’t many wow moments, but the animation clearly got the largest portion of focus from the artwork team.

A good example of the issues I have with the artwork in this anime. Note Rudeus’s appearance versus the graphics for the spell. Action sequences are similar, where the action is really good, but the characters look like this.

Why not have both high quality drawing and animation? Why limit the quality of the drawing? I’m guessing this is a studio budget thing. Regardless, I noticed it pretty quickly and pretty regularly throughout the show. I like the nice animation, but I don’t understand the neglect for the drawing itself, unless it’s a budget thing. Even then I don’t totally understand it. Artwork is everything in anime, on the same level of importance as animation I would argue. Make it right. I have to hold the fact that one is deficient against this show.

The show is not visually very pretty. It’s dull colored for one thing. The glassy appearance of the eyes feels dull even. There’s a typical isekai variety of colors, but they’re very dull. Everything has a brown or sepia tint, which doesn’t appeal to me. Characters who are supposed to be pretty, like Eris, Sylphiette, the women around Paul, aren’t super attractive. Ghislaine’s face is attractive to me because of the calm strength that’s present there, and her body is top-tier, but even she doesn’t have the remarkable beauty you might expect. No girl’s appearance (or boy’s I’ll venture, though I can’t speak to this personally) makes your heart skip a beat here. I don’t expect that of every anime, but nevertheless. Although, Ghislaine has the heterochromia thing going on with her eyes, which makes my heart skip many beats. And abs. Abs too.

I found the man-god animation curious. It’s clearly different than the rest of the drawings. I don’t know if it’s CGI rendering or if it’s rotoscoping or something else entirely. But it’s curious. Here in January 2022, I saw this exact same thing occur in Land of Leadale as it aired, not long after I finished watching Mushoku Tensei in fact. It’s not very remarkable as an artwork aspect, but it’s a curiosity, and it attracted my attention.

I’m satisfied with the artwork, despite it all. Clearly the animation was the priority, and while I wish the drawings themselves were better, I can’t complain overall due to the animation quality and some of the visually stunning moment scattered throughout this anime.

Story

Rating: 7

Isekai varies widely between character-driven and story-driven and even artwork-driven. It’s all over the place! This anime is primarily story-driven despite good character design. And there’s a lot going on in this story.

First, the writers did a good job bucking the “typical isekai” label very early on in this show. While it started out with that typical feel, it didn’t last long. Something felt very off. Rudeus’s parents having sex very loudly and him listening to it in the background, while Roxy sits in the hallway outside the parents’ bedroom and gets herself off listening to them…I knew I was in for something different. It was a rather base way to signal audiences, but it left us all with a clear understanding that this wasn’t a normal isekai. Same thing when Roxy almost killed the horse with an errant lighting strike. Things were going wrong or weirdly here where a normal isekai would either never include such things or be squarely in the KonoSuba zany comedy camp. This was clearly neither.

Another interesting thing about this anime’s story is how much backstory there is. You generally see this associated with mystery or suspense shows, not isekai. Some of it we see, some of it remains hidden (at least through S1). The best example of the more visible kind of backstory is Roxy’s character development. She’s wandering around as a decently powerful mage, and she’s from a fairly rarely seen race of people. It’s not only unclear what her situation is, but the writers make it somewhat obvious that she has a relevant backstory. Then later we see her in her village and hear the sad tale of her inability to communicate telepathically. It doesn’t impact the story a lot, but it does impact the character. And the viewer.

Two examples of backstory that isn’t explained are the teleportation phenomenon and the hito-kami. The teleportation anomaly comes out of nowhere. No explanation is even hinted at through one season. No sinister, typical bad guy or girl has been seen from the shadows getting reports from underlings. We know nothing about what this is or why it happened (manga readers shizukani). We only know that it’s perhaps the biggest defining feature of this story. It’s at the center of everything, and through the end of S1 the characters haven’t even fully recovered from its effects to begin investigating what’s behind it. Talk about backstory being apparent but incomprehensible!

I love the look on her face pretty much all the time.

The other example is the man-god, the hito-kami. Who is he and what is his role? Isekai often has featured beings like this who inhabit an in-between world and play various roles. But this one is rather enigmatic. The animation choices mentioned above are a visual cue that something is really peculiar about this character. But other than that, we know nothing about him.

Connected to this is the strange encounter with the overwhelmingly powerful Orsted, the dragon-god. I loved this episode. It’s not easy to pull off an effective storyline and character type such as Orsted. An immensely powerful, legendary being encounters our rather ordinary-by-comparison group of protagonists in the ordinary course of their lives. It has all the tension and fear-factor you could hope for from such an encounter in a story. That aside, what’s with his animosity towards the man-god? He doesn’t seem overtly hostile to the race of humans until he hears the man-god mentioned, whereupon he attacks Rudeus’s party and crushes them in his power. Then of course he heals them all and goes on his merry way. And why is Rudeus the only one not affected by him? Ruijerd and Eris are rendered helpless with the fear Orsted casts passively on people around him. It’s a remarkable encounter.

The story is a little random in the first half of S1, following Rudeus between his relationship with his father and his friendship with Sylphiette and his family drama and the introduction of Eris, etc. Then the teleportation incident occurs and the show becomes mini-arc-based. Rudeus encounters Ruijerd and adds him to his group, they encounter Ghislaine’s people, they fight the smugglers, and so on. These encounters last two or three episodes and then transition right into the next mini arc. It changed the feeling of the show pretty significantly, from an atypical and curious isekai to suddenly much more recognizably isekai, where a party of adventurers wander between adventures, with guilds and powers and other guilds and other guild members and strange allies and enemies abounding. It was an odd transition.

Quoth Rudeus: “Of course you can’t Eris. Not only did you not want to learn to read, you refused to learn to read. Violently.”

In the middle of all this transition to a more typical, more familiar kind of isekai format, Rudeus encounters his father and his group that’s been searching for survivors from the teleportation incident. It’s one of the sadder mini arcs, as we learn that Rudeus’ mother and the maid (ahem) are still missing, and it clearly is wearing on Paul Greyrat. He’s very much a changed man, almost a broken man. When he hears what Rudeus has been doing, what we’ve all been watching Rudeus do, he makes a very relevant observation: you’ve been out there playing while we’re all here worried and searching for those we’ve lost. 

While it’s neither here nor there whether Rudeus’s adventures constitute playing or not, that’s not the point. I find it curious that Paul observes the thing we recognize as typical isekai behavior and angrily decries it. It’s coincidental to the story of course: his reaction is based on Rudeus’s excited retelling of his adventures making it seem like Rudeus has been out having fun while everyone else is panicked trying to find their families. But for the viewer, it highlights that this typical isekai behavior is unusual; Paul finds it distasteful in face of the real troubles they face. Maybe there’s not much to this, but it’s curious when a character notes a change like this within a show, a change that we see from the outside in a slightly different manner.

Obviously this story is nowhere near complete, so I can hardly judge the main storylines overall. But I will say there’s plenty of intrigue and the puzzle seems to be assembling nicely. We’ll see how complex or profound the final picture is. There’s lots of missing pieces still! It’s entertaining to watch it unfold, and I hope it will be even more entertaining to see how many of the threads resolve.

Overall: 8

I love how the opening just kind of plays as we watch little unremarkable developments unfold in the images underneath that set up the episode. This show didn’t have an opening sequence, just a song that played over the aforementioned handful of scenes that were different each episode. Lots of knowledgeable fans noticed this. The music itself was unremarkable, but this lack of a specific sequence to go with the song is another unique factor that seems to mark this isekai as atypical.

A great anime will almost always have one or two really good episodes, episodes that you remember for a long time after seeing the anime. Episode 8 did that for me here. It ended with the teleportation incident, but rapidly increased its pace throughout, culminating in that point. The mana begins to gather in the sky, and we get glimpses into several different characters’ lives as they observe the phenomenon starting from afar. In one of these scenes we’re introduced to Orsted, though not by name, and a magnificent sequences follows. Orsted is walking in a deserted land where dragons swirl overhead. One of these sees him and descends upon him, blasting him with a burst of fire such as I hope no one ever has to see. Orsted emerges unharmed. The surprised dragon, still in attack rage beast mode, swoops out of the picture for a second and then reappears right in Orsted’s face. It roars wildly and stares Orsted down. He, in turn, never bats an eye. It’s an intense and magnificent display.

Elsewhere during these glimpses, the hero Perugius, who we don’t know yet but are essentially told is on the good side (in opposition to the fabled demon-god Laplace) sends his right-hand man, Sylvaril, down to the surface from his airborne home, who then proceeds to attack Rudeus while he is out with Eris and Ghislaine. Ghislaine ably defends Rudeus, much to Syvaril’s surprise. They manage to mostly come to an agreement, and almost immediately the teleportation phenomenon revs up. Sylvaril vanishes in a flash just as he came, and it’s upon them. A huge blue beam strikes the earth and rapidly expands. Ghislaine sees it too late and fails to reach Rudeus and Eris in time, instead getting caught in it herself. Rudeus attempts to flee, but turns back to attempt to shield Eris with his body. He clasps her tightly and the wave crashes over them, and the episode ends. It’s tremendous, a glorious 20 minutes of anime.

A tremendous moment.

If anything ever puts this anime into the stratosphere of the world of anime, it will be amazing episodes like that one. We’ll see what happens in S2, but if I had my doubts about the direction of this anime, everything changed right there. That was a brilliant way to tie together lots of unrelated plot threads and establish a huge moment, a defining plot thread, for the rest of the season. We’ll see if the writers can produce any more such episodes in the future.

I’m not totally sure how I feel about this average drawing paired with high quality animation thing. Shows can be very extreme in this regard. Those currently following Ousama Ranking are getting a big dose of this right now (Jan. 2022). That show gives me a very negative feeling. Mushoku isn’t nearly as extreme as Ousama, which is so bizarrely unpleasant in its drawings that it’s a turnoff for me, but still it’s very noticeable, so much so that it’s the primary thing I remember about this show (other than Ghislaine). I do not understand why this seems so popular to anime audiences. My cynical hypothesis is that American audiences (a large and growing and very vocal audience) are accustomed to crappy America cartoon drawing and find this “lower quality” anime drawing familiar and therefore like it more for that reason. My displeasure with the current state of American animation knowns no bounds. But I also don’t think this is very likely the case. So I’m not sure what drives the popularity of shows with this combination of visuals. I do know that sometimes it works (Nichijou) and sometimes it doesn’t (Ousama Ranking), but it almost always leaves me wishing for better drawings. 

Perhaps this show will make a splash in the world of anime, and therefore overcome my current impression of it that is tainted by the strange artwork. I like this show and what it’s trying to do, and certain aspects of it are very good. There’s plenty more for the studio to draw from. I have on good authority that the manga follows Rudeus into adulthood. NIghtmares of Boruto aside, we’ll see how long this goes and how interesting it gets. I look forward to the next season. More Ghislaine!

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