[Light Novel] Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari Review

Iwatani Naofumi was summoned into a parallel world along with three other people to become the world’s heroes and save the kingdom from the Calamity. Each of the heroes were respectively equipped with their own legendary equipment when summoned. Naofumi coincidentally received the Legendary Shield as his weapon, the only defensive weapon of the lot. Scorned by everyone for his uselessness, Naofumi’s destiny in a parallel world begins…

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Overall Impression

Hands down, Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari takes one of the most unique approaches to the virtual video game genre I’ve ever read / seen. And that is, the light novel incorporates a very real emotional element in its storytelling. Having read many tales in this emerging genre, I am definitely not over-generalizing when I say that most virtual MMORPG stories are lacking in “dramatic complexity.” And that’s perfectly fine because audiences are buying into these stories for the vicarious experience of living a video game, becoming heroes / villains, and conquering the world. Even Log Horizon, which takes a more “slice of life” approach to the genre and explores the psychological difficulties of suddenly living a video game, has mostly one dimensional characterization in a mostly happy-go-lucky atmosphere. Well, Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari is definitely not happy-go-lucky, and characters are certainly far from one dimensional.

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[Light Novel] Mushoku Tensei – Isekai Ittara Honki Dasu

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Summary

After the death of his parents, a 34-year old NEET is chased out of the house by his siblings. Homeless and penniless, he is filled with regret at accomplishing nothing in his life despite being born into a good family and blessed with above average intelligence. At this low point, he saw a truck heading at full speed towards three high school students. Mustering all his strength, he pushes them out of the way of the truck at the cost of his own life, and ended up being reincarnated as Rudeus Greyrat (Rudi) in a world of swords and magic.

Read Mushoku Tensei (english translation) here.

Read Mushoku Tensei (manga adaptation) here.

The Good

The premise of this story is just plain awesome to me so when I first stumbled upon the newly released manga (only 2 chapters thus far), I just had to go read the much more developed light novel. Whenever I read Chinese online novels, I basically always focus on the “modern day character crosses over time and space to another world” storylines because I find that 70% of the time, this guarantees a smart and epic main character that I can empathize with. Now think about this. Normal young adults in today’s world (like me) live an average life as long as they possess no particular skills that they are experts in and people can look up to them for. Nevertheless, they still dream about being super awesome, winning at life and taking over the world.

How can they actually fulfill this dream? Simple. If they can’t change themselves, change their environment. Place them in a world where their “average” knowledge is enough to give them a huge edge in life. Ergo, you take them back in time. If I could go back ten years, for example, I would invest all my net worth in Apple and automatically become a millionaire in 2014. But financial power is not enough for these dreamers. They also want to take over the world, which is kind of hard in the 21st century where people are all enlightened and democratic. So you take them back to the age of empires. But that’s still not enough. Back then, if people aren’t born into the royal family, they might never become king despite their intelligence and contributions to society. Moreover, even kings are far from infallible. Dreamers don’t want to be kings; they want to be gods.

So you take them to a world where personal might can decide the ruin or prosperity of continents, some kind of supernaturally powered RPG-esque society where level-cap characters can just change the laws of nature at their whim. And you not only displace them, but you also reincarnate them so they arrive as a baby and can build their character from infancy. This…is the good life. This is the story of Mushoku Tensei.

{Complex Magical System – Checked}

{Intelligent/Tactical Main Character – Checked}

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The Bad

“Amateur handling of character control” (I can’t find the right word exactly so be patient with me here) is my one high-level criticism of this light novel. Granted, I do recognize that Mushoku Tensei is a light novel so I can’t expect some “serious fiction”-level of character control but the element is a true failing of the series by detracting from plot realism. By character “control”, I am referring to the way the author balances between the main, side, and background characters in the series. The author focuses on several main characters, writes occasionally from those characters’ POV, but fails to color in any side characters for anything else in this fictional world to seem real aside from Rudi’s story. When I read and imagine the story in my head, everything about Rudi’s in-the-moment life and interactions is colorful and 3D but the setting, background, and larger world is black and white and 2D.

The author does a good job at developing the main characters. However, as he is creating a whole new world, he also has the responsibility of fleshing out that world. Additionally, his wacky character control also means that character development is unrealistically linear. Rudi starts out by knowing only 3 people: his parents and the maid. Those three gets fleshed out in several initial chapters. Then Rudi gets a home tutor, who gets fleshed out in the following chapters. Then Rudi gets a best friend, who gets fleshed out in the chapters after the home tutor spotlight series, and so on and so on. I might be nitpicking here, but this pattern of introducing characters to the storyline is just … unreal. Nobody meets the important people in their life one at a time, like they’re in a line waiting to meet you. Nobody gets to know each one really well, adapts to the person’s presence, and then immediately meets another important person once the first relationship is settled. Nobody’s life is this systematic.

The Ugly

And… the reason why character introduction is systematic in Mushoku Tensei is highly likely because the genre is “harem.” Anyone who has any exposure to harem plot lines should know that the girls (or guys in reverse harem cases) are always introduced linearly and never together because authors want to take their time to flesh out the importance/storyline of each girl and thus magnify the impact of focusing all their adoration at one target of envy. But this light novel’s harem genre is not the “ugly” of my review. I am perfectly fine with harem plots as long as they are done in a classy manner (i.e. Shokugeki no Souma, The World God Only Knows).

What I am vehemently averse to in Mushoku Tensei is Rudi’s utter creepiness and perversion. I feel that the author has gone overboard in trying to portray the main character as a social failure/NEET that he overplayed the otaku/hentai stereotype. I understand that MC has spent 20+ years as a hikikomori developing unsavory habits/instincts but I did not feel comfortable at all reading the first chapter about a baby delighting in burying his face in his mother’s chest and smiling creepily. And let’s not talk about the reference to the baby’s reaction to breast feeding. Just one mention of that is too creepy for me. And when he’s five and stealing his home tutor’s underwear? No, that’s not ok.

To be completely fair, this is just my personal reaction. Rudi’s mental maturation and transition is a focus of the author’s plot for the first volume. Rudi is reincarnated with a determination to turn over a new leaf and correct all of his past bad habits. As such, it is very realistic that Rudi was the creepiest as a baby (when he was just a NEET a day or two before) and his perversion decreases quite a lot over three to four years as he works at being a “better” person. Nevertheless, I have severe difficulty reconciling Rudi’s physical age (young child) with his X-rated thinking. I don’t like that he’s already mentally assigned his same-age best friend into his future harem and put the moves verbally on his much-older home tutor when he’s younger than ten.

My Ratings

Ok, I got a private comment that the harshness of my review for Big Money didn’t match well with the 5/10 rating that I gave the show. Reading this review again, I realize that I gave Mushoku Tensai a 6/10 rating but criticism took up 2/3 of the page, which seems contradictory. However, I stand by my rating because I am just a very critical person. I tend to overanalyze flaws in the material. Elements that irritate me stand out and I feel very strongly about them.

To me, Mushoku Tensei is appealing on multiple levels: the premise, the character development, the intelligent (“genius”) MC, the interesting magical system. However, the harem/hentai play docked points off in my book. The story would have been much better without that element so in conclusion, Mushoku Tensei is only slightly above average.

Rating: 6/10