Many seem to dismiss isekai shows whenever they see one on the seasonal list. It’s no different with me as well. There have been too many isekai shows that I dropped almost immediately or didn’t even attempt because, simply, it was an isekai. As I kept watching these shows and ended up not enjoying them, I kind of learned that they most likely aren’t going to be good.
But when I saw Mushoku Tensei recently, I was surprised to find myself enjoying it quite a bit.
And this made me wonder, why don’t I like most isekai shows?
A lot of people complain about the cliche story that is in all of these isekai shows. But I usually don’t really have a problem with the story. I’m the type of person that actively enjoys shows about girls playing drinking tea and playing some music from time to time more than anything else. So if that’s not my problem, what is the problem with these isekai shows?
Two fundamental aspects usually determine what shows I like: aesthetics and pacing.
When I say aesthetics, I don’t necessarily think a show has to have a mind-blowing visual presentation like the glowing beauty of backgrounds and characters in Hyouka or the sheer uniqueness in the presentation of the Monogatari series. While those factors are great and definitely add to reasons why I think these shows are some of my favorite shows, a show doesn’t need to have that to be good.
As long as the animations don’t break down like in Go Toubun no Hanayome and fit the atmosphere well, a show becomes consumable; you aren’t constantly distracted by
Shows like Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun don’t have incredibly stunning visuals. But they do just enough with its colors, texture, and directing to make the show fit the atmosphere of the story. From here, viewers can start actually taking in the story without feeling separated from the show
The second aspect was pacing. Shows like Durarara take complete control of the viewer’s pacing— speeding up in action scenes for excitement or slowing it down from time to time — to maximize how immersed we are in the show. Shows like Tanaka-Kun Is Always Listless on the other hand, slow down the pace extremely to fit the atmosphere it’s trying to make. Regardless, shows need to control pacing to get the viewers to follow the events like they are actually in the show.
This was the key reason why I wasn’t able to enjoy Sword Art Online. As interesting as the show’s plot is, I felt that a lot of the time, trivial scenes or exposition scenes seem to drag longer while more important scenes or points that I thought should be expanded upon were rushed and skipped over. This really prevents the viewers from feeling those goosebumps you’d have had scenes like when Sachi died. The key is to move the plot fast enough to avoid being boring in some areas but being patient enough for the story to develop emotionally for the audience in other areas especially in shows that compete with the power of its plot.
Unfortunately, a lot of isekai (or just cheaply made shows recently in general) fail to have either aesthetics that fit the atmosphere or pacing that doesn’t make you bored or question what happened the last 3 minutes.
Mushoku Tensei did these two surprisingly well.
Many probably could immediately notice how high the production value of this show looked. Thankfully, all the facial parts including the eyes and the mouth are attached, the characters don’t float around when they are walking,
But more seriously, this show does just setting for hitting these simple checkboxes that most shows ignore.
The show’s animations are really smooth. And as you probably noticed, the show didn’t use CG characters at all throughout the first three episodes. The fact that I have to comment reflects the sad money-saving nature of the anime industry nowadays.
Other than that, the color was fantastic. It was obvious that they wanted to create that countryside, rustic atmosphere for the show. But rather than desaturating the show setting, it manages to look extremely colorful while having that rustic atmosphere because of a well-balanced color scheme with different, non-clashing hues. The dichotomy of that first scene in the real world that was portrayed with a darkly glowing modern night light and the rustic feel of the world he arrives in immediately got me ready to start intaking the content that they were about to give. The end of episode two with the huge wind incantation was probably my favorite scene in which they used the contrast of sunlight to really depict how powerful the skill is.
The best part about the visuals was probably the noise texture that they added on top of the scenes. As mentioned in my seasonal post, it really gets the rustic feel of the atmosphere while capturing a more paper-like feel to the anime. This noise filter is very often overlaid in anime-related illustrations to create texture on top of the characters. However, the show doesn’t over-do this. They would often use further shots or backgrounds rather than using it on every single scene which makes close-ups easier to digest without being overwhelmed. It’s one of the more popular techniques being used by a lot of artists recently, and it is implemented so smoothly in animation was great to see. The lines are also textured pencil-like lines that add to this paper-like feeling of the show which makes characters stand out so much more.
The pacing was also done really well in the two shows. Mushoku Tensei never really rushes anywhere; the usual problem with a lot of these cheaper shows that want to get by different plot points as quickly as possible.
The show does a good job with this immediately in the first episode. Understanding the cliche of the isekai truck, the directors of the show decided to increase the pace. Rather than tediously showing us events leading up to the accident or spending too much time on the crash itself, it controls the pacing. It makes a short and almost empty sequence of events feel so exciting by rushing through the unimportant plot while slowing down the rate in which we intake the excitement using auditory aspects like the sound of rain and beats from the hospital, visual aspects like rain dropping or black cutouts that allow us to focus on auditory aspects, and dialogue that create atmosphere rather than being unnecessary expository content about his life (though there was some of that with him saying he wished he wasn’t a virgin but that was funny with Tomozaku Sugita voicing so it was relatively fine). This almost movie-like intro takes an otherwise cliche concept and establishes excitement for the viewers to begin the show.
The show itself controls the pacing very well. It decides to run through the main character’s growth of magical ability as a kid by skipping a few years with a montage. Montages are usually great; it allows both directive freedom for the director while skipping through plot points that don’t really need to be developed. However, if overused or used in areas that need more development, montages can make a show seem rushed. Mushoku Tensei, at least in the first 3 episodes, thankfully avoids doing this. It’s generally patient in key spots of the show, slowing down the pace with the music and the flow of events for the audience to take in. With his growth of magical powers, prominent moments in his development such as the main character first finding out clues about how magic works, or when he first uses more advanced magic are shown with sequences of graphics to really add on to that one moment. Other sections of the show like the time he spends with Sylphiette or his parents were done patiently which fits the easy-going nature of the beginning bits of this show.
Besides that, the only parts that I found problems with pacing were when they were trying to develop the father’s attitude and emotion towards the main character and the time he spent with Roxy. The former felt rushed making the father’s abrupt action in condemning the main character feel so sudden making it hard for me to sympathize with the father. It would have been also nice if they decided to show some of the lessons that Roxy did since he does mention that Roxy’s lessons are easy to learn. The only parts of the lesson that we get is at the end of episode 2 when Roxy does an incantation and the main character does the exact same thing without really being taught anything. So you have to wonder if Roxy’s lessons are easy to learn if the guy is just a genius that could have had any teacher.
Aesthetics and pacing are two things that always decide whether or not I enjoy a show, but it’s a little harder to explain because it comes down to more personal preference (unless the animation is completely janky or faces aren’t drawn properly). But hopefully, this gives a little better idea about these little aspects that I pay attention to in anime.