I’m not sure if Jobless Reincarnation really earned some of the criticism it received. I mean, certainly if you really look at every action and decision in the narrative in the worst possible light you could end up believing that this anime sets out to endorse child molestation. However, while there’s most definitely some questionable content here, it didn’t seem any more objectionable than a host of other anime and more importantly, while various characters engage in questionable behaviour the story doesn’t seem to advocate that this is an appropriate way to behave.
That said, I’m not exactly going to mount a defence of this anime either. Firstly, it doesn’t need one given it still has a score of 8.4 on MAL despite a number of reviewers giving this a 1 rating and this anime has been one that has had a lot of positive buzz from the community. And secondly, the content is there. This isn’t a case of viewers creating an entire issue out of a throw-away line or single action. There are repeated behaviours here that are going to cause some viewers to walk away, and that is their decision. No defence needed. Either the content bothers you enough to not watch or stop watching, it bothers you a bit but you enjoy the rest of the story, or it just doesn’t bother you.
So what is Jobless Reincarnation about?
Well, like most modern isekai anime based on light novels the plot is more or less summed up in the title. The longer English title being: “Jobless Reincarnation: I will Seriously Try If I got To Another World”. And there we have it. Another shut in, victim of bullying, who ends up being a burden to his family, dies in one of the few occasions when he ventures outside and in the heat of the moment attempts to rescue someone else before having a close encounter with truck-kun (the isekai anime’s go-to method of knocking of protagonists). He then becomes a baby and grows over the course of the series but has the mind of an adult so learns quickly though still has a number of things he has to overcome from his past life.
One of the real positives of this series is that the reincarnation aspect remains meaningful through the entire story. It isn’t just a starting point and then quickly forgotten. Rudeus Greyrat is constantly haunted by his past demons and it takes a number of years before he even ventures out of his own yard due to fear of the outside world. When learning sword-fighting, his general timid nature and attitude that will have him retreat in the face of attack hinders his progress quite a bit and a lot of his decisions later in the series are based around an understanding of a world he’s no longer living in (which in one case has quite disastrous results but leads to a good growth opportunity for Rudy).
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Another part of this story that I found quite interesting was in the narrative structure. We progress through stages of Rudy’s life with each stage essentially getting its own setting and mini-narrative arc. There’s his younger days as he trains with first Roxy and then Sylphiette in his home village. Then he gets sent to his relatives where he is to work on his sword-craft and tutor Eris. Finally the series sends the two young Greyrats to another continent and gives them the challenge of trying to find their way home, accompanied by Ruijerd, an outcast due to his race.
Now this anime series ends before that final arc is concluded but a second season is already set to air in July so we won’t have to wait long for a continuation, should we want one.
And I find that I do. As much as some of the weaker elements of this anime leave me feeling a little hot and cold on this series, I found that each arc was stronger than the previous one and the final arc really did have Rudeus growing up and learning and while he maintains some of the creepier aspects of his personality, they were less prominent and the anime seemed to finally find some balance with knowing when to inject some of its version of humour into a scene and when to just play it straight. The final couple of episodes were actually really great and if the whole anime had been in a similar tone I’d be singing this one’s praises more or less unconditionally.
So now that I’ve covered some of the highlights of Jobless Reincarnation, lets address the elements that have caused concerns for some viewers.
Fan-service is more or less a staple in anime and isekai anime having male characters living out some kind of fantasy with various girls around them is pretty much what you expect going in to this kind of escapist power-fantasy narrative. When done well, while you could object that the character is not acting in a manner that is 100% morally acceptable to all viewers (and what action is?) the situations and scenarios are usually played for laughs, exaggerated to a point where they don’t really connect with reality, or are depicted in a way that makes it seem more or less like the other characters accept what is happening, which kind of mitigates the creepy factor of scenes that if portrayed in a different way would in fact be off-putting.
Jobless Reincarnation moves between the cute power-fantasy and occasionally funny side of fan-service into the somewhat creepier side on a number of occasions. Rudeus himself makes it hard to really get into his story of growth and overcoming past traumas because of his fairly lecherous actions which could have been played a little more on the light-hearted side but everything from his facial expression, internal monologue and his chuckle make it actually feel really just make it hard for me to want to empathise with his character journey. Add in a couple of incidents that cross my individual line (the trying to remove underwear from a sleeping girl definitely fell into this line because reincarnated or not that’s just creepy) and Rudy becomes a character that while in his better moments has some fairly admirable traits and an interesting character arc but returns again and again to being cringe-worthy.
The general discomfort I felt with Rudy’s character, particularly in the earlier episodes until just after the half-way mark in this series, isn’t aided by other male characters, such as Paul and Phillip seemingly encouraging Rudy’s more lecherous behaviour even from quite a young age. Even in the later episodes there’s a male character who is now being tutored by Rudy’s former master who seems to have a reoccurring joke of groping Roxy’s chest before she sets him on fire and while it is played for laughs, on top of the other subject matter it all just feels a little excessive.
While it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me, after three episodes I only had this one as a ‘maybe’ for whether I should watch or drop it. The mix of tones felt unbalanced and while there were definitely fantasy elements I enjoyed and seeing Rudy overcome some aspects of his past life through studying magic and bonding with his tutor worked, the intense focus on some of the more ecchi elements felt at times intrusive. Other isekai anime include similar elements without them feeling like they break us out of the overall narrative and don’t feel so excessive.
In my watch or drop post I actually compared this to How Not To Summon a Demon-Lord which did have over-the-top fan-service moments and yet it managed to make most of it pretty entertaining and while objectively it actually showed more explicit situations it almost never pushed it to a point where I felt too uncomfortable (there’s a lot of modifiers in that last sentence). And basically, that’s my issue with Jobless Reincarnation. There were multiple moments where I felt uncomfortable as a viewer and that kind of put the brakes on my general enjoyment of the series.
So, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is actually a pretty decent isekai anime. There’s a pretty solid story and great character journey to watch unfold here. Whether you get into this or not will entirely depend on whether those other elements put you off or not and that is going to be an individual decision.
Images from: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation. Dir. M. Okamoto. Studio Bind, 2021
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