Friday’s Feature: The Reincarnation Dilemma

I’ve been wondering for awhile why so many trapped in another world stories have been using reincarnation as a vehicle for travelling between our world and another. The far easier option is just to throw the protagonist through a portal, summon them, cross over or whatever else is needed to get them there and then close the door behind them. Reincarnation creates a myriad of plot issues that a lot of the time just don’t need to be in the story at all and are seldom addressed in any kind of satisfying manner. So what are some of the problems I have with reincarnation as a story and are there any anime that get it right?

In Another World With my Smartphone - Touya

It Just Isn’t Necessary

Ernesti from Knight’s and Magicis a great example of a character who did not need to be reincarnated. He literally could have just been a born genius from the world he was on given the only bearing his past life had on the one we watched was that he was good at programming, and apparently designing robots. Both of these skills could easily have been acquired by a genius in the world he grew up in, and in point of fact given they offer an antagonist later on who isn’t quite at Ernesti’s level of over-powered brilliance but is still pretty good at developing mechs you have to wonder why they bothered.

Knight's & Magic - Ernesti

Now I mentioned this in my review of the anime, but adding the reincarnation aspect does nothing for this story. All it does is eat up precious minutes of air time showing us a former life that will have no importance on the overall plot and isn’t necessary.

Ernesti brings no external knowledge of the world he is entering into the world. As he has been reborn in a new body none of his physical abilities have gone with him. He has no contact with anyone or anything from his former world where knowing who he was previously might aid the story. There is literally not reason for him to be a reincarnation and it is pretty easy to forget that this is the premise of the story.

And while I’m kind of bashing Knight’s And Magic, it isn’t the only story guilty of this.

Now if we look at something like Sailor Moon or Kyou Kara Maou, while the reincarnation is from their former life/world and into the modern one, the fact that the characters are reincarnated has an impact on every part of the plot. Neither one of these stories would be able to exist except for the fact that the main characters were reborn. Their former lives are completely intertwined with the events they are facing in their present life and the power they use is tied in with it as well.

Kyou Kara Maou.jpg

Even In Another World With My Smartphone at least made use of his learned ability to use the phone and the fact that he chose to carry the phone with him into his next life. Then again, In Another World With My Smartphone created a whole other issue.

Have They Actually Been Reborn?

By its very nature, reincarnation requires you to be born again with the same soul in a different body. And that creates some interesting juxtapositions if you choose to reincarnate particular souls in bodies that just don’t match them, though this aspect of reincarnation is seldom explored. Nor is the influence of the body on the soul, though a light novel I’m reading at the moment, So I’m a Spider, So What seems to be getting into this issue by exploring the impact of having a male soul reborn inside a female and human souls being reborn inside of monsters so I’m kind of enjoying that aspect of it.

In Another World With My Smartphone

In Another World With My Smartphone just skips the whole rebirth thing. God just sends Touya to the other world, fully clothed and still fifteen years old, with all memories and learned knowledge in tact but with all his abilities boosted. I’m actually fine with this concept given it means we don’t have to watch the tedious growing up process or see his confusion with his soul memories and body memories colliding (assuming they bother to address that issue) but it kind of shoots the premise of being reborn or reincarnated in the foot. They might as well have just said he would be sent to or transported to the other world given there really wasn’t a reincarnation process here.

Does Entering a Game Count as Rebirth?

Now this one gets tricky because we’ve had a lot of characters transported into worlds based on game mechanics with levelling up and the like. The question is, have they really been reborn or is their soul simply trapped inside the game character. And if they can’t leave and the world operates as a world does it matter that it uses game mechanics at all?

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord  - Diablo

So what?

 I think starting That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime made me really think about how reincarnation works in stories. The first episode spends a lot of time in our world (comparatively) setting up a character that the episode then promptly kills and has him reborn. What I wanted to know was would any of the story later on be changed if we simply start with him waking up in his new body, realising he’s no longer human and moving on. Is seeing his self-intro as an ordinary guy going to make this any more engaging to watch?

And it isn’t just reincarnation. There are a lot of premises out there that get used to lead us into stories and then seem to serve no purpose. While I get that archetypes and cliches allow us to cut over a lot of fluffing about, I really do feel that narratives need to put more effort in sometimes and really use their premise. Otherwise, they just have me wondering, what’s the point?

Sailor Moon
This remains my favourite example of reincarnation in anime.

However, I’d love to know what you think of reincarnation in anime. What are some of the best examples? What are some of the worst?


Thanks for reading.

Karandi James

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Tuesday’s Top 5: Surprisingly Good Shows That Came Out in 2017

Tuesday's Top 5

One thing I’d like to make really clear is that this is not my list of best anime from 2017. That will come out in a few weeks time and will also include the results of the reader poll, so for the time being, I’m going to give some of my other top 5’s from 2017. This list, as the title suggests, is all about those shows I literally expected nothing of (other than to maybe be terrible) and then I ended up having a surprisingly good time watching them. I think it is nice sometimes that things can take you by surprise.

On that note though, I’d love it if you would share your list of shows from 2017 that you expected not to like but ended up being at least okay if not outright enjoyable.

Please Note: There will be spoilers below.

Honourable mentions in this list go to Gamers and Anime-Gataris.

Number 5: In Another World With My Smartphone

Okay, this had to make the list for the simple reason that a show with that bad of a title has no right to actually be semi-decent. Not good. Certainly not a refreshingly brilliant light to shine on all isekai anime based on light novels. This is a typical self-aware comedy, but for the most part I found it kind of amusing and it surprised even me that I was still watching it at the end of the season, and actually kind of open to the idea that maybe more of this story wouldn’t be that bad.

Number 4: Princess Principal

This show I actually really enjoyed. It isn’t just an okay show that wasn’t as bad as it might have been, it is a genuinely good show. So why is it on the list? Because when I looked at the art for this anime before it aired I dismissed it as another group of moe girls  in some school club that may or may not have spying involved. Instead what I got was a fairly thrilling and fun story with some competent characterisation that genuinely made me look forward to each new episode. Meanwhile, it also had one of the better opening themes of the year.

Number 3: The Royal Tutor

I definitely did not go into this one expecting very much but then the titular tutor, Heine, totally won me over. His straight man approach to everything and his interactions with each of the Princes were genuinely fun to watch and I liked that his background remained fairly enigmatic until the end. Even then, there’s definitely more to the story but we were given enough. Most of the Princes also weren’t as annoying as they originally could have been and all managed to become more than just one note joke characters as they each went through a fairly reasonable character arc throughout the series.

Number 2: Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Yeah, I read that title and could almost feel the ey-roll starting already. Then the first episode happened and I realised that even this well and truly overdone story of misunderstandings and romance could actually be interesting enough when the characters are actually fairly relatable. Possibly it is the older age of the characters in this story to a lot of other anime with similar ideas in it, but I found Morioka a fantastic character to follow and I genuinely wanted her to get a happy ending. That isn’t to say the show is all that good. It’s just significantly better than what you might expect from it. It also has a pretty fantastic opening theme which seems to go a long way to buying some good will from your audience so more shows should actually try and remember that.

Number 1: Spiritpact

Please watch the first episode of this show. Realise how incredibly bad this series might have been. That first episode is an outright train wreck and needs to be scrapped and started over. Episodes 2 and 3 aren’t a huge amount better but start to show promise. By the end of this series it is amazing how far the characters and story have come and really this ended up being a show I genuinely looked forward to watching. I’d have done a rewatch but sitting through that first episode again scares me. Still, for ten episodes this show packs in more development for its characters and for the storyline than some shows manage in 24 and once you get over the initial episodes, the pacing settles really well.

And there you go, my top 5 surprisingly good shows from 2017. Next week I’ll tackle my top 5 disappointments (shows I went in wanting to be good and then found I was left high and dry).  Please feel free to share your thoughts on shows that you thought were going to be dreadful but then surprised you in the comments below.


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In Another World With My Smartphone Series Review: Let’s Play Cliche Bingo

Overview:

Touya is accidentally killed and to make up for it god lets him be reborn (or just kind of appear really) in another world. God also levels up all his stats (his words) before sending him as kind of a bonus because Touya wasn’t supposed to die. So now overpowered Touya finds himself in a standard fantasy setting and is soon the centre of a harem of adventuring girls.

Review:

In Another World With My Smartphone falls into a very small group of series that are comedies, and not all that good (and not bad enough to be funny because they are bad) but for some reason I really enjoyed watching it. Despite individual episodes making me want to scream in frustration, I would eagerly await the next installment and no matter how terrible the narrative got I was still quite invested in Touya’s next adventure that he would get through without a scratch because he is the overpowered protagonist of this clearly trying to be overly clichéd isekai (in another world/dimension) story.

There’s a few reasons why this show appealed, but let me make it clear that objectively, this show is not particularly good. It works in that the characters are functional and kind of have a narrative purpose in that they go on adventures, but there’s no real end goal in sight over the course of the 12 episodes here, little to no character development (relationship development is not the same thing as character development) because otherwise some of the characters might stop being tropes and become characters. But it isn’t particularly good. It isn’t even particularly good at being a parody of the genre because rather than wanting to be a parody it is more embracing the clichés of isekai stories and shoving them directly under the nose of the audience.

Smartphone8c

Particular moments of true pain came in this story where a boob grabbing sequence went on far longer than needed, a beach scene that included girls discussing the various things that got stuck between their breasts, the robot girl not wearing pants when we met her, and the slime episode (though that wasn’t as bad as it could have been). There were other jokes and moments that fell kind of flat for me, but mostly I had fun with this show. Even these moments weren’t deal breakers, they were just kind annoying and made me mostly want to close my eyes and wish that they would go away.

So what did I like about the show?

Smartphone7b

I like Touya as the protagonist. He is as generic and self-insert as they come and has all the hang-ups people complain about with over-powered main characters. He’s also completely oblivious to the harem that almost instantly forms around him (though fortunately the anime deals with that situation in the final episodes in an almost novel manner). Part of the reason I like him is I don’t dislike over-powered main characters in the first place so that wasn’t so much a problem once I got over the lack of any tension in any encounter (even Kirito managed to make it look hard to win some of those fights). But I just found Touya pleasant to spend time with and even though he was a nice, ordinary guy, he didn’t seem like he could be replaced with a plank of wood with the word protagonist written on it. He has personality, even if it is a personality derived from 100’s of other characters in other anime.

Part of the fun is that Touya has already died and when informed of this he’s pretty much, okay so what next. And that’s more or less how he tackles everything. He just kind of gets on and does it. One of my favourite moments from the series came when a King challenged Touya to a duel and Touya used his slip spell on the King essentially ending the battle in an instant (the King of course demanded a rematch). It was hilarious and so much better than characters who toy with their opponent and hold off on using a strong attack and unleash it later. Touya looked at the situation, though about what he wanted (he didn’t want to fight) and dealt with it quickly and efficiently. His actions shoot the plot in the foot a few times, but they make him a delight to follow around provided you find that sort of thing amusing.

Smartphone6a

I also really enjoy the girls in the harem. While there are definitely fan service moments dumped into this story and some of those (as mentioned earlier) are incredibly cringe worthy, a lot of the time these girls are dealt with respectfully as characters even though they are just tropes. You’ve got the twins where one is shy and the other brash, then the samurai girl who is all about honour, and finally the Princess who manages to talk her father into essentially making Touya her fiance. All pretty standard for this kind of story. However, what isn’t standard is that these girls continue to actually think things through and behave like rational humans despite all being in love with the same character. What makes it better is that all of the girls are strong in their own right, so even though Touya is massively over-powered for the world he is in, the girls aren’t exactly damsel’s in distress, even if occasionally they get pressed into the role momentarily.

Smartphone3c

The setting and visuals are all pretty standard fantasy. The magic is pretty enough and it would have been nice to see more of that going on. I really enjoyed some of the ways Touya managed to combine magical spells (the programmed slip loop is still my favourite) and I also liked how he blended magic with the capabilities of his smartphone. More of that would have made the title make more sense as the phone becomes fairly gimmicky and seems pushed into scenes sometimes just because he’s supposed to have it.

Smartphone6c

Kohaku, the summoned white tiger that then kind of transforms into a kitten, is adorable and manages to steal the scenes he is in, but again this is an underused part of the story.  Actually, early on there’s a lot of fights with beasts, including a dragon fight, and yet in the second half the story moves more into silly comedy rather than action comedy. Kind of a shame because some of these encounters were really fun.

Smartphone4c

Basically, I am not arguing that this show is good, but I had a lot of fun watching it. I actually wouldn’t mind rewatching this at some point and I wouldn’t mind more of this story if they ever made a second season. It isn’t great but it is kind of fun to just switch off your brain and watch.

I’d love to know your thoughts on the show.


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Karandi James.

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In Another World With My Smartphone Episode 12: They Actually Did It

Review:

Wow. I did not see that ending coming even when last week seemed like this show was actually going to address the harem issue (where so few shows ever just admit that there is a harem even when it is obvious). Taking it straight and just having the girls outright ask Touya to make them all his wife is a refreshing change from the usual outcome where the protagonist remains oblivious or really only has one girl they are interested in leaving the others hanging without resolution.

Touya though is still a slow protagonist cliché and of course asks the girls for time to think about it and ends up consulting the god who sent him into this world in the first place. I hadn’t really realised that the Gate power technically made that possible, but that of course raises the question of whether Touya can gate back to the real world or not… But even if he did would he then be stuck because magic doesn’t work in our world? That’s a whole other line of thinking so moving on.

Smartphone12h

That god passes Touya on to the god of love who points out she’s responsible for setting up clichés (so there’s our lame excuse for the show having Touya walking in on the girls in the bath earlier in the season). It is kind of amusing because as always the show delivers this absurdity as if it is the most natural thing in the world and then moves on. I like the way this show just sets up its jokes, delivers them with conviction and then continues on playing it straight. It’s a refreshing change from self-aware shows that feel the need to celebrate their own cleverness.

Smartphone12g

At the end of this episode Touya makes his decision (though still asks the girls to wait until they are all older which to be honest is also kind of nice). I do like that the group outside who discuss Touya and point out that it has been predicted he’s going to end up with 9 wives. Poor Touya, he can barely handle the four girls he is now engaged to.

They then give us so post credit sequel bait so it would be nice to know if this will ever continue on. As much as this show is a stupid comedy full of clichés and tropes that we’ve seen a million times before, it just clicked for me so I’d kind of like some more of it even if I’m not exactly going to highly recommend it. I will get around to a full series review of this at some point.


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In Another World With My Smartphone Episode 11: Will This Show Actually Acknowledge the Harem?

Review:

It is pretty standard in isekai stories for their to be a harem that forms around the protagonist. However, usually these remain unrequited and unspoken (or every girl is just aggressive beyond reason). Episode 11 of In Another World with my Smartphone kind of defies this trend with the girls clearly discussing the future amongst themselves and then Linze openly declaring her love for Touya at the end after being spurred on by jealousy when the android caretaker of the garden essentially kissed Touya in order to collect a DNA sample (have they never heard of hair).

Smartphone11b

While that was kind of novel and interesting way for the episode to end, the path there was full of the usual kind of silliness including the girls on the beach discussing the various things that get stuck in their chest while swimming. Where do these scenes come from? Really?

Smartphone11c

Then Touya transports all the girls to the garden and we get various misunderstandings and innuendos until we finally get to that ending. There’s a lot of eye rolling to get to the end of the episode, but kind of interested to see what happens next with the harem now that they’ve broken the usual rules about them.


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In Another World With My Smartphone Episode 10: Beach Episode

Review:

You probably don’t need any further information about this given the story so far. Imagine Touya and the whole female dominated cast of this show go to the beach. Done. Go for beach volleyball, swim suit mishaps, and leading questions to ensure appropriate awkward responses and blushing.

Smartphone10b

There is the slightly more interesting side story of Touya summoning the Black Emperor to assist with the whole investigating the underwater ruins and this was probably the only moment this episode that actually made me laugh give Touya’s combination of programming and slip. That’s a way to win a fight even if it is a little underhanded.

Smartphone10c

Otherwise though, very little to see here unless you actually like beach episodes.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Shows of Summer 2017 That Weren’t As Bad As Their Synopsis Made Them Sound

Tuesday's Top 5

This might seem like an odd choice for a list but I’m going to be honest, going into Summer 2017 there were only a few shows that on reading the synopsis made me want to try them and then most of those were unavailable to me. I did get to watch Elegant Yokai Apartment Life and it had the opposite problem of the write up makes it sound more fun that it is. So instead I got to just randomly sample shows that I went into expecting not to really like them very much and in some cases the results have been pleasantly surprising. That’s not to say these are the best shows I’m watching or the best on offer, only that they are actually more fun than I initially thought they would be.

Anyway, I’d love to know if there’s a show that has surprised you this Summer season by not being dreadful.

Please note: Probably only limited spoilers below.

Honourable mention this week to Princess Principal. Not only is it one of my favourite shows of the season, it is one that from the short synopsis I read and the character designs I was pretty positive I was going to drop, not because it sounded bad, but because it just didn’t sound or look like something I would enjoy. So glad I watched the first episode because it was great fun.

Number 5: 18if

After going to sleep like normal, Haruto Tsukishiro wakes up to discover something unbelievable—he’s stuck in dream world! Here, witches plague the dreamscape and are more than dreamy figments—they’re the trapped souls of young women who’ve rejected reality and are afflicted by the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome.”

The above is the Crunchyroll synopsis and reading that it just screams that this is something to be avoided. Stuck in a dream world? Okay, here’s another chance for a writer to just be totally random for no reason. Oh, there are witches who are actually the trapped souls of young women? Suffering from a syndrome named after a fairy tale character. It all just seemed far too much like a desperate cry for attention and to be honest with each episode featuring a unique art style and tone you could be forgiven for thinking this entire story is just a project being made by an over-zealous art class full of students that all just want their turn at creating someone for Haruto to rescue. Despite that, it actually hasn’t been a bad watch. There’s been quite a bit of heart in some of the stories and there’s been enough cohesion with Haruto to carry us from story to story without too much confusion. Admittedly, this could still end very badly or not at all if they don’t bother to get to some sort of more definitive point before the season draws to a close.

Number 4: Gamers

“Would you like to be with me… in the Gamers Club?” Amano Keita is a perfectly mediocre loner with no particular distinguishing features other than his love for games. One day, his school’s prettiest girl and Gamer Club President Tendo Karen suddenly calls out to him. That moment changes Keita’s life forever, as he now finds himself in the midst of a romcom with beautiful girl gamers… or, well, that’s how it usually goes. Not with him, however.

As much as I like games and gaming, this anime didn’t exactly scream that it was something I wanted to watch. Everything about the synopsis is cliché and high school, club anime about loner boy getting targeted by the school’s ‘prettiest girl’ to join a club just didn’t seem like something I was going to get into. And the first episode more or less confirmed those fears and then it didn’t. Gamers managed to turn the trite and overused scenario on its head and admittedly it has marched us through a lot of tropes and clichés the way it manages to continue to defy audience expectations while remaining watchable is pretty amazing. The narrative is completely shot at this point because of all the twists they keep building in but it doesn’t really matter because I’m just caught up with these odd characters and their odd but charming interactions.

Number 3: Fastest Finger First

Bunzou High School is welcoming its new first-year students. One of them, Koshiyama Shiki, is chosen to participate against his will in an impromptu fast-buzzing quiz meet by the president of the Quiz Bowl Circle. As a quiet boy who loves reading and doesn’t want to stand out, Shiki is overwhelmed, but his classmate, Fukami Mari, is able to hit the buzzer and answer questions before the full question is given.

Once again, high school club with quiet boy getting dragged into things. What actually drew me to this one is that it was about quizzes and I really enjoy them so I ignored all my trepidations and took on the first episode. While I can’t say that this has truly defied any of my expectations, it is really quite watchable and mostly that is because of Koshiyama as the protagonist. He might be a quiet kid who doesn’t like standing out but there’s more to him than just that and he’s actually proving to be a reasonably well rounded protagonist. Does that make the show particularly good? Not really. Unless you like quizzes there really isn’t a lot to get into with the story. However, given what my initial thoughts were when reading that synopsis I’ve ended up finding this fairly okay.

Number 2: Clean Freak Aoyama-Kun

Aoyama kun is a hot, young soccer prodigy who plays midfielder for the National U-16 Soccer Team. But he’s also an extreme germaphobe! The TV anime adaptation of “Keppeki Danshi! Aoyama kun!” (Clean Freak!! Aoyama kun) portrays the friendships he forms and the challenges he overcomes in a “spotless” coming-of-age story!

Seriously? It is a story about a ‘hot’ soccer player who is a germaphobe and in case that isn’t enough to make your eyes roll right out your head at the sheer gimmicky nature of that match up we then get an incredibly tacky pun dropped into the synopsis just for fun. There was absolutely nothing about that write up that made this seem like it would appeal and to be honest, there’s nothing about the show that really should given its basically an episodic comedy that has a cast of overly zany characters that each seem to get one episode in the spotlight where their extreme dysfunction takes centre stage as we circle around Aoyama and then we move on. Despite that, I’ve been finding this anime oddly charming. Not every joke is a winner and some episodes are more tiresome than others, but overall, Aoyama has been kind of interesting and part of that is probably because despite the cheap jokes and gimmicks, for the most part it seems to respect people with conditions. There are a lot of tacky jokes in the series but Aoyama’s need to clean has for the most part been treated as a setting rather than the target of the humour.

Number 1: In Another World With My Smartphone

After dying as a result of God’s mistake, the main character finds himself in a parallel world, where he begins his second life. His only possessions are the body that God gave back to him and a smartphone that works even in this new world. As he meets all kinds of new people and forges new friendships, he ends up learning the secret to this world. He inherits the legacy of an ancient civilization and works together with the kings of some very laid-back countries on his carefree travels through this new world.

Right from the title you know what this show is giving you. It is another self-aware isekai story about an overpowered protagonist trapped in another world. Gimmick to throw in is he gets to take his phone with him and somehow it works. There’s really no reason at all this anime should have appealed to me and yet there’s just something about how it delivers its tropes that manages to entertain. It seldom crosses into overly cringe worthy territory and even though the last couple of episodes have started to become a little repetitive, due to Touya being all but an unstoppable force of nature at this point, there’s still plenty to make me smile about this show. Nope, it has no depth and it isn’t trying to actually make itself distinct or a satire on the genre or anything else. What it does is simply remember why these clichés became cliches and what makes them fun. It delivers lines that in most shows would all but be followed with a nudge to the audience to let us know that they are aware it is an overused line in an absolutely serious manner. Just as it delivers cloth dissolving slimes without a hint of shame. All and all, of all the shows I tried without really expecting anything from them, this one is the one I’ve ended up having the most fun with. Again, not exactly the best anime of the season but nowhere near as terrible as it could have been from that synopsis.

Over to you, which show this Summer did you find to be oddly not terrible after reading a synopsis that kind of made you wonder why you were even pressing play?


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