Which Isekai Anime Is Superior At Handling Character Death?

Between Season 1 and Season 2 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime something changed with how the story handles death. But is either approach superior?

Spoilers Ahead for That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Season 2

You know, I started with a really clear impulse to write when I began this post. I’d watched a lot of season 2 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and I mostly felt just a little bit annoyed at the drastic shift in the way they chose to address death in season 2 compared to their efforts in season 1 and compared to an anime like Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Then I let time do its magical thing and started thinking through the situation a bit more. Ultimately, I realised that while death was handled differently, the purpose was also different.

slime s2 16
Good luck. He has the protection of being a protagonist in a long running comedy anime.

Here’s where spoilers will get fairly serious for those who haven’t yet watched season 2.

Rimuru is ambushed and almost killed by Shizue’s friend who is no mood to listen to a monster. However, at the same time as Rimuru is being waylaid, his nation of monsters has come under-attack by the combined forces of a nation that is ticked off because they are losing trade and the holy church because the church doesn’t like monsters. The motives are pretty stock-standard and poorly explored and while the balance between nations being disrupted was a theme built up over more than one episode, ultimately the story just kind of throws any complexity this plot line may have had away and goes for setting up a table of near-moustache twirling villains who are evil because they aren’t on the same side as the protagonist.

What is a little different this time around is that because Rimuru isn’t around to more or less instantly over-power these enemies (and because of some interesting choices in terms of exploring Rimuru’s choices being influenced by his former human life which are actually really well handled), the monsters actually take a number of losses including a whole bunch of background characters, one peripheral character who we knew enough to be sad over their death, and one actual main character in what is a relatively well built up revelation when Rimuru arrives back in town.

slime s2 9
Comically over-the-top bad guy and soon to be forgotten villain.

The revelation to Rimuru that his orders for the monsters not to fight humans, set out in season one, and his emotional distress at seeing the cost to those who have followed him is a poignant and really well-handled moment.

For about two seconds.

Then a minor character runs up and tells Rimuru a fairy-tale from their homeland about someone becoming a demon-lord and undoing the death of a friend.

I remember on first watching this sequence feeling like I’d just been kicked in the teeth.

Season one of Slime had shown that while for the most part this anime was laid-back Slime shenanigans with a lot of humour and bright colours and a few epic and over-the-top fight sequences thrown in to spice things up, it also could handle the meatier emotional moments. Shizue’s death was a slow, quiet moment given the time it needed to sink in and having the right impact on Rimuru for the audience to really experience the full emotional spectrum that comes with death and remembering life. It was one of the best death sequences not for spectacle or blood splatter but just for facing the enormity and absoluteness that is death.

That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Episode 6
I’m glad we met you too.

What season two did seemed to undermine that in almost an instant. If death could be conquered why did Shizue die? What does it matter if anyone dies if it can all just be turned back? Admittedly, there were a lot of catches to the potential resurrection and only a minor chance of success, but even that felt like it was trying to have its cake and eat it to. The story wanted us to think characters could die and wanted us to experience the emotions of parting, but also didn’t want to lose a fan-favourite character by actually consigning them to death.

One of my favourite isekai anime ever is Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. While it isn’t a perfect story by any means, and reading on in the light novels it has actually done a similar thing that Slime is now doing in that the basic idea that death can’t be overturned ends up being overturned, kind of, in one instance, Grimgar set itself apart from other stories early on by giving a very real view of the danger and fear of living in a fantasy world as an adventurer where death could literally come at any moment and from the smallest of mistakes. I really appreciated this narrative for not having super-strong and invincible characters who overcame anything. Every time they won anything it felt earned and they lost, a lot. And those losses always came with costs.

grimgar
Ouch!

So if I were simply to look at the three, Grimgar, Slime 1 and Slime 2 at how the death itself was played out, I’d most definitely find season 2 of Slime wanting. Grimgar absolutely nailed it with the early death of a character that seemed like he should have protagonist plot armour but unfortunately it wasn’t his story. And even Slime season 1 gave us something that was quite special in a season that I was otherwise in two minds about because while there were aspects that felt like they were really amazing, a lot of season one felt like down-time.

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But that makes little sense. See, after getting some time to think about my initial reaction and how I felt death had been cheapened, I thought more about the overall story and what the actual point of this particular moment was supposed to be. Slime had already done an emotional look at death and loss. We don’t need a rehash for season 2 of the same plot notes and if they’d left the scene without the other character interjecting we would have very much had a more or less same situation with different character.

slime s2 2
We do not do re-runs.

Instead, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime season 2 (Tensura 2) chose to use character death first as a catalyst for Rimuru’s self-reflection on the fact that he is no longer a human. His human trappings had continued to drive his thinking and reasoning throughout the narrative so far and as the nation of monsters seeks to stand on its own he really did need to move on from that. This sequence most definitely put that into action.

More than that though, the character deaths served as a catalyst for Rimuru’s next actions and his decisions which deserve an entire post all on their own to discuss the morality of those choices and why it has been so interesting to see play out as it raises a number of not-very comfortable questions.

Really, it has seen Slime rise to its best yet.

slime s2 12
Everyone should underestimate you. You were useless and then thrown away in more or less an instant.

While I won’t forget that I felt annoyed that they almost instantly undermined the permanence of death I can’t help but be excited by where this has pushed the story and Rimuru’s character. So ultimately my initial question of which series did the better job of dealing with death was flawed to begin with. Death wasn’t the point here. It was merely a means to an end and while I’m drafting this I haven’t seen the end of the season, I’m really thrilled by how the final episodes of this series have unfolded so far and the possibilities being opened.

Images in this article from:

  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime Season 2. Dir. Y Kikuchi. 8bit. 2021.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Dir. Y Kikuchi. 8bit. 2019.
  • Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash. Dir. R Nakamura. A-1 Pictures. 2016.


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2 thoughts on “Which Isekai Anime Is Superior At Handling Character Death?

  1. I have that same issue with so many anime. And a lot of other sci-fi/fantasy material. Everything from Star Trek to Clannad AS did it. Kill somebody to jerk the tears then magic or miracle or techno them back. Very rarely they do it well.

    Once you’ve rent the veil between life and death it never heals as Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever, found out. It no longer means anything to die and the next time someone dies there’s no tears. In fact, it rather ruins other fantasy works where people do die and don’t come back. You’re left with the nagging doubt that it is real.

    Zero actually had a good take on it. It was the entire plot of the show for most of its run.

    When I am deeply emotionally involved with a character, like Clannad AS, and death happens but a miracle occurs, at first I feel betrayed. You did this thing just to jerk my tears. A while later I grieve even more deeply because that’s not how life works. Miracles don’t happen, the dead do not return to the good and the just, and that kind of wish fulfillment leaves me even more depressed.

    1. As a final hurrah it might work but mid story, as you said, it does take a lot of the potential drama out of future deaths.

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