Was winter 2021 the best isekai season ever?<span class="wtr-time-wrap block after-title"><span class="wtr-time-number">9</span> min read</span>

The winter season is almost over and along with it so are many great anime. Among them of course is one of the best selections of isekai anime we’ve seen condensed in just one season. Mushoku Tensei, Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken season 2, Re:Zero season 2 part 2 and So I’m a Spider, So What?. Isekai anime get a bad rep but let’s not kid ourselves, there is a certain appeal that draws weebs like us to this arguably trashy genre. You would be right in saying that overall they are not the measure of good, quality anime. Not by a long shot. On the contrary, most of the time they are simple pleasure power trips lacking any finesse in their story-telling. Yes, the bad examples are too many to count and they seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate. I honestly don’t know how many variations of the same isekai formula are out there. Boy meets truck, truck kisses boy, boy gets transferred to another world, boy becomes bad-ass, builds harem and does whatever he wants. The protagonist will most likely have black hair that is out of this world -no pun intended- and for some reason, he is most definitely the unquestionable hero of his new world. Same thing every time, only with slight variations. There are at least some titles that are worth your time, if your time isn’t worth much that is. Don’t get me wrong, I most definitely see the point in watching isekai anime and I would lie if I were to say that I am not looking forward to watching or reading some. Nonetheless, there have been only very few occasions were I was sincerely invested in following an isekai story. I know I’m not alone in this.

This is why this winter season came as a big surprise for me. It was a season filled with heavy hitter titles and many things to watch. Although 2020 was a steaming pile of a year with COVID and all that, it at least gave us a jam packed 2021 first season. That was a pleasant surprise in itself but what made it stand out the most was that even though the dominant title of the season was Attack on Titan: Final Season -for good reason-, if I were to objectively pick the runner ups for best winter 2021 anime they would be isekai titles. I did not expect that.

Well I wrote that but it’s a lie. Re:Zero, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Mushoku Tensei and even So I’m a Spider, So What? were some of the few isekai titles that you would be right in getting invested in.

Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu 2nd Season Part 2  – The psychological roller coaster

Re:Zero has a loyal fan-base for a good reason. It is a good anime, not just a good isekai. The first season was more than enough to prove this but when season 2 came out, it solidified its worth. The second part of the second season is not any different. We’re still going through the Sanctuary arc of the story so there’s a lot going on. Sometimes maybe even a little too much. Since this is the continuation of the second season and not a new one, it would be wise to freshen up your memory on what transpired in part one. I did not, so I had some trouble following a few hints and conversations. No I don’t think I’m dumb, it’s just a lot to take in and keep in mind. All I’m saying is that it would probably be best to rewatch all of season 2 in one go. Still Re:Zero is going strong and staying true to the elements that made it special in the first place.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation – A classic

Mushoku Tensei is THE isekai. It did first what all isekai went and copied afterwards. That in itself is an interesting fact but it doesn’t really mean much. Just because something was first, it does not mean it’s best. Usually, first attempts are just that, attempts. Usually, only through consecutive iterations can we reach a desired result. Usually. Mushoku Tensei wrote the book on the clichés of the isekai genre but it did them best. Being the progenitor of the isekai genre is not the reason to watch this anime; the reason is that it is perhaps the best expression of the isekai species. Truck-kun: check. Overpowered: check. Harem: check. Ecchi: check. Yes, all the usual staples but actually good.

I was afraid that the anime adaptation that fans of Mushoku Tensei have been waiting for so long would not be good. Not for any reason, mind you. I was just afraid because isekai anime have made me a bit apprehensive to say the least. Thankfully, this was not crap. It was very good. Perhaps, even the best isekai I have ever seen. Now hold on. Before you start yelling at your screen. I know that there are other good isekai titles out there Re:Zero and Slime included. However, Mushoku Tensei is the best ‘vanilla’ isekai bar none. The production, the staff, the cast, all of it is great. They have managed to adapt a great story properly. I am honestly glad this was so well done. It more than lived up to expectations of fans and it is a recommended watch even for those of you who usually steer clear of isekai anime. Highly recommended.  

Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken season 2 – All hail our slime overlord

Tensei Shitara Slime Datta Ken is one of those isekai that despite utilizing many of the usual worn out elements of the genre manage to not be trash. At first glance, this is just another isekai with the only exception that the main character is a slime. Well,  that’s basically it. BUT it’s good. The story and the characters manage to be memorable and unique without being boring and predictable. Having the main character reincarnate as a slime helps to increase the unpredictability of the plot but that is not only it. The world building of slime is in depth and interesting. There are a lot of cliché elements such as monsters, Heroes and Maou(s) but all of them have a unique spin to them. It has all that you would expect an isekai to have but it all is well thought out and not just a crappy rehash of isekai leftovers. A good adaptation of a compelling story. Well worth your time to sincerely follow and anticipate.

So I’m a Spider, So What? – The itsy bitsy spider saga

So I’m a Spider, So What? is a different story. Truth be told, I had read the manga before the anime adaptation came out. There was no high expectation prior to reading it and it was admittedly more of an impulse decision. It’s a spider, so what? Why would this be any good? But it was. When I first read that it would adapted for screen, I was sincerely excited. Kumoko is a cute and endearing spider with a sinister and ruthless side. It was extremely satisfying to read about her fight for survival in the labyrinth and beyond. Having the chance to see all those fights and schizophrenic conversations animated would be amazingly entertaining. Or so I thought at the time. But reality quickly sank in and I realized -especially after the trailer– that the animation would not do this spider justice. Look, I get it. Animating snakes, 8 legged monsters and the rest would be extremely taxing to the studio and the animators. Cutting some corners is understandable. So what did they do? They made most of it 3D and cut Kumoko’s -the main character- time essentially by half, filled the rest with some people from later in the story and what not. Not nice. Understandable but not nice. The end result is a missed opportunity. If spider had gotten the adaptation it deserved, I am sure that it would have been up there with the other great isekai of the season but unfortunately it was reduced to an afterthought. They managed to turn So I’m a Spider, So What? into a generic run-of-the-mill isekai. Perhaps the only good thing going for it is the voice acting that in my opinion is pretty spot on. As far as everything else is concerned, the animation, the creative decision and the timeline back and forth took all the fun out of this story. I just cannot get over what they have done to the poor labyrinth monsters. The dragon looks more lie a carnival float fit for a parade rather than an ominous overpowering opponent.

Kumoko and her parallel wills with Earth Dragon Araba  from So I'm a Spider, So What?
Screaming is understandable with such bad 3D. (source)

Isekai anime get a bad rep and they are more than worth it most of the time. But we don’t really care to be honest, do we? The only reason we watch this sort of anime is because we want the cheap thrill that it provides. Overpowered main characters, illogical harems, weak plots that even a vegetable can follow and all the other garbage tropes that go with the genre. That is absolutely fine, I get it. However, is it not refreshing to watch an isekai that is actually good from time to time? Obviously this is a rare occurrence and this past season we had the chance to watch not one, not two but three good isekai series. Yes, I left the spider out. Hey, three out of four is not half bad.

So what does this mean? Is this the dawn of a new age for isekai anime? Will we start getting compelling adaptations coming left and right from now on? Well, no. For example, next season we’ll be getting the second season of How not to Summon a Demon Lord. An arguably bad anime compared to Re:Zero for example but a good isekai in its own dumb way. Will it be compelling? No. Will it be for everyone? No. Will it be the usual crap we enjoy? Yes. All I hope for is that this winter season will serve as a guide for the studios in Japan. 3 out of 4 isekai were critical successes despite the genre. The fourth, ie. spider was not. If the producers take the time to adapt the stories properly, it’s more than likely that they will be well-received and enjoyed by us weebs. It does not really take much to please us when it comes to things like this. Just steer clear of bad CGI. Can’t take it. Now I have to throw Kumoko to the ruined by bad 3D animation pile along with Overlord, Arifureta and Goblin Slayer. Didn’t forget about those, did you?

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