A new studio forming isn’t always an immediately exciting occurrence. Often, the new studio is either heaped with loads of praise but can’t quite live up to the hype until later when their repertoire has developed, like Trigger. Other times, it’s a slow build and the studio only becomes truly recognizable after their big hit or enough smaller successes for people to be like “oh yeah, I know them!”
Mushoku Tensei looks gorgeous enough to be a show by CloverWorks, P.A. Works, or even Bones, but it’s actually the product of a completely new studio: Studio Bind. And after 11 episodes spent in a fantasy world just ripe with aesthetic charm and gorgeous animation, I can safely say this studio has come out swinging with their “big hit.”
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation, is the story of an introverted young man who died saving some kids from a speeding car. He was none too proud of his life leading to his death, so imagine his surprise when he woke up being birthed into a fantasy world as a baby.
His name is now Rudeus Greyrat of the Greyrat clan and in a world of magic and monsters, he has a chance to do his life over. So logically he spends his youth being a horny little shit. That’s not a criticism I think it’s pretty funny. After all, if you were starting over from scratch with way more knowledge, you’d screw around too. I loved watching Rudy be a mischievous little shit.
There’s something so calming about the world of Mushoku Tensei. It’s gorgeous to look at, not just because of the detail, but strangely enough, because it’s not afraid to have a more washed-out color palette. Gray skies, rainy days, cozy warm wood cabin homes – a lot of the locations are detailed and look lived in and believable.
The directing makes the whole adventure feel comfortable and inviting. It’s like a storybook that’s come to life, something helped by Rudy’s internal monologue. Additionally, while the music by Yoshiaki Fujisawa is beautiful, the moments of quiet let the character moments stand out well in their own right.
When I compared it to a storybook, I think I undersold it. I haven’t watched too much of the English Dub, but Ben Phillips’ narration as Rudy’s former self sounds like an audiobook narrator and it’s a delightful touch. If you’re a dub watcher, you should really check it out.
The early episodes chronicle Rudy’s budding friendships back at home as he grows up and learns magic, while also being trained to fight by his dad. We’re introduced to great characters whose time spent with Rudeus is brief in the first, but who leave a lasting impression and will obviously return later.
Rudy confronts traumas and fears that have carried over from his previous life, realizing that they don’t have to hold him back in this world. At the same time, he tries to use what he knows from that past life to navigate his youth and even try to fix some of the grownup problems of his young parents.
The home life isn’t just cozy, it’s believably deep. We see burgeoning marital problems and other occurrences of life through Rudy’s eyes. The parents are still young former adventurers who are stupidly in love, ridiculously horny, and aren’t as prepared as they think for life after adventure.
Speaking of horny, something about the fanservice in this show hits different too. It’s unabashed in its revelry in the sexuality of its characters and uses it to add depth, however minimal you might think. Some people may still call it trashy and it’s not like it isn’t indulgent, but I think it’s better than the norm.
Maybe that’s the most common appraisal I have of this show. It feels different. This show feels the most “fantastical” of a lot of the fantasy shows I’ve watched and fallen in love with. Sometimes it seems like anime depicts fantasy anime as one of two extremes. It’s either fantastical how colorful the world is, to the point of having as bright a palette as possible, or it’s grimdark and drained of color.
I’m generalizing, obviously, but this show was funny and heartfelt and could be violent all the same, all while having a more diffused color design and detailed background art. At the risk of sounding pretentious, there’s something sophisticated about the aesthetic. Maybe it’s just that feeling of joy I have watching it.
This show is only 11 episodes, but I honestly can’t say I’ve seen a show with that runtime feel like it’s gone to as many places as this single season does. Rudy spends the first third at home becoming a young prodigy with magic. Then, he goes to the big city, meets Eris (best girl), and teaches her magic while getting trained to fight by Ghislaine (runner-up best girl).
But the final arc takes the characters to someplace completely new, setting them off on an adventure that will be continued in the next season. What helps the story feel so lengthy isn’t just the great pacing and use of time-skips, but also the sense of constant change.
The seasons, the weather, or the entire setting and biome change, all as the story spans years in a short time. It all feels so thorough. The only place the story even remotely falters is in how it sets up the larger story going forward.
There’s clearly… something happening. Sketchy-looking characters preparing for… something. The appearance of some bizarre floating object that’s doing… something. It’s alright that we don’t have all the answers but the direction the show is going seems unclear because the foreshadowing has been rather vague.
But honestly, I’m not too concerned about it. Just like I said in my review of Jujutsu Kaisen recently, if there is something else going on behind the scenes that I’m expected to care about, I’m not that invested. But so long as the main characters’ adventures and stories are interesting enough to make me not dwell on how much I don’t care about that other stuff, then is it really a flaw?
I’m practically watching a really fun D&D campaign put to animation. The characters probably don’t know where it’s leading either, but hey, some monsters need killing, so let’s not sweat it and go have some fun.
And all that fun is worth every second of otherwise blissful ignorance. Both of the Chief Animation directors don’t have a ton of credits to their name, which makes their work here all the more impressive. Some of the best fights of the season and a thrilling cut by Yoshimichi Kameda in the last episode of the season. I love seeing his work when he goes full Kanada-style.
The above clip features work from a lot of animators but Kameda’s is from 0:38-0:45. Notice the heavy brushstrokes and the pronounced poses when Eris slashes the monster. Everything is exaggerated and shaded like a comic in a way you only see nowadays in works by Studio Trigger. Look at the comments here for a list of animators.
People talk about originality like you have to reinvent the wheel to make something interesting, but crafting stories is like crafting recipes. It’s the mixture that makes something fresh and inviting. Mushoku Tensei is an isekai- NOTHING about that concept is new. But when you present it with a certain charm and genuine characters, the familiar can be revitalized.
I love all of these characters. The whole Greyrat clan is full of weirdos, from Rudy’s dad, Paul, to Eris and her whole family. And because I made a promise to my friend Edo, I’m obligated to preach how adorable Eris looks in a cat-eared hoodie. Observe.
This is yet another show that has reminded me that an oversaturated genre can still produce some really cool stuff. And since this show is an especially well-regarded isekai, I see this anime being a standard by which other fantasy shows will compare themselves to going forward. I loved this series, and I can’t wait for it to return.
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Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is available for legal streaming through FunimationNow and Hulu.