One of the most popular anime genres is known as “isekai”, and always follows a similar pattern: an average Joe dies and is reincarnated in a fantasy world, generally becoming very powerful and popular in his new life. It is the ultimate expression of television as a form of escapism, and tends to focus heavily on male fantasy fulfilment. Many of these kinds of series can seem like carbon copies of all the others. This recent example was hugely popular and I think that’s because it does a few things differently, in subtle but important ways.
The main guy dies a hero and then is reincarnated as a slime monster, as the title indicates. He’s a cute blob. Straight away, that’s different to most isekai, which tend to take an unpopular teen or a salaryman and turn him into a dashing hero. Satoru Mikami becomes Rimuru Tempest, and is reborn with a couple of major advantages: he is connected to a “Great Sage” who advises him, and he is able to absorb objects and enemies and obtain skills and create useful things. At times it feels like you are watching a computer game instead of a television show, what with all the collection and creation of objects, and constant levelling up of skills. Rimuru is even able to level up his friends just by giving them names, so weedy goblins evolve to become muscular and better looking, for example.
But the big difference here, and I think the reason it really sets itself apart from the rest of the isekai genre, is the series steers well clear of using the other-world premise as an excuse for a fanservice-heavy harem anime. Instead of gathering a load of fawning girls around him, like nearly every other isekai, Rimuru starts to build a community. In fact, women seem to be in the minority. Instead the series focusses on a series of battles and challenges that face Rimuru, and accomplishes those brilliantly, because enemies are so often turned into friends, with many coming to join Rimuru in his newly founded town. This is a series that acknowledges evil, but at the same time overwhelmingly offers us enemies who have simply strayed onto the wrong path in life, and can be redeemed. There is a strong emphasis on forgiveness, and conflicts often start because of incorrect assumptions. Once people start communicating, things tend to get resolved, always after an exciting battle, of course. There is virtually no fanservice, with the notable exception of the Demon Lord Milim whose outfit is barely there at all, but she is such a fabulously entertaining character that it doesn’t matter.
The one isekai problem that this series fails to escape is the tendency to make the main character too powerful. Rimuru is so good at absorbing abilities that he soon becomes a formidable enemy for just about anyone, and the series has to keep finding ways to introduce characters who are more dangerous than the previous challenge. There’s a limit to how far you can go with that, and I never felt much of a sense of jeopardy. That becomes even more problematical when Milim arrives on the scene, because she’s a Demon Lord and is incredibly powerful, so the two of them together are undefeatable, and we end up with silliness like Rimuru banning Milim from getting involved in his fight, which stretches out a battle she could have ended in seconds to a couple of episodes. In the end, the writers simply send her away, which is a great shame.
A huge number of characters are packed into this 24 episode series, and you really feel like you get to know this new community. I’ll be here forever if I try to talk about many of them, which is a shame because lots of them are worthy of discussion, but I’ll just mention the lizardman Gabiru, who thinks he is the greatest thing in the world, and travels around with a group of fanboys who big him up all the time and feed his ego. He is hilarious fun. But Rimuru is quite rightly the heart and soul of this series, and I thought he was great in both his slime and human(ish) forms. Importantly, he doesn’t just win his battles through superior abilities, but brings with him a brilliant mind for working out problems, and a strong impulse to make friends of his enemies.
Considering the enormous amount of characters and plot developments that are packed into these 24 episodes, it seems odd that the series runs out of steam at the end, with the final half of the finale a disappointing clips show. There is also a bonus episode, which I gave up on part way through as it appeared to be nothing more than clips of previous episodes with a couple of characters nattering over the top of it. But that’s not the end of the story. Another series is in production, frustratingly delayed by the virus that has changed all our lives this year. Perhaps now, more than ever, people need escapist television. If you want to immerse yourself in a different world, Rimuru’s town is a great place to lose yourself for a while. RP