Mushoku Tensei (無職転生 ~異世界行ったら本気だす~, 무직전생) by Rifujin na Magonote is going to be one of the strangest reviews I do in the eyes of some people, and the series is definitely not for everyone. For those who don’t know, Japan has a popular style of media called a light novel (LN,ライトノベル, ラノベ, or ライノベ). Light novels are usually shorter than a standard book, they generally include a few anime-style illustrations, and most are either fantasy or sci-fi themed. Most light novels are targeted towards teen or young adult readers. Light novels have been very popular choices for manga (comic) or anime (cartoon) adaptations in the last decade. This trend has gradually been bringing LNs to the West.
Mushoku Tensei is actually a web novel, which is similar to a LN but posted online. Additionally, several volumes of the story have actually been published and printed by KADOKAWA / Media Factory.
I read the series online and it has not been licensed or published in the US yet as of the date of this review.
The first LN I ever read was an impulse buy on Amazon e-books while I was bored, browsing late at night. The title was, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? (Yes, that is a real title). I read it not expecting much but found it was a quick, enjoyable read… albeit without a lot of depth.
If the mid point of The Wheel of Time series by the late (and missed) Robert Jordan was an example of one end of a detailed literature spectrum, LNs would be on the other, opposite end. LNs generally have quick pacing and stick to a linear plot without too many unnecessary descriptions. As such, they’re also relatively easy to translate into other languages compared to a standard novel. Still, despite being brief, some light novels have interesting story lines and extremely creative world building. I’ve have discovered that I enjoy this style of media if done correctly.
Still, LNs generally include foreign humor, puns, and cultural comments that can be difficult to translate. I’ve been watching anime and reading manga for 20 years and I grew up with close Japanese friends, so I am not sure how well people without any of this exposure would understand some of the cultural subtleties in Japanese media.
All that said, Mushoku Tensei has been an experience.
Mushoku Tensei is noteworthy and extremely popular for a variety of reasons, but one is that the story itself breaks quite a few molds. Many recent LNs and anime series in the last 10 years have safely pandered to otaku (people obsessed with computers or aspects of Japanese culture to the detriment of social skills) audiences, resulting in bland and forgettable cash grabs by authors and anime studios. Mushoku Tensei still contains some of these tropes, but instead of a plain, emotionless main character ideal for readers’ wish fulfillment, Mushoku Tensei features a completely realized, three dimensional MC.
In fact, I didn’t even really like the main character for at least the first half of the story and he still frustrated me at times after that, but I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing. There are a number of series I absolutely love (like the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher) where I actively do not like the MC. In the case of Mushoku Tensei, I believe my reaction was intentional by the author.
Many LNs usually follow a character’s journey for a few years and many leave an open ending (which I find infuriating). On the other hand, Mushoku Tensei follows the life of the main character from his birth until his death; both of them.
The basic plot of Mushoku Tensei follows a fat, loser, Japanese otaku NEET (not in education, employment, or training) virgin in his 30s getting kicked out of his home by his family. He has no money, home, or friends and almost dies by himself on the street with a life full of self righteous regret. However, his last act on earth ends up being an attempt to rescue some high school kids before they are run over by a truck. The truck kills him.
The story really begins when the main character wakes up reincarnated as a baby in a sword and sorcery fantasy world. Now, if you think it might be creepy for a baby to have the mind of a sexually repressed 33 year old man in situations where he takes baths with women and is breast fed, you’d be right. The author unflinchingly plays this part straight, and while parts are very funny, it can definitely make readers feel a bit squicky and uncomfortable.
In fact, this is a good point to mention that there is a lot of sexual humor in Mushoku Tensei. The MC grows a /lot/ as a person throughout the story, and one way he does that is gradually divesting himself of old sexual self consciousness and tension. In fact, in Mushoku Tensei, there are mentions of masturbation, S&M, slavery, voyeurism, group sex, rape, and panty sniffing. A running gag is that one of the most prominent aristocratic families in the land is full of deviant, terrible people.
All that said, I thought these inclusions really elevated the story past some of the cookie cutter, LOTR emulating literature I read when I was a teen. The reality is that many prominent families throughout history /were/ known for deviancy. Of course, the magic system in the Mushoku Tensei world effectively eliminates any biological disparity of strength between males and females so oppressed classes in Mushoku Tensei are based on race, not gender. Those poor, poor cat people… but I digress.
The series is relatively long; I’d guess the web novel translations all together are probably the length of 4 or 5 standard paperback books. By the end of the series, the main character’s goal to live his new life without any regrets, and his inherent goodness transforms him into one of the coolest main characters I’ve ever read. The ending of the series is bittersweet, poignant, and very well done. It is not an embellishment for me to say that the ending of Mushoku Tensei was one of the best endings of any media I’ve ever consumed. By the end, I really wanted to spend more time with most of the characters I’d gotten to know. Even the supporting characters were interesting. The fact that the author could elicit this kind of emotional reaction in me, a cynical reader in a /light novel/ is a testament to his skill.
If you’re a fan of character growth, prodigy-like main characters who grow in power, and you are not turned away by an unflinchingly honest view of a sexually maladjusted, middle aged male virgin’s thoughts, this series is for you. What’s more, the story includes a plural marriage in a heartfelt and genuine way. The story really explores the genuine love the MC has for the women who deeply affected his growth as a person, albeit often in a humorous way. This is a a “zero to hero” sort of story, but it’s done right with some deeply emotional character arcs, one even involving erectile dysfunction (ED).
Mushoku Tensei features a surprisingly complex plot (involving the fate of an entire world) and deep, mature backstories for many of its characters. The main character’s relationships and conflicts with his original parents and his later parents in his reincarnated life (and their feelings of inadequacy in comparison to their prodigy son) legitimately moved me as a reader.
I give Mushoku Tensei 4.35 out of 5 stars of internet awesome. For those who are not accustomed to Japanese literature conventions or Japanese social/cultural quirks at all, the score would probably be more like a 3.9 out of 5 stars. Either way, this is a story worth reading if you get the humor.
If you want to check it out, a simple Google search will net you some translation pages, but I’d start at Bak Tsuki.