History of Isekai ( Shield Hero, KonoSuba, InuYasha, SAO + MORE) – Anime Explained


What does Re:Zero, Spirited Away and the Wizard
of Oz all have in common? How about No Game No Life, Sword Art Online, and the Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Last Action Hero? You see they all fall under the subgenre of
Isekai. *Truck-kun hitting Tim dead* Isekai (異世界), the Japanese word for
“different world” is a genre where someone from our world goes to another world, or someone
from another world comes to ours. Typically it comes with the benefit of fantastic
powers or a mythical destiny. Over the past decade these stories have skyrocketed
into popularity. With animes like That Time I got Reincarnated
as a Slime, Log Horizon, GATE, Drifters, Restaurant to Another World, Saga of Tanya and so…
so much more… With one or more Isekai anime every season
the subgenre has become so popular that according to Kakuyomu.jp, light novel and manga
publisher Kadokawa actually stopped accepting light novel submissions featuring Isekai in
2017 because there were just too damn many of them… And though the term didn’t really become
popular until around 2010. This is just based on trending google searches… so take that with a grain of google salt… There’s no
shortage of shows that fit that description. So how did this thing all start? Well the whole thing started with Urashima Tarō,
a Japanese folk tale that originated before the character was named in the 15th century. It’s about a fisherman, who rescued a turtle, who was then rewarded with access to a mythical underwater kingdom. He eats, drinks, and is entertained by the
beautiful princess, Oto-Hime. Given the true hero treatment for his good
deed. Now after a few days he gets homesick and heads
back home only to find out 3 centuries had passed while he was away. Basically Urashima Taro is Fry from Futurama… Kinda… Uh… If you… think about it… Stories of disappearing for seemingly a few
days only to return home a decade or two later aren’t unique to Japan. Ireland has a rich folklore surrounding the
Fair Folk with legends and warnings like “spend a night partying with the faeries and come
home a couple hundred years later.” Yikes… It’s not just folk tales too though. Popular novels like Alice’s Adventures in
Wonderland, Peter Pan, The Chronicles of Narnia, the list goes on! Harry Potter could be considered a soft example
of Isekai. Interesting… Now In western isekai stories most people
go through wardrobes, pop in and out of movie screens, or even go through doors in trees. But in Japan, you have things like… Truck-kun running over you, crazed man stabbing
you, getting run over by a train, reading books, playing VR games, or just playing games
full stop. No matter the differences of HOW they get
to the other world, the appeal of isekais is global and spanded centuries. Still, the only culture to give a name to
this specific literary type of escape fantasy was Japan. How did this wildly popular genre make it
into anime? My girl Sally the Witch- Who the F*** is Sally the Witch??? Sally is also an example of a reverse Isekai
but she was the first popular anime to include the genre in any way shape or form. According to MyAnimeList, Sally the Witch
started airing in the 60s and has had several remakes since then. It’s about a girl from a magical world who
comes to our boring mundane human world. Sally was mischievous, Sally was fun. Instead of learning about a fantastic world
through the main character’s eyes we learned how fantastic our world could be through someone
else’s eyes. Inspired by BeWitched, Sally was the first
popular example of the Magical Girl genre in anime and our first taste of how Isekai
would look in the industry. In fact, the concept of ‘Fantastic Character
coming to the Mundane World’ was such a success it was used several times… all by
Magical Girl shows. Popular examples like Minky Momo, Lalabel
and Majokko Megu-Chan all featured the same concept: magical girl coming to the mundane
world. Now in 1970 we have Osamu Tezuka and Eiichi Yamamoto going horny on main with an Isekai of their own called Cleopatra, where we have the main characters; Jiro, Harvey, and Mary using a time machine to transfer their minds into the bodies of
people in the past. This is to thwart the plan of evil aliens apparently… also the dude Harvey’s actual life goal… I guess… is to have sex with Cleopatra. Then we get to 1983 with an anime called Seisenshi
Dunbine also known as Aura Battler Dunbine. Now in this story we have Sho Zama and his motorcycle and they get sent to another world to man fantasy mechas. Makes it sound like the motorcycle was manning the mechas… Anyway after in the 1990s is when
isekai really gets a kick start… With the introduction of an anime called,
Fushigi Yūgi by Studio Pierrot. Debuting as an anime in 1996 (with the manga
debuting back in 1992), the story is about two middle school girls- Miaka Yūki and Yui
Hongo- who find a book and are transported to another place and time. Miaka becomes a hero destined for a miracle
romance while Yui, who was sent back to the human world, winds up becoming a villain. It’s also worth noting that Miaka actually
mirrors a lot of modern Isekai protags because like many of them she could have been considered
an anime otaku in her time. Fushigi Yūgi also falls into a lot of the
quintessential shoujo tropes of the 90s: Tropes like… Impossible forbidden romances that will eventually
prove love can conquer all, Acts of self sacrifice to save the world and Confronting your trauma
and turning it into a force motivation to save others Sounds like… other anime tropes… ANYWAY It had all the drama of a soap opera, only
instead of live action actors it was sparkly eyed school girls and pretty anime boys. My favorite. This becomes the template for the modern isekai
story: a boring ass mundane main character from a pitiful mundane world gets transported to another more exciting world in which they are the hero. This is our award winning formula, which is
replicated again and again and again… and again and again and once more for good measures… again. Around the same time we get our first shounen
story in the genre: El-Hazard. Though the anime started a full year earlier,
Fushigi is given the credit because the manga pre-dates the El-Hazard manga. The story is simple: three high school students
and their history teacher get transported to another world and become the pivotal heroes
of an ongoing war. This sort of familar format becomes the new foundation for modern Isekai before it was even called Isekai. But even with El-Hazard, Isakai seemed to
be a girl’s world. Escaflowne and Magic Knight Rayearth both
came out around 1996 as well, along with the Inuyasha manga. For one reason or another there was story
upon stories of school girl being transported into a magical-medieval style world. This is maybe due to how popular Fushigi Yūgi
was. 18 volumes of manga, 52 episodes of anime,
an English dub, 2 OVAs, a light novel series and two spin off series don’t spawn out
of thin air, there has to be a demand for them. Over a full decade Fushigi Yūgi stayed fairly
popular among Japanese girls. Didn’t quite have the same staying power
in the U.S. but why wouldn’t other studios and publishers be eager to replicate that? And they weren’t wrong. Magic Knight Rayearth has sold over 200,000
copies of the Dark Horse English translation alone. This number doesn’t even touch on what it
did in sales world wide or how it performed in it’s Tokyopop release. And this overall doesn’t even hold a candle to how Inuyasha performed. MmmMMmm… No sir… Not only was Inuyasha many western anime audience’s
first look at Isekai it’s a series that has staying power to spare.
And with good reason. Rumiko Takahashi knew how to write a manga
that appealed to both audiences: you had the slow burn romance, anime pretty boys, dark
themes, yokais, sword fights and crass humor, basically you had delicious goodies for everyone. Inuyasha was a perfect blend of shoujo and
shounen that holds a deep nostalgia for most anime fans growing up in the original Toonami
era of anime… KAGOMEEEEEE- But I digress. So why was this sort of story, so popular with
the shoujo audience? It’s been touched on previously, but Isekai
is a genre about escaping the day to day doldrums. It’s practically designed to be a self-insert
fantasy. The idea that anyone normal could be plucked out of their boring extremely plain monotony and placed into some amazing adventure is widely appealing- as proven by story after story being created within the genre. But this sort of thing can appeal to everyone,
so why girls specifically? That could be because girls were painfully
aware of their limited power in their own world- our world. This sort of fantasy that’d whisk you away
to another must have been appealing when the current reality was unfulfilling. There’s absolutely no shortage of stories
of girls being secret princesses, the way Isekai is framed in the shoujo genre just
takes that a step further. But they’re not just the princess, they’re
the heroes. They’re the key to saving someone or even
the world. Even if the someone they save is themselves
it’s still far more appealing to do the saving rather than be saved. And it wasn’t just Isekai that helped illustrate
this climate- don’t forget the 90s is when magical girls changed from idols like Creamy
Mami to warriors like Sailor Moon. This all ties in with the very strong
‘Girl Power’ movement of the 90s. In America and Japan there seemed to be a
sort of cultural push for girls to stop fitting into some of the meeker roles assigned to
them. There seemed no match for a girl’s
thirst for power but Shoujo’s hold on the Isekai genre started to change as we entered
the new millennium. The early 2000s brought a landscape shift, literally. With the rise of… personal computers… The commonality of computers and love of the
internet opened up a whole new way to tell an Isekai story, and a new audience along
with it. The box office hit of The Matrix and the rise
of cyberpunk helped create the perfect climate for the next stage of Isekai. As we entered the digital age so did our obsession
with it. Shows like Serial Experiments Lain were a
soft transition involving some Isekai elements while figuring out how they fit into a digital
landscape. Lain stepping into the virtual space known
as “The Wired” and becoming a sort of God because of her connection to it is very
parallel to many Isekai stories. The ambiguity of The Wired and the fact that
other people can access this space keeps many people from considering it a true Isekai story. But it’s ability to combine elements of
Isekai and cyberpunk elements is a good example of how the genre evolved into the next stage. As computers got better, gaming got better
and the rise of MMOs were unparalleled. And if it wasn’t obvious, most of these
games were being played by teenagers and young adults, not preschool to elementary school aged girls…. The stigma of video games was also slowly
being lifted. No longer were they something regulated to
kids and nerd-culture. WoW ran an ad-campaign in the mid-2000s that featured celebrities playing the game to help prove that. Now according to Dr. Randy Olson (Lead Data Scientist
at Life Epigenetics, Inc.) the number of active users on the most popular online MMOs increased
to over 11 million by 2006. Even before that there was a steady increase
in players year after year from 2000 onward. Many MMOs started introducing
the idea that you could escape in a virtual world to be someone else, be somebody better. Isekai just took that idea a bit more literally. People began spending their free time in these
massive online world scapes to break up the monotony of their day to day. You could experience action, adventure, make friends, all from the safety and comfort of your computer chair. Video Games provided an escape, now all forms
of media provides that sweet sweet escape from the normie world BUT it was video games that allowed us to have direct control of our escapism. We had the power to be who we want to be. And if I wanted to be a Kermit smoking a blunt
with 2 katanas? So be it. So with that it only made sense to marry an
escapism medium with an escapism genre. .hack//Sign, Sword Art Online, KonoSuba, there
is a seemingly endless list of main characters being transported into their favourite video
games. Some of it a dream come true, some of it abject
horror. And though the .hack series is credited with
being the first Isekai anime to bring the digital world into play I can think of two
others. And don’t you try commenting “TRON”
because I said anime! Digimon aired in the late 90s early 2000s
smash hit in both East and West brought Isekai into a digital age. For anyone who doesn’t remember or wasn’t
old enough to remember the absolute bop that was the U.S. theme song ♫ Badly singing the Digimon theme song ♫ seven digi-friends go to camp for the summer, wind up living in a digital world. Like Lain, it was sort of a middle ground
trying to parse how the genre that was going to fit the next generation of storytelling. On one hand you have the narrative very explicitly
telling you this is a digital world, on the other it still holds the same sort of feel
of some of these way-back-when fantasy worlds. The second series is one that didn’t really
make a splash but is still worth mentioning because it brings it around to where it all
started in anime: Corrector Yui. Corrector Yui is a Magical Girl Show- like
Minky Momo and Sally the Witch- but instead of pulling from ye olde classic tropes she’s
taking a page from the current climate of anime Yui is an average girl in an average world
until one day she’s zapped into a computer and becomes Corrector Yui – savior of the
Internet and slayer of viruses. But no matter how modern and fun the premise
was Corrector Yui’s dip in popularity helped signal the end of Isekai in shoujo only. Only 18 of the 52 episode series managed to get dubbed and the manga struggled to find an audience The over-saturation of the magical girl market
in the wake of Sailor Moon’s absence created an inhospitable climate for the series to
take hold, and thus it failed. Not that Isekai disappeared from shoujo entirely-
we still saw shows like Mahou Shoujo Tai Arusu and Sugar Sugar Rune- but we started seeing
less Isekai magical girls and more shounen and seinen style protagonist taking on a digital
landscape. The rise in popularity of this very specific
brand of Isekai could also be attributed to NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training)
and Hikikomoris (aka. Shut-ins) Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and
Communications estimated the number of NEETS at 630,000 in 2012 And for Hikikomoris the number is at an estimated
560,000 from a Japanese government survey released in 2016 Now granted these two aren’t the ONLY reason
why Isekais are such a big deal. To top it all off in 2018 the Japan Times
reported that while jobs are available wages have stagnated. With the increased cost of living, less and
less are able to afford the life they want and are just scraping by with their basic needs. There’s a Japanese saying “The nail that
sticks out gets hammered down”. In Japanese and most asian culture, individualism can be discouraged, it’s best to be another cog in the machine. But if Isekai’s popularity has shown us
anything, it’s that this ideal is often rejected. People do long to stand out, to be different,
to be the main character of the story. With a generation of young adults increasingly
dissatisfied with the way their lives were turning out and turning to video games and
the internet in general as a means of escapism, it’s only natural the light novels, mangas
and animes would follow suit. It helps that many of the modern day Isekai
protagonist are Hikikamoris like Kazuma from KonoSuba or an otaku like Naofumi Iwatani
from The Rising of The Shield Hero. It’s easy to find yourself believing in this escapist fantasy if the main character is like you. Isekai is a genre fueled by the desire to
leave the mundane behind, to run away from our current situation into a better one. Even if that better one is more dangerous. Despite the escape there’s something to
say regarding the danger, which brings aspects of thrillers and horrors to the isekai genre:
is it really better to live in a fantasy world that’s much more dangerous than the mundane one? Where it’s… Slightly… dangerous… Just less… Dragons and shi- Many stories downplay the dangers though by giving
their characters overpowered abilities to combat it: Think Re:Zero is basically anime Groundhog
Day while something like Overlord our main character, Momonga is literally one of the most powerful
characters in that universe. There are obviously isekai series’ that
go against the OP grain, but if you’re the main character of the story you should be fine. Early shoujo Isekai all featured our heroines
returning home after they saved the day, while modern day Isekai is split – some of our heroes chose to stay, others go back home, and others have no choice… And maybe that is saying something about the audiences they’re designed to appeal too. The escape from the shoujo perspective helped
convey a more classic hero’s journey story and functioned as a coming of age story in
many cases- it was all about growing up and getting stronger with each battle. While the escape from a modern isekai perspective
reflects a desire to literally escape- to run away from everything boring and be better. This doesn’t even touch that half of these
stories wind up turning into harem shows at one point or another. There’s aspects of wish fulfilment in both
stories, but shoujo encourages to take those wishes and turn them into a reality that fits
into the mundane world, while new isekais seems to places these wishes firmly in the realm of fantasy. Now no matter how it evolves next, the genre that’s
spanned centuries is showing no signs of dying out any time soon, despite the bans against
their submission to certain production companies or writing contest. As long as our boring, pitiful, lame mundane world is devoid
of dungeons, adventures, big ol harems and UIs popping out with your skill trees… I think
there will be plenty of Isekais to go around… But as you watch one of the new isekais just
remember all the shoujo godmothers that started this whole genre… A whole genre… of a different world. Alright and that’s all for today y’all. Thanks so much for watching and tell me what are your favorite Isekai shows? Let us know in the comments below! Be sure to like, comment… again. Subscribe press that **** bell icon and
stay tuned every other Friday for more video essays! Bye bye now… Gonna go back to my world now… YaHOO!

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