What is Isekai? [Definition, Meaning]

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Definition

As level 2000 Otakus, I’m sure that by now most of our readers know that Sekai simply means world in Japanese. The “I” in Isekai is simply a modifier that causes it to mean another world or parallel world. It typically involves the protagonist of the story being transported/reincarnated/hired into a new world in which he/she (but usually he) is some massively overpowered being. Our dear protagonist proceeds to curb stomp on anything getting in his way. Humorous hijinks ensue and the clichés will start to abound throughout the story. There is much to explore about Isekai, and here at Honey’s we want to go to another world with you!

Setup

Every story needs a setup to begin with. In an Isekai story, our protagonist needs a reason to go to another world. He could have died a tragic death and be reincarnated into a new world. Or perhaps he was summoned as a hero by a failing nation in order to rebuild their national power. Maybe he was transported by the Goddess of the Isekai who simply wanted an avatar to their name. Some premises have our protagonist be hired by a weird shady company that wants to test drive some game concept, and does so in the manner of plopping a random punk into a fantasy land. Really, it doesn’t matter how, because the author simply needs an excuse to transport our random Japanese Otaku into a new land, where he can most definitely be the hero instead of getting killed within seconds.

Manga: Death March kara Hajimaru Isekai Kyousoukyoku

  • Episodes: 4
  • Aired: Mar 2014 - ???

29 year old programmer Suzuki has been pulling multiple long shifts to get his game out as soon as possible. He finds himself tired and takes a nap, but wakes up in another world altogether. Due to his extremely fortunate usage of the three time use power “Meteor Shower”, he wipes out multiple god-like existences at once, propelling him into an absurd level. He tries to hide his level and live a peaceful life in the new fantasy world, but that’s not going to happen.

Death March is a perfect example of “Setup? What setup?” when it comes to Isekai stories. The guy literally falls asleep in the middle of work, wakes up in a fantasy land and proceeds to coincidentally become super high level. Where did it come from? Will we ever know? Is he even interested in finding out the origins of his powers? Simply put, the setup of an Isekai story isn’t important. An author simply needs an excuse for the protagonist to move house to a new world. At the same time, that lack of caring about the setup makes a strange amount of sense, because the point of the story is the Isekai, not the old world.


Cheat

1. Obvious Cheat

Most of the time, the protagonist gets rebirthed/reincarnated/transported into a new world with a very obvious cheat. That cheat could either have surfaced with the protagonist after his transportation, or be given by some god-like entity that was responsible for him moving house. This obvious cheat can vary in different forms. The most common type of obvious cheat is the “Protagonist is MAX LVL”, like the one demonstrated in Death March. Other obvious cheats can be things like access to game mechanics, unparalleled magical ability or perhaps some god-tier equipment.

How could things like plot or story exist in a world (or an Isekai) where the protagonist can literally dance across the graves of his enemies because they all died the moment he blinked? As with all things, it depends on the execution. Some stories rely on comedy, wherein the protagonist is completely unaware of his own power and causes those around him to reel in terror, whilst he just seems to be taking a stroll in his perspective. Others try to introduce similarly overpowered characters that were also transported from the same world, giving the protagonist some form of opposition. Either way, without that hook, the story simply falls flat on its face. Hence, Isekai is something that is easy in concept but hard in execution.

2. The Fake Flaw

More rarely, authors try to imbue the protagonist with a trait that seems like a flaw at first glance. It either makes the protagonist really weak, or his trait is so much weaker compared to the cheats of the other reincarnates that he might as well not try. This can surface in many forms. The protagonist could have stats lower than that of a goblin, or an ability that has a huge drawback. However, it is all a clever (read: not really) disguise by the author. The flaw is actually a cheat in hiding, and when the protagonist thinks up a clever way to utilise it, he is suddenly curb stomping everyone around him, reverting back into the Obvious Cheat type of hero.

Manga: Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari

  • Episodes: 5
  • Aired: Feb 2014 - ???

Iwatani Naofumi, along with 4 other students from his class are summoned to become the heroes of the kingdom. Each hero is themed in accordance to the equipment they were granted upon their summoning. Iwatani received what is perceived to be the weakest, the Shield. As the Shield Hero, he is ostracized and looked down upon by those around him. Eventually, he is betrayed and left destitute. In his anger, he swears revenge against those who have left him in this state.

This is the perfect example of the Fake Flaw type of hero. Iwatani gets plenty of examples of what the real cheats are, that being the weapons of the other heroes. On the other hand, he gets what is touted to be the worse equipment a hero could get, a shield. However, we are all well versed in the art of tropes, so without spoiling anything, it is abundantly obvious that he doesn’t remain weak and finds some weird way to use his shield that makes him way more powerful than anyone thought he could. He also wrecks the rest of them easily. As if that wasn’t obvious enough.


Plot

What is a plot? No really, we would like to know, because after delving into so many Isekai anime/manga, we’ve lost the plot. Or, we’ve forgotten what a plot is. So our dear protagonist gets transported into another world? Great. He has some super power? Awesome. What does he do now? Surely there is some reason for his power. Oh he has to kill the Demon King. Fantastic. Does he do that? No he spends literally all the air time screwing around in the adventurer’s guild pretending to be the lowest level scrub possible. Or maybe he’s just humorously terrible.

Anime: Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!

  • Episodes: 10
  • Aired: Jan 2016 – Mar 2016

After dying what many would call a shitty death, Kazuma Satou, a NEET, finds himself in front of the Goddess, Aqua. She offers to send him to another world on a mission to kill the Demon King. In exchange, Aqua will provide him with any cheat item or power that he desires. Thinking that he’s a real clever guy, Kazuma chooses to bring along Aqua. As it turns out, she’s completely useless. Unfortunately, that’s not the end of it for him. He continues to experience trouble in comedic fashions. Ah but that is just God's Blessing on This Wonderful World!

Konosuba perfectly exemplifies the question of “There was a Plot? Where?” when it comes to Isekai stories. After being transported into a new world with the mission of defeating the Demon King, Kazuma does the complete opposite and holes himself up in the beginner town. He signs on as an adventurer, but does nothing but beginner quests. Despite the array of skills available to him, he chooses to pick-up a skill that lets him steal panties from girls. This continues on ad infinitum. It really doesn’t go anywhere, but it is really funny to watch. That’s part of the hook we mentioned earlier. For real though, what plot?


Just Give Me a Reason, Just a Little Bit’s Enough

So why do we enjoy Isekai as a concept so much? It’s evident that Isekai is something that is widely enjoyed throughout the world, because there are so many renditions of it these days. While we have been subtly dissing Isekai as a concept throughout our article, we genuinely enjoy Isekai. That’s the only way we could make fun of it so easily. However, just what is the reason we all love Isekai so much despite its many flaws?

Like Excalibur in Fate/Stay Night represents the dreams of warriors, Isekai represents the dreams of every level 2000 Otaku. Which Otaku hasn’t thought to himself, “Oh I want to be a mage in XXX fantasy world and shoot fireballs everywhere?” Whether it be a form of escapism or a genuine love for the source material, we have all wished to be in an Isekai at some point of our lives. It is a romanticized version of how we imagine ourselves performing in another world, but it’s all in our heads, so it’s fine right? When we read or watch Isekai, we can imagine that we are that fellow who has transported into a new world. We can pretend that we are having as much fun as they are in their new found freedom. And maybe, just maybe…it’s possible that it will one day happen to us as well.


Conclusion

Isekai will continue to be popular as long as we harbour the wish to be transported into a fantasy land. When so many viewers hold such a thing so dearly to their hearts, it is obvious that a concept based on that very wish will be extremely popular. Here at Honey’s, many of us also want to express that we have this wish. Perhaps one day, we could all go to another world together. Until then, let us make merry and be happy with what we have; Isekai anime and manga!

Which Isekai do you want to be transported to? Let us know in the comments below!

Aria

Writer

Author: Aria

Hi, this is Aria. I have abandoned the 3D world for the 2D one. Occasionally I leave the 2D world to write my thoughts down. With that said and done, it's time for me to depart once more to the forbidden world, my waifus await.

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