The elephant in the room in another world: Analyzing Isekai Tropes and how to Deconstruct them

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Why do they so often end up in a pseudo medieval European world? There are many interesting historical periods in different parts of the world. The 1st Final Fantasy that interested me enough to play to the end was X, partly due to the southeast Asian setting.
There are actually few historical/fictional periods that make a good setting for adventuring.
Like Mythic Greece, exploration of the world in Age of Sail, Pirates of the Caribbean, or Wild West.
And if you get too close to modern world, you start feeling just how much of a bastard you are. Like post-Soviet USSR is a good place for adventuring, but it's all criminal kind of adventuring that hurts common people. I suspect even fighting Indians in the Wild West would be too much for modern people.
At best, you can reskin one of those periods to get something like "Wild West in SPAAACE!!!". Not that there is anything wrong with that - there are some fine anime like that.

There are far more periods where one can be a heroic soldier or revolutionary, but it does not have the feeling of freedom that comes with being an adventurer.

I have given this a lot of thought, because I am also a tabletop RPG game master, and I did want to bring some change to my games.

Another limitation for isekai stories, is the meaningfulness of having an isekaied protagonist. There is little meaning in having Ordinary Japanese Schoolboy going to 90s Russia,when the protagonist could have been an Ordinary Russian Schoolboy. And any differences in personality can be chalked up to individual personality. Again, the closer to the real world, the less meaning tehre is in an isekai protagonist.

All that said, I'd like to see more isekaied protagonists who end up as pirates. With the whole crew of the ship as their harem.
 
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There's a good deal of complaining about the homogeneity of the genre (which doubtless has fed into this issue where the titles for the series get longer and longer, as if to become synopses unto themselves), but the fact that throngs of authors jump on these obviously profitable trends should be indicative of what the genre is seen as being for.
It should be noted that a lot of the things mentioned in this thread are already long out of fashion, and the rest are also steadily being triangulated away from. Presumably, at the end of the process, it will finally be the death of isekai. On just a slightly longer term manga could end up like European comics, but then generative AI will upset everything soon.
 
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This thread is kind of exhausting to read, but hilarious to look back on. Some of the ideas are good tho.
 
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Why are you defending Isekai tropes in a thread titled "Analyzing Isekai Tropes and how to Deconstruct them"? You're not doing much analyzing here.
I am not defending tropes. I am defending genres. People's complaints about tropes often turn out to be complains about the genre. When you look at them, they all mean "stop having fun, guys!".

Yes, I get these tropes exist because money. That doesn't make these tropes any less stupid and unoriginal. I don't watch much horror, but I hear that genre suffers from tropes as well. What makes tropes obnoxious is their overuse, and authors' refusal to try something new. They can be present in any form of media.
There is a lot of different things authors do with fantasy tropes. There are works that are clearly reactions to popular tropes or even specific works. But you'll never understand it if you refuse to see the genre behind the tropes.

This thread is supposed to be about looking at these tropes in a different light, tearing them apart, and understanding how to change them to make them more entertaining, realistic, or even just unique. All you've done this thread is wave these critisms away with "it is what it is". You've offered almost no analysis of these tropes yourself and
Analysis includes understanding why the tropes work, and in what context the tropes work. Yes, I am explaining how to make tropes more realistic. Actually realistic, as opposed to some authors' idea of "realistic" that means the world is an unsustainable grimdark dystopia.

displayed zero willingness to change the genre, satisfied with the Isekai genre remaining the same for eternity. I've tried to ignore it, but at this point I must ask: do you actually like the state Isekai is in right now? The same cookie cutter story of guy gets reincarnated, gets some powers, gets a harem, and gets overpowered?
There is no meaning to changing the genre. If you don't like power fantasy - don't write power fantasy. If you don't like slice-of-life, don't write slice of life. Don't demand that all power fantasy works suddenly stop being themselves.
In my experience, all sorts of genres start with MC being isekai'ed. Some get to kick ass and take names and marry all the girls. Others get to open a potion shop and grow wealth and connections. Yet others use their gifts to improve the world or participate in politics.

Don't tell me all isekai is cookie-cutter - it just makes it obvious you have not seen the true breadth of what the premise has to offer.
 
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I am not defending tropes. I am defending genres. People's complaints about tropes often turn out to be complains about the genre. When you look at them, they all mean "stop having fun, guys!".

@TGN did have a point, though. It's a mistake, in a discussion about "Analyzing [and Deconstructing] Isekai Tropes", to place too much emphasis on negative criticism and positive defense. That's a distraction. Better to examine the genre and its cultural context, analyze what we perceive, and consider the implications.

Deconstruction purports to be a weapon, a tool that strips away distracting surfaces, exposing the hidden "contradictions" and assumptions built into texts in order to challenge the power structures they reify. Which is kind of a lot, tbh. But deconstruction can also be applied in a more neutral and casual manner by those attempting to understand things not only for what they present, but also for what they mean and how they function.

If "a cigar is just a cigar" (per Freud), then little of any substance can be said about it. I refuse to accept that. Nothing exists in perfect isolation, as itself alone. Everything -- be it a smoke, a story, or whatever -- is part of the larger world. There must always, therefore, be at least some value in the analysis of contextual implication.



So, beyond the self-evident,
What Is Isekai?

Luckily, it's a generality! Deconstruction is typically applied to specific texts, requiring the identification of specific terms, tropes, passages and patterns for microscopic analysis and blah blah blah. But since isekai is a general term for an entire genre's worth of texts, we can deconstruct it (or pretend to) in lazy, broadly general terms without offering much by way of support for our arguments. So easy! Let's go!

HEREIN CLAIMED:
  1. Almost all isekai stories are escapist fantasies. I don't mean that they reflect Tolkien and FRPGs (though they usually do), but rather that they offer readers a vicarious escape from their everyday lives into a pleasurable fictional imagination-space.

  2. In other words, the genre is inherently self-reflexive. In order to be effective, isekai stories must "isekai" the reader.

  3. The reader's identification with the protagonist of an isekai story is critically important. Ideally, the reader will think, "I would love to be in that situation, and if I were, I would feel, think and act just like the MC!" The more attractive the fantasy, and the closer the reader's identification, the more pleasurably complete the vicarious escape will seem.
That's roughly how "the average isekai story" works for "the average reader", so far as I can tell. And with that mechanism in mind, we might proceed to analyses of common genre tropes. For example:
  • Male MCs and readers
  • The preordained hero and ridiculously OP "cheat skills"
  • Video games, power fantasies, and narcissism
  • Grinding (killing) to increase power
  • Humans, monsters, race, and the right to exist
  • Conflict between clear-cut good and evil resolved by violence
  • Whiteness, conquest, and the pseudo-European yesteryear of the post-Tolkien fantasy genre
  • The male obligation to "protecc"
  • Harems, slavery, virginity and rape
  • Game mechanics as life rules
  • Ostracism and revenge
  • Truck-kun
  • Etc., etc., etc.

I'm not really attempting to deconstruct the genre here. I'm just offering a starting village and mapping a few adjacent sites for possible exploration. It could, I think, make for an interesting discussion...
 
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@TGN did have a point, though. It's a mistake, in a discussion about "Analyzing [and Deconstructing] Isekai Tropes", to place too much emphasis on negative criticism and positive defense. That's a distraction. Better to examine the genre and its cultural context, analyze what we perceive, and consider the implications.
I do not have much to say about the philosophical diatribe you're presenting here. But I'll treat it as an introduction to an interesting discussion.

So, beyond the self-evident,
What Is Isekai?
isekai is a general term for an entire genre's worth of texts,
I feel that we have arrived at a fundamental disagreement right from the start. Maybe it's the difference in worldview.
To me, "isekai" is a trope applicable to a wide range of genres, and a heartwarming slice-of-life story about a fantasy alchemist has more common with modern-day slice-of-life stories like Azumanga Daioh than with a story of bloody revenge of a fantasy summoned hero (which is more similar to revenge stories like Count of Monte Cristo than to any kind of fantasy story outside of the genre of bloody revenge).
In the end, "isekai" is just a way to introduce a specific kind of hero, who is both cunning and a fish out of water, to a fantasy setting.

  • Male MCs and readers
Are overrated. With the advent of "otome game reincarnation" stories, women are taking isekai for themselves.
And stories like "Kumo desu ga, nani ka" and "Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear" show that isekai protagonist doesn't have to be male to attract male audience.
  • The preordained hero and ridiculously OP "cheat skills"
This is just the way the tried and true trope, "The Chosen One", looks like when combined with isekai and game fantasy. An ordinary japanese schoolboy summoned to a fantasy world can't compare to professional warriors and mages of the fantasy world unless he is somehow extraordinary. And so, if he is to be a hero, or at least survive, gods need to give him an extra doze of blessings.
That said, it's rare to see a "cheat skill" that can legitimately be called "ridiculously OP". For example, "growth cheats" are unfair to the locals, but they enable the work to progress at a pace that keeps things interesting, without excessive need for level-grinding.
  • Video games, power fantasies, and narcissism
  • Grinding (killing) to increase power
Killing to increase power is something the genre has inherited from early (but no the earliest) editions of Dungeons and Dragons. To me, this is the marker of the difference between video game fantasy and ordinary fantasy.
This trope has been persistent in games, because it's easy to implement and easy to understand. Skill-based progression, like in Elder Scrolls series (Morrowind, Oblivion, Skyrim) is a lot harder to program, even though it makes a lot more sense. And milestone-based progression is too artificial and not RPG enough.

To me, the prevalence of video game fantasy is a sign that young people, more familiar with video games than books, are now a major force in fantasy writing.

That said, even many Japanese fantasy novels feel it is artificial. They often make it that killing increases one's raw power, while skill is something that needs conventional training. And these days, some works have a videogame-like system appear in a modern world, and cause apocalypse. Not zombie apocalypse, but system apocalypse, with greedy munchkins roaming the streets and doing whatever they can to become stronger.

This reply is getting too long. I'll comment on other things later. I should comment on Dragonlance series of novels (that were written at the time where killing monsters for experience was the new thing) which was certainly based on a RPG, but that do not display any of that artificiality that plagues modern video game fantasy, but I'm running out of steam.
 
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I feel that we have arrived at a fundamental disagreement right from the start. Maybe it's the difference in worldview.
To me, "isekai" is a trope applicable to a wide range of genres, and a heartwarming slice-of-life story about a fantasy alchemist has more common with modern-day slice-of-life stories like Azumanga Daioh than with a story of bloody revenge of a fantasy summoned hero (which is more similar to revenge stories like Count of Monte Cristo than to any kind of fantasy story outside of the genre of bloody revenge).
In the end, "isekai" is just a way to introduce a specific kind of hero, who is both cunning and a fish out of water, to a fantasy setting.
Good point. But I don't think it's such a fundamental difference. It's largely semantic.

I should have said that isekai is the Japanese word for a very common narrative trope, and that "modern isekai" is a 50-year-old genre of Japanese fantasy fiction built around the trope.

The trope can't really be deconstructed as a thing in itself, but we can deconstruct the texts (or genres) in which it appears.

[Male MCs & readers] Are overrated. With the advent of "otome game reincarnation" stories, women are taking isekai for themselves.
And stories like "Kumo desu ga, nani ka" and "Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear" show that isekai protagonist doesn't have to be male to attract male audience.
It's still a male dominated genre, but I grant your point. These avenues of inquiry are only interesting to the extent that they interest you.

I'll save the rest for lated because, like you, I'm a little burnt out :sleep:
 

TGN

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I forgot to respond lol. Thanks to Beep for reminding me about this god-forsaken thread

If you don't like power fantasy - don't write power fantasy. If you don't like slice-of-life, don't write slice of life. Don't demand that all power fantasy works suddenly stop being themselves.
This neatly summarizes the entirety of your points. I am not demanding that all subgenre stop doing whatever they want. I am pointing out that many works contain tropes. No, I don't think about this everytime I watch Isekai. It's just in a thread titled "The elephant in the room in another world: Analyzing Isekai Tropes and how to Deconstruct them", I found it exigent to deconstruct those tropes.

Isekai works can do what they want; they can tell whatever story they want; they can have whatever world they want. But if you were to turn your brain on for than more than 5 seconds, then you would realize that many of these works had similarities that kept cropping up. Perhaps, if you will, tropes. This is not necessarily bad or evident of poor writing. It's just that when every work starts having these parallels, it comes off as a tad uncreative. And the viewer must consider if there's any alternative to those correlative story elements. And those alternatives could be discussed and assessed in many places, such as a thread titled "The elephant in the room in another world: Analyzing Isekai Tropes and how to Deconstruct them".

For a long time, Magical Girl works were mostly the same: they were all happy-go-lucky with little existential threats and the adorable little magical animal mascot. If your arguments were to be transcribed to this, you would be arguing that that is a perfectly acceptable state; that that is what authors intended for and was realistic. And that's fair, there were no inherent problems in the worlds of those works and they had carried a message that the authors wanted to convey. However, it is undeniable that those were tropes. Then, Puella Magi Madoka Magica was released, and it told a magical girl story with a completely different tone and style. It divulged from the overused path of previous works while not debasing the value of them, instead acting as a new way the genre could be told. That is what needs to happen to Isekai. It needs to evolve lest it become more stale than it already is (Ironically, Madoka Magica isn't even a deconstruction, more of a reinterpretation).

In case you haven't noticed, the title of this thread is "The elephant in the room in another world: Analyzing Isekai Tropes and how to Deconstruct them". Did you catch the key word? "Deconstruct". It is not asking for a general defense of Isekai tropes. It is not asking for justifications of these tropes and why they make perfect sense. It's asking for critical thought to placed on these tropes -- thought into how these stories can be made unique, idiosyncratic, and not rely on decade-old premises. This is not done out of spite, it can be done out of a whole-hearted desire to improve the genre and to see it grow. For the last few months, you have been on a metaphorical Titanic, bucketing out water and going 'this is fine' in your complete refusal to acknowledge any problem whatsoever. You can make bingo cards out of how many tropes are in modern isekai. Here's a few:
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Pick any recent isekai (I recommend the hot garbage that is A Playthrough of a Certain Dude's VRMMO Life". Very creative title right there), and watch the bingos flow in. That's not to say these works are bad (though the one I cited is totally mid), it's just as a fantasy work there isn't much fantasizing going on in the author. You don't need to defend these tropes, a good written work can use these tropes effectively. One such work is The Eminence in Shadow, which is abundant in tropes yet plays off them creatively to be original. So please, stop. Stop trying to say how a trope makes sense in-universe, that they're realistic, that that's what authors wanted, that that's what's profitable, that I'm a buzzkill, that there's no problem at all. You are fundamentally misunderstanding what the elephant in the room is and what a deconstruction is. The elephant, is that these tropes are overused to high hell. Not that these tropes necessarily make no sense, but that their usage indicates that the genre has become stagnate, so popular that innovation has gotten stuck in a deadlock.


To quote OP, "this thread is for Collecting Tropes you find issue with, Brainstorming ideas of how to potentially deconstruct these tropes and get some cool concepts out." If my language wasn't enough of an indicator, I am sick and tired of you stifling that last portion by never giving an inch to any potential alternative. Though it seems the more mature Beep is managing to get your brain gears turning a bit (though I haven't bothered to take the 10 minutes to read through the posts made since my last reply).
 
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Good point. But I don't think it's such a fundamental difference. It's largely semantic.

I should have said that isekai is the Japanese word for a very common narrative trope, and that "modern isekai" is a 50-year-old genre of Japanese fantasy fiction built around the trope.
Both works I described as part of "isekai" are much younger than 50 years old, and even younger than Azumanga. I'm not referencing Strange Dawn, Inuyasha, Aura Battler Dunbine or any other work written before the modern tropes were established. You would have no problem identifying them as "isekai", yet they are more different from each other than from other works in genres they actually belong to.
I was thinking about "Cheat Kusushi no Slow Life: Isekai ni Tsukurou Drugstore" and "Nidome no Yuusha", but both have plenty of similar works with "isekai" start.
 

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