For the past two years or so, I’ve been reading a lot of light novels, particularly ones of the Isekai variety. Some may be wondering what is Isekai, and I believe I’ve read enough about the gimmick to explain it.
So what is Isekai? Basically, Isekai is a Japanese term for stories that take place in another word while the protagonist comes from this one. Generally, these new worlds are fantasy in nature or have completely different customs from the ones here on earth. I believe the reason for this is to give the writer freedom and express creative ideas that would otherwise not be possible. For example, you could have the protagonist be transported to a mystical world full of magic. Of course, you can do this in a regular fantasy novel that isn’t classified as Isekai. However, you lose that real life connection with the protagonist, and then suddenly everything isn’t that mystical anymore. The reason for this is the protagonist who is from the real world are bound by this worlds expectation. An example of this, is that you wouldn’t see people flying around or shooting fireballs out of their hands. Then when they get transported though, those previous established barriers set in their minds and the readers as well are shattered, letting the author experiment some more.
Aside, from just being a good plot device to shatter expectations, it’s also a good way to progress the story. I’ll be talking about general trends later, but Isekai is also good for world building, hence progressing the story by explain certain story elements. Otherwise, this could be quite hard to explain later. An example of this is something like magic, which would be common knowledge in a fantasy setting. The reason for this? It could easily break immersion, as the author has to explain common world knowledge to a character that should already possesses this knowledge. However, this can still be easily subverted in fantasy by making the protagonist a child. This makes the explanation about whatever that needs to be explained part of their character development.
Moving onto the trends of Isekai, there are generally two flavours of it. The first is world transportation and the second is reincarnation, I’ll be talking about reincarnation in a later blog. For now, in terms of world transportation, the most common application of this is in hero summoning stories. In stories like these, a hero or heroes are summoned from this world to fight some calamity. Generally the ages of these heroes are around that of a high school student, but that isn’t always the case and the story can also differ from time to time. However by the end of their adventure a demon is usually slain.
In fact, when the protagonist is middle aged or a young adult, the types of stories that can be told are much more varied. Like above, the protagonist can be a hero saving the world. But a much more common trend I see with middle aged heroes, are slice of life stories. In stories like these, the hero ditches their job and leads a more civilized life, usually because a more capable hero took their place. However, this whole hero archetype can easily be flipped and the protagonist is instead summoned by a demon or the like. Personally, I find these stories are a lot rarer and are either really light hearted or really dark.
The last kind of scenario I want to talk about is video game transportation. In stories like these, a character or characters gets transported into a game they heavily play, or sometimes another fantasy world. Usually these types of protagonist are overpowered and sometimes a Garysue/Marysue, which can leave the story bland but can be fixed with good character development and interactions. However, the goal in these types of stories are usually exploration or finding their way back out, sometimes a combination of the two. A really good example of a video game world transportation story is Log Horizon. In Log Horizon, it follows the trend of usually strong protagonists and the whole plot is to find a way home. In a way, Log Horizon is in my opinion the most textbook way a story can implement this kind of world transportation.
Overall, Isekai is a pretty large subject that I can’t cover in one blog. Next week, I’ll be continuing this topic talking about the second type of Isekai, reincarnation and the flaws with Isaki as a whole.