As much as we all like to joke about “Truck-kun” sending every isekai protagonist on their magical reincarnation journey with one convenient crash, the reality of the situation is that an innocent person tragically died at a young age. While they’re busy having the time of their life as an overpowered protagonist in a fantasy world, their friends and family are left to mourn their death without so much as a goodbye. Most isekai anime just flat out ignore this aspect or say that the protagonist was a shut-in nerd with no friends, but we’re here today to discuss one of the few shows that actually do address the world left behind – Spring 2020’s My Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom. Let’s get started!
Why Come Back to the Real World?
The classic hero’s journey template has the protagonist enter a world completely unlike their own (whether literally or just symbolically), learn from their experiences, and return to their previous humble life with newly gained perspective – see Magic Knight Rayearth, Banana Fish, most shounen series, etc. But modern isekai is usually presented as pure escapist fantasy, where the new world is so much cooler than the boring old world that the protagonist would be crazy to even think about going back. However, there’s actually quite a bit of value in acknowledging the original world.
Zombieland Saga, while not technically an isekai, draws most of its character development from the zombie girls facing the reality of their deaths. Saki and Lily have surviving friends and relatives for whom they indirectly provide closure, Junko reconciles the vast differences between her experiences as an idol in the ‘80s and the industry now, and Sakura grapples with the fact that she can’t remember her past at all. Yu Yu Hakusho does something similar, where Yusuke realizes how much the people in his life actually cared for a punk like him when he witnesses his own wake. And even the comedy isekai Hataage! Kemono Michi shows that Genzo’s sworn rival Mao is lost without him, so when he’s presented with an opportunity to come to the fantasy world as well, Mao jumps at the opportunity. Not every isekai needs to do this, but it can be a fantastic tool for worldbuilding and character growth.
Of course, sometimes this idea isn’t implemented well. The Master of Ragnarok and Blesser of Einherjar, for example, has the main character chat with his not-girlfriend in the real world every now and then for no apparent reason other than to give him an excuse not to pursue his harem of incredibly thirsty fantasy ladies. If an isekai anime returns to the world left behind for the sole purpose of avoiding an R-18 rating... it’s not really worth it.
Why the Acchan Subplot Works
In My Life as a Villainess, a young otaku dies in an accident and is reincarnated as the villainess Catarina Claes in her favorite otome game, Fortune Lover. Her bubbly personality and determination to avoid doom flags change the whole course of the game’s story, transforming rivals and potential enemies into dear friends who love her unconditionally. However, a few scattered moments show that her best friend from the real world, Atsuko (usually referred to as Acchan), misses her terribly and struggles to live without her.
In episode 11, Catarina wakes up as her original self in Japan and tries to make the situation work for Acchan’s sake, but has the nagging feeling that other people must need her somewhere else. Acchan, who has seen some of Catarina’s new life through the eyes of the bookworm character Sophia, realizes that her friend belongs in the Fortune Lover world now and beckons her to return. As they say their final goodbyes, both girls feel a sense of closure and can move on with no more guilt. This subplot works so well not only because it’s set up properly in previous episodes, but also because it fits in perfectly with the show’s theme of transforming lives through genuine friendship. Plus, it gives Catarina newfound determination to face the antagonist in the final episode!
Remembering the world left behind can be a powerful story beat or just a lame afterthought depending on how it’s used. But we think that My Life as a Villainess has one of the best written versions of this idea yet, and we’re excited to see other isekai anime give it a try in the future. But what’s your opinion? Do you think the Acchan subplot is as great as we think it is? What other isekai anime acknowledge the original world in an interesting way? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!