I enjoy shonen, slice of life, romcoms, and more when it comes to anime. I really don’t like to box my interests into the confines of one genre, but my absolute favorite is the 7/10. To define a 7/10, I want to be clear that it is not a bad thing. The numbered reviews passed around nowadays treat anything below an 8 as a bad review, but that is not how math works. A 1 is utterly irredeemable, a 5 is just okay, and a 10 is a masterpiece, so when I call something a 7, I mean that is good.
A 7 is a nice little corner that media can occupy when it’s good but doesn’t break new ground or flout conventions. It’s the highest level of art that can be done without being radical or knocking most categories of judgement out of the park. When I’m watching anime, I don’t always want something dark and philosophical, littered with gore and heavy hitting questions. Sometimes you just need a dose of light and breezy, the anime equivalent of empty calories.
Obviously dark 9/10s are great, but a 7/10 just hits different. Popcorn anime, or something you can sit down and not have to think too hard about, is an underrated movement. When so many series beg for the audience’s emotional investment in its world and drama, a good popcorn anime just asks that you watch it while being able to scroll on Twitter every once in awhile. And one of the best examples of that recently is That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime.
[This will contain minor spoilers for the first season of That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime]
For the sake of brevity, I will be referring to the series and light novels it was based on as Slime Isekai from here on. It is a good example of a nice popcorn show, as it is carries a decent enough of name recognition to be used as an example, while it has a second season airing this month. From the title, you probably know the plot, but the series doesn’t take long to complicate things.
Satoru Mikami, a middle-aged salaryman, is killed in a freak stabbing and reincarnated as a slime in another world. He starts off slow, discovering his ability to absorb the abilities of other creatures by enveloping them, as well as hearty resistances to most elements he gained while dying. As he absorbs plants and creates healing potions out of them, he begins to realize that slimes in this world are crazily overpowered, or they would be if they were an intelligent species. Satoru, as the sole intelligent slime, has a tremendous advantage right out the gate.
However, he soon stumbles upon Valdora, the storm dragon, sealed away in the caverns Satoru has found himself in. Valdora was a menace to the outside world, so three hundred years ago, a hero locked the monster away, and well, it’s been a lonely couple of centuries, and he needs a friend. Satoru obliges, and the dragon names his new friend Rimuru Tempest, which unwittingly gives Rimuru a tremendous power boost. A new problem arises, as Rimuru’s new friend is slowly running out of time before the magic seal holding Valdora drains the remainder of his power and kills him.
Using his ability to absorb other life forms and learn about their composition, Rimuru proposes to absorb Valdora and the seal, keeping his friend safe inside him while Rimuru learns more about the magic and a way to set Valdora free. Valdora accepts, and Rimuru absorbs him, also conveniently gaining the powers of an ancient dragon before he has even left the starting area. Now he sets off, both to find a way to free his friend, as well as to have many adventures so as to have enough stories to tell Valdora when he frees him.
The story is incredibly simple from here, as Rimuru journeys out into the world and recruits new allies, initially unaware of his immense power level. He takes a village of goblins and a pack of direwolves under his wing, as well as a clan of ogres after their village was pillaged. This makes for an interesting dynamic where the isekai protagonist’s main goal is just to go around making friends and doing good in the world. It’s a surprisingly wholesome take on the genre.
Since Rimuru is overwhelmingly powerful right off the bat, it defuses most of the tension in his fights. There’s still other people out there who need to fend for themselves, so the battles with the Demon Lord’s armies mostly feel like the fights in One Punch Man before Saitama shows up, and Rimuru only gets stronger after he absorbs each subsequent foe. It’s also reminiscent of One Punch Man as Rimuru early on gains a mask that hides his power level, allowing for his enemies to be surprised as one of the weakest monsters in the world turns out to be a demigod.
The humor in Slime Isekai is quite similar to Overlord, like Ainz Ooal Gown, Rimuru has also stumbled his way to a position of supreme power and authority in another world, and he often has to fake it till he makes it, lest his underlings realize he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It rides the line between the darker aspects of Overlord, and the crueler comedy found in Konosuba, because while Slime Isekai is aware of all the tropes, it really isn’t interested in making its characters the butt of the joke. Usually.
Rimuru’s goal of acquiring as many friends as possible allows the cast to be wide and varied, and it rarely settles down in one spot for too long (even though the first arc is literally about making a village to settle down). If you don’t like the goblins, or you think the lizardmen prince is a stuck-up doorknob, then good, because you don’t have to tolerate any member of the cast for too long. Still, the majority of the characters are endearing enough that it won’t be an issue.
To start off, Rimuru is one of the most charming and likable protagonists in isekai. He’s an otaku and had a dry social life back on earth, but it rarely holds him back or causes him to behave in a cringe-inducing way. The worst parts might be the elf bar pictured at the to of the article, but for fan service in an isekai, that’s downright tame. He’s a bit of a perv at times, but considering he doesn’t even have genitals, he can’t really be piloted by his hormones. On top of that, he’s a pretty clear cut good guy who just wants to help, and that doesn’t make him boring.
Personally, one of the most important aspects to a popcorn anime is that the art style complements the easy tone, and yet be serviceable. Interesting enough to hold attention, but not so distinct as to distract. It’s hard to sit down and waste an afternoon watching Devilman Crybaby, but you could do it quite easily with Shield Hero. Slime Isekai’s art style is anime generic enough that it has a comforting and familiar feel, but the characters and world are creative enough to not bore.
The character designs are clean and colorful, drawing on the long history of JRPGs, showing a clear passion for the classics of Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. The color palette of the whole show is bright and cheery, which suits the overall mood. It’s not an action-oriented series, so the majority of it is spent in dialogue and exploring the logistics of governance in a fantasy world.
That doesn’t mean that the series has subpar action, to the contrary, the minimal need for movement means that a majority of the studio’s time and budget can go towards the rare fight. As Rimuru prefers to use diplomacy to solve his problems, Slime Isekai is well prepared for whenever he encounters someone who isn’t so disposed towards negotiation. Since there is only a fight every couple of episodes, they can be as fresh and visually appealing as the rest of the show, while being clean and well-choreographed.
Slime Isekai uses a storybook style of background art as well that lends more of a traditional JRPG aesthetic than could be accomplished just by throwing in slimes and other hallmarks of the genre. The picturesque scenery makes this an isekai world that you might actually enjoy being transported to. Let’s be fair, the majority of isekai worlds suck, whether it’s because you Return By Death or you got saddled with a useless goddess, masochist paladin, and loli pyromaniac. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case, since the whole idea of portal fantasy is escapism.
Slime Isekai is a light affair with plenty to sit back and enjoy, but it is rarely heavy enough to be a commitment. I appreciate three course meals, but there’s always going to be room on the table for potato chips. This essay is the first of several to come out discussing the many anime that are getting season twos in Winter 2021, although you could technically say that I have already begun with the previous essays on Attack on Titan and Beastars. This is just the first time that I actually put my mind to covering most of the returning shows.
That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime does have the potential to get lost amid the bigger and more dramatic shows, I don’t think many series have a chance to dominate when they’re playing second fiddle to Re:Zero and Attack on Titan. But it’s a genuinely cute show with a lot to love, so it deserves a bit more promotion. It might not elevate itself high above the rest of the seasonal anime, but there’s always going to be a place for a good 7/10.