Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Takashi Watanabe
Streaming on: Funimation
We have gotten a lot of isekai over the last decade. And I mean a lot. Considering the genre as we know it was popularized and its conventions set in stone by the smash success of Sword Art Online in 2012, we have gotten heaps of isekai of every shape and size. Those that play it straight, like Shield Hero, those that give it a twist, like Slime Reincarnation, or those that deconstruct the genre, like Re:Zero.
Despite this complete oversaturation, I still enjoy a good isekai. When you’re this familiar with all the tropes and gimmicks, turning one on is a lot like an old sitcom you watched as a kid. Even it it’s actually rare for an isekai to be traditionally good, there is a degree of comfort to seeing yet another average person get transported to a JRPG style fantasy world.
I also happen to be a nerd; sorry if you thought this blog was run by somebody cool. The kind of nerd who enjoys the menu navigation and mastery that actually constitutes gameplay in a JRPG. Personally, stories about governance and logistical maneuvering can be every bit as fascinating as beam clashes and spiky-haired boys with large swords. I don’t think my taste is unique in anime, far from it, it’s that kind of anime we’re talking about today.
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom is an isekai that dares to ask, “what if our protagonist wasn’t good at swinging a sword?” while ignoring the dozens of isekai where the protagonist is not good at swinging a sword. Then they asked, “what if he liked budgeting?” and the boardroom full of execs went wild. Well, time to see if the Realist Hero can balance the books of his own anime.
That realist hero is Kazuya Souma, an eighteen-year-old who gets summoned to another world in order to…pay off a kingdom’s debt to another kingdom. Okay then. On a continent terrorized by the demon king’s armies, the kingdom of Elfrieden must pay for their protection, and has chosen to do so by summoning a hero in order to pay their debt.
Except Kazuya doesn’t feel like being sold as chattel, so he offers to take a look at the kingdom’s budget and see if he can pick up enough money in order to keep them afloat. He more than succeeds, and almost the moment he solves the kingdom’s financial crisis, the king abdicates and gives Kazuya both the throne and his daughter to marry. That’s the kind of upward mobility we mean when we talk about the American Dream. You work hard as a kingdom accountant for all of two weeks, and then you instantly become king yourself. Hard work does pay off.
Kazuya chivalrously declines to marry a girl against her will, which charms her, because nothing is sexier than consent. However, based on the many, many women in the opening lineup, I can use my isekai whisperer powers to tell you this is going to be a harem. I’m just hoping that man-lion thing in all the promotional material isn’t going to be involved.
And that’s pretty much the first episode. They spend a lot of time on things like Kazuya’s grandfather telling him to start a family, being super chill about his imminent death so Kazuya doesn’t have to go to the other world with any baggage. You know, Kazuya, buddy, you’re allowed to at least look upset when your grandfather dies. No? Okay, moving on.
Realist Hero’s visuals are a mixed bag. The character designs are underwhelming, considering the majority of the female cast has the same body type, none of them are especially noteworthy. Kazuya himself has his picture right next to the word ‘milquetoast’ is the dictionary. I’ve seen this guy in a dozen other anime this year alone, so you’re going to have to try a little harder.
There’s some interesting direction here and there, camera angles I didn’t expect from your typical isekai, and some smart shot composition. There’s also just some strange musical choices; ordinary dialogue scenes or simple Kazuya working over some documents got unexpected tracks. It wasn’t exemplary, usually, but the unorthodox compositions made a forgettable scene a lot more memorable. I will say at the very least for Realist Hero that the creators definitely wanted to do something unique with it.
There is some good lighting, mostly in the first scenes on earth; it almost disintegrates once he gets to Elfrieden, which is a shame. The background art is stunning, but they don’t do enough with the concept of the other world in that art. You can create this world from the ground up, with all kinds of weird architecture and scenery that we’ve never seen before, and you just make the same starting town from Konosuba?
The art is also not the most consistent. There’s an adequate baseline of quality, but it is brought down by abrupt dips in the fidelity of character animations and a lot of rough in-betweens slip through. That’s not the end of the world, but they become increasingly obvious as the show goes on. There’s promise here, but it all screams of a half-measure production.
And we get to the point where the Realist Hero is utterly divorced from reality. For a series that is predicated on pragmatism, it throws any sense of consequence or cause-and-effect out the window. They almost completely gloss over how Kazuya turns a national economy around seemingly overnight. He’s a high school graduate with no outstanding skills or abilities, and you’re telling me he did this with everything he learned in his economics class?
The only thing we’re told about how he did it is that he sold esteemed kingdom heirlooms. Is that it? That doesn’t make Kazuya seem intelligent, it makes the king and his advisors who are supposed to know things look like idiots. You’re telling me you had a mountain of valuable jewels that you were just holding onto while your people were starving and your country sank into debt?
And then, the king is so impressed that Kazuya understood basic supply and demand that he gives up his throne and daughter with no hesitation. Despite the fact that this family has ruled Elfrieden for centuries, there is no political or social upheaval when the king abdicates in favor of a random kid who just showed up. Kazuya hasn’t so much as played a game of Civilization before, and people are just falling over to let him climb to the top of the food chain.
And there is no work done in order to make this believable. If you want me to buy that he can apply real world economics and civics in this fantasy world, you have to show me that this world governs by similar rules. People don’t take kindly to unqualified foreign children showing up and taking the throne, but you’d think everyone was okay with it. And if a king has resorted to summoning randos from across the universe to pay his debts, do you think that he hasn’t tried hiring a guy to audit the royal budget? No? Why would he, anyway?
How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom just spits on everything that it claims to want to do as a story. It’s smart in the way that it relies entirely on you being braindead in order to believe the crap it’s peddling. There was genuine potential for a writer to explore this concept, and it’s wasted because they wanted to do another anime where a bland guy gets a bunch of girls and is smarter than the old dumb guys who are in charge.
Combine that with underwhelming visuals, flat characters, and a dull world of no interest, I wonder what the appeal is supposed to be. If you’re looking for a self-insert isekai to escape to, there are so many of those already with fantastic animation and engaging action. I don’t think many people daydream about being a bureaucrat, so why are you trying to turn this story into an escapist fantasy?
The Realist Hero is not a particularly good isekai, either as a gimmick or as a straight interpretation of the classic portal fantasy. It doesn’t do any particular thing well, and when you half-do everything, you wind up with nothing. Thus, I denounce it with perhaps one of the most severe labels in my reviewing repertoire, Boring Mediocre.
I didn’t realize these summer reviews would get to be so negative, not that I’m complaining, hate clicks count as clicks all the same. In the comments below, I would ask that you submit a much better isekai for consideration, or perhaps you could do it over on Twitter, @ExhibitionOtaku. Until next time, thanks for reading.