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Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari: Weirdly entertaining mecha harem

Been watching an episode of Isekai no Seikishi Monogatari here and there with some friends, and I must admit, I’m enjoying it more than it seems like I should be.

It’s a fairly hardcore fanboy-type show—a lengthy series of hour-long OVAs (boy, you never see that anymore) with surprisingly high production values, a blatant harem premise, and a boatload of fanservice.

The set-up is yet another insulting Tenchi Muyo spin-off not involving the actual Tenchi Muyo characters fans from the old days love. Here we have Kenshi Masaki, another Tenchi look-alike (though at least he has reason to, being a half-brother, unlike GXP‘s pointless-clone protagonist) getting sucked into yet another alternate world where he’s surrounded by oodles of attractive women with an inexplicable interest in him, plus some wacky magic-powered fantasy mecha to supply the action. About the only way to make it more generic would be if he had amnesia.

The series is certainly good looking; a wide range of memorably attractive character designs in the large harem cast, a decent amount of alternate-world architectural flavor, quality art, and relatively high-budget animation. And the world—which is either set in another time and place in the Photon universe, or borrows nearly every name in that show as well as the Ryo-ohki-substitute Koro designs—has plenty of interesting cultural twists, including a passably plausible reason for a large group of women being abnormally interested in one guy.

So that helps. It also starts out quite well; rather than the standard “guy gets sucked into alternate world on his way to school” setup that these things almost always have, it starts out from the perspective of the natives, who run into the transplant kid when he shows up working for the villain. That works because a) for once the hero didn’t just stumble into the good guys’ castle, and presumably had no idea that who he was working for was the villain, b) the world feels more “real” because our point of view starts there, while the Earth-kid is the one who feels out of place, c) it bypasses the whole “I’m in some crazy alternate dimension” section that we’ve already seen way, way too many times, and d) the hero is introduced right off the bat as being a serious badass and none too happy about what’s going on. He doesn’t even need some inexplicable reason for being really good at mecha piloting—he’s been here for a while, and presumably already got sufficient instruction added to general non-mecha-specific prowess.

So that’s a good start. Also breaking with tradition for a harem show is that Kenshi has more personality than the friendly everyguy intended to serve as a mental placeholder for the viewer usually does. He’s also anything but an average Joe—being from the Masaki household (and not female), he’s hyper-competent in pretty much every possible way. For once you can see why so many women would take notice of him.

He’s a badass both inside and outside a mecha, he cooks, he cleans, he builds, he hunts and gathers (yes, seriously), he’s polite, he’s relatively intelligent, he’s a fast learner, and he’s a dangerously good masseuse. A significant portion of the humor comes not from “what situation has the loser gotten himself into now” but the other characters wondering if there’s anything he’s not absurdly good at. I liked a hugely self-sufficient hero who is in no way unsure of his abilities for a change—sort of the anti-magical-girl. Him being a bit feral (Tenchi’s profession was a farmer, after all, so there’s precedent) is a nice touch, and he even unapologetically kills small animals with his bare hands because they’re tasty.

But that’s not really what’s most unusual about the series, either. What’s really surprising is that nothing happens. After the relatively dramatic, action-heavy first-episode, the next four—and that’s four hours of anime—consist of nothing but Kenshi getting familiar with a boarding school for the world’s rich and powerful and learning about the culture, or at least as much of it as pertains to their ritualized form of warfare based around ancient magical mecha.

There is essentially no action—a few sparring matches here and there—and the “plot advancement” consists of somewhere between 30 and 45 seconds of the pleasant teacher-with-secrets talking to subordinates about some plan he has that the viewer knows absolutely nothing about. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest, either—easily less than a minute per episode, which does nothing at all but remind you that there will, presumably, be a plot eventually.

And that’s why I’m so surprised; despite nothing happening but a mix of education and rampant fanservice, I’m actually rather enjoying it. (And no, not because of the fanservice—I’d have liked Kanokon and Popotan if that had anything to do with my criteria.) I’m guessing it’s because I’m a fan of well-realized alternate worlds, so I don’t really mind getting to experience this one in no particular hurry, and the general schoolyard hijinks/infighting/politicking is handled in a casual, consistently entertaining way. Come to think of it, the casual slice-of-wacky-life sections are one of the reasons I love the Tenchi OAVs so much, so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised. Fans of plot-driven anime would probably hate it, though something will presumably happen eventually on that front as well.

One other strength as a Tenchi spinoff: While half of me is annoyed that they stuck what is a completely unrelated story nominally as a branch of the Tenchi-verse, it drops a handful of very good in-jokes when Kenshi mentions his upbringing. Specifically brief mentions of his various sisters, and the fact that he was pretty frail growing up “compared to his family,” despite being obviously borderline-superhuman. That crew would make just about anyone feel frail. Also some funny offhanded comments when he suddenly realizes that, actually, space ships don’t exist in his world… so why did he grow up around one and didn’t think anything of it? The shadowy implied answer is rather hilarious to the Tenchi fan viewer, of course.

Anyway, the fanservice is pretty shameless, but it’s still entertaining enough to keep watching, and while the jokes are rather obvious there are still a number of good laughs.