Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Season 2 has reminded me about my biggest hang-up with the series as a whole: Rudeus is a grown man in a child’s body and pursues relationships with other children. This issue is by no means new to anime (especially isekai anime, sadly) but rarely does a series center its main character so much around it. Rudeus is a pervert both in the conventional sense that he acts like a creepy old man even as a baby but also in a broader, thematic sense. His growth as a character is rooted in his learning to contend with abandonment, which is very familiar to him, as well as feelings of love and affection, which were wholly foreign to him in his first life. By all rights this should be an unblemished story of someone finding themselves and doing so amidst a very difficult life in a world that never becomes completely known to him. But, even when the plot attempts to move with a bit of depth its impossible to forget that a constant creepy age gap and a secret 40 year old serves as its foundation.
Spoilers ahead for Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Season 2 through episode 4. This article additionally contains discussions of grooming, problematic age gaps, and (briefly) sexual assault.
Why Immaturity Isn’t an Excuse
Point blank: Rudeus is a predator / lolicon / word that sounds like PDF file and Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation continuously brushes it aside. His predatory nature from the very beginning of the series is a gag. Before we even get a handle on his backstory, and therefore his underpinnings as a character, Rudeus makes a first impression ogling his new mother’s and maid’s breasts despite making it explicitly clear that he lacks the physical capacity to actually feel sexual attraction. This, in the very first episode, cements him as perverted for perversion’s sake. It’s not that he’s constantly oversexed or turned on—his mind is just vile. A defense I see annoyingly often in forums equates this tendency toward perversion as simple immaturity. Rudeus was a complete shut-in during his first life, was bullied in school, and died the moment he was forced to leave his trash-filled nest of a bedroom so this is believable to some. The problem here is that Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation cuts against this characterization in the same early episodes that most people started buying into it.
A key aspect of Rudeus’ upbringing is that he is shockingly mature for his age. This doesn’t just extend to surface-level maturity like having good manners; Rudeus demonstrates emotional maturity above his own 20-something year old parents during spats and even gets his short-fused father to apologize to him like he’s the parent. Rudeus has the wherewithal to navigate social situations as a child despite never leaving the house in his first life and never leaving the area near his house as a child. He’s born into a noble family, has a private tutor (more on Roxy later, don’t worry), and is incredibly talented from the jump. He has every opportunity to mature and even starts off decently mature—but still is irredeemably perverted. Rudeus is explicitly a genius, has had years of time to mature as a person and develop, and reads texts that certainly would boost him as a person given how much of his exploration of magic was introspective. He’s even aware enough to have knowledge of his own coping mechanisms and understand the extent of his negative emotions.
If anything, the fact that he isn’t growing away from his gross tendencies doesn’t fit with the rest of the plot. He explicitly remains conscious of his poor traits from his first life and tries to shy away from (most of) them. The sexual bits somehow don’t make the cut there and are ignored. This is one of the other major issues with this aspect of the story: perversion and predation are either excused or waved away as jokes. Rudeus’ father assaults women and it becomes a joke. Rudeus spies on people and it becomes a joke. His teacher is over 30 years old, conveniently looks like a 13 year, and Rudeus prays to a shrine of her underwear for years. None of this had to be the case.
How the Critical Elements Are the Most Cursory
Even if Rudeus had to be a pervert, for whatever absurd reason, he didn’t need to be one that pursues children or operates along uneven emotional hierarchies. The girls that, thus far, he’s had some level of sexual interaction with are both either 14 or 15 and demonstrably immature, at times even for their age. Their attraction to Rudeus is rooted in his acting as a caretaker and savior for them. He originally was meant to tutor Eris and ended up teaching her magic and protecting her, in ways saving her from the forced identity of a boring noble and giving her the opportunity to become more of her own person. Sara is more or less a shallow clone of Eris but is even more childish and only agrees to sleep with him after getting incredibly drunk. Sylphy originally met Rudeus because he saved her from bullies and also taught her magic. He meets his love interests through a hierarchy where he is the higher one in every case with the exception of Roxy. Even then, his prodigious talent and good deeds years later make her look up to and admire him. It’s almost as though she looks like a kid to make him seem like less of one in comparison (their first exchange is literally pointing out how small they both are!). All of these romantic and sexual ties have this sort of grooming vibe to them. Roxy is the only case where the love interest isn’t jarringly young but, again, she conveniently looks 13 anyway.
To me, the most frustrating part is that it didn’t need to be this way. The plot of Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation could have been broadly the same. Rudeus’ perversion takes up so much time in season one that even those who have no problem with it have to admit it’s gratuitous. Cutting half and replacing the rest with other gags (something as simple as being more unwilling to perform physical labor or clean due to his years of slob life) would work. His love interests and himself could very easily have been young adults. In the same way that anime involving college students can and do work just as well as anime centering high schoolers, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation could have made Rudeus’ initial aging up simply go a bit further without incredible amounts of work. At the very least, the extent to which it’s highlighted in the story doesn’t need to be as extreme. The Seven Seas Entertainment release of the series’ light novels controversially had somewhat heavy-handed version of this involving localization changes that removed mentions of Paul sexually assaulting Lilia and a scene where Rudeus gropes someone in her sleep. The series’ fanbase, which was already quite large even before that official release, spotted discrepancies between the unofficial and official translations and made enough noise for the company to respond. These changes were eventually reversed with novel re-releases and aren’t made in the anime. This all isn’t to support those changes—modifying authorial intent is generally not a publisher’s place. Seven Seas deemed content too gratuitous from the standpoint of commercial viability; readers and watchers (of which there are clearly many) should question the story roots that generate such content.
The teams behind Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation worked on Sword Art Online, GATE, and RE: ZERO as well as many other incredibly strong anime. And the fundamental qualities of this anime show it; art is great, voice acting is stellar, and even oft ignored details like lighting and music are very well done by isekai standards (some of these shows are just cashing in, let’s be real). This is one of the first shows I’ve seen a while that captured a magical, medieval setting without forcing me to strongly suspend disbelief. Hell, an entire studio was created solely for the purpose of working to bring the light novels to life as an anime. Even if the series wanted to explore darker elements endemic to a medieval time period, especially related to war and assault, it could do it better than reducing both to gags. I know it can do better because it does do better; Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation tackles death and the mental burden of killing with care so I know it can do the same elsewhere. There’s so much there that is so excellent and it’s constantly colored by a main character that isn’t even consistently awful as a person.
Looking Forward for Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Ultimately, this is (obviously) not enough to stop me from continuing the series. At this point I think I’ve become desensitized enough to these kinds of things in anime that at worst I write a frustrated article about them. But, also because I’ve seen so much anime, I constantly have simple alternatives to poor aspects of a show racing through my mind. Every week I watch a new episode and silently hope to myself that this will be the week Rudeus just…stops. Or that his sexual pursuits switch to romantic and sexual interests born from organic, incremental attraction. I loved the dynamic he, Ruijerd, and Eris had and his crass sexual pursuit of the latter tarnished it for me.
My take on Rudeus being a predator isn’t a new one, but I feel that a lot of the discussion around that take misses the mark. People argue over whether the series is worth cancelling (in the meaningless social sense, not the literal one) or deriding for having a character like Rudeus at its core. They debate the specifics and semantics of problematic age gaps (a debate whose mere existence sort of makes one side a winner). Those same people don’t ask themselves the question of if the plot could still function without these qualities. I believe it could. I don’t believe it’s solely a question of “is this a big deal” but also a question of “does this ambiguously-sized deal really add anything worthwhile in the first place.” We can all argue until we’re blue in the face over whether something is barely bad or extremely bad. But when the “thing” doesn’t need to be there at all I think the argument becomes moot and the reaction shifts from ire to sadness. This series could be much stronger and this element truly holds it back.
Screenshots via Crunchyroll
©Rifujinnamagonote/MF Books/”Mushoku Tensei” Production Committee