Every now and then there come characters who challenge conventions, or at the very least are a hotbed of controversy. There are discussions about them, but too often they fall into finger pointing, clout chasing, and talking PAST each other instead of TO each other. Last year, we were graced with Jobless Reincarnation, one of the best Isekai made, but also with it’s male lead. He’s one who has caused more than few mumbles and grumbles. What do I think though? Well, let’s cut through the bullshit and take a character into dive into the main character of Jobless Reincarnation: Rudeus Greyrat after the cut.
When looking at Rudeus and what he is, it is important first to understand what people have seen and digested for their Isekai leads for almost an entire decade. When people watch an Isekai anime, they normally see the same generic lead character. A normal run of the mill Japanese male, a bit of a social outcast, considered generically attractive, and who is kind, sensitive, understanding and, despite being surrounded by girls of varying degrees of interest. Is able to keep their libidos under control. There are of course exceptions to this rule, but 9 out of every 10 isekai leads probably follow that mold.
Jobless and its lead Rudeus Greyrat does not, and it is through that choice where most of the brilliance, and controversy comes from. Series Author Rifujin na Magonote makes the interesting call of having Rudeus be the usual shut-in NEET, but what it actually IS, and not what manga has shown viewers. Before his death and rebirth, the man who would be Rudeus Greyrat is shown in the worst possible light. The overweight, unshaven, perverted and pathetic man who skips out on his own parents funeral so he can jack it to porn that would raise more than few eyebrows. The man who would be Rudeus is not the classic Isekai protagonist: a run of the mill guy who just likes his game. Instead he is more of what Shut-in NEETS usually are, and there is little to make him redeemable. In a way it is Jobless throwing down the gauntlet and going “My main character is the trash scumbag otaku fan the anime industry has tried to sanitize. But guess what? You’ll actually like him by the time this is over.”
Something that I think is not discussed, but is a major factor in some of the backlash towards Rudeus (aside from his perversion), is that anime viewers have been raised on the concept of the ‘heel turn villain’. If you have watched anime, especially shonen anime. You know of this character: a former villain or antagonist, who being defeated by the main character, instantly becomes a good guy. Neji and Gaara from Naruto, Hiei from Yu Yu Hakusho, are just some examples of this. This heel-faced turn has become the norm for decades, and the slow road to redemption is rarely portrayed. After he is reborn in the world, we also see that despite getting a new chance at life, Rudeus transformation into a better person is not this heel turn. There is no magical switch flipped in his head, he suddenly does not become a better person. Instead we see Rudeus attempt to be better while still working through his own issues. The perversion, the creepy faces, the unsettling feelings towards Eris, Roxy and Sylphy are part of this. Rudeus’s mannerisms didn’t just vanish because he was Isekai’d into another world. They weren’t fixed just because he is in that new world. They were part of who he was, created from a horrible and traumatic bullying experience that would scar anyone. Such things can’t be purged so easily, because as they say in Cowboy Bebop: you gotta carry that weight.
Which is what Jobless, throughout it’s 24 episodes attempts to do. As Rudeus grows up he is given a chance to do right by himself. He learns, through his misunderstanding with Sylphy, his apprenticeship with Roxy, and adventure with Eris, that women aren’t just anime dolls. That they aren’t tools for his entertainment. He learns to respect them, value their presence, and hold himself back from his own attraction when it is not wanted. There are stumbles of course. Rudeus is always a pervert and will never be unable to stop liking boobs. He has his mistakes, some which are unsettling, but there is growth and there is maturity. But most of all there is self-reflection. His violent clash and then reconciliation with his father Paul is another example, where Rudeus decides to confront the problem head on instead of locking himself away. At the end of the story, after Eris has left him heartbroken, Rudeus decides not to lock himself away in his room, but step forward and keep this connections with his new family. Life can be full of wonder, but it can also be full of hurt. Knowing both is what makes a child into an adult.
But, is this to say that people’s views of Rudeus, who call him a pedophile and a scumbag are not valid? No I can’t say that. I am just one person and would never try to say my view is the correct one. I understand, and even agree that at times, Jobless and its depiction of Rudeus can skate too close to the ‘creepy’ side. The anime’s blunt and honest depiction of sex and sexuality, while refreshing in a genre so often playing it safe, can be too much for people. Does Jobless indulge at times in things that, for western viewers, have yet to fully come to terms with? Sure. Is it hard to separate the adult Rudeus from his new reincarnation when the adult voice acts as the series narrator? Okay. Can hearing that voice and seeing his face as a baby might be a bridge too far for people? Maybe. What about the comments the adult voice makes when he is with the other female characters? I can grant that. That is a valid position to take full stop, but one that I think is a short-sighted and sometimes knee-jerk reaction. Could the series have done more to drive it home? Probably. Should it have done more to demonize Rudeus’s more unsavory traits? Maybe. But the road to being a better person is long and arduous, full of mistakes and successes. No one gets it right the first time, but as long as they get it right, should that not be applauded? Should Rudy have to whip himself in penance each episode to get the point home? What would that accomplish, aside from trying to satisfy the people who quite frankly, will never be satisfied?
The modern isekai genre has been rightly criticized for being too samey. Too factory made, too run of the mill. It has been lambasted for telling the same story again and again. That for every ReZero or Tanya the Evil, there a million Master of Ragnarok, or Death March. Shows that play to the lowest common denominator, and don’t try anything new. I love the Isekai genre, but even I have lowered my consumption to only a handful because of how samey they are. Jobless Reincarnation seems in many ways tailored made to address those hang-ups. Maybe not in the way you would have wanted, but its slow burn and the long hard road Rudeus Greyrat goes on feels completely counter to what modern Isekai feel like. It’s not perfect, nothing ever is, but I feel it is something that should be praised for what it does right, instead of demonized for what it does wrong. Rudeus Greyrat’s road to being a better person is far from over, but it is one I am looking forward to watching, because ‘doing better’ takes actual work, is messy, and full of mistakes. But if that world can give him a second chance, I think we can do the same.
At least that’s what I think.