Mushoku Tensei has been a controversial anime ever since it started airing back in 2021, and you will find two big factions for and against the show, with both sides having valid points. To understand if the anime is worth the hype it's getting, we have dissected the anime and analyzed it part by part. So with that said, let's get started.
The Plot and Setting
The story of Mushoku Tensei is set in the medieval era with a touch of magic elements. Before his rebirth, Rudeus, also known as Rudy, was a 34-year-old NEET who was kicked out of his house by his siblings after his parent's death. Without any money and a place to live, he is forced to introspect his life choices. While contemplating his life, he stumbles upon a speeding truck coming straight for a group of teenagers, and in an attempt to do something meaningful for once in his life, he saves one of them but unfortunately collides with the truck and dies there.
Well, for any isekai character, this is a golden ticket to the fantasy world with a harem waiting for you, and that basically categorizes Mushoku Tensei. As expected, he is reborn as Rudy and decides to live a better life than his previous one. Although one would expect he would automatically get cheat codes as an otherwordly protagonist, that doesn't happen with Rudy.
While he does have the upper hand with his previous life experience, it isn't that useful in this new world, and there is more to it than it seems. Unfortunately, although the story does involve a few of Rudy's struggles with the new world, it seems as if all of them disappear out of the equation with convenient plotlines. Due to this, his character development doesn't feel genuine. In the end, you can't really separate the story from its protagonist, and whatever potential the storyline has is overshadowed by the perverseness of Rudy.
The Main Character and His Development
Rudy is the main character who gets a second chance to redeem his life, and most of the fans are waiting for him to change. There is a reason why Rudy becomes a shut-in - he dropped out of school after being a victim of severe bullying, and I kid you not, that was some scary stuff he dealt with. Even in his current life, he is not over that trauma, and the creators have done a marvelous job of expressing it.
Rudy is revealed to be talented in magic since infancy, so his parents hire Roxy, a traveling mage, to be their son's magic tutor. Despite her earlier reluctance, she realizes Rudy has the potential to become a prodigy, and so she takes him as her student. Part one of the series deals with how Rudy develops a liking for magic and works hard to be an expert. Later in the series, he meets other important characters like Sylphy, who is half-human and half-elf, and Eris, an aristocratic heiress. All three of them are obviously members of his harem.
Throughout the series, Rudy grows little by little and understands what it means to have a family. He is shown to be a persistent and caring character despite the shortcomings of his perverse personality. Retaining memories of his past life doesn't give him the ultimate cheat code but gives him some advantage. He starts from scratch and learns how to wield magic, thus displaying that he is changing from being a degenerate into a well-developed human.
The first season merely showcases the tip of the iceberg into Rudy's entire persona. This makes it difficult to say if the anime is worth watching for his character development, as right now, he doesn't seem to inspire the audience.
Art and Visuals
Irrespective of mixed reviews regarding the show, I feel the most promising feature of the show is its visuals. The art is really well done; it gives the audience a perfect picture of the medieval era. The aesthetic appeal of the show is just chef's kiss. I mean, this is exactly how I pictured a rural life. The art style gives you a feeling of nostalgia, and personally, I recommend that viewers watch at least some episodes to appreciate the art.
Generally, people (Like me) skip the OST, but Mushoku Tensei makes it hard to do so as the Opening and Ending songs are a part of the scene, and trust me, it's really good, and the animators really like to flex on us that they have a great team of artists. The world-building of Mushoku Tensei is quite interesting, and the author even created a new language to depict the difference in species within the fantasy world, which is another reason to watch a few episodes.
Why Is Mushoku Tensei Hated?
No matter how great the visuals and the other technicalities are, Mushoku Tensei still receives hate from the fandom. The biggest concern of people is the casual portrayal of sensitive issues like rape, grooming, sexual assault, and sexual harassment. In fact, the anime has, time and time again, used sexual harassment as comic relief.
The initial few minutes are a giveaway to the protagonist's character as he is presumably masturbating to R19 loli content on the day of his parent's funeral. As mentioned earlier, Rudy is mentally a full-grown adult in a child's body, and since the start, he has taken complete advantage of his appearance. He perfectly fits into the mold of what people call 'trash' in real life.
Even as a baby, Rudy engaged in perverse behavior that left the audience with a bitter taste in their mouth. As if stealing underwear and sexualizing his mother wasn't enough, Rudy fantasizes about doing the deed with his teacher, who looks like a child, and friends who are literally prepubescent kids (Yep, it's pretty much-glossed up pedophilia). His sexual fantasies become the show's focus most of the time, and it irks the viewers.
While Rudy still has the body of a child, his mentality is that of a sinister adult. Overall the plotline and visuals are pretty interesting, but the protagonist's actions are the main problem, and you can't turn a blind eye to them.
Other than Rudy, another character that will get on your nerves would be his father- Paul. He is a complete goner but then again, considering the era the show is built in makes you hold your anger back. Polygamy was common back then, but this man is just a cheater. He doesn't care about morals or values, and molesting is an everyday activity for him. And the most frustrating thing about this anime is that all of this inappropriate behavior is forgiven, and the characters disregard it completely.
Is Mushoku Tensei Worth Watching?
Nonetheless, everything is not black and white, and this anime has tried to stay in the grey area since the start. Like the bullying aspect, for example, the anime picks up some dark topics and dwells on them. Furthermore, the title indicates that Rudy's second life is like his redemption arc and the story's pacing justifies that he is changing.
Unlike other fanservice anime, the show has been pretty open about its portrayal of sexuality and desire. In fact, some fans believe the show stays true to the medieval setting with themes like child marriages, etc. But it isn't easy to look past the objectification of every female character in the show, especially children. Many viewers have also argued that the female characters in Mushoku Tensei exist just to serve the lustful intentions of the main character.
In the initial episodes, Rudy is traumatized after witnessing somebody being decapitated and realizing everything is real and not just a game. If we leave the perverse side of Rudy alone, he seems pretty human and not just a two-dimensional figure. His trauma and perspective of the new world give the story a deeper meaning. It depicts the change of the once peaceful life of the main lead becoming grotesque will killings and blood.
Another interesting take on the show claims that Rudy is never meant to be liked as the fundamental plotline is about a degenerate dealing with his past life struggles and growing as a person. Due to the constant bullying, it's obvious that he has never interacted socially and has developed a twisted perspective towards females through his only so-called reliable sources of porno. His perversion serves as a medium to show that he's one awful character who learns the way of the world the hard way. When you look at the anime objectively, you can identify the intentions of each scene.
It would be weird to see him become a goody-two-shoes right after his reincarnation, as humans don't really function that way. Although he tries to be a Chad and is often successful, there are glimpses of minor regrets, and he still has a long, long way to becoming a decent human. In other words, he is trash but a biodegradable one.
He is indeed uncomfortable watching the events unfold, but like most fans, I too hope that he overcomes his flawed sense of dealing with females and understands that his actions are messed up and is remorseful about it. After all, most of us want him to be a better human, and who doesn't love good character development?
So that leaves us with the question: is Mushoku Tensei worth watching? It depends on your subjective tastes and how far you can handle sensitive issues. Regardless, I recommend giving the show a shot till episode 3 and then stopping if his perverse actions are a deal breaker for you.