Will (non-Isekai) high fantasy anime ever make a comeback?

Will (non-Isekai) high fantasy anime ever make a comeback?

Isekai has undoubtedly taken over anime and is now perhaps the most ubiquitous genre in the medium. Involving ordinary people transported or reborn into fantasy worlds and situations, said worlds are usually those of a medieval nature, particularly evocative of fantasy RPGs. Unfortunately, this killed the traditional fantasy anime market.

Once very popular in the 80s and 90s, fantasy anime consisted of sprawling adventure epics. With the rise of isekai, however, this unfortunately started to diminish more and more. Fantasy anime is almost entirely comedic isekai, and that’s unlikely to change.

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Old school fantasy anime were far more serious than today’s Isekai

Parn defends Deedlit in Record of Lodoss War

Some modern anime fans may not recognize the older fantasy titles in the medium, but they certainly know the name Berserk. This dark, gritty and violent series is known for how grim it gets, and while the others aren’t as gory, they are somewhat similar in scope and tone. Similar to Western fantasy novels, these anime depict epic clashes between warring clans or heroes undertaking legendary missions. Two examples are Record of the Lodoss War and Tower in Druagaboth based on series inspired by tabletop RPGs.

Elves, dwarves, and vile wizards abound in these stories, and that may have been the problem. Remixing tropes and archetypes that had already become trite in the West, there was a definite need for something new to keep the concepts interesting in anime form. Likewise, many of the grittier fantasy OVAs were in the same vein as the similarly brutal cyberpunk OVAs and manga of the 80s and 90s. These eventually fell out of fashion, and it was a genre very closely associated with anime. So it’s no surprise that daily high fantasy needed a major overhaul. In the end it got it in the form of stories in another world.

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Satoru and his friends in That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime.

Mid-90s anime adaptation The Slayers was produced. This fantastic anime was more lighthearted than Lodoss War and especially similar ones Berserk and even Bastard!!, and the trend began. From then on, fantasy anime as a whole, whenever they were made, were more light-hearted shonen-style adventures.

By the 2010s, this fantasy anime increasingly consisted of isekai franchises. This makes sense, given that so many of the isekai franchises have worlds based on the same RPGs that have been influenced by classic fantasy light novels and manga. The main difference is usually a dishonest sense of self-awareness. The characters, reborn from the “real world”, understand that they are now in a world similar to their favorite board games or video games. Above all else, these shows are comedies, many of which make fun of video game mechanics or make fun of how funny their own reincarnations are.

Then there are the elements of isekai that perhaps draw the most criticism: harems and power fantasies. Many isekai stories have male characters who are reborn into a world where they are suddenly surrounded by beautiful, large women. On top of that, they usually have powers or techniques that put them above those they encounter. Examples include the overpowering “hero” of Overlord and even Rimura who seemingly surpassed him That time I was reincarnated as a slob. These concepts obviously appeal mostly to young men who consume these stories in the form of light novels, manga, and anime, which explains why so many isekai anime are produced each season.

In contrast, true fantasy anime are now few and far between, which may be why they’re rough Goblin Slayer made such a mark when it was turned into an anime in 2018. Other shows of its kind in the past 10 years include remakes Berserk and Bastard!!, the first of which was of notoriously terrible quality. Being so serious and more appealing to those who would normally read the likes of Tolkien, George RR Martin, and other high fantasy authors, these shows simply lack the same mainstream appeal as the “blockbuster” nature of isekai. Until the isekai trend ends, this will only continue, leaving the abundance of epic fantasy anime as a relic of the 1980s and 90s.

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