Among isekai light novels, Mushoku Tensei is known as the series that set the standard for and defined the modern isekai. From the medieval fantasy world setting to the usually NEET loser protagonist getting hit by truck-kun to the elemental based magic systems, Mushoku Tensei is considered to be the progenitor of various isekai tropes that are popular in today’s shows.
So, when Mushoku Tensei Season 1 finally came out last year, it felt like I was finally witnessing the true potential of this genre when all these elements I had seen in other shows were being done to utter perfection. One of these elements was Mushoku Tensei’s meticulous worldbuilding.
In fiction, especially in genres like sci-fi and fantasy, worldbuilding is the creation of a detailed and believable fictional world. It is a highly important part of any story because worldbuilding provides the base on which the characters and the plot flourish.
Thorough worldbuilding allows a story to seem more real and plausible which makes it more immersive. Last semester in college, I had a co-curricular course called ‘Worldbuilding and Visual Storytelling’. In it we were taught the various aspects that help make a fictional world seem more believable, such as the ‘where’, the ‘when’ and the ‘rules’ of the world.
Although it seems to be doing nothing too original or fresh, Mushoku Tensei is an absolute masterclass on worldbuilding, hitting the nail on the head for each category. The show not only includes the various building blocks required to build a fantasy world but also executes them to utter perfection. Let’s take a look at how.
The first step of establishing a world is establishing the ‘where’ — the geography, the ethnography, and the physical setting of the story. In my opinion, this is Mushoku Tensei’s strongest point.
The show features a variety of different geographical settings, from the pastoral village of Buena where the show begins, to the harsh desert of the Demon Continent. Each kingdom and region is unique and by focusing on even the smallest details, the show makes sure we get to know each of these regions quite well.
Natural features, architecture, form of government, food, family structures; no aspect is left untouched in Mushoku Tensei, making sure every single region Rudeus goes to feels real and believable.
The production team literally even made up an actual fictitious language for this show, and there are a few episodes that are basically fifty percent in that language!
Any creative writing course on the planet will teach you about knowing when to ‘show’ and when to ‘tell’. Mushoku masterfully strikes a balance between the two, focusing more on showing in order to make the world feel organic and to not burden the viewer with heavy exposition all the time.
The background art is meticulously detailed and each different region has its own unique look, from the buildings and natural features right down to the clothes the inhabitants wear.
One particularly ingenious way in which anime does this is through its openings— or rather its decision to not really have any. While the credits are shown and the song plays, the visuals simply feature gorgeous shots of the region that the Mushoku Tensei characters are currently in.
Mushoku masterfully saves time and enriches its worldbuilding by ‘showing’ what its world looks like, what the people look like, how they live their lives, and what the landscape and creatures look like through its openings.
Mushoku treats all its physical settings with time and attention to detail, which really makes them come alive.
Next comes the ‘when’ — what point in time does the story occupy? This involves the world’s history and its lore.
While we have not gotten too much information regarding this in the anime so far, the foundations for an extensive, rich lore has already been set up. There have been several mentions of past historical events such as the Great Human-Demon War.
We are given a sense of how these past events have shaped the world the show is set in. Every race and community in the show is given their own ancient history, like the fearsome Superd for example.
Through this and brief encounters with characters like the hitogami, Orsted, Kishirika, and several other mythical, god-like beings, the world of Mushoku has already established a long, ancient history for itself.
Additionally, none of the lore is presented to the viewer through overly heavy exposition. We are given small, scattered tidbits which only increase the viewer’s curiosity. Through just its first two cours, Mushoku Tensei has already succeeded in making its viewers insanely curious about its world’s history and lore.
The architecture and technological level of a world is also important in establishing its place in time. Mushoku is set in a vaguely medieval time and it remains consistent to this setting throughout.
The detailed clothes, customs, weaponry and tools of each region do a good job of convincing the viewer of the plausibility of such a medieval world existing.
Just like how our world is governed by laws of physics and chemistry, it is important for a fictional world to have rules and laws according to which it works— especially when it comes to magical aspects and power systems.
The magic in Mushoku Tensei, like most of its other fantastical elements, is nothing too new or special; it features simple elemental control, healing, summoning etc. and is based on mana and incantations.
However, once again, because of the attention to detail and well defined rules placed around its magic, the show succeeds in making it seem very grounded and believable. Magic is depicted as a very grounded art and science— something to be learned slowly through studying and training .
Although Rudeus is shown to be insanely talented, he is not your run-of-the-mill OP, invincible isekai protagonist. In episode one it is revealed that he can cast magic without incantations; two episodes later it is revealed that he isn’t really the only one.
Rudeus has to learn magic through rigorous effort, which adds greatly to how grounded and believable it seems. Overall, the magic system is quite well structured, with different types and levels and once again we are introduced to it slowly— in fact most of the show’s first cour deals with Rudeus learning magic.
There appear to be mechanisms behind how each of the fantastical elements of this world function. Through the protagonist’s interactions with the hitogami, we are given hints of how even his reincarnation has certain reasons and motivations behind it.
The already great worldbuilding of the show is only enhanced by the stellar production value. Studio Bind, the studio behind Mushoku Tensei, was apparently brought together for the sole purpose of adapting this series and it shows.
It’s clear that great care has been put into making this show as breathtaking as it is. Nothing is rushed, no flashy gimmicks are required and the show immerses you with its relatively moderate pacing.
I can already tell that this is going to be a pretty long series, but 23 episodes in and I am already heavily invested in its world. After a long time, Mushoku Tensei gave me an anime fantasy world that I truly want to know more about and see more of.