To say that anime is currently saturated with the isekai genre is like stating that the ocean has a bit of water in it. It's technically true but it fails to truly grasp the scale of its presence. And by and large, these isekai anime are woefully inadequate or reductively similar to one another, either trying to be a carbon-copy ripoff of Sword Art Online, or being a massively boring overpowered, oversexed power fantasy.
And while both of these can absolutely be fun in the right setting or the right mood, it does leave me hungering for something that feels a little different, especially when I want a story a little lighter in tone or less oriented towards overpowered magical harem fantasy.
It is with such a desire that I find myself immensely grateful to have discovered By the Grace of the Gods, an isekai adventure slice-of-life that released its first season back in 2020; with plans for a second season announced June 2021. When I first saw this anime, I didn't know what to think, initially believing it to be something along the lines of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, or another slime-oriented isekai show (its a little amazing that is such a prevalent subgenre). But what I got instead is a relaxed, grounded and immensely intelligent and heartwarming adventure of a young man's journey to find his place in a new world and heal from a past lifetime of pain and suffering.
But enough of my waxing poetic, let's get into what exactly about this slice-of-life isekai do I find so enjoyable.
- Directed by Takeyuki Yanase
- Produced by Maho Film
- Number of Episodes: 12 (as of August 12, 2022)
- Available on Crunchyroll (Sub & Dub)
Ryoma Takebayashi is a corporate drone whose has had a life that is filled with hardship and grief. From cruel bosses and co-workers to an abusive father and the tragic and painful death of his mother, Ryoma's life has been one horror after another. Despite these tribulations, Ryoma remains a gentle, courteous and brave-hearted individual. As a result, when Ryoma accidentally dies in the middle of the night, he is introduced to three gods from another world.
They explain that Ryoma's suffering was the due to the meddling of Earth's god and that they would like to offer him the chance to reincarnate as a child in a new world, filled with magic and wonders. They give him no task or assignment but to live a good and wholesome life filled with joy. With his new task given, Ryoma wakes up in a world and discovers he is capable of taming different monsters, with a particular aptitude for slimes.
From there, Ryoma will begin a heartwarming adventure, meeting new friends and discovering where his place is in this new world.
By the Grace of the Gods is an exercise in relaxed anime design. Watching this series, I am constantly struck by how down-to-earth the characters are, and at how well the cute and polished animation goes with tone and emotional focus of the episodes. The show never really turns away from its slice-of-life focus, with even the occasional moments of action being played largely for humor or as an opportunity for Ryoma to do something cool with slimes. It's actually rather refreshing to have a character who is super-powerful but mostly interested in relaxing and enjoying himself rather than saving the world.
All in all, the character designs maintain a childlike aesthetic and keep to very vibrant colors (even goblin caves and a literal city septic tank stay comparatively bright and richly colored). This vibrancy and move away from gritty isekai is really refreshing and helps By the Grace of the Gods stand out.
Because of the general lack of action sequences that usually make up an isekai series, By the Grace of the Gods has to rely on the quality of its characters and their relationships with each other to earn audience engagement. If the characters were annoying or unlikable or the relationships felt too forced or unnatural it would undermine the quality of the series. Thankfully, this is not the case.
Ryoma is the absolute epitome of a sweet-hearted character. In both his old life and new one, he is seen as gentle, helpful, and with an overwhelming capability to overcome any challenge. He is someone who almost never complains about his struggles, which as we see the lengths of terrible things that happened to Ryoma in his past life, only makes us feel for him more. The strength of his character is such that one of the most powerful and heartwarming scenes in the entire show is Ryoma coming home after a hard day of work doing an adventuring assignment to find his new adopted friends/family stayed up all night to wait for him; just like his mom did in his past life. It's an incredibly powerful scene and only works because we really believe that these characters care for one another.
The other major protagonist is Eliaria Jamil, the daughter of the local duke, who befriends Ryoma after they find him in the woods. She is cute and her desire to be a great summoner immediately makes us root for her and ties her instantly to Ryoma as a deep friendship. The two have a sweet and childlike friendship that is so pleasant and innocent that you can't help but wish the best for both of them. The show does make a few jabs at romance and shipping them, but is always aware to remind us that they are, at the end of the day, children. This focus on family and friendship over power fantasy and harem ecchi moments is refreshing and really helps me engage with the series.
Beyond our two main protagonists, we also have the Dukes household (including his guards and staff), the local Adventuring Guild, and the Laundromat's staff. These three groups make up around 95% of all the characters presented in the show (not including slimes). The fact that an not insignificant number of episodes in this first season are focused on the logistics of establishing a laundromat and running it, and its actually quite fun, speaks volumes as to just how different this show is to other isekai, where by the end of the first season, the MC would be surrounded by at least 4 different women obsessed with him and have a massive mansion that's all his own, likely with the ears of nobility just a little bit away.
We also have our three gods, who just seem so nice and fun and genuinely thoughtful and caring towards Ryoma, which given his past life and the trauma involved feels like a balm on a burn. I was afraid that we would meet the god of Ryoma's world, that felt like torturing him, but we thankfully didn't have to deal with him at all. So that's one less thing for me to worry about.
The one element that actually drew me to this anime, and the element that I found myself most intrigued by was the way that it handles slimes. Slimes in By the Grace of the Gods are treated as the ultimate evolutionary creature, evolving based upon whatever it is they consume to be better at consuming it. The science and logic is extremely well done and I found myself constantly intrigued by Ryoma's experimentations and explorations to uncover more slimes. I was actually disappointed when he summoned and tamed other beasts because I thought having a slime specialist was a fun idea.
Oh well, maybe I could make my own story with a character that can only tame slimes. It's a thought and I do find myself excited for future slime discoveries in later seasons.
Musically, the show doesn't have a lot going on, but it does have a single scene towards the end, dealing with the Limur birds that is beautiful to watch and listen to. But ultimately, the anime uses its music to enhance the relaxed feel of the show, a job for which it is effective but not exactly memorable.
Finally, the show has a rather peculiar ending. Most shows end with a massive battle or a major plot progressing anime moment that satisfyingly ends the show whilst hinting at potential later seasons. By the Grace of the Gods doesn't do that. Instead, the major plot point is Ellaria heading off to boarding school and Ryoma preparing himself to remain in the town that the Duke's family was staying in. It leads to a series of rather sad instances between Ryoma and Ellaria that are, thankfully, mitigated by a promise for them to meet up in a few years time.
It still stings and leaves the anime ending in a calm breeze rather than a blistering finale filled with pomp and circumstance. But maybe that was exactly what this show needed.
By the Grace of the Gods is a wonderfully relaxing anime with a fun and imaginative bit of world-building that makes the audience just as excited to learn more about the world Ryoma is. With wonderfully charming characters and a mature and relaxed story filled with generally intelligent and kind people, this show is a breath of fresh air in an anime environment filled with evil overlord, corrupt kings and bureaucrats (the anime has these but they aren't Ryoma's focus or issue to deal with, remaining in the background).
I cannot wait to see the continuing "adventures" of Ryoma and see if his relationship with Ellaria will stand the distance now between them.
FINAL SCORE - 8/10
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