Posts Tagged ‘isekai’

The Witcher books by Andrezj Sapkowski are a prime example of dark fantasy.

You’ve probably heard the term “dark fantasy” thrown around to describe different kinds of stories, and the simple definition given when asked what constitutes dark fantasy is “fantasy but darker or grimmer.” And yet, that doesn’t seem to fully encompass the subgenre or quell debate on what dark fantasy is. I’ve heard people say all horror that has to do with the supernatural as a kind of dark fantasy, or that the line between the two is very thin. Even authors who are known as dark fantasy writers have trouble pinning down a definition.

So while I’m no expert myself, I thought I would ask, “What is dark fantasy?” Especially since depending on the definition, my stories could fall into this genre on occasion.

And in the course of my research, I did come across some things. While an exact definition isn’t agreed upon, there are some things that fans and writers can agree upon. For example, both TV Tropes.org and Fantasy Book Fanatic.com agree that dark fantasy is fantasy (no duh), but unlike high fantasy or swords-and-sorcery fantasy, there is a much grimmer, more ominous tone to the stories. While in other subgenres of fantasy, gods can be clearly defined as good or evil or maybe just neutral, gods can be very evil or at best cruelly ambivalent to humans. If they show up in the story at all, that is.

Likewise, magic is a neutral force at best, unlike magic in Harry Potter or the Force in Star Wars (which is a fantasy element in science fiction). Magic may even be the source of corruption that creates the villains in the stories, and could be considered a necessary evil or even the source of evil itself, needing to be rid from the world. As for heroes, there are a distinct lack of heroes in the world, and at best you get anti-heroes or mercenaries. Anyone who could be defined as a “hero” may be filling the role reluctantly. They’re doing this not for some noble goal like saving the world or defeating an evil warlord, but for revenge, their own goals, for profit or because they haven’t been given a choice in the matter and are really bitter about that.

Based on these definitions, the Overlord novels by Kugane Maruyama and their adaptations (which I recommend) count as dark fantasy as well as isekai fantasy.

And finally, there’s a good chance evil can win. Bad politicians can stay in power while good ones may lose their heads. The Demon King can take over the continent and establish an empire. The witch may kill the princess and release the plague upon the land before getting slaughtered by the princess’s lover. Things may just go to shit.

Yeah, bleak. And under these parameters, series like The Witcher novels or some of my favorite isekai fantasy series from Japan, such as Overlord, The Rising of the Shield Hero, or Arifureta,* count as dark fantasy.

But given those parameters, doesn’t that make supernatural horror dark fantasy after all? Not necessarily. While some might prefer to use the term “dark fantasy” for their stories to avoid horror’s negative connotations in society, and the two genres do overlap, there are key differences. Namely, dark fantasy focuses on the monster and fantasy elements while horror uses the monster and fantasy elements.

Look at my own novel Rose, for example. The protagonist Rose Taggert is transformed into a plant/human hybrid by a magical book given to mortals by a nature god. Sounds very fantasy-esque. And if Rose was a dark fantasy story, it would follow Rose Taggert’s attempts to live a life and understand her place in the world now that she’s changed, as well as to understand this new magic dimension in the world around her. But it doesn’t. Instead, the magic is a means by which to place Rose in the power of the antagonist, Paris Kuyper. It’s a means to create the terror of not knowing how dangerous Paris is, nor knowing what he’ll do to her if she doesn’t respond to his desires as he wants her to. That’s why Rose is a fantasy-horror novel rather than a dark fantasy novel.

Similarly, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles can be considered dark fantasy because they use the state of vampirism to explore psychological and philosophical truths and beliefs among the characters. If they were full-on horror, the vampires would be the means to terrify the readers. You know, like Salem’s Lot (which I need to reread, with a new adaptation on the way and all).

While some might categorize “Rose” as dark fantasy, how those fantasy elements are used distinguishes it as a horror novel.

And while we’re distinguishing between genres and subgenres, let’s talk about the difference between dark fantasy and grimdark. Grimdark is another subgenre of fantasy, characterized by apocalyptic, dystopian or hellish settings and a very bleak atmosphere, but still containing all those fantasy elements. So, what makes it different from dark fantasy, when both can contain those settings and atmosphere? According to Fantasy Book Fanatic.com, the difference is in hope:

“The concept of hope seems to be the primary differentiating factor between dark fantasy and grimdark. Hope is still able to be an integral theme in dark fantasy narratives. In contrast, the central theme of grimdark almost never entertains the possibility of hope. The central theme revolves around cynicism instead. This differentiation is vague at best, which is why many of the works of dark fantasy and grimdark are so easily confused.”

So what is dark fantasy? Well, by this definition, it is fantasy with darker or horror overtones. However, it distinguishes itself from horror by using the fantasy elements as a means to tell the story, rather than as a means to terrify the reader. Think vampires as tortured souls rather than vampires as supernatural man-eating monsters. And, unlike grimdark, there is still an element of hope in the story. Things may go to shit, but people are still allowed to hope.

My name is Rami Ungar, thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Which, unlike the other two I just mentioned, will not appear on any of my anime recommendations lists. The anime did the original novels a poor service, which is a shame, because I devoured the first four books in a week, they’re that good. Check them out if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you’re interested, I’m still taking orders for signed copies of Rose. Send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com for details. Or you can check it out on Amazon and Audible. And if you do check the book out, let me know what you think. In the meantime, I’ll be neck deep in Victorian England again, but I hope to put out another post very soon.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Okay, not actually in 3D, this is a blog, after all. However, I need to give these posts a snappy title if I’m going to keep recommending them, so here we go. Anyway, I’ve got some new anime I’d like to recommend to you, so let’s get to it.

And if you would like to read my previous two recommendation posts, here’s Post Number One and Post Number Two.

Astra: Lost in Space

Set in the far future, when humanity has started exploring other planets, a bunch of teenagers and one ten-year-old are sent on a survival retreat to an uninhabited planet. Unfortunately, their camping trip goes awry when a portal appears out of nowhere and sends them millions of light years across the galaxy, into the vast reaches of space. Luckily though, they find a spaceship that they can navigate back home. Along the way, they explore strange planets, grow as people and as a family, and try to find out how they ended up transported across space in the first place.

So yeah, this is kind of like Lost in Space, but animated and with teenagers. Hell, the show’s in the title! The balance between humor, mystery, and storytelling is a little off at times, but the characters are lovable and the mystery elements to the story are compelling. If you’re looking for sci-fi with characters you want to hug and a bit of suspense to boot, this might be up your alley.

 

Serial Experiments Lain

After one of her classmates commits suicide, fourteen-year-old Lain Iwakura finds out said classmate has since been sending messages to others in her class over the Wired, a super-advanced version of the Internet that uses virtual reality. She starts exploring the Wired, and finds herself going down the rabbit hole as she deals with secret societies, and an entity claiming to be the God of the Wired. But the greatest mystery of all may be Lain herself…

Released in 1998, Serial Experiments Lain has become something of a cult phenomenon in the anime community, noted for its uncanny predictions of how the Internet would develop in the next twenty years or so and exploration of Internet culture, as well as the nature of consciousness, God, and so much more. It’s a story more focused on philosophical/psychological exploration rather than traditional storytelling, so its slow pace might turn off some viewers. But if you stick with it, you may find yourself having your mind blown by this hard-to-define series.

 

Fruits Basket (2019)

Technically speaking, there are two adaptations of this award-winning manga, one from 2001 and one from last year. However, the more recent version has gorgeous animation, adheres more closely to the original manga, and plans to tell the whole story.

Fruits Basket follows Tohru Honda, a cheerful girl who finds herself homeless after her mother’s death. She ends up moving in with the Sohmas, a large and influential family whose members Tohru is classmates with. However, she finds something crazy out about her new home: certain members of the Sohma family can turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex or under great stress. Thus Tohru’s life becomes more wonderful and stranger than she ever dreamed.

So while the premise sounds whimsical enough, and there are plenty of sweet and funny moments, this series can get really dark. A lot of the characters have suffered from their ability to transform into animals, and there’s a lot of exploration of social isolation, anxiety and depression, self-loathing and self-fulfilling prophecies, broken homes and gang violence, and more. How the show balances all that so well with humor and lighter moments, I have no idea, but there you go.

Anyway, this is a great series to make you laugh and cry, with a literal menagerie of characters for you to fall in love with. The second season is due out next month, so I hope you’ll check it out in the meantime.

Overlord

This one’s become my new favorite anime, and I’ve watched it five or six times since I first watched it back in September. Yeah, you read that right. And I’m about to tell you why.

A gamer’s favorite virtual reality game is about to shut down forever. Having met all his friends and received his best memories in that game, he decides to stay in the game until the servers shut down. However, when the game shuts down, he finds himself transported to a world where magic and monsters exists. As his video game avatar. Which so happens to be a powerful undead skeleton and commander of an entire monstrous army, the great Ainz Ooal Gown. Wanting to understand his new world and find out how he got there, Ainz embraces his new form and sets out on a conquest of this strange new world.

Considered one of the best isekai stories out there,* Overlord has a lot to offer. Not only is it the sort of story where you get to root for a super-powerful villain, but the ensemble cast are a lot of fun and the story manages to keep you interested by flipping point of views and coming up with new scenarios to challenge the main character Ainz, who’s basically an office drone who’s suddenly found himself in the position of a god-king and is basically just trying to fake it till he makes it. And let’s face it, it’s just awesome to see an overpowered character as an antihero sometimes (check out this clip if you don’t believe me).

Ascendance of a Bookworm

A young woman gets her dream job of becoming a librarian and getting to read books all day. But then she dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy universe. Cool, right? Wrong. First off, she’s now a sickly little girl named Myne, and can’t walk down a set of stairs without getting a fever. Second, she lives in a world where books are expensive and are usually the property of the nobility, which she is not. Despite all that, Myne is determined to get books one way or another, and she won’t let small things like illiteracy or a frail body get in her way!

As far as isekai anime go, this is a bit of an outlier. Normally, isekai protagonists have some great advantage and go out to do amazing things. However, Myne’s only advantages are her own brains and experience, and it’s a story about an ordinary girl (sort of) trying to live an ordinary life with her friends and new family, not anything like saving the world or conquering nations. Add in a mellow pace and beloved characters, and you find yourself falling in love with these characters. If you want a fantasy story not focused on anything major like politics or war and lovable characters just trying to eke out a normal life, this might be the anime for you.

My Bride is a Mermaid

Nagasumi Michishio nearly drowns, but is saved by a mermaid. But now, by mermaid law, he has to marry the mermaid, a girl his own age named Sun Seto. Whose overprotective father is the head of a merfolk yakuza family. And he’s not ready for his little girl to go off and marry, let alone marry a weak human. Hijinks ensue.

This beloved romantic comedy is sure to make anyone laugh. It brings together a whole bunch of kooky characters with a zany concept, and makes the most of it. For a while, it was my favorite anime in high school, and there’s a reason it’s endured for over ten years since it aired. If you want a zany comedy with endearing characters and the ability to surprise you at least once or twice an episode, this may be the anime for you.

 

Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun!

Iruma Suzuki is a 14-year-old pushover who’s been forced to work since he was a small child in order to get by. One day, his scumbag parents sell his soul to a demon. The demon, Sullivan, takes Iruma to the nether realms…and adopts him as his grandson! He then enrolls in the elite demon school, Babyls, where if he’s discovered to be human, he’ll be eaten. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of my new favorite anime. It oozes year-round Halloween spirit in every frame of animation, with eyeballs and skulls and spider webs (oh my!) everywhere. Not only that, but these characters are lovable and quirky in their own way, from sweet and pure but easily swayed Iruma, to the beloved and adoring Asmodeus Alice, and the hilarious Clara Valac (think me, but a demoness with twice as much energy and randomness as me). Watching them grow and become friends in a strange world is a lot of fun, as well as hella funny. If you want a series full of demons, Halloween, and utter hilarity and fun, I can’t recommend this one enough.

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun

A high schooler goes into a bathroom to summon the spirit Hanako-san,** who is supposed to grant a wish to anyone who summons them. Instead of a little girl in a red dress, she gets a devilish boy in an old boy’s uniform, Hanako-kun. He’ll grant her wish…but in exchange, she’ll have to be his assistant in keeping her school’s spirits in line. Hijinks ensue.

With a unique animation style like a webcomic and a great balance of silly humor and intrigue, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is one of the breakout hits of Winter 2020. If you’d like a series with funny characters, stellar animation and a bit of supernatural fun, you might enjoy this one. New episodes are airing right now, so why not go ahead and check it out?

Which anime whets your appetite? Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I hope to have another post or two out this week. Also, wanted to let you know I’m writing like crazy these days. I should have an announcement of a new first draft before too long.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*If you don’t remember from my first anime recommendation post, isekai is a subgenre of fantasy anime in which a normal person is transported to a magical world resembling fantasy worlds out of novels and video games, and may have features from the latter. The transported average Joe often ends up becoming some sort of hero or adventurer, going on quests and fighting monsters or exploring unknown regions. It’s a popular genre of anime right now, to the point that half the new series that came out last year seemed to be isekai anime. Thankfully, I can point out some of the good ones.

**Yes, the same spirit from Japanese folklore that inspired my short story “Hannah.”

It’s no secret that, along with horror, I’m a huge anime fan. In fact, I’ve dedicated posts to my love of Sailor Moon and to my favorite manga of all time, Red River. And because I wanted a change of pace, I figured I’d put out a list of some off the anime I’ve been enjoying lately or continue to enjoy years after I watch them. Along with Sailor Moon and Red River, these might be good places to start delving into what has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past several years. Or if you’re already a fan and just want something new to dive into, these could be good choices.

And of course, I’d love to hear from people who have already seen these series and enjoy them as much as I do.

So with all that said, let’s dive in. Here’s 8 anime I recommend.

1. Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion

Another one of my favorite anime, this still influences me as much as Sailor Moon does. In a world where Britain is the Holy Britannian Empire and has conquered over a third of the world, an exiled Britannian prince in hiding in the recently-conquered Japan gains the power to control and influence people under certain circumstances. He dons a disguise and starts a rebellion against his father’s empire, while his best friend takes up arms against his rebel alter-ego on Britannia’s side.

An excellent show combining war, chess-level battle strategy, political intrigue, romance, high school drama, and giant robots. All in a cool two seasons that have spawned several mangas, games, a movie series, and even a new season coming out later this year (I will catch it as soon as I catch the movies, because apparently this season is a direct sequel to them). This is not a series to be missed, believe me.

2. Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid

A programmer by the name of Kobayashi (first name never mentioned) gets drunk one night, goes into the mountains, and stumbles across a dragon. She pulls a sword out of the dragon’s back, saving its life. The next day the dragon appears at Kobayashi’s apartment as a human girl to become her maid. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of the most popular animes out there right now, and it’s only thirteen episodes long! It’s just a silly fish-out-of-water story with dragons, but goddammit it is fun. They’re hilarious and heartwarming characters, learning to get along with this world and have a good time. I sometimes just watch some of my favorite episodes because they make me relaxed and lift up my mood. I highly recommend to anyone looking for a fun and laidback series with lots of laughs.

And it’s worth a watch just for the “How to Tame Your Dragon” joke in episode 2 (only available in the English dub).

3. Zombie Land Saga

A teenage girl named Sakura Minamoto dies in a car crash after she leaves for school one day. Ten years later she’s resurrected as a zombie, her mind and personality intact but her memories lost. That is crazy enough, but then the guy who resurrected her, a weirdo named Kotaro Tatsumi, informs her that she and six other zombie girls must form a pop idol group and become popular enough to somehow “save” the Japanese equivalent of the state of Idaho (sorry Idahoans, but the only time I ever hear anything out of your state is when there’s a presidential election). All while keeping their identities as zombies a secret from the public.

Considered by many to be one of the best anime of 2018 (including yours truly), this anime is a satire making fun of the Japanese idol industry as a whole as well as the anime focusing on them (yeah, that’s a genre). It’s hilarious even if you’re not familiar with either industry or genre, and it’s heartwarming too, with a cast of characters you grow to love and root for by the third episode. And it has the best examples of a trans character and a disabled character I’ve ever seen in anime. That alone makes it truly special.

You should give it a watch just for the outta nowhere rap battle in episode 2.

4. Shimoneta: A Boring World in Which the Concept of a Dirty Joke Doesn’t Exist

You know how there are people who believe if pornography and swearing were banned by law and sex education highly regulated, a more pure society would arise and people would naturally become better? Imagine if technology got to the point where that was enforceable and Japan somehow tried to make this happen. That’s the concept of Shimoneta, which follows a young man who wants nothing more than to be a moral, upright citizen and distance himself from his father, who was jailed for protesting the government’s efforts to over-regulate sex education and sexual content. Too bad he gets wrapped up with a classmate of his who is secretly a “dirty terrorist” and wants to decriminalize potty mouths and sexual content in our everyday media, and ends up founding an organization with her.

It’s a brilliant thought experiment on the part of the anime, and gives both sides of the argument, as well as what happens when either side becomes too extreme, a fair hearing. Of course, being anime it does it with as many dirty jokes as possible, to the point I’m surprised my floor isn’t covered in dirt whenever I watch it, but it’s still a brilliant anime. If you want a raunchy comedy with brains behind it, Shimoneta may be for you.

5. That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime

One of the latest entries in the isekai genre,* a 37-year-old businessman is stabbed to death after a mugging gone wrong, and ends up being reincarnated in a world out of a fantasy game. The thing is, he’s been reincarnated as a slime monster. Which normally would suck, but he soon finds himself becoming a protector for the many peoples living in the area he reincarnated in and taking on several foes with his unique powers. Within the span of a few episodes, this slime, renamed Rimuru Tempest, will become a great player to the events of his new world.

This anime has recently wrapped its first season, and a second season is already ordered for next year. Not hard to see why, with great animation/visuals, and relatable characters, especially Rimuru who is kind and funny and makes being a ball of slime look desirable. All set in a rich world filled with a variety of creatures with unique abilities and cultures. And my God, I think the society Rimuru creates should be the model for every community in the world who wants to make coexistence between different groups a thing. I’m kind of jealous.

6. The Rising of the Shield Hero

A darker isekai than the last entry, this is considered one of the most controversial anime in recent years (and its first season still isn’t over). A young man is transported to another world with three other teens to become the legendary four heroes who will save this world from Waves, invasions of terrible monsters bent on destroying the world. Problem is, he gets to be the Shield Hero, which compared to Sword, Spear and Arrow isn’t as cool. As if that weren’t bad enough, soon after arriving in this new world, he is betrayed and finds himself losing all his money, dignity and respect, even from the other three heroes. Alone, unable to trust anyone and still required to go save the world, he ends up buying a slave named Raphtalia to help him in his missions, and sets out to destroy the Waves. At the same time though, will he find a way to redeem himself and find hope again?

As I said, this is one of the most controversial anime of recent years, due in part to how the protagonist is betrayed (I won’t go into why here, you’ll have to watch the first episode and decide for yourself if you want to go further afterwards). However, I will say that besides that, it is a great story of someone going against impossible odds and trying to find hope again. I look forward to every Wednesday when a new episode comes out, and will be waiting eagerly for the next twelve or thirteen on the way.

7. My Hime

Also known as Mai-Hime, this is from the same studio that brought us Code Geass. A teen girl and her sickly younger brother go to an exclusive boarding school, only to find out that the girl is a Hime, one of thirteen girls selected to participate in a ritual that occurs in the area around the school every couple centuries. Armed with fire magic and a dragon named Kagutsuchi, she must fight off terrible monsters or risk losing all she cares for. But there’s a secret plot afoot at the school involving the Hime, and if she isn’t careful, the teen girl will be the latest victim to fall prey to the ritual’s dark purpose.

I own this series on DVD, and still break it out every couple of years. It takes what seems to be a lighthearted story and expertly adds darker elements over time, drawing us in to the plot as well as into the lives of these characters. I’d give it a try if I were you.

8. My Otome

A spin-off/sequel to My Hime (it’s heavily hinted the events of My Hime cause the events of My Otome), a teen girl goes to a famous school for Otome, women who use nanotechnology to become superpowered warriors and keep wars at bay by working directly for the rulers of different nations. The girl goes there hoping to become an Otome and find out who her mother, a former Otome, was. While there, she makes friends, falls in love, and becomes embroiled in a plot to take over not just the country the school is located in, but the whole world.

This anime features a lot of characters from the original anime (possibly reincarnated after several centuries), and a less cosmic/Apocalypse-themed plot, but at the same time allows these new characters to shine and has the same expert storytelling as the previous series. If you like My Hime, definitely check out My Otome.

Well, that’s eight anime I recommend. Thanks for sticking with me through this long article. But tell me, which anime peaked your interest? Have you seen any of the above-mentioned shows? What were your thoughts? And what would you recommend seeing? Let’s discuss.

And if you like anime and horror, maybe consider becoming an advanced reader for my upcoming novel Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). The concept itself is influenced by anime and my love of the medium, and I think it shows. If this at all interests you, send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com and I’ll put you on the list. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

*For those unaware, isekai stories are about people from our world who end up in alternate worlds or dimensions with strong fantasy or sci-fi elements. They often end up becoming chosen heroes, going on quests, or otherwise becoming central to the events of the world they’re in. Sometimes these worlds are real life versions of video games the protagonist is playing prior to changing dimensions, is itself a video game, or has some video game elements. It’s one of the most popular genres out there right now. The more you know.