The Splendor of Geek Isekai
Posted On: 3 Sep 2022
"Isekai". It's kind of a charged word, as a lot of folks seem to hear it and immediately scowl. It seems to be the genre du jour over in Japan. From Rising of the Shield Hero and Sword Art Online to more niche series like Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon, it seems like every writer, artist, and assistant is cashing in on the Isekai craze. Or maybe that's just an exaggeration perpetuated by vocal dissidents of the genre who protest every time a new entry comes out --a negative nancy's version of the Baader–Meinhof phenomenon (the frequency illusion).
But, you know, I can kind of guess where the hate comes from. I used to disfavor the genre myself, after all.
"Isekai" is a genre where somebody from our world (or one like it) ends up in a different world that's usually magical or mythical. It could be that they found a magical portal (e.g., InuYasha) or were drawn into one (e.g., Marchen Awakens Romance). It could be that they died and were reincarnated. However they got there, the underlying foundation is that somebody goes from a boring life to an exciting life --after all, who wants to read I'm a Salaryman Who Died and Was Reborn as Another Salaryman? Well, okay, that would be a hilarious gag manga, in my opinion. But you get the point.
Now, there's a lot you can do with this transcendental rags-to-riches story. Parallel worlds can be anything. You can be anything in them. And, indeed, you can find all kinds of eclectic stories in the genre. But that makes it incredibly difficult to introduce people to the genre. We often let our first impressions form our lasting impressions. If our first exposures to Isekai are power fantasy schlock or esoteric reincarnations, then it can be difficult for many of us to think of Isekai as something interesting. Ultimately, we then fail to grasp the magnitude of Isekai and its potential, instead writing it all off as different coats of varnish on the same small handful of uninteresting or trite ideas.
And boy howdy, that's how you miss out on the best sub-genre of Isekai: Geek Isekai.
"Geek Isekai" probably isn't the right term for it, but I wouldn't know how to better describe it. It's the type of Isekai where a person ends up in a different world where their passions get free rein. Examples of this include Knights & Magic and my newly picked up favorite Magic Artisan Dahlia Wilts No More. In the former, the protagonist is a mecha geek and programmer who ended up reincarnating into a world full of giant robots and magic with similar intrinsic properties to code. He's in his element, living his best life, and enjoying every moment of it. In the latter, the protagonist loves Making (the process of taking ideas and tinkering to make them real) and reincarnates into a world where magic artisans exist. She's in her element, creating cool domestic wares and technology based on things from her past life.
Geek Isekai really demonstrates the true power of the genre. It showcases how amazing people can really be by demonstrating what happens when our passions and our innate talents and fostered skills are really allowed to flourish. This, too, is perhaps a form of power fantasy. But it's the best kind of power fantasy because it doesn't give power. It sincerely shows just what kind of power we have sleeping inside us. It's a very sweet love letter.
I really hope to find more series that fit this bill. And I especially look forward to picking up more volumes of Dahlia!