It’s no secret whatsoever: when something new and unusual gets any sort of success, it gets copycatted out the freaking wazoo.
Hollywood’s scramble to imitate the Marvel Cinematic Universe is but one outstanding example of that. There’s also all the teen/young adult vampire romances – thank you so much for that, Joss Whedon and Anne Rice – which has further spawned more supernatural romances in general. And there’s the endless litany of repeated plots which have become genres unto themselves, everything from rom-coms to zombie movies to westerns and so forth.
Everyone who has much experience with anime know that anime, too, has tropes which are everywhere and have been done to death. Harems, isekai, fan service (including pantry shots), magical girls, beach episodes, monster sitcoms, princesses with flaming swords, tsundere and yandere girls, clueless male protagonists, overpowered protagonists, the power of FRIENDSHIP… the list goes on and on. And, as with tropes in other media, the over-saturation of these tropes in anime can often be traced back to the success of one or two titles which first employed them and became successful.
We have harems everywhere today, to an annoying degree, because shows like Tenchi Muyo were popular back when I was a kid.
We have a hilarious over-abundance of isekai today because of all the classics which utilized utilized it.
We have entire armies of ludicrously overpowered protagonists because of Goku, I am certain.
The classic tsundere girl now struts across a vast swathe of anime titles, because of the explosive popularity of Rin Tohsaka, Asuka Langely, and others, some two decades ago.
And whoever first began the trope of inserting truckloads of explicit fan service and panty shots into anime which would otherwise have been appropriate for children, I wish I could find that soul and enslave it so I could strangle it over and over and over again for the rest of my life.
Each of these now-widespread tropes was once an original, unheard of idea, one which was well-received and lingered in the public consciousness, and someone eventually used them again. And again. And again. Again. Until they became trends, and tropes, and one day we found that they were simply part of our cultural zeitgeist, completely common and ordinary.
And now, having gotten a good look at some of the latest anime titles that have been produced, I am noticing a few recurring ideas, a few emerging trends that I did not notice before. I have to wonder if I am once again witnessing this phenomenon as it is happening in real time. Some titles that have been produced either back-to-back or simultaneously have me thinking that we are, right now, being hit with the next wave of emerging anime tropes. Or maybe these are just momentarily copycatting fads that will fail and fade away, but I have my doubts about that. Every previous idea that became a trope, after all, did so because it was repeated more than once, and that is what I am seeing here.
I no particular order, I present a few of the repeated ideas that seem to be gaining some ground.
In The Rising of the Shield Hero, Raphtalia was instantly popular even as she was also instantly a figure of controversy over her status as the titular hero’s literal slave. There was an explanation offered, of course, and their relationship has always been portrayed in the warmest, most sympathetic light possible. She even took some pride in belonging to him, and was only recently, and involuntarily, liberated. And he still has one or two girls enslaved to him at present time.
In a similar vein, the entire premise of How Not To Summon a Demon Lord was that, by some chance mistake, the two girls who tried to enslave their summoned demon lord had it reversed on them, where they became his slaves instead. Of course the demon lord is not a bad man, or a bad master, but he is still their master to the end, and they’ve even added another slave or two to the group.
While neither of these two titles is necessarily pivotal on their own, their success has probably been one factor in nurturing the idea of a protagonist who has a literally enslaved harem. I know that’s part of what the protagonist in High School DxD wanted, and now, much like when Asterisk War and Chivalry of a Failed Knight debuted as nearly carbon copies of each other in the same season, the latest season of anime has a pair of isekai anime where the protagonist goes out of his way to buy slave girls and it’s perfectly normal.
I refer to Black Summoner and Slave Harem in the Labyrinth of the Other World. It’s certainly more pronounced in Slave Harem, at least for now, as the protagonist went to great pains specifically to purchase his first beastgirl slave (with obvious sexual intentions) and is clearly going to be purchasing more such slave girls as the series progresses. But Black Summoner introduced the elf girl that the summoner purchases with nary a qualm raised by anyone. It’s perfectly normal.
And that’s not even going into what I’ve heard about that atrocious, sadistic trash fire, Redo of Healer, wherein the hero’s harem is individually tortured, broken, and taken sexual advantage of, and the outright slave girl – yet another beastgirl – probably has the best lot of them if only because her master isn’t out to destroy her in petty revenge for past wrongs.
So what’s next? Are we one day going to find ourselves looking around to find that harems of slaves have become in anime as is the rather unsettling tropes of brother and sister complexes, as well as lolicons?
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime did something that I cannot recall another anime doing before: it reincarnated its isekai protagonist as a nonhuman, specifically a slime. And while the non-human protagonist may catch on in due time, slimes specifically seem to have been on the rise since, albeit largely in secondary roles, instead of as the main lead character.
There was, of course, Suu, in Everyday Life With Monster Girls, but the slimes got a more recent boost in By the Grace of the Gods, where it was shown that they could be cute little familiars, and surprisingly useful, as long as one can use their imagination. And now, once again, we have two new anime in the same season that feature slimes as familiar companions to isekai protagonists.
Black Summoner gets a second mention in this post, because a slime was the protagonist’s first tamed creature which he can summon at will. It is, as per usual for slimes these days, cute, adaptable, and highly dangerous, especially after it evolves into a much larger, stronger, more ravenous form.
The second anime to feature slimes this season is My Isekai Life. The slimes here are a small horde of cute little friends who can actually converse with their human tamer, and even act as conduits for his power. They’re practically a bunch of living appendages, letting him see, hear, and act from a fair distance away.
With a rising number of prominent examples in how useful and cute a slime can be, I have a hunch that their popularity and prevalence are going to continue to rise for at least awhile. Heck, taming and summoning themselves also seem to be having a resurgence, in the way of fashions coming and going and coming again in cycles.
Ok, I think I need to get a little more specific with this one. Sexy maids in and of themselves are not exactly a new trope, not in most any medium, and certainly not in anime. I can think of several romcoms featuring romances with characters who are maids, as well as more than one harem that includes a maid, and a few where the harems are entirely made up of maids, all of them very pleasing to the eye.
What I refer to, specifically, is the setup of a sexy, mature maid being largely alone with her master, a younger boy, and the obvious sexual tension of the situation.
The Duke of Death and His Maid had that exact setup, with a small twist. In that instance, the young man in question was cursed in some way where any living thing he touched would die and wither within moments. Thus the strangeness of his maid absolutely flaunting her desire to seduce him, which was weird enough given the boy’s age but was made doubly so by the fatality of what would happen if they ever touched just one time, even for the briefest of moments. It was the ultimate form of dangerous teasing.
That was one year ago. A year later, we have The Maid I Hired Recently is Mysterious. Once again featuring a young man, just a boy, really, living all alone with beautiful, exotic, highly well-endowed maid. In this instance, the boy seems to have his attention riveted to the maid in question, but apparently classifies his attention as suspicion instead of attraction.
If you were to be trying to remember one of these anime, and could only recall that it featured a young lord living alone with his busty maid, either of these could be what someone else thinks of. It might be a fluke, but if a third such anime pops up, I’m calling it an emerging pattern, just like every pattern which eventually became a trope.
When anything is possible, which anime makes it to be, it is no surprise to have a number of undead characters, including ghosts, zombies, and vampires. But there seems to be a certain uptick of late specifically in characters who are skeletons. Not that there haven’t always been plenty of such as minor characters. I could probably cite dozens of those. But as main or nearly-main characters? There haven’t been that many, I think. Then came one skeletal character who not only became a main character, but in a show whose longevity is the stuff of legend.
I refer, of course, to Brook, the warrior musician of One Piece. He is fun and funny, he is fierce, strong, and has a unique power set, and, most of all, he’s got soul! Of course the audience has loved him from the moment we first met him, heard him singing, learned his story, and learned of his quest to fulfill an old promise for the sake of his comrades. He’s an amazing character!
Since Brook’s introduction, the screen of anime has been graced with several skeletal characters of note. Why, just a few weeks ago, we were following the adventures of Arc in the anime Skeleton Knight in Another World. And now, in this season, we are following the continuing adventures of Ains Ooal Gown in Overlord. And yet another, not long ago, in Skull-Faced Bookseller Honda-san.
That’s another trio of skeletons, after Brook, whose stories and characters could not possibly be more different, I imagine, being told one right after the other. And they’re main characters, not minor ones. That, right there, is trend already well on its way to becoming a trope!
Dethroned Demon Lords
(stuck in humble circumstance in our world)
The hero defeats the demon lord and something or other happens and they have a reverse-isekai experience: they come to our world from theirs, and here they remain, stuck. And, having no experience here, they’re unable to get those great, high-paying jobs, leaving them working humble jobs at the bottom of the ladder, struggling to pay their bills. They go from being all-powerful to barely scraping by.
So, which anime am I talking about?
Is it The Devil is a Part-Timer, where Lord Satan and a few others get sucked from their world to Earth and are stuck, without their power, trying to make ends meet even though that involves working as a server in fast food?
Or is it The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated, where the queen of demons is deposed, thrown to Earth, rendered into a childlike form instead of her true voluptuous self, and has to work as a server in a bar in order to keep a roof over her head and barely enough food in her stomach, as she searches for fragments of a jewel that will restore her power?
Or maybe it’s… ok, I admit, I have a third one, but my brain is farting on the title. It follows a group of four girls, including the former demon queen and the three warriors who defeated her. They’ve all been flung to Earth, and reverted to childlike forms, and are learning to live in this world. One of them is even trying to become an idol, though she walks away from a golden opportunity for such in order to save her friends’ lives as they’re fighting a fire monster.
Were I to mention sports anime or anime about girls that become idols in Japan, anyone could point to a couple dozen titles. I might only have three of them here – albeit, one of which I still can’t remember or properly google the title for – but sports and idol anime both started with one, two, and three, and I have seen at least three anime that use exactly this, the same idea. It would not surprise me if others came along. Indeed, considering the hilarity of the premise, I would be more surprised if they didn’t! 🙂
Gaming Mechanics in Isekai
I know that the premise is “the game becomes real,” but there’s a point where it just gets ridiculous, ya know?
Ever since .hack//Sign’s spiritual successors, Sword Art Online and Log Horizon, both aired, it has been increasingly common for isekai adventures to just say, “They’re in the game,” and leave it at that. That is a trope that has already hit us. What has not been so universal has been for the protagonists of these same isekai stories to be using in-game mechanics, things like touchscreen menus, icons, skill points, friend lists, forming parties, skill points, leveling up, cool-down time, rolling text to read, and more. The fact that many of these anime did not make it so literal for their characters to be in a game is somewhat ironic, considering the premise, and considering how both SAO and Log Horizon did, in fact, use some of these mechanics themselves.
That said, just because it hasn’t been all of them doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of anime which do. To once again cite three titles that I’ve already mentioned: Black Summoner, My Isekai Life, and Slave Harem. All three of these use several of the game mechanics I’ve mentioned, including levels, skills, etc.
Slave Harem uses a game-like system for identifying each person, a system that any number of people can use to call up a person’s ID card, and which the protagonist was able to use in order to identify and tail several bandits back to their hideout, so he could collect bounties on several of them. He can also equip weapons at will, making them appear out of thin air, or change his job to access skills based on what he needs.
Black Summoner uses levels to determine a character’s strength, and decide whose skills can overpower someone else’s, as well as skill points to gain certain abilities as necessary.
My Isekai Life features menus from which the protagonist can select all sorts of spells to use, and even link them together to use in various ways.
This is on top of So I’m a Spider, So What, which uses rolling text, skill points, and leveling up to further the plot and the development of the character. Heck, there are even moderators, like in a real game.
And that’s just the beginning. I could probably find another dozen or so if I wanted to. So, out of all the examples here of trends which may be rising to become entrenched tropes, this one is probably the furthest along.
Have you noticed any others?
All these repeated ideas are things which I have just noticed happening right now, a pattern emerging from the last handful of years. But I don’t see everything, and I’m curious about this. Indeed, I am fascinated by the opportunity to watch something new as it takes shape and comes into being within our culture.
So, I absolutely must ask you, my wonderful audience, have you noticed any? Can you think of any more ideas that are being repeated, turning into trends and possibly into tropes? What else is in this rising wave, this unending flow, which seems to be gaining a greater presence within the stories we tell?
EDIT: I was going to mention, but completely forgot, otherworld pharmacies! This season’s had at least the third anime to feature such within a year! (sorry, just had to get that out of my system 😉 )