More on chuuni web novels: Common tropes and my thoughts

Hello,

I recently made this post on Chuuni Web Novels and this is a pseudo-sequel that is a fair bit less personal. You don’t need to read that one first. A lot of this post is actually just me talking about the few web novels I’ve read. It’s a weird post.

In my previous post I mentioned that web novel protagonists often lead the life the reader, and perhaps the author, wishes to lead. This raw, from the heart (if you will), story telling can lead to a strong sense of resonance if you identify strongly with the main character, but questionable politics and some less good things tend to sneak through as well.

[Note: Once more I sort of assume that the readers and perhaps the author are approaching this fiction from a chuuni delusion/self-insert perspective. That is by no means the only way to engage with this fiction and I am confident very few folk only engage in that mode. It is an assumption made to ground this post.]

chuunipost-2016-09-17_006

-Mushoku Tensei manga

[Warning: Discussion of sexual assault/homophobia/transphobia and stuff]

I want to clarify that the complaints I have below are not necessarily restricted to Web Novels (and again I’ve only read a few). I’m sure these complaints apply to Light Novels and other media in general. Web Novels tend to be less edited, crude, and driven by one person’s moral compass, so you notice stuff like this more.

More so, I’d argue that Web Novels tend to work best if the lead character is a self-insert for the reader. That is to say they behave in the cool, awesome way you’d behave if you were sent to a fantasy world.

Unfortunately, seeing a character who is meant to be you say dumb things can cause a fair bit of anguish! “I would not think or say something so offensive if I were actually in those shoes.” is an unpleasant thought.

Also to recap, these are the few web novels I’ve looked at:

  • Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou
  • Mushoku Tensei
  • Tensei Shitara Slime datta ken
  • The New Gate

And several other manga adaptations including:

  • Re:Monster
  • Tate no Yuusha no Nariagari (Shield Hero)
  • (Probably more that are escaping me as well as Mangas of Arifureta/New Gate/Slime/Mushoku)

Things I don’t like

As I said, I think it is cool folk can use writing as a form of living their fantasies, but often nasty viewpoints on the world sneak in. More often than not, these are used for humor purposes and are not really pivotal to the story, characters, nor even to the fantasies themselves.

LGBT jokes

Back when I was in High School, boys would take serious offence to anything that might imply they were gay. Male leads seem to be totally like that.

Common scenes feature the orientation of the MC getting called into question for a second and are followed by him vehemently denying it. Even if their isn’t explicit hate shown for gay people, I’ve never liked these kinds of scenes, be they in animated or written form. Such a straight up denial pretty much insinuates that being gay is bad.

Worse still is how the seemingly gay characters like the flamboyant member of some other party is almost always looked down upon with disgust and mockery.

Trans folk, well, are probably treated even worse. I got irked at how Arifureta treated a store manager (Christabel) and referred to her as super hideous.

Even ignoring the derogatory terms, you can tell she was supposed to be trans because a man ‘takes a few blows to crotch and ends up turning into another Christabel’. (Though I’ll admit Christabel is sort of interesting in that while Hajime thinks she’s hideous and she makes him shiver, she is also incredibly competent, skilled and respected by others.)

Masochist = Pervert

I ranted on twitter about this a month or so back.

The above passage was from Arifureta, but I’ve seen similar stuff in other stories too. Heck, Konosuba’s treatment of Darkness is pretty much exactly this.

I don’t think most masochists enjoy pain outside of a sexual encounter and even if they did, I doubt it is in the exaggerated fashion you find here. More so, I have less problems with the ‘haha, masochist enjoys pain’ humor and far more with the reactions of others, especially the MC to that individual.

Words like disgusting or shielding children’s eyes from the ‘masochist’ are annoying as is the implication that their kink is a disease. I’m sure the same is true for sadism, but I’ve encountered less portrayals of it (perhaps because it could undermine the power/control of the main character).

-Arifureta Vol.3 Cover. Look at how good she is. Doesn't deserve to be mistreated because she's a masochist.

-Arifureta Vol.3 Cover. Look at how good she is. Doesn’t deserve to be mistreated because she’s a masochist.

Sexual Assault etc

There is the usual ‘mistreatment of female cast’ and then there is a far more extreme version you occasionally find in these stories.

I am not at all fond of the ‘lady being assaulted, but cool dude steps in to save the day’ trope. I understand entirely where that’s coming from. Being a last second hero, saviour of woman and so on is an understandable (albeit perhaps still questionable) fantasy, but there is little need to actually involve assault in my opinion. Might as well make it robbers or assassins or some other criminal whose motivation isn’t lust.

A slightly better, but still meh scene that often plays out is strong female party member beats up lustful men who want her. It is a lot better because well, she beats them up, but it is still sort of unnecessary, or at least the lustful part is (I’d probably classify this in the mixed bag section below).

Then there is the other variety, where the MC is himself directly involved and that is uhhhh, very questionable. Unlike the other scenarios which are often based on stereotypes, gender roles etc, this one is very much fantasy driven.

So, a part of me hesitates in calling it out because well, as I said, enacting your fantasies is half the point of this fiction, but still I think this is sort of pushing it.

In Mushoku Tensei, the MC is very, very touchy feely with the female cast. I don’t really like that, buuuut at least the story never makes the women subservient to him because of it. His perversions are very clearly depicted as a slight on his character (perhaps not as great a slight as it should be, but a slight it is). There are far worse stories…

In Re:Monster, the MC well, uhh, convinces prisoners to sleep with him through aphrodisiacs. This feels like a slight of character especially since he stopped his predecessor goblins from assaulting the prisoners. Fans in comment sections claim that is just part of the cruel world he’s in or just who he is, but eh, I don’t agree with that.

In Shield Hero, well, I haven’t gotten very far with it, but I’ve heard some very terrible things. Draggle talks about it here and yikes.

On the bright side, neither New Gate, nor Tensei Shitara Slime datta ken nor even Arifureta (despite its super edgy, “I kill anyone in my way” lead) feature stuff this atrocious.

Mixed Bag

These are the few things that I can sort of accept existing because they fuel delusions and fantasies, but I don’t necessarily see eye to eye on.

Slavery

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 4

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 4 (He’s rescuing a slave)

Slavery appears to be a common trend in fantasy land. I suppose only our common sense Earth humans were smart enough to get rid of it.

Still, I clarify this as a mixed bag because more often than not, the main character actively acts against slavery. Maybe he’ll come across some slaves, claim it is morally reprehensible and free them, or come across a single fleeing slave and in an act of compassionate justice, beat up the bad guys chasing them.

This is quite obviously just another hero fantasy. You want to feel like you are doing the right thing, the strong heroic thing, so you go beat up some slave masters. I do think it is a tad insensitive to include slavery sometimes, but I can see where these delusions come from.

Sometimes, the story tries to be ‘deep’ and questions whether it is okay to turn a blind eye to slavery if it is the custom of the people there. Normally, the moral compass of the MC still makes them act against slavery, but the question generally deserves a better attempt at resolving it (not a WN, but Arslan asks this and tries to resolve it, not super well, but it tries!). Still it is a bit dicey and all around a bit of a mixed bag.

The real questionable slavery stuff though comes about when the MC gets a slave or two. Oh dear.

In the Re:Monster manga, some enemies are held captive and our MC kun doesn’t treat them well. He turns the male elf captives into gigolos for his female goblin subordinates and forcefully adds the female elves to his personal harem. That’s more than a bit rude if you ask me.

My reading of the Shield Hero manga had me raising a big eyebrow because of the MCs relationship with the main girl (she was literally his slave but like a voluntary slave????). There is a scene where her slave brand is removed and she voluntarily asks for it to be placed back on. Like, what. Why!? You know you can have a loving, doting relationship without being a slave, right?

I  haven’t read the LN, but according to that Draggle post, it gets way worse and he gets an entire village of slaves. Wah.

Fortunately, in the other stories I’ve read this doesn’t happen, so I’m tempted to assume that it’s not super common.

(Side Clarification: Most LNs/WNs that I’ve looked at do have fearless loyal subordinates, but they volunteer their services, and absolute loyalty, so I don’t consider that slavery though I can understand why one might be tempted to make the comparison.)

Jealousy

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-Shin and Tiera from the New Gate manga

We see jealousy expressed primarily over the MCs harem. “The crew walked into the guild. Immediately all attention focused on them and he felt glaring hot stares of anger from all the men present. This was to be expected since his party consisted of four exceptionally beautiful woman” is a paraphrased passage that you can find find in many of those web novels.

I understand where this sort of delusion and trope comes from. One way of feeling good is simply being cool enough to winning over the affections of those who’d normally be out of your league.

You could make an objectification argument here if you’d like, but to be honest, I personally just find harem jealousy slightly boring and uninteresting because I’m too busy shipping to care.

Little Sister

-The little sisters as babies from Mushoku

-The little sisters as babies from Mushoku

This one shouldn’t be new to anyone that’s seen even a bit of anime. Doting little sisters are well, a common enough trope in our weeb media. Strangely, the web novels I’ve looked at tend to only employ this in small doses.

In New Gate, they meet a girl at the church and help fulfill her request then play with her later. It’s pretty short and contained. Of the top of my head, I can’t recall any other implementations …except for Mushoka Tensei of course.

Mushoka Tensei, being the masterpiece that it is, devotes an entire chapter (or volume?) to the MC figuring out how to teach his sisters magic and how to fix their fragile relationship. The MC, aged sixteen at this point if I remember correctly, ends up a total patriarch and father figure to his two imoutos. It is ridiculously self-serving!

This was near where I stopped reading the novel and the family mush at this part definitely was a factor (though his mushy relationship with his partner was the bigger factor to be honest).

Still, it is a delusion some might identify with. Mushoka’s implementation was maybe a bit too much for many of us, but I think the usual anime, ‘we want a doting younger sister that loves us’ fantasy is a common enough delusion (not mine, I assure you).

-Mushoku Volume 11: The little maid sister

-Mushoku Volume 11: The little maid sister

Daddy

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 4

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 4

This one is weird to talk about.

Having a doting child that loves you via a parent-child like relationship is well, a super fantasy. I can totally see where it comes from, but for some reason it feels weird. It is odd, compared to other delusions discussed here, this one isn’t even /bad/ per say (unless it is somehow sexual, dear lord no), it just feels weird.

The strange thing is that many of us probably have had similar thoughts at some point. You know, even if you don’t go into full detail, you might have thought about the joys of being doted on by your child. It just feels strange to me to see my fantasies read back to me in gory, mushy detail.

Different novels naturally approach this differently. New Gate and Slime, as far as I can recall, don’t have any kids with this sort of a relationship though New Gate did have a play with the orphanages kids moment but that doesn’t really count.

Re:Monster probably doesn’t (just way too brutal/edgy to bother) and maybe Shield Hero does eventually, but not up to where I read the manga. (In Shield Hero at first the main girl is basically a really young child but she quickly ‘grows up’).

Arifureta has Hajime save a little, enslaved girl, and after she stops calling him Oniichan, she switches to PAPA. After some initial embarrassment by the MC, he totally comes to accept it and becomes her super guardian who beats up anyone that makes her even a bit sad. Quality actions from this child include disrupting fights between the Oniichans and the Oneechans and getting tough papa to help people.  I can not believe how open faced Arifureta is at times.

Mushoka Tensei though goes the whole way. The story chronicles the MCs rebirth from literal birth all the way to his grandfather days (or so I’ve heard, haven’t finished it myself). The fatherly-ness of the MC totally leaks onto his sisters as well initially.

So yeah, the MC there gets to be an older brother, a parent and a grand parent. What an amazingly gutso work! I admire that.

Fear

-From Slime Vol 7 (I don't actualy remember who this chap is)

-From Slime Vol 7 (I don’t actualy remember who this chap is)

Fear of strength is one of my personal fantasy jams. I love it when in manga like Bleach, weaklings quiver in fear of the MC’s incredible spiritual pressure! I love it when minions look at the MC and pretty much flee because they know they are facing a badass mofo!

I classify Fear as a mixed bag because there is a different kind of fear often present in these stories and that’s less a fear of strength and more a fear of cruelty or heartlessness (normally experienced by a close friend or party member).

In the Shield Hero manga for example, at some point he puts on a raging shield and becomes cruel, much to the fear of the main girl. This kind of ‘inner demon’ fear is surprisingly common even outside of LNs/WNs.

At one point in New Gate (which normally works well for me) Shin coldly cuts down human bandits. His coldness scares Tiara and she hugs him to bring him back. Similarly, later on it is revealed he wore that coldness daily for a dark time in his life. This, more psychological fear, normally doesn’t sit well with me.

It is one thing for a righteous character to be so physically dominant, that others feel physical fear, it is another for them to have a dark, fear producing side. This is very much a personal appeasement complaint, as this kind of fear of the dark nature of man is what read fiction for! But in many of these chuuni novels, this dark edge often feels tacked on.

As a sort of relevant example, I love Bleach’es take on ‘dark side to character’ fear. Ichigo ends up part hollow and the hollow part is very much a monster. Ichigo subdues his other half eventually. He admits that it’s a part of him that exists, but refuses to give in to it.

Later on when Ichigo uses his hollow powers against Grimjow, Orihime is scared of his evil presence. After a lecture from Nel, she realizes it is still the kind Ichigo she loves. This notion of not running away from him and accepting him was a great implementation of fear!

I just don’t like it when side characters go ‘oh no, this cold, ruthless part of him scares me, so I am going to hug him and bring the regular one back’. If you are going to add ‘a dark side’ make it important. Don’t treat it like something that must be locked or hidden away.

Arifureta is interesting in that it embraces this edgy, dark side of the protagonist almost right away. He does not hesitate in doing morally questionable things like killing people if they are in his way and his party loves him for it. Rather, it is almost strange when you see him do a good deed!

I’m getting a little off-topic, but one of my least favorite renditions of fear came courtesy of Mushoka Tensei. After reuniting with his sisters, one of them acts pretty cold to him. He takes it to mean she is not happy or it’s just been too long, but it is revealed in a monologue that she fears him. She fears him because he punched her dad (they had a fight). She fears him because he uses ridiculous, frightening magic.

I half-understood that cause of fear, especially the former. She was a little kid too, so this is understandable. But, the way it was written felt so self-serving and it put the MC up on a super high pedestal somehow. I couldn’t take it. Total delusion clash!

Harems

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 3

-Illustration from Arifureta Vol 3

I have no real problem with harems per say, buuuuuuut THEY GET IN THE WAY OF MY SHIPS AND AS SUCH ARE UNFORGIVABLE at times.

For example in Arifureta, many girls fall in love with him (despite there being a lover) and I care not at all for the others. New Gate has at least three girls in love with MC-kun, but it is relatively subtle about it, so I don’t mind it much (BUT MY SHIP IS SCHNEE AND SCHNEE ALONE).

Slime doesn’t actually have a harem per say (it is weird). Re:Monster totally embraces the harem as does Mushoka Tensei though at least in Re:Monster I do not care whatsoever about the romance. Mushoka though….yeah I….no, no…that rant about Eri x MC deserves its own post.

Still, harems are an understandable fantasy I suppose. It is not one I personally like (having grown up in a strict, conservative, one person 4 life household and all), but I can understand why they are here. And well, it is probably more about familiarity and cast variety than actual fantasy with harems given their frequency in JP media in general.

Interesting and or good stuff!

You didn’t think I was going to end this post on a slightly sour note, did you?

Comradery & Loyalty

slime-2016-09-17_005

-From the Tensei Shitara Slime datta ken manga

The main character may normally end up as a super being, but he’s never alone, at least not after the initial little bit. They’ll either make friends with a guild party, or meet some strangers or something. Either way, this friendship can be surprisingly fun!

Some stories like New Gate and Arifureta intricately tie this to the romance (companions are also harem members basically), but others like Slime and Re:Monster tie it more to subordination (their companions are also minions/sub-ordinates) and some like Mushoka Tensei attempt both separate romance and friendship. While Re:Monster’s take does little for me, I’m a huge fan of the loyalty present in Slime.

The Slime MC forms a village and is the leader of said village. His bond with the with the top villagers is lovely. It is a simple bond of ‘we’ll do everything and anything for you, our liege’ but damn if it doesn’t pander well to my fantasies. Who doesn’t want an elite squad of incredibly powerful warriors at their beck and call?

-Slime Vol 6 Cover

-Slime Vol 6 Cover

Good depictions of this fantasy (like Slime) will make each of those comrades unique and attach some reason to their loyalty. Good depictions will also reciprocate that friendship. There are scenes in Slime that really hammer down how much he has come to love his family. This may be why I like Re:Monster’s take a lot less. Their bonds never feel this strong!

If there is one thing I really like about Mushoka, it is that the platonic friendships come across really well. Early mid Mushoka is very much an ideal early adulthood fantasy. A job, marriage, a house, welcoming party for the house and so on all happen then and that includes the making of really close friends. MC-kun gets a fair few friends. They do friend stuff like work on the house, hunt ghosts and have school shenanigans. It lays it on thick!

The earliest bits of Mushoku has some very touching family stuff.

The earliest bits of Mushoku has some very touching family stuff. (from the manga)

But even before this ‘serene phase’ in the story, there is an adventure arc where the MC has to journey across a desert with two companions. And, this arc is my absolute favorite part of the story (from what I’ve read) and is one of my favorite web novel arcs in general. That combination of companionship and adventure rocks. It helps that the male companion for that bit is one of if not the best character in Mushoka Tensei.

-Mushoku Tensei (My fav bit was seeing them adventure)

-Mushoku Tensei manga (My fav bit was seeing them adventure)

A home to go back to

slime-vol-1

-Slime Volume 1 Illustration

I think having a shelter and home to truly call your own may be one of the oldest human fantasies. No matter how far we travel, where we go, what we do, having a place you can go back to and be safe in is an incredibly human idea. And some of these novels capitalize on it.

Arifureta hasn’t got a stable place (at least as far as I’ve read) and neither does Shield Hero (though I hear MC gets a village later on). Re:Monster has a cave thing for the entire tribe but as far as I can recall, it isn’t really developed in a meaningful way.

mushoku10_02-home-life

Mushoku Vol 10 illustration – The home life

Mushoka Tensei, in classic full life fashion, gets the MC a proper home that he truly turns into his own. I like New Gate’s shop/home! It is very cute and is tied into the story as well and serves as a connection between the past and present. And as I’ve implied earlier, I’m very fond of the village the MC of Slime builds. He loves it dearly and the stories strongest climaxes revolve around it. (Not to mention Slime-kun even goes and does country to country politics!)

Building a home is a fantasy/delusion I can totally get behind. It is a mostly wholesome activity and even if the character’s choice of aesthetics totally does not mirror mine, I can relate to that desire of wanting a place to call home. I think we all can.

RAW CHUUNI EDGE

slime-vol-5

Total Destruction (from Slime Volume 5)

I rambled a lot about this in my previous post, but I love stories where you just walk away from mundane reality and don awesome power and gain everyone’s respect. I stayed up basically 2 days in a row reading ID (a Chinese manga) to see how MC goes from a martial artist to a bonafide God. I pulled of similar stunts of human stupidity for Mushoka Tensei, Slime and Arifureta.

Most of these stories that I mention here have a main character who escapes their real life to lead an awesome existence as an unstoppable machine. Reading about their ever increasing power levels gives me much joy. This ‘AHHHHH THAT’S SO COOOL’ feeling is the primary reason I read these novels. Heck, that and the accompanying headcanons are why I enjoy a lot of the media I consume. Even in mainstream stuff like Bleach, this was the best bit (and don’t you deny that).

-Arifureta manga

-Arifureta manga

The EDGE bit in the title is a little exaggerated, but I won’t deny that I enjoy seeing stuff like Arifureta’s lead totally not give a damn about anything not involved with him (not my fantasy but it’s fun to read!).

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Thinking about these kinds of chuuni stories and my relationship to them is interesting! I know I haven’t written a convincing, coherent post, but I hope this at least sort of serves as a primer to chuuni novels and how they function.

Notes

  • I wrote most of this post and then recalled some of my earlier fantasies commit many of the sins mentioned here. Ooops

Illustrations taken from:

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