One substantial recent subcategory of reincarnation series in anime (and its source materials) has been one where a man has achieved the height of power, but for one reason or another winds up dying and reincarnating either in a new world or in a later time period in the same world. The The Summer 2020 season delivered the great The Misfit of Demon King Academy, the Fall 2021 season gave us The World’s Finest Assassin, the Winter 2022 season saw the mediocre The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest and kinda-sorta She Professed Herself Pupil of the Wise Man, and the Spring 2022 season saw The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody. The Winter ’23 season trumps all of them by offering three series in this vein: the second season of Misfit and new series The Reincarnation of the Strongest Exorcist in Another World and Reborn to Master the Blade: From Hero-King to Extraordinary Squire. Taking a look at the similarities and differences of these titles showcases the variety (or lack thereof) provides a microcosm of the subgenre in general.
Probably the most striking similarity between the titles is the one most indicative of the subgenre as a whole: the protagonist was always male originally. There is one prominent previous case with an originally-female co-protagonist – namely, Inuyasha – but that one is a very different animal from the current pack of reincarnation titles. This isn’t too surprising, since protagonists of reincarnation and/or isekai titles in general have been male (or originally male) the overwhelming majority of the time over the past 15 years, but enough titles in this subgenre have come up recently that you’d think at least one would be willing to break the mold.
Another common element is that, in each case, the reincarnate appears in a setting very different than what he originally knew; in two cases (Misfit and Reborn to Master), the protagonist is reborn centuries later in the same world, while the third case (Strongest Exorcist) is an isekai from a much earlier era of our world. Each of these carries some degree of mystery element, though in markedly different ways; Misfit‘s intrigue is more political in nature, while in Reborn to Master the mystery lies in how the world changed so much, especially in the magical sense, and Strongest Exorcist has at least some mystery element in how the summoning magic from the other world works normally in this new setting. All three series also involve situations where the protagonist has not only carried over much of his original power to his reincarnation but also is operating in a magic system where their carried-over power is either somewhat (Misfit) or very (Reborn to Master, Strongest Exorcist) different than the current standards and conventional wisdom, to the point of being a plot device at times. These are also common traits of the subgenre.
The other significant commonality amongst the three is that, in each case, the reincarnate has a shortage of close, personal attachments in his previous life and actively seeks to remedy that with his new one. This is not explicitly stated in Misfit but can easily be interpreted from the value Anos places on his parents and the extents he goes to in helping or protecting those close to him, while Inglis specifically states that he felt isolated as king and doesn’t want that again. Meanwhile, Haruyoshi was distanced to the point of a fatal betrayal and so, as Seika, is actively seeking to make closer bonds in his new life. (His is the most practical and mercenary of the approaches, though.)
The three titles do also have some significant differences. The most basic of these is how they ended up reincarnating. Anos sacrificed himself to end an epic war and ensure peace for 2,000 years, so he set his reincarnation in motion himself. Inglis, on the other hand, died of old age and reincarnated as a reward from a goddess. Haruyoshi, meanwhile, died from being betrayed, though he is also implied to have triggered his own reincarnation. The goals and approaches each take in their new lives are also very different: Anos actively seeks to be recognized as the Devil King incarnate, Inglis seeks to focus on fighting tough foes and developing martial skills to the ultimate level without being weighted down by responsibility, and Haruyoshi seeks to live incognito, or at least not with the spotlight on him. That doesn’t, of course, stop either of the latter two from freely using abilities decidedly OP by setting standards, but Haruyoshi/Seika is at least trying to be surreptitious about it. New-world heritages also vary; Anos is a commoner by birth, while Seika is a highly-ranked noble. (Inglis’s exact status is less clear, but she is the daughter of a knight captain and the niece of a duke, so she is probably a mid-ranked noble.) And of course Inglis differs from the other two by having undergone a gender switch.
How secondary characters fit into the scenarios also varies some. Anos is close with his parents throughout but has no siblings. Inglis also has no siblings, but her parents fade into the background after the first couple of episodes. Seika’s father is around on and off (especially at the beginning), but his mother never appears, and his two elder brothers are also out of the picture after the first couple of episodes. In terms of associates, Anos has both male and female friends that are fiercely loyal and a literal fan club, while Seika has a loyal servant his age who is referred to as a slave but never treated as such and a summoned spirit who’s a regular companion. He also comes to associate with two other like-aged girls, both of whom have Hero qualities. Inglis, meanwhile, is close to her like-aged female cousin (whom she is officially a squire to, though really in name only) and befriends the sister of a traitor, though she seems likely to be picking up other regulars as the series progresses into her Academy days. While there are indications of crushes afoot in the former two cases, and Seika’s closest spirit can be frisky when she takes human form, nothing explicitly romantic is going on in any of the titles at this point.
All of those differences are relatively trivial, however. The most striking distinction between the three titles is their general attitudes. Misfit is a title for those who enjoy a supremely cocky protagonist who can back it up and always seems to be on top of the situation – and even when he’s not 100% in control, he doesn’t let it show. It is also the least inclined of the three towards fan service. Reborn to Master, meanwhile, is all about a protagonist seeking to have fun, with a recurring joke being that what she imagines as “fun” would be horribly dangerous for anyone else. Seika, contrarily, is more of a measured and analytical sort, though he also seems to appreciate rising to a challenge. As a result, his series has the most serious tone.
Thanks to its strong first installment, Misfit came into this season as, by far, the most-anticipated of these three titles. While its second season has by no means been a flop, it is still falling short of capturing the magic of the first season. The necessary change in the lead casting has a little to do with this, but only a little; the bigger problem is a story which is rather hard to follow and some seeming inconsistencies in how some tertiary characters behave. It still offers enough to be worth following by any fan of the first season, but it is not a priority view. It does, at least, have the best technical merits of the three, though that’s not saying much.
Grade so far: B-
Reborn to Master the Blade is easily the most purely fun series of the lot, thanks primarily to Inglis’s attitude. It is also the most sexy of the three, though fan service is not more than a minor component at this point and usually more evident in the OP and ED than episode content. I am a little disappointed that the series does not put more emphasis on how Inglis adapts to being a different gender, but it does at least acknowledge it beyond just Inglis’s initial dismay; the scene where she goes to the party and finds herself being subjected to the same kind of lewd stares she directed towards women in her former life, and realizes first-hand how uncomfortable that can be, was a nice touch. It has had some weak points on technical merits, but overall it’s a solid middle-tier title.
Grade so Far: B-
At this point, the weakest of the three entries is Strongest Exorcist. On the plus size, some of the summoning elements are neat (especially the ape-like creature which can read minds), and the scheming Seika does to avoid attracting too much attention can have some appeal. The problem is that it’s trying to use that gimmick in the same season as the vastly more twisted and entertaining take on it in The Eminence in Shadow. The story elements have also been rather bland, and some may be turned off by Seika matter-of-factly referring to Efa as a slave. While I have kept up with the series, its hooks are not strong enough to distinguish the title and its technical merits certainly won’t carry it.
Grade so far: C+
3 thoughts on “A Second Chance at Greatness: Reincarnation Stories in the Winter ’23 Season”
I ended up dropping Exorcist. It was fine but there were just too many other things to watch this season.
I like Misfit but between the rushed ending of Season 1 and the amount of stuff going on at the start of Season 2 I got confused. I decided I needed to put it aside and either rewatch Season 1 or read the light novel first.
I’m enjoying Reborn to Master the Blade though.
Also 12 Kingdoms. Though that was a proper novel series as opposed to light novel, so perhaps you would count it differently. There was a bunch of fish out of water series featuring females falling out of the sky (sometimes literally) into a males life from some other existence, often magical or alien.
Just realised I was jumping the gun and you are only talking about reincarnation stories as opposed to drastic change in circumstances isekai.. Urgh.