The premiere (titled “episode 0”) of Mushoku Tensei season 2 is a noticeable visual downgrade from the stellar first season. Stiff animations and inconsistent character art, especially for Ariel, are coupled with unfocused direction, leading to an episode that simply lacked the impact of season 1’s debut.
A great deal of fans, including me, anticipated this ahead of time. Between the two seasons, there was some staff reshuffling; Hiroki Hirano, who was previously the anime’s assistant director, replaced Manabu Okamoto as the series director. The character designs also changed hands in the interim, and the previews for characters like Luke provoked complaints about looking “ugly” and “unfaithful” to the light novel art.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Those who attended the advance screening of episodes 0 and 1 last month reported that episode 1 looks significantly better than episode 0. Sylphie’s voice actress Ai Kayano also apparently reported that the recording for episode 0 took place after episode 1, indicating that the episode may have been a later addition or perhaps that it was shuffled to an earlier slot than initially planned.
Although I’m optimistic that the next few episodes will recapture what made the first season so visually stunning, I don’t necessarily think that the production will hold up in the long term if the seams are this noticeable early on. It seems clear that the show hasn’t received the same level of support as the first series, when Studio Bind was still in the process of gathering staff and establishing itself as a company. Now that the core staff members have other projects to focus on, the series will likely struggle to attract the big-name animator talents who made key moments like episode 21 pop.
That said, for better or worse, even a bad Mushoku Tensei episode still has a more polished production than the average light novel anime. Even if it can’t compare to the cream of the crop in terms of TV anime overall, the story remains immersive thanks to the careful groundwork laid by the character and setting designs. Case in point, one of the top-voted comments about the episode on Reddit says: “I didn’t notice any downgrade in animation quality.”
Most importantly, the script work on display in episode 0 follows the philosophy Okamoto established throughout the first season, synthesising details across multiple chapters into a compelling screenplay. Episode 0 adapts the extra side story chapters from volumes 3 and 4 of the light novel, while also alluding to events from the side story in volume 5. There are some missing details, like the implication that Sylphie’s hair became white from spamming spells in midair, but overall the episode does a good job of establishing Sylphie’s disorientation and her motivation for following Princess Ariel.
On the other hand, there’s another elephant in the room when it comes to season 2’s content. The university arc, which runs from volumes 8 to 11, is commonly regarded as Mushoku Tensei’s weakest storyline because it’s mostly dedicated to setting up future events while telling a slower-paced story. Personally, I find the slice-of-life chapters in this series fun because they give the audience time to get to know the characters who aren’t combat-focused, but I do worry that the story will struggle to hold the attention of anime viewers who enjoyed the action and adventure in season 1. Sadly, the payoff for many of the events depicted in the university arc won’t arrive until a hypothetical season 3 or 4.
Thus, from both a story and a production perspective, season 2 faces significant challenges. Although the core strengths of the series will definitely remain, I just can’t see it wowing newcomers the way season 1 did. That said, if the rumours are true that the second season will have 24-25 episodes total, then the story is likely to end on a very strong note.
This post might sound like unnecessary doomposting because it’s still early days, but I just wanted to explain the situation as realistically as possible. If the worst that will happen is that the series stops capturing the conversation among seasonal anime viewers the way the first season did, that’s not such a bad prospect at all. It’s the natural tendency for a season 2 to capture a smaller, dedicated audience, after all. At the very least this will spare us from the circular discussions about the controversial content, lol.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to episode 1 and I hope you are too!