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I’m not a fan of most Isekai stories – stories of a person ending up in another world and are very prominent in manga and anime. Yes, there are wonderful genre classics like The Wizard of Oz and Fushigi Yuugi. There are good ones in today’s anime world, like the stellar The Faraway Paladin (watch it and prepare to cry). Too many of them get right up my nose as obvious power fantasies without much else beyond wish fulfillment.
Something else I’m not a fan of is conspiracy theories. I’ve watched them consume people’s minds, poison discourse, and lead to a violent attack on America’s Capitol. In a recent fit of contemplation and podcast-binging, I realized conspiracy theories are bad Isekai stories.
It is not a pleasant realization – and writing this made it more troubling.
First, both bad Isekai and conspiracy theories are about victimhood. The more pandering Isekai are about someone getting to be great, mighty, find revenge or whatever in their new world. Conspiracy theorists are also grievance-ridden and looking for someone to take it out on – and in their fantasies they hurt real people.
Isekai (good and bad) and conspiracy theories are oft about being special. That makes sense as a manga titled “I Went To Medieval Times And Died Of Disease” has a limited audience. However, in too many Isekai, the power trip is the point, leading to a story that only works if it pushes your buttons. I find this no different from how many conspiracy theorists believe they’re on a special mission from God or a secret agency to fight evil (when really they’re just toys of grifters).
Both Conspiracy theories and Isekai promise simplicity and are usually gamified. Many modern Isekai are based on game ideas and thus have obvious villains and heroic goals – defeat the Demon Lord, get the girl, etc. Conspiracy theories promise to make sense of the complex world and as scholars have noted resemble LARPS (Live Action Role Playing Games).
Finally, find a lot of bad Isekai dehumanizing and most conspiracy theories to be dehumanizing. Too much Isekai is about the hero you’re supposed to identify and a world of cardboard cutouts to knock around. Conspiracy theorists are glad to dehumanize people, sorting them into simple categories and wishing or bringing harm on people they’ve turned into props.
What I see in all of this is a need for escape. The more pandering Isekai – as much as I critique them – are fulfilling a need. Conspiracy theories fill similar needs but in a very destructive manner. Somewhere in there is a mental place where someone starts a side into the darkness, and I wish I understood it better.
But at least with this insight, I have a chance to understand it a little more.