I tried. I really, really, tried. I’m someone who has watched probably tens of thousands of hours of anime. In a given week, I’m likely to spend more time watching it than anyone else. And like all fans, not everything I’ve watched has been perfect. Some anime are amazing, or at least great. These inspire me to watch full seasons, write analysis, or talk with others. After all, a good show is a show worth watching. MASTER OF RAGNAROK AND BLESSING OF EINHERJAR is, unequivocally, not one of those shows. It’s an anime whose popularity I wholly understand. In knowing why the show is so popular, however, my hatred of it grows even more.

What makes MASTER OF RAGNAROK so frustrating to me is how much of a waste it is. What is on the surface an interesting premise gets ruined by the worst forms of fan service. That problem isn’t unique to MASTER OF RAGNAROK. But, the combination of it with the massively underutilized foundation of the anime is sad. The resultant mixture somehow contorts the good of the series amidst so much bad. And, the massive popularity of more sexualized forms of anime is a growing trend in general. MASTER OF RAGNAROK has quite a lot going for it that could be fixed with the avoidance of some basic and unnecessary service.

Defining Isekai

A lot of isekai anime fall into this hole. But, while it massively detracts from the overall quality of the show, it boosts viewership. This generally tends to be because sexual themes sell well. If an anime has even a bare minimum plot and scenes that people enjoy, they watch it. But even though that explains the popularity, it doesn’t immunize the show from critique.

If anything, the growing trend of isekai anime that pivot to this storytelling strategy is a sad spot for anime writ large to be in. But despite the choice it made being a somewhat common one, MASTER OF RAGNAROK’s form of fan service feels uniquely irritating.

The highest level idea of MASTER OF RAGNAROK is an isekai adventure, but it has some unique details. For those unfamiliar with anime jargon, isekai refers to any “in another world” type of anime. In most of them, a protagonist (usually male) finds himself mysteriously transported into another world. The method by which he is transported generally directly corresponds to his life in the world. For example, SWORD ART ONLINE could rightfully be called an isekai anime despite being in a video game, since that’s the basis of the story. Most of the anime’s fantasy worlds are just that—fantasy. They involve mythical creatures, magic, wars, all with less than modern technology more similar to a medieval period.

TO BE HEROINE is Isekai Done Right

A Solid Concept

In MASTER OF RAGNAROK, main character Yuuto Suoh finds himself in a fantasy world. The world has magical elements and some words drawn from Norse mythology, but political structures share similarities with feudal Japan. He is chosen as the Patriarch of the Wolf Clan, taking control over the army during a massive territorial war against other clans. However, he kept his smartphone and memories when he crossed over. He uses his knowledge of history and the encyclopedia of information available via his phone to learn and employ advanced military tactics.

Military strategy in MASTER OF RAGNAROK
Yuuto making use of the phalanx strategy. | Image: Crunchyroll

To the warmongers of this fictional world, there is no existence of Greece or Rome. They lack the historical context to learn, study, and act according to. So when Yuuto instructs his entire army to fight in a phalanx formation, he decimates enemies. This a concept that made me super excited. It was like the opportunity to see various battle simulations from centuries of wars unfold in real time. A Japanese battle strategy would never have normally clashed with an Ancient Greek one in real life. Here, Yuuto could recreate those cool ideas.

Plus, the mere presence of clans gave the amazing potential to make anime more geopolitical. Usually, the conflicts in shonen anime are purely physical. Adding a social dimension to combat would make Yuuto’s Patriarch role much more substantive.

The Problem

Unfortunately, fan service bastardized that army commander role. Yuuto’s fellow MASTER OF RAGNAROK characters are a veritable harem of “daughters” and “little sisters.” Even though it’s shown that the elders of a clan are almost all men, somehow every leader that Yuuto meets just happens to be a teenage girl his age. Military prowess makes his position make some sense; this is not true in the case of others.

When he defeats a clan, he absorbs them like an empire. But, he also makes the Patriarch of that clan (who ironically will be a teenage girl) either his daughter or sister. Politically, this serves the purpose of making them a recipient of any passive familial obligations he has. It also gives the ruling bloodline of a defeated clan some connection to the person ruling them. This in and of itself seems somewhat similar to Mongolian empirical practice but takes a much more perverted angle.

Two members of Yuuto's harem in MASTER OF RAGNAROK
Two members of Yuuto’s harem. | Image: Crunchyroll

The fan service manifests when all of Yuuto’s strange war trophy harem begins to faun over him. They often refer to him as Father or Big Brother, meaning the cringe-worthy anime “imouto” trope rears its annoying head. Hearing them referring to someone their own age as “Father” isn’t any less weird. What’s especially disappointing is how this attempt at creating romantic tension manifests. Yuuto becomes the classic bashful protagonist constantly flustered at the number of girls making sexual advances toward him. Every scene with even a remotely serious tone is punctuated by low effort sexual scenes and fan service so gratuitous that finishing single episodes is difficult.

Harem Anime: What’s Up With That?

What this Means for Isekai

But you may be asking yourself, why is this a problem? Tons of isekai anime are like this. And you would be correct. Because the fact that this level of fan service and terrible execution is normal is precisely the issue at hand. A lot of isekai like LOG HORIZON or RE:ZERO manage to even incorporate romance with minimal fan service. Shows like KONOSUBA do so in ways that are a bit much sometimes but never enough to crowd out the actual show itself.

Post war in MASTER OF RAGNAROK
Yuuto surveys the battlefield after decimating a rival clan. | Image: Crunchyroll

Plus, it means that there’s one more show out there that could have been great. It’s annoying to start a show and feel really excited only to take it to the yard with a 12-gauge five episodes in. This is a problem anime face every single season. Viewers are right to be concerned about an anime. For people who like ridiculous amounts of fan service, there is ample adult entertainment out there that they can peruse at their leisure. There’s no reason to take concepts with potential and water them down to appeal to a carnal fan base that would literally anything every week if it wore cat ears and a skirt.

This is a show unworthy of its popularity. I’ve wasted several hours of my life watching the first several episodes. I’m never getting that time back. There are so many other quality shows out there, even within the isekai sub-genre.

Missed Potential with MASTER OF RAGNAROK

Ultimately, the show isn’t going to go away, especially not anytime soon. But if we as anime fans continue to gravitate toward shows like this, they won’t go away. Writers include fan service in shows because it makes more people watch them. Progressively, norms develop wherein the new “normal” for isekai is a fantasy otherworldly harem.

But the biggest draw from that realization is a simple one. It really doesn’t have to be this way. A more fulfilling plot that makes full use of the military element of the show would work. Having a legitimate romance would enhance their dull and shapeless characters of the main cast. Doing both in tandem would actually make the show watchable. Because as it stands, I doubt I’ll ever touch it ever again. Fan service should not be so gratuitous that the anime ceases to have a story. MASTER OF RAGNAROK is yet another series to descend into that folly.

Featured image from Crunchyroll.

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