“Protect humanity; save the world.”Leon Demonhart, I’m Quitting Heroing
Fixer-uppers are all the rage lately, and I’m not talking about home renovation. The anime seasons have seen their fair share of rebuild narratives, with a few in recent memory jumping immediately into mind: Realist Hero, Genius Prince, and, currently airing, I’m Quitting Heroing. Each of them features a fantastical kingdom in economic and/or political turmoil and in each of them a hero comes along to save the day. While some aspects are refreshing in their approach, other areas perpetuate troubling beliefs and boring writing. I’m Quitting Heroing is the latest and, arguably, the best example of this type of story with its increased focus on notable side characters rather than the lead.
Kingdom rebuilds existed in anime far before the named titles–take for example The Twelve Kingdoms–but the entire goal of the series circling the hero main character and their mission to save the nation feels more pronounced than ever before. While Twelve Kingdoms does include quite a bit of social and economic build up, much of the time is spent elsewhere, like Youko’s long journey of self discovery and friendships with others. The closest example to modern anime and rebuilding I can think of is Maoyu: Archenemy & Hero, a 2013 series where the hero is convinced by the demon queen to enact measures that will benefit both kingdoms.
When How a Realist Hero Rebuilt the Kingdom came onto the scene in 2021, enough time had passed since the last example for the style to feel fresh once again. The flood of isekai anime featuring young, usually male, heroes saving the kingdom by fighting some generic villain had the genre feeling completely waterlogged and in need of something, anything different. So when we were gifted a hero who sought to assist not through magical or physical power but through knowledge and wisdom, I sat up and took notice. Kazuya Souma assumes the kingdom’s crown shortly upon arriving in his new world and is even betrothed to the princess, the reasons for which are largely a mystery aside for vague hand waving about his capability and personality.
At first, it was fun following Souma as he met existing government officials then later appointed his own from the general public. Almost every one of his decisions were supposedly grounded in Machiavelli, or as Souma sometimes referred to it, common sense. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked into The Prince or any of the related philosophies, but I still found the anime’s explanations simplistic in view and approach, particularly because they were always successful. Yes, I laughed as Kazuya worked together with Poncho on sustainable food sources, and cheered on the kingdom’s use of projected announcements for entertainment, but I still felt uncomfortable with the repeated praise for and use of The Prince for running the nation. Season 2 followed in 2022 touting the same principles with a more insistent voice, this time with a splash of violence. We witnessed a war both outside and within the nation’s borders, an execution of would-be usurpers, and slavery. The deceptive lightheartedness of the first season faded into grimaces. Souma could do no wrong, not with every important character on his side and a copy of The Prince in hand.
Closely following on the heels of Kazuya Souma was The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt, the title of which had me fully expecting a clone. Thankfully, that was not the case, as Prince Wein was less a do-gooder and more a naturally gifted strategist who would rather take a nap than lead a country. Battles won and land obtained happened against his expectations, resulting in more wealth for his kingdom and, unfortunately, more responsibilities. While those around him do respect and admire the prince, there’s far less of the hero worship present in Realist Hero and a bit more of exasperated hand wringing. Genius Prince later did end up tiring me with Wein’s repeated successes and by the end of the single cours I was more than ready for the story to be done.
Now, the spring 2022 season presents us with another kingdom to save, and, again, a hero to take the helm. I’m Quitting Heroing differs from the previous two, however, thanks to the setting and cast. We still have a hero, Leo Demonheart–a human who was so successful it earned him the fear and distrust of the people he protected. Instead of thriving off of praise, he ends up leaving the humans in favor of the demons he once fought and defeated. Like the demon queen and her generals, I was shocked when Leo actually had the audacity to propose joining their side. It didn’t surprise me in the least when he was denied; who could trust someone who brought so much destruction as the opposition? By approaching the generals separately with the promise that he would stay disguised as Black Knight Onyx, Leo started his new life as a subject of the Demon Queen.
The layout takes a predictable route with each of the generals in turn, starting with Steina. What makes this show standout in particular among others of its like is the increased focus on the other characters–their motivations, interests, personality quirks. They’re much like humans. Lily is young and inexperienced, but what she lacks in focus, she makes up for in determination and creativity. Dragonkin Edvard struggled to understand why his troops couldn’t immediately rise to his expectations and punished himself for their failures. I started to wonder how these demons were even considered evil or fearsome, since the face they showed us was mostly harmless. So when Leo finally had the order to appear before Demon Queen Echidna, I took notice. This young woman who seemingly cared for her people and their wellbeing couldn’t be that bad, right? And she really wasn’t, for the most part. It wasn’t until her declaration for her kingdom’s health at the cost of others that I started to be concerned. For all her professions of wanting to avoid bloodshed, taking the Philosopher’s Stone from humanity will still likely result in more suffering. She acknowledges this, but doesn’t offer any solution for the problems that will arise in the future.
As of this post, this show is still airing and I don’t know how it might end. We could end up with a cliffhanger, given the ample time spent on character development even more than halfway through the season. For now, I’m enjoying the individual stories in turn. The connections Leon makes with each of them, the little wisdoms he shares, they feel genuine in a way that Realist Hero and Genius Prince could only aspire to. I don’t want to excessively spoil the reasons for that until my full season review, but his knowledge and calm attitude make sense given his life experiences.
Have you noticed this recent trend of fantasy rebuilds? And if so, can you name any titles not mentioned here that I might want to check out? I’m also curious about the earliest example of an anime in this style, and how much things have or have not improved since then. I’m certain future series will still feature reconstruction and restructuring in some shape or form–there’s satisfaction in seeing real-time improvement in our fiction that reflects our own desires to learn from the past and grow.