I strongly dislike gacha mechanics and most mobage who use them. Even if an IP I’m super into, like Pretty Series, gets a mobage, I don’t play their games if they have gacha mechanics, satisfying myself with story summaries, videos, and screenshots. Despite being strongly interested in SNK’s characters and the Days of Memories series, none of which I’ve tried yet, I won’t be playing King of Fighters Girls when it releases for the same reason.
Seeing the popularity of gacha mechanics in Japan, following hits like Pazudora in the early 2010s, it was natural to see more and more characters in manga playing mobile games and even being addicted to gacha. And for some reason, it really pisses me off.
I wouldn’t say I consider gacha “gambling” as it’s something very different. I do believe it’s pretty dangerous and can be even more dangerous than gambling on certain individuals. Funilly, seeing other things in manga which can be problematic or are definitely problematic, doesn’t piss me off as much, probably because I’m not used to seeing gacha yet. For example, stalking being used as a joke in a manga probably never angered me as I’m used to it. (Even if it don’t myself think a certain element is problematic, it doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily keep reading a manga which uses certain issues as a joke depending on certain criteria. It’s a case by case thing, too personal and complicated to explain here).
What irritates me the most is when recent isekai manga have gacha mechanics and characters addicted to them.
I’m saying “recent” since as you already know isekai isn’t a new genre and always existed with works like Dunbine, Escaflowne, Rayearth, 12 Kingdoms, Ima Soko ni Iru Bokutachi, etc. What I call “recent isekai” are the ones that sprung forth following the boom of the genre, also in early 2010. This is when most people started calling these “isekai” too. This boom ended up having many isekai web novels getting light novels, manga and anime adaptations, to the point of saturation. There’s a huge problem with quantity over quality, most isekai being bad, with different issues plaguing most of them. I’d even go as far as to say that “trash isekai” is a pleonasm.
Nowadays most anime adaptations are only one cour long, speeding through content, and are even more ads for the original source material than in the past. Meanwhile, a lot of manga adaptations tend to be very slow paced. In my opinion, this will create an interesting situation in a few years when the isekai boom will end, the popularity of the genre will drop, and multiple long-running manga adaptations will end up getting canceled before finishing adapting not even half of the original’s story.
— 佐々木マサヒト (@okbokujou_ssk) December 13, 2018
With that said, not all isekai are bad. I don’t think I’ll ever take the time to write a specific article on how to find good works in the vast ocean of Isekai, unless I’m paid. However, if you want to read good things, the easiest and quickest way is to simply pick Isekai with female protagonists instead of male protagonists.
I’ve even seen one Isekai actually talk about this saturation issue: Gal Tensei, one of the best Original manga I read in 2018. It ended up getting canceled after two volumes, even though it was a particularly refreshing, genuinely funny, clever story and a commentary on social media. In the final chapter, through one of the characters, the author Sasaki Masahito shared their thoughts on the current state of the industry with the isekai boom, and it’s pretty much the same as what I’ve just said. In any case, You should definitely get Sasaki Masahito’s manga on Kindle and support really talented and nice mangaka like him. He even made me a drawing, seen above, when I praised his manga on Twitter. His new manga, Hachuurui-chan Wa Natsukanai, started this June 2019 and the first chapter is available on Shonen Jump Plus.
I wouldn’t go as far as say that I look down on people who play mobage with gacha mechanics. However, I do have a hard time understanding it. One convenient thing about mobage is how short play sessions can be, so it’s ideal for lifestyles with tons of commuting and when we don’t have time to play on consoles. At the same time, if you pile up the small amount of time put into a mobage every day, you’ll probably end up with way more time than what would have been spent on a console game.
I also strongly disagree with the idea that mobage players only ever play mobage, or that console/handheld console players all look down on mobage. This seem extremely obvious to me, but it’s possible it’s actually not the case. For example, Cygames Festival 2018 had Cygames reveal Granblue Fantasy Versus. One of the reasons behind the game they stated then is that they want more mobage players to try out console games and see how fun they are too.
I also recently started reading a manga called Gamers!, which is the adaptation of a novel of the same name by Aoi Sekina. Reading it is weird because it initially seems to believe exactly what I described above: that there’s a strong opposition between mobage players and console players. Most notably, that only console players can become (good or bad) hardcore players or bad elitists, which irked me a lot. However, I’ve only read a few chapters of Gamers! as of now, so I’m unsure yet if it’s only the characters thinking that way and that they will be corrected later, or if the author himself think that way and that this idea will stay in the story.
Gamers! is a pretty nice and original story. It’s about various high schoolers, their romances, and their different game-related habits, including game development. It has one big problem though, its lack of subtility. Maybe I have a bit too much otaku experience and it’s just that the target audience isn’t me, but the first chapter has the initial protagonist rejecting a girl’s invitation to join her gaming club. (Each chapter tend to follow a different character’s pov). The scene is done in a grandiose way as if it’s supposed to be shocking, while it was obvious he wouldn’t join. This lack of subtility was actually also a problem I had with Seitokai no Ichizon, a previous work also by Aoi Sekina, and it’s a bit frustrating to see it’s still there. Even if I probably can’t write a novel, this kind of stuff makes me think “even I could write this, it’s unfair.” At the same time, it’s nearly not as bad as childish stuff who think being dark is deep and mature, such as Akame Ga kill and its literal “wow look a character will die in this chapter, isn’t my story so mature and cool?” moments.
Another thing which makes me pretty reluctant to start playing mobage is the fact that the games have no end. Some can have interesting stories, though FGO and Granblue are probably the only mobage I’ve heard people praising their story regularly. At the same time, I can’t get invested in a game if I know the only way to end it is either to get bored of it or for the servers to close down. The servers closing down also means forever losing what you’ve put into the game, and I can’t stand that. It’s a different feeling than erasing your save yourself, losing it for some reason, or not caring about your save anymore once you’ve done everything you’ve wanted in a game.
If you’re looking for a never-ending experience and short play sessions, I think considering getting into fighting games is a much better choice than getting into mobage. While getting in touch with your fighting games’ community, you will definitely make some friends along the way too. This might be hypocritical on my part as I don’t play fighting games anymore because of multiple reasons, such as lack of time (saying it that way makes it seem as if I was ever a strong player).
In any case, there are multiple reasons I believe why most current isekai stories are bad. Most of the time it’s because of a sort of laziness. It’s not like I could write a novel myself so I feel bad criticizing authors, but most recent isekai are originally web novels, meaning they were written by people who didn’t necessarily practice how to write beforehand. And while the light novel adaptations, the manga adaptations and the anime adaptations will go through editors, you just can’t change the story’s core. Using the isekai boom means you can make a story by following the same mold as many other isekai and as such avoid shaping and explaining the world yourself. It’s a fantasy setting with goblins because that’s what people expect of Isekai. There’s an evil church. There are RPG mechanics and menu windows. There are demon lords. And in my opinion, one of the worst among worst choices is “there are gacha mechanics because that’s easy to explain since most teenagers already know about it”.
A quick tangent to wrap this up: while I dislike SAO for multiple reasons, I also like some parts of it, like Its deep worldbuilding. That aspect is one of its strong points, and works as a quick and strong indicator of how it was initially written in the early 2000s, long before the isekai boom.
I could go more in detail on certain points I’ve brought up, but this will end up getting too long and time-consuming for what it’s worth.