The Consequence of No Penalties: Mushoku Tensei and excusing sexual violence

Content material warning: discussions of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and pedophilia

Spoilers for Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Season 1 and a pair of

Writer’s Notice: This text was written earlier than the airing of Mushoku Season 2 Half 2 and thus doesn’t discover that a part of the present. Contemplating its monitor file, nevertheless, I doubt something that occurs in that half would change this text’s conclusion a lot.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson, a novel collection revealed from 1977 to 2013, is one in every of my favourite works of fantasy ever. It’s additionally notorious for having one of the crucial loathsome protagonists in trendy fiction. The titular character, a misanthropic shut-in who will get transported to a different world, sexually assaults a teenage lady within the story’s opening act. It’s a very horrific second, and whereas Covenant by no means does something almost that monstrous once more, the load of his sin hangs over his neck for the remainder of the collection.

I carry this all as much as say that I see the worth in tales the place the protagonist is a horrible particular person. Dealt with effectively, a narrative with a important character like this may discover concepts and touch upon components of the human situation that extra aspirational protagonists can’t. However there’s an necessary issue to that equation: penalties.

I don’t imply a moralistic “this character did a nasty factor and ought to be punished by the creator for it” mindset. I imply that when a personality does one thing excessive, for good or unwell, it ought to depart an affect on these caught in its wake. Thomas Covenant assaulting an adolescent, for instance, has far-reaching results on her, on her household, and on himself, aftershocks that will naturally stem from such a horrible act. Any story that desires to discover this darker facet of humanity have to be prepared to discover how doing horrible issues impacts the world and other people round you, or it dangers trivializing the true horrors of the darkness it depicts. 

Then there’s this fucking man.

Mushoku Tensei, funnily sufficient, begins from a lot the identical place as Thomas Covenant. A misanthropic shut-in transported to a different world, Rudeus “Rudy” Greyrat is a pedophile given an opportunity to stay a greater life and restore his poisonous patterns. Mushoku Tensei purports to be a narrative of redemption, exploring how even probably the most reprehensible particular person conceivable can develop into a decent human being. Nevertheless it undercuts Rudeus’ progress by consistently shielding him from the implications of his actions even in his new life, twisting its world and characters nevertheless it needs to justify and excuse the horrible issues he does.

This begins early on with Sylphiette, a childhood good friend who Rudeus forcibly strips considering she’s a boy. When he goes to apologize, he’s awkward and uncomfortable, objectifying her as he fumbles over his phrases and by no means really saying “I’m sorry.” However regardless of that, Sylphiette takes the initiative to forgive him and says she doesn’t wish to let this incident destroy their relationship. To make issues worse, Sylphiette brings up this incident years later as one of many causes she’s drawn to him. Sure, you heard that proper; Rudeus violating her boundaries is framed not as one thing that he should make up for over time or an impediment of their relationship, however as one thing that made her fall in love with him.

You’d assume this want to commit precise youngster grooming could be challenged someplace down the road. However no,

An analogous factor occurs with Lilia, the household’s maid. As a toddler, Rudeus typically steals Lilia’s underwear and taunts her with it, leaving her justifiably uncomfortable in his presence. However afterward, when it’s revealed that Lilia’s been sleeping with Rudeus’ father Paul—who started their affair by sexually assaulting her earlier than it turned an allegedly consensual relationship—Rudeus convinces his mother to not kick her out. Consequently, Lilia decides Rudeus will not be so dangerous in spite of everything and devotes her life to him. You could discover this doesn’t really handle Rudeus’ repeated violation of her boundaries, as an alternative emphasizing how noble it was of him to save lots of her. Paul’s sexual assault is barely commented on, at the same time as a degree of comparability; he’s the incorrect get together just for dishonest. 

Shot of Lillia with narration saying "in the end, he assaulted Lillia while she was sleeping and deflowered her."
This single line of voice-over is actually all the eye given to Paul assaulting Lilia, to be clear.

Absolutely the worst of it, although—at the least in Season 1—comes with Rudy’s cousin Eris. Rudeus tries to sexually assault Eris twice: as soon as when he finds her sleeping in a barn and makes an attempt to take away her underwear, as soon as when she mistakenly comes onto him with out absolutely understanding the state of affairs. And the way does Eris react to nearly being horrifically violated twice? Slapstick anime violence. That’s it. He’s smacked round in stereotypical offended tsundere vogue, Eris tells him to attend till she’s “an grownup” (which is fifteen on this world, no we don’t have time to unpack that), and their relationship stays undamaged. A single smack “resets” her reactions to him as a love curiosity; she isn’t an individual however a potential future sex-dispenser, and any lasting penalties like feeling unsafe across the relative who attacked her would get in the best way of that. Given how the present treats Paul and Lillia’s relationship, it appears to treat rape as a suitable precursor to a relationship, or at the least not one thing that’s price getting upset over.

Rudeus wondering if he thought he 'knew how love interests feel after playing all those dating sims?'
There’s a second the place it appears like Rudeus is about to be taught a lesson and apologize, however then Eris comes again in and makes issues higher all on her personal.

It’s a sample the writing falls into over and over. Rudeus sexually abuses or degrades a girl or lady he’s near. Sometimes, it looks as if the present would possibly be constructing as much as difficult him for his actions and forcing him to confront the methods he hurts folks. However finally, it has the offended get together forgive him with little to no criticism of his conduct, placing the onus on the ladies he takes benefit of to absolve him of his crimes and save him the emotional weight of actually reckoning with the hurt he causes.

But even that, someway, is topped in awfulness by a second in Season 2 the place he kidnaps, molests, and tortures a pair of feminine bullies after they smash his anime figurine. Absolutely, one thing this excessive would trigger some narrative fallout, proper? However no, as soon as once more, nothing. Sylphiette is nothing however supporting of Rudeus after she finds out what’s happening, and never solely do the ladies not inform the varsity about being assaulted and tied up for days on finish, in addition they change into a part of Rudeus’ good friend group! 

two beast girls tied up and gagged
Can not stress sufficient that Rudy by no means even apologizes for this.

Actually the very subsequent episode, they’re simply hanging round him like every little thing’s regular, and he will get to maintain groping them with no repercussions past—as soon as once more—slapstick anime violence. That is supposedly a severe fantasy story that’s not afraid of heavy concepts, however violence towards girls is all the time light-weight sufficient to be dismissed as comedy. Retribution towards male characters can also be nowhere close to as detailed or centered on humiliation. Rudy’s comeuppance towards a prince who falsely imprisons him, for instance, is for the prince to be overwhelmed and arrested fairly unceremoniously. Solely the ladies have to be not simply punished, however introduced down a peg. This doesn’t even get into Rudeus shopping for a woman as a slave to make these anime collectible figurines, which might be half of a complete ‘nother article.

a young girl wearing a slave collar
BRB screaming internally

That is how allergic Mushoku Tensei is to letting Rudeus endure for his actions. It asks you to consider that each one these women and girls, throughout all these cases of violation and abuse, determine it’s no huge deal when Rudeus hurts them in numerous alternative ways. It places the onus on its feminine characters to simply accept and love him—or at the least tolerate him—to absolve him of all his crimes with out ever letting him face the fallout that such monstrous acts would naturally lead to. It reduces them to props in his story, objects for his success and private satisfaction. He’s not challenged for his actions; he’s rewarded for them, time and time once more. The one characters allowed to name Rudy out on his actions in a method that causes him to mirror and alter are older male authority figures like Rujierd or Soldat. Whereas Roxy would possibly tutor him in magic and emotionally nurture him by his early fears, the story by no means permits girls the house to criticize him.

At this level, you is perhaps considering, “Effectively, are there any occasions that Rudeus faces penalties for his actions?” And… sure. Sort of. Eris leaves him on the finish of the primary season and he tries to rebound with one other lady named Sara, considering that dashing into issues together with her will assist salve the ache of shedding his first relationship. However his abandonment points depart him with erectile dysfunction, and the disgrace of being so “emasculated” causes him to get drunk and lash out with sexist mockery to keep away from confronting the basis trigger: he’s scared to type significant relationships as a result of he doesn’t wish to danger the ache of them falling aside like they did with Eris. She kicks him to the curb, and we by no means see her once more; she’s out of his life for good.

Sara, angry. "Youre the worst. Never let me see you again."
Essentially the most satisfying second in your entire present

Right here, ultimately, Mushoku Tensei gives a storyline through which Rudeus has to face the music. He’s offered as unambiguously within the incorrect, his errors have plausible repercussions, and he’s compelled to stay with these penalties with no take-backs or do-overs. It solely took thirty episodes, however for the primary time, the present addresses Rudeus’ flaws with the load and thoughtfulness they deserve.

…Besides this arc finally ends up exposing yet one more downside. See, Sara is initially chilly and hostile in the direction of Rudeus earlier than warming as much as him. However we by no means really discover out why she hates his guts at first. She’s simply standoffish and impolite for no motive till he saves her life and she or he falls in love with him. Assume how straightforward it will be to border her dislike of him round his misogyny, or his behavior of violating consent, or any variety of his precise character flaws. As a substitute, the writing frames her as an ice queen in want of a person to thaw her out reasonably than interrogate why somebody is perhaps delay by an individual like Rudeus.

shirtless Rudy and Sara with her shirt unbuttoned
He additionally will get to see her bare after saving her, due to course he does.

This reveals a weird corollary to the Rudeus’ lack of penalties: the present just about solely lets characters be antagonistic in the direction of him when it’s explicitly unjustified. For all of the occasions he steals ladies’ underwear and taunts them with it, the one time he nearly pays for it’s when a pair falls on his face by chance and the onlookers mistakenly assume he stole it. For all of the occasions he violates consent and molests the women and girls round him, the one time it has a significant affect is when a gaggle of beast-people mistakenly assume he’s molesting their sacred wolf (when he was actually simply petting it) and imprison him for a small facet arc,. All of the occasions he really does one thing incorrect, Mushoku Tensei bends over backwards to deal with it as no huge deal. However when the world does push again towards Rudeus’ actions, it’s almost all the time in conditions the place he’s not really at fault and the folks criticizing him are framed as within the incorrect.

All this results in a very vile sentiment underpinning the portrayal of Rudeus’ actions. By simply forgiving him for his errors and casting all his harshest critics as misguided, Mushoku Tensei asks its viewers to view its loathsome protagonist as somebody who can do no incorrect. It leads you to affiliate Rudeus being challenged for his actions with false accusations not price taking critically. It creates a story framing the place Rudeus molesting, grooming, and assaulting kids is, at worst, a innocent and forgivable annoyance, and anybody who tries to make him face penalties for it has no thought what they’re speaking about. And there’s no state of affairs it received’t twist unnaturally to protect that framing.

chest-height close-up of Lillia. "He saved my life. I have to spend my life repaying him."
“Positive, he creeped on me for years and made me really feel unsafe, however who cares when he’s such a pleasant man?”

Mushoku Tensei needs you to consider it’s a narrative about redemption. It needs you to consider it’s about how even the worst particular person can change for the higher. Maybe in one other world the place it dealt with these matters effectively, it might have been simply as highly effective in Thomas Covenant in its portrayal of a reprehensible protagonist struggling to change into a great particular person. However by denying Rudeus the implications of his actions and refusing to border him as within the incorrect, it as an alternative turns into a narrative about how the worst folks aren’t so dangerous in spite of everything. It’s a wonderfully constructed fantasy the place a pedophile rapist will get to be in the precise regardless of how loathsome his actions, the place his critics are by no means justified, the place he by no means has to take care of the aftereffects, the place his victims are completely compliant equipment who absolve him of each indiscretion. It suggests there’s no want for an individual like Rudeus to alter the worst features of himself, and that anybody who says in any other case isn’t price listening to.

It’s inconceivable to not see shades of actual life on this apologism. How we give second possibilities to well-known males uncovered for pedophilia, like Roman Polanski, Shimabukuro Mitsutoshi, and Watsuki Nobuhiro, due to how a lot we love the artwork they produce. Their contributions to society are given priority over the youngsters they’ve preyed upon, their crimes excused with the identical underlying logic the writing applies to Rudeus. In fiction and actuality, pedophilia turns into a suitable character flaw, one you by no means must reckon with, restore, or make amends for. If nothing else, that’s a technique Mushoku Tensei does seize one thing actual, albeit unintentionally.

Besides in actual life, it’s not the hand of the creator defending predators from the implications of their actions. It’s the hand of a society that forgives the unforgivable as a result of it’s extra handy than acknowledging simply what number of sacrifices are required to maintain the phantasm of justice alive. And so long as we proceed to border a person’s private accomplishments and emotional journey as extra necessary than the ladies and ladies he harms alongside the best way, then the so-called redemption of our personal world’s Rudeuses would be the penalties that the remainder of us will proceed to face for a protracted, very long time to return.

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