THAT TIME I GOT REINCARNATED AS A SLIME (Tenshi Shitara Slime Datta Ken), based on the novel by Fuse, with art by Taiki Kawakami and character designs by Mitz Yah. First published in 2015 and first published in North America in 2017.
Satoru Mikami is another run-of-the-mill salaryman until the day he gets stabbed to death. Instead of crossing over into the afterlife, he is instead reincarnated as a humble slime monster within a cave. After making a deal with a dragon to gain some senses and absorb some new skills, the newly redubbed Rimaru Tempest plops his way into the world, ready to explore the world.
I am legitimately shocked. I'm used to these isekai stories being boring, offensive, immature, frustrating, and generally just not good. I expected more of the same from this book, just with a goofier premise than usual. Yet it ended up being...actually kind of good?
I know, I'm scared too. Just let me explain how this could have happened.
First of all, it's so nice to find an isekai story where the protagonist is neither a horny teenage dweeb nor a bland, know-it-all savior. We don't learn much about Satoru other than he's a 37-year-old virgin, but as Rimaru the slime we see how willing he is to help others. At first it's simply a matter of practicality to literally save himself, but as the story goes on Rimaru is more and more willing to go out of his way to help others on good faith alone. The only thing better than his innate generosity is his sense of humor. Rimaru has a certain wryness about himself and his situation that never really comes at his or anyone else's expense, as well as a degree of genre awareness. Heck, even as a human he manages to have a grimly funny moment as he tells a friend to erase his computer as his final wish. I'm sure it was a tricky thing to preserve while making it work for English speakers, so credit where credit is due to translator Stephen Paul for pulling it off.
He also manages to use his slime powers cleverly. Initially, the only abilities Rimaru possess is the ability to touch and consume. As he consumes more varied materials and creatures, though, he gains more skills and abilities (as robotically announced by an unseen figure, the story's one concession to the 'stuck in a video game' idea). So when he does gain a new skill, he actually has to practice and hone it before he can make use of it. He also has to get creative with them, such as repurposing a bat's ultrasonic abilities to give himself the power of speech or combining digested healing herbs and his own body to form healing potions. This means Rimaru can be a hero in far more diverse ways than just swinging a sword and killing some random villain, something that bodes well for this series' future.
Finally, unlike the series I just reviewed, this one actually benefits from its leisurely pace. Since Rimaru is well and truly dead in the other world, he's under no obligation to leave a game or go back to his previous life. As such, he can actually slow down and bond with some of the creatures he meets along the way before moving on to the next plot point. Yes, there's some degree of exposition, but it's delivered in a much more natural way than I'm used to seeing in these sorts of stories and nowhere near at the level of density that's normal for them either. Overall, there's a level of competence here that I'm not used to, but it's kind of a pleasant surprise to see someone FINALLY do something good with this concept.
Apparently Kawakami is new to the world of professional manga, which seems to be standard for these sorts of adaptations. He got lucky, then, because Mitz Vah's character designs do a lot of heavy lifting for him. It's amazing how much emotion they can get out Rimuru considering that he is a literal round blob with nothing but a pair of pencil-thin eyebrows to indicate his front. Almost everything is done through gesture and it's more effective than you'd think.
Meanwhile, the rest of the cast is mostly pretty chiseled for a bunch of fantasy races. I'm still not sure whether that's a good thing (because it defies expectation) or a lazy thing (because most of them tend to look the same). Otherwise, Kawakami manages to put things together in a perfectly competent, if unremarkable fashion. There's the occasional highlight, like the early sequence where Rimaru talks to a dragon psychically while unable to perceive anything but touch, but for the most part all the remarkable stuff is in the text, not the art.
Aside from the usual omakes and translation notes, there's a little side story written from the perspective of the dragon Rimaru meets. It's mildly amusing in a pompous sort of way, but it's at least more novel than the usual light novel preview one usually sees.
That Time I Got Reincarnated As a Slime manages to stand out from its many isekai brethren by embracing its silly premise and working with it in clever and endearing ways. The only thing holding it back is its lackluster art. Nonethless, this is still probably the strongest example of the genre I've seen yet.
This series is published by Kodansha Comics. This series is ongoing in Japan with 5 volumes available. 2 volumes have been published and are currently in print.
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