Isekai anime seems to be, if not changing entirely, at least taking some steps in a different direction. Whereas most genre protagonists are teen or twentysomething guys with not a lot going for them except a crush and one overclocked power, newer series are led by overachieving girls just trying to live their best life. That’s the case with this season’s Ascendance of a Bookworm, and it’s true again for the long-named Didn’t I Say to Make My Abilities Average in the Next Life!?
The star of Average Abilities is Mile, a Japanese honor student who forewent friendship and fun in pursuit of a solid GPA. In her new fantasy afterlife, she has one wish: to be average. Sadly, the nanomachines who make this world tick never learned the difference between “mean” and “median.” So rather than being placed in standard and unexciting circumstances, she ranks exactly halfway up any given scale. Halfway up the social scale? She’s a low-level noble. Halfway up the magic scale? Well, obviously that means she’s exactly 50% as powerful as this world’s almighty god-dragon.
On the bright side, this doesn’t prevent her from making friends. In fact, she parties up within the first episode, and the result is basically your local D&D group on an especially rowdy night.
Once more characters are introduced, the show is less like an isekai and more like a casual kick-the-doors-down campaign where one character’s backstory just happens to be “originally from the real world and kind of a nerd.” Fighting monsters along with Mile are well-meaning (read: low-INT) fighter Mavis, edgy but adorable fire mage Reina, and Pauline, the sweet party treasurer who will absolutely destroy you if you overspend the party’s gold.
Oh, there’s one more important thing: Mile is a massive weeb.
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The series is littered with references to older anime, from Mile’s insistence that Mavis belongs in Rose of Versailles to an extended Dragonball training montage. And yes, there are JoJo references. Mile passes her anime jokes off as stories from her home country, but those of us playing the home game know what’s really going on.
Love 90s anime? That cheerful tabletop gaming vibe is the same one you feel when watching Slayers. The series (which turns 25 next year) was equally full of crazy magic, over-the-top characters, and just enough serious drama to bolster its story without altering the mood. It’s a tough balance to strike, but a winner when it works. Average Abilities occasionally falls back on fanservice — such as the episode where Mile wants a day at the beach, but her only context for seaside outings comes from those infamous “beach episodes.” More often than not, though, the humor comes from character interactions and referential gags.
Average Abilities is a definite bright spot in the current anime season, with cheerful theme music and a main cast of characters who are all finding friendship and acceptance in the midst of their own problems. The Crimson Vow may not be the most well-organized adventuring party, but really, that just makes them more endearing.