Content Warning: Fatphobia, bullying, parental abuse
What’s it about? As a fat person, Tenjou Yuuya knows how cruel the world can be; he’s bullied by his classmates, and even disdained by his own family. Only his grandfather was kind to him, and even left him everything after passing away. “Everything” includes a hidden room with a mysterious door to another world.
I have to award points to Cheat Skill right off the bat for giving its Misfit Outcast Dude an actual burden beyond a slightly shit personality and teenage superiority complex. Anti-fatness is a nightmarish thing that grinds a person down from every corner of society, whether it’s diet ads that promote unhealthy or even dangerous solutions (because it’s okay for your heart to explode if your corpse looks thin!); doctors who relate every health complaint to weight loss, even when they are unrelated and that callousness potentially proves fatal; or a simple underlying assumption by many that fat people are some degree of subhuman.
It’s a simple trick, maybe, but my heart went out to Yuuya. He’s someone who’s been relentlessly shit on his entire life just for existing (and while it’s beside the point, is clearly quite active as part of his part-time jobs; he’s just fat, and his aesthetic aberrance is unforgivable) but still wants to help other people. That’s not to say the episode doesn’t engage in a bit of abjection itself—a number of shots have Yuuya enter a room belly-first, the camera loves a fish-eye lens to emphasize just how downright Quasimodo-like this kid’s appearance is, and the backstory tips from “hellish punishments for the crime of living while fat” to “oh come on now” when a flashback of Yuuya’s mother scolds him for mixing his laundry in with the (attractive) rest of the family.
Still, I found myself rooting for him, which is no small task given how utterly exhausted I am by the subgenre. It’s not a particularly creative iteration, either. The overuse of tiny text on static stat screens is unforgivably uninteresting, and there’s a distracting graininess thrown over the visuals. The montage of Yuuya experimenting with his new magic isekai house is livelier, because it’s one of the only shown-over-told parts of the episode, but by then my disappointment at the gimmick had already set in.
Yuuya, you see, is not long a fat protagonist. After allotting his new magic stat points he develops an eight-pack overnight, as well as several inches in height and a nose job. He wakes to the ultimate horror: being yet a-fucking-nother generic Potato-kun. It feels like a wasted opportunity, honestly. We could’ve seen Yuuya become slowly muscular and more confident in a way that still transformed the way he’s perceived, but let him look more like a Tagame Gengoroh protagonist. After all, there are plenty of fat athletes, including some of the best in the world! But, y’know, then we might’ve had to look at an interesting character design in another bargain-basement isekai story. That cannot be allowed.
This theme of “magically beefcaked fat protagonists” seems to be an interest of light novel protagonist Miku, who also wrote The Fruit of Evolution. I don’t want to hammer on that too hard, because there are plenty of fat people, especially fat kids, who’ve probably dreamed about a magic pill that would make the problem of people treating them like shit go away. Given how few manga there are focusing on the experience of fatness (you’ve got the harrowing In Clothes Called Fat on one hand and the encouraging but extremely recent Embrace Your Size on the other), I don’t want to underestimate how hard it is to even talk about these things in Japanese publishing. After all, The Fruit of Evolution was a terrible anime for completely unrelated reasons.
That shared lineage pretty well torpedoes any hope I had for the series’ female characters. The only ones who show up in this premiere are Yuuya’s abusive mother and sister, nameless background women who observe his bullying, and the Obvious Love Interest girl who he saves from street harassment and turns out to be rather well-off. She seems nice enough, but she also has maybe three lines, and it’s not exactly a ringing endorsement when you can easily sort all the women who appear in to “good camp” and “bad camp” (almost like some kind of dichotomy or something). I might wish Yuuya the best with his new eight-pack, but I’m checking out here.