Content warning: animal death, blood
What’s it about? After falling off a bridge, recently-orphaned Mitsuha wakes up in a strange place and realizes she’s developed the ability to jump back and forth between worlds. Thinking about what her deceased older brother would do in the situation, Mitsuha plans to use this “cheat code” to earn money and ensure herself a comfortable life both on Earth and in the fantasy realm.
Since yesterday’s female-led fantasy adventure was such an absolute minefield, I’m pleased to announce that this one is more straightforwardly stupid.
To be fair to Saving 80,000 Gold, it’s not like there’s nothing to like here. It has, as we say in Australia, a red hot go at executing its ideas. But mostly it falls flat and suffers from the inability to pick a consistent tone, making it a bit of a baffling watch—as well as one with some unsettling ethical implications.
For example, we actually get some tension and conflict as this episode explores how, well, being sucked into a completely different world might be difficult! As well as the multi-day hike she has to take before she finds people, Mitsuha has to deal with a language barrier, unfamiliar food, and medieval toilet technology. I’m not saying any of this was entertaining to watch, but it shows more narrative effort than the isekai where everything is immediately easy for the protagonist.
There’s also not a massive infodump at the start, and we’re trusted to infer—through scattered flashbacks—the tragedy Mitsuha has been through, trying to focus on university entrance exams while still grieving the loss of her family. It’s honestly a compelling setup… or it would be, if the tone didn’t keep springing back and forth between somber and silly.
There are some moments that are downright jarring. For instance, there are jokes about how Collette, a little girl from the fantasy world, has supernaturally strong hugs that almost break Mitsuha’s spine! Very slapstick and exaggerated, yes? Imagine how odd this gag feels coming just moments after an extremely realistic, grounded, not-at-all goofy or exaggerated scene of violence in which Mitsuha kills a wolf with a kitchen knife, and comes away splattered with blood. No cool fantasy fighting here, just bloody butchering in the name of survival. And then, twang, with the force of a snapping rubber band we’re back to goofiness and chibis.
Mitsuha’s dead parents notwithstanding, the promo material makes this show look quite lighthearted, so this sudden gory realism took me completely by surprise and completely out of the experience. It made it a little difficult to concentrate when Mitsuha was learning the worldbuilding rules for her situation from a floating sentient Lucky Cat figurine who introduces itself as an enlightened being. What are we doing here, show? Can we pick just one of these vibes, or at least balance them a bit more smoothly?
One of the biggest sources of this tonal whiplash is Mitsuha’s older brother… or at least, the imagined specter of her older brother who pops up to give her advice. I want to put my hand over my tender heart and say “oh, isn’t it nice that this series explores the connection, love, and grief between siblings as its central relationship?” but unfortunately, at this stage, if I see a cutely-designed anime teenager characterized as loving her otaku older brother sirens start blaring in my brain.
Big Brother Dearest is also very annoying. I can’t quite tell if he’s meant to be an over-the-top caricature of a nerd or if he’s sincerely meant to represent the target audience for the show. I don’t know. I’m certainly not impressed that—at least for the moment—he seems to be the source of most of Mitsuha’s useful ideas. Yes, he’s a supportive voice in her head rather than a literal ghost, but it’s still a bit of a letdown that our protagonist seemingly gets most of her inspiration from an offscreen male character. I imagine, and hope, that this will taper off once the confusion and survival situation of the premiere is passed, but I can’t say for sure.
I also can’t say that I have too much confidence in the plan going forward. Mitsuha declares aloud that this world is primitive and that she’ll make bucketloads of cash bringing inventions from modern-day Earth to the fantasy world to sell to its gormless peasants. Intentional or otherwise, the colonial spirit of this endeavor—in which an enlightened traveller improves the sorry lives of the locals by bringing them “proper” technology—screams off the screen. I’m also unsettled by the weird prominence of guns in the opening credits.
Mitsuha, are you going to bring modern warfare to this peaceful generic fantasy world, and make money doing it? Mitsuha, can you think about the ethical implications of that, please? For a second? Or at least, can the people writing your character and animating your credits make all this look less fun and cool?
This one’s a mess: oddly-paced and unengaging, with jarring moments of violence and realism peppered in among more lighthearted escapism, an irritating nerd man cliché inserted willy-nilly into the story where his sister is meant to be the protagonist, and some discomfiting overtones to the premise itself. If you’re really hungry for a portal fantasy with a female lead, you might find something fun here, but even then you’ve got other options this season.