Episode 3 of Re: Zero introduces a character who is, quite literally, a white knight. Reinhard van Astrea is a member of the Royal Guard and is apparently so powerful and righteous that he’s known as the Sword Saint. He is also, incidentally, a minor character.
As anyone watching Re: Zero would be aware, the character with the white knight complex is actually Subaru, a hikikomori who is summoned from modern Japan, armed with only a cell phone and his wits. If Reinhard is supposed to represent the unattainable white knight ideal, then Subaru is the white knight whom the audience can relate to, a hapless young man who struggles through life (and multiple deaths) in the best way he can manage. So far in the story, he is motivated almost exclusively by his desire to save the girls he meets from death: initially the heroine Emilia, and later the twin maids Rem and Ram.
We’re not told much else about Subaru (to the detriment of the storytelling, frankly), but we’re expected to immediately understand and accept his obsessive desire to save these girls he barely knows. Why?
During my adventures on the Japanese web, I rarely see people say anything good about the recent trend towards isekai (“stuck in another world”) stories, particularly in light novels and web novels. The stories are frequently dismissed as shallow, masturbatory and full of cheap wish fulfillment. It’s overdone, they say. It’s trite and cliche. Stop adapting so many of these stories into anime.
Japanese readers have even come up with memes to make fun of the recent trends. 「俺TUEEEE」(“I’m so stroooooong”) basically means “Overpowered MC”. When a story is filled to the brim with all the various wish fulfillment tropes, it’s referred to as a narou-type work. Narou comes from Shousetsuka ni Narou! (“Let’s become a novelist!”), which is far and away the most popular website for posting amateur web novels. If you check out the top-ranked series, the vast majority are isekai stories where the MC does pretty much nothing to earn his 俺TUEEEE status.
The Japanese fandom is like the English fandom in the sense that the majority of internet commentary about this trend is snarky and negative, but a significant number of people are hooked on these stories nevertheless. There are plenty of netizens who attempt to explain the appeal of the narou genre, but because they’re clearly disdainful of it, their explanations occasionally seem condescending, even pathologising (e.g. “it’s a shallow power fantasy aimed at nerds who will never find a girlfriend!”) Nevertheless, there are bloggers who articulate why they like the narou genre quite thoughtfully, so I thought I’d focus on their perspectives in this post.
Because I cannot accept their points at face value, I’m going to respond to them critically in this post. However, I invite you to come to your own conclusions.