#1 Retro isekai adventures
His life was meant to end then and there, but just as Makoto was about to be murdered by his classmate Jinnai, the flow of time suddenly halted. Unsure of what just happened, Makoto wanders into his school, to a room where a mysterious relic was recently uncovered. Something inside the relic responds to him and, a moment later, Makoto finds himself standing in a lush jungle. He has been teleported away to a world filled with adventure; the world of El-Hazard.
El-Hazard is one of the lesser-known isekai anime of the olden days, but don’t let that obscurity fool you. If you like isekai anime for the premise of ordinary characters getting to explore a mystical, new world, then that is exactly what this anime has to offer.
Makoto reunites with his teacher Mr. Fujisawa, and together they set out on whatever adventures the world presents them. The main story sees the two of them take on a mission to rescue a country’s missing princess, but along the way they cross perilous lands, fight monsters, make new friends, and find numerous excuses to make Makoto dress like a girl.
It’s a story that deals with fantasy wars and political turmoil, yet also has room to allow for comedy and romance. A jack of all trades, master of none, if you will. However, El-Hazard is a well-made and enjoyable anime, in spite of never excelling in any one field.
#2 (Middle-)Eastern inspired world
What does set El-Hazard apart from other isekai worlds is that it isn’t based on slightly-fantastical medieval Europe. You won’t see any castles, plains, and thinly-disguised parallels to Christianity here. Instead, El-Hazard draws inspiration from various Eastern locales and cultures to flesh out its world.
El-Hazard clearly finds itself in a warmer climate. Instead of forests and grasslands, you get deserts, jungles, and steep mountain ranges. The world feels wild and dangerous, more hospitable to monsters and animals than the handful of tribal city states that dot the world map. The architecture of the cities and the fashion of the people within it are also inspired; again more closely resembling fantastical takes on historical India, Persia and Arabia than anything European.
For a fantasy series courting a mainstream audience, this was a refreshing change of pace. All the different inspirations come together very well, making El-Hazard a fascinating world that I wish we could’ve gotten to see more of. 11 OVA episodes just feels too brief to really explore such a creative universe.
#3 Mohawk cats
#4 A bully as the villain
The big evil of El-Hazard is the Bugrom Empire; a vast horde of giant insect warriors, led by the mysterious Queen Diva. They’re a cool enemy that fit the anime’s unique setting, and they become even more interesting when Jinnai finds himself in their midst.
Jinnai is by far my favorite character in the show. He’s a megolomaniac with a fragile ego, who has one-sidedly decided that Makoto is his rival. Makoto, you see, is somehow to blame for every single problem in Jinnai’s life. So when the Bugrom present him an opportunity to finally get his vengeance, Jinnai embraces them without a second thought.
I love the idea of an isekai anime where the protagonist’s high school bully gets teleported along and becomes a menace to him on an entirely new scale. Jinnai gets himself into a position of power among the Bugrom people, from where he begins a campaign for total world domination. He both opposes Makoto directly by constantly trying to capture him, but also indirectly by conquering the world that the heroes are trying so hard to save.
Everything about Jinnai just clicks together in the most perfect way possible, to the point that I am feeling tempted to ramble on about him for several more paragraphs. To cut it short: he and his bug army are amazing characters with a great story arc to them. I’d want another season or a spin-off to this series, just to see where they all end up.
#5 Isekai within an isekai
The final season makes a bold move by taking the story away from its titular setting. It turns into a double-isekai, as Makoto and his friends are once again whisked away to another world. One very different from both Earth and El-Hazard.
It’s a world of impossible geography and massive, industrial cities, but which still retains fantasy elements like knights and magic. It’s a world ruled over by an authoritarian empire, which relies on subjugated colonies to keep its armies fed and the people happy. At least, happy enough to not stir up any trouble.
While I did somewhat regret not getting to see even more El-Hazard, this new world is impressive in its own way. It has amazing landscapes and visual splendor, it’s another unusual setting for an isekai anime, and it doubles down on the series’ political themes. Makoto actually ends up at the emperor’s palace, where he gets to peek behind the curtain of government theatrics and develop a personal (though standoffish) relationship with the Big Man himself. The Emperor doesn’t trust Makoto at all, but desperately needs his help in preventing all-out calamity.
What makes this double-isekai situation even more interesting is that several characters from El-Hazard get teleported along as well. All of them end up in wildly different places and experience whole other sides of the world they’re now stuck in. However, it becomes increasingly clear that all these different experiences all tie together somehow; creating an exciting rush towards the finale as all the different plot points begin to finally click together.
More anime & manga like this
Secret of Cerulean Sand: Exotic locales inspired by India and the Middle-East.
Mon Colle Knights: An isekai adventure story where the villain steals the show.
Escaflowne: The go-to recommendation for classic 90’s isekai anime.