If you’re an avid fan of isekai – or, indeed, if you’re an avid hater of isekai – this new anime may just be for you.
Minor spoilers ahead!
Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon is a new anime adaptation of the light novel series by the same name, written by Hirukuma. It’s exactly what it sounds like – the first few minutes of the first episode quite unceremoniously transport our protagonist (human name unknown) to a generic-ish fantasy world after he presumably dies trying to save a vending machine from plummeting off a cliff. When he awakes, he finds himself transformed into – no prizes for guessing – a (mostly) ordinary vending machine.
It’s a bold gimmick, that’s for sure. I, like I assume many others, gave the first few episodes a shot just to see how such an anime would actually proceed. There have certainly been some interesting isekai protagonist transformations in the past – swords, spiders and slimes to name a few, alongside innumerable instances of gender-bending – but this is the silliest one I’ve come across by far.
I’m really not the biggest fan of isekai – it seems to me to be quite a bloated genre with a lot of copycats and few truly original ideas. But I was surprised to find that I didn’t give up halfway through the first episode of this vending machine fantasy adventure, as I was fully expecting to do. In fact, I actually ended up enjoying it quite a lot.
Where I was anticipating a novelty bait show with nothing to engage with beyond its core concept, I found instead an anime that gave serious thought both to the logistics of surviving a deadly fantasy world as an inanimate object, and to how such a typical fantasy world would react to the modern amenities we take for granted in real life.
Though our protagonist is initially perplexed by his new form, it turns out that in his human life he was something of a vending machine super-fan, and so he quickly learns to take pride in his new role. His first customer is Lammis, an exceptionally strong hunter with an unfortunate aim. She dubs our new man-turned-machine “Boxxo” after taking a liking to his hot corn soup (not an innuendo) and uses her god-given strength to move him to her village (which is actually a dungeon, or “stratum”, with its very own sky).
Some of the creatures of this world (mainly humans – no pointy ears here) hold Blessings – formidable skills that are apparently granted by a higher power. Lammis holds the Blessing of Might, which allows her to easily carry all 500 kilograms of Boxxo on her back. Boxxo even has a Blessing himself, which he can use to conjure a strong barrier to protect himself and others from harm.
While I’m sure that Reborn as a Vending Machine isn’t the first isekai to do this, I was struck by the decision to put the male protagonist in a support role, happy to serve and heal his team members while letting Lammis take care of combat. And I can’t even remember the last time I saw an anime girl with actual muscles. It’s nice!
Unlike usual isekai protagonists that engage in RPG-like combat, Boxxo’s new video game-ish responsibilities are largely limited to resource management and stat building. He can convert cash to points that can then be used to increase his stats, serve new food items, and even unlock some actually useful abilities (though none of them, as of yet, can allow him to speak or walk). It also costs points to power his body, which means that he will die without a steady stream of customers – he literally lives to serve. Fortunately, there are plenty of people interested in Boxxo’s wares.
Funnily enough, the denizens of this fantasy world have never seen a vending machine or its contents before – or any sort of machinery at all, for that matter. Most call Boxxo “the box with a mind of its own”. It’s quite sweet to see how excited the characters get about things we wouldn’t think twice about in our own world, like cup noodles and printed packaging. In a tongue-in-cheek way, this anime is doing something I’ve not seen before in an isekai, which is to make me properly consider the value of the world I live in, rather than uselessly pine for a pandering, idealist fantasy.
Not to mention that Boxxo is actually likeable; he is far from your bog-standard self-insert protagonist, and although his personality is pretty passive, I find myself constantly looking forward to hearing his internal dialogue. While a lesser anime would make him some kind of drink-dispensing perv, Boxxo is compassionate and caring, and grows extremely protective of the village that took him in (though he’s not completely immune to getting aroused, he’s always a respectful little vending machine). It’s pretty hard not to root for him!
Soon enough, Boxxo is recruited by the Hunter’s Association (led by Director Bear, who is… a bear) to aid adventurers as they defend their village from vicious (but kinda cute) froggy monsters, and more. It’s quite a treat to watch modern amenities used to solve fantasy problems, like using cola and mentos to deter would-be attackers.
My one critique of the show’s first four episodes is that, aside from Lammis and one or two other characters, the supporting cast doesn’t always hold my attention. Despite this, I am excited to meet Hulemy, the magical engineer on the surface – but Boxxo and Lammis won’t be able to get there without a transformation circle, which they’ll need to save up to use. But business is booming for Boxxo, so I’m sure he’ll get there – and maybe at some point he’ll even be able to return to his human form, which would make his romance with Lammis a lot less weird.
Reborn as a Vending Machine, I Now Wander the Dungeon is overall a great casual watch. Check it out for yourself on Crunchyroll!
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