When it comes to anime, fantasy stories are very common and popular. With such a plethora of isekai titles along with plots involving a Hero (Yuusha) defeating a Demon Lord (Maou), however, there tends to be some areas in which there are noticeable overlap.
Whether or not a isekai series or Hero vs Maou story is “generic” will clearly depend on your opinion, but it’s still true that a lot of elements are shared by these types of fantasy settings. One such element would be the backstory or the status of characters (particularly the main character). Often times specific characters would be classified as one (or more) of the three R’s: the Reincarnator, the Regressor, and the Returner.
Just as it says in the title, the reincarnator is one who reincarnates. In other words, they initially die in their original world before being reborn in another world.
While they are often reincarnated as themselves, sometimes they are reborn as totally different characters (such as Ernesti Echevalier, who was known as Tsubasa Kurata in a past life, in Knight’s & Magic). There are also plenty of instances in which a protagonist is reborn as something inhuman. For example, Tensei shitara Slime Datta Ken has the protagonist reborn as a slime whereas Re:Monster has the protagonist reborn as a goblin. There’s even a light novel in which the protagonist is reborn as a vending machine (for those who are interested, that would be Jidou Hanbaiki ni Umarekawatta Ore wa Meikyuu wo Samayou).
The way in which the character initially dies are also often similar. Having the protagonist get killed by a truck is quite common to the point of being cliché. Dying while protecting someone is also popular, along with dying to a yandere (which to me serves as some sort of flimsy justification regarding how the protagonist tends to attract women far and wide after they’re reborn – they were popular in the first place!)
No, it’s not someone who now sucks after being initially great at their craft. The term refers to someone who somehow ends up traveling back in time and are thus forced to relive their fantasy experience. While the Reincarnator may have past life experience or knowledge from video games to draw from, the Regressor knows about what will happen in this particular fantasy setting and thus can potentially change the past – unless if it just so happens that particular character is unable to alter the course of history because Destiny is more or less set in stone.
A contemporary example would be Endro~! In this instance, however, the Demon Lord, Mao-chan, was the one who was sent back in time and she’s seemingly also powerless to change the past. However, Mao-chan seems determined to live an ordinary life instead of becoming the Demon Lord again. I have no idea about the original source material but perhaps something will arise that will force to become the Demon Lord once again.
This particular category is the most nebulous and ill-defined, along with the one which is hardest to find relevant and defining examples. This term tends to describe someone who has already gone through a fantasy setting experience and who has to “return” to another fantasy setting.
Often times they’re limited in some way since they would be overpowered if they were sent back to Square One of another fantasy world while they still held the abilities that allowed them to overcome their previous adventure.
Returners can easily be considered to be Reincarnators or Regressors, too, if the events unfold in particular ways.
This is quite different from fantasy stories in which the character is back to living a normal daily life after going through or failing to succeed at their adventure (Yuusha ni Narenakatta Ore wa Shibushibu Shūshoku o Ketsui Shimashita would be one such example).
In short, these are the three most common attributes that can affixed to characters who find themselves in fantasy settings. There perhaps needs to be another term to describe those who just suddenly wake up in a fantasy world with little explanation given. Could we call them Realizers since they abruptly realized they’re in another world? Just kidding.
Thank you for reading.