Directed by Kazuya Nakanishi
Produced by Nexus
Streaming on HIDIVE
Author’s Note: This is a first episode review, and I’ve been informed that the first episode of The Eminence in Shadow is anime original, and may not reflect the overall tone of the series. The review will remain preserved as is.
I have always been an opponent of sticking the Batman philosophy on all characters. What do I mean? I mean making every protagonist have a staunch rule against killing their enemies.
In the context of a character like Batman, who is defined by their trauma, it makes sense why he wouldn’t use a gun. Very few people argue that the Joker can be rehabilitated, but you see why Batman won’t kill him.
So, it’s kind of irritating when a large number of stories act like killing someone, even for good reasons, makes you evil. I mean, maybe the crowd who put Punisher stickers on cop cars will agree with me, but they also don’t get that the Frank Castle is just like Bruce Wayne, but his trauma made him murderous instead. No matter what I say, then, I’m not going to win.
But let’s find a middle ground. Don’t kill unless necessary, and don’t take pleasure in it. Good stories use characters like the Punisher and Batman to demonstrate that they’re not mentally sound. Bad ones use them as vehicles for audience fantasies of committing violence against people they think it’s okay to assault.
What does this have to do with The Eminence in Shadow? It’s simple; it’s one of those bad Punisher stories, but it’s anime, so it has a harem and even more ludicrous nonsense than your average indulgent superhero gore buffet. The question is whether or not that’s a bad thing.
Minoru Kagenou never outgrew his childhood dream to become a superhero. When other kids put down the toys and swords, he studied the blade, but unironically.
He trained in numerous martial arts, striving to achieve the apex of human physicality, as well as sharpening his mind, and…okay, it’s Batman but he doesn’t have the parental death trauma to motivate him. He’s kind of just hyper-fixated on being a vigilante for no clear reason.
But it was all for naught. His abilities cannot hope to compete with the power of a simple gun, and for all his training, one person with all the training in the world will never be anything more than one exceptional person. Kagenou struggles to reconcile his ambitions with the simple reality of his own weakness, which only is further demonstrated by his unceremonious death, delivered swiftly by our old friend, Truck-kun.
Ha! You didn’t realize this was an isekai, you fools? I’ll admit, I read the synopsis on MAL weeks ago when deciding to review the series, and vaguely recalled the isekai tag, but I almost forgot by the time that late first episode twist kicked in. Now, Kagenou has the equalizer he needed to carry out his goals in another world; magic, a harem, and a pretty dope cloak, but mostly the magic.
Now, is that first episode especially good? Er, not really.
It’s interesting that we follow Kagenou’s classmate for most of it; she’s an actress who survived a kidnapping several years prior, only to find herself kidnapped again. It’s a surprising amount of characterization for a bit character in the first episode, as we walk through her surprising amount of disdain for Kagenou, who struggles to remember her name.
There are references to sexual assault in the instances of kidnapping. As the bar for anime treating that topic sensitively is somewhere in the lithosphere, it at least handles it without the flagrant disregard for human decency of a show like Mushoku Tensei.
However, it’s still terrible form to use gratuitous sexual violence against a female character just for her to be rescued by the protagonist, so the fact that they didn’t go full Goblin Slayer does not earn itself any points.
Other than that, does it at least manage to redeem itself in the same way that Goblin Slayer did, by taking its dark subject matter and being surprisingly graceful later on? Still no.
The Eminence in Shadow is not a remarkably good-looking show, either. The character designs are plain at their best, and arguing that the main character made an effort to appear plain is not in itself a defense against bad character design. The fact is that the actress whose name escapes me is the subject of several ecchi scenes, and lacks all of the visual polish and design know-how to make that work as is intended.
The director occasionally goes for some interesting shots, but interesting does not mean the same thing as good. More often, it’s enough to get me to raise my eyebrows like why are they going for that? rather than because I’m impressed by the direction.
The sole action scene between Kagenou and the kidnappers was competent, but if you haven’t noticed the running theme here, not spectacular. I honestly remember nothing of the music, which at least says that it isn’t offensively bad.
Every once in a while, I’ll pick up an anime and come away thinking that the sound design was the best thing about it. At that point, I’ll look up the staff and realize that Jin Aketagawa worked on the series, and it’ll all make a little more sense. However, sound design should usually just enhance the feeling that the music and visuals should be evoking, so if all I think of your anime is it had good sound design, that’s a rather damning indictment.
Okay, so maybe The Eminence in Shadow doesn’t have anything going for it in writing or presentation, but surely it’s not the worst anime I’ve ever seen. It has something to make it worth watching to at least someone. That’s fair; if I was twelve, I probably would have loved it.
It’s extremely edgy, but it isn’t so high off its own fumes that it doesn’t have fun with that edginess. There’s no enjoyment to be found in Platinum End or Tomodachi Game because they’re convinced that they are the most serious dramatic stories ever to be put to air. They’re not, they’re exceedingly dark stories without any of the tact or maturity to earn that grim tone.
So, if you like decently fun fantasy action joints with a hearty dose of edge, then The Eminence in Shadow might be a passably good time. The problem comes in the fact that there are so many dark fantasy anime that are so much better that if you watched them all, you’d never have time to even consider The Eminence in Shadow.
Watch my favorite anime, Re:Zero, if you really want an edgy isekai, because you’ll get a wealth of phenomenal character writing and world building to go with that. We’re in a renaissance of shonen battle anime with dark twists: Jujutsu Kaisen and Demon Slayer are the biggest shows right now, Hell’s Paradise has an adaptation announced, and this is airing the same darn season as Chainsaw Man.
So, The Eminence in Shadow has my recommendation on the following conditions: you want a dark fantasy anime, you don’t want to watch an anime that is legitimately good, and you don’t mind the fact that they treat this edginess as a toy rather than a genuine attempt at atmosphere. That audience does exist, but hoo boy, I don’t know if I want to interact with them.
If you are a fan of The Eminence in Shadow, try not to take it too personally. At least I can envision an audience for this anime, which cannot be said for another anime this season. That one is hot garbage, and you’ll just have to tune in later to see what’s so terrible about it.
So, The Eminence in Shadow snags the not good but certainly not awful rating of Entertaining Egregious. I’ll take a disasterpiece every day of the week over being bad and boring.
So, if you like The Eminence in Shadow, lay down your thought process in the comments below, as long as it isn’t the fact that Kagenou lives the sigma male grindset. If you don’t, tell me the exact moment that its pilot episode lost you, and while you’re at it, follow me on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku, where I’m talking up all the trash of this fall season. Until next time, thanks for reading.
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