The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Isekai Cheat Magician
How would you rate episode 1 of
Isekai Cheat Magician ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Though its title points to a different gimmick, I get the feeling Isekai Cheat Magician's story was actually written to answer a very different question: “how do we get the childhood friend romantic archetype into a trapped-in-another-world isekai drama?” Normally, the protagonists of these shows assemble a harem of cute female followers once they're plunked into their new RPG worlds, but that fundamental premise makes it difficult to include a “childhood friend” character who's known the protagonist all their lives. Thus Isekai Cheat Magician arrives at a simple but effective solution, by having its protagonist Taichi's childhood friend Rin grab onto his sleeve as he's being teleported, and get carried along on his road to destiny.
Childhood friend gimmick aside, this premiere has a variety of other qualities to recommend it. The existence of Rin goes quite a long way towards making Taichi himself a likable protagonist; instead of the bitter misanthropes, fourth wall-savvy otaku, or blank slates that generally star in these stories, we get a frank and very loyal friend, who's generally too busy worrying about Rin to harp on how everything happening is like a videogame. Their personalities and relationship feel more or less cribbed from early 00s visual novel adaptations, but their bond at least adds some sympathetic texture to this episode's lengthy setup, and them simply being considerate, reasonably pleasant people goes a long way towards making this less grating that your Arifuteras or Shield Heroes. And that sympathetic outlook carries over to this episode's other characters - the people Taichi and Rin run into tend to be fundamentally decent as well, making for a refreshing change from the genre's often misanthropic perspective
Isekai Cheat Magician also offers altogether reasonable production values; the animation is fairly middling, but the character art is consistent and attractive, and the background art does a fair enough job of bringing its fantasy world to life, even if there's no real personality in terms of direction or art design. On the whole, Isekai Cheat Magician still suffers from many of the narrative stumbling blocks inherent to modern isekai, from its prefabricated world to its overbearing RPG-world exposition and overpowered protagonists (which doesn't really feel like much of a hook, given that's basically the genre standard), but its childhood friend twist and generally pleasant attitude mean it's quite easily the best isekai so far this season. If you're a fan of the genre, this is the one to watch.
If Isekai Cheat Magician has one thing going for it, it's Rin. Not only is she actively rebelling against Taichi's apparent need to make her into some kind of damsel in distress (or damsel in general), but she doesn't take it quietly or by standing on the sidelines and yelling later. When he tries to force her out of the magic summoning circle, she steps right back in; when he says that he'll die for her, she gets pissed. This is not a girl who's going to be a passive healer on the back lines and she seems set to temper Taichi's more irritating heroic urges as well. The rest of the episode may be mediocre, but Rin's a standout.
But yeah, the rest of this episode is firmly in “just okay” territory. It wins some points for Taichi and Rin fairly quickly figuring out what's going on – when the Obsidian Horse shows up, they don't waste time saying things like “What's that doing here?” but instead just jump into their version of action, and they're pretty calm about the whole summoned-to-another-world thing as well. The lack of either enthusiasm or histrionics is nice, and it may be due to the fact that Taichi has clearly played his share of RPGs and Rin's willing to trust that he has half a clue about their new world. Their plan to just make the best of things feels relatively solid.
The problem is that this world is so clearly based on the generic basics of the fantasy game world that it feels flavorless. The adventurer band they meet up with talks like they've been pulled from a game manual and is far too willing to help these totally random teens, even giving them money, and the town looks like it could have come out of any other fantasy or isekai show. Taichi and Rin's decision to become adventurers is so rote that it feels anticlimactic (why doesn't anyone make the far saner decision to work in a store or as an ostler or something?), and the entry on the scene of Attractive Elf and Underclothed Mage just sort of rounds out the fantasy basics. That the character designs aren't all that attractive (although I do like the more restrained elf ears than we sometimes see in anime) is just sort of the bland icing on this plain cake. Really, the only visually interesting aspect is the background of the guild hall, which has some nice detail.
Plain cake is still cake, and this is serviceable. But with so many other isekai offerings this season, this relatively uninteresting one may not want to be your first choice.
Right up front, this umpteenth take on the isekai genre this season offer something slightly different: a pair get transported to another world by a summoning spell rather than just the male protagonist. Of course, given that one upcoming series will also be doing that and one other series this season has already brought a whole class across the dimensional gap, it's not really that much of a variation at this point. Nor, for that matter, is anything else that that first episode does. If you want a poster child for “generic isekai fantasy series” at this point, this one could qualify.
As such series go, this one actually isn't made badly. It is perhaps a little too methodical in establishing its central characters and how they ended up in the new world being trained to use magic, with perhaps too little story advancement in the first episode, but at least it is getting its particulars laid out first. It also, thankfully, does not use pop-up status screens (one gimmick I could do without ever seeing again) and has yet to show any other equivalent to that, so hopefully that means that this one will not be quite a stats-conscious as other recent entries in the genre have been. I understand why that's a big thing in the genre, but you cannot even pretend that the setting isn't a game with such features present.
On the downside, the first episode a little too coy about its reveal about the magical potential of our two leads; it's not like viewers weren't shown what these can two in the grand, opening in media res scene which throws out all of the eventual important characters in the midst of a battle, so there is no big mystery here. The one character appearing only in her lingerie at first seems to be that way just for the sake of worming in some fan service; that is not necessarily a negative, but it feels forced here. Technical merits also are bland and ordinary, but given the other titles that studio Encourage Films has done lead production work for, I wasn't expecting much.
Basically, this start for the series is unlikely to offend anyone or draw any complaints for lack of thoroughness, but it also is not going to get anyone passionate about the series. Quite honestly, it plays things too safe.
I'm giving Isekai Cheat Magician the same numerical rating I gave Arifureta, but for very different reasons. Yes, both shows use the same “teenagers in another world” premise, and they both rely far too heavily on RPG mechanics to fill out the details of their settings, but beyond that the two shows start to diverge. Where Arifureta burns the adolescent revenge candle at both ends, Iseaki Cheat Magician is far more laid-back, with a cast full of unremarkably decent individuals. This premiere trades its counterpart's intensity for more relaxed pacing with fairly minimal conflict; instead of eating monster meat in a pitch-black cave, Taichi and Rin get to discover their insane magical powers in a quaint little cabin in the woods. For better and for worse, Isekai Cheat Magician doesn't make a particularly strong first impression.
I'll start with the not-too-surprising bad news. Taichi is a supremely bland protagonist, to the point where the series doesn't really bother to hide his status as an audience stand-in. His childhood friend Rin isn't much better, with her chief personality trait being that she kinda maybe likes Taichi a little. As forgettable as they may be, the two of them as a pair are a little more compelling than they are individually. By zapping two people into a fantasy land instead of one, the series is able to turn the obligatory, “Gosh, this really is another world,” monologue into a slightly more engaging dialogue. There's also something inherently nice about this setup, and if you squint really hard this episode almost has a bit of a road trip vibe to it. If you're going to wander around a generic parallel world, you might as well bring a friend.
The rest of the characters in this episode suffer from the same lack of distinguishing traits as our two heroes, but once again they're at least pleasant in their dullness. While they don't seem like they'll play too much of a role in the larger story, I actually rather like the trio of adventurers who save Taichi and Rin from the Obsidian Horse. While their main purpose is clearly to get the protagonists up to speed on the basics of their new world, they feel like a believably average group of monster-slayers trying to make a living. They remind me a little of the comically weak team of adventurers who popped up occasionally in That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime; not particularly well-developed or vital to the plot, but endearing in their own way.
This episode's unhurried pacing means we only get as far as discovering that Taichi and Rin have world-breaking magical potential (hence the show's title), and I'm all right with that. For a series that seems to be calmly going through the motions of the genre, building up the heroes' party is probably going to be the more enjoyable part of the story. The visuals don't seem like they're up to the challenge of delivering epic action scenes, and I'll be amazed if the plot isn't thoroughly predictable. Isekai Cheat Magician looks like one of those shows that's average and disposable in every way, but at least it doesn't try to stand out by leaning on some cheap or tasteless gimmick. If you want something harmless that you can watch without ever really paying attention, this might fit the bill.
To Isekai Cheat Magician's Credit, this premiere does a couple things I like when it comes to modern isekai anime. For one, it gives us more than just a lone, bland protagonist to follow into the titular new world of the show – Taichi and Rin are best friends (and obvious romantic interests for one another), and this first episode does a good job of giving the pair some scenes to play off of one another, instead of relegating all of the exposition and reaction to internal monologue. Also, even though a good bit of time is devoted to the pair learning about their magical “stats” and potential, the show doesn't veer too hard into trying to emulate video-game logic, which keeps the focus on the basic fun appeal of travelling to another world. The best thing I can say about Isekai Cheat Magician is that it is thoroughly inoffensive in its approach to telling a simple, familiar story in an equally simple and familiar genre.
Unfortunately, the show is so inoffensive that it doesn't leave much of an impression outside of its amiable blandness. The noticeably lackluster art is a big offender here – the show is a bore to look at from beginning to end, with generic character designs and simplistic direction that barely get the script across the finish line. Also, this is yet another fantasy anime where basically no thought seems to have been put into the design of the world, its inhabitants, or its creatures. I'm exhausted by all of the shows that seem to have decided that all they need to do is rip-off the most familiar designs from every major RPG of the past twenty years and tweak them enough so as to a sued. The whole dang point of an isekai premise is to send a regular person to a world of limitless possibilities and potential – how disappointed must these two heroes be to learn that of all the alternate universes they could have ended up in, it was the one that looked it was made using the stock assets of an old version of RPG Maker?
There's some possible fun to be had in the romantic chemistry brewing between Taichi and Rin – they're both vaguely likable in their stock-protagonist sort of way. The fact that both of these characters are on the same level of being strangers in a strange land, blessed with special abilities, makes their relationship more engaging to me than that of the naïve native being swept off her feet by the hyper-capable hero guy. That's not enough to save Isekai Cheat Magician from its own aesthetic and narrative shortcomings, though. While I could see this being a perfectly watchable time-killer a few years back, with the market as overstuffed with oatmeal-bland isekai light novel adaptations as it is, I can see few reasons to pick Isekai Cheat Magician over its more interesting and capable predecessors.
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