The Spring 2020 Anime Preview Guide
The 8th Son? Are you kidding me?
How would you rate episode 1 of
The 8th son? Are you kidding me? ?
What is this?
Ichinomiya Shingo was a young, single salaryman when he fell asleep one night at his dinner table. When he awakens, he's at a different dinner table during a wedding ceremony and in the body of a 5-year-old boy, whom he later learns is Wendelin von Benno Baumeister. Although he initially has the impression that he's part of a well-off noble family, he soon discovers that it was all for show; his family is actually poor and illiterate and lives in a thinly-populated area on the outskirts of civilization. Further, he's the youngest of eight sons, which doesn't bode well for his prospects. However, he also discovers that he can read the local writing, which leads to him discovering that he has a rare aptitude for wind magic. When he encounters Alfred Rainford, a former court wizard who also specializes in wind magic, his prospects start looking up.
How was the first episode?
When we see the normal life of Ichinomiya, the soon-to-be-young hero of The 8th son? Are you kidding me?, he is the single office drone that has become the archetypical protagonist of the “Reborn in another world” sub-genre of isekai stories, except he isn't exactly reborn. He simply gets sleepy while preparing to dig into his dinner, and suddenly wakes up in the body of Wendelin “Well” von Benno Baumeister, the titular 8th son of an aristocratic family in an vaguely-European fantasy world. Ichinomiya assumes this whole thing is a dream and shrugs it off, leading to what may very well be the sole hint of an existential crisis brought about by this sudden and complete loss of everything he ever was and ever knew. What I want to know is: Did Wendelin have a whole life before Ichinomiya randomly stole his body and identity? Is this little kid's soul now obliterated, or did he wake up in the body of an average Japanese twenty-something, who now must try to navigate a totally alien world all on his own? To be honest, that would be a neat premise for a show.
Unfortunately, in this anime we don't learn happened to Original Wendelin, or much of anything else that I would count as “interesting” or “memorable”. Instead, it's basically the exact same tropes we've seen a thousand times before, except remixed ever so slightly so as to avoid copyright infringement. After Well's cavalcade of brothers go through the motions of reteaching their brother about his entire existence (and all without ever stopping to question if something might, you know, be wrong with their amnesiac sibling) we get this gist of this new world, and there's not a lot to write home about. There's some potential in the fact that Well's family is actually quite poor considering their noble lineage, and being 8th in line means that he's essentially screwed out of any inherited handouts.
I like the fact that the core premise of this story is that the hero is going to have to work for his success, for a change, but there isn't much done with the idea here, since much of the episode is either focused on dumping exposition all over the place or setting up Well's latent magical abilities. Once again, Wells doesn't get a “Become the Special for Free” card just for having a high magic aptitude; he flails about in the forest for hours to no avail, and he even gets caught up in fighting a pissed off boar after a mysterious stranger shows up to jumpstart his magical education. I'd argue that having a hero that needs at least some sort of conflict to become a world class badass is less “subverting light novel tropes” and more “basic storytelling rules”, but I won't look a gift isekai in the mouth when I get one.
Still, the dialogue and worldbuilding that surround these promising ideas remains decidedly lame, and there isn't anything noteworthy about the character designs, the animation, the direction, or any of the other factors that go into making a good animated series. The 8th Son? simply exists as one of the many similar light novel adaptations that have been churned out in recent years, and since it has nothing to make it stand out from the pack aside from a hero that isn't a complete waste of celluloid, I can't see any reason to recommend it to anyone aside from the most die hard of genre completionists.
The 8th Son clocks in as the first isekai production of the season, and manages to put its absolute worst foot forward in this first episode. As the episode begins, we're introduced to powerful nobleman and magician Well, who's hard at work blasting rocks to make way for construction projects. Returning home, Well is greeted by four fawning women, who basically all seem to be presented as co-wives of our lucky protagonist. The stage thus seems set for one more of this genre's most indulgent and insufferable properties, yet another story about how awesome the protagonist is, and how all women everywhere want him.
Fortunately, the remaining portion of this episode is actually pretty darn good. Even in its brief illustration of Well's pre-fantasy life, there's a sense of genuine weight and realism to his struggles. Well isn't an otaku who gets improbably struck by a car; he's your average salaryman, working hard and living alone, struggling to keep himself awake long enough to eat dinner.
When he's transported to the kingdom of Helmut, that sense of weighted reality remains. Well might be a noble son, but his family is quite poor, and his introduction to this society through his eldest brother's wedding allows for both natural exposition and an immediate sense of dramatic urgency. Isekai properties often shoot themselves in the foot through an overbearing weight of exposition, or by presenting a world that feels completely undercooked and gamified - 8th Son largely avoids these pitfalls, along with the tone of bitterness and entitlement that often comes with the genre.
In fact, rather than coming off as bitter, this episode was actually pretty darn funny. The strongest gag here was likely the sequence when Well kept getting introduced to an alarming number of older brothers, but the show's tone overall is warm and inviting, and Well himself is a reasonably likable protagonist. Nothing about 8th Son's narrative so far is particularly novel, but that's generally how it goes for isekai shows; I'm just happy nothing about its story seems truly obnoxious, either.
In visual terms, 8th Son unfortunately falls somewhere below the median. While I enjoyed this episode's colorful backgrounds, the animation is very limited, and the direction isn't particularly inspired either. The show's OP also revealed it'll be relying on some extremely dubious CG monsters, meaning I wouldn't expect too much from the show's action scenes. And given both the first scenes and the priorities of that OP, it's likely that 8th Son will soon adopt a more predictable isekai format, as Well assembles his full harem and begins his world-conquering adventures.
Still, on the whole, 8th Son offers a reasonably charming and energetic premiere, with a fine protagonist and a much-appreciated dedication to grounding its conflict in believable cultures and characters. If you're a fan of the genre, this seems like a solid example of the form.
After a season surprisingly free of isekai series, the first of this season's offerings arrives at the outset. Of the three currently on the schedule (My Next Life as a Villainess: All Roads Lead to Doom and the second season of Ascendance of a Bookworm being the other two), this was by far the less anticipated one, and the first episode does nothing to contradict that assessment. It isn't a bad episode at all, but its prospects don't seem any better than its titular character's initially do.
The big problem here is a very basic one: absolutely nothing that the first episode does distinguishes the title within a very crowded field. Titles about protagonists who were ordinary in the real world but discover they have potent magical abilities in their new one are a dime a dozen in the isekai genre, as are titles where salarymen are transported to another world and titles where the protagonist is reborn into the body of a young child. Even combining all three has been done before and done better (Saga of Tanya the Evil). Nothing shown so far about the world-building stands out, including the convenience that the local spoken and print languages are both Japanese. The prologue indicates that Wendelin (Well for short) will eventually grow up to be a lord in his teen years and have what looks like a veritable harem gather around him, but that is practically one of the core elements of the genre. In other words, this is about as generic-looking as an isekai title can get.
That being said, the first episode is at least reasonably well-constructed. Nothing at all is strange about Well's family being poor and illiterate despite being nobles; both were, in fact, fairly common traits for especially more rural-based nobles in the European Middle Ages, which is clearly the basis for this setting. (In fact, that Well can already read and write would have been a highly marketable skill had he not learned magic, as reading and writing for others was a real profession in that era.) So is most of the not-eldest brothers leaving to seek their prospects elsewhere. The artistic merits also aren't bad. While the animation so far is nothing special, character designs are all clean and appealing and setting and architectural details are good. As visual merits go, this one is above-average for isekai titles from the past couple of years. Sadly, the series is also saddled with one of the most god-awful openers of anime series of any type in recent memory and a less-than-stellar name.
I may watch one or two more episodes to see if this series seems on track to do anything interesting, but especially with some heady competition in its genre this season, I can't currently see it attracting and sustaining much attention outside of dedicated genre fans.
I'm not sure if the original author of the light novels upon which this show is based was confused about the folk belief/fantasy genre staple of “the seventh son of a seventh son is gifted with great magic powers” or if they were just trying to be different, but as an avid fantasy reader, the idea that our protagonist is the eighth son with amazing magical powers feels a little off. Of course, that's not the point of him being son number eight in the context of the episode: it's more that he's the youngest child of an impoverished noble family and has zero inheritance coming to him as a result. That, in some ways, feels a bit like the saving grace of what otherwise is an info-dump heavy first episode in a relatively standard isekai story. Wendelin's new life is devoid of the comforts of his previous one as a Japanese salaryman to the point where most of his family has had to give up their noble status to make ends meet and he appears to be the only literate member of the household – and that's only because it carries over from his previous existence. It sounds more like the plot of a historical fiction novel than your typical isekai tale, and that could turn out to be a point in its favor.
Then again, the opening moments of the episode contradict that possibility at least a little. Super-powered teenage (?) Wendelin is surrounded by girls living luxuriously, and even if his powers appear to be used to clear fields, it feels much more standard and subsequently less interesting. But that's not even the biggest strike against the series at this point. What really drags this down is the fact that the entire episode is basically telling us about five-year-old Wendelin's first days AS Wendelin while not actually managing to give us a decently paced story. Did he die in his first life? Good question. Why isn't his new sister-in-law more upset by the reality of her marriage? We're not going to find out. How did the family end up with the magic-plot-device-crystal in the first place? Does it matter if it throws Wendelin into the path of excessively pretty magic user Alfred?
Obviously I feel that the answer to that last one is, at least in part, yes. While there certainly is a need to get the story moving, glossing over basic plot facts in order to do so doesn't quite pay off for this episode, and that detracts from the more interesting story elements. At this point isekai is such a prevalent genre that a new show needs to do a bit more work to make itself stand out, and The Eighth Son? Are You Kidding Me? just isn't doing that.
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