The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
The Faraway Paladin
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Faraway Paladin ?
What is this?
In a city of the dead, long since ruined and far from human civilization, lives a single human child. His name is Will, and he's being raised by three undead: the hearty skeletal warrior, Blood; the graceful mummified priestess, Mary; and the crotchety spectral sorcerer, Gus. The three pour love into the boy, and teach him all they know. But one day, Will starts to wonder about his origins. Will must unravel the mysteries of this faraway dead man's land, and unearth the secret pasts of the undead. He must learn the love and mercy of the good gods, and the bigotry and madness of the bad. And when he knows it all, the boy will take his first step on the path to becoming a Paladin.
How was the first episode?
The Faraway Paladin is similar to any number of anime about someone being reincarnated in a fantasy world. After having an unhappy life in our world, our hero is able to find true happiness and fulfillment in this new one. Even many of the specifics have been done beat for beat before: our protagonist is under the care of famous adventurers, starts learning the magical and martial arts from them, one of which he is of course preternaturally good at. Yet, despite being a collection of all the common tropes, The Faraway Paladin works for me in a way I didn't expect.
When it comes down to it, it's all about the tone. The Faraway Paladin treats its story and setting with 100% seriousness. There are no busty, scantily clad girls fawning over Will, no camera angles set up specifically to titillate viewers, no slapstick comedy filled with wild screaming and pratfalls. Sure, there's a bit of humor, but it is a sort of everyday humor that comes from Will's own comments on the eccentric characters that surround him.
Being locked into Will's thought process alone also serves to elevate the story by subtly drawing us into the mystery. Will is no fool, and notices the things that don't add up when it comes to his situation. He is, after all, a human boy being raised by three undead, and despite there being nothing to imply they have any ill will towards him, every secret that they hold from him feels ominous.
The problem that both Will and the three undead are facing is not that there are secrets between them, but that the wrong secrets are being kept. Will is, surprisingly, the most guilty in this aspect. He hasn't told the other three that he has memories of a past life, which would explain his seemingly extraordinary level of intelligence and emotional maturity at his current age. Because of this, the three undead treat him as a smart child, but a child nonetheless. All this culminates in Will being injured after trying to rescue a burning Mary before understanding the full picture.
It's heartbreaking because, despite everyone doing what they thought was right—and what may have been right in other circumstances—a member of their small, unusual family has been permanently scarred as a result. It's a tiny tragedy when it comes to the bigger picture, but one that may change the dynamic between them going forward, hopefully in a positive way.
Ah, finally an isekai without even a trace of game mechanics! No menus, no leveling, no named skills. Plus no weird fan service, otaku references, slavery, or *shudders* pedophile protagonists. It lacks any of the elements that have turned me off of about 99% of isekai to come out in the last decade.
It also, however, lacks anything to keep me interested.
I know I'm in the minority here, or perhaps my heart has just become hardened, but I did not at all pick up what The Faraway Paladin was putting down. I'm struggling to pin down exactly what it was that failed to grab me about this series that I was genuinely anticipating; maybe I'll figure it out over the course of writing this review. Will, born with memories of his previous life, is being raised by three undead parents: Blood the skeleton, Gus the ghost, and Mary the mummy. Gus takes care of his intellectual development, Blood his physical skills, and Mary is the nurturing mother of the group who feeds him and watches over his emotional growth.
We don't really know anything about Will's previous life, other than that he squandered it so badly that he thought he was worthy of damnation until Mary took him outside and he realized this new world was somewhere beautiful. The entire episode covers his first few years, showing how Will has been raised. His three parents seem to be doing a good job and he's a sweet child, but quiet and not particularly interesting to watch. The audio of his internal narration has a strange, hollow quality to it, as if it were being recorded from far away or in a strange space. The effect seems deliberate, but added a strange sense of distance to me, as if this version of Will existed outside of his child body, watching himself along with us, instead of truly experiencing his new life.
Most of what is revealed about the world so far is based on its mythology, which has some potential to be interesting; there's a fleshed-out pantheon of gods with their own roles and rules, and are active in this world. Will's family lives in a large, abandoned-looking temple, and his guardians have a relationship with them that is proven at the very least by their undead status. However, their personalities are all broad and one-note, so none of them held my interest.
For a series like Faraway Paladin, which relies so heavily on the audience becoming emotionally invested in Will and his renewed chance at life to succeed, I just felt like I needed to know more. What caused him such pain and sadness in his old life, and why do the guardians still cling to their current life? What does this new world offer Will? I'm still not sure why I felt so at arm's length from this premiere, but perhaps it's best that I just move on.
I'm trying to keep these previews as short as possible for my editors' sakes, so instead of my usual preview diatribe about how sick I am of all of these “reborn in another world” light novel adaptations, feel free to use your imaginations to figure out my basic gripes. Don't worry, I'll wait.
Alright, are we good? Cool, now I can skip ahead to the part where I reveal that I actually thought that The Faraway Paladin was pretty okay! This is largely because of some of the creative twists it takes on the usual conventions, specifically the fact that our hero Will has been reborn into a family of undead ghouls that made a pact with the god of destruction. So now, instead of the generic Elder Scrolls NPCs that always make up our protagonist's new clan in these kinds of stories, we have Gus, the ghostly mage who fills the role of the gumpy grandpop of the family, Blood, the impeccably coiffed skeleton dad who wants to teach his fleshy boy how to kill things good, and Mary, who I thought was some kind of spooky nun at first, but apparently she's supposed to be a mummy, which is appropriate given her maternal relationship with Will.
The unique character designs go a long way in making Will's new family feel like, well, real characters, and I also simply enjoy the idea that the typical RPG monsters are the ones in charge of our hero's upbringing this time around. Each of the three ghouls also have interesting relationships with one another to keep the story interesting, such as Mary's secret devotion to her patron god's mortal enemy, or the combative back-and-forth between Blood and Gus. Will is even consciously keeping the secret of his otherworldly origins to himself, which will hopefully amount to something later on. You can tell that there is more to the world that The Faraway Paladin has yet to reveal, which is always nice.
Really, the biggest flaw that I found in The Faraway Paladin was that, for a premiere, it didn't seem terribly interested in setting up the actual plot of the series, which is what would have gotten me to be invested for the next episode. The story here doesn't end so much as it just sort of stops, and that lack of a genuine hook left me wanting. Still, given the grim state of the competition, you could do a lot worse than The Faraway Paladin. Hell, I'll even tack on an extra half-star to my rating, just because the show has the decency to give us a protagonist that doesn't lust after preteens constantly. Congratulations, Faraway Paladin, for clearing the lowest bar imaginable!
Am I biased going into this? That would be an emphatic “hell yes;” The Faraway Paladin's first novel is one of my absolute favorites, not just in terms of light novels, but fantasy novels in general. (And the rest of the series is good, too.) Even though this episode is more questions than answers, it's also doing a good job of opening the story of Will's early days in the City of the Dead with his three unusual guardians: Mary, a mummy priestess, Blood, a skeleton warrior, and Gus, a ghost mage. We don't yet know why they're living in the temple above the ruined city nor how they came to find and take Will in as an infant, but they're the family that he has, and there's a very clear sense of how much they all care about each other.
What we do know is that all three of Will's guardians died with some major regrets, which caused them to make a deal with Stagnate, the god of death. Although it's not always the case in fantasy environments, in The Faraway Paladin's world, Stagnate is an evil god, possibly because a contract with him removes a soul from the realm of Mater and Gracefeel, two of the good gods whose powers are related to life and rebirth. What this means for Mary, a priestess of Mater who was once revered as Mater's Daughter, is only slightly explored in this episode, and the implications are very interesting; Mater clearly still listens to Mary's prayers, but the laws governing the gods just as plainly make things much more difficult for the both of them. Or is it Mary's own beliefs that are getting in the way, her certainty that a contract with Stagnate has voided her nominal devotion to Mater? Because if the regrets that she died with that allowed her to remain in the City as an undead were just enough, wouldn't that perhaps make a difference? Certainly raising an orphaned child seems like it ought to be a good enough deed to make a difference…
While the story in this episode hops around a bit, starting when Will is three, flashing back to his infancy, and then ending when he's seven, there isn't really a sense that things are being rushed through. We get an idea of who each of the characters are and how they all get along with each other, and the very fact that Will has yet to set foot in the ruined city laid out at the foot of the temple hill tells us a lot about how dangerous it must be. There's a very Grace Draven feel to the setting, specifically reminiscent of both the dead city in her 2018 novel Phoenix Unbound and the setting for the 2016 novella The Undying King, and despite the fact that Will has been reincarnated from our world (something that doesn't have much bearing on the story at this point) the fantasy is much more classic than most modern isekai. If the anime manages to maintain the feel of the novels, this is going to be one to keep an eye on, especially if you enjoy sword and sorcery fantasy and don't need your stories unrelentingly happy.
It's really, really hard not to approach isekai series with a load of skepticism these days. The subgenre has become so prolific and ubiquitous in seasonal anime, and its modern revival so entrenched in its otaku-centric web novel origins, that even when a series doesn't feel like a copy-paste of other shows, it's difficult to avoid feeling cynical about their prospects. So forgive me if I'm a bit guarded when I say that The Faraway Paladin is pretty good so far. Because I said the same thing about That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime and So I'm a Spider, So What?, and both of those eventually hit similar dips in quality that left the appeal of their initial premises in the dust.
But hey, that's a problem for Future Nick, and Present Nick is still pretty charmed by this opening episode. I always love when fantasy series like this decide to humanize (for lack of a better word) their monsters, and following Will's adoptive family of spooky undead mentors is really neat. Will himself doesn't have a ton of personality yet, but I appreciate that he's a generally kind and considerate character who doesn't spout off video game references every few sentences. The bond he forms with the others in this prologue is super cute. His speech about wanting to earnestly live life in this new world has the unfortunate association with another, much grosser isekai show about a reincarnated man in a child's body airing right now, but Will at least isn't a sex criminal so he still strolls right over the 10-foot deep hole where the bar has been buried.
The real magic is in the adult characters. They're written with broad personalities, but also in such a way that you can tell they each have deep and important histories behind them that make you want to know more about them all. Also Blood's goofy, big-man skeleton design never stops being funny, so I had a big grin on my face whenever he's on screen. I'm also a fan of how the show quickly establishes a sense of history for its fantasy world. We only see the outskirts of the temple Will lives in here, but the statues, books, and legends of the pantheon of gods do a lot to intrigue me about seeing the rest of it, which is always what you want from a fantasy setting.
If there's anything holding back this show, it's the direction. The animation is largely serviceable, with a few flourishes in Will's training scenes that do well to sell the action, but the way dialogue is boarded out leaves something to be desired. Gus and Blood's argument in the middle of the episode especially feels like there was an editing mishap, constantly cutting to just the wrong shot to emphasize when a character is speaking or reacting, making for a very distracting viewing experience. This premiere also feels disjointed as it hops across weeks and years to quickly chronicle Will's childhood, and the shifts never stop feeling abrupt. It's not enough to ruin the material yet, but it definitely would have benefited from a more palpable sense of time passing.
Now the question is whether or not I'm interested in watching more. On the merits of this episode: yes, it's a charming and mostly low-key fantasy series that promises some larger adventures in a potentially interesting fantasy setting. But in the context of similar light novel stories that start out with a great premise and either run out of ideas or squander them with awful characters, I'm a lot more apprehensive. I think the breaking point will be once Will is all grown up and leaves the nest, so I suppose I'm hanging around for at least another episode.
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