The Fall 2022 Preview Guide
The Eminence in Shadow
How would you rate episode 1 of
The Eminence in Shadow ?
Community score: 3.8
What is this?
Even in his past life, Cid's dream wasn't to become a protagonist or a final boss. He'd rather lie low as a minor character until it's prime time to reveal he's a mastermind or at least, do the next best thing-pretend to be one. And now that he's been reborn into another world, he's ready to set the perfect conditions to live out his dreams to the fullest. Armed with his overactive imagination, Cid jokingly recruits members to his organization and makes up a whole backstory about an evil cult that they need to take down. Well, as luck would have it, these imaginary adversaries turn out to be the real deal—and everyone knows the truth but him.
Content warning: episode one contains depictions of sexual assault.
How was the first episode?
I've been reading The Eminence in Shadow (both the manga and web novel) religiously for years at this point. The fact that we're getting an anime of it is literally the highlight of my year as an anime fan—especially after seeing this episode. What's great about it is that it does something neither the manga nor web novel do. It not only gives us a rather lengthy look at what our hero was like before he met Truck-kun, it also shows us what he was like through an outsider's perspective.
In his everyday life, Kageno seems almost arrogantly unconcerned with the world around him, to the point he can't be bothered to remember others' names. In his alter ego, he seems unstoppable and over-the-top as he literally monologues what he's doing like he's a character in a shonen anime. The mystery of his true thoughts lays some great groundwork for what's to come by helping us empathize with the characters he interacts with. We were in their shoes too at one point, after all.
It's only after we see Kageno from an outsider's perspective that we are granted a look inside his head. He is literally trying to become a fictional character archetype—not the “hero” but the overpowered shadowy figure that pops up from time to time to aid the hero. You know, the guy who appears randomly, defeats the enemy in one stroke, and says something cryptic that turns out to be profound only in hindsight. The problem with that is how does a person become “overpowered” to that extent in a world with body armor, guns, and nuclear weapons? The sad fact is that you can't. However, if one were to be reincarnated in a fantasy world... Well, the existence of magic changes everything.
All in all, this is one of these episodes that you need to watch twice—once normally and then one more time while knowing that Kageno is living in a delusion of his own making. On the first watch, it's serious and heart-pounding—you're never sure where it's going. On the second, it's more than a little comedic with all the mystery behind his actions revealed. While not what I was expecting as a fan of the source material, it was a welcome surprise and I can't wait to see more.
I may be a critic, but there will always be a place in my heart for sleazy, exploitative trash. Sometimes, you want art to move and challenge you, to touch your emotions and give you a unique perspective on the human experience. Other times, you want to see what some scummy little trash gremlin cooked up in the proverbial diaries of their Mountain-Dew-n-Slim-Jims fueled haze of adolescent angst. The Eminence in Shadow is one such artifact, the kind of blood-soaked anime edgelord nonsense that is so freakin' grim and eXtreme that I have half a mind to send it to the principal's office and make some concerned phone calls to its parents.
At least, that's how the show presents itself at first glance. Honestly, while I appreciate this premiere's attempt to do something a bit different and frame its hero's exploits from the POV of a different character, I don't think the overly serious and dark vibes that this first episode sends out are in keeping with what The Eminence in Shadow is really going to be about. For one, I've read the general plot summary on the Preview Guide page for the show, so I know about the shenanigans involving Cid's multi-layered delusions of heroic grandeur and his inability to tell when the fantasy world he's been isekai'd into is actually embroiled in world-threatening conspiracy. And even if I didn't, I probably still would have been taken aback by the way the show went from “Traumatizing misadventure of a young actress who has been kidnapped and threatened with sexual assault multiple times” to “Over-the-top isekai adventure where Hero McEdgelord assembles a literal army of cute anime waifus to realize his extremely silly dreams.”
Still, in spite of the tasteless mood swings, there is something to this show. It's got snappy production values, and I genuinely dig the more modern setting of its fantasy otherworld. We know literally nothing about the larger cast yet, so it's impossible to say if they'll be entertaining or engaging as individual people, but they are all pretty cute. Cid himself is… well, he's a lot, but he might end up being the likeable kind of “a lot” now that he's getting set up in his new isekai digs. I'll give this one another shot, just to see where it goes, but I will not expect it to become any less trashy or sleazy. Just a different kind of trashy and sleazy.
Well, I officially have zero clue what to make of this one. Even with weird or poorly-handled series I can usually get an idea of what the show is going for – what's its tone, or its central premise, or the main emotion it's trying to elicit from the audience at any given moment. With this one though? I don't know if I'm supposed to be laughing my ass off the whole time – I just know that I was.
Because there is definitely an argument to be made, at least from this premiere, that The Eminence in Shadow is fully aware of how ridiculous its main character is. I refuse to believe an entire team of professional editors, publishers, and scriptwriters could see a lengthy monologue from our hero about how incredibly cool and amazing crowbars are without being in on the joke, and if the goal of this premiere was to introduce a borderline psychotic chūinibyō protagonist trying to be kickass right before he gets isekai'd, well, mission accomplished. I absolutely cannot take our protagonist seriously. If that was the plan all along, then this could be something pretty entertaining in the end.
The problem is this premiere is just jumbled and scattered enough that I'm not sure if that's a feature or a bug, so it's hard to make a call on the premiere as a whole. Making an intentional parody that is also this stonefaced in its execution is a difficult tonal tightrope to walk, and this opener just isn't deft enough to make its intentions clear. Was the gratuitous attempted rape of our only named female character an earnest attempt to make our wannabe Batman more heroic when he saves her, or a self-aware callback to the exploitative garbage so many other shows use when they want to be dark and edgy? Either way it sucks, but I can't decide which way it sucks until I know if the comedy in the rest of the show is intentional. Because on the off chance this is all sincere, and I'm supposed to be impressed by this dollar-store Lelouch and his eventual army of anime girl assassins, then this premiere is a ten-car pile-up of failure.
I suppose that means I'm on board for at least one more episode, if only to sate my curiosity. An intentional self-parody of edgelord isekai protagonists could certainly be fun, especially with the sharp production and energy this first episode brings. And hey, even if it isn't intentional, it still had me laughing more than any comedy so far this season. So maybe it's a win-win.
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