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The Fall 2023 Anime Preview Guide
A Returner's Magic Should Be Special

How would you rate episode 1 of
A Returner's Magic Should Be Special ?
Community score: 2.1

What is this?


In a land dominated by the formidable Shadow Worlds, most of humanity has been destroyed. To rescue their planet from impending doom, six brave heroes fight a perilous battle…and fail. But there's a glimpse of hope when Desir, one of the last mages, is suddenly sent back in time 13 years! Now armed with knowledge of the grim future, can he alter the course of history and save the world?

A Returner's Magic Should Be Special is based on a Korean webcomic series of the same name by Wookjakga. The anime series is streaming on Crunchyroll on Saturdays.

How was the first episode?

James Beckett

It's interesting that A Returner's Magic Should Be Special premiered on the exact same day as Tearmoon Kingdom, as both are fantasy anime that revolve around their central character being “reborn”/transported into the bodies of their younger selves so that they can use their newfound knowledge to avert a terrible catastrophe. One area of difference I can immediately highlight between the two is their pacing: In Tearmoon Empire, we got the gist of the heroine's situation and saw her flung back into the past in just under four minutes. Nice and economical. Returner's Magic, on the other hand, takes nearly three times as long to get to the main hook of its story. Now, you can argue that the two shows tell two very different kinds of time-travel stories, and that Returner's Magic has the spectacle of the big dragon fight to consider. I would counter that with two key facts: The first is that the dragon fight isn't all that amazing to begin with, and the second is that twelve whole minutes is a hell of a lot of time to take up in a twenty-three-minute-long episode.

The point is, Returner's Magic gambled and lost on the idea that I would be spellbound by watching the climactic battle between a cadre of heroes I know nothing about and a goofy looking CGI dragon who is literally named after ketchup spaghetti (and I don't think it's even supposed to be a joke). It doesn't help that we're treated to such hilariously self-serious lines as, “Of the one hundred and fifty million people who fought him, only six of us survived.” That just makes it all the more difficult for me to suddenly start caring once our hero finds himself back in his old school, only to spend the rest of the episode on a literal walking tour of place while reminding us, the audience, that he's gone back in time. It's a real snooze-fest.

That isn't to say that there is no potential here. Unfortunately, if I've learned anything about these light novel and web novel adaptations that we've gotten in recent years, it's that a good lot of them have no earthly idea how to begin a story with any sense of grace or subtlety. The quasi-modern fantasy setting of Returner's Magic is cool enough, and I could see the story picking up once we get past the exposition stages and start truly developing the characters. As first impressions go, though, this show stumbles pretty hard right out of the gate. Here's to hoping it can pick itself up and compete with the better shows of the season before we all collectively lose interest and give up.

Nicholas Dupree

This premiere peaked in its first half, which is not a great sign because that first half was already quite bad. It was a generic RPG fantasy battle against a clunky CG dragon and featured some truly abysmal action animation. Following that, it was a bunch of expository dialogue about how this world's magic works, all while vaguely hinting at the pasts of these characters we just met. Still, the idea of starting at the end—catching up with the handful of survivors who waged a decade-long war against the forces of evil now that they can finally catch their breaths—was an intriguing idea that the show promptly throws in the trash so it can be Fantasy Tokyo Revengers instead.

If that premise sounds interesting too, I promise you this premiere does not execute on any imaginable potential. Not only is our protagonist laboriously slow to pick up that he's leapt back in time, everything about his past is painfully generic and boring. His future (past?) companions were nothing to write home about, but they were eons more engaging than the paint-by-numbers students he encounters at this dully realized magic school. You'd think this whole gimmick would be a chance to flesh out Desir's character, or demonstrate the relationships that he was grieving in the future—that would possibly get us invested in his New Game! Plus playthrough. Instead we introduce some random rich snob to be a jerk and then end on the cliffhanger of him meeting his dead girlfriend. You know, the one we know exclusively through a sad flashback. That's just not enough drama to end your first episode on, especially not when it's preceded by 10 minutes of boring exposition.

The show also looks like butt. Animation is stiff at the best of times, and marred by a terrible filter that muddles the colors of everything on screen, and gives the whole episode a sickly mottle to its visuals. It makes just the act of looking at this episode a chore, and would be enough to kneecap this production even if the writing wasn't vacuous. There is, possibly, a version of this story that's interesting, or at least capable of keeping your attention. That is not the version we got here.

Rebecca Silverman

If you go into this expecting subtlety, I regret to inform you that A Returner's Magic Should Be Special may disappoint you. This is the story of a guy named Desir who desires a different outcome for the battle against the confusingly named dragon Boromir Napolitan, and so ends up ten years back in time, where he has a chance to do it all over again, including with his love interest, Romantica. All we need now is a villain named Evilly, and we're all set to go.

Names aside, there isn't much to recommend this over the other time loop story airing this season. It desperately wants to be dark and edgy, and I can't say it's doing a particularly good job. We open with what turns out to be the final battle of the last remaining six people to fight against Boromir Napolitan in the Shadow World that's slowly taking over the plot's equivalent of Earth, but it's hard to feel much for any of them. We're told an awful lot, mostly about how Desir has lost many people he cared about, but none of that does anything to earn our sympathy. There's a brief mention of it being too bad Desir's a commoner, a lot of jovial death-flag-raising chatter, and then suddenly Desir moves from "dragon food" to "ten years ago," and that's that. It's hard to be invested in his shock and determination when we know so little about him and what he's been through.

This may be just the wrong place to start the series. Where the source manhwa begins is almost a moot point because even if it opens in the same place, not enough plot resources are employed to make this engaging. Everyone's a stock character, and even the disaster isn't that alarming, not the least because it doesn't look that good. Boromir Napolitan (I'm starting to enjoy that name) is a big, awkward mess of a dragon, and his powers aren't clear beyond "destructive." Character designs aren't much better, and the settings are so bland they could be the anime equivalent of stock footage. Simply put, there's nothing you haven't seen done better, or at least differently, somewhere else.

So, should you watch this if you enjoy this genre? Probably, it's worth a look. This is bland and a little dull, but seeing if Desir can change the future, even if his magic isn't special (per the title), isn't without potential. But this episode isn't great shakes. At least it's got a fun name in Boromir Napolitan.

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