Review

by Theron Martin,

8th son? Are you kidding me?

episodes 1-12 streaming

Synopsis:
8th son? Are you kidding me?
In modern Japan, a young salaryman returns home late from work, only to pass out before he can eat his dinner. When he comes around, he's not only in a whole different place but also a whole different body: that of Wendelin Baumeister, the 8th and youngest son of an impoverished noble on the farthest outskirts of the local nation. He quickly realizes that his prospects for a good life are poor, especially with his eldest brother Kurt inheriting the family's knightdom, so upon learning that he has a rare gift for magic, he secretly pursues it with the help of a strange man he encounters in the forest. Years later he leaves to attend a school for adventurers, in part to avoid a power struggle with Kurt. (Simply being a wizard carries that much prestige.) Classmates he encounters there become steadfast companions as he sets out on a course which soon earns him noble rank of his own and even a fiancée. But as Wendelin quickly discovers, becoming a noble also means getting wrapped up in their protocols and intrigues.
Review:

As isekai reincarnation series go, this Spring 2020 adaptation of a light novel series closely resembles Wise Man's Grandchild in a lot of ways. The protagonist is reborn in a new world, discovers prodigious magical talent at a young age, is tutored by a prominent wizard, and develops his magic in isolation until eventually attending a school, where he unwittingly awes those around him. This leads to him also unwittingly shaking up his kingdom and earning both a fiancée and loyal companions in the process. It also, conspicuously, features a storyline where the protagonist's isekai origins have only minimal impact on the story itself; beyond trying to recreate some Japanese foods, “Well” barely uses knowledge from his original world at all. In other words, this series – like that one – could have just as well been a straight-up power fantasy without changing much beyond superficial details.

There is one major difference, however: this series does not have an overall villain or underlying plot of any real magnitude. Nor does it have the more militaristic spirit of the later stages of Wise Man's Grandchild. It is, instead, mostly a simpler and more straightforward story about Well's rise from having little real prospects to becoming a hero and noble. It does, however, have an underlying theme that its predecessor lacks: that even scions of nobility with no hope for inheritance rights can still dream of and pursue a better future. Though not heavily focused on beyond being a bonding factor for Well and his party (who are in more or less the same family situation he is), it is a theme which pops up from time to time after that and plays a significant role in the series' last third.

That isn't the only factor which differentiates the series a bit from its kin, either. Amidst more typical fantasy story activities, the series manages some more poignant moments, particularly when a young Well has to separate from the master who teaches him magic. It also focuses more heavily than most isekai series on the scheming and politics which nobles can get wrapped up in, which is a minor element through the middle part of the story and a predominant one in the arc which composes the final third. The story is at its strongest when showing how Well is being manipulated into replacing his brother Kurt, something which everyone except Well seems to want to see happen for one reason or another; even Kurt's wife, who can see the writing on the wall better than her husband can, makes no pretense about trying to ensure her sons' safety in that eventuality by endearing Well to them.

That last arc elevates a series that is otherwise mostly a bland and generic power fantasy tale. There are foes to be fought, ranging from undead to beasts to magical golems, a mysterious labyrinth to be explored, and training to be done for the young adventurers. A trio of melee combatants – a male sword specialist, a female spear specialist, and a female martial artist – gather to Well as party members, while a young priestess, who also later accompanies the group on adventures, becomes his politically-arranged betrothed. (They do, of course, quickly grow to like each other, and they are well-matched in many ways.) A couple of current or former court wizards are also regularly in the picture. Well must also deal with numerous individuals who curry favor and/or seek to be his retainers and/or concubines, including his two female party members; for now, at least, the latter two seem more practically than romantically-motivated, and they don't try hard to intrude on Well's budding relationship with the priestess. Well is also about a generic a good guy as they come.

The animation production comes courtesy of Shin-Ei Animation, a studio which mostly specializes in family and/or kid-oriented anime titles like Crayon Shin-chan and Doraemon, so this is a marked departure for them. The animation quality is not anything special, whether normal or 3DCG, but it is clean and generally quite consistent. In fact, if anything, the series looks a bit too clean and neat, which hampers it during what should be grittier parts. Character and building designs are its strongest points, especially when characters dress up for formal affairs, though nothing in either deviates much from fantasy anime norms; Well's three main party members even have the standard red, green, and blue color themes. Despite numerous action scenes, actual graphic violence is kept to a minimum. Surprisingly for a series like this, fan service is also a non-factor.

The highlight of the musical score is unquestionably the opener “Space-Time of the Hesitant Person,” an operatic '80s-styled rock number which delights in being overblown but is easily one of the season's highlight songs. By comparison, closer “Moonlight Monologue” is a gentler and more sentimental number. In between the soundtrack uses several pieces by a group called the Catherina Ancient Music Ensemble, which results in sounds reminiscent of medieval and Renaissance-era fare; a close anime comparison would be the soundtrack for Spice & Wolf. The soundtrack also manages low-key moments and more dramatic scenes well enough.

Crunchyroll is producing an English dub for the series, which was halfway complete as of this writing. Ben Diskin up-pitches his voice for the part of the older Wendelin, which (whether intentionally or not) makes him sound wimpy. Other casting choices and performances shown so far sound more reasonable, though slightly stilted performances (mostly resulting from trying to match up to lip flaps) are a recurring problem.

The last story arc elevates the series above a “completely forgettable” level, and the lessened competition in the Spring 2020 season also helps (it still falls well short of both Ascendance of a Bookworm 2 and My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!, but COVID-19 delays prevented the situation from being much worse), but The 8th son? Are you kidding me? still stands firmly in the middle of the pack as isekai series go. As such, its appeal beyond isekai and fantasy RPG-styled fans is limited.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B

+ Solid musical score, final story arc
Still mostly a run-of-the-mill power fantasy, isekai background has little real impact on the story

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Production Info:
Director: Tatsuo Miura
Series Composition: Takeshi Miyamoto
Music:
Catherina Ancient Music Ensemble
Minako Seki
Original creator: Y.A.
Original Character Design: Fuzichoco
Character Design: Keiji Tanabe
Art Director: Hiroki Matsumoto
Sound Director: Koichi Kikuchi
Director of Photography: Katsuyoshi Kishi

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8th son? Are you kidding me? (TV)

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