Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest ?
Arifureta's late start plus that midstream recap episode means it feels like it's lasted a lot longer into this season than most. But arriving at episode 12 here, I guess it means it has to start gearing up for some sort of season finale. The stage it's setting here is, as usual, clever in theory, bringing Hajime back to the town he and his class were first summoned to and constructing a situation where he can end up saving them, proving himself and his accumulated powers. Unfortunately, also as usual, the execution in all this setup shoots itself in the foot, largely due to poorly-planned priorities in the series up to this point.
Stories presented out of order, through interconnected flashbacks, aren't a bad thing at all. They're a proven device for keeping a narrative paced in an interesting way, but Arifureta has made a habit of trying to tell stories this way but not structuring them effectively. The crisis that Hajime's former classmates find themselves in is related by Endō., another party-member previously-unseen not just on account of his ability to turn invisible, but because as it's pointed out, he has hardly any presence to begin with. And coming from Hajime, that really says something. Endō.'s flashback is a long-form affair that comes after enough time has already passed with setup antics in the episode that the events feel awkwardly-paced as a result. We only jump back to the ‘present’ of him telling the story a couple of times, but it's still enough to throw into question how much time has passed between all the events depicted. There's an awkward section where we see Endō. bringing his initial requests for help to Captain Meld, and it's not clear how the sequence we're watching resulted in Endō. running all the way back to the Guild to find Hajime for help (how long does it even take to get in and out of the labyrinth, anyway?) or if he's just as bad at telling this story as the show is.
As rough as the story structure is here, the bigger problem is another one we've seen before in this series: That the flashback focus to the classmates ending up in danger means spending the lion's share of the episode's time with characters who aren't Hajime and his party. A couple of the classmates are ones we've seen before and may recall, but several of them get lumped into that ‘mildly interesting character design that I have zero context for’ problem that crops up every time the series tries to focus on these glorified extras. This is the most egregious this issue has been too, since at this juncture the writing is trying to mine pathos from the danger they're put in, but we just have no reason to care beyond the show telling us that these are sympathetic people in a desperate situation.
Deaths and near-deaths of characters will always be a cheap tactic for raising dramatic stakes if the audience's investment in them hasn't been properly earned. Arifureta utterly fails that test here, and can't even commit to it besides. Both of the characters that go down during the fight against the new-enemy demon lady in this episode are met with shocked reactions by the other party members, but the presentation can't even muster that kind of shock-value for the viewers playing along at home. It's very much like “Oh no, Meld died! Which one was he again?”. Suzu's apparent death is at least kind of shocking in how suddenly and graphically it seems to come about, but then she turns up clinging to life and helping out towards the end anyway, undermining even that basic effort.
It also doesn't help that even in life the one episode's worth of focus they try to give these characters amounts to undercooked emotional developments on subjects the show should have been covering more before if it wanted to touch on them here. The conflict they're confronted with is the demon-lady (who looks cool enough, unnamed as she is at this point) trying to sway more of the summoned heroes over to the other side of the conflict through the extremely diplomatic approach of threatening to murder them otherwise. Not only does this seem like an ineffective way to get a loyal fighting force on your side, it also comes across as pointless when your own monsters can easily tear through the heroes you're trying to recruit. It's still more well thought-out than anything idiotic team-leader Kouki does here though, including holding back a killing blow on the villainess because he saw her locket with a picture of her and a presumed love one in it. In a better show, there would be some effective weight to his sudden understanding of what being in a war with other individuals means, but here it's just a laughable moment of an incongruous poor decision Kouki makes against someone he just watched murder two of his own friends.
Ironically, all this sequence really ends up doing is seemingly unintentionally reinforcing the categorization of these characters as disconnected nobodies that Hajime should have no attachment to or drive to try and save. For what it's worth, a lot of the parts of this episode look okay, including some action cuts and anything that isn't a hideous CGI monster. And it does manage one almost-affecting segment right towards the end, courtesy of Yue and Shizuku, who seem to be the only halfway-intelligent members of the party that we actually spent time getting to know. And that sets the stage for Hajime to finally ride in on a cliffhanger for next week. Hopefully, now that the heroes I know are here, the second half of this fight will do more for me than this first part.
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