Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest ?
Episode 4 of Arifureta is, to use a highly technical term, a big fight episode. To its credit, the high-level boss that was built up at the end of the previous episode lives up to its promise, at least in scope. This battle, which spanned over twenty pages in the original novel, takes up virtually the entirety of this episode's run-time, and for all its ups and downs, it feels like it earns that runtime. It's a suitably epic cap to the struggles Hajime and Yue have had getting to this point, but as with all things Arifureta, there are a whole lot of caveats down in this cave.
Given that this is ostensibly a spectacle, it at least feels like the highest the show has reached in a visual sense. There are actually a few cool cuts during the fight, making clever use of some effects and cut-ins to create dynamism despite the lack of much full animation. But so much of it immediately gets undercut anytime the action is forced to stop due to resource conservation or lackluster direction. It's especially notable when Hajime declares how slow the boss's attacks are, making them easy to dodge, while on-screen he's simply standing still while lasers rain down around him. The multi-headed snake creature our pair is fighting is as much a CGI abomination as usual, its various components swaying and stopping at unnatural rates. And the dust effects that keep cropping up conspire to make everything look too blurry too often.
So that leaves the story to carry this hyped-up half-hour alone, and to its credit, it's definitely trying. It helps that the fight has its fair share of ups and downs, and most importantly, they're believable. Many ‘big’ fights in isekai shows feel like they're just padding out time until the hero reveals their trump card or discovers a new ability that will let them win. I never doubted that Hajime and Yue would come out on top, but the battle is long enough for each of them to get incapacitated at different points, with the other having to step up to rescue them. More than the previous episodes, this fight seemed insistent on selling the dynamic of Hajime and Yue as partners working in tandem, and even as his barely-used railgun disintegrated into polygons or her spell effects came in poorly composited, that character relationship came through clearly.
That relationship still has its problems, of course. Apart from the odd fade-out last week, Hajime plants a drawn-out kiss on Yue at a critical moment, seemingly signaling that these two are as much a romantic couple as they are traveling companions. I'm completely down with this, since many other fantasy shows will tease out the barest romantic tension for ages, seemingly out of fealty to genre tropes, or worse, opt for endless pining across a bunch of harem members. The shared trauma between Hajime and Yue is an element the story has done genuinely well, and just cutting to the chase and showing how that has brought them together does wonders for reinforcing my interest in the story. My only complaint is that I wish that odd cut from last episode had been substituted with something a little more sincere, to show the audience how these two leveled up their relationship as well as their abilities.
My other complaint is with Yue herself. A large part of this episode seems to be driving at some more concrete character development for her. There's actually a solid chunk of the episode where Hajime is the one knocked out, so she picks up his gun and continues to fight on her own. That's a cool idea that should demonstrate the resolve of her character, but there still isn't enough to her characterization to power the moment. The sum total of what we know about her, which she repeats throughout her efforts, is that she was sad about being betrayed and imprisoned alone in the labyrinth, and now she loves Hajime because he saved her and stayed by her side. The characters' dependence on each other already worked as a device to bring them together, but it's less compelling as Yue's only character motivation. Perhaps the plot is trying to save some surprises about her backstory for later, but that just makes all this glossing-over more conspicuous. To add insult to injury, her attempt at a counterattack doesn't amount to much, with Hajime needing to spontaneously spring from unconsciousness to save her during her own rescue attempt! If Arifureta is trying to sell Yue as the cool cover-girl for this series, it'll have to do better than that!
After all the passably entertaining struggles, our heroes' final victory also feels cheap, falling into that ‘hero discovering a new ability’ pattern I described. It's almost hilariously anticlimactic, with Hajime cracking off a power-up aura that would do a Super Saiyan proud, only for some on-screen text to blandly explain how he taped two different spells together to move faster. And the effects to show this power are still more than the show's meager resources can portray. I have to give this episode of Arifureta an A for effort, it clearly wants to live up to the conceptual highs of its source material. But as always, some misplaced narrative priorities and weak visual resources keep it pressed down to average at best.
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