Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest
Episodes 1-2

by Christopher Farris,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest ?

I've never been a fan of the cipher self-insert fantasies represented by the protagonists of the inescapable isekai genre. However, I do feel a certain kinship with Hajime, apparent hero of ARIFURETA. Just as he has been cast into a dismal labyrinth, forced to survive by eating monster meat and eventually escape, I am trapped in the labyrinth of this show, trying to nourish myself on whatever morsels of entertainment it may be able to provide. Fans of the original light novels and curious new viewers are free to join me for the ride.

ARIFURETA is among a newer evolution of the isekai genre that sees its heroes, rather than being gifted amazing powers and gear immediately upon their arrival into RPG-flavored fantasy land, instead must actually work to attain their game-breaking powers. What's funny about this twist on the premise is that being underpowered at the start is presented as some sort of injustice. Hajime only getting moderate Fullmetal Alchemist powers compared to the fantasy boosts the rest of his class possesses gets bemoaned as ‘unfair’ and leads to his ostracization. While I appreciate the idea of a useless nerd being reborn into a fantasy land as a useless nerd again, all this story choice does is reinforce how little self-reflection this kind of writing offers its protagonist, by casting him as the victim right away to justify shifting right into the same overpowered arc as usual.

But setting aside its character development problems, the story has bigger issues getting across the core information of its premise in this first episode. The premiere pointedly eschews a lot of setup and world-building to skip straight to yeeting Hajime into the caves, so we can watch him be pushed to the brink and chow down on monsters for most of the runtime. Instead of explaining what he's doing here or what kind of dynamics he shares with the other heroes (who turn out to be his classmates), we skip straight to his fortuitous discovery that eating monsters in the caves grants him instant super-powered level boosts. See, he gets his isekai lottery winnings eventually, he just needed the motivation of a bully to punish first.

The second episode, in between more scenes of Hajime continuing to edgelord-ify himself underground, features attempts at intrigue as another character named Shizuku questions who might have blasted Hajime down into the depths, while also comforting his apparent former friend Kaori. There's a guy named Hiyama who's an obvious suspect, but the show seems to be framing him as a red herring. This makes me think the seemingly-sweet Kaori might be a ‘twist’ villain, and she seems to have something special going on with Shizuku herself, but I also can't believe a series like ARIFURETA would introduce two girls like this and not make them romantically available to the protagonist. Maybe if the character animation were better, I could get more of a read on their motivations.

As mediocre as ARIFURETA's isekai plotting has been, its storied production troubles are a bigger burden on the series. If you're here for an animation tire-fire, the show doesn't disappoint. I can't recall many first episodes that looked this bad, but for a show that allegedly had months of work scrapped to rework the style and character designs in a rush, the direction of the series does its damnedest to compensate. The first episode in particular makes liberal use of the dark atmosphere of the caves to paper over how shoddy everything looks, and while it still sticks out if you're paying attention, I can at least give them props from keeping things from looking much worse. Even if you try to ignore the jagged characters pasted onto poorly-filtered backgrounds, you're still left with scenes like a slow zoom-in pillow talk between Shizuku and Kaori where their lip-flaps fail to match their dialogue, or a hilarious monster-blood-splatter effect pasted onto one of Hajime's flimsy CGI foes (dispatched with his 3D-rendered gun). Even the opening theme feels unfinished in its composition, though at least the song is kind of cool.

Right now ARIFURETA feels like a mediocre isekai story kneecapped by structural and design choices at the core of its messy production work. It might be worth following on the possibility that it devolves into further hilarity, but if it stays at this level, I can't even call it a so-bad-it's-good trainwreck yet either.

Rating:

Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest is currently streaming on Funimation and Hulu.


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