Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest
When Hajime Nagumo and his entire high school homeroom are transported to another world, they're each given special powers to enable them to help their summoners fight the forces of evil. Most of his classmates get heroic strengths, but Hajime ends up with only the low-level “synergist” skill, rendering him not only mostly useless in battle but also even more of an outcast than he was back in the classroom. As if that's not bad enough, a jealous classmate, upset at the fact that one of the most popular girls likes Hajime, fakes an accident and sends Hajime plummeting into the abyss. Hajime doesn't die, however, and by dint of pure grit and stubbornness not only survives, but acquires skills and powers like no one has ever seen. He's got only one plan for them: find a way to get back home, no matter who he has to kill to get there.
Despite being adapted from a relatively strong series of isekai power fantasy novels, where the protagonist has to actually work to get his powers rather than just lucking into them from the start, Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest's anime is not particularly well-written or well-animated. Novel readers will notice this almost immediately from the beginning: the opening episode not only moves too quickly through some portions of the first novel, but also leaves out huge swathes of important character development, stripping Hajime and (most notably) Kaori of their emotions and motivations beyond what's on the surface, and thereby handicapping the series from the start. While it perhaps isn't entirely fair to say this, this first misstep paves the way for what the show eventually becomes: all fetish and no substance.
A large part of this stems from the fact that none of the characters have any interiority. We see Hajime go straight from “poor schlub” to “super badass nihilist” in a matter of moments, which makes us wonder why Kaori is so torn up about his presumed death for the subsequent twelve episodes or what the other female characters see in him. Yue stands as an exception to this – after she was hung up in a crystal for three hundred years, it makes sense that she'd feel something warm for the person who eventually showed up to save her. That said, their apparently unbreakable romance doesn't get the screen time needed to make it come off as strong as it needs to be, and the omission of the sex scene from volume one also takes that element away as well, no matter how many times Hajime introduces Yue as “my lover,” which sounds fairly corny, especially in the English dub. But perhaps the bigger issue is that everyone has basically one defining character trait that is called upon to make up for their entire personality: Hajime is “angry,” Yue is “menacingly calm,” Kaori is “worried,” Ms. Aiko is “naïve,” and Shea is “energetic,” – none of which is enough to make any of them particularly sympathetic, although in a couple of cases it's sufficient to make them annoying.
You may notice that Tio was not mentioned in that list; rest assured that this is not because she's any more rounded as a character. Instead, she has the dubious honor of being at the center of one of the most unpleasant scenes in the entire series – when she first comes in, in dragon form, Hajime decides to subdue her by shoving a stake up her backside. Even without the close-up of a dragon anus, this scene is disturbing for the way it plays the forced penetration. Tio at first seems to object to what Hajime is doing, but the further he shoves the stake in, the more it becomes clear that she's starting to enjoy it. Regardless of what orifice Hajime is forcibly penetrating, this feels like a scene that suggests that victims actually enjoy their violation, playing on the grotesque notion that if you just keep going, they'll start to have a good time, no matter what they start out saying. While it is meant to show that Tio is a “pervert” (in the show's words), it's much more disturbing and distasteful than that – a rape scene played for yuks.
By this measure the women all falling madly in love with Hajime (teacher included) and the consistent confusion of “kissing” with “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation” feels almost negligible. What's interesting in terms of a harem story is that Hajime in no way has any confusion about who he wants to be with – it's Yue and no one else, something he makes clear to all aspirants for his love. That none of the ladies respect his words is annoying, but it is a nice departure from the genre norm. Also despite the prevalence of loli characters (Yue, Ms. Aiko, and Myu, although that last one is an actual child and doesn't technically count) none of them are grossly sexualized; Yue does spend some time naked, but that's because she's been hanging around in a crystal for three centuries, not because it's meant to be sexy. The flip side of this is that we see much more of Shea's underwear than almost anything else about her and that Shizuku's shirt is totally ludicrous to better show off her breasts, but it's something of a trade-off.
Unfortunately the art isn't good enough to count for a whole lot. While the character designs are nice – something that the included art book and art cards attest to – the animation is minimal, rendering fight scenes much less exciting than they need to be. CGI is clumsy, looking very plasticky and poorly-rigged, and while the artbook indicates that very nice backgrounds were at some point developed, they don't necessarily show up to good advantage in the actual show. When we add in some odd color choices – the monsters' blood really looks like oil – it's visually underwhelming all around. On the more positive side, there are a lot of insert songs sung by various members of the female cast, and the opening theme at least is pretty good. (The ending is a bit more forgettable.) Background music is more ho-hum, with one track sounding more like it belongs in The Great British Bake-Off than Arifureta.
The limited edition does come with some nice extras, however. On-disc we have the two OVAs (both of which focus on various girls' love for Hajime), the Twitter picture drama, and various commercials and textless songs. Physical goodies are the aforementioned artbook (which also has Japanese cast interviews, which are interesting), three decent-sized stickers, six art cards, and enamel pins of Hajime's handguns. The show is fully dubbed in English and both vocal casts are quite good.
Arifureta - From Commonplace to World's Strongest can't necessarily be said to make the most of its strengths. It suffers from poor production values and a very patchy adaptation, and my general feeling is: if you aren't opposed to reading, picking up the original novels from either Seven Seas (print) or J-Novel Club (digital) is a much better way to experience the story.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : D+
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Nice extras, Hajime's devotion to Yue is a good change in a harem story. Shea becomes less annoying as the show goes on.
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