NOTE: I have not read the source novels for this series, so these reviews will be based on anime content only.
In most isekai reincarnation stories, childhood is rarely given more than a full episode (if that), as the goal is to get the character into adventure mode (or to whatever their destined occupation is to be) as soon as feasible. Ascendance of a Bookworm somewhat subverted this by having the main character’s occupation be part of her childhood, but even there the series did not spend more than an episode getting Main to the start of her defining journey. That’s why the start of this series is so unusual: though the opener and closer both make it clear that an adventure aspect is coming eventually, the series has spent three whole episodes getting protagonist Will to the age and point where he will set out adventuring. Given the way things have developed so far, this was the right call, both for original creator Kanata Yanagino and the adaptation team headed by director Yuu Nobuta (High School Fleet, Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear).
Some viewers will undoubtedly will find this approach too slow, especially for the first episode. However, almost nothing which transpires in the first three episodes feels stretched or wasted. This is attributable partly to the sense of makeshift family which satisfyingly develops between Will and his three undead guardians (to the point that Will eventually calls Gus “Grandpa” and refers to Mary and Blood as Mother and Father, respectively) and partly to the compelling mysteries lying at the core of the story. Why are these three undead, especially considering that becoming so makes Mary anathema to the goddess she worships? Why are they living in a long-ruined city crawling with undead? And how did Will end up in their care as a baby?
Somewhat surprisingly, the series does not keep viewers wondering about these mysteries for long. By halfway through episode 3 Will has reached age 15 (adulthood by this world’s standards), so he finally gets to learn The Whole Truth. While this is effectively an infodump, the series could not have waited any longer to reveal this information because the interrelated answers to all three questions set the stage for Will to move on to the next act in his life – assuming he isn’t killed by the Echo (read: avatar) of a god first, of course.
And it is a meaty set of truths we get as well. All three of the current undead were involved in the final battle of a campaign against a horrific Demon King, one who had taken over the nearby ruined city as his base, and ultimately couldn’t defeat him but managed to seal him. As part of an agreement with a god of death, they became undead charged with guarding the seal. After 200 years of that, Will came to them as a baby as an intended sacrifice towards breaking the seal. The latter in particular is heavy stuff, and the trio holding both that truth and the truth about the sealed Demon King until Will was old enough to handle it was warranted. While all of this sounds like typical isekai high-fantasy fare, the description of the Demon King and how he became such a menace is both a bit different and unusually effective, and now Will’s going to be carrying around the Demon King’s sword, Overeater, which was the key to the Demon King’s resilience? That’s a heady responsibility. And then the Echo of a god shows up for a true cliffhanger ending.
The remarkable degree of world-building so far also speaks in the series’ favor. Though the locales are initially limited, the storytelling makes up for that by carefully defining a pantheon of gods and establishing a clear magic system. I also loved the added detail in episode 3 about how the undead had no idea that anyone in the rest of the world even survived until Will showed up, which is both realistic under the circumstances and promotes a sense of urgency beyond just “finding your own kind” towards Will leaving them.
Overall, the first three episodes have lain a firm foundation for the adventure story to come. I look forward to seeing what the series can accomplish.