Who Lurk in the Shadows?

The Eminence in Shadow, episodes 1-12

Minoru Kageno was a young man who never outgrew his childhood desire to be a hero – specifically, a warrior from the shadows known as Eminence in Shadow. He trained hard so he could beat up biker punks and criminals, but that only went so far; shonen-style great power eluded him. So, when an encounter with Truck-kun ended his life in modern Japan and found him reborn into a late 19th century-era world where magic and swordplay prevailed, he seized that opportunity to make his long-held wish come true, even to the point of rescuing an elf girl from a magical overload and convincing her that a diabolical cult needed to be fought in a shadow war.

But what now Minoru – now the nobleman’s son Cid Kagenou – failed to appreciate is that new follower Alpha took his playful delusions both whole-heartedly and utterly seriously. By the time he enters the prestigious Midgar Academy for Black Knights, she has assembled a powerful, extensive (and curiously all-female) secret organization named Shadow Garden around him. As he plays at being Background Character A by day and Shadow Garden’s indomitable leader at night, he also fails to accept that the Cult of Diablos that he thought he made up on the spot is actually real, or that Shadow Garden is really one big harem focused on him. And never mind that he is also getting unwelcome attention from two different princesses.  as well. This is a dark fantasy tale, not a rom-com, after all!

In other words, this whole light novel adaptation is all about a young man knowingly living out the chunibyo fantasy he crafted for himself, with the supreme irony being that all of it is real and certainly not a game to anyone but him. It is both an amusing and fascinating conceit for a series, one that has been toyed with before but never carried out to this extent, and it puts an intriguing spin on the standard isekai reincarnation/power fantasy tale. Much of the series’ extensive humor comes from the way Cid pursues both his Background Character A and Eminence in Shadow personas with complete gusto, with the added joke being that what looks cheesy as hell to experienced anime viewers is being taken completely at face value by characters in the story, to the point that it sometimes either backfires on Cid or catches Cid off guard with how far someone takes it; a favorite example is a mid-season scene where Cid learns that a popular new department store (which sells products suspiciously similar to items Cid knows from Japan) was actually set up by one of his original “Seven Shadows” as a way to fund Shadow Garden’s activities, which has generated a war chest of  truly stupefying size.

Far from all the content is comedic, however. Most scenes that are not from Cid’s perspective are played straight, and even Cid’s play-acting scenes can sometimes have very dark overtones; for instance, one scene from episode 4 shows Cid going all out to be the hapless background character while being subjected to a brutal interrogation. The level of graphic violence is also very high – almost to the point of absurdity at times – which makes this this easily one of the year’s bloodiest series. At times, this makes for a seemingly-awkward balance.

However, that stark contrast may be part of the point here. For all the antics going on at the academy, this is a setting with an ugly underbelly, and yet Cid is still treating this whole situation like it’s one big game. Furthermore, he’s got the anti-hero vibe down so completely that he’s just one step away from being a villain himself: he has a callous attitude towards killing and seems unconcerned about collateral damage when he wants to do something cool. He is also so deep into his “secret hero” role that he diligently avoids or ignores anything that might push him in a romcom direction, such as Princess Alexia’s initially-manipulative motivation for dating Cid gradually turning into real love, the affections of a different princess later on, or apparently deliberately remaining ignorant of the fact that several (if not all?) of his chief underlings are romantically interested in him. Fortunately for him, the young women who have assembled under him are plenty capable and vastly more thorough.

Which brings us to the series’ attitude about fan service. The first nine episodes are lightly sprinkled with various prurient scenes and camera angles, but they are hardly intrusive. That changes with the light-hearted episode 10 and the slightly more serious episode 11. (Of course, for this series, “light-hearted” includes scenes where a priest is impaled on a statue and a foe is struck down in a spray of blood.) Just like Minoru takes off his weights before going into battle in episode 1, these two episodes unfetter limiters on fan service and go all out, using an eccentric look at the downtime behaviors of various characters to engage in all manner of sexy shenanigans, much of which is played even more for humor than it is for sex appeal. Perhaps the most interesting detail during this run is that Cid has somehow gone from a very ordinary physique in episode 4 to a supremely chiseled one in the hot springs scene which opens episode 11. It’s possible that he may be using magic to redefine his body (much as one of his underlings is shown doing in episode 10 to “defeat nature”), but this is undoubtedly intended as a joke and definitely not intended to be thought about too hard.

Of course, the staff could also have just been giving audiences some relaxing downtime before dropping the metric ton of deeper revelations that is episode 12. This is the first of what looks to be a two-parter that could be a game-changer for the entire setting. We’ll have to wait until episode 13 airs to see how far the series is going with this, though in retrospect there have been some vague clues all throughout the series about the direction that episode 12 may be implying. (It does tend to kill the theory that this whole thing may just be in Cid’s head, however.) Fortunately, we won’t have to wait long, since HIDIVE is indicating that the series will run continuously for two cours, and without taking a week off, too.

On the technical front, the artistic effort is sharpest in its background details and character designs. It impresses much less with the flow of its action scenes, which show the (perhaps partly budgetary) limitations of the series, but it is more interesting in showcasing dramatic flair and blood sprays anyway. Fights are still a grade above those in titles like Beast Tamer, but certainly don’t expect Chainsaw Man or Spy x Family level of flow, detail, and choreography. Musical support is effective in all modes, with the most distinctive detail here being that the closing theme song remains the same but is sung by a different voice actress from Shadow Garden’s elite each time, with the singer’s character featured in the puzzle piece-assembling visuals.

Overall, The Eminence in Shadow compensates well enough for its sometimes-shaky mixing of lighter and darker elements to be a consistently fun view. The one knock against it so far is that it does not spend enough time exploring the Shadow Garden members; an OVA or two which tackles this at some point would be most welcome.

Rating: B

Note: An English dub for this series is due to start next week. I may add commentary on this to this review once a couple of episodes of that have streamed.

14 thoughts on “Who Lurk in the Shadows?

  1. I suppose i’m in the minority with this show because i feel the dissonance between the framing of Cid and his worldview: how he’s treated like a badass at times feels like having it’s cake and eating it like with Shield Hero. Granted, I admit to being cynical with isekai in general so that might be an issue.

    Still, the general feeling i have with this show is “it’s trying to lampshade the tropes of wish fullfillment isekai while indulging in those same tropes.” it’s not scathing or farcical enough personally

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    1. I do not think that the show is trying to lampshade the tropes so much as it is trying to Guren Lagann over charge them in an effort to look cool. Unlike The Misfit of Demon King Academy there is no sense of irony or eye roll to the antics of Cid. Instead it is trying to excite its viewers with spectacle and power moments.

      In a lot of way by embracing the idea that Cid is insane in regards to his persona as the Shadow in Eminence the show manages to pull it off. Where the excitement isnt so much in the clever ways it can twist your more typical isekai scenarios into insanity of the directions Cid is willing to go. Unfortunately I found a sudden veering into repeated breast jokes for two episodes to bring that cleverness crashing down. As the motivations for 3 point of view female characters became how much they can compete for Cid with their breasts while he is totally uninterested and is just taking in the city sites on invitation from alpha.

      I was convinced we had drifted into filler territory until I managed to get a confirmation from a book reader that the arc is in-fact written like this. It wasn’t just horny animations wanting to plug in much more direct, in you face, fanservice and 1 note character work but the actual direction the novel wanted those characters to develop.

      Still at least the latest episode (and the ending of episode 11) has gone back to the more interesting developments. Especially with the intrigue about the identity of the character Cid is helping out of the sanctuary, whether she is associated with the hero’s or with diablos. I hope there is more room in the shows writing for more genuine character work like when we took on the perspective of Alexia and her troubles or the cleverness of the setup as a being a villain to Sherry.

      Can this show pull off another set of genre changes like it did with its first 3 arcs?

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      1. I wish I could edit that post with things like “Where the excitement isnt” Into “Where the excitement is” and other minor sentence structure mistakes. Sigh, this comes from being impatient when I am transferring my thoughts from brain to keyboard and not covering legibility.

        (or avoiding associating it with my accounts)

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  2. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have the capability to allow posts to be edited by anyone but me. (The one thing I don’t like about the service I’m using is that there isn’t much flexibility in the comment settings.)

    One thing I forgot to mention in the review is that the franchise this one most resembles in some ways is Overlord. They’re still different style series, and the leads have different attitudes, but the way underlings idolize and fawn over the protagonist – and the was he sometimes doesn’t know how to handle it – is similar.

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      1. The difference here is that Ainz never put on any pretense about being a hero, nor did his underlings ever look at him as such. Besides, that’s not a fair comparison because Ainz’ more evil behavior didn’t show until after the first season

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      2. That’s fair enough. I still just feel off about this show. Like it’s venerating Cid for his delusions and weird amoral sociopathy (at least, in my view) rather than skewering it.

        Granted, i’m the type of person that feels this sort of Isekai needs either it’s own brutal decontruction or it’s own “Blazing Saddles” style absurd farce that highlights the issues of the genre

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  3. I’ve been enjoying this, but the one thing I can’t help but wonder about is the “slime” power/ability he and his followers have. I don’t mind it (and him) being OP, but I want to know more about it. Did he get it as his isekai special power, did he find it, make it etc? When we first see him use it, he’s testing it out and isn’t sure of it’s capabilities, so I presume it’s something he acquired, but we never really learn anything else about it.

    I do wonder if the veil over either sides eyes (or both) will ever get removed. At this point I’m more interested in seeing that turn of events than anything else.

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  4. Good point, and one that I had been thinking about myself. The series skimps A LOT on foundational details, and while we have seen isekai do that before in the interest of economy, episode 12 has left me wondering if that isn’t deliberate obfuscation in this case. We might have to adjust our thinking after next week’s episode 13.

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