(*Note: The first episode’s review is a copy-paste from when I wrote about it for The Fall 2022 Preview Guide, which also includes two other evaluations of this episode from other ANN reviewers. This review’s sections for episodes 2 and 3 are entirely new.)
I’ve now been reading The Eminence in Shadow faithfully for years, both as a web novel and a manga. Being an anime aficionado, the news that there would be one is simply the best thing I’ve heard this year, especially after seeing this episode. It does something neither the online book nor the manga do, which is fantastic. It not only provides us a rather in-depth look into our hero’s past before he met Truck-kun, but it also depicts him from the viewpoint of someone not close to him.
Kageno appears almost arrogantly uninterested with the world around him in daily life, to the point that he can’t be bothered to recall people’ names. In his alter persona, he appears unstoppable and extravagant since he genuinely talks out loud while acting like a shonen anime character. We are able to identify with the folks he interacts with thanks to the mystery surrounding his genuine views, which sets a solid foundation for what is to follow. After all, we have all been in their position before.
We are only given access to Kageno’s mind once we have seen him from an outsider’s viewpoint. He is actually attempting to embody a literary character archetype—not the “hero,” but the powerful dark character who occasionally appears to assist the hero. You know, the one that shows from out of nowhere, dispatches the adversary with one blow, and says something cryptic that only becomes clear in retrospect. That raises the question of how someone can become so “overpowered” in a society when body armor, firearms, and nuclear weapons are commonplace. Unfortunately, you can’t. In a fantasy setting, however, the presence of magic would change everything if someone were to be reborn.
Overall, this is one of those episodes that you need to see twice: once normally and then again knowing that Kageno is a victim of his own fabrication. On the first watch, it’s somber and heart-racing that you never know where it’s going to go. With all the mystery around his activities being disclosed in the second, it is very funny. As a lover of the source material, it was not what I was anticipating, but it was a pleasant surprise, and I can’t wait to see more.
The Eminence in Shadow’s first episode focused on introducing us to our hero, his madness, and who he was before being transferred to the fantasy realm where the majority of the action takes place. On the other hand, the second episode focuses on demonstrating how he responds to being in a circumstance where the presence of magic enables him to become the “Eminence in Shadow” that he has always desired.
Essentially, this episode is made up of two standalone adventures: Cid’s initial run-in with Alpha and the establishment of Shadow Garden, as well as the kidnapping of his sister and Shadow Garden’s first significant conflict with the Diablos Cult. We get to witness the isekai formula as the series has twisted it via various travels.
Even though he was reincarnated in a different universe, Cid (as he is known in the fantasy realm) is nevertheless greatly impacted by our common sense. Even while magic enables him to assume the part he’s always wanted to play, he is aware that everything he is doing is pretending.. He may be able to murder bandits and portray them as being involved in a larger, global evil scheme, but in reality, all he is doing is “extreme LARPing”… except that he isn’t.
The entire series’ central source of humor is the fact that all the BS Cid invents to justify his game of pretend is always true, whether it is the entire tale of the Diablos Cult and the curse plaguing the heroes’ offspring or the discovery of the enemy’s secret base by a careless knife throw. Or to put it another way, he is the sole one who is unaware that he is an Eminence in Shadow.
These first two escapades also show that, despite his determination and drive, Cid is lonely. When other youngsters quit playing the part of heroes and villains in his previous life, he was left alone to continue the fantasy, and he says this in his voiceover. Perhaps this is the reason he contacts Alpha. He had no justification for acting in a shadowy manner in front of her. He might have just pretended to be an average, everyday “Cid” and claimed to have happened across her by accident. Instead, he creates a false world for both of them.
In addition to participating in it together, Alpha continues to entice other misfits who share their condition, taking the game to new heights. He has buddies who are eager to engage in his fantasies and live in his fantasy with him for years as a youngster. This is why the climactic moment hits him so hard emotionally. From his vantage point, his buddies have once more matured and chosen to reject him.
The fact that Alpha and the other females aren’t playing and never have is, of course, both the comedy and tragedy of the entire scenario. He stands as their hero, saving them from becoming worthless monsters and giving them a reason to live in addition to a clear course for retaliation. You can tell how difficult it is for them when they announce it’s time to leave his side by the expressions on their faces. But they are prepared to go into the world and get ready for his arrival for him and his cause without even being asked. Too unfortunate he can’t recognize their devotion and dedication for what they are.
Only one side of “Eminence in Shadow” exists: the other is the mild-mannered cover identity. It is dark, gloomy, and foolishly overpowering. This episode is all about the idea that Cid spends just as much work into being a forgettable failure as he does in developing his overpowering magic, even if it was briefly mentioned earlier (when illustrating the relationship between Cid and Claire). He deliberately selects unlikable cowards as pals, loses bets, and degrades himself in order to gain money. Of course, the humor is that despite his best efforts to appear “normal,” he is obviously weird. He is after all acting more like a cliche than an actual person, which is perhaps why he keeps getting pulled into the spotlight with Alexia.
In the shadow of her older sister, Alexia is a young woman. She’s a princess in her own right, but she doesn’t have her sister’s natural skill with the sword. She has been exposed to people’s darker aspects as a result, including how they treat her with contempt and compare her to her sister when they believe no one is looking. Since she frequently attempts to hide her actual personality, she despises anyone who appears to be too flawless on the outside since she assumes that they are doing the same. Ironically, as a result, Cid, who is so plainly flawed, becomes the one person to whom she feels comfortable being completely honest. She doesn’t and is unable to understand why Cid’s mask is intended to make him seem worse rather than better since it is so incompatible with her worldview.
The problem about Cid, though, is this. As opposed to her sister, he is more like Alexia. His relentless pursuit of realizing his ideal has been the source of everything he possesses. He has become strong not by skill but through hard labor. So even though he doesn’t particularly like Alexia, he does appreciate her for working relentlessly to achieve what could be an impossible objective. When he says he appreciates her sword technique, he really means this. He understands what went into it, and to describe it as anything less than magnificent would be to downplay the effort he put in to become the Eminence in Shadow.. While he may be wholly committed to maintaining his hidden identity, there are some boundaries he cannot and will not breach, not even in the course of achieving his goal.
• I wonder whether Akane will make another appearance in the series. They put a lot of effort into creating her just to have her be a one-off character. I’m thrilled that they changed the plot to include Zeta and Eta in these early episodes as a reader of manga and web novels, and I hope they do so in the future as well. The slime suit is such a brilliant idea, especially because Cid has given it a lot of thought as to how to be used. You know, like by letting his boots sprout blades rather as his gloves.
• You have to admire Cid’s fierce aggression in battle. He actually isn’t trying to be funny; he’s just using them as an excuse to play out all the cliches he can think of.
I imagine the maids weren’t aware that Cid can actually walk on water, and I like that the show doesn’t skimp out on the gore. They did an excellent job of physically illustrating how Claire learns from her brother. My initial reaction upon seeing Cid’s father was, “At last, an anime character that resembles me!” The number of characters that resemble Lynzee has long made me envious.
• Alpha in her pajamas in the episode’s closing image. Beta performing sit-ups in the last image of episode 3. I’m going to be irrationally depressed if episode 5 doesn’t have Delta playing fetch.
• Alexia has always come off to me as more of a conventional tsundere persona. The outstanding voice acting in the anime portrays her in a much more nuanced way. Cid’s pals are hysterically pitiful. If only to keep an eye on her brother, I’m a little surprised Claire didn’t find a way to get Cid into the college residence halls.
• It’s almost too absurd to be imagined that Cid would be blamed for Alexia’s kidnapping and death. He certainly didn’t have the contacts to get someone else to do it, much less the ability to assume he would be able to overwhelm her. (Well, you know, even though he both can and does.) Naturally, he was probably selected as the scapegoat deliberately because he is a lower noble and no one would be eager to risk their lives to assist him—even if they knew he was innocent. Next week, we’ll see how Cid handles being accused of kidnapping and murder as well as how Alpha and the other girls feel about it.
Currently, HIDIVE is streaming The Eminence in Shadow.
Richard has spent more than ten years living and working in Japan as an anime and video game journalist. Visit his Twitter and blog for more of his writing.