The recent fall and winter anime season has seen many standout shows, including the long-awaited return of Tite Kubo’s latest installment in the Bleach series, the Thousand-Year Blood War, and the debut of the new anime series based on Tatsuki Fujimoto’s Chainsaw Man. However, one anime series that stands out from the pack of fall premieres that has emerged as a sleeper hit is the idiosyncratic isekai series, The Eminence in Shadow. Based on the original light novel series by Daisuke Aizawa, The Eminence in Shadow may not have as much hype behind it as other shows, but it’s quickly gaining attention in the anime fan base due to its unique blend of comedy, action, and its memorable protagonist. The Eminence in Shadow and its characters have frequently been ranked in the top of the charts in anime fan polls across social media. The series has also captured fans’ imaginations through its depiction of a pragmatic individual who has spent two lifetimes trying to achieve his long-held childhood fantasy.
‘The Eminence in Shadow’ Debut Episode Subverts Expectations Early
With new episodes currently streaming weekly on HIDIVE, The Eminence in Shadow is the story of a displaced teenager, Cid Kagenou (Seiichiro Yamashita). After an unwitting death at the hands of an oncoming car, he’s transported to a magical fantasy world, gifted with fabulous powers and magic beyond belief. Now that Cid has traveled to a magical fantasy world, he can finally fulfill his long-held dream. He does not want to be a valiant superhero or a supervillain. He aspires to become the ultimate shadow broker who manipulates events from the background; in other words, an “eminence in the shadows.”
The Eminence in Shadow quickly caught viewers’ attention early on through its genre-subverting first episode, which doesn’t follow the typical isekai cliché format. Usually, the first episode of an isekai series, a story where the protagonist is transported to another world, portrays the protagonist being unwittingly dragged from the contemporary world into a fantasy one. The premiere episode of The Eminence in Shadow does not follow the usual introductory structure and takes events a step further by beginning at a later point than the original light novel. The anime series notably jumps ahead, introducing a character from later chapters, Akane Nishino (Yui Horie), earlier than expected.
Rather than dumping the characters into the other world through some sort of magical ritual or reincarnation, the debut episode of The Eminence in Shadow tricks the viewers and makes them question, “Wait, I thought I was watching an isekai series?” It begins in modern-day, contemporary Japan and uses Nishino as the point-of-view character to introduce the story’s actual protagonist, Minoru Kagenou (later Cid Kagenou).
This Isn’t Your Typical Fantasy Series
At first, viewers think they’re tuning into an average isekai fantasy series with an overpowered protagonist. But instead, the show throws viewers a curve ball right off the bat and showcases Minoru from another character’s perspective. While Akane and Minoru have very different personalities, they both wear the mask of a false persona in public to fool others. They rarely let others know how they truly think and feel. Akane’s mask demonstrates that she acts a certain way, so people will like and want to rely on her. This very relatable psychological element introduces the world of The Eminence in Shadow and succeeds in grounding the series.
Only after establishing Akane Nishino’s journey and Cid’s introduction through her point of view does the story explore Minoru Kagenou’s reincarnation into a magical fantasy world as Cid Kagenou. His reincarnation is depicted as a coda in the premiere, where director Kazuya Nakanishi finally starts peeling back the layers of Cid’s persona and his goal of becoming a shadow puppeteer. Anime studio Nexus demonstrates that it is not content to rest on the laurels and tropes of the isekai genre. The production staff clearly wants to do something a little different.
Cid Is an Unforgettable Protagonist
The Eminence in Shadow has also captured the attention of its fan base with its unforgettable protagonist Cid Kagenou, who subverts many typical protagonist trends. Cid exhibits some similarities to the protagonists of many isekai shows in that he is incredibly competent, brilliant, and overpowered. Yet, he is also insanely dense and lacking in self-awareness. Cid does not want to be Superman or The Joker. Instead, he aspires to be someone like Speed Racer’s Racer X where every move he makes is about playing the cool, all-powerful shadow broker. However, Cid is so absorbed in his goal of acting cool, that he often misunderstands genuine events enacted by his cohorts as mere “play-acting,” usually with hilarious results. Despite Cid’s comedic antics, the character is still grounded in his very logical and pragmatic approach to his childhood dream. While Cid’s methods are indeed strange, the steadfast chase of his precious fantasy across multiple worlds still makes him a relatable, appealing character.
At one point, Cid completely imagines an improvised evil organization named Diabolos as a ruse for playtime with his subjects, the Seven Shades of Shadow Garden. In Cid’s mind, he’s goofing around with his friends, unaware that the stories he’s made up to act out his eminence in shadow fantasies are legitimately happening. The evil organization that Cid originally imagined, Diabolos, is real. Similarly, Cid fails to realize that the spy organization he unwittingly started, Shadow Garden, is legitimate and running counter operations to the evil cult organization, Diabolos. He thinks the bad guys are common bandits or criminals. Cid is gloriously oblivious to the fact that he has become the protagonist of his own story, and everything he makes up and fantasizes about turns into reality. Later episodes feature Cid comically improvising and playing it cool as he believes his eminence in shadow character would do. The Shadow Garden agents think Cid is the epitome of brilliance. Cid is simply so overpowered and naturally good at playing the shadow broker that his improvisation makes him look even more like a genius to his agents. Most isekai shows would play this type of scenario straight. Cid would be a more generic protagonist who forms friendships and allies, then comes into conflict with a villainous organization. Except Cid is so dense that he is completely unaware that the villains are real. It harkens back to Inspector Gadget, with Gadget usually misunderstanding Dr. Claw’s latest villainous plot.
“I Am Atomic.”
The show’s crowning epic moment is Cid’s ultimate attack, “I am atomic.” This is essentially the one scene that has sparked reaction videos across social media and sold the whole series. Cid was so intent on becoming an all-powerful shadow broker that it was not enough for him to beat up a special forces platoon. The ultimate obstacle to Cid’s goal is: “How do you beat a nuke?” The solution? Become the nuke. The premise is over-the-top and hilarious, along with Cid’s attack name, “I am atomic.” Cid makes his strongest attack a magical release of energy that is comparable to a nuclear explosion. He finally unleashes it in the fifth episode. The moment is cool and hilarious because of its over-the-top presentation and Cid’s stylish execution. Cid released an atomic-level attack and destroyed a good chunk of a city just to show his power, with a goofy catchphrase to go along with it. Aizawa and anime studio Nexus are aware of how edgy and theatrical Cid acts and embrace those aspects of his personality. Cid’s attack was so ostentatious that fans across YouTube could not help but share their reactions to his utter audacity. The series is very much aware of the joke and lets the audience in on it. People get it. The drama happening around Cid is real, but he’s too dense to realize it. Cid’s lunacy produces hilarious results.
A typical isekai anime series would not introduce a dilemma as unique or idiosyncratic as Cid’s. Usually, the run-of-the-mill isekai protagonist is a plucky hero or a dark gritty antihero. Cid subverts these often-used character tropes because he is neither. He likes to play around and pretend that he’s a dark edgelord, but he is simply very pragmatic about his goal, which makes The Eminence in Shadow simultaneously very humorous and refreshing. Nearing the end of its initial episode order, The Eminence in Shadow consistently performs in its quality, humor, and entertainment. With a 20-episode season, the show was able to adequately adapt the early volumes of its source material and leave a solid impression. The antics of Cid Kagenou in the pursuit of becoming the ultimate power in the shadows are just too fun to pass up.