Brutal! The Eminence in Shadow Episode 1 [Review]

A vigilante that thirsts for power. This dark fantasy isekai has a unique take on what we would see out of a “hero.”

Why This Anime Has Potential!

Going into an anime blind can yield plenty of reward, especially on a dark and rainy day. With the help of another recommendation from a close friend, I have found myself another anime with some intriguing darker elements in The Eminence in Shadow; a seinen anime part of the dark fantasy and isekai genre. The main protagonist, Minoru Kagenou, says it himself that he’s “always wanted to be a hero.” Rather than getting all the glory like the typical shonen protagonist, he chooses to operate from the shadows.

If episode one was any indicator of what kind of character Minoru Kagenou will be, it’s definitely a darker and demented vigilante type. There’s no letting the bad guys go and giving lame good guy cliches. It’s the darker elements within us as humans that just want to beat the living crap out of the bad guys and feel good about doing it. That is what has me excited over this anime—that exploration of giving the bad guys the pleasure of the same pain they inflict on others.

How Episode One Explains Everything You Need to Know

The First Act, “I Don’t Like You”

If you started watching this anime cold turkey and not knowing anything, you would have thought that Akane Nishino would be the star of the show. The episode starts off with her inside her home in a somber and gloomy tone as she gets up to take a shower. She’s an actress and daughter of a very powerful figure. Quickly, we get a sense of trauma from Akane as she opens up the door to a massive crowd of reporters, but just imagines it. Later on in the episode she explains it’s her PTSD from a “scandal” when she was in middle school. Ever since then, she had to put on a fake persona. As she gets dropped off from her driver, this scene displays her fake outer appearance as she says, “hi” to all the students as she walks into the school.

This leads her to run into our main character, Minoru Kagenou. Everyone loves and respects Akane, but Minoru barely acknowledges her. When she says, “hi,” he repeatedly calls her by an incorrect name. She continues explaining throughout the first half of the episode how much she doesn’t like him because of his cold personality and lack of acknowledgement of her. Again, she reemphasizes her mirage of an outer personality by still maintaining a cordial relationship with him, even though she’d rather not be nice to him at all.

Hooking You Into the Characters

There are two aspects of this first part of the episode that helps draw you into the characters. First, they use the attractiveness of this female character and then the clash of personalities between Akane and Minoru.

Without some action to start off a series, you have to build some kind of tension, right?

Akane being this attractive and popular girl running into this cold personality type; these kind of scenes lead me to think some kind of romance would be brewing.

Remember, this a dark fantasy!

However, that’s not actually the case as the episode progresses and communicates something darker using Akane’s traumatic experiences; along with the fact that she is from a wealthy and powerful family.

The dark, sad and gloomy feel of this first part of the episode presents the ideal way I would have wanted to experience Akane’s story. How she copes with her situation and how she isn’t this otherworldly nice girl she portrays herself to be, adds a nice layer of depth to the relatability of her character. The facade that we humans have to put up, in order to cope with our trauma and/or other secrets we may have is a burden on us all.

The Second Act, “The Kidnapping”

It’s late at night and Akane is still at school. Akane is trying to call her driver, but he is stopped by a couple of gangsters that lay him out. Because of the traumatic scandal during her time in middle school, she has never walked home since. Add that aspect and her driver being knocked out, this recipe for disaster is ripe for execution.

Just wanted to mention right here that the continued use of the piano music over the scene of the driver getting knocked out by the gangster was a great way to keep the mood going until the major part of the plot unfolds.

Cutting to the scene where Akane is waiting and deciding to walk home with the music abruptly stopping was another great tension builder and a tell-tale sign of something significant to come. In a great jump scare scene with the gangsters suddenly coming out to kidnap Akane, she is easily bounded up and taken away. From a far distance, she could see Minoru watching as she gets taken away. Although, it’s never clear whether this was just a visual interpretation for the audience or that she really did see Minoru just watching her get kidnapped.

As the scene was unfolding, it left me guessing throughout which way this was going to turnout. I wasn’t for sure if she was going to get away, get kidnapped or if Minoru was going miraculously step in at some point. As she was getting taken away, the way the scene ended with Akane seeing Minoru at the last minute, it made me think that Minoru may have been in on the kidnapping. It just goes to show the importance of how a scene is presented can change your perspective. The delivery of these pivotal moments is essential quality of the viewing experience. In this case, it deserves an A+.

The Third Act, “The Vigilante Strikes”

Once Akane wakes up and the two gangsters revealed why they kidnapped her, everything about this scene screamed “how typical.” The gangsters continued explaining that her dad “made a lot of enemies” and that they will return her after they get their ransom. One of the gangsters, the dumb loudmouth one that clearly thinks with his pants, continues to torment Akane by going for the ole’ “I want to see some skin” line of action.

No matter how typical kidnapping is in any plot, it’s still one of the best plot scenarios a story can give. An attractive female character that has been traumatized from an earlier kidnapping gets kidnapped again—it calls upon our primal instincts to want to protect girls, especially for guys.

This is where our young vigilante character carves out his role in what makes this anime a bit unique from others.

Minoru appears outside the building warehouse where Akane is bounded up by the gangsters. He pulls out a duffel bag with all of his “vigilante” equipment like a ski mask and some crow bars. Then, makes his way to the roof of the building.

As the loud mouth gangster continues to terrorize Akane, Minoru breaks through the glass roof and reveals himself to be the “Stylish Ruffian Slayer” or “Stylish Thug Slayer.”

In a disguise with a ski mask, wielding a couple of crowbars, it actually suits the name.

The loudmouth gangster pulls out his gun, but Minoru quickly disposes of him with his crowbar, knocking his gun away and putting him out of commission. The other kidnapper happens to be an ex-military archetype that enjoys the violence of what war presented to him. He throws away his gun and proceeds to fight Minoru with his 2 crowbars.

I kind of understand that Minoru knocked away the gun on the loudmouthed bad guy, but he IS still wielding 2 crow bars.. So, when the ex-military guy threw away his gun, it felt kind of dumb.

The two continued to fight as Minoru explains why the crowbars are so useful. To no one’s surprise, the guy with the 2 crowbars beat the crap out of the guy with bare hands.

If you take a little bit of the logic out, these scenes provided plenty of insight into who Minoru is and who he wants to be. The bloody display of gore, his sense of justice and the realization of his own strength are all qualities of an anti-hero, vigilante type. Inflicting pain on the kidnappers while they continue to beg him to stop becomes that fine line where most typical heroes stop. Having the excessive beating happen off screen with just the sounds pain while showing Akane forcing herself to look away was a perfect example of Minoru’s brutality.

Thus, bringing out what makes this a “dark fantasy.”

After taking out the kidnappers, Minoru steps to Akane with his knife out. This scene shows just how much Akane was scared of Minoru. In reality, he was there to save her. He ends up cutting away the tied ropes leaving her with the words of “be careful the next time you walk home.”

If you had to find the selling point of this anime, then it is this scene with Minoru taking down the kidnappers.

A character with a little bit more of a backbone that even the audience may fear is a sadistically dark take on a different kind of hero—a shadowy vigilante kind of hero.

How it Turns Into an Isekai

As Minoru escapes and reevaluates his own abilities, Akane is left dealing with the aftermath of the kidnappers and calls the police. This event becomes hush-hush as the next day, they both end up back at school—setting up the same exact scene like in the first part of the episode. Except in this case of Minoru not acknowledging her correct name, he actually gets it correct the first time. This gets Akane to recognize that they were both “living their life behind a mask.”

I love these kind of episodes where they can build thoughtful character development and easily convey the learning lesson of the episode. It was only about 17 minutes into the episode and how I viewed these characters turned very positive.

All of the sudden, it emerges through a news report that Minoru died by getting hit by a careless truck driver. Like any isekai, it transitions the scene into a young Minoru explaining all of his motivations; directly stating to the audience why he always wanted to be a hero, yearning for more power. Rather than operate like a typical hero, he’d rather “gain power to fight in the shadows.” At the end, we get a glimpse of Minoru in another world in a mage-like outfit with a ton of other characters dressed like him. These characters have the typical anthropomorphic characteristics like what you’d see in typical fantasy genres with elves, bunny ears, etc.

To be entirely honest, it felt like a disappointment to end the episode this way because of having no knowledge of the plot and any connections to the characters. I’m sure the second episode would do a lot more explaining, but having the episode end with a bunch of characters no one cares about yet, would be something I would have personally changed. Nevertheless, by this point I am still extremely interested to see what happens next.

Last Thoughts

The cold, dark and gloomy tone of the piano playing sets the right kind of mood for this entire episode. The star and most relatable character in this anime seemed like it would be Akane (based off of this episode, it is). In reality, the star is this vigilante character yearning for more power to fight in the shadows. It’s just as childish as it sounds and something I’ll have to overlook for the time being.

Personally, I’d prefer a more relatable motivator like revenge, wanting to stop bad guys because “they killed my family,” or something along those lines. In the end, Minoru wanting to strive for more power seems like a hollow motivation. Hopefully, we can get more depth out of Minoru as the story continues.

Besides the issues with the character depth of Minoru, if all of the darker aspects of this show was represented in this “Stylish Ruffian Slayer versus kidnappers” scene, then there’s a ton of hope that the story will be taking us on some satisfyingly darker twists on some classic story scenarios. As beautifully done as the story board was done in episode one, I’m expecting the rest of the season to be done just as well.

Just One More Thing!

As satisfying as it was to watch the growth of Minoru and Akane within just an episode, it made me a little disappointed to see the possibility of Akane being left behind as Minoru makes his way into this other world. With as much character development and screen time she got, there’s still some hope that she plays an important role in the story.

How are you going to leave behind this attractively relatable character for a bunch of random elves and bunnies?

Last, Last Thoughts

As a dark fantasy anime, this kind of anime is just right up my alley. This episode was very well done in all aspects of it’s approach in feel and the way the story was presented. If I had to give a rating for this episode, it would be a 9/10. With a little more depth to Minoru and evidence of a good arc, I can almost safely say that this is going to be a good one.

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