The Eminence in Shadow – 08 – A Terribly Flawed Scenario

This week starts off by replaying the start of the invasion of the academy by Fake Shadow Garden (Shamdow Garden?) this time from Cid’s perspective, and man is he excited to be involved in a terrorist attack! The moment he realizes Rose is in serious trouble, he launches himself into the path of the baddie’s blade, as that’s the role of the background character. In doing so, he (posthumously) wins the heart of Rose, who remembers how hard he fought against her in the tournament and now sees his selfless sacrifice as proof that he loved her.

Rose and all the other students are rounded up in the auditorium, but Cid is left behind, as he’s just a corpse. Or IS he? After punching himself several times in the chest, Cid starts his heart back up, having successfully pulled off the risky “Ten-Minute Death—Heartbreak.” Considering what Cid did to himself to reach this other world, it’s no surprise he’d put his life on the line to best inhabit the role of Eminence in Shadow. Meanwhile, Sherry is researching away when one of the bad guys’ top lieutenants drops in.

She’s saved by one of the school’s elite swordsman who is still able to fight despite the lack of magic, but he falls to the bad guy’s blade soon enough. He only manages to buy a bit of time for Sherry to shuffle away in her flip-flops. After sniping several dozen of the enemy and plummeting dramatically off the school roof, Cid senses Sherry is being pursued and not doing a great job of being stealthy, so he serves as her protective shadow, killing anyone who gets close to her.

Sherry’s refrain of “it’s just my imagination” is one of many comedic highlights, and when she finally trips and nearly falls down the stairs, Cid is there to catch both her and the artifact and recommend she stop thinking out loud, stop trying to decipher the artifact while moving, and ditches slippers. He escorts her to her father’s office, where she finds unpublished research of the artifact she’s been charged with, which is the control unit for the Eye of Avarice that’s created the anti-magic field.

But the Eye isn’t just neutralizing magic, it’s absorbing it. Given enough magic, it will eventually reach its full capacity and release in one huge explosion that will level the school. So it’s a magical bomb threat. Sherry is game to fine-tune her artifact so they can shut the Eye down, but to do that Cid has to head back to where Sherry was to fetch the tuning instruments. After righteously toying and fucking with the lieutenant guy, he encounters Nu, who finds her ex-betrothed dying in the room where Sherry was working.

Nu reports that the real Shadow Garden have arrived on the scene and are ready to go on Cid’s orders. The only downside to that is that Gamma, the clumsiest of the Seven Shadows, is in command. Cid then fills Nu in on what he and Sherry plan to do, and he describes the plan so nonchalantly it basically reinforces her belief that Cid is a mastermind of unsurpassed brilliance, when he’s actually just been wining it all along and doesn’t even believe any of this is real.

But of course, it is, and the lives of  the whole school are in his, Sherry’s, and Shadow Garden’s hands. Watching him cut through the bad guys and have tons of fun doing it was immensely entertaining; watching him and his allies save the day should prove the same or moreso.

The Eminence in Shadow – 07 – Making Friends

Ever since she received the gift of chocolates, Sherry’s head has been in the clouds. She’s moved to action when she tastes one of them, and finds it irresistibly sweet. Nu shows off her disguising abilities by posing as an academy student to give Cid her report; they couldn’t get anything out of the brainwashed “Child of Diabolos”.

A “Named” Child (one who has kept their personality through the cult conditioning) has been sent to the capital, surely to continue sullying the name of Shadow Garden. There’s a sad little moment when Nu briefly daydreams about a normal high school life of fun and dancing, only for it to turn into a nightmare.

Cid has a nightmare of his own on his hands: he’s been entered into a fencing tournament against his wishes. He makes lemonade from lemons when his opponent is Rose Oriana, Princess of the kingdom of art and culture and also the academy’s top swordsman.

Because Cid is Cid—pathelogically devoted to playing the nobody—he uses this opportunity to be defeated in the most embarrassing “bloody” ways imaginable, only to get back up and demand the fight continue. Rose slashes him and he goes flying every time, but she can sense his fire…and likes it.

When she finally admits she was underestimating him and takes the kid gloves off, the ref jumps between them before she can lay down a strike. Rose is technically the winner, but she feel like a loser because Cid never gave up in the battle of spirit.

Despite trying to come off as as pathetic a loser as possible (and has practiced 48 different ways to do so), Cid inadvertently gains the ungrudging respect of Rose, an unquestionably powerful “main character”—not exactly what Cid was going for!

In that same vein, Cid didn’t put any thought into whom he gave chocolates to, but by giving them to Sherry Barnett, he picked one of the rare girls at the academy who admired what she saw of him out there in the arena. Recognizing him through his (fake) bandages, she seeks him out and invites him to coffee.

There, Sherry presents him with a bag of homemade cookies as a thank you—even though Cid doesn’t remember giving her chocolates. When he casually agrees to her proposal that they “start out” as friends, and then learns whose daughter she is, Cid is immediately apprehensive; should a background character such as he really consort with such heavy hitters?

He has no idea how happy he made Sherry with his acceptance of her offer. But when she still can’t concentrate on the artifact research, she pays a visit to Alexia, and over an extremely sweet and milky cup of coffee (contrasted with Lexi’s black) asks if she and Cid are still dating. When she says they’re not, and never really were, Sherry can’t contain her elation, which gives Alexia quite a bit of pause!

After befriending Sherry, Cid uses his “injuries” to justify staying away from classes for five days. Upon his return, Rose (the student council president) and her apparent Veep pay his class a visit to talk about elections. But just then, Diabolos commences an invasion plan by cloaking the entire academy with a magic-dampening field.

Among his classmates, only Cid seems to notice the change, and even senses when danger is approaching before it does. When Rose draws her sword to challenge the invaders, she’s unaware of the field, and almost gets seriously hurt. Instead, Cid comes between her and her charging attacker…and gets badly slashed across the chest.

As Sherry takes her coffee with a heap of sugar, I’m inclined to take Cid’s injury with a grain of salt. His performance at the tournament showed that he can an elite dark knight and a stadium full of people into thinking he’s getting seriously hurt. This seems like another opportunity to show everyone how very good he’s gotten at looking so very bad.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 06 – Blood and Chocolate

While a monotonous impostor is going around town killing people saying the same phrase over and over again: “We are Shadow Garden,” things are kept light at the academy, where Po and Skel urge Cid to visit a new store that sells strange new things like “chocolate.” We learn the pink-haired girl Cid bumped into is Sherry Barnett, a fellow student and expert researcher tasked with studying a Diabolos artifact by Iris.

There’s an 80-minute line to get in the store, which gives Cid a bit of nostalgia of home due to its similarity to malls and department stores in modern Japan. Sure enough, an employee invites him (and only him) to a “survey”and ends up taking him to the opulent private top floor.

There he encounters Gamma, perhaps the smartest (and least coordinated) of the Seven Shadows. She reports that she took the stories of what stores were like in his old life and built this place, which is now raking in gold to finance Shadow Garden.

Cid, still somehow convinced this is all a big game, is impressed that she built him such a beautiful “set” (which is actually a legit throne room). Gamma also introduces him to the newest Shadows, appropriately enough named Nu.

While running home to beat curfew, Cid suddenly stops and acts out an elaborate, postcard memory-filled farce about having to poop so bad he has to duck into an alley, and asking Po and Skel to go on without him. It’s pretty hilariously executed, particularly when he drops the act the second they split.

In that alley, Cid sensed combat, but his suspicion that the random killer on the loose was Alexia gone bad turns out to be false; she’s fighting the true killers, who number at least three. When one of them slashes her arm, he intervenes and causes them to flee. When Alexia asks Cid what he’s after, he merely tells her to stay out of it and chases the baddies.

Those baddies find that trying to escape the clutches of the Eminence in Shadow is quite impossible, as they’re cut off by Nu, who is eager to show her bonafides to her boss. The next day, rumors of Cid’s outdoor pooping somehow spread, but he still gives Po and Skel chocolate; the latter striking out spectacularly when he tries to give it to an upperclasswoman.

As for Cid, he gives it to the first girl he sees, which turns out to be Sherry in the library. Later, her father (also head researcher of the academy) tells her what chocolate is and that receiving it from a boy means that boy probably likes her. That said, Cid’s two interactions with Sherry thus far have been purely incidental. We’ll see if that becomes a recurring gag, or if there are more meaningful dealings between them to come.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 05 – Going Nuclear

I thought last week’s outing would end with Cid completing the rescue of Alexia and the defeat of her evil fiancé. Instead, it ended with him simply showing up, which led me to wonder two things: would a lengthy battle ensue, and was Alexia still in danger? The answers turn out to be “yes” and “no”. Alexia just has to sit back and watch along with us as “Shadow” takes his time toying with Zenon like a cat with a mouse.

Zenon has no idea who he’s dealing with and is confident he’s the superior warrior. Meanwhile, the mad scientist’s giant monster starts wreaking havoc in the streets, it falls to Princess Iris to deal with it. But no matter how many times she slashes the beast, she ends up regenerating her severed limbs in seconds. That’s when Alpha shows up and tells the good princess, essentially, that she’s doing it wrong.

All Iris is doing is making the poor beast suffer; she doesn’t have the power to put her out of her misery. Alpha does, and the red light of Iris’ magic-infused attacks are replaced by a massive pillar of blue light that obliterates the beast, leaving behind the body of the girl that was its core, as well as a locket showing who she was. A flabbergasted Iris asks her what the hell is going on, but Alpha politely tells her to sit back and enjoy the show.

Shadow, and Shadow Garden, are many orders of magnitude more powerful than anyone else in the city; that’s abundantly clear by the ease with which ever Diabolos Cult base is eliminated, along with the fact Alpha just showed up Iris. Down in the sewers, Cid continues to impress upon Zenon just how overmatched he is, but as Alexia watches she notices that Shadow’s fencing style, powerful as it is, is simple, textbook…much like hers. It’s the product of obsessive hard work, not natural talent.

Having had his fill of being overpowered, Zenon gulps on some magic pills that enhance his strength, stamina, and physique. He lashes wildly at Cid but every strike is parried, blocked, or dodged altogether. Cid is disappointed with this “unsightly” display, and offended that Zenon dares call it the “power of the almighty”. It’s just borrowed strength. Cid, meanwhile creates a beautiful blue and purple field laced with intricate bands of light.

He tells Zenon (and Alexia) something they wouldn’t know about: nuclear bombs. In his home world, he could never hope to overcome the blast, but in this new world the sky’s the limit, and after years of training he’s managed to become nuclear himself. His attack detonates, turning the environment monochromatic before evaporating Zenon in a massive blast that emerges from underground and consumes dozens of city blocks. The members of Shadow Garden watch and revel in their leader’s truly almighty power.

Naturally, despite the destructive power, Cid took steps to ensure Alexia survived, but also never got to see her savior’s face. She stands within the depths of the crater his blast created, and whips out her sword and pulls off a few stances. Then, to her surprise, a worried-sick Iris arrives and gathers her in a hug, which Alexia accepts with sisterly grace and love. Watching Cid has changed her perspective on things. Now she understands her sister wasn’t patronizing her when she said she loved her style. Her style represents effort, heart, and determination.

Back at the academy, Alexia reminds Cid that he told her he liked her fencing style, which is the same thing her sister said years ago. With Zenon out of her hair permanently, she bashfully asks Cid if they could keep their relationship going “a little longer”, with the heavy implication that it would no longer be “pretend”. Cid gives a cheerful thumbs-down, and her initial shock turns to a blushing smile—and then a vicious slash from her sword.

Shadow Garden continues its plans to rid the world of Diabolos, Iris assembles a team to investigate both the Cult and the Garden, and a still-bloodied Cid accidentally collides with a pink-haired student carrying a towering stack of tomes. He offers her a hand up, which she happily accepts, and the atmosphere immediately gets all sparkly and soft-focus-y. It looks like Cid doesn’t intend to waste his springtime of youth!

The Eminence in Shadow – 04 – World of Shadow

When Alexia awakens to find herself chained to a bed in a cell with a failed demon experiment sulking in the corner, she doesn’t panic. When a bone-stock mad scientist character comes in to draw blood, she doesn’t panic. Hanazawa Kana nails Alexia’s detached calm and faux sympathy for this lunatic.

Cid is also captive, since he’s the prime suspect in Alexia’s abduction. Internally, he’s not concerned about the physical torture he’s enduring, but doesn’t want his two interrogators to “out-unshine” him as Background Character A, so he responds as an NPC would: begging for his life.

Five days pass, and he says nothing, and under Zenon’s suggestion, Alexia’s sister Iris has him released, but followed. His tail is soon taken out by Alpha, and we learn from Cid that members of Shadow Garden have been paying him periodic visits to indulge him in the “game” he’s playing.

…Except it’s not a game for them. I couldn’t tell you why Alpha positions herself like she’s about to make out with Cid, but she announces that the Garden is planning a major op to rid the city of Diabolos.

Cid also spent all the money Alexia paid him to deck his place out like an Eminence Boss. When Beta’s face lights up at the sight of it and the sound of Cid doing his chunibyou voice, I have to admit, I lol’d!

But it’s not that Beta isn’t taking this seriously, just that she and her comrades are so powerful that she can afford to be more nonchalant, and revel in, say, quickly recording events as they unfold, like when Cid serves as the vanguard for the op and takes out the knights who tortured him.

Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma, and 110 other members of Shadow Garden are going all over the place raiding all the hideouts of the Fenrir Sect of the cult. When the Mad Scientist learns of these raids, he’s forced to accelerate his plans and inject his failed demon experiment with a prototype serum.

Alexia lazily warns him not to do that as she “has a bad feeling” about it, and sure enough, the massive berserk demon he creates kills him instantly. However, it doesn’t kill Alexia, it frees her. She grabs a sword and makes for the sewers to escape, but is stopped…by her sword instructor and betrothed, Zenon.

Like Alexia, I kinda knew there was something off about him; now we know, he’s a member of Diabolos. And while he has a little fun out-fencing her and punching her into the sewage, that fun doesn’t last long, as Cid emerges from the shadows in purest black, ready to hunt—and perhaps save his fake girlfriend as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 03 – Background Boyfriend

On their own initiative, Cid’s Shadow Garden one day decided they needed to leave him and spread out to fight against the Cult of Diablos, but he suspects they grew out of playing along with him and set themselves free.

Whatever the truth is (and it sure seems like the cult is real and they’ve gone out to fight them in his name until he’s old enough to join them) he’s not that bothered by being alone; such is the life of one who strives to become … The Eminence in Shadow.

It also sure looks like he threw himself into Truck-kun while trying to will magic into being, so there’s that!

Cid ends up attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights like his far more famous and popular sister, but blending in will do just fine for him. He even finds himself two perfect best mates for Background Student A: Skel and Po, and fits right between them in terms of both height and unattractiveness.

When Cid loses a bet to his two friends, he must confess to the most sought-after-girl in school: Second Princess Alexia Midgar (Hanazawa Kana), who has become famous for her curt yet brutal rejections of the most elite male suitors. But where they failed, Cid succeeds … quite by accident!

Cid puts on an act to appear as loathsome and pathetic, but little did he know Alexia was waiting for a guy like him to come around, and accepts his offer. She also learns that he’s into fencing, and uses her royal clout to get him into the elite Section One class … where Cid learns that her fencing style is well-studied and practiced, but bland and utterly unexceptional.

Did I mention that like Cid, Alexia’s older sister is far more accomplished and revered? That doesn’t come up, but it’s clear from their chemistry that these two are used to toiling in the shadows. That may sound strange considering Alexia is the most popular girl at school, but compared to the greatest dark knight in the kingdom, she’s totally in a shadow.

She’s also betrothed to their fencing instructor, Zenon-sensei, whom she hates. Hanazawa Kana brings an interesting dimensionality to Alexia. She is at times incredibly cynical and even has a sadistic side, making Cid into her dog—something Cid’s all too willing to do in exchange for that sweet sweet Eminence seed money.

Cid is handsomely compensated in exchange for being a bit of unremarkable eye candy Alexia can use to try to make Zenon give up on marrying her, but two weeks pass and not much progress is made. That said, he and Alexia grow a bit closer in spite of their dispassionate relationship of convenience. Alexia prefers the company of people with flaws like him (or like the person he’s posing as).

At the same time, I wonder if she can somehow sense that there’s a lot more to him beneath the surface Cid is showing her. While on a train at sundown, she is vexed by the fact she can’t take her eyes off his fencing style, even though it’s just as ordinary as hers.

It’s apparent Alexia hates her style, and possibly herself, so when Cid challenges her by saying he likes her fencing style, and would be pissed if anyone dissed the things he likes, she draws a sword on him. When he doesn’t flinch or take back his words, she alights from the train with a final-sounding sayonara.

The next day, Cid and his pals are surrounded by knights who inform him that Alexia never came home last night, kidnapping is suspected, and the last person reported to be with her before she vanished was Cid. Fate seems to be pushing Background Character A into the foreground, and the mystery of what happened to Alexia is an enticing one to ponder.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 02 – Toiling in Obscurity

Kagenou Minoru is hit by Truck-kun, then resurrects as Cid, the infant son of a noble family, while maintaining all the intelligence and awareness of his 18-year-old self. When his parents are puzzled that he doesn’t cry, Cid simply fakes it. As the second-born, he plays second fiddle to his supremely talented sister Claire, but that’s the way he likes it.

In the day he’s content to be “Background Character A”, but at night, in the shadows, he practices his magic on the bandits and baddies of this world as a vigilante. He’s partial to using magical slime to create weapons and even disguises, and is a one-boy wrecking crew; even seasoned warriors can’t last more than a minute before being eviscerated.

While inspecting the bandits’ loot Cid hears sounds coming from a wagon and assumes it’s a slave, but it’s…well, it’s basically MittyHe experiments thoroughly and exhaustively on the amorphous blob of overloaded magic, until one day he’s finally able to purify and stabilize it, resulting in the coalescence of a beautiful blonde elf girl.

Assuming she’s a tabula rasa he decides to try out his Eminence-in-Shadow act for the first time, ad-libbing tall tales about her origin as one of the original heroes and the identity of a great foe, the Cult of Diabolos. The girl buys it all, and in exchange for having saved her life, agrees to join Cid in his quest. He names her Alpha, and Shadow Garden is born.

Three years later, to Claire’s eyes Cid hasn’t improved as a dark knight at all, but she still spars with him—and beats him—every day. There’s a neat little moment when Cid sees all of the movements that would defeat Claire, but instead he takes her strike and ends up in the drink. Claire then touches her neck, where he had placed his blade for the tiniest fraction of a moment. I wonder if any part of her wonders if her little brother is holding back?

The day she’s supposed to start attending Midgar Academy for Dark Knights, Claire is kidnapped. Cid’s mom lashes out at his dad demanding to know what the plan is, but Cid and Shadow Garden—now seven Greek letters strong—is already on it. They’ve narrowed down the hideouts where Claire was taken, and a rescue op commences with all due haste.

Claire is the captive of a Viscount Grease, but isn’t that worried about it. Indeed, she breaks her magic bonds when Grease even mentions the possibility of harming her dear little brother. Just as the bandits in her home village were no match whatsoever for Cid’s magic, the seven members of Shadow Garden make quick work of Grease’s small fry. Grease himself has to take a strength-enhancing drug in order to keep up with Alpha.

But Alpha isn’t going all out; she doesn’t want to kill Grease, she wants him to talk. When he goes to ground, she’s not concerned, because he ends up right in Cid’s clutches. Grease takes more drugs, and tries to intimidate Cid with his talk of “the depths of true darkness”, but Cid just vows to dig deeper still.

There’s actually a measure of pathos in Grease’s depiction as we see how his own daughter suffered from a curse similar to Alpha’s before Cid saved her. But at the end of the day, Grease is no more than another bandit to Cid, who ends “playtime”, powers up, and kills Grease with a flashy coup-de-grace.

Cid doesn’t let Claire know who saved her, but simply withdraws from the Viscount’s castle, enabling her to escape on her own. It only takes her a day to recover from the ordeal, and then she’s off to academy, her little brother happily waiving goodbye. Cid himself is still two years away from Midgar, but he intends to make full use of those years honing his skills and sharpening the seven-pointed sword that is Shadow Garden.

But Alpha & Co. apparently have other plans, and suddenly tell Cid that it’s time to leave him. My first guess would be that they’re going off to hone their skills independently, possibly to make themselves more “worthy” of Cid’s leadership, but we’ll have to wait until next week to test that theory. Until then, for the first time in this new world, Cid is genuinely flummoxed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 01 (First Impressions) – Bringing a Crowbar to a Gun Fight

After being kidnapped by a stalker, Nishino Akane is chaffeured to school and back, and maintains an eager-to-please mask for both her teachers and peers. There’s just one kid at school who doesn’t remember her name or look her way: Kagenou. That kinda pisses her off. Kagenou doesn’t seem to care.

One night Akane must walk home when her chaffeur doesn’t answer, and she’s swiftly kidnapped again by a pair of bad dudes bent on holding her for random. One of them isn’t even above assaulting her, but thankfully for Akane, Kagenou saw her be abducted, and has come to rescue her. Before he does he removes several extremely heavy weights he’d been wearing all day like they were nothing.

He smashes through the warehouse skylight and announces himself as the “Stylish Ruffian Slayer”, dispatching the gangster-style baddie with ease, then going to town on an ex-military connoisseur of violence. While fighting him, Kagenou goes into great detail about how great crowbars are as a weapon, then demonstrates it by whaling on the guy before untying Akane and vanishing.

Akane realizes that Kagenou, like her, was also wearing a mask around others. She never gets a chance to confirm if he was her savior, however, as he falls victim to Truck-kun and gets—you guessed it—reincarnated in another world full of magic and fantasy.

While in his old world and life there was only so much building muscle and martial arts training could achieve, but here he’s shed those limits, determined not to be the Hero or the Villain of the world, but rather the mastermind behind the scenes controlling everything—the titular Eminence in Shadow, flanked by seven female assassins.

This week is a succinct if somewhat tonally ambiguous prologue for the “fantasy action comedy” to come. Some isekai start with the lad already having been in the new world for a while, others spend several episodes getting him there. I daresay including a scene of attempted sexual assault probably isn’t a great idea if you’re trying to be tongue-in-cheek.

That said, next week we’re surely in for something completely different, as Kagenou’s chuuni tendencies are now perfectly at home in the new world he inhabits. So I’d say it’s worth at least one more look.

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