The Eminence in Shadow – 11 – Good Conversation

Cid isn’t picky about most things, but he does love hisself a nice hot spring. Since there’s a hot spring in Lindwurm that’s where he spends some time. He happens to meet Alexia there (something I’m sure Rose might be upset about) and she ends up striking up a conversation that eventually leads to him warning her not to judge a book (or rather, his “Excalibur”) by its cover.

At the arena where the Goddess’ Trial takes place, Alexia is seated between Rose and the newest, hottest celebrity author, who is really Beta. Alexia is intimidated by Beta’s ample bust, while Beta is wearing a revealing, crowd-pleasing dress on purpose to piss of Alexia, whom she believes is out of her league when it comes to messing around with Lord Shadow.

The ensuing trials are pretty perfunctory; we watch a couple of warriors with weird names call for one of the legendary warriors of yore to emerge from the Sanctuary to fight them, but throughout the day and into the evening only one manages to actually summon one. Then, thanks to Rose, Cid Kagenou gets his turn.

Rather than run away or fight as Cid and blow his cover, Cid chooses a third way: sending up a big purple flare that distracts everyone. When they look back down at the arena, Shadow is there, and he ends up summoning Aurora, Witch of Calamity, someone so destructive in her time even the two princesses have never heard of her—because so few people were left to tell stories.

Of course, the Seven Shadows’ resident bookworm Beta knows all about Aurora, as does the acting Archbishop Nelson (who rejected Alexia’s request to run an investigation). Nelson has a low opinion of Shadow and believes he’s bit off more than he can chew. At least initially, Aurora’s staggering display of power seems to bear that out.

Of course, ol’ Violet Eyes and her tangled web of blood spears has absolutely nothing on our boy Mister Atomic, but she is the toughest opponent he’s yet faced, and he appreciates her shared commitment to treating their battle like a spirited, joyful conversation. The rules of the trial mean the version of Aurora he gets is only “equal” to his skills and power, after all.

Cid is having fun in this battle, as is Aurora, but eventually brings things to an end quite decisively, shattering Aurora’s web and delivering a fatal strike that sends her back to the hereafter from whence she came. Shadow doesn’t stick around for applause, but shortly after he skedaddles a new, elaborate magic circle appears.

Alpha, Delta, and Epsilon watch as that circle extends beyond the confines of the arena and envelops a large part of the city. And while Cid only engaged in battle on a whim, his Seven Shadows naturally assume he intended for this to happen, and that the Sanctuary is responding to his challenge. If tougher opponents than Aurora are on their way, I imagine he’s looking forward to another conversation or two.

The Eminence in Shadow – 10 – Advent of Chaos

Eminence in Shadow? More like boxtease in shadow. Left and right girls are trying to get Cid to notice them or hang out with him, but he ain’t interested. He’s too lost in the pretend game he thinks he’s playing in this world. And the next stage of that game calls for a trip to the Sacred Lands and their capital, Lindwurm.

So Epsilon can augment her figure with slime, and Beta can write all the aspirational doujinshi she likes, and the two can compare their busts at Shadow Garden HQ, but Cid/Shadow could not care less. They’re not women to him so much as valued, loyal underlings.

That certainly extends to his non-Shadow Garden women in his life as well. Claire clearly wanted to have a fun summer day with her brother, but he hit from her. Alexia, who is also headed to Lindwurm, stops by Gamma’s modern department store and is introduced to thongs, and subjects her big sis a wall slam to prove her commitment to wearing one to win him back.

Then there’s Rose, who we learn found Cid alive and well in a flashback to the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack. Since he gave her her life, she’s decided to return his feelings and give him her heart. He runs into her at the train station and from that point on she’s constantly clinging to him. Cid doesn’t want thongs or drill tails. He just wants some space and some intrigue!

Just as he hid from Claire, he hides from Rose’s attempt to sleep with him (he believes she’s trying to convert him to her religion) and two days later they arrive in Lindwurm. There, they have a sightseeing date, where he learns from Rose that the demon Diabolos lost his left arm to the Great Hero Olivier in the Sanctuary, a place just outside the capital.

He also learns that Rose is a huge fan of Natsume-senpai, a famous and popular author. One glance at Natsume’s novels, and Cid knows it’s someone blatantly plagiarizing works from his world (including Eminence in Shadow—nice fourth wall break, that). He’s disappointed to learn the author is Beta, with whom he’d shared those stories in hope she’d be inspired to, ya know, right something original.

A few episodes ago we saw how playful and flirty Alpha could be (and how utterly unaffected Cid was), but here she’s all business, investigating the gruesome assassination of Archbishop Drake. Shadow Garden is already well into the case when their leader arrives.

He ends up intercepting the assassin in an alley and parries his sword strike with a little wooden ice cream spoon (Cid seems to be channeling Riddick here). Then the assassin is swiftly dispatched by Epsilon the Accurate. She and Shadow exchange a few words, Epsilon’s fake boobs bouncing emphatically the whole time. But Cid has no time for boobs…there’s adventure afoot!

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Eminence in Shadow – 09 – Doing What They Must

It doesn’t take long for Sherry to tune the control unit, and she opens a hidden passage in a bookshelf to use the secret tunnels to get to where the artifact is so she can shut it down. She’s doing all of this for her father Ruslan, who took her in when her mother was brutally murdered.

She thanks Cid for all his help, and they go their separate ways. Once she reaches the balcony of the auditorium she finds out how bad things have gotten: the invaders are now simply picking off students for sport from above. Sherry wastes no time deactivating the anti-magic field, and when she does, Rose is ready.

Within seconds of getting her magic back, she slices the nearest invader to ribbons with a flourish of her drill-like ojou ringlets, and encourages everyone else to rise up and attack their captors; after all, they outnumber them. She tries to reach their armored boss man, whom even she isn’t sure she can defeat, but is soon surrounded and running low on magic.

Still, she fights on, confident others will fight if she dies, and eager to live up to the love Cid felt for her that led him to die for her. Things look dire until Shadow himself crashes through the ceiling and dispatches everyone around her. He’s not alone: his army of Shadows are with him, and mop up the invaders.

But the boss slips away, then hikes up the pressure of the oil lamps school-wide, causing an massive inferno. While I don’t hear a single cough from the ensuing smoke and flames, nor does anyone seem to be getting burnt by said flames … eh, whatever, maybe they’re special isekai flames.

The invader boss proceeds to start burning everything in Ruslan’s office, but Cid is there waiting for him, and knows who the boss is: Ruslan himself. Once he’d reached the absolute highest summit of swordsmanship, he became ill, and sought out a radical cure.

That’s how he ended up meeting Sherry’s mother. When she warned against using the artifact, Ruslan murdered her in a elaborate, grisly way, and while Sherry was present for that, it’s been established that she’s not very observant, and so never knew her adoptive father killed her mother.

Ruslan never gets into why he took the academy hostage, or why he set the academy on fire, but never mind, now that Cid’s there he’s not going to accomplish anything else. There’s a fun little fakeout when Cid lets Ruslan slash him right out the office window to his apparent death, only to reappear Batman-style in his Shadow form.

Ruslan fuses with the artifact in order to augment his power—as one does—but as you’d suspect, fighting him is still child’s play to Mr. Atomic, who doesn’t really have to break a sweat parrying his opponents’ lightning-fast fusillade of attacks.

When Cid has had enough, he ends Ruslan’s life in the exact same grisly way he ended Sherry’s mom’s … and just like that traumatic event, Sherry arrives just in time to witness a parent’s demise. Shadow departs as she screams out in anguish, not having the heart to tell her who Ruslan is and why he deserved this end. Knowing how much her dad meant to her, she most likely wouldn’t have believed him anyway.

While Ruslan was as two-dimensionally eeeevil as villains come (why else hire Oostsuka Houchuu to voice him?), he was never anything but a loving, supportive father to Sherry, and I was devastated watching her experience a repeat of her mother’s death. No one should have to face that. And now she’s an orphan again.

At the same time, I don’t blame Cid, because he did what he had to do. Even though Ruslan promised him that he arranged things so the real Shadow Garden would be framed for this entire terrorist attack, he shrugs that off. He never claimed he and his garden were walking the path of righteousness, but nor do they walk the path of evil.

Instead, they walk their own path. This comes as news to Alpha, who thought they were being righteous, but accepts Cid’s interpretation without hesitation, as does the rest of the organization. If Shadow is now the number one most hated and wanted fugitive in the kingdom, so be it—they’ll continue to do what they must.

As for poor Sherry, she and Cid share a muted farewell scene where she regrets not getting to know him better before heading abroad to a prestigious research institute. Before they part, perhaps forever, Cid asks her what she thinks she needs to do. A kaleidoscope of emotions fall over Sherry’s face as she’s momentarily unable to hide her emotions with a sad smile.

But she won’t tell Cid; it’s a secret. Does she, unlike so many others, know Cid and Shadow are the same person, and thus Cid is the one who killed her father? If that’s the case, is she going abroad in order to plan her revenge against him, or simply to start the next phase of her life as a researcher? It’s pretty ambiguous, and I like that.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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 – 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 – 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

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