The Eminence in Shadow, Vol. 4

By Daisuke Aizawa and Touzai. Released in Japan as “Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute!” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

For about half of this volume, I thought to myself “oh good, the author has finally figured it out”. The plot was solid, the action was very well done, and most importantly Cid was annoying in a funny way rather than in an annoying way. It resolves a lot of the plot points that were left open with the second volume, and hopefully means that I will never have to take the words “Perv Asshat” seriously again. It read like the end of an arc… and given that this was based on a webnovel, it may very well have been. Then we got to the second half of the book, which decided to be a completely different book. It wasn’t bad per se, and Cid once again was not too bad, but there is a monstrous sense of “was this trip really necessary?” hanging over the back half of the novel, and I kept wanting it to end the only way that it was going to – by picking up the new girl. In a duffel bag, apparently.

The first half of the book returns us to the plight of Rose, who is currently trying her best as Number 666 but is also earnest and tortured by her past deeds, so is an easy mark for a kidnapping. Now she’s being forcibly married to Perv Asshat, the man that makes you long for the naming sense of Ryohgo Narita and Jacuzzi Splot. Clearly Cid is not going to stand for this, mostly as stopping the wedding is the really cool thing to do, so he, Beta, and Epsilon set out to ruin everything, albeit sometimes accidentally, such as Cid’s stealing the wedding ring and not knowing what it actually is. Having succeeded, and destroying a monstrous demon, a black hole portal opens and Cid, who knows drama when he sees it, promptly jumps through it. He (and Beta, who leaps after him) find themselves… back in Japan! But it’s not the Japan they know.

As I write this, the fifth volume is not out in Japan yet, so it’s possible that we can get a very good reason for it, but right now I have to ask myself the question: is there any reason why Akane could not have simply been magically isekai’d to Cid’s world and spared us the entire grimdark back half? Now, I admit that part of this may be my fault, as I did say that I enjoyed the series when it was taking itself more seriously. The problem is that the second half of this book does not feel like The Eminence in Shadow, it feels like a completely different series. We’re introduced to Akane and told about her past with Minoru, which is fine, but then we get a post-apocalyptic beast invasion book that also features betrayal and backstabbing, as well as mysterious powers awakening in people (who them go on murder rampages they get convenient amnesia about). In the end, Beta stuffs a few futuretech items from Japan (as well as Akane, clearly an afterthought) in a duffel and drags it back to the main plot. And I gnash my teeth. Again.

The front half of this was quite good, and I’ll read the next one, whenever it comes out, to see what happens next. (Signs point to a back to school arc). That said… the worst thing I can say about the back half is it feels like Cid wrote it. And not in a funny way.

The Eminence in Shadow, Vol. 3

By Daisuke Aizawa and Touzai. Released in Japan as “Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute!” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

I think I am going to have to accept the fact that this is one of those series where I love everyone except the main character. This is not uncommon in Japanese anime and manga, of course. There are large numbers of people who can’t stand Naruto or Ichigo as characters, but love the series around them. Sword Art Online may be the best example of all. But at least all of those characters are actual heroes. A bit overpowered, a bit narrative-breaking, a bit dense, but heroes. Cid from The Eminence in Shadow is certainly overpowered, narrative-breaking, and dense. Though I think he’d get annoyed if called narrative-breaking, as he’s actually trying to create cool narratives for him to lurk in and be badass. There’s just one problem. He’s TOO annoying, even for a comedy. We’re meant to laugh at the dissonance between what he’s thinking/doing and what everyone else thinks of him, but I just sort of want him to go away, because honestly I quite enjoy this series otherwise.

This book is divided into two halves. In the first, Cid is led by his sister to the Lawless Sector, which has a lot of bad guys and three major powers. She’s there to try to get Cid a place in the Knights, but he quickly wanders off to go be cool and shadowey. Unfortunately, as always, his chuuni declarations designed to sound ominous are actually coming true: in this case, they’re trying to resurrect a vampire queen and turn the town into corpses. In the second half of the book, he teams up with one of the major powers from the first part, a fox woman with a tragic past, in order to destroy the economy of two major companies… one of which is the company literally run by his own minions. To do this, he has to invent another identity so he can be his own bad guy, because honestly, the idea of doing this appeals to him far more than the impact it might have on anyone who cares for him. Our hero, ladies and gentlemen.

I suppose I should be grateful for small blessings: I hear that in the original webnovel, Cid was actually far more consciously evil about doing all this, whereas in this book most of the actions he takes in the second half of the book are just him not thinking things through or genuinely being a dumbass. But anyway, let me stop talking about Cid, as the rest of the cast are a lot of fun, and the book can be quite funny when it wants to be. Delta, who Cid thinks of as a giant Golden Retriever in the form of a woman, is possibly the only character denser than he is, and yet she’s a delight, because it’s innocent denseness. There are some strong dramatic turns here as well, believe it or not, both from Alpha and from Yukime, the fox woman Cid teams up with. And OK, the final gag with Cid digging a giant hole because he thinks he’s discovered some Mysterious Last Words is pretty funny.

So yes, I’ll definitely be reading more, but I just gotta prepare myself: Cid’s probably always going to be like this.

The Eminence in Shadow, Vol. 2

By Daisuke Aizawa and Touzai. Released in Japan as “Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute!” by Enterbrain. Released in North America by Yen On. Translated by Nathaniel Hiroshi Thrasher.

I may have to eat my words again. Last time I said this is the sort of story that could only work as a comedy. But in this second volume, I’m finding that I’m more interested in the actual conspiracies and backstory than I am in Cid being goofy chuuni guy. I will admit this book is not as funny as the first one, though it has its moments that made me laugh out loud. But when it’s focusing on other characters, particularly Rose, the princess who gets put through the wringer in this book, it actually makes me wish that it could work as a real book. The key there, however, would be that it would have to have a cast that did not include Cid or his minions, and that’s not going to happen. And, to be fair, it would deprive us of that most shonen of cliches, the tournament arc, which Cid tries to game for his own amusement and mostly succeeds.

The book is essentially divided in half. The first part has Cid, invited by Alpha, headed to see an event where fighters try to call up ancient heroes and do battle with them. Most fail. That is, most fail to even call up ANY spirits. Naturally, Cid/Shadow ends up calling up one of the most deadly. There’s also a hidden conspiracy involving the Church, which frankly should not surprise anyone reading this book. After this he decides to enter the local tournament battle, which his sister is also competing in, as well as Princess Iris. Unfortunately, while this is happening Rose, another princess, is set to be married off to a man who is so evil that he’s named “Perv Asshat”. She tries to kill him, then flees, but we know that’s not going to work out. She’s going to have to sacrifice something…

The funny parts of the book usually involve Cid when he’s trying to be edgy, or when he’s reacting in surprise to something that he set up and forgot about. (There’s a running gag of him thinking he’s finally met another isekai’d person, only to find out it’s one of his minions just publishing stories he told from our world, or music he played. It’s a much funnier running gag than Cid always crassly saying he has to “hit the can” before vanishing to be Shadow.) I was also amused at the hate/hate relationship between Alexia, Cid’s tsundere from school, and “Natsume”, aka Beta, one of Cid’s minions. They really can’t stand each other, and it can be funny. That said, Rose’s plot is not played for laughs at all (OK, the tuna wrapper was funny), and while Perv Asshat may have a very stupid name, he’s clearly got the villain thing down pat, and unfortunately survives to fight in another book.

So it’s not quite as silly a comedy as the first book, but I find its skeleton more compelling than I did in the first. Fans should still enjoy it either way.