I Can’t Even…
I feel before starting this review that context is a must, particularly for some of my newer blog followers. I am absolutely not the person who believes adaptations should be slaves to the source. I’m very good with new versions of old stories giving them different twists and adding their own interpretation of flavour, or even just moving material around, trimming it out, or whatever to make it fit a new medium. There’s a reason I continue to watch variations of Dracula as they get trotted out year after year. The stories haven’t changed that much but each version offers some new vision of the blood sucker and I can’t get enough of it. Netflix’s latest 3 episode story was fantastic. It hit the right nostalgia vibes in its first episode, added some fresh material for episode 2 and episode 3 gave us a new vision and idea attached to an old character. I loved it.
So before I begin my criticisms of Arifureta: From Common Place To World’s Strongest, I am going to point out that the fact that it didn’t follow the light novels isn’t my problem. Sure, I’d read the source prior to watching the anime, which is a fairly rare occurrence, and it would have been great to actually see the light novel brought to life, but Arifureta the anime was bad because it was bad. I get that some viewers unironically enjoyed it just as I kind of like King’s Game despite acknowledging it is actually complete garbage, but none of that changes that fundamentally the Arifureta anime doesn’t work. However, broken anime are nothing new. What makes Arifureta particularly disheartening is that given the source material, you just have to wonder how the anime production could end up being what it was. This wasn’t a case of a new vision or idea for the story but a definite case where what fundamentally makes Arifureta work as a story was ignored by the anime in favour of getting to the cute girl characters that would look great in promotions.
From start to finish the Arifureta anime feels like a rushed effort. They keep the extended title ‘From Common Place To World’s Strongest’ only they then have Hajime, the central character, transform in the space of about ten minutes of a single episode. And it’s the first episode. As an audience going in we have no time to see him as ‘common place’, we form no attachment to him so feel little for him as he goes through the ordeal of transformation, and then he has come out the other side a changed person but the changes leave no impact on an anime only audience as they have no basis for comparison. Certainly other characters encountered far later in the season who knew Hajime previously are astounded at his transformation, but this is literally the only Hajime the audience of the anime knows. And it really, really hurts the story because Hajime in his transformed state is pretty much a jerk. Without a context for why or knowing who he was and the full extent of the impact of his transformation on him, what we are left with is another overpowered main character who seems incredibly selfish.
The series continues its break-neck pace introducing Yue, the first of the cute girls, and to the show’s credit, she at least gets a handful of episodes to establish herself however then we lurch into another arc that is completed in two episodes and then another and another. Hajime’s harem ends up with 5 girls by the end of 13 episodes with only Yue having more than a one note personality. Likewise, Hajime’s classmates – and yes, I should mention this is an isekai with a whole class getting transported to another world – barely get enough screen time to be recognisable. For anyone who has only watched the anime it would be easy enough to believe that they won’t remember more than two of the classmates names and they certainly won’t understand Hajime’s pre-existing relationships with any of these characters.
Now, again, that isn’t a problem because it is different from the books. Sure all these characters get more time and we learn a lot more about them and just have a better understanding of where they are coming from when reading the story. The problem is emotionally the anime wants us to react like we have some relationship with these characters but has done no work to establish that relationship. Seeing the ‘hero’ falter at actually killing a demon and the fall out afterward has little impact because we’ve only had the barest glimpse of his personality and the way he has dealt with issues up until that point. Yet the anime seems to frame this sequence as one that should have a profound impact when it just feels like another event Hajime gets caught up in with no more weight than any other because we have no more connection with these characters than any other.
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The rapid pace at which this adaptation churns through its material also had a major impact on the tone of the story and how that came across to the audience. The dark and gritty beginning was fine but all too quickly it became a harem comedy before we get plunged into one more dark and gritty scene and then ended on a light harem comedy moment. There’s little to connect the different tones in the show and from episode to episode it can feel like you are watching an entirely different story. Now on this note, we could actually possibly blame the original source material with each volume of the light novel kind of having its own tone as the story progressed, but even then, knowing that, the anime could have considered how it was going to deal with tone to build a story that was actually enjoyable to experience.
Now, I’m going to point out, I still enjoyed the events that occurred throughout the series. Seeing Hajime conquering a labyrinth, traversing the fantasy world, gaining more and more modern technology as he makes guns, cars, and other weaponry, is undeniably cool. Arifureta fundamentally has some great events that occur. Now if the pacing, characterisation and tone were supporting the telling of this story, the anime could have been amazing. But instead we see glimpses of what is possibly a very good story underneath layers of inept decision making. Still, at the narrative level, Arifureta isn’t very different from a range of other isekai stories so your enjoyment of it will come from whether or not you like the delivery here. For me, the anime failed on delivering the story in an enjoyable manner. It failed and failed hard.
Visually this anime is a bit of a monstrosity in its own right. Now, I will be the first to admit that visuals do not make or break an anime for me. However, the early sequences of this anime were so dark it was almost impossible to determine what was happening on screen. Action sequences within the labyrinth were murky at best and when we could see the monsters I kind of wished it would go back to being murky because they were incredibly poorly done. Things did improve once they left the labyrinth and things were better lit and there was more colour in general, but the early impression of this anime is that it is just hideous to look at.
The bottom line for me with Arifureta the anime is that I just had very little fun watching it. The characters as they were presented in the anime were shallow at best and never became more than their introduction. The pace and tone were poorly handled really making it hard to ever really get into the story. The story itself does work even if the emotional high notes miss their mark due to the lack of characterisation. For those who enjoyed Arifureta in anime form, I’m glad you had fun. For me, I solidly do not recommend the anime. There’s just too many things about it that fell short and cumulatively kind of killed any enjoyment I may have had while watching.
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Images from: Arifureta: From Commonplace to World’s Strongest. Dir. K Yoshimoto. White Fox. 2019.