Once there was a boy who dreamed of being not the hero nor the villain but the “Shadow in Eminence.” But to truly become one, he had to become unstoppable. He had to be able to not only destroy anything but to survive anything as well—even an atomic bomb. It was this impossibility that drove him mad to the point that he bashed his own head in on a rock face before running into traffic. Because even then, he knew the answer to his problem. The only way to beat the bomb was to become the bomb. For that, he needed magic. And while it didn’t exist in his first life, it certainly does in his second.
But as we see Cid utterly curb-stomp every enemy he comes across, it’s important to remember that he has no cheat skill given to him by a god or special item that makes him so strong. In fact, he’s not naturally talented in any area as far as we can tell. Everything Cid has is due to one thing and one thing only: hard work. The reason he is strong is simply because he is so obsessed with his goal, he never stops giving his all to attain it—not even for a moment. This insanity is his greatest power and his greatest weakness—as it is also the reason he can’t see the world as it really is. He’s so focused on acting out being the Shadow in Eminence that he doesn’t see that he’s actually become one.
The reason that Alexia is in this arc, from a thematic perspective anyway, is to give us a viewpoint character who can empathize with Cid in a way that naturally teaches us about who he is. She is him without the single-minded obsession built over two lifetimes. She has no talent and is envious of those that have it. But through Shadow, she sees the pinnacle of hard work utterly destroy someone extremely talented. She knows now that hard work can overcome talent—and can finally see the beauty in hard work that her sister saw in her swordplay. It’s a life-changing moment for her. It’s just too bad for her that Cid has to be a wet blanket by turning her down after she admits to seeing the same beauty in him. Still, it’s a solid moral hidden among the action and dark comedy.
And speaking of dark comedy, I’m both continually surprised and elated at how straight this series plays everything. While there are overtly comedic beats—i.e., Cid’s cowardly friends, his obsession over money, his cliché encounter with a bookworm beauty (while covered in blood)—the biggest laughs come from taking a step back and viewing the story objectively. In this episode alone, Cid kills a man and detonates the magical equivalent of a nuclear weapon in the middle of a populated city just for the fun of it. He literally commits a war crime for shits and giggles.
I love that the anime doesn’t feel the need to point out the absurdity of this. It trusts its audience to be able to do enough critical thinking to see the dark humor oozing out of every frame on the screen. And frankly, if dark comedy is your thing, this show is a laugh riot.
But here’s the thing. Even though I fully understand that Cid is supposed to be an over-the-top caricature of edgelord heroes, there’s still a part of me that can’t help but get caught up in it—can’t help but think that he seems so bad ass with his one-liners and super-powerful attacks. In the end, Cid still manages to sell us on his dream—and in the process make us want to root for him even though he is, objectively, a selfish, insane maniac.
• Damn. Imagine being a child able to survive any attack but still feel pain as the strongest knight of the kingdom tries to chop you into pieces. That’s some dark stuff right there.
• It’s telling that Alpha can see through the monstrous exterior to the scared girl beneath. She hasn’t forgotten that she was once the same as that poor girl—no matter how powerful she has become.
• The moral of Iris’ story? There’s always a bigger fish.
• I watched this episode with my surround sound headphones on and that reverb on “atomic” literally sent shivers down my spine.
• Was it complete chance that the spell circle ended right before Alexia or was Cid making sure to protect his audience?
• Cid sure gave a giant purple middle finger to the Diablos Cult, didn’t he? It’s too bad he doesn’t realize they exist.
• The background continues to subtly include characters before they make their official debuts in the story. …Which is to say I loved seeing Nu observing the meeting of the Seven Shadows.
• So, the way I interpret the opening theme is that it’s a look into what would have happened if the seven shadows were brought into our world instead of Cid being brought into theirs. Thoughts?
• You know, now that I think about it, Delta would probably really like overalls.
• If you haven’t watched the “Kagejitsu” chibi anime shorts (and have a way to watch them), you should. They’re fun, cute, and give a bit more character to the Seven Shadows.