This week’s The Eminence in Shadow is essentially a setup episode for this new arc. It takes the quick snippets shown near the end of the last episode and fleshes them out. Someone is murdering people randomly, pretending to be Shadow Garden while Iris and her knights are trying to get a handle on what is going on—and even rope in Sherry, the bookworm who collided with a bloody Cid last week. Laying the foundations for the story going forward also allows for some solid character development for Cid (as well as the proper introductions of two Shadow Garden members).
When it comes to Cid, the first thing we focus on is his relationship with money. Cid is not greedy, exactly. He doesn’t want money just for the sake of it or to live an easy life. To him, money is a tool. It has value only because, with money, he can do more Shadow-esque things (like sipping wine on a throne with expensive paintings and drapes around him). It irks him that Gamma, one of his few true friends, has used his knowledge from Earth to amass such wealth and not cut him in on it. Stealing a coin from her at the end of their meeting is likely about the principal rather than the actual money. He is thankful for her setting up a throne and fawning attendants for him to play pretend with but is jealous at the same time. He knows he should be satisfied but can’t help feeling he deserves more.
Of course, the big joke is that all of Gamma’s money is his. It doesn’t even occur to her that the money could be hers. She wants to show off how much she is doing for the cause. This is yet another example of the karmic balance of this world. While Cid gets everything he wants, he doesn’t know that he does. This is important on a metatextual level because rooting for someone who is too perfect or successful is hard. They seem arrogant and spoiled.
Yet, Cid’s circumstances allow him to remain likable. Sure, he’s superpowered, surrounded by beautiful women who adore him, and is stupendously rich. But because of his own deeply rooted flaws (which are also, ironically, why he is so successful in the first place), he is stuck in the worldview that he’s doing exactly what he did in his past life—struggling through life while pretending to be what he dreams of being. He’s the biggest obstacle to his own happiness.
The funny thing is that, despite being unable to comprehend his situation, Cid greatly understands the nature of The Eminence in Shadow character on a metatextual level. This is why he seems to have no ego to speak of. Instead, his obsession with the character archetype has made him believe that to be a true badass as Shadow, he has also to be a complete lame-ass when in his secret identity—that the contrast between the two is the most crucial point. Therefore, he has no issue being known as “the boy who took a dump in an alley because he almost crapped his pants”—going so far as to act out the hero-sacrifices-himself-for-his-friends-so-they-can-escape bit while knowing they will betray his shameful secret at the first chance they get. The stupider and more embarrassing the situation is, the better overall.
But while making himself the butt of the joke is part of the fun, that doesn’t mean that he treats the overall game with anything but the utmost seriousness. We see this with the group of people pretending to be Shadow Garden. Cid is insanely protective of his game. He has those he has let into it—namely his true friends, the Seven Shadows—and their repeatedly demonstrated care for the game has been such that he’s also willing to accept those they vouch for, like Nu and the Numbers. However, someone trying to hijack his game without his consent is a step too far. Even someone he is personally connected with, like Alexia, is not beyond reproach—and everything we see in this episode makes it look as if he had planned to kill her as punishment for trying to take over his game. It’s only when he sees that she’s not the one doing so that he steps in to save her—and brutally murder the Shadow Garden pretenders instead.
All this comes back to the scene on the train with Alexia two episodes back. Cid said he had only a few things in this world he cares about. With this episode, it is becoming ever more apparent what this list is: hard work (in all its forms), his real friends (the Seven Shadows), acting out being The Eminence in Shadow, and the overall integrity of his game. So, he’s insane, but it’s clear that there is a logic to how he acts.
• Gamma is the legit genius Cid only pretends to be. I mean, she built a modern department store and filled it with items from our world in just a few years—despite having only ever heard about them in passing.
• I love the flashback still frame showing that Gamma is the third member of Shadow Garden by having only young Alpha and Beta there with Cid when she was healed of the curse. Great visual storytelling there.
• If Gamma is the group’s mastermind, Nu is the actor. The way she switches from clerk to servant to torturer is almost scary.
• Nu must have been shadowing Cid on his way home. I wonder if he noticed.
• Cid knows Alexia by the sound of her sword. That’s pretty cool and is a detail that fits in perfectly with who he is and what he finds important.
• While Cid’s “friends” immediately betray him and tell the whole school about the poop incident, he’s just as quick to let one get beat up by a jealous boyfriend and the other accosted as a stalker. There’s no moral high ground to be had between these three.
• This week’s Kage-Jitsu short implies that many things being sold at the department store are created through a mixture of Gamma’s general genius and Eta’s technological genius.
• This week’s Kage-Jitsu also reveals that Gamma is a total lightweight in addition to being a klutz.
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