OP: 「Utopia」 by (04 Limited Sazabys)
「魔法使いの少年」 (Mahoutsukai no Shounen)
“The Sorcerer’s Boy”
I don’t want to make too big a deal about how “important” Radiant is – if for no other reason than because the snark rains down hard and heavy whenever I say that about a series. But let’s face it, this is kind of a big one. It’s important for me personally because it’s the clear top contender outside my big three this season, and because this looks like a pretty weak season overall. But in the big picture it’s vital for far more “important” reasons, whether modern anime fans want to admit it or not.
For those who aren’t familiar with it, France’s comic culture is enormous – second only to Japan’s, in fact, in all the world. Micheal Dudok de Wit (The Red Turtle) addressed this when I interviewed him, citing it as the main reason France has embraced manga and anime more than any Western country. France has a large pool of interesting manga (whether you choose to call them that or not) which would make great candidates for anime adaptation. Frankly I’m pretty sick of the LN, cellphone game and formulaic original series vicious cycle which now dominates the anime development chain. Anything that breaks that stranglehold is a good thing – and if Radiant succeeds, it may just open the door a crack to more French or other Western comics being adapted into anime. If it fails? The impact of that is not hard to figure out.
In the end, Radiant will succeed or fail artistically (commercially is another matter) based on its own merits, and none of the above will make a jot of difference. I have my doubts about the latter for reasons I’ll touch on, but as to the former I feel very encouraged by this premiere. It was, in a word, great. It looked great in a throwback way, it sounded great, it bristled with fun and energy and charm. But it’s going to be a real test of the anime audience, because it’s about as untrendy as it’s possible for a series to be. I’m already bracing for a barrage of “generic”, “kiddie” and “boring” complaints from cynical viewers who won’t bother to look past the veneer and see the substance beneath.
Radiant is the work of Tony Valente, a 33 year-old mangaka who was born in France and now lives in Quebec. The series (which is still ongoing) is a pretty big hit in France, and has gotten a release in Japan as well. When this adaptation was announced, I was kind of expecting Satelight to get the call, given all their history and connections with France – but it instead went to the studio with the German name, Lerche. And they gave it to their top director, Kishi Seiji. I’m a fan, because Kishi at his best – like Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita and Tsuki ga Kirei – is one of the best in the business. But there seems to be an equation with Kishi-sensei, where the degree to which he’s invested in the material severely impacts the care he puts into it – he’s certainly sleepwalked through his share of game adaptations in his time. I never thought that would be the case with Radiant, but a part of you always worries until there’s product on the screen to judge.
Radiant is absolutely, 100% fantasy – as traditional fantasy as it gets. Young hero trying to prove himself, sorcerers, monsters, skeptical villagers. This sort of fantasy was pretty common in anime at one time, but will probably be seen as very old-fashioned now – so be it. The hero is Seth (a strikingly good Hanamori Yumiri) a young apprentice sorcerer under the tutelage of Alma (the always wonderful Paku Romi). They live in a world where a magical force called Fantasia “infects” and can turn beings to either good or evil. The evil ones are known as Nemesis and the good become the sorcerers who travel the world to fight them – but the sorcerers are seemingly disliked by the general public because of their association with magic.
This show may be French, but elements of it are as anime (at least old-school anime as it gets), and that includes Seth. He’s a straight-up shounen hero – overeager and reckless and often irresponsible, but possessed of good intentions and ample bravery. It seems as if his road to sorcery began with his village being attacked by Nemesis, and Alma saving him. It’s clear Seth feels both a great debt to and affection for Alma, and part of what drives him is the desire to see her respected as Seth feels she deserves. But they butt heads, of course, because this is that sort of story and it’s that sort of relationship.
When a Nemesis egg lands on the village where Alma and Seth are currently stationed (in a floating home base), Alma is away fighting elsewhere – leaving the burden of saving an ungrateful town on Seth alone. When the egg hatches he manages to save his younger friend Tommy in his clumsy way, but Seth is clearly in over his head here. Fortunately help arrives in the nick of time – not from a returning Alma, but from a man who’s part of what’s called the Bravery Quartet – he doesn’t identify himself by name, but he does make it very clear that he’s a sorcerer himself.
Is there formula in all this? Absolutely – but even stuff like Boku no Hero Academia and Hunter X Hunter starts off with shounen formula. It’s all about the delivery, and the delivery with Radiant is really solid – it’s full of the martial spirit and goofiness that only really good shounen can deliver in quite this fashion. I’m kind of stumped as to whether Radiant will find an audience, to be honest – it’s really good, and it may scratch a nostalgia itch with a certain chunk of the market, but generally speaking I’m not optimistic. In any event it’s got 21 episodes locked in to tell its story, so I’m not so much worried about Radiant itself. It’s more what its success – or lack thereof – will signal to the money side of the anime industry about whether tapping into this rich vein of material is a viable option for the future that worries me. Time, as the saying goes, will tell…
ED: 「Radiant」 by (Polkadot Stingray)