Original Run: April 10, 2019 - June 26, 2019 Number of Episodes: 12 Genre: Action, Comedy, Fantasy, Isekai Based on the Series Created By: Tsuyoshi Yoshioka and Seiji Kikuchi
***Warning, the following may contain spoilers for Kenja no Mago. Reader discretion is advised.***
Born into a world of monsters and magic, Shin Walford (voiced by Shouhei Komatsu) was once an ordinary Japanese businessman in a previous life. Now, he is the adoptive grandson of famed magician Merlin Walford (voiced by Yuusaku Yara).
Although Merlin taught Shin the basics of spellcasting, Shin proved to be incredibly skilled at the craft; to the point where he even surpassed his teacher.
Once of age, Shin heads off to attend a prestigious academy where he can hopefully expand his knowledge, as well as form lasting friendships. However, since he is the grandson of the famous Merlin, Shin is an instant celebrity. Then, once people begin to realize how powerful he truly is, Shin becomes a person to be both admired and feared.
As his own legend increases, Shin faces an ever-growing number of adversaries who wish to throw the land into chaos.
Before delving into Kenja no Mago, there are two points I would like you to keep in mind:
- I would consider myself a fan of the isekai genre.
- I did find enjoyment with this show.
Additionally, for those who may not know, an isekai anime typically involves a protagonist from our contemporary world being brought to a fantasy setting.
I feel it is essential to bring these aspects up because of what Kenja no Mago was. It wasn’t a bad series, but I would understand someone being annoyed with it. Here we had the perfect example of why an isekai anime can be fun, as well as why this type of story is an easy target for harsh criticism.
Considering the things Kenja no Mago got right, there were three key factors:
- Main character
- Power Balance
Because of these three elements, this series managed to co-exist with its many, many faults.
First, Shin Walford.
It is common sense to assume one of the most substantial aspects of any story is its main character. After all, they are the person we must follow throughout a narrative. Should they fail, who is there left to root for? However, I would argue this concept needs to be even more valid in isekai anime. I have yet to see this type of series succeed without a robust lead character spearheading the charge.
By their nature, isekai protagonists were once ordinary people who were suddenly thrown into a world where they had to be extraordinary. And extraordinary would be an apt description of Shin.
Similarly to others in this character type, Shin was extremely overpowered. In this case, he was a magic user who seemed to possess limitless abilities in spell casting. There wasn’t anything he could not conjure, no hex he could not cast, and no feat he could not achieve. That wasn’t what made him a good protagonist, though.
Shin worked because he had a tactical mind. Nothing was ever over until he was sure it was over. To him, anything could always go wrong. Plus, when something felt off, then odds were, something was off.
Main characters can lose. They can be outplayed. They can be crushed, humiliated, and even made to look like an absolute fool. If every protagonist always won, stories would get boring fast. But there is a critical difference between an unexpected defeat and a defeat that could have been avoided had there been two seconds of thought.
As part of his personality, Shin was always asking, “Why?” This was partly the reason why Shin’s magic was so powerful. He focused more on the components of a spell rather than the end result. He did the same form of deconstruction when sizing up an enemy.
For example, after besting a particularly powerful foe, Shin believed he hadn’t fully destroyed the threat where others were quick to assume, he had. He even made it a point to avoid saying the clichéd, “Did we get him,” line because he knew that is a guaranteed jinx.
Now, while all that was indeed great, Shin was at his best when he was just an average teenager. He could be petty, mischievous, playful, and most importantly, grow insanely flustered around the girl he liked. And accordingly:
Kenja no Mago had an adorable romance between Shin and Sicily von Claude (voiced by Rina Honnizumi). I don’t want to give too much away, but there was something about their relationship that helped break this show apart from other isekai stories. Shin and Sicily only had eyes for each other. Although there were plenty of pretty female characters in this show, this never became a pseudo-harem anime.
There were a lot of people who respected and admired Shin, but it was only Sicily who loved him romantically. Conversely, Sicily was the only person who could turn the ordinarily calm and collected Shin into a stammering buffoon.
And to bring this section to a close, Kenja no Mago ensured there were plenty of capable fighters. Although the main bosses were reserved for Shin, he didn’t have to do everything. He could give his attention to the final goal because he had a team of gifted magicians working with him.
Shin’s classmates, as this story progressed, became formidable warriors in their own right. They eventually became powerful enough to take on mobs of enemies without relying on Shin to bail them out. To give you an idea of how impressive this was, at the start of Kenja no Mago, demons were the biggest threat around. An exceptionally powerful one could single-handily bring a country to its knees. Shin’s teammates gained the skills and expertise to defeat most of these creatures with relative ease.
So, considering everything we’ve discussed so far, I can’t blame anyone if they think I have nothing but love for this show. Although there was plenty I did like about it, let me make this clear:
I had issues with Kenja no Mago.
On the one hand, I would say everything Kenja no Mago got right, it excelled. There was so much to this show, future isekai stories can take inspiration from it. That is no small feat.
On the other hand, when something stumbled, it self-destructed.
There were plenty of times where Kenja no Mago either frustrated, irritated, or straight-up pissed me off. And I can breakdown this series’ troubles into two glaring problems.
The first was the size of this show’s cast. There was a lot, and I mean, A LOT of people in this story. That was an issue given how there were only like five characters you had to care about.
The bulk of this series’ cast was made up of Shin’s team. So with Shin, that’s twelve characters right there. Plus, that’s not including all the allies and other help this group often interacted with. Except for a handful of key players, nobody felt important. Nevertheless, for some reason, Kenja no Mago insisted on being one of those shows that had to have every single person say something in every scene.
Near the end, someone would start talking, and I would have no idea who they were. Then when there was something like the final battle where the team split off to do their own objectives, we had to follow everyone around. Since there was so much going on, and everyone needed to have their moment, the climactic clash slowed down and became the dullest section of the entire series.
Due to its extensive cast, this show needlessly overburdened itself.
Kenja no Mago would get so muddled down, often going back and forth between a silly school-life story and a dark-toned fantasy adventure. There were times – at least, for me – where you would forget what kind of series this was. In fact, if I didn’t know any better, it wouldn’t take much to convince me this actually wasn’t an isekai anime.
And that was the biggest problem with Kenja no Mago. There was absolutely no reason why this show needed to be an isekai.
If we were to cut the first three minutes and the handful of blink-and-you-will-miss it references, this series could have just been a fully functional fantasy story. Shin did not need to be a reincarnated Japanese salaryman. He could have just been a boy with a high pedigree for magic.
I wanted to make it clear I am a fan of the isekai genre because I am tired of defending it. This style of storytelling is oversaturating the anime landscape; I’m not blind to that. In the past, I could shrug this off since many shows connected to the roots of their main characters. Series like Youjo Senki, No Game No Life, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, and The Rising of the Sheild Hero, justified why they brought their protagonist into their respective worlds.
Seeing Kenja no Mago force this in made no sense. It was a mistake this series never quite recovered from.
In the end, this series was more fun than it was frustrating. After all, it did have plenty of good ideas.
There was a main character worth following. The story had a pleasant romantic element. Plus, it did feel as though progress was made with this cast.
However, imagine how much more progress there could have been had this show cut out its fat.
I am going to recommend Kenja no Mago, but do know that if you want a genuinely well-done isekai series, this is not it.
But these are just my thoughts. What are yours? Have you seen this show? How would you advise Kenja no Mago? Leave a comment down below because I would love to hear what you have to say.
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For Anime Hajime, I’m LofZOdyssey, and I’ll see you next time.