In the words of Charles Barkley:
Okay, seriously, people…why does it have to be so GOD DAMN hard to write an actual good fantasy story nowadays? Where’s the sense of originality? Where’s the sense of creativity? Apparently as of right now, anime is under a mini-crisis, and it involves the all-too-familiar infamous genre of “isekai”. It’s not the genre itself that is bad, it’s just the endless supply of all these cheap knockoff shows, written and produced purely for the sake of easy cash grabs and light novel promotions. Now, in all honesty, I will not condone the lack of originality in a series as long as it can be entertaining and creative with its premises. But oh my lord, this series, Kenja No Mago (or Wise Man’s Grandchild, Philosopher’s Grandson, or Magi’s Grandson) had absolutely NONE of the two.
To start off, I’m pretty sure we all know the drill regarding what constitutes as isekai (translated as “different world”). It’s actually a subgenre of general Japanese fantasy, and it usually revolves around a main character(s), usually normal humans from Earth, being transported to, reincarnated, or trapped in a parallel universe or an entirely different world, often a fictional one with notably more supernatural or magic-based premises. As much as the isekai is often criticized as a subgenre and concept, it still welcomes a good amount of creativity as there has been a good number of unique and alternative takes on it. The problem is that the general premises of isekai are just way too easy to establish, and it’s because of this that many writers will forego the chance at creativity for the sake of “quantity over quality”, whether it’s writing up a story with typical tropes and unengaging themes and plot elements, or just blatantly rip off a previously produced show’s work and tweak it a little bit to claim it as “original work”. In this sort of case, Kenja no Mago had committed both sins.
The story of Kenja No Mago is by no means anything complicated whatsoever, but I guess I can add a bit more details for “context”.
An unnamed Japanese salaryman gets killed by Mr. Truck-kun and is reincarnated into a fantasy world as an orphan, while still retaining his past memories. He is raised under the name “Shin” by a renowned elder magician and quickly displays his overpowered abilities in terms of both magic and martial arts, but apparently has a lack of common sense and social skills. On his 15th birthday, Shin is enrolled into a magic academy to befriend others and hone his already busted skills, but his raw talent makes it difficult to conduct a normal lifestyle as he quickly gained local celebrity status. The story is supposed to follow Shin’s high school life as he makes friends, learns about the world, and fights off evil that threatens him and the city.
Now from first glance, the story, while generic, doesn’t seem like something particularly bad. It seemed like just a typical, harmless, “dumb fun” isekai fantasy. However, there is a clear lack of creativity from the get-go. Already we have an elephant in the room: the case of the overpowered main protagonist. Now overpowered main characters can still be well-written and complex as long as there’s proper establishment to the overall story and character depth and development. However, Shin has nothing to really make him stand out as unique; he’s your typical Gary Stu, an artificially manufactured husk of a protagonist, a physical manifestation of conveniently written plot armor and plot devices. The nature of his existence in the series means that the plot basically revolves around him and prevents any chance of innovation or development for the story and the other characters.
But that’s not the only problem with the story. From what I was told, the original source material of Kenja No Mago is supposed to be more along the lines of slice-of-life fantasy. However, there is no sense of that in this adaptation, and the main culprit: a bad choice of PACING. The show apparently loves to speed through the events of the story so rapidly that it’s hard to really comprehend or understand what exactly is going on. What’s worse is that the show tries to hide those issues by inserting some awkward attempts at lighthearted comedy, which are basically hit-or-miss at best, and can come off as nothing but hindrances to the story as well as one’s enjoyment, depending on how one feels about the half-hearted “herp derp” gags. Most of these gags are, of course, revolving around Shin accidentally utilizing too much power and everyone getting shocked and sh**. Like, it’s literally one of those comedy skits where they have exaggerated faces and derpy character depictions…seriously, that’s not really funny at all after a while. It’s even worse in the final stretch when they try to utilize comedic gags in the more serious parts of the plot. They basically go to these gags where the baddies get all cocky and then get blown the f--- back, One Punch Man style. I would’ve been okay with this if the show was a parody isekai, but it really isn’t. The lack of innovation with the roles of the characters and the course of the story prevents that from being a possibility.
Now about the romance going on between Shin and Sicily, the main heroine (apparently) that was featured in the show. While many people may say it’s nice to see a romantic relationship in a fantasy series be straightforward to where they actually kiss, I find it really hard to comprehend the authenticity of it. Shin and Sicily’s relationship felt very superficial and too convenient; there is no sense of good dynamics or chemistry between the two that would make me really care about their affinity for each other. It’s mostly them doing all these mushy gushy gestures and cliché romance gags as well as having the other characters tease them about their relationship. It honestly feels…fake. Soulless. There is no effort implemented to really build a lot of appropriate content and structure to justify their implications of romance. There’s nothing to really make me feel like I should have any care about it as it seemed practically useless to the overall story, anyways.
When the series does reach its serious content, especially in the final episodes, it doesn’t seem like anything particularly tense or unsettling. The presentation of it feels half-hearted yet forced at the same time…like all attempts at tension are painfully cringe with the forced screams of terror and the typical cockiness of the antagonists. The construction and depiction of the main villains is by no means any good. It’s your typical bland “muhahaha I’m so f---ing evil I can c-- on myself” sort of bad guy here. He doesn’t even feel like a genuine villain, just some salty boy tacked onto the story to let our Gary Stu flex his muscles on. It’s also a poor choice to have the show just really end in the most cliché and predictable way: having the MCs and co. face off against the villains in an overplayed climax (well, if you wanna call it a climax).
The animation in this show is subpar, considering that it’s coming from a studio like Silver Link. It's "potato quality" at best, if that's a proper way to put it. There were so many instances of where the sequences of the frames just feel hella awkward, especially during a lot of the action scenes. The comedy scenes, whether or not it’s done on purpose, had a lot of moments where the characters’ expressions look heavily exaggerated or derpy, to where they can seem somewhat like stick figure drawings. The designs of the characters and the settings are all very typical and not something that can really catch someone’s attention. In fact, I found out that the settings of the world look almost EXACTLY the same as in Konosuba. Even, Shin and Sicily share too many visual similarities to Kazuma and Aqua, and the former basically stole Megumin’s “EXPLOSION”. While it’s not technically plagiarism, it’s a definite case of a knockoff/rip-off. I don’t even wanna talk about the ending of Episode 6….just what the actual f*** was that CGI eye-rape?? All in all, at best, the animation quality is nothing particularly notable or commendable.
The soundtracks and sound effects are nothing worth of praise, either. The OP is so cheesy-sounding while the ED feels like a silly out-of-place impression that doesn’t really reflect the show at all. The voice-acting is unimpressive and at times hella annoying. I don’t think the VAs were even trying to implement any sort of genuine emotion. It’s more like as if they simply walked into the studio, read their lines without any notable expression, and leave on their merry way out knowing that the show is dismal but at least they can get paid just to show up. (P.S. Can I can please kill that Mary loli, please? Her voice is annoying as hell!)
The characters I can ramble about all day, but it’s like beating a dead horse. Shin Walford, being the Gary Stu he is, received no sense of actual character development or maturity; he doesn’t seem to have a strong opinion of his own, yet somehow has to overreact and get angry when the frigging generic-as-hell villain shows up. The whole thing regarding him “not having any social skills or common sense” and “having his past memories” have been made irrelevant. Like what was the point, anyway? You could’ve written him without the whole “common sense” and “past memories” shenanigans and the script for him would be almost exactly the same. His social awkwardness is an excuse, and only serves to feed the gags involving him, which would’ve been fine if the jokes actually hit their marks. There’s no extra depth or dimensions to him…the one case where he feels bad for having killed someone doesn’t have any significant sense of empathic value and is a weak attempt to get us as an audience to pity him making that choice. All the support characters get no sense of development whatsoever. The main villain wasn’t very compelling, either. Considering how rushed the show was already by the time they get to him for the final episodes, dropping nearly an entire episode featuring flashbacks of his backstory was a poor choice and attempt to try to get us to think he’s a competent villain we should been sympathizing with.
I would want to talk my enjoyment level more regarding this show, but I’ve already made it clear with the previous explanations. I tried. I really tried to enjoy this show. I tried to lower my standards and enjoy it as just one of those “fast food” isekai/fantasy seasonals. But the “fast food” delivered to me here was so stale that I can’t even savor it. Not even copious amounts of sauce or condiments could save the foundations of this one. Yes, I ended up throwing up all over the floor with this one.
Kenja No Mago is an exemplification of how to NOT write a fantasy show or adaptation. It’s extremely passable and forgettable due to its conglomeration of simplistic themes, regurgitated tropes, underwhelming to bad animation quality, and non-existent innovation and creativity. Whatever identity this show tried to be, it wasn’t a good showcase at all worth watching. It's just another copy-pasta cashgrab show and only succeeds from a business standpoint. You’re better off watching some other fantasy with actual competent writing and interesting characters. Trust me with this. You’ll thank me later!