[Review] WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us? – episode 1

Humans have been driven to extinction by “Beasts.” The duty of fighting the Beasts fall to “Fairies,” who are destined to use their powers to wield “Holy Swords” called “Kariyon” and eventually meet their destiny of death. A sole human being named Willem wakes up after several hundred years, and continues his fight against the Beasts.

Source: Anime News Network

In case the absurdly long title didn’t give it away, WorldEnd (or SukaSuka, to use its Japanese shorthand) is an adaptation of a light novel (LN) series. In my almost three years of watching every licensed first episode, I’ve seen a lot of LN adaptation premieres, and while I’ve quite liked a few of them (Rokka and Grimgar, for example), the vast majority tend to be, well… remember Amelia’s Akashic Records review a few days ago? Yeah. They tend to be that.

All of which is to say I came in to WorldEnd tentatively hopeful based on the wistful cover art, but pretty well convinced it would disappoint me. I left the premiere pleasantly surprised and more hopeful than ever, even if I can’t quite shake my skepticism. This wasn’t just good “for an LN adaptation” (although I was downright giddy when the protagonist caught two girls and didn’t accidentally grope either of them, which tells you how high the bar’s set for LN anime these days); it has potential to be a really solid fantasy series in general.

Willem and Chtholly head into town

While that ANN description suggests there will be a lot of action in the future, currently WorldEnd is a somewhat quiet, character-driven fantasy that takes place in a world of multiple floating islands where beast-people are the majority. Humans, or at least humanoids, are called the “disfeatured” and discriminated against. It’s a pretty clear metaphor for real-world marginalization, and I’ll be curious to see how the series pushes on this point going forward.

The premiere follows Willem as he first befriends a young woman (Chtholly) in town, then later takes a job for the military as a “caretaker” for “special weapons.” The weapons turn out to be people, mostly young girls, and Chtholly is among them. Also joining them is a second caretaker, a female troll (Nygglatho) who very much wants to eat Willem, but won’t do it without his explicit consent.

Chtholly is called "disfeatured"

In broad strokes, WorldEnd sounds like a high fantasy about a guy surrounded by cute girls, but the details and tone are what set this premiere apart and give it a kind of pensive charm. For one, the world-building is quite good: there’s a lot of history and people introduced in this episode, but instead of engaging in a clumsy exposition dump, the premiere (mostly) reveals information through its story and dialogue.

The art and direction establish characters and relationships through brief visuals or conversations, and the camera is fond of wide, sweeping shots of people dwarfed by landscapes, giving the world a sense of scope and depth. This premiere is more premise than plot, so that feeling of “there’s a lot more out there” goes a long way in building anticipation for future episodes.

Also, the soundtrack is really, really good.

Chtholly looks out on the islands

The characters are well-defined, with entertaining interpersonal dynamics. Willem is neither the raging jerk nor the bland self-insert so common in LN adaptations, but instead a more-or-less good-natured adult with a quiet sadness about him, polite and patient to those he doesn’t know well but more straightforward and grumpy with those he does. His reactions to others vary depending on if they’re old friends, new friends, or young wards, which again gives him a sense of realness that’s quite refreshing.

We don’t get to spend as much time with the female characters around him, but they’re all distinct individuals, grounded in archetypes but enjoyably so, and with plenty of room to grow. Chtholly is adventurous and friendly, with that same aura of quiet sadness that Willem has, and the kids are cute without being cloying. There is a whiff of fetishization around Nygglatho, who dresses like a maid and whose hunger has some definite sexual undertones, but it’s pretty tame, and her playfully combative relationship with Willem helps make up for it. Beyond that (thankfully, given the ages of most of the characters), there’s nothing of note in the fanservice department.

The kids try to keep a secret

What will make or break WorldEnd, I think, is how it builds its character relationships going forward and how it balances power between Willem and his female charges (especially Chtholly, who’s near his age and pretty clearly has a crush on him). Obviously it’s important that our “weapons” have fighting prowess and agency, but I’m more interested in how the series handles the emotional aspects of its story. The entire cast is in need of a home and family, Willem included, and the give-and-take between them could turn this into either a wonderfully sweet (and probably tragic) series about mutual bonds, or just one more “boy saves girl(s)” story in a long line of them.

After such an appealing premiere, I’m cautiously optimistic. This is a series that has the potential to blend melancholy and hope, romantic and familial love, gain and loss, into something pretty special. I’ve been burned by many an LN adaptation before, so I’m wary. But dang. I really want to believe in this one.

Read the ANN Preview Guide review.

 

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Dee is a nerd of all trades and a master of one. She has bachelor’s degrees in English and East Asian studies and an MFA in Creative Writing. To pay the bills, she works as a technical writer. To not pay the bills, she devours novels and comics, watches far too much anime, and cheers very loudly for the Kansas Jayhawks. You can hang out with her at The Josei Next Door, a friendly neighborhood anime blog for long-time fans and newbies alike, as well as on Tumblr and Twitter.

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  • Just watched this one. I was surprised when the credits started like… what? it’s over already? so yeah, um, i’m hocked.
    I agree with your points and, like you, i’m carefully optimistic. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint!

  • I think the premise of this series actually throws a lot of people off, because the author’s true intention is nothing like the other series. It’s much, much more slice-of-life than the others, a ‘life goes on during war’ type of deal…
    https://englishlightnovels.com/2017/01/13/shuumatsu-nani-shitemasu-ka-isogashii-desu-ka-sukutte-moratte-ii-masu-ka/

    • That would actually be great! That kind of approach was one of my favourite things about Grimgar.