What’s it about? In a world where demons called “Nemesis” corrupt everything they touch, those who survive the encounter become magic-wielding sorcerers. Humanity fears and hates the sorcerers, but the young apprentice Seth is determined to change that.
The first thing you need to know about this premiere is that it’s an incredibly straightforward, family-friendly monster-hunting fantasy series. The second thing you need to know is that it features a grouchy one-armed badass lady sorcerer voiced by Romi Park.
So. I guess I’m here for this?
Radiant hits many of the standard beats of its genre—ambitious but clumsy boy goes on a coming-of-age adventure to fight monsters and save others—but it executes those beats with a lot of energy and sincerity. The animation is fluid, the art design pretty, the world charming (cowlephants!), and the facial expressions top-notch. All of which comes together to create an enjoyable premiere and a likable (if not exactly new) story and characters.
We can probably give a lot of credit for this to the creative team: Daisei Fukuoka is listed as the series director, Seiji Kishi as the director, and Makoto Uezu as the series composer. In other words, it’s a Yuki Yuna is a Hero reunion tour—a series I’m still angry at, but will freely admit had plenty of panache.
It may also help that Radiant is adapted from a French comic by Tony Valente, which makes it thus far blessedly free of what we here at AniFem like to call “anime bullshit.” The premiere is void of fanservice, and both the opening and ending themes suggest the female characters will all be reasonably clothed and capable figures (if not outnumbered pretty significantly by the dudes).
There are also some background characters of color, so hopefully we’ll see a few in the main cast going forward, too. A quick Google search of the original comic suggests we will, at least.
Oh, and did I mention the protagonist has a grizzled female mentor figure voiced by Romi Park?
Okay, sure, the relationship between Seth and Alma is a fairly typical “grumpy but kind” teacher paired with an “energetic but thoughtless” student. But the fact that she’s a woman provides an immediate freshness to their relationship, and Seth’s combination of fear and respect for her suggests that this story exists in a world of relative gender equality. In addition to Alma just being a lot of fun, it bodes well for the story as a whole.
Plus, who doesn’t enjoy seeing a crusty, fluffy-haired, disabled middle-aged woman kicking ass?
My greatest concern for Radiant‘s success relates to its thematic undercurrent. Before getting into the fun fantasy adventure stuff, the premiere front-loads itself with some heavy-handed philosophical meanderings about how “one is not born human, but becomes human” and how those with magical powers can either become “heroes or demons.” This is coupled with a running theme about how sorcerers are reviled by ordinary humans because of their connection to the Nemesis demons.
It feels a whole lot like Yet Another Fantasy Metaphor for Real-World Prejudice, which is always a difficult concept to tackle, full of potential pitfalls. This is made more complicated by Seth’s attitude: While Alma approaches her position with a kind of resigned acceptance, Seth has decided that he can “prove” to regular humans that “sorcerers are good guys” by defeating all the Nemesis and saving people.
It’s a common mindset young folks often fall into—”If I just show them I’m not like they think, they’ll change their minds!”—and an equally common basis for stories, but it’s based on a flawed premise. First, because prejudice isn’t logical—marginalized groups are not inherently more dangerous, unlike the magic-wielding sorcerers of Radiant‘s world. And second, because unlike the premiere’s opening line suggests, people are born human, and no one should have to “prove” that humanity to others.
Granted, it’s possible that Radiant will address these ideas going forward and Seth will come to realize he doesn’t need to save people to “deserve” basic respect and decency. But if it doesn’t, this notion will hang like a shadow over an otherwise entertaining adventure series, creating a troubling undercurrent that’s all-too-frequent among fantasy stories that deal with these issues.
Concerning underlying themes aside, this is a fun, bouncy premiere that would be easy to enjoy with younger relatives. Seth is rote by likable, Alma is the best, and the final scene introduces a dude who looks like the pirate version of All Might.
If you’re not into fantasy adventure stories, I doubt there will be anything here for you. But if you’re as much a sucker for air balloons, floating islands, and grizzled lady sorcerers (voiced by Romi Paaaark!) as I am, then give this one a try. You may be as pleasantly surprised as I was.