What’s it about? A Japanese white-collar worker falls asleep in front of his dinner and wakes up as a child nicknamed “Well” in a Germanic-inspired fantasy world. Good news: He’s the son of a noble. Bad news: He’s the eighth son of a poor noble, meaning he has no inheritance and no future prospects. And the food is terrible, too. Determined to improve his situation, he begins to research his new world—and discovers that he has a talent for magic!
Isekai light novel adaptations haven’t had a great track record in recent years, so pardon me as I dance a little jig of relief, because I actually enjoyed this premiere! 8th Son is not out here reinventing the wheel, but the wheel it presents is pretty well-made and charming, all things considered.
Despite a hilariously out-of-place EPIC ROCK OPERA opening theme, this first episode is more of a historical fantasy slice-of-life than a grand magic-slinging adventure. The series even begins with the protagonist using his magic to dramatically(!) level a field… so the local farmers can till the land.
The animation is serviceable and the art design pleasant, featuring rolling hills, crumbling stone castles, and pretty boys and girls alike. Despite being marketed as a (presumably cishet) male-targeted series, the character designs seem to skew towards a more neutral viewership (Alfred and his flowing locks sure as hell ain’t here to appeal to straight dudes, I can tell you that).
While the girls’ outfits are a little on the silly side (belly shirts! battle skirts!), they’re not especially fanservicey. The gals barely appear in this episode, but hopefully the designs indicate they’ll be treated well when they do.
I was particularly impressed by the little grounded details throughout this premiere, like the diversity of musical instruments, the (very amusing) book collection, or the fact that Well’s aristocratic father is illiterate and only keeps a library for appearances. It gives the world a sense of lived-in reality that a lot of fantasy series struggle with, helping transport the audience as well as the protagonist to this new land.
And speaking of that protagonist, he clears the admittedly low bar of both having a personality and not being a dirtbag! Between bursts of dismay and despair at his new-found situation, Well also shows himself to be a resourceful foodie who’s also just a little bit of a nerd. His cautious excitement about the existence of magic is particularly endearing, making him an easy character to root for.
While the first scenes of this premiere suggest that Well will eventually become a fairly well-to-do count/magician (and the roomful of young ladies hints at a potential harem, though the opening theme presents a more gender-balanced cast), most of the episode is all about his current situation. Or, more specifically, how much it sucks compared to his old life.
Unlike a lot of modern male-led isekai stories, where the unhappy protagonist drops into a new world full-grown, powerful, and financially stable, Well is annoyed that he’s here and has to struggle to improve his life. He gets lucky a few times (stumbling upon a magical aptitude test; having Alfred close enough to feel his magic power flare-up), but he also works hard to get there, pouring through his family’s library and practicing magic by himself in the forest.
Alfred promises Well that he’ll become a powerful magician, so it’s totally possible the series will settle into a more boring “Well is super-talented and magic comes easy to him” routine. But hopefully Well’s journey will continue to feature actual hurdles for him to clear.
As with all “adult reborn into a child’s body” isekai tales, 8th Son comes with the usual potential issues regarding romantic subplots if/when they arise. That said, more interesting (and possibly concerning) to me are the subtle undercurrents about class and economic power.
Well’s family pretends to be well-off, but their castle is crumbling and all they have to their name is a little land and their hereditary title as nobles. Meanwhile, magic is explicitly not hereditary, meaning anyone can become a powerful sorcerer. Well is in a unique, contradictory place between noble birthright, economic poverty, and magical merit. How he and the narrative navigate those contradictions could lead to a progressive or regressive story and it’s just too early to tell which it will be.
…Or the series will ignore that altogether in favor of turning into another cliche power-fantasy harem show. Who knows! I certainly don’t, and light novel adaptations have burned me plenty of times before. Still, 8th Son surprised and charmed me enough that I’m going to give it another episode to see where it goes. I can’t guarantee it’ll be the next Ascendance of a Bookworm, but I’m willing to stick around to find out.