Content Warning: animal death in a hunting context
What’s it about? Three members of the undead—the ghost of a grumpy scholar, a warrior skeleton, and a mummified priestess—find a human baby in the ruins of a city. They name him Will and adopt him as their own, teaching him magic, folklore, and fighting skills as he grows; preparing him for some sort of secret destiny the boy isn’t yet aware of. But the boy has something he’s not telling his undead parents, too: he was reborn into this world from a different one, and has hazy memories of a past life.
I’ll get this part out of the way first: there is something a little odd about a child character with the memories and cognitive abilities of an adult, even if Faraway Paladin doesn’t make this weird in the way that other shows do. There are no horny babies here, just toddlers waxing poetic about living a better life in an eloquent interior monologue and a young protagonist who is conveniently precocious because he’s drawing on knowledge from his adult life.
My knee-jerk reaction is to ask if the reincarnation aspect of this isekai is only there to give our hero a leg up and help make him extra smart and special, but that might not be fair. Faraway Paladin seems, even just from this first episode, to be a pretty grounded and competent fantasy series. It’s tropey in fun ways without swimming in cliché, quietly setting up the deeper machinations that surround our hero without overtly smelling of a silly power fantasy. This premiere isn’t keen to rush into the heart of the action and show Will being a cool badass holy warrior. It’s content to draw us in slowly, focusing on the relationship between Will and his undead guardians.
What destiny lies ahead for little Will, and how does his fate connect to the pantheon of gods silently watching over his family’s ruined temple? I’m actually honest-to-goodness intrigued by aspects of this story. In contrast to the other fantasy series I reviewed this season, Faraway Paladin’s worldbuilding isn’t all dumped on you in bursts of narration. There’s still a lot of information thrown towards the audience, and not always delicately, but it’s mixed in with dialogue that also serves as characterization and helps establish the dynamic between Will and his undead parents.
And it’s a fun dynamic! While the “paladin” aspect of the title hasn’t come into play yet, I’m assuming that refers to Will, and there’s a very fun contrast in the concept of a holy warrior growing up among monsters. This ghoulish adoptive family is endearing, each member of the trio teaching Will something different and developing a different rapport.
They slot nicely into their tropes—the brash warrior teaches him fighting and hunting, the curmudgeonly wizard teaches him magic, and the softly-spoken nun teaches him everything else because she’s The Mom—but all seem to have other stuff going on just below the surface. There’s enough subtle characterization at play that you get endeared to this weird little family unit and can believe that they care about each other.
I mentioned I was hesitant about Will effectively having an adult brain in a kid’s body, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like him as a character. He’s a sweet enough kid in this episode devoted to his childhood, and seems to be using what little he remembers of his past incarnation as motivation to try and live a good life and protect his new family. Some flash of hazy tragedy compels him to rush into holy fire to rescue his mummified mum, setting him up as the “caring to the point of reckless” type, which honestly? Perfectly admirable heroic traits that are often fun to explore. And, again, though it’s not on the table yet, I can presume it will help with his future Paladin-ing.
I know I always spend fantasy anime reviews talking comparatively about tropes and genre, but the fact is there’s just so much fantasy anime (isekai or otherwise) coming out that a series needs to put in the work to stand out. On that front, Faraway Paladin succeeds: this premiere has more heart and more subtlety than others I’ve watched recently, and doesn’t seem to be relying on gimmicks like video game-style power level progression. It’s not reinventing the wheel, but it feels like effort has been put in.
It moves along at a slow pace, but the benefit of that is getting a focus on the characters that grows them, just so, beyond archetypes and into people we can conceivably relate to and root for. We’ll have to see how things progress, but for now I’m impressed. The bar is, admittedly, low, but Faraway Paladin cleared it with a confident leap. If you like high fantasy that’s not afraid to pace itself out and let things settle, give this one a shot.