‘The Eminence in Shadow’ Interview: The Serious Comedy of Cid’s Story
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‘The Eminence in Shadow’ Interview: The Serious Comedy of Cid’s Story

Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute! (The Eminence in Shadow) made its TV anime debut in Fall 2022 and—much to the surprise of its staff—quickly amassed a global fanbase. The isekai fantasy follows Cid, a reincarnated character who aims to become the most powerful figure controlling the world from the shadows. Cid’s single-minded pursuit of his goal as “Shadow” leads to many misunderstandings that ensnare a wide range of characters, and creates a comedy that is anything but comedic for its cast. Based on the web novel by Daisuke Aizawa, the second season of KageJitsu premiered in Fall 2023 and a sequel movie has already been announced.

Producer Kazufumi Kikushima has worked on many other successful anime adaptations at Kadokawa, including Overlord and Youjo Senki (Saga of Tanya the Evil). Director Kazuya Nakanishi has worked as an animation director and key animator director for several well-known works, and made his directorial debut at animation studio Nexus with KageJitsu. Very active on X (Twitter), Nakanishi quickly gained a following abroad with his unabashed passion for the series.

Halfway into the second season, HIDIVE hosted a panel interview with producer Kikushima and director Nakanishi at Anime NYC, and then MyAnimeList sat down with both staff members for a group media interview.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──How did it feel having your directorial debut for one of your favorite series?

Nakanishi (director): It’s a strange feeling. I thought, “these kinds of things really happen.” It had been quite some time since I entered this industry, and I was wondering what I should do next. At that time, I was lucky enough to have someone who told me I could be the director of a work, and moreover, it was one of my favorite works. While I think this is truly a blessing, I also wonder why such a lucky thing happened, so it’s a strange feeling. And I can only be grateful.

──For KageJitsu, you’re credited on everything from storyboard to animation. This has led to some redditors calling you a “one man army.”

Nakanishi: I didn’t know they were saying things like that… (both laugh) To avoid misunderstandings, I want to say in advance that I’m not making this work alone. Of course I’m not.

Kikushima (producer): But even still, you’re doing an incredible number of tasks, compared to other works. (laughs) “One man army” fits, doesn’t it?

──How do you feel about this title?

Nakanishi: I’m actually not very happy about it. The reason why is because I’m in a position where I honestly only want to do the fun parts, while leaving all the difficult parts to everyone else and saying “you do that.”

(Kikushima laughs)

Nakanishi: When I see the finished product and look at the end credits, there are times I feel like, “Again. I did all the work again.” I didn’t think being a director was like this. It’s that kind of feeling.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──What was your original impression of Cid when you first read the story?

Kikushima: To put it bluntly, I felt that the main character was crazy. However, as I was working on the project, I came to understand his feelings a lot more, so I feel a strong sense of affinity towards him now.

Nakanishi: I also thought he was crazy, and there are many times when I think “This guy is no good.” If anything, I think I don’t want to be near him. While making the anime, I’m thinking I just want to watch what this guy is doing from far, far away.

──Cid as a character walks a thin line where the audience could easily find him ridiculous, but instead they’re charmed by him. Do you find this challenging when adapting his character?

Nakanishi: I have no choice but to simply say, “It’s difficult.” There are many times where the things I want to convey unexpectedly don’t get across, or are not taken as I intended them to be.

Nakanishi: Even recently, there was a case with a very famous work where I ultimately had to rewrite the ending before the broadcast to convey the message that I wanted to. Honestly, I often find that what I’m trying to convey doesn’t get across very well. So when I was writing the script and storyboarding, I read Cid’s lines over and over again until the last minute, checking to make sure they were okay.

Kikushima: It’s exactly as you said in the question, and even though he’s the main protagonist, I think his character is very uncertain.

Kikushima: Real people live with a lot of incredibly complex emotions. However, when they become animated, often characters risk becoming symbolized and losing their humanity. On the other hand, Cid as a character isn’t really fixed in place or readily perceived like other characters. So for each scene, we need to think about how he is feeling in that moment, and as the director said, carefully consider each of his lines one-by-one to deliver the impression we want to.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──What lessons did you have during the production cycle, season one, going into season two?

Kikushima: During season 1, it was rather challenging because it was a new work. With season 2, I was thinking that I want to build a solid position for the work so it would be well-received.

Kikushima: In Japan, there is a genre called isekai tensei (reincarnated into another world), and it’s a genre which includes many works. When season 1 started, Kage no Jitsuryokusha ni Naritakute! was seen as one work within that genre. For Season 2, I wanted to show the high quality of this specific work to as many people as possible.

──What do you think sets it apart from other isekai anime?

Kikushima: Isekai (Another world) is just a setting, and the setting is not the essence of most works said to be isekai. KageJitsu is mainly Cid’s story, the story of “Shadow.” As a result of him doing whatever he wants to realize his dreams, the people around him may become happy or extremely unhappy, and the world revolves around him. He just doesn’t realize it. Being able to enjoy this discrepancy from a third-person perspective is what makes it different from other isekai works, I think.

──KageJitsu blends comedy and seriousness, and often uses seriousness as a point of comedy. How do you approach this to take care that the jokes don’t lose their essence or impact?

Nakanishi: The first thing we decided was, “Let’s leave it up to the viewer’s judgment.” Should a scene evoke laughter, or anger, or perhaps excitement? We started with the idea, “Let’s leave it all up to the viewers to decide how to interpret the characters’ actions.” Therefore, I focused on not getting too involved with the characters and on not losing objectivity.

Nakanishi: Ultimately, the characters are not behaving in a way to make the other person laugh. In other words, they are all very serious about their actions, and I think that’s a very important point to remember when it comes to the comedy in this work. It’s important that all the characters look like people who are seriously doing stupid things. (laughs)

Kikushima: The nuance might be difficult to get across, but it’s not about creating points that will make the audience laugh. It’s placing great importance on making the story look very serious from the perspective of those involved, while seeming humorous to an outside viewer.

Kikushima: In everyday life, it’s kind of like watching a completely random couple passionately fighting in a cafe, and finding their exchange funny. (laughs) Maybe something similar to this mental image.

──Have there been any surprises about the audience’s reception?

Nakanishi: There are quite a few. Sometimes viewers paid attention to parts we weren’t concerned about at all, while other times we thought they would be concerned about this part, but everyone ignored it. I won’t go into any specific examples of this. (laughs)

Kikushima: As a producer, I’d like to say that everything went as I expected (Nakanishi laughs) …but to be honest, I’m really surprised that Shadow is the most popular character both in Japan and overseas. I thought everyone would like the cute girls. (everyone laughs)

Kikushima: Shadow is self-centered and he has too many quirks to be the main character of a hero story, so in comparison, I thought he’s the type who would either be liked or hated. However, I’ll say this for Shadow’s sake, perhaps the figure of someone doing what he wants and living true to his beliefs gives a feeling of admiration, and maybe that’s why everyone starts to like Shadow. (laughs)

Results from the official website’s character poll (left); Number of favorites on MAL at time of writing (right).

──What do you attribute to KageJitsu‘s success in the West?

Nakanishi: Why was it successful? Everyone asks this question, and I always give the same answer: we don’t know. Of course, we made it with the utmost effort.

Nakanishi: Recently, people from overseas are also watching anime, so I kept in mind to not do anything that overseas fans dislike while making the anime. But that doesn’t mean we made it with the aim of it being popular overseas. It was simply made by fans of the original work for fans of the original work. So the question becomes, “Why was it?”

Kikushima: I thought chuunibyou was something that was dependent on the Japanese environment and culture, so in return, I want to ask everyone if chuunibyou is something they’ve experienced?

(mixed reactions from those present)

Kikushima: For those who have experienced it, or maybe some who are in the middle of it right now, perhaps they can empathize, or recall the embarrassment. Like that, I think the charm of the characters is conveyed, leading to the anime becoming such a hit.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──Please share your thoughts on Shadow’s ultimate attack move, “I am atomic.”

──The first time we see Shadow say this infamous phrase is while in the sewers underneath the city. Much to everyone’s surprise, the giant pillar of light annihilates a good portion of the city, leaving a distinct crater. (S1E05, 13:10~15:05)

Kikushima: I’m wondering once again what exactly “I am atomic” is. But as I think everyone already knows, this is a work where we want the fans to just feel, not think.

Nakanishi: Honestly, I don’t know what it means either. Since I didn’t understand the meaning, I decided to start by thinking about the end result, and the first thing that came to mind was the remains of the exploded city. From there, I worked backwards and gradually the scene became like that. As a matter of fact, the port townscape that is used for the story’s setting, was created specifically to make it explode.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──Cid uses his infamous move a second time against countless enemy copies, declaring “I am the all-range atomic.” The spell obliterates everything within the Sanctuary and spreads outside to the city of Lindwurm, where the dam bursts and floods the city. (S1E14, 15:38~16:58)

Nakanishi: This scene also began with the spectacular dam next to the cityscape of the sacred place, and the dam was only prepared so that we could submerge the city underwater

Kikushima: For the second time today, I really want you to just feel without thinking about it.

──While facing off against Iris and Beatrix in the finale, Shadow demonstrates that the full range of his attack can easily swallow the entire capital. As the two girls look on in fear and astonishment, he begins casting for a third time, “I am…” but never completes the spell. (S1E20, 12:32~14:40)

Nakanishi: Since we had built such a huge city, we felt like we should use it one last time to do something big, and that’s how that final battle was born. I had been thinking about doing this quite early on, so the first, second, and third episodes showed a lot of cityscapes. All of it was created so that we could “atomic” it.

──Lastly, our most recent encounter was during the battle with the Blood Queen. A certain character attempts to use Cid’s signature attack, only to fail. Then Shadow returns to the scene. While floating in the sky illuminated by the Red Moon, the Queen smiles and asks for Shadow’s name, to which he replies “I am recovery atomic,” washing all of Lawless City with his power. (S2E03, 12:39~13:11 & 16:23~17:20)

Nakanishi: At first, these two scenes were completely different. I thought that if we were going to fix it in the end anyway, I’d just wipe out the whole city with the Blood Queen’s attack. I wanted to turn the entire Lawless City into a pile of rubble, and then I thought it would be cool to fix it with “Recover.” But when we started talking about who would draw it, I was disappointed because the cost of the work was not worth it at all. However, it would be boring if we just held ourselves back, so we asked a surprising person to give us one hit in a surprising way, and the episode has become what it is now.

Kikushima: We’ve seen Cid’s special attack in five scenes now, but even though we’ve made it this far, I still don’t understand what “I am atomic” is.

(everyone laughs)

──Both of you have been involved in anime based on manga, novels, and a variety of sources. Do you tend to find that one medium versus others is more satisfying to adapt?

Nakanishi: From my position, this is quite a difficult question to answer. As a person working on the anime, whether or not a satisfying adaptation can be made from the “original work” is not really relevant. In the end, what matters is whether or not the staff involved are satisfied with what they made.

Nakanishi: Just because we participated in a highly acclaimed work doesn’t mean we’ll be satisfied. Conversely, even if the work is not recognized at all, there are times when we can be extremely satisfied, and think, “We were able to create something interesting.” With this work, I was able to make something good with familiar staff members, and the reception was also good, so I think it was a satisfying work overall.

Kikushima: What is “satisfying” varies from person to person, so there isn’t a correct answer. Depending on whether the original work is a novel or a manga, the way we create and approach the anime is different, but the most important thing I am conscious of is how to capture the essence of the work.

Kikushima: As long as the important aspects of the original work are preserved, even if the anime has added direction, it’s possible to bring out the best in the work. Through the medium of anime, a chance is created for the work to be seen by more people, so I want to make an anime that is satisfying in that respect.

©逢沢大介・KADOKAWA刊/シャドウガーデン Source: Official Twitter

──Please leave a final message for your fans.

Kikushima: I’m really happy to be able to meet all the KageJitsu fans, especially those who are overseas. I think that I was able to be invited to New York City because of all the fans who support our work. KageJitsu will continue to grow, so please continue to support us.

Nakanishi: Thank you very much for your continued support and having us today. As for the anime, the second season will reach its climax after this, and there will be no personal restrictions anymore. I think it would be great if you could witness the climax, so please stay with us until the end.

Interview was conducted through an interpreter and has been edited for clarity. Questions from both the panel and group media interview were compiled.

Watch The Eminence in Shadow on HIDIVE: https://www.hidive.com/tv/the-eminence-in-shadow
Official X (Twitter): https://twitter.com/Shadowgarden_PR
Director Nakanishi on X (Twitter): https://twitter.com/yaduka301

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