I mean no disrespect (no more than usual, anyway) to Arifureta, but I’m comfortable saying that this probably isn’t a story that wants to get too into the weeds in analyzing and critiquing the foibles of organized religion. Yes, the driving plot of this series is about literally killing the gods of the world, but they’ve continuously specified that’s because these specific gods are manipulative, jerkish ones who are personally responsible for the suffering inflicted by their following inhabitants. Arifureta can have the air of an angsty counter-culture teen to it a lot of the time, but that wouldn’t seem to include opposing real-world-style theism on a fundamental level. Thats a reading that’s’ important to keep in mind as we wrap up the story of the Melusine labyrinth writing this week, as the can sometimes feel like it’s reaching for some point about the dangers of godly devotion, only skew so hard from depicting them in an outside-relevant way that the only conclusion can be that any actual commentary is completely coincidental.
Noting that, please stop me if I myself get too into analyzing Arifureta‘s lens on religion, as opposed to simply analyzing its own analysis. Criticism is a layered and varied lens, and the show honestly has enough to follow just in its surface-level presentation this week.. The textual presentation of the story, that is, as the visual presentation gets by as the murkiest the show’s since the first season. The dark, underwater graveyard of this labyrinth rarely lights up as Hajime and Kaori slog through it, compounded by the grainy filter Studio asread has been slapping over the screen since the beginning. It doesn’t make most of the simple action here hard to follow, necessarily, but it still leaves it as not much to look at until things brighten back up at the end. Perhaps they felt those cerebral meditations on the history of this world and the effects of those revelations on some of the characters would be enough to carry it.
And to Arifureta‘s credit, yeah, those kinda do carry it. The main character focus continues to be on my ongoing surprise favorite Kaori, as she feels out of her place in Hajime’s party and whether she wants to continue to be a part of it. One thing I’ll give the show at this point is that, compared to what I might expect from other isekai fantasies starring teenagers, Hajime and Kaori act pretty mature about things at this point. It fits, of course, given that Hajime’s whole thing is how his earlier experiences affected him, while Kaori personally chose to accompany him at the end of the first season spoke to her own level of personal resolution. But still, it’s just generally nice to see the two frankly discuss the angles they’re coming from, Hajime describing his expectations he had for Kaori and some issues he’s now noting, while she makes an effort to rationalize her simple affection-based reason for Wanting to follow him with her sheltered shortcomings. A key point going back to that first season was that Kaori was one of the few people who treated Hajime with a modicum of respect prior to his Shadow-the-Hedgehog-ization, and you actually get a sense of that relationship here.
Granted, it would all be nicer if the ‘trial’ the pair went through here that was supposed to resonate with Kaori’s character and provide more thematic background on the world did an effectual job at either of those things. As I ranted about at the beginning here, this is a presentation of the evil manipulations of the gods behind the religions of the world, in this case a deity named ‘Ehit’ inducing one of their authoritarian followers to slaughter nonbelievers at a post-war celebration. It doubles down on the concept of ‘the madness god can create’ from last week’s episode, and I just don’t know if that is it, chief. On the one hand, blaming the ‘god’ themselves for a religion’s ills, especially allegorically, would seem to be a ‘missing the forest for the trees’ situation. But as I said, I don’t know that Arifureta really intends it to be that kind of actual commentary, and to be fair, if the god of a given religion was provably real, that would certainly shake up the dynamics powering power based on that. But either way, it comes off less like Arifureta attempting any actual conceptual exercise, instead of simply illustrating the degree to which the gods of the world are the villains in this story, and providing one more traumatic experience for Kaori to power through.
The other incident of Kaori’s formative trauma ends up no less inexplicable, but at least less fraught with temptations for analysis of themes that probably aren’t there. There is the major question of just who or what the ghost that possesses Kaori is, or how Hajime immediately assesses its weakness in magic ammunition so he can repeatedly shoot his friend in the face with no ill effects, but really, it’s all just a trust fall to confirm how important Kaori actually is to our hero. He’ll even threaten to torture a ghost to death to prove it! Aww? But then that’s the thing: All the revelatory ghost-visions and random possessions aren’t as formative to Kaori as her realization that she definitely wants to endure all that to have a chance at smooching Hajime, even though she’s tragically not polyamorous enough to be happy sharing his affections with Yue and the rest. The struggle is real. And you know Arifureta has basically declared mission accomplished when that realization lets it skip right back into an irreverent approach, bringing back both the seemingly-unkillable enemy from the previous episode and the amazing Seaman-homage character from the first season to engineer a nonsensical final battle simply so there’s something to explode at the end of this story.
Look, I’m as all over the place on this episode as it was on its own concepts. I like Kaori, I like the earnest developments for her and Hajime come by through this, and I like that her moments of petty goofiness come back by the end for her. But all the half-baked conceptual stuff surrounding the story beats feels like a distraction at best. That’s a crossroads, I suppose, as my primary concern at the beginning of this second season was how well they would use Kaori. And she’s been a strong element since they finally remembered her a few episodes ago, but now that just makes me wish Arifureta could get the rest of its priorities straight.
Arifureta – From Commonplace to World’s Strongest Season 2 is currently streaming on Funimation.
Chris is a freelance writer who appreciates anime, action figures, and additional ancillary artistry. He can be found staying up way too late posting screencaps on his Twitter.