The Faraway Paladin

3 out of 5

Directed by: Yuu Nobuta

covers season 1

While it could just be that the amount of anime I’ve been watching has increased over the past few years, reviews I read do suggest that the number of isekais have exploded. Indeed, what first seemed like a fun, alleviating concept – I’m transported to another world, who cares why? – became the shortest hand for plot setups, and every other show felt like it jumped on this structure. Thankfully, we started to get to a post-peak of that, we series starting to iterate on it a bit. The Faraway Paladin is one of the first, to me, that pushes its isekai so far into the background that it’s almost questionable why it even matters. At the same time, and seemingly contrary to that statement, it also plays it up like an actual mystery – why was main character Will shifted to this fantasy land, to start anew as a baby, being raised by three ghosts – a warrior type, a mage type, and a healer type?

…Being raised by ghosts? Isn’t that burying the lede?

Such is the main struggle across most of Faraway Paladin, a really charming show with an appreciable slow build of character that also continually kicks dirt across its premise to cloud whatever its focus is supposed to be. About half of the first season is Will’s training… but for what?, with the second half being Will’s journeying out into the wider worlds beyond “the Land of the Dead” in which he was raised, to complete his mission… which is what?

The answer to both is essentially just “to vanquish evil,” but the show pauses every now and then to remind us of Will’s mysterious background, or, towards the end of the season, that he’s actually a lot more powerful than the elves and warriors with whom he surrounds himself.

While all of this sounds really critical of the series – and it’s definitely what prevents it from building up much steam, and making it a must watch – The Faraway Paladin takes advantage of this kind of laidback plotting to revel in a well-written protagonist, and patient world-building. In makes sense in a relatively realistic way: Will grows up (er, for the second time) around his ghost parents, training RPG-style in this monster-filled land, and so that’s “normal.” The presence of gods to whom he must dedicate himself, garnering a particular blessing which guides him on his greater ventures is also normal. And so the show tries to layer in explanations to these things as we go along, instead of front-loading. That does lead to some exposition dumps when we have to transition from training to adventuring, but on the whole, it’s a successful slow build – by the time we get to end-of-season revelations, it feels like the show has earned its emotions, instead of just dropping them on us.

And excepting one episode which gives a thumbs up to little boys and old men perving on women – this being a truly random moment that seems wholly out of place – the show is completely lacking in fan service. It could also be said it’s lacking in any strong non-white, non-male roles at all, true, but that hasn’t stopped a good chunk of animes from finding time for upskirts now and then, so the (almost absolute) lack of it is still nice.

The animation from Children’s Playground Entertainment is pretty stiff, and the character designs broad, but director Yuu Nobuta and writer Tatsuya Takahashi work with this – the show makes it clear that it’s not aiming to be action-centric, and we stay very focused on a core crew at any given point.

I know it’s questionable to spend time watching shows we’re not always actively enjoying, but it happens – sometimes I’ll hang around to see if something gets better because I like the concept, or I’m watching because I like the animation studio, etc. Some shows are just habits. But I noticed that, with The Faraway Paladin, I was always looking forward to my weekly viewing because of how undemanding it is, while also being rather intelligently scripted – I don’t have to self-review the plot each week, but I also feel stimulated by the episodes. It’s a good blend. And given how its evolved over its season, I’m eager to see if it continues its trend of establishing some further stakes, both emotionally and story-wise.