“You and I aren’t the only ones who understand that. Everyone has things that don’t go the way they want. But we go on living. Just the way you have to…”
Before I get into this, let me tell you a story.
Though I’ve been an avid reader of Kotaku, TAY, and AniTAY for years, I never gave much thought about actually writing anything beyond the occasional hot take or randomized list, much less writing about anime when I first created my Kinja account. Around 2018, I noticed no one was publishing “the top # anime theme songs” after Richard Eisenbeis left sometime prior. Sensing a missed opportunity, I made one of my own while trying to figure out how to stand apart.
For a time, I decided to keep churning out lists, not really sure of the real reason to keep doing so beyond someone was clearly liking them. At least, enough for the AniTAY site to take notice when Protonstorm contacted me out of the blue at the beginning of this year. I looked at his message and thought “Are you kidding me? ME?” Still dealing with social anxiety and personal issues, it wasn’t an immediate yes. But as I looked around my surroundings, the question became “why not?” A couple of exchanges later, I was in.
Honestly, I still don’t know what he saw in me, but he immediately put me to work on the Winter 2019 collab as I explained the insanity that is Boogiepop and Others. Left to my own devices afterwards, I found something that would play a guiding role in writing my first solo project; a review that for some reason triggered a need to write a response.
Free from the creative restrictions set upon by established institutions, it dawned on me I had absolute freedom to approach Radiant from a completely different angle. That terrified me! So I began to write about the story and the parts that were not covered. I poured over videos online, took screenshots, and went over what it did differently and what actually worked. I found a way to integrate the political aspects with some modern day events. I even reached out on the AniTAY discord and recruited one TheMamaLuigi in my weird clapback turned informal review who was kind enough to look it over and provide feedback, leading to the end result published here.
And guess what? You kept reading my stuff! I kept experimenting with my anisong write ups and did the 60 day write up for TAY for almost two months straight. I praised Forza’s fancy Lego car and the two Bowsers sharing the same workplace. And yes, I called some things out, whether it was modern day anime games or a gaming website with some very terrible hot takes of their own. But above all, I kept up on the anime side of things with everyone here by writing about the things I was passionate about; the stuff you won’t find anywhere else. Sometimes that meant venturing into some very dark places, whether it was coming to terms with an abusive parent or just pure, unfiltered insanity with the group of writers crazy enough to pull me into this.
Which leads me back to Radiant. Since the year (and decade) is coming to an end, I might as well tell you what you’ve been missing out on while you were asleep. After watching the episode covered below and looking at some of your own inspiring stories here on AniTAY, I remembered why I took up the pen in the first place: I wanted to reach out to people. To let go and live in the present. To be the light that follows the darkness.
Because you saved me.
So as I end this story and start the actual article, I look back at the series that inspired me and started my AniTAY journey. Let me tell you why I believe Radiant is one of the best anime of the year.
Set in a world where a portion of its population is “infected,” 2018’s Radiant presented a unique premise for our magically enhanced cast of sorcerers. By placing them as the minority group while presenting their abilities as a double-edge sword, their predicament is characterized as the source of harm as much help to themselves and those around them.
With a new setting, an expanded cast, and the personal stakes raised higher, season 2 of Radiant started things off in a big way this year. Between the introduction to the world of the Sorcerer Knights and the unseen forces quietly influencing events, the world expands further with an emotionally driven character arc that tests Seth and his companions in unexpected ways.
Last time, I took a closer look at Mélie’s own journey as her past and present burdens resurface when Seth finds her again. After befriending an aspiring sorcerer knight named Ocoho, he gets caught up at the center of a dark conspiracy when he stumbles upon a secret beneath the castle. This latest episode sees several characters finally cross paths as bonds are tested when a life is hanging in the balance. In this follow up piece, we reach the conclusion of the current chapter as the story hits another emotional turning point and the series begins to transition into its next cour. Before ending my coverage of this storyline, I’ll share some final thoughts about the series as a whole, how it relates to shonen in general, and where the main party stands in the aftermath.
The real magic to Radiant’s formula has always been its portrayal of morality; presenting situations or challenges that define our heroes (and occasionally, villains) through their actions. Caught in the middle of a personal dilemma, Seth and Mélie are left in a state of disarray as the series asks them to consider their responsibilities in relation to their curses and how to continue to move forward in spite of their circumstances.
In the current season of Radiant, Seth finds himself in an unfamiliar land, lost in thoughts between his goal, his companions, and the dark power dwelling inside of him. What began as a quest to eliminate the source of the nemesis and end the discrimination between humans and sorcerers becomes a closer examination of the main characters as they struggle with their individual curses, personal fears, and insecurities.
***Spoilers for Season 2, Episode 6 -7 Start Here***
After failing to reconcile with Mélie, Seth resumes his original objective with the aid of Ocoho, in exchange for training her. When his research comes up empty, he decides to take matters into his own hands and sneak into the castle archives. Upon locating a secret passage leading underground, he is caught in a trap when a projection spell is cast above him, recreating the “spectral nemesis” that the knights fought previously. Completely exposed and unable to move at the risk of collateral damage, the creature encased with him stabs him from behind, secreting a fatal poison.
Elsewhere, Mélie has joined the knights in training when an alarm is signaled that a new spectral nemesis has appeared. With Ocoho leading them into battle, they both realize something is wrong when one of the nemesis bares a close resemblance to a familiar face:
Barely retaining consciousness, Seth makes a last ditch effort to get the nemesis to attack him and knock him out of the projection spell’s range while his friends out in the field attempt to stop the knights from attacking, unaware of his current predicament. He manages to escape the spell’s circle, but the poison begins to spread as his captors watch and discuss their next course of action.
On the brink of death, Seth finds himself in the same spiritual realm when he lost control. His life flashes back before him, recalling all of the events that led him to this exact moment in time. Filled with lingering regrets, the black orb hovering in front of him begins to take over. With his last few moments of control, he screams for help…
***End of Spoilers***
With two of our leads working on independent goals, their relationship becomes the heart and driving force for the first portion of this arc as events unfold that forces each to confront their personal weaknesses and prioritize what they value most. Following his first awakening towards the climax of the first season, as well his short-lived reunion with Mélie most recently, Radiant begins to explore Seth’s physical and personal demons as he starts to doubt himself and push the people closest to him away.
Even as her curse scared everyone away from her life, Mélie continued to try and reach out to people with the hopes that someone would eventually accept her. As the sorrow of her previous life kept hidden away comes to light in wake of Seth’s departure, her judgment becomes clouded by self-doubt, leaving her to not only question her link to him, but how much her life has actually changed since her traumatic experience in her youth.
While similar titles in the genre go through the same phases, what’s remarkable about the current arc isn’t so much the hero’s unbreakable will or how they overcome the odds with a special move, ability, or some other hidden power. Radiant is ultimately about the choices we make that define our humanity and people who keep us from losing it. In the next episode, we see how our protagonists find theirs.
From the beginning of the series, Seth wanted to change the world and figured he had to carry the burden all on his own. But as the darkness swallows him whole, he recognizes his own powerlessness to contain the demonic beast and subconsciously reaches out. After sustaining multiple injuries and transforming, Seth’s other form is contained when the strange forest dweller Myr appears before him, allowing him to evade his pursuers. As his consciousness fades, his companions also feel their connection to Seth disappear despite being so far away.
Note: This section contains spoilers for Season 2 Episode 8 (Seth in the Forest of Time -Caillte-) While this is mostly self-contained, as it is part of the story and does reference some of the previous episodes, I’m putting this up as a courtesy.
Picking up on Seth’s earlier call for help, Mélie, Ocoho, and Doc regroup near the castle. They follow his trail and realize he has been taken into the Caillte forest; a dangerous place that Ocoho warns most do not return from due to a “powerful disorientation spell” surrounding the area. Without hesitation, Mélie proceeds anyways, accidently pulling Ocoho and Doc along as they try to warn her.
Astonished and confused by their surroundings, they conveniently run into Myr carrying Seth’s unconscious body. He explains to them that he needs to be treated through a special means; an ability that only his wife carries. As they begin to get their bearings together in their strange new environment, they arrive at their destination, completely caught off guard by Myr’s wife, Jill.
After a brief introduction (and a bit of marital scolding/flirting), Jill and Myr reach out to Seth from the Sidh; the alternate plane of existence that Seth was pulled into just before transforming. Keeping the darkness at bay, they explain that they are unable to wake him up without undoing Myr’s magic unless he finds a way to contain it. Back on the surface, Ocoho is the first to recognize the true nature of the forest and the Fantasia surrounding them. She takes her companions hands and starts to focus…
***I’m adding another spoiler tag, as this next scene is too good!***
Do you think this is something you can ever control on your own?
Pulling them all into the Sidh, they arrive just as Seth was ready to accept his fate. Looking around the empty space and sensing an air of awkwardness, it doesn’t take long before the others make their exit, leaving Seth and Mélie in the astral realm. As the pair reflect on the hopelessness of their situations and the dark orb connected to Seth feeds off of his emotions, Mélie breaks through to him:
No. I can’t do that. But, Seth…
You weren’t afraid of my curse. I don’t know why, but you trusted me. You saved me. You made me feel as though my curse wasn’t a curse. You treated it like it was just another part of my personality. I actually started to believe maybe it really was just that.
You and I aren’t the same. That’s why I know that you can do something about it.
Just as Mélie found the one person who could accept her despite her curse, she returns the favor by reaching out in the same way he did for her. The darkness begins to dissipate around Seth as he realizes how she truly felt about him. Admitting he can’t control it, Seth opens up about his fear and struggle to keep the darkness from destroying everything around him…
At least not on his own. With a simple smile and some light banter, Seth is able to reciprocate her kindness, closing the rift that had grown between them in one final, heartfelt exchange:
***End of Spoilers***
I have to commend the amount of time Radiant has spent establishing the leads and building up to this moment. In between the battle focused moments and occasional backstory dropped in from time to time, shonen as a whole doesn’t always get the chance to explore the inner workings of the characters when they are not fighting, training, or moving the plot forward; especially towards the beginning of the series. Season 1’s first half set a lot of the groundwork in building a genuine friendship as the second half entered a much darker chapter with the two supporting each other through it all.
At the start of the series, Seth’s mentor and mother figure Alma imparted one piece of advice before he embarked on his journey: “Don’t become a monster.” Radiant explores this concept figuratively and literally as Seth unintentionally keeps people (and by extension, his friends) at a distance in his failed efforts to contain the beast within. It’s rare for a series to spend a significant amount of time on the “monster” side of the hero, but what I love about the approach here is he doesn’t immediately overcome his issues on his own.
In Radiant, it is only when he recognizes the true value of his friendship to Mélie that he is able to accept her help and maintain his humanity. Even though his power is still far from under control (entering our mandatory training arc), he now has a source of motivation to work on mastering this ability beyond his goals or self-interest. In a similar vein as the leads in The Promised Neverland, Mob Psycho 100 II, and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (to name a few), it’s the selfless act to work on another’s behalf, understand the heart of another, and ensure that no one undergoes the same pain they suffered that Seth grows beyond his original shonen archetype, becoming a compelling protagonist in his own right.
At the heart of this chapter was Mélie and her ability to prioritize what matters most. In spite of everything that went down in their last meeting, she did not hesitate to put herself in the line of fire the moment she recognized Seth was in danger, tossing aside her unresolved feelings and even going so far as to venture into the forest at the risk of not being able to return. In a reversal of roles (and a bit of a twist from conventional shonen), Mélie ends up being the one who saves Seth and pulls him out of his despair, becoming the person in his life that she once longed to meet for herself. It’s an incredible moment that ties the series’ larger themes on becoming human while giving both of its leads a chance to own up to their mistakes and overcome them; deepening their bond further.
I’ve had some interesting discussions about her arc with several folks in relation to the last write up. While not everyone is in agreement about the way Mélie’s arc played out in the early portions of the season (including one person in the Aether household that shall remain anonymous), I firmly believe a lot of this story would not have had the same impact if Radiant had not already invested as much time on this pair throughout the first season. Even coming into this from the manga, the sense of depth and weight to these characters is maintained and even expanded upon from the source material. That line I screen-capped above? I could have sworn it was in the manga, but I was surprised it didn’t exist when I went back to it!
I also want to acknowledge how well Radiant has handled its lead heroine up to this point, ensuring Mélie herself did not fall into the same tropes or pitfalls that seemingly plague the genre, even in the midst of a particularly strong year for shonen and some recent controversy. This season sees her character at her lowest point while still managing to stand on her own without ever being portrayed as a damsel in distress, a love interest, or a goal post to move the main conflict forward. And while Seth ended up being the person who saved her at the start of the series (and yes, he promises her to tame his power here), it’s their mutual concern for one another and ability to recognize their differences that makes their friendship a genuine one.
Speaking of lead heroines, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Ocoho at this point. With the main story still in progress, I’ve purposely left a lot of details and new characters out of these articles for the sake of brevity (and save some thoughts should I revisit it in the future), but her introduction in Radiant adds another point of interest in this chapter. Serving as our main guide to the world of the Sorcerer Knights, she quickly finds herself at the intersection of Seth and Mélie’s reunion when they venture into the forest in search of the former. Dauntless, high spirited, and recognizable for this, it’s no surprise she has quickly become a fan favorite in such a short period of time. One can only wonder what fate has in store as Ocoho’s loyalties and faith in the knights are challenged further, but as we’ve seen with previous character arcs, it may involve a bit of personal loss in order to protect what’s most important.
I can’t stress enough how well Radiant handled this arc. Over the course of this story, it never places complete blame on one party or makes light of the situation for the sake of a joke at the expense of either character. Nearly filling the entire second part of the episode, our leads are given some much needed one-on-one time to actually talk out their issues, with most of the cast in the room quickly catching onto their predicament. Even without full knowledge of their circumstances or what had transpired between them earlier, it was a great moment of relief with some hilarity to break the tension as they read the room, closing two difficult character arcs on a final, warm scene.
Words can never truly express the range of emotions I felt as our protagonists regained what was once lost, but Radiant lives up to its namesake by delivering not only one of the most heartwarming moments of the series, but one of the best episodes this year. “Seth in the Forest of Time” is an inspiring episode that challenges our heroes’ perceptions and forces them to look inward as they navigate the complexities of their situations, relationships, and trust in one another.
Shonen (and anime in general) has come a long way in the last decade, but when I look back at what I remember most, it wasn’t so much the epic battles and insane superpowers, the intense comebacks after getting knocked down more than once,
what was underneath Eren’s basement, or even the laughs and tears shed along the way that endear so many to the genre. Rather, it’s the ability to be able to extend a helping hand, to do the right thing in the face of adversity, and to protect what matters most in life that we draw inspiration from these characters and their stories.
Right as I was about to publish this, I found a specific scene around the halfway point of the season (Episode 11 for reference) that captures a lot of what motivated me to continue my coverage of this series and why I feel Radiant stands among some of the best shonen this year. I’ll try to keep this as vague as possible to avoid spoilers and encourage you to watch further, but as Seth begins to sink into despair while trying to overcome his inner darkness, he reflects back at his past memories, with one character (who isn’t referenced or pictured anywhere in this article) serving as a reminder that change can happen to anyone at any time. And when he finally arrives at an answer, something else is waiting for him back among the living; a chance to build something new for the future.
Radiant is all those things. It’s about how we choose to live our lives and how our actions reflect what it means “to become human.” But above all else…
It’s a story about the people who help us from losing our way.
To my fellow writers in TAY, AniTAY, and the readers who indulged me, thank you my friends, for encouraging me to find my voice.
All screenshots and media taken from Funimation and Crunchyroll.
Dark Aether is a writer/contributor for TAY and AniTAY. You can follow him on Twitter @UndeadAether.