In the world of Radiant, demons known as the Nemesis fall from the sky and begin wreaking havoc and infecting its inhabitants. Those that survive are cursed, the nature of their infection varying from person to person. A few are capable of wielding magic called Fantasia and are known as sorcerers.
One of the latest entries into the already crowded shonen genre, Radiant carries many of the same marks of its contemporaries: a young naive protagonist, action and over-the-top powers, and a seemingly impossible goal or mission. Overtime, it manages to find its own unique approach to the shonen formula that is not apparent at first glance.
In a unique twist from conventional shonen, the humans with powers are the minority. In Radiant, while the sorcerers are the only ones who are capable of fighting the Nemesis, they are discriminated against by the general public and even hunted down by the Inquisition (Radiant’s take of a military/police force). By the time our main trio of Seth, Mélie, and Doc reach Rumble Town for their first big job, we get our first real introduction of the world and the larger powers at play.
Radiant’s first half of its first season is mostly spent introducing the cast and world (along with some filler), but its second half is where the story begins to transition into its first major conflict, ending on a rather interesting note. Today, I will be discussing the first major arc in its entirety, share my thoughts on some of the key elements highlighted, and end with my review of the entire first season.
***WARNING: Spoilers below for season 1***
Even Magic Can’t Combat Hate
What originally started off as a job to hunt some Nemesis down turns into a much larger conflict as it is quickly revealed the local Inquisitors are not only aware of the large number of Nemesis inhabiting the city, but are covering up and silencing witnesses as part of a much larger plot being orchestrated by the man in charge:
At this point, Radiant introduces its first antagonist: Konrad de Marbourg, a captain of the Inquisition in charge of Rumble Town. Making his intentions clear from the start, he fans the flames of the people’s fear of sorcerers and the immigrant population by placing the blame of the increase in Nemesis attacks on them, citing an incident that occurred several years earlier.
Not the most developed villain, his irrational hatred of immigrants and incitement of the public to take up arms is the first major act that sets the stage. In an interview with Anime News Network, creator Tony Valente discusses the real world inspirations for approaching the topic of discrimination, citing his own personal experiences growing up in France.
“Every time in history, you have people who are perfect scapegoats. Obviously, in this time it’s people who are fleeing their own countries because of war. In order to find a normal life, they leave, but no one wants them, which makes them an easy target. The idea is that they also bring bad things with them, and in France it’s the same. I grew up in an area where everyone was a part of this. My friends and my family came from other countries. Even though I grew up in France, my father is from Portugal. At the time my grandfather came to France, it was a hard in Portugal, because there was a dictatorship. Everyone wants to leave a bad situation.”
There is a certain hesitation in mainstream entertainment (video games, movies, TV, etc.) to “own their politics” whenever a product appears to be taking a stance on a real world issue or contains even a sliver of political commentary. Intentional or not, these real world influences invite additional conversations about our media and remind us that nothing exists in a vacuum. All art is subjective and influenced by our ideas, biases, and experiences.
For the few that are clear in their message, they challenge us to look at social issues through a familiar medium and expose a larger audience who may be looking in for the first time. In Radiant, it is hard not to think about some of the real world events happening as a result of extremism. At times, it can hit a little too close to home. While the show is not subtle about its themes (the guy literally calls himself “the wall of Rumble Town”), it is one of the few times a recent anime is unafraid to address the topic meaningfully.
A Tale of Two Sorcerers
If Konrad was intentionally set up as a one-note villain, it is only because Radiant had a much more interesting character hiding in the shadows. After a surprise encounter with a bandaged covered sorcerer calling himself Grimm, the group becomes aware that a single individual called a Dormitor is controlling the Nemesis. During the battle with Konrad, the Dormitor makes a grand entrance at the top of the clock tower. She reveals herself as Hameline, a girl who was once an imprisoned sorcerer held under custody by the Inquisition of Rumble Town for being infected. Despite their persecution of the sorcerers, the Inquisition intended to use them as a defense force against any Nemesis invasions.
In a flashback that took place years prior, a young Konrad intentionally led the infected children to “escape” their prison cell, only to find a trap waiting for them. The townsfolk murdered the other children, leaving Hameline as the sole survivor. Sometime later, during a Nemesis attack, Konrad enacts the second part of his plan to kill the current Inquisitor captain and the last remaining obstacle standing in his way of wiping out the town’s immigrant and sorcerer population. Hameline escapes and awakens her Dormitor power to control the invading Nemesis, finding both a family and purpose. To that end, she temporarily aligns with Konrad with the intent of betraying him and destroying everything.
Back in the present day, things take a dramatic turn when Seth and company intervene, eventually culminating into a climatic showdown between Seth and Hameline. A battle ensues, trading blows but also beliefs.
To fully grasp the magnitude of what happens next, we need to take a short detour towards the beginning of the series. It’s no secret that Radiant pays a lot of homage to shonen with the author clearly a fan himself. Eager to become a full fledged sorcerer, Seth starts off as a stubborn and reckless boy that puts his hopes of ending all discrimination by finding Radiant; the fabled source of all Nemesis. I’ll go into more detail about Seth’s character arc further down as it relates to the story, but back to the clock tower fight, he does something completely off script.
He stops fighting.
Hameline: “In all this time you’ve spent just enduring it, have the people’s attitudes changed? Have they accepted us? Have they given you a reason not to fight the Nemesis?”
Having been almost burned at the stake as a child, Seth fully understands the pain of being mistreated for being different, acknowledging his own anger at the world. He sees what Hameline was trying to accomplish and what led her down that path – a path he could have easily followed with his immense power had he not had support in his mentor, Alma. But in the end, he refuses to cross that line and lose his humanity.
It is a pivotal moment for the series that breaks a lot of what has come to define the genre and highlights something of a transitional shift. Now that many of the biggest shonen series have ended their runs or are close to wrapping up, we live in an odd era where several newcomers are eager to make a name for themselves. Too often, shonen villains are used as one stop detours to move the plot along or serve as a “final boss” to motivate the hero to action; an irony not lost on Radiant with Konrad. And while Seth overthrows him in combat, he meets his perfect foil in Hameline and, for the first time since the series started, challenges him beyond his fighting ability.
Change the World
With her guard lowered, Seth quickly takes advantage and ends the fight. However, he refuses to deliver the finishing blow or give her up to the Inquisition. But a much bigger problem arrives when the Inquisition’s Thaumaturges arrive on the scene to arrest them.
Pushed into a corner, Hameline realizes there is only one way out of this. She launches a surprise attack to buy Seth and his companions time to escape.
***I think I need to add another spoiler tag here, as this next scene is just too real. You’ve been warned!***
You may have noticed I’ve been using mostly subbed clips up excluding the first clip up until this point. Regular readers will know I tend to gravitate towards dubs as my preference, but Crunchyroll has a whole playlist with the exact footage I wanted to reference for this article. I try to link to both if possible, but usually it is a matter of what is available. As it just so happens, Funimation posted the exact moment I wanted to highlight above, but I will also share the subbed link here.
I have to give credit here to the voice actors who play Seth (Yumiri Hanamori and Christopher Llewyn Ramirez) and Hameline (Yumi Uchiyama and Trina Nishimura) who bring their respective characters to life throughout this episode in what is one of the most difficult moments in the entire season. Words fail to do this scene justice, so I’ll just let the clips speak for themselves.
When Hameline tosses the scroll containing her Nemesis brothers to Seth and draws her final breath with Seth looking on in despair as her lifeless body hits the ground, Radiant completely shifts course and shatters expectations of what comes next as the series inches closer to the finale.
And to further emphasize the moment.....
The World That You Changed
One of Radiant’s biggest criticisms is how closely it follows the standard shonen setup before it truly begins to show promise. Earlier, I briefly touched upon how Seth embodies a lot of the same character traits found in other shonen stories. In truth, he starts off quite unlikable (the anime tones down this aspect a bit) and is more likely to resolve problems with brute force.
Radiant pushes back on this and allows Seth to grow, notably during Seth’s battle with Hameline as he attempts to convince her that this can all end with Konrad’s downfall until she criticizes him, pointing out that the town is just as complicit. Even with Konrad removed, the citizens who were more than eager to murder all of the immigrants and sorcerers a minute ago are quick to forget they were almost collateral damage for Konrad’s twisted crusade by the time the Thaumaturges arrive.
Seth goes through quite the transformation, both literal and figuratively as he unleashes an unknown power and loses all control to avenge Hameline, but is forced down by Grimm and Mélie in order to escape the city once and for all. In the aftermath of battle, and for the first time since the series started, Seth begins to have doubts about his goal and himself. He realizes it’s impossible to change the world overnight or by beating the bad guy.
Further fueling his frustration, the town of Artemis throws a huge celebration in his honor, praising him as the hero who saved Rumble Town. In yet another transformative moment, Seth reprimands the crowd and even assaults one individual who makes light of Hameline’s death.
Though this scene is slightly tweaked from the manga, the message remains intact. Seth isn’t interested in proving he is the strongest or looking for glory; he just wants to protect the people around him and prevent more people from being mistreated or harmed. Hameline’s death is Seth’s first greatest failure and a reminder of how far his goal really is.
Seth needs to find a way to move forward as Alma pays him a surprise visit. Even after everything that has happened, she reminds him his actions had a ripple effect on Rumble Town, saving countless individuals. Although the conclusion ends a little too convenient with the immigrant population and the rest of the town coming together to repair the city and had the side effect of lowering approval for the Inquisition as the news spread, the arc ends on a touching note.
“Aren’t there some people you ought to thank?” asks Alma.
I’ve spent a great deal of time already on Seth’s character growth and Hameline’s change of heart, but that shouldn’t take away from the rest of the cast. On a smaller scale, Seth had a long term impact on the people closest to him, most notably Alma (voiced by Romi Park; Monica Rial) and Mélie (Aoi Yūki; Caitlin Glass). After an emotional farewell at the start of the series, Alma returns at Seth’s lowest point to close the arc and brings the story full circle. Despite having the least amount of screen time after the prologue, her parental guidance forms a lot of the framework for this season, as seen during Seth’s fight with Hameline.
Of course, this reunion is only made possible after Mélie reaches out to her while Seth was unconscious. Throughout the season, Mélie goes through incredible lengths for her new friend, assisting Seth on several occasions and even going so far as to put off healing her own wounds to treat his. Though at times leaning towards comedic, their friendship continues to be one of the highlights of Radiant’s current run as the nature of her split personality and curse/infection remains a mystery.
Over the course of the season, we get a sense of the hostile nature of Radiant’s world as well as some of the ethical issues that plague its inhabitants. Beyond that, season 1 focuses on Seth’s interpersonal struggles and relationships which will likely continue to be a recurring element moving forward.
Some of which may be put to the test even further...
Am I a Monster?
The Rumble Town arc not only left an emotional mark on Seth, but a physical one as his powers begin to manifest and a more dangerous problem begins to plague him.
Following a brief filler to pause the story and give the audience a moment to breathe, Seth begins to have visions of himself hurting those around him. Barely having any time to process these disturbing nightmares, he is given a clue of where his next destination should be to continue the search for Radiant. Though Mélie is more than willing to go along, Doc is less than enthusiastic about entering another dangerous job so soon. He warns Seth that he might be putting Mélie and those around him in more danger as more powerful foes will likely cross his path.
Just as things could not get more complicated, an alarm is raised signaling incoming Nemesis; and one is headed in the direction of Mélie! Without delay, Seth steals a broom and flies off to intercept it. He manages to knock it down, but hesitates to use full power and finish it off; reminded of Hameline’s last words and her sacrifice to save her brothers.
The nemesis quickly takes advantage and overwhelms Seth until he unexpectedly goes berserk and kills it in one fell swoop.
For first time our protagonist (and by extension, the audience) begins to ponder that the nemesis may not be the root of all evil they are portrayed to be as in the case of Hameline’s brothers. Could it be they are just mindless beasts?
Once again, he saves one life, but fails to save another. Shaken by his uncontrollable power, he makes a hard decision.
He thanks Mélie for all that she has done and leaves without warning, unwilling to put his friends in further danger.
I have to admit, I have mixed feelings about this ending. This does somewhat undermine the previous arc’s ending considering all that they went through, despite Seth’s rationale for leaving. However, it shows Radiant’s willingness to experiment and let its characters grow on a personal level. On a different show, this is the kind of setup that usually happens at the midway point or during a time skip, which is pretty remarkable since this is just the first arc!
It is a devastating finale that opens up all sorts of possibilities. This changes the character dynamics and all but guarantees at least some consequences down the road for Seth as he embarks on the next chapter of his journey on his own in what is shaping up to be an exciting new season.
***End of Spoilers***
Radiant’s first season is an uneven ride, but one I believe anyone with even the slightest interest in anime can easily absorb. For shonen fans, it is another strong entry with a promising setup into an established genre and one I can wholeheartedly recommend to anyone who is looking for something new or is already a fan in general. Featuring a colorful art style and well rounded main cast, Radiant sets itself apart with its honest approach to broader real world themes and heavy emphasis on character growth beyond the standard battle shonen template.
To all those who made it this far, thanks for reading or for taking a passive interest if you were on the fence about this series. Until next time, au revoir!