Faraway Paladin: A Case Study in Adaptation


What is a Faraway Paladin?

The Faraway Paladin, or 最果てのパラディン (Saihate no Paladin), is a fantasy isekai story written by Kanata Yanagino. It was originally published on 小説家になろう (Shosetsuka ni Naro) which translates roughly to 'Become A Novelist'. Shosetsuka ni Naro is a website where users can self-publish their writing for free. While several other Shosetsuka ni Naro authors have gone on to have their work published traditionally, this was not Yanagino's intention with The Faraway Paladin. Yanagino stated in an interview that The Faraway Paladin was written as practice. The goal was simply to write 100,000 Japanese characters without throwing the whole thing away. The success took Yanagino by surprise. 

The response to The Faraway Paladin from users of Shosetsuka ni Naro was very positive. This lead to the series being picked up by its Japanese publisher Overlap under their "Overlap Bunko" imprint. Overlap Bunko has since published 4-volumes (which is a bit confusing because there are 5-books. 1, 2, 3, 3.5, and 4). The series was successful enough that Overlap began a serialized manga adaptation on their Comic Gardo website in 2017, with art by Mutsumi Okuhashi. 

In 2021, an anime adaptation by Children's Playground Entertainment was announced. It ran for 12 episodes with a second season confirmed to be on the way. The anime was then licensed by Crunchyroll, and that is where I would first encounter the story of a boy raised by three undead to be the best darn paladin the world has ever seen. 

The Story

Before I discuss the various incarnations of this isekai, I'm going to summarize the basic story up to a certain point. This summary will cover the first volume of the light novel, the first fourteen chapters of the manga, and the first five episodes of the anime. If you are concerned about spoilers, bookmark this blog and come back when you've gotten that far in your medium of choice. If you're familiar with the story, skip to the next heading. 

It is your standard isekai set-up. A man who became a shut-in and never properly lived has died and been reincarnated into a world based on western fantasy novels. Before he can form his first words in his new body, he realizes that he has retained the memories of his previous life. He views this as forgiveness, respite, a second chance to do things right this time. He also very quickly realizes that in place of a mother and father, he is being raised by 3 undead monsters. 

Fortunately for our hero, whom the monsters have named William, they are not monsters but rather heroes who have fallen under some sort of mysterious curse. They promise that one day they will tell Will everything, but he must wait until he is older. Will's surrogate mother is Mary, the mummy, she is a desiccated corpse who used to be a priest of the goddess of fertility and harvest. His surrogate father is a 2-meter tall skeleton named Blood. Blood was a legendary warrior who's raw strength and combat prowess single handedly won several battles. Finally, acting as a grandfather figure, is the ghostly wizard named Gus who is as miserly as he is well-versed in the magical arts. Which is saying something. 

The three train will in their respective disciplines. Mary teaches Will how to raise food, take care of a home, pray, and all of the other little lessons on how to be a person that most of us take for granted. Blood teaches Will how to hunt and fight. Gus instructs Will in all matters of academia and magic. 

Despite appearances they are a loving family for which Will is immensely grateful. Will's memories of his past, and the pain he caused for his family are always with him, motivating him to be the best person he can be for his new family. When Will is young, he learns that Gus was initially against raising Will. Blood quickly attempts to redirect this conversation but the mystery remains. 

In addition to the mystery of how his family came to be undead, there is the mystery of how Will himself came to be in this place. Will hunts for meat with Blood. He tends a small vegetable garden with Mary. But somehow there is always bread on the table. Will has never seen another living human who could possibly be delivering bread. They certainly do not have the ingredients to make bread. Will notices that Mary always disappears for a few hours each day to pray. She insists that Will never spy or interrupt her, but one day Will sneaks in. He sees Mary praying, wreathed in flames that are clearly hurting her. Will runs to her aid and attempts to pull her out of the flame, burning himself in the process. It turns out that Mary can still pray to her god for bread, but since becoming an undead, she is punished for doing so. 

Mary apologizes to Will, begging his forgiveness. Will is understanding, though. He knows they told him not to spy for a reason, but he wishes they would be more honest with him. Blood scolds Will, telling Will that he will reveal everything when the time is right. Blood also applauds Will's courage, and his willingness to sacrifice himself to save Mary. 

A few years later, Will is taken by Blood into an underground labyrinth filled with undead. He must find his way out on his own as a form of combat training. Will does very well, acquiring a magical spear in the process. Before he can get out, he is attacked by Gus. Initially Will is expecting that this is another training exercise, but it quickly becomes apparent that Gus's spells are intended to kill. Will knows that his only chance to survive is to kill Gus. The magical spear that he found could do the job. But Will can't do it. He throws down his weapons and tells Gus that if Gus needs to kill him there must be a good reason. Will would rather die than hurt Gus. 

Gus attempts to laugh things off saying that he must have gone too hard on Will. Gus pretends this was a test, but Will knows better. Gus changed his mind, but for some reason Gus had wanted Will dead. 

In the final months before Will's official coming of age ceremony Gus tells Will that Blood will challenge Will to a real combat scenario. Not to the death, but a real proper fight. Gus asks Will to please lose that fight in a way that Blood won't know. Gus will not tell Will why he is making this request, and Will refuses. 

When the night of Will's ceremony arrives he has the fight with Blood. It is a struggle, and Will almost wins, but Blood has one more trick up his sleeve that beats Will at the last second. All the same, Blood is overcome with pride and he gifts will a magical sword. This sword will heal the user every time the user cuts into a living thing. It was the favored sword of a demon king who Blood, Mary, and Gus gave up everything to defeat. 

This demon lord could create demons from his blood and discarded flesh. Every time he was hurt his army grew. This combined with the sword meant that he was nearly impossible to kill. Still they tried, and they got very close, but at the last moment all they could do was seal him away. This left Blood, Gus, and Mary beaten and bloodied with an army of demons ready to kill them. Then those demons would continue wreaking havoc across the continent. At that moment the God of Undeath came down to the three and offered them a deal. 

Mary, Blood, and Gus become undead. He will allow them to stay on and guard the seal, and when they are done with that he will claim them for his army. He will also wipe out the demon horde. The three hardly had a choice. No sooner is Blood finished telling the story than the voice of the God cries out that he has returned. 

Mary and Blood have been freed of their attachment to this world. By raising Will to be everything they were and more they are now able to be claimed by the God. This is what Gus had always feared. This was why Gus was against raising Will, and why Gus tried to kill Will. Will freezes, but Gus is there casting spells like Will has never seen. He tells Will to take Blood and Mary and run. By sheer force of magic Gus destroys the God's earthly form. It all seems to good to be true. 

That's when Gus takes a fist through his ghost chest. In true anime fashion, this boss has a second phase. The God split his earthly form into two, as you do. This second incarnation makes short work of Gus, Blood, and Mary. He offers will a chance to join him. He gives will 24-hours to think about it. 

Will decides that he is going to protect his family. He isn't going to take this God's offer. He's going to fight. And fight he does. Will impresses the God, and is given one final chance to join. Will cuts off the hand that the God extends to him. But the God forces his blood into Will and Will's life begins to fade. 

Will opens his eyes and see's a sky filled with stars. He realizes that each star is a world. Flowing between the worlds are souls, on their way to be reborn. A figure approaches Will. He immediately recognizes this figure as Gracefeel, the God of the Flame, Keeper of the Cycle of Death and Rebirth. He remembers being here. How could he have forgotten?

Gracefeel demands to know why Will refused the offer to become an immortal undead. Will explains that an eternal life without growth, or risk, or loss was what he had before when he was a shut in. Life couldn't hurt him if he never left his room, but he also couldn't live. He'd had enough of that. 

Will understands Gracefeel's mission to prevent the stagnation of souls and life. He pledges to become her champion. He'll defend the cycle. He'll have compassion for all things. He will prevent stagnation. Imbued with Gracefeel's divine blessing, having become a Paladin in the service of samsara, Will defeats the God. 

Blood and Mary are allowed to re-enter the cycle. Gus remains behind to guard the seal. He gives Will his most treasured possession, a sack full of money. Will sets off on his journey to become The Faraway Paladin (still not sure what they mean by that). 

Now that you have the whole story I would like to examine how each adaptation handles this. What is done well, what could have been done better, and then finally which medium to I think is best for consuming The Faraway Paladin. 

Inner Monolog: The Animation

As longtime listeners of the podcast will know, Brad keeps up with multiple hundreds of manga series and the vast majority of them are isekai. As a result, it was virtually impossible that The Faraway Paladin would not have been on his radar. As long time listeners will also know, Brad is always very pleased when (despite it being a statistical inevitability) one of the manga he reads gets an anime adaptation. He thought that this anime might be a good candidate for the club as it was an isekai, but it wasn't your typical fantasy where a loser who has never touched grass in his life is hit by a bus and rewarded with godly powers and scantily clad women. 

Brad was correct. I enjoyed The Faraway Paladin. I found the story to be interesting. I thought it was a good use of the isekai set up. I love any magic system that makes use of words of power. 

That said, we did not continue to watch it at anime club. My first question after seeing the anime was: "Is this based on a novel?" Brad had been familiar with the manga, but we did some quick googling and it turned out that, yes, this was based on a light novel. The reason that this was my first question is because the anime began to remind me (as most things do, to be fair) of the 1984 David Lynch adaptation of Dune. 

No not the worm riding part.

Dune, for the uninitiated, is a dense book. Before deciding he was going to write a science fiction novel so long it had to be published by a company that specialized in repair manuals, Frank Herbert was a journalist and a speech writer. He hadn't learned any fancy prose, or "show don't tell." He just had his characters think in long monologs about their motivation, feelings, plans, and any necessary back story a listener to their thoughts might need for context. All of this renders Dune into a very tricky book to adapt. The Dune 1984 adaptation solved this by not solving it. They just used voice over to have the actors verbally communicate all the information that they should have been, well, acting.

The Faraway Paladin had vibes of an adaptation from a similar book. Certain scenes were written in a way that you could only understand what was going on if you were inside young William's brain. 

In fairness, this wall of text is from the book. But the actual scene isn't MUCH shorter.

These long internal monologs are communicated to the audience via voice over, but because this is a cartoon and all of the dialog is voice over, a decision was made to communicate that this was internal monologue by adding a tinny reverb affect to the already high pitched voice actor. As a producer of podcasts, audiobooks, and really just a person with ears, I can confirm that this is the last effect I would like placed on a large piece of exposition. Granted, I watched with subtitles, but at that point why not just read the book?

The anime does have a few things going for it. Other versions of The Faraway Paladin story lack a certain professional polish. The light novel would benefit strongly from better editing and better research. Editing takes money and research takes time. For an author who expects to make no money from his project, I can understand why these corners were cut. The manga is drawn by an artist who, while competent, drops the ball often. For example, many manga artists have assistants who do backgrounds, textures, etc. Instead of hiring assistants, those things just don't exist in The Faraway Paladin manga unless it is a rare full page illustration. 

The anime, on the other hand, while the CGI is not always well blended and while the animation itself will not be winning any awards, looks professionally done. My complaints about the voice acting mostly end with the inner monologue editing. All of the voice actors give good performances (I'm referring to the original Japanese, I've never seen the English dub if there is one), I think the choice of voice for William was a bit strange, but it does convey his innocence and kind heart. The soundtrack and opening/ending themes are not bangers, but are perfectly OK. 

Comic Gardo

Comic Gardo is Overlap's manga magazine. They also publish the graphic novels of the manga in their magazine. I wasn't able to find many details about how Mutsumi Okubashi came to work on the The Faraway Paladin, but I'm guessing that Yanagino didn't have much to do with it. The novel was initially published in 2015. Overlap Bunko acquired the publishing rights in 2016 and then the manga was out by 2017. 

Comic Gardo seems to feature a lot of comics that look like they were based on light novels. My guess is that editor's at Comic Gardo tasked Okubashi with drawing the manga adaptation of The Faraway Paladin. Manga artists are notoriously overworked and underpaid, but I'm guessing again that even by the standards of the industry The Faraway Paladin manga was produced on the cheap. 

Prior to working on The Faraway Paladin I can find one other professional credit for Okubashi: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash (灰と幻想のグリムガル, Hai to Gensō no Gurimugaru). This was published in Gangan Joker, Square Enix's manga publication. This was another light novel adaptation and the light novel was published by Overlap Bunko. It seems like Okubashi was relatively new to the industry at the time he got The Faraway Paladin. It's also worth noting that Okubashi did not design the look and feel of The Faraway Paladin. The character design was done with the publication of the light novel by Kususaga Rin. 

As far as I can tell Okubashi, perhaps with input from Yanagino, transformed the light novel into a manga script (which is no small task) and then built upon Rin's designs which were more traditional illustrations. Further, as I mentioned above, I suspect Okubashi had to do this without assistants. I'm going to great lengths to highlight the conditions that Mutsumi Okubashi was probably working under because, unfortunately, it shows in the manga. 


Draw something!


I have a simple test for whether or not there is too much white space on a comic book page. Does it take me more than 30-seconds to photoshop a Dairy Queen into the background of a dramatic moment? If no, you have too much white space.

Too much white space...

It is not that Okubashi cannot render a background. It's that these things take time and are a literal corner that can be cut when pressed. 

See how much this does for the frame? I don't even care that the sky looks like a light bright

Now that we have that out of the way. Let's talk about what the manga gets right, and that is pacing. I wish I knew who was responsible for the lion's share of the script work on The Faraway Paladin manga, because the anime could have learned a thing or two from this. The first thing I noticed upon reading the light novel was that the anime adaptation was very faithful to the source material. Perhaps too faithful to the source material. 

The manga makes a very good decision to have the opening chapter be a conversation between Will and Gus during Will's childhood. We're thrust right in to a visually interesting situation as opposed to a standard isekai diatribe about how "I died and woke up here." The manga does go back and tell the story of Will's infant and toddler years, but even then manages to keep it visually interesting. 


Despite preferring the art of the anime in most scenes (because the scenes are ALL fully rendered in the anime), when the manga goes for it, it hits the mark. If it could be this consistently good then I might prefer it to the light novel. Unfortunately, it is wildly inconsistent. Too often important moments look like this:


And incase you were wondering...


The Book Was Better

First since I'm harping on the art, I have to point out that Kususaga Rin's illustrations are actually gorgeous. I wish the book had all of them in color. 



Illustration aside, the book is my preferred way to consume The Faraway Paladin. Yanagino's writing is not mind blowing. This certainly reads like an interesting idea for a D&D campaign more than it does a great work of fantasy literature, but having some experience with books I can confirm that most fantasy books read that way these days. I have seen complaints that the story is too slow, that it drags too much in certain places. I disagree. 

Many books tread narrative water and overindulge in their character moments or magic systems, but The Faraway Paladin is not one of them. The Faraway Paladin is the rare isekai story that does not blame being born into the wrong world for the character's problems. Yanagino's story is very much a story of a man versus himself. It is important that you understand what is going on in William's head. This is a story where a hikkikomori is reborn into another world and gets awesome powers and becomes a hero, but that is also very much not the point. 

The emotional core of the story is William's choice to live. It needs to establish that William appreciates his second chance. It needs to establish that he is not just taking care of Blood, Mary, and Gus because they are his family, but as penance for the family he failed to take care of. You need to know what he is risking when he chooses to surrender himself to Gus in the labyrinth. He is willing to throw away his golden isekai moment. He may not get another. But he would do that for Gus. 

Ultimately you need to know that, while he does become a paladin of the ridiculously named Gracefeel, he is actually becoming a paladin of his own ideals. William has found the beauty in life and in death. In all of the adaptations, Gus tells William a creation myth. The creation myth is a play on Genesis. It goes like this:

God created the heavens and the earth. Indeed when he said 'let there be earth' the heavens appeared. Because when you create something you create it's opposite. One cannot exist without the other. When God observed this and said "it is good," God inadvertently created good and evil. An entire pantheon of gods, both good and evil, or rather, gods of opposing ideals is formed. The Creator is torn apart by his creations, and having died he created life. 

The manga wisely chooses to open on this scene. It knows that this scene is the thesis statement of The Faraway Paladin. If we want the good then we must accept the bad. Only by embracing this reality is Will able to properly earn his second chance. When the God of Undeath, who is aptly (if bluntly) named Stagnate, offers Will the chance at immortality and an eternity with his beloved family, Will turns him down without a second thought. Will has internalized the lesson that Stagnate's ideal is truly one of stagnation. Without death, destruction, and loss there can be no life, creation, and growth. 

Light novels have their limitations. I'm not going to say that this book blew my mind. I've encountered these themes in other places, and they've been handled with more maturity and nuance. What I am going to say, though, is that this is smarter than it needs to be. While these themes are present in each version of The Faraway Paladin, I feel that they are made most explicit and are most explored in the book.

I'm not going to sit here and say that every line is gold and there's nothing I would cut. There are things I would cut. There are many revisions I would make, but was I ever tempted to put the book down and not come back to it? No. I read this book in 6-hours and I do not read particularly fast. It is written at about an 8th grade reading level. It is 255-pages long and some of them are illustrated. If it isn't your thing, that's fine, but I don't think the issue is pacing. I think the issue is that you're looking for a different kind of book. 

I have not read many light novels. As my first exposure to light novels, I found this to be pretty impressive. I think this format has the potential to absolutely dominate the YA market. But, if you'll pardon the pun, I wonder if I've let the novelty of the light novel get to me. Is the book really the best way to get the story? 

最果てのランキング

My personal ranking of The Faraway Paladin formats would be.
1. Light Novel
2. Anime
3. Manga

For me, the lackluster art of the manga really overrides anything else that the adaptation has going for it. Despite the many gripes I have with the anime, I think the professional work of a studio is more enjoyable to watch. Obviously, I prefer the book, but I am blessed with the ability to spend a lot of time sitting around doing long boring activities. Reading a bunch of stuff and writing WAY too much about it, for example. 

With that said, I don't think that there's any format that you absolutely shouldn't check out. I know that reading is a tough sell for some people for a lot of good reasons. If you're going to check out the manga, I do not recommend the fan translations. This will not surprise listeners of the podcast, but if you're interested in the story or the lore of the world then the details of the translations matter. There is a lot the fan translations get wrong that is not inconsequential. The manga and light novel are both available in English from J-Novel Club. Please check it out there.

Random Stuff

Haitus

The Faraway Paladin is not finished, but not a lot of work seems to have been done on it since 2017. It seems that Kanata Yanagino has taken some time off. I didn't troll their social media extensively, but their twitter bio makes mention that they're suffering from "adjustment disorder", which I take to mean they are struggling with the overnight success. As a sufferer of anxiety myself, I can understand this little thing your wrote as practice blowing up into an international IP being pretty stressful. I hope they get back to writing soon, but don't be weird about it if they don't. 

Kususaga Rin

While researching this I was trying to find more about Kususaga Rin, the person who does the illustrations for the light novels. I found 2 notable pieces of information. The first is that they have a pretty solid body of work illustrating similar projects. The second is that their twitter account was suspended, so, take that for what you will. I have no idea what happened there and I don't really care. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Dense Female Lead Syndrome (DFLS)

Reviewstravaganza!

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba Manga Spoiler Review