That was an interesting mix of the conventional and the not-so-much.
OP: "Mukaikaze (向かい風; Headwind)" by YOHKO
I don’t think there’s any question that Maoyuu Mao Yuusha goes into the season with extremely high expectations. In a schedule mostly lacking in really interesting new shows (though heavy on good carry-overs from Fall) there’s a lot of pressure on this series to be a “tentpole” anime for Winter. Of course that has no direct bearing on quality one way or the other, any more than popularity does – but given the not inconsiderable praise this property has received from fans of its many incarnations, I had pretty high hopes myself.
The net result is something of a paradox – much like a list of the series produced by Arms, which is an interesting mix of real quality and lowbrow sexploitation. On the one hand, we have a series whose central premise seems to be a debate on something close to Military Keynesianism, a fascinating and difficult topic even for economists (who’re mostly taught to ignore Keynes these days). On the other we have a premiere that’s riddled top to bottom with formula and sexual comedy. We also have what amounts to yet another “round up the usual suspects” cast list, which undercuts the show’s ability to feel like something really fresh and different – for the first episode anyway, when we know the seiyuu intimately but don’t (new viewers anyway) really know the characters.
Maoyuu Mao Yuusha definitely hits the ground running- we’re pretty much dropped into the middle of the plot without a whole lot of preamble. We’re told that a war between humans and demons has been going on for years, causing terrible destruction, and a young human known only as Hero (“Yuusha” – Fukuyama Jun) leaves the party he’s traveling with and goes alone to the Demon King’s castle, determined to assassinate him and end the conflict. To his surprise the demon king is actually a she – Maou (Koshimizu Ami). Red-haired, very bouncy where it counts and sporting a nice pair (of horns) she surprises Yuusha again by proposing to him rather than fighting him, and proceeds to try and convince him that what he thinks he knows he might not know at all. Everyone else in the cast appears only briefly for introductory purposes – the merchant who seems to benefit from the war Kamiya Hiroshi), the Prince who seems to realize it’s wrong (Hirakawa Daisuke), his father (Morikawa Toshiyuki), the young woman (Sawashiro Miyuki) and old man (Ginga Banjou – now there’s a blast from the past) from Hero’s traveling party.
Make no mistake, effectively the entire first ep rests on that encounter between Yuusha and Maou in her castle – and on balance, I’d call it a mixed bag. I like the fact that the series is trying to build itself around a morally and ethically challenging premise – the notion that the human-demon conflict has no moral imperative on either side and is merely being perpetuated for economic reasons - though whether it has the chops to pull it off remains to be seen. I like the lamp she uses to reveal episodes from the past – a very clever and well-executed conceit – and some of her mannerisms are quite funny. But Yuusha behaves pretty much like the generic male lead in any generic anime – flustered and stammering at the sight of breasts, not really contributing anything of interest to the conversation. Ami is also the more interesting seiyuu performance here, a nice mix of energy and snark – Fukuyama is so far at least very much in the barely-contained hysteria mode he can do in his sleep by now. And I also felt that given the circumstances that were presented, Yuusha acquiesced to Maou’s argument rather too quickly.
It’s far too early to come to any conclusions after a premiere as self-contradicting as that one. Is the series going to rely on whether Maou and Yuusha develop any romantic chemistry, or is the politics and economics going to drive the story? I certainly don’t know, but I find myself rather hoping it’s the latter. Humor seems destined to be a major component, and there are some nice moments here (such as Maou removing her horns, and a certain embarrassing moment from her recent past). In terms of the production itself, Arms seem to have delivered at least based on the premiere – it’s handsomely drawn and smoothly animated, with some eye-catching cinematography (such as those lamp scenes) though the character designs are pretty generic. My overall impression though is that the first episode was very, very talky – and if that continues to be the case, it puts an awful lot of pressure on the writing to consistently give the cast interesting things to say. As fits the general impression of the premiere, that’s either potentially very interesting or very problematic, and I’m nowhere near ready to guess which yet.
ED: "Unknown Vision" by Akino Arai