Sunday, January 13, 2013

Maoyuu Maou Yuusha - 02

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I’m definitely still in the undecided camp on this one.


[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_00.18_[2013.01.13_16.06.18]It’s quite admirable to set out to write a story that deals with interesting and difficult social issues, and it seems that Maoyuu Maou Yuusha definitely has that ideal.  It’s quite another to have the chops to actually pull it off, and that’s the part I’m not sure of yet.  I see elements I like a lot in the first two episodes, but there are also some worrying signs, most especially a troubling reliance on the crutch of cliché. 

[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_02.27_[2013.01.13_16.07.56]Of course, even that prompts an argument – because one might contend that those clichés are actually the point.  When you have characters who have no more names than “Hero”, “Demon King” and “Maid”, it could be said that their being archetypes is their very reason to exist in the story.  That may or may not be true, but for my money they still have to be interesting as characters for the series to work.  It can be said that it’s an interesting idea to build a series around tropes, but what different does that make if it isn’t interesting to watch?  It may very well end up being so, but for the first two episodes it was only intermittently so for me, and the characters themselves are a mixed bag when it comes to being people I want to watch interact.  Hero, especially, is still a problem – while there were flickers of individuality and self-awareness this week, they were only flickers – and his courtship with Maou has been so rote that I feel no romantic chemistry between them whatsoever.

[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_03.34_[2013.01.13_16.09.03]Then there’s the social issues that seem to form the heart of the argument for why Maoyuu is going to be a worthwhile series.  In the premiere the idea of war for economic gain – call it Military Keynesianism of whatever you like – was the focus.  This week we get a dig into the notion of serfdom and whether it’s any different from slavery, the ugliness of “Noblesse Oblige”, and a lecture on crop-rotation.  All fascinating topics to be sure, and there are some nice moments here.  But the tendency has been for the story to stop for a lecture about whatever hot-button issue is on the table, one of the girls to do something moe, and we move on.  These questions don’t seem integrated into the plot to me in any real sense, not yet anyway.

[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_05.16_[2013.01.13_16.10.45]I see two possible traps in the main, and they’re tied into the nature of the series itself.  It’s something of a cross between Spice and Wolf and Sword Art Online to my perception.  With SAO, what you had was an interesting scenario whose downfall was that the writing simply wasn’t good or literate enough to fill it with interesting people or believable conflict.  That was never in question with S & W – it’s two cours were some of the more literate anime of recent vintage and it’s certainly the better show. But to be blunt, there were times I found Spice and Wolf very boring.  Lawrence and Holo were interesting people (and had romantic chemistry out the ying-yang) but for me the story too often degenerated into endless romantic teasing and listening to people saying clever things they knew were clever.  I loved the depiction of realistic life in a pre-industrial economy and I liked the main pair, but the whole never added up to the sum of the parts somehow.Personally I think it was a mistake to have Fukuyama Jun and Koshimizu Ami paired together again in a series so many were already comparing to S & W – it sets up an inevitable expectation that MMY probably doesn’t need (and it doesn’t help that the series share the same director, Takahashi Takeo).  Yuusha especially doesn’t hold up to well to that comparison either, as Lawrence was a much better fit for FukuJun at this point in his career, when he’s much more believable playing adults with a few regrets (see Natsuyuki Rendezvous) than stammering adolescents.  

[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_06.25_[2013.01.13_16.11.54]Be that as it may, the fact is that there was no other series doing what Spice and Wolf was doing, and I don’t see another doing what Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is doing either.  I like having an anime that can raise the question of slavery and then use it to call out the hypocrisy of the humans, who high-mindedly disparage slavery as depraved yet are perfectly comfortable with a system where peasants have effectively no will to decide where and how they live their lives.  I like having an anime where a character like Maid (the wonderful Saitou Chiwa) can lecture serfs who risked their lives to try and be free about their being insects, and get the older of the two (the wonderful Tomatsu Haruka) to beg her to teach her how to be human.  It’s an ugly, difficult moment – and I think it’s intended to be.  But in the same stroke we’re given the younger of the two (Touyama Nao) a character so shamelessly manipulative of the audience that she could have fallen directly out of Kawahara Reki’s pen.

[HorribleSubs]_Maoyuu_Maou_Yuusha_-_02_[720p].mkv_snapshot_07.12_[2013.01.13_16.12.40]Which is it?  That’s the ultimate question with MMY, and I don’t have any idea what the answer is yet.  This is a show that’s full of contradictions, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing it can be indicative of some real issues that are going to be hard to shake.  It’s an interesting mess for me at the moment, but then, SAO was a pretty interesting show for a while too before the true depth of it’s flaws became inescapable and I finally had to give up the ghost.  I certainly had no trouble finishing Spice and Wolf even if I didn’t always love it, and I suspect that MMY is closer to that pole than the other – even more so given who’s directing - but in my heart I hope it can be more than that.  It really all comes down to how good a writer Touno Mamare turns out to be, and how good a job Takahashi-sensei does in packaging his disparate ideas into anime form.

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24 comments:

  1. Very well said, Enzo...a very balanced review. I like the premise of MMY, but something bugged me that I couldn't say it right, so thanks for the review -- you nailed everything that bothered me.

    I have to be honest -- I hated the fanservice in the first episode. Some argued that it was meant to be for Maou to woo Yuusha. C'mom...just be real please. There are millions of ways, and there is something called adequacy. I almost thought that -- if it will go on like that -- the anime is going to destroy a highly regarded manga.

    Thank goodness that the second episode has got better and threw in some interesting new things, but it only scratched the surface and moved on. The characters are okay but not interesting enough. I mean when I compare how Sumire Hanano was introduced and created to Maou and Yuusha, the difference is very obvious. There are many things that made me feel lacking in MMY, but you said it all and well in this review and last.

    I think MMY is still interesting. While it lacks the strength or depth that wows, it's only 2 episodes in. Hope that it won't disappoint like SAO.

    ~Ronbb

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    1. >a highly regarded manga

      The manga is just one interpretation of the LN, same as the anime.

      The LN itself has a very unique format when it comes to LNs. It reads like a play, characters talking to each other with little to no movement.

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  2. I am starting to blog this series myself on another site, and my end judgment (=suspended for now) is similar to yours - I have to say, however, that I couldn't see the Maid scene as a critique at all. For it to be so, we should have gotten more background about Maid and Demon King, and maybe Hero should have voiced out his complaints (that he surely seemed to have) a little louder. I got the feeling that scene was truly and literally just a weird bastard child of Japan's weird work ethic, and that you are being doing some wishful thinking giving it more depth than it is supposed to have. I mean, I tend to do the same myself - and it led me to watch almost half season of Sword Art Online before I openly admitted it was just bad. So yeah. I still hope that this is going to be decent. But I keep my hopes in check.

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    1. I can't say for certain you're wrong, but I had the feeling that scene was intended to present noblesse oblige in all its arrogant ugliness. If I'm giving the author too much credit and that was supposed to be taken at face value, that makes a fairly frightening statement about where the series is coming from morally.

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    2. I guess future will tell. Moesucks' post was rather harsh on this - but then again, they always tend to be. However, the mentality that's behind this series it's still rather puzzling to me. I hope the next episodes will clarify. For now, however, it's not the most exciting watch ever anyway. This episode was fairly boring.

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    3. During Maid Chou's spiel at one point Yuusha goes to interrupt her, but Maou stops him from cutting off Maid Chou's lecture. Only after the whole exchange and Maid Chou acceptance of the runaways does Maou drop her arm. Given Maou's personality I would have to think this lends some credence to the idea that Maid Chou wasn't simply just saying serfs are insects at face value. Maou from the beginning was trying to help out the runaways, so I would have to assume she knew what Maid Chou's scheme was. Otherwise as Enzo says this puts all the talk about helping society progress into a whole different and unsettling perspective.

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  3. For me serfs are an interesting topic because in what way are they different from current jobs at the low or even middle level.

    While you're free to do what you want, in the current economic climate if you don't have a job life will get bad very quickly (unless your rich). Effectively people just have to keep their job, come to work when they're sick since sick days are not paid or paid very little, likely don't enjoy their jobs, get overworked and have to deal with it because its the only way to survive, either because of the money or the benefits.

    Its all nice and pretty to say you have the freedom of choice but in the real world you really don't if you want to continue living. There other choice to look for their dream job or start a business is a grim and uncertain one if there isn't a demand for the job or in the field of the business.

    Right now I'd call the high level business managers and board of directors nobles and the plant workers, drivers, cleaners, etc. serfs. People haven't changed at all, they only changed their wording.

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    1. Well, some things changed in the mentality that lies beyond that. That is, while necessity may still force you to stick to your place, it's not considered your natural state - as in, a consequence of you being intrinsically inferior to those who own the show. It's just bad luck that you found yourself at the bad end of the bargain. It is also acknowledged that if you somehow manage to climb the ladder up you can enjoy a better life. I'm not saying the current system it's all good and fine - just that, at least, it does not try to justify the situation as God's will. Of course, you still have Objectivist pricks who will actually think more or less like the Maid, but that's what they are - pricks. Interestingly, some of your arguments are similar to what Marx said about proletariat - but that was back during the industrial revolution. Now the situation changed yet again. The same categories apply, in a sense, but the mentality that justifies their existence is different.

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    2. No, sorry - rich capitalists and nobles are not serfs. Not even close. Study the history of the phenomenon a little more and you won't make that sort of claim.

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    3. I don't think you read the last part. I said Rich capitalists are nobles and normal people are serfs.

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    4. Fair enough, I did misread that. My apologies.

      That said, I still roundly disagree that the lot of the modern working class are serfs in the "haven't changed at all" (your wording) sense. I'm as aghast as anyone at the way the American political system has been co-opted by corporations that have effectively turned the nation into a one-party oligarchy, but it's the height of conceit for modern middle-class citizens of the industrialized world to claim the same cruel fate as serfs who were, in more practical ways than not, slaves.

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    5. ^ That too. If anyone should complain about being a serf or slave, he's probably going to be from some Third World country, or spending his day in a Chinese sweatshop. We are some sort of aristocracy of the world - just for being born in Europe or USA.

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    6. Working class play a similar economic role in the capitalist system as the serfs did in feudalism (the equilvalent). While certain things like basic freedoms have changed, as they are wont to do with a change in the system being utilised, the overall basic structure hasn’t changed all that much. More moving parts perhaps?

      Sometimes I wonder if big business wouldn't like society to revert to those old ways, corporations being the hierarchical organisations that they are.

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    7. The modern working class aren't really "serfs" in the old way, we do have a lot more rights and freedoms now than anyone back then did. That said, once you get yourself into a position where you have the 2.5 kids, mortgage, car payments etc work starts to LOOK a lot more like indentured servitude whether it technically is or not. The so-called "American Dream" actively encourages people to get themselves into a position where they become all but powerless to change their lives.

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  4. What I like about this series is the way it mirrors some issues we have IRL. As an american citizen I can't help buy draw the comparison of war to boost economy with our own situation. America has always used wars to boost the economy. Thats partically why we seem to always be at war in one country or another.

    Sure we say we do it for world peace and to stamp out global terrorism but the fact is there are whole corporations and industries that survive on our war machine and they employ many people. The unemployment rate would be off the charts if we were not in some other country policing and killing their citizens.

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  5. The education is not bad, even though it makes the Hero a real dumb ass who knows nothing about life.
    But, the romance between him and Maou is bad, really bad. Even worse than than Kirito x Asoona.
    "Please use my lap as pillow!"
    "I am yours, you can do whatever you wish."
    Wait, wait, wait. Wait a damn second here! You guys only know each other yesterday!

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    1. I'm not sure that the portrayal of the relationship between them is as bad as it appears. You have to remember that the modern idea of 'marrying for love' is exactly that .. modern, and certainly was not in the majority in medieval times. Economic marriages were alot more common. That is the type of relationship that I think they are trying to portray, ie two strangers that have made an agreement and now will be together forever.

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    2. exactly right; its an established relationship (a marriage of sorts) that the couple is slowly growing into. Who's to say that their romance wont become developed throughout the series into a substantial love. Right now, i think the audience are just suppose to get the message that the two characters are attracted to each other in a more physical and proximal way, not necessarily romantic. I think people sometimes are too quick to attack certain developments without letting them play out or fully understanding the underlying reason why those developments are presented the way they are. If those developments are not your cup of tea then that's respectable, but hold off on judgements until you have enough information to actively say something is good or bad. I say let the episodes play out more before making a concrete assessment.

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    3. Back in those times it was quite common to marry someone you never met until the day of your wedding. Especially if you were upper class or royalty.

      In the anime Magi a lower birthed (6th, 7th or 8th born) princess is marrying the king of another country and she has never seen him (too bad for her because the guy is a human slug).

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    4. I would agree with Eternia -- that part of the episode rubbed me the wrong way. I agree that there is a need to tell the viewers about the relationship between Maou and Yuusha and it's development, and I agree that it's a relationship in the medieval period, but there are many ways of telling the story.

      I like that they were sitting in front of the fireplace -- it's a calming and romantic setting. The creators could easily build on that and have them talk, hold hands, look into each other's eyes, show expression of admiration...or they could even go further in telling the viewers the relationship between Maou and Yuusha. No, we were given lines like "please use my lap as pillow." This is cheesy in my opinion, and I don't think creators of great animes need to use this kind of dialogue to tell the audience a relationship or its progression...there are many more artful and tasteful ways.

      I don't think Eternia was attacking or having strong judgement against the show but rather pointing out things that are off. MMY is only two episodes in -- we should still have an open mind, but we shouldn't lose our critical eye and go rationalizing the flaws that we see. Of course, we all see flaws differently -- it is subjective. The best is for us to speak up at any time, like what Eternia did.

      ~Ronbb

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    5. Well, I know that arranged marriage is pretty common in old times and medieval times. But do those become lovey dovey in two days?
      NO.
      To my knowlegde, the relationship is more like master-servant relationship, considering women in old times are treated as lower ranked humans.
      No matter what your reasonings, I found Maou x Yuusha's current love relationship illogical and laughable...

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    6. fair enough....i just think that the attraction between maou and yuusha is purely physical and based on the pretense that maou stated that yuusha is hers. The scene that took place this episode wasnt a serious romantic development and just based on the physical attraction the two characters feel for each other based on the roles they have set for each other. At least that's how i saw it. Its been shown that maou has these stereotypes of what couples are meant to do and she was just trying to satiate her own fantasy. I think its fine to be critical so as long as we perceive every angle of a situation first. But to each his/her own; i love hearing others opinions whether they clash with mine or not.

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    7. Does everybody here put such a high priority on romance here? It almost always seems to trump every other aspect of a show it seems.

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  6. My my, I must say, you are really blossoming as a writer Enzo. I always though you were on the upper echelon of episodic bloggers, but as of late, it seems to me that you've really refined your style. Very pleased with this post

    Enough with the ego-stroking, though. You pretty much hit the nail on what my thoughts were about this episode. It's such a mixed bag at the moment, that I don't know what to expect; some parts of this episodes I very much enjoyed, while other parts I absolutely despised (namely the attempts of courtship between the two protagonists). Like you, I especially worry about the Hero's character. As you mentioned he has had some sparks of individuality, such as the brief dialogue in the woods, but many of the conversations between the him and Maou - which are the heart of the series as far as I'm concerned - have come off as one-sided. They need to add more of his perspective so it doesn't feel like I'm listening to a lecture.

    Maou is wonderful though. =/

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