Simply put, the first episode of Hataraku Maou-sama was excellent in every way. I hadn’t initially paid much attention to this series, thinking it looked like a rather textbook LN adaptation, but several folks told me to keep an eye out for it. They were right – White Fox is developing a pretty darn good track record, and in Maou-sama they might just have their most impressively animated series so far. In terms of tone and narrative style, their recent offerings (Steins;Gate, Jormungand) have already shown them to have a very distinct and enjoyable style.
Let me say straight up that it’s tremendously exciting to see a new talent like Ohsaka Ryouta come along. He stepped up his career big-time with a flawless performance as Yuki in Tsuritama, and he’s quietly done some excellent work since, like his turn as Sasayan in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun. But with this series Ohsaka truly stakes a claim to be the best male seiyuu to come along since his Tsuritama co-star Irino Miyu – Maou-sama (Satan) gives him a chance (in addition to some linguistic gymnastics) to stretch to screwball comedy and demonic menace, which he handles with aplomb. He’s ably supported by a very funny Ono Yuuki as Alsiel, his faithful general and life-partner, and by Nao Touyama as hapless MgRonald part-timer Chiho Sasaki.
The premise doesn’t really do justice to just how fresh and creative this series is: Satan, fresh off a defeat at the hands of human hero Emilia (Hikasa Youko), escapes by portalling away with Alsiel in tow. They end up in modern-day Tokyo – Sasazuka to be specific – quite bewildered by this strange world where magic seems not to exist and their clothes get them mistaken for cosplayers. Forced to adapt to survive, they change their names to Sadao Mao and Shirou Ashiya, register for their Gaijin cards at the Shinjuku kuyakusho – which is the same one where I got my Gaijin card, they even got the window number right – and rent a shabby apartment. Mao decides to work to support the family while giving Ashiya the job of researching how their magic can be restored – as is, they’re stuck with conserving whatever reserves they have in their bodies, with no way of replenishing it.
When it comes to the charms of this show, the devil is in the details (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Every scene is pulled off with style and the entire episode is perfectly paced and beautifully animated. We start out with a surprisingly intense and lavish depiction of the battle between Satan and Emilia, and the transition to the modern world happens in a blink – as sudden and shocking to us as it is to the now-human demon lords. There are lots of great little touches, like Alsiel demonstrating his “magic” by hailing a cab and the real estate agent’s explanation that the landlady “specifically asked that the apartment be rented to shady characters like you two”. Things also heat up when Mao randomly encounters Emilia on the street in human form without realizing it’s her – he even gives her his umbrella in an act of most undemonic chivalry.
The two main tracks in the premiere both look like winners – the hilariously domestic relationship between Mao and Ashiya at home, and his workplace at MgRonald’s. Ashiya scolds his Lord for being a bit too free with the little money they have, forcing the pair to subsist on a diet of MgRonald’s – he even gets a Supersize Me reference in. Meanwhile Mao is throwing himself wholeheartedly into being the best part-timer a burger joint ever had, even considering using the last of his magic to fix the broken fryers so the store won’t lost the contest for selling the most black-pepper fries. It’s all pulled off in very smart, insightful fashion – about Japanese and world culture, about relationships, and about light-novel cliche. Hataraku Maou-sama! is definitely a case where the whole is much more than the sum of its parts – in a vacuum nothing about this series proclaims it to be anything exceptional, but it’s so smartly-written and well-executed that it makes a big impression immediately. This one has a chance to be one of the best shows of the Spring if it can keep things going at this level.
ED:”Sankaku e.p.” by nano.RIPE