Hataraku Maou-sama is the sort of series I can take for granted if I’m not too careful. It’t not as stylishly beautiful and perversely fascinating as Dansi Bunri no Crime Edge, nor as elegiac and magnificent as Suisei no Gargantia. But it just does pretty much much everything right. As an fantasy-action series that can be really funny – or a top-shelf comedy that has a good plot and terrific action, whichever you like – it’s already in pretty limited company, as very few shows can successfully bridge that gap. But it also looks terrific (well, apart from that hinky running sequence – hello, Symphogear!) and it’s one of the tightest series in ages when it comes to pacing and script. In short – it’s really, really good.
We seem to have reached our first false conclusion of the series (I don’t mean that negatively, most shows have them) with this episode. As strong as they were, I was a bit less enchanted with the last two eps than the first two, liking Hataraku just a bit less than when it was mostly a comedy. But this was the one that seemed to strike the perfect balance between plot, action and humor. While we knew Lucifer was going to be a big driver of events here, he got some unexpected help from Olba Meyer (Houki Katsuhisa) who seems to be some sort of bigwig with the Church – Emi certainly knew him, anyway – now working with Lucifer for his own personal gain.
I think the role of the Church in this story has yet to be fully explored – they did effectively kidnap Emi as a little girl after all, and if Satan is to prove to be more than simply the heavy even in his Enta Isla days, the Church needs to take on some of that heavy role themselves. In any event, Lucifer – very much in character – is itching to get back to heaven, and Olba has promised him just that. Lucifer is drawing his power from the negative emotions of humans – apparently Chiho has been a good source lately, for obvious reasons – and terror being a good supplier, he sets about cranking up the fear big-time. It seemed obvious to me from the beginning that any surge in power for Lucifer would also power up Satan (even before Sadao said that it was the fear of the “earthquake” victims that hulk-ified him) but Lucifer strikes me as a shoot first, think later kind of guy. Which is exactly what he does, running Ashiya through with a magical bullet and then Satan too – and Olba adds injury to insult by popping a cap on Satan’s arm with a good old-fashioned handgun (which may be more rare in Japan than magical bullets).
Ultimately, all of this action and plot is really in place to push the larger story – just what is really going on in Satan’s head, and how is Emi going to react to it (and how will Chiho react to the reaction)? There are some priceless moments of comedy in the midst of this, such as when a dying Ashiya (seriously, he can’t not be funny even when he’s dying) urges Sadao to take advantage of the first-of-the-month sales, even after he’s gone. Or Ashiya being most upset that Sadao reveals he’s been sneaking out to B-movies with his pocket money. There’s not much suspense in seeing Ashiya and Sadao wounded this early in the series – Sadao is the MC and Ashiya is the best waifu of the season – but it gets the story where it needs to go, which is Satan powering up again from the vibes off Lucifer’s terrorist attacks, and re-stating his dedication to not doing any harm to the world that he’s taken such a liking to. And powered-up Satan is a serious badass – he heals Ashiya, crushes Olba with a distracted flick of his mind, and shows Lucifer in no uncertain terms who’s the Master, and who the Servant. He even once again ensures no casualties from magical violence, and puts everything neatly back where it was – including erasing bystanders’ memories – once the clamor is dealt with.
If I really thought about it I’m not sure how much I’d buy the notion of the Satan we saw in the first ten minutes of the premiere having such a complete change of heart, but in the context of Hataraku it doesn’t really seem to matter. Sadao is simply impossible not to like – he’s so convincingly nice as a regular guy that his past doesn’t make any difference. Even if Emi continues her tsundere act and keeps up with the empty threats, it’s obvious now that even she’s convinced by this latest round of redemption. Even now Sadao seemingly has enough power to return to Ente Isla should he wish it, and Ashiya seems genuinely aghast that he’s not interested in doing so because they’ve just bought a bike and a TV and his job is really at a critical stage. What do any of those things matter if he can return home? It’s a fair question, but for now, it seems the answer is going to be put on the back burner for a while.
I’m interested to see where the series goes from here. We do have the introduction of those two friends of Emi’s we saw at the end of the last episode – Emerelda (Asakura Azumi) and Albert Ende (Yasumoto Hiroki). They were indeed responsible for the idea links that caused the quakes (targeted only at those thinking of Satan – heh) but they don’t seem as if they’re going to be major plot drivers for the moment. Lucifer apparently stays behind after his and Olba’s defeat, and seems to be ticketed to become part of Sadao’s entourage. There’s really nothing forcing the issue when it comes to Emi confronting Sadao, but does that mean she’ll truly accept his transformation in her own mind, and even overtly show feelings for him? For now I could see Hataraku Maou-sama being a romcom, a workplace comedy, an action series – at this point any direction seems possible, though we’ll surely have another Angels and Demons confrontation at the end of the series.