After seven weeks, I’m convinced of at least one thing – Hataraku Maou-sama has the best collective voice work of the season. It starts of course with Ohsaka Ryouta as Sadao, a performance where he’s projected decency, evil, exasperation, snark and compassion equally well at various times. I loved the moment where he mocked Shimono Hiro as Lucifer’s speech patterns with “Hikikomori desu…”, a comic highlight that came strictly down to line delivery. But it’s not just Ohsaka – the whole cast is great. Ono Yuuki is giving his funniest performance in years as Ashiya, Shimono is perfect as Lucifer – his appeal is somewhat limited at this point, but finding the right role is critical – and even though I don’t care much for Emi as written, Hikasa Youko is doing yeoman work getting every scrap of comedy out of the character she can.
The new ingredient in the mix is Itou Kanae as Suzuno Kamazuki. We still don’t know much about her apart from what we’ve seen presented on-screen. She wears formal kimono, she’s moved in next door to Maou (certainly not coincidentally) and it seems to have been intentionally set up that way by Miki-T. She brings him a gift of udon noodles (her apartment is full of them) and she admits to Emi that she’s making a play for Maou. But who is she, and why is she there? There are no signs of magical abilities yet, and Emi notes that she’s “too polite to be a demon” (not sure I call that conclusive). There’s also the fact that Ashiya has fallen ill just as she’s arrived on-scene – could be coincidental, but it’s worth nothing in any event. I chalk her up as solidly in the wild-card category for the moment.
I definitely enjoyed this episode a lot, but it was rather heavy on Emi for my tastes. As I said, Youko-san is terrific here, but she can’t do anything about the fact that Emilia is simply the most trite and unlikeable character in the cast (YMMV of course, but the character polls I’ve seen seem to reflect the same opinion). Stuff like Emi getting violent with Maou after he’s decent enough to save her from yet another fall down the stairs and her over-reaction to the idea that she’s interested in Maou herself, or her obsession with breast size – this is all stuff we’ve seen a thousand times before, and Emi doesn’t really bring anything new to them. She’s not so unlikeable that the show can’t transcend these issues – she just doesn’t add as much enjoyment as any of the other characters.
The one really interesting element of Emi, I suppose, is her situation. While her act is tsundere, the reality is she’s actually a stalker – a stalker deceiving herself that her actions are necessary in her role as a hero. The “stake-outs”, following Maou everywhere, excessive interest anytime he interacts with another female – it’s classic stalker behavior, and there’s admittedly something darkly comedic in watching her do this dance of self-deception. It’s also funny that Chiho has latched onto Emi as her supposed ally in her quest to land Maou – all the more so when Suzuno-chan has arrived on the scene – when in fact the two are probably the biggest rivals for his affections. This isn’t really that sort of show, but it’s a fun thing to consider.
This episode as much as anything was about outside influences shaking up the balance of power in the character dynamics, often with very funny results. We have Suzuno trying to teach Hanzou how to be useful, and making Maou a gorgeous lunch in an even more gorgeous two-layer lacquer bento box. This understandably has a rather traumatic impact on Chiho giving the symbolism it reflects in anime – especially when the second-layer reveals the heart-shaped treat inside. We have Emerelda (whose voice sure sounds different when she’s on a cell-phone from Ente Isla) giving Emi a supply of “Holy-Beta“, which she says is magical power restorer disguised as an energy drink (nice bit of satire there). I suspect that MacGuffin was introduced to pay serious plot dividends later, especially when Maou comments innocently – and justifiably – that “dealing with Emi drains all my energy”. And we have the mysterious mask wearing, scythe-wielding assailant who comes after Emi at the Family Mart, possessing enough magical energy to neutralize Emi’s newly power-restored holy sword – oddly enough it’s the paintballs from the clerk which finally drive him off, rather than The Hero’s attacks.
An episode like this one shows just how broad the appeal of Hatarku Maou-sama is, at least for me. It’s not as though it’s breaking any new ground, but it was still vastly entertaining despite having lots of Emi and precious little Ashiya. Hataraku is superb at taking familiar scenarios (non-tsundere ones anyway) and tweaking them just enough to make them funny – the humor in this series is quirky rather than slapstick – and paired with the tremendous cast, sound design and direction even things like the simple panty-shot with Emi are good for a big laugh. I also loved the slo-mo reveal of the letter from Miki-T and the reveal of the next great challenge for the Demon Overlord – the opening of a “Sentucky Fried Chicken” franchise just down the street from MagRonald’s. Coincidences are so rare in this show that I wonder if there’s a darker purpose behind that – but even if it’s simply fast food wars, in the capable hands of this series it promises to be vastly entertaining to watch unfold.