The appeal of this series is both simple and complex. It lies in the straightforward way it goes about things and the effortlessness that’s imbued in every frame, but the real trick is in making something so difficult to accomplish seem to effortless. Another striking element though is how consistent the show is in terms of tone. There’s a fair amount of irreverence in every episode, even “serious” ones like this one, but never too much – even in silly ones like the swimsuit episode – to make the entire affair feel trivial. Again – a balance that’s very hard to make look so easy.
I don’t really think there have been many (perhaps any) surprises in terms of major plot points. Every mystery has ended up being solved exactly as one might’ve guessed, and that could be looked at as either a strong point or a weakness. It ties into that consistency factor, and to be fair I don’t really think much of the plot was designed to surprise the audience – Maou was pretty much a step ahead of the game at every point and I think the audience was expected to be as well. But there are certain elements like Suzuno’s arc that feel pretty played-out. I don’t really need to see the cute girl who’s done bad things and feels bad about it – I’ve seen it a thousand times already, and it doesn’t seem like anything new was done with it here.
If you can get past that – and for me it’s a minor quibble against all the things Hataraku does really well – I think the real pleasure comes from watching these characters go through their paces, even if the larger plot is predictable. That’s because the characters themselves (most of them) are subtly tweaked enough to make their interactions unpredictable, even if their actions are predictable. We can all see the tropes Emi, Chiho, Maou, Ashiya and Urushihara represent but when they get together it’s almost always great fun to watch. And to listen to – this show has some of the snappiest and smartest dialogue since Stein’s;Gate.
It seems as if the plot for this season was pretty much wrapped up in this ep, which gives us next week’s finale as a likely comedic/character-driven episode, a choice I usually like but especially so with this show. Sarue Mitsuki does indeed have a secret identity but it’s not James, it’s the Archangel Sariel. And if there was any chalk left on the line separating the “good” church from the “bad” demons Sariel effectively scuffed it away with his heel, not just torturing Emi in a supposed attempt to extract the Sacred Sword (one suspects he just rather enjoyed it) but revealing himself to be quite the perv. Over the top, truth be told. Suzuno had her expected deathbed conversion, taking a few halfhearted potshots at Maou with her hammer but finally rebelling against being the attack dog for an organization whose corruption and hypocrisy became obvious even to her. Orba Meyer awoke, laid out a still woozy Ashiel and stole his insurance card to find out the address, though just how he knew Lucifer would be living with Ashiya and Maou I’m not totally clear on.
In truth, Urushihara’s decision in the end was no more surprising than Suzuno’s but it was more entertaining to watch unfold. Essentially he tricks Orba by pretending to ally with him again, prompting the latter to bring the moon closer to Earth to boost Sariel’s powers. Which it does, but in fact the real aim is to use the panic it causes to give Maou’s powers a recharge – which it also does. Very clever, and all based on Urushihara’s declaration that “Heaven is being a NEET.” If there’s a larger message in play with Hataraku that might just be it: that it’s the small pleasures in life that make it worth living, and that the goings on in Ente Isla may not have been so much a question of good and evil but misguided priorities. The fundamental question of the series – is Maou a bad guy who turned good when he came to Japan or was he the good guy all along – remains unanswered for now, but it might not even be relevant in the end. What matters is the here and now.
This episode was peppered with those small moments that make this show so much fun to watch: Maou’s concern for his rented uniform leading to his fighting the final battle in his boxers, which he proudly declares can stand up to his true form. Emi’s weary blush when he tells her he can see her boobs. Chiho’s (OK, I thought maybe it was Maou in disguise too but I’m not 100% convinced) balletic punch-kick combo against Sariel, and her dead-eyed reaction when Maou couches his heroic rescue in terms of protecting a MgRonald’s employee. And Ashiya, as always a day late and a dollar short, bursting with restored powers but too late for the final battle because he had to stop off at home and pick up his mantle. This series has a good plot, but plot matters a lot less here than with most shows because these characters are simply a joy to be around. I look forward to the very likely second season, because they’ve still got a lot of life left in them.