Hataraku is this season’s proof that excellence in anime comes from unexpected places sometimes (and thank goodness, given how weak this season was overall). It hasn’t escaped my notice that the first three Series Review posts I’ve done this season have been for its three best shows, but unlike the first two Hataraku seems a lock to get another season (or more). And this finale behaved very much as if that were a foregone conclusion.
Hataraku is a different sort of series, in many ways. It’s a LN adaptation that legitimately escapes the trap of cliche, and one that respects the intelligence of its audience. It’s also a show I like best when it isn’t trying too hard with plot, which is unusual for me. I like the premise here and the show generally did well when it was pursuing the larger story, but for me it was at its best when it was hewing close to the title. I preferred the series when it really was a slice-of-life comedy about the Overlord (and the Hero, and Chiho) at work. And Ashiya and Urushihara at home. And that’s pretty much what we got in the finale.
Things start out with a little trolling, which this series also happens to be pretty good at. It comes in the form of a dream from Chiho (Emi had one too, but the jig was up at that point) seeming to preface a finale that was really a finale. I was never fooled, but it’s illustrative of just what Chiho’s worst nightmare is – Maou leaving, and leaving her behind. Fact is Maou says he doesn’t have the power to return to Ente Isla even if he wanted – and the fact that he had the power to open a portal to send Sariel back and chose not to follow him should answer the question of whether he really wants to return.
No, Maou leaving isn’t what Chiho should be worrying about. I do think she should start worrying about Emi and her kuropan, though, as the end of episode 12 and the events this time make it pretty clear that she’s having a harder and harder time denying her own interest. Hataraku has been elegantly dancing around the tsundere trope with Emi since the beginning, largely by keeping her tsun mostly on-point and not really having any dere at all. Rather, she was a stalker if anything – but now, the facade is starting to show some cracks. She’s reaching harder and harder for excuses to follow him around and keep an eye on him, and there are even signs that she’s admitted to herself that she’s attracted to him. When we have a second season, I expect that relationship to be quite different – though I doubt the series will become anything close to a conventional romcom.
Speaking of Sariel, something odd happens when Maou tries to send him back – namely, he ends up in the freezer at MgRonald’s. Was it the magic bamboo at fault? In any event this seems to guarantee that Sentucky James will be a factor in S2 as well, though whether he’ll still be the manager at Sentucky I couldn’t say. His crush on Maou’s boss at McG’s seems to indicate his role will largely be comic relief (well, to be honest, that’s what it was this season as well). The main thread of plot in the finale surrounded Lucifer and yet another disastrous online fiasco – this time getting mixed up in a purchasing scam with a company purporting to buy used junk, only to sell back unreturnable crap like fire extinguishers and down quilts.
Truth be told, this wasn’t one of the funniest storylines Hataraku has come up with, but it had its moments. My favorite came when Emi and Maou went to see a lawyer to try and figure a way out of the 128000¥ hole Urushihara had dug him into, because the office was next to Iidabashi Station – my local JR station (I did quite a spit-take with my coffee when the building popped up on-screen). I love the attention to detail when it comes to Tokyo landmarks and the minutiae of daily life here. Ashiya happened to be working for the scam company at the time – in order to try and pay off the debt Urushihara had already accrued with the purchase of the transmitters. I enjoy the way Urushihara is portrayed here, very much as a troublesome teenage slacker who the “parents” have to watch 24/7 so he doesn’t get the whole family into trouble. Definitely my favorite Shimono Hiro role in a long time.
Once again, this was a very unconventional finale in that it could easily have passed for an episode in the middle of the run. The projected sales (though after the Crime Edge fiasco I’m a little leery of relying on them) certainly almost guarantee a second season, but it seems to me as if White Fox has been planning for one all along. This adaptation has been unhurried, even relaxed at times, savoring the small moments and not trying to hurry things along to squeeze an extra major arc or two in. White Fox has a history of multi-cour series and their choices for adaptation have been good ones, and Hataraku Maou-sama is another example.
It seems that some viewers have been disappointed by the last few episodes, perhaps expecting grander things. I fully expect a second season to be more to their tastes, as it seems as if Hataraku deferred a lot of the larger questions for now. I’m of mixed mind on this – as I said I really do prefer this series a a Working! style comedy rather than a romance or an action series, though if those elements are used in moderation they successfully spice up the recipe. The thing is that it’s execution that really makes this an unusually good show – the premise is an interesting one, but it’s the way the series puts its own offbeat twist on the plot and character tropes it plays with that makes it special. In terms of cast it’s probably the best series of the season, but it’s also the best-looking show White Fox has ever produced.
Really, though, it’s the writing that makes the difference – the dialogue in Hataraku is some of the most rhythmic and snappy since another White Fox entry, Steins;Gate. Seeing characters you like interact on screen is one of the simple pleasures in anime, and this series delivers that pleasure in droves. It’s relatively rare for a LN adaptation to transcend genre cliche like this one does, to always feel fresh and never stale. Maou was one of the best male leads in recent seasons, and Ashiya one of the funniest sidekicks (though he wasn’t as prominent in the second half of the season as I’d have liked). The female leads weren’t quite as exceptional but still likeable and with enough remove from the tropes they represent to be especially interesting (most so Chiho, least so Suzuno). Throw in a very funny supporting cast and the series’ success at mining humor from the little details and you have a very simple and straightforward show that accomplishes the very difficult task of making it look easy – and nothing is harder to make look easy than comedy. I’m looking forward to spending more time with Maou and the rest of the cast, and I don’t think we’ll have to wait very long to do so.