Fanservice eps are a minefield for anime, to say the least. For every one that actually contributes something besides crass commercial pandering there are a dozen that don’t, and at worst they can derail a series with surprisingly devastating efficiency. On the one extreme you have the Outlaw Star and Gurren Lagann examples, and on the other the aforementioned Suisei no Gargantia – and it’s towards that end of the scale that most service episodes sadly end up ranking.
While not quite on the level of Outlaw Star or TTGL this week’s Hataraku Maou-sama is happily much closer to that extreme than the other. There are several reasons for this, but I think the most important is that the premise both made sense given the ongoing plot and contributed something to the plot going forward. As well, it managed to avoid the common trap of coming off as crass and exploitative, which like so much that Hataraku makes look easy isn’t as easy as it looks. Everyone knows what’s happening with a swimsuit episode, so there’s no point in pretending otherwise – the key, I think, is to intentionally play up the ridiculousness of it and mine some character humor from the situation.
Essentially, this is another example of Hataraku at its core: not really doing anything that hasn’t been done before, but doing what has been done before extremely well. It exists somewhere in an elusive middle-ground between cliche and parody, not reaching the level of outright satirizing the tropes it portrays but ingeniously tweaking them to make them feel fresh. No trope could be more trope-y than the fanservice episode, but it feels fresh here because there’s so much life in these characters and watching them interact is always a pleasant experience.
Among the gags I loved this week were the “Here’s your one-pound burgers!” bit, which made me laugh at one of the oldest cliches in anime, one girl stressing out over another’s bust size. And truly, Chiho is almost freakishly big – but this (for me at least) doesn’t offend because the series makes fun of itself for that fact, embracing the absurdity of it. I also loved the reptile bit, where Chiho and Emi were stressing over why they don’t like scaly creatures in a very “Desshou?” way – except that Chiho was stressing over a tiny suburban lizard and Emi over a
giant dragon basilisk threatening thousands of people. There’s also Maou’s continued denseness over Chiho’s flirting with him – which again is about as cliche as you can get in anime. It’s become almost meta at this point, because Maou is so utterly straightforward about it – there’s no posing in his reactions, he’s completely normal as he ignores her true intentions. The thinking here is that he knows he has no future with a human woman and is doing everything he can to spare her, and as with his job at MgRonald’s, when Maou truly sets his mind to something he’s very, very good at it.
If you’ve worked in the business, you know that Maou’s manager lending him out to another store was an important moment – especially as they were expecting a huge day. Managers lending rising stars out to other managers is an important rite-of-passage – a show of confidence, a test and a way of showing off how good their staff is all at once. The last thing you want to do is screw up in such a situation, but this is Maou – he’s basically a food-service savant. It leads to some interesting developments, especially with Urushihara’s revelation that the new haunted house and reptile exhibits are likely to generate a bumper crop of harvestable fear. Ashiel wants to go and help but he’s back to living in the bathroom, which I suppose pretty much confirms that he’s far from over whatever Suzuno’s noodles are doing to him. My big question is, why is it that Ashiel is the only one getting sick when Lucifer and Sadao are eating the same udon noodles? And for that matter, what’s Suzuno’s plan now that the noodles have expired? Perhaps taking out Ashiel was her goal all along, to weaken Maou’s defenses, but that still doesn’t explain why the others aren’t sick.
There really don’t seem to be any coincidences in this series, so I have to think that the escaped monkey at Fushima Park being named “Sadao” was more than just an excuse for the girls to have some fun at Maou’s expense. He stole the janitor’s keys on purpose, presumably, so that whoever opened the crocodile cage could force Maou into action – but again, the interesting question is why. Was the hope that he’d do exactly what he did, and the aim merely to get him to expose himself – or was there a deeper purpose behind it? We also have the extremely unsurprising revelation that James from Sentucky is indeed… What – an angel? He showed his true colors – white feathers – which implies it might be that, rather than his being a demon. And that makes his likely ambush of Emi at the konbini all the more interesting.