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Anime Review: Kyo Kara Maoh!, Season 1

Josh Viel | 21 Aug 2009 14:00
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What would you do if you suddenly found yourself king of a country in another world? Kyo Kara Maoh! tries to answer this question, though how well it presents the answers is somewhat questionable.The premise is fairly simple: Average high school student Yuri Shibuya is flushed down a toilet into an alternate world where humans and demons (whom, for the most part, appear exactly like humans except that they have magical powers) live in a not-so-peaceful coexistence, and he very quickly finds out that he has been crowned the new "demon king," head of the demon tribe. What's that you ask? Flushed down a toilet? Well, let's just say this series isn't exactly big on first impressions.

Despite the impressively large count of 39 episodes for the first season, the story doesn't manage to get nearly as much done as I had anticipated. The premise of the story lays the groundwork for a lot of potentially interesting plot threads. The uneasy and often violent relationship between the demons and the humans has the potential to lead to interesting examinations and social commentary on prejudice. Another potentially interesting plot line I could easily see getting a lot of attention was the growth of Yuri from the mentality of a high-school student to the leader of an entire nation. Unfortunately, 'potential' is all these plot threads are and all they're ever going to be unless next season changes something, because in most of the scenes he's in (which, by the way, is just about every scene), the series goes out of its way to point one thing out: Yuri is a colossal idiot.

This is really a symptom of a larger problem: Kyo Kara Maoh! is a deeply confused show. While the premise and setting clearly lend themselves well to dramatic storytelling, the series seems to insist on being a comedy at the same time. Now, good comic-relief can support a dramatic storyline quite well; humor can ease tension and lighten the mood when it's appropriate, and a well timed joke or gag can prevent the plot from falling into the realm of melodrama. Unfortunately, Maoh! didn't seem to get the memo, and it tends to transition with a jarring abruptness between humor and drama in ways that neither lend support to either form of storytelling nor make a good deal of sense.

It doesn't help matters that the plot is not only disjointed, but that it also seems to recycle the exact same plot elements every four to six episodes. Let me give you a rundown of how you can expect any given story arc in Kyo Kara Maoh! to unfold: 1. Yuri gets into trouble (oftentimes because he's an idiot). 2. His friends go to help him, but eventually are rendered unable to assist due to some extenuating circumstance or other. 3. Yuri summons the power of the "Demon King," a deus ex machina button that accesses his "hidden powers." The "Demon King" persona asserts itself over Yuri's and proceeds to rant on about justice, concluding his speech by easily defeating the villain-of-the-week, and then receding back into Yuri, who then falls unconscious. Badguy's defeated, arc over, roll credits. This happens in every single arc; it's not very engaging.

The aesthetic side of Kyo Kara Maoh! isn't much better. The animation for dialogue and landscape scenes is acceptable, if not a bit bland. Most of the major fight scenes are either badly animated or not even animated at all, with dramatically highlighted stills replacing blade clashes or other tense actions. The dubbing also ranges from bad to worse, with most of the American actors either putting too little effort into their lines or far too much, leading to some characters who sound constantly overacted, even in lighthearted scenes. Overall, the presentation is nothing to be excited about.

I do have to give Maoh! a little credit, though: It does get better. Not much, mind you, but towards the end of the season, a few more ambitious plot elements are introduced that do have the potential to lead to some more interesting arcs in the next season. Additionally, the latter portion of the season began to ease off on the "Yuri is dumb" gag that had gotten old after the first few episodes, and Yuri has begun to develop into something more interesting than a cardboard cutout. In fact, the whole end of the season seemed to be leaning much closer to the dramatic side of things, which is where it needs to be if it wants to keep my attention for any longer. So I am hopeful - cautious, but hopeful - that the next season of Kyo Kara Maoh! will improve upon the failings from the first.

Bottom Line: Uninteresting, generic, uninspired; take your pick. While there's nothing in the first season of Kyo Kara Maoh! that makes it especially bad, there's nothing that makes it particularly good, either. It's just mediocre.

Recommendation: Well, if you're just dying to watch a new anime series and don't have anything in mind, I suppose you could do a lot worse than Kyo Kara Maoh!. You could do a lot better, too.

This review covers Season 1 of Kyo Kara Maoh!, from episodes 1 to 39.

If Josh Viel were flushed down a toilet into an alternate world to be crowned king of an entire nation, the first thing he'd do is order a truckload of pizza. The second would be to call for a psychiatrist.

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