I’ve returned! And with it comes a (hopefully good) style change. Like many on the anisphere, I’ve tended to turn more toward reviewing shows, pointing out qualities I enjoy and those I don’t and trying to defend myself. But more and more I’ve come to realize I prize the reasons behind my defense, and that I tend to focus on (as I mentioned before) interpreting a show based on thematic value, and grade many aspects of the show with respect to that. Thus, while I might make remarks about voice acting or soundtracks or visuals, etc., I only really care about them as much as they are relevant to the story and/or the messages the show is trying to convey.
With this in mind, I’m going to try and make my posts focusing on this aspect – crafting a lens (harhar bad astronomy joke I’m so clever harhar) for which to view and interpret events in the show. This is a reversal of sorts, turning them from a “here’s a review about a show and here’s why I think it’s justified” to a “here’s how I think this show should be viewed, and here and the consequences”. Hopefully this’ll make my blog more unique, make posting easier, and hopefully encourage discussion.
With this in mind, let’s turn to Maoyuu Maou Yuusha.
With any show, it’s key to ask whether it’s character-driven or plot-driven. In Spice and Wolf, Maoyuu‘s spiritual predecessor, it was very much the former, and the show worked well because it highlighted this aspect. In Maoyuu, it’s definitely the latter – the show is plot-driven. Although the romance between the Demon King and the Hero (plus some romantic tension between other interacting characters) is definitely present, ultimately it’s second-fiddle to the overarching plot that’s bigger than either of the main protagonists.
What are the show’s goals? Obviously trying to explain some macroeconomics and nation-state politics. It also hits upon the idea of dreaming big – in this case a vision of peace and the ability to see into the future, the charismatic part of Maou that draws people to her. There’s also much ado about breaking out of your roles to become more than you were before – to free yourself from the societal structure imposed on you and try your chance at freedom. The latter are fairly standard and seen in almost every single medieval-fantasy-based setting (which I’d say Maoyuu falls into), but it’s still important, since this is a discussion of “what is” rather than “what ought to be.”
With these in mind, I turn to the critiques (e.g. here and here) that have been levied at the show, which center around the show “not knowing what it is” and rushed adaptation from the source material. Since the show is plot-driven, it is crucial that as much plot as possible is included in the show, especially since it is only one cour (12 episodes only leaves us with ~ 4 hours to cover an entire book). However, it gets worse – out of these episodes, valuable time that could be spent contributing to the plot is instead focused on character interactions and romance.
Now – this would be fine, if the romance and interactions furthered the plot and served to keep our interest. However, it frequently isn’t – valuable screen time is devoted to boob jokes, harem scenes, useless speeches, etc., which, in the grand scheme that it’s trying to show us, is not strictly necessary. Thus, it loses even more screen time and is forced to make more cuts to the plot, which naturally means that we have a less-vested interest in seeing it run its course. This is a trade off of our interests, substituting a character-driven incentive for a plot-driven one. And pretty bad interactions at that; just make the inevitable comparison to the Holo-Lawrence interactions in Spice and Wolf.
But this is wrong – and we can see it is because Maoyuu is at heart a plot-driven show. As Appropriant rightly points out, “the problem right now is that what Maoyuu is showing to us pales in comparison to what it’s not showing to us,” which is echoed by TypicalIdiotFan. We can also ask ourself, “What dialogue do we enjoy the most?” The most likely answer will probably be character narration concerned with the plot, whether it is Maou’s explanations for why her inventions/introductions will help, or other characters describing the events occurring around them.
Note though that the critique levied above only includes some of these character interactions. Others do in fact contribute to the themes of the show. While the nature of the Serfs-turned-Maids has been poorly executed at almost every turn (culminating in that speech), I cannot say that their interactions do not advance forward essential themes of freedom and equality the show seems to espouse.
I also cannot fault the nature of the comments themselves made by the Hero about his admiration for Maou and his sort of mid-life crisis, for they also advance forward the show’s exhortation to dream big and some of the inevitable perils and doubts for doing so. While I can say that they’re not very well done (and probably could be replaced with something better) I have to give them their due. Most of the time, though, these are taking the place of what could be more plot and/or world-building so it’s not all roses here. Ideally you could combine the two.
A possible example of this: Have the Hero make his soliloquies as voice-overs while doing things in the demon realm – the contrast between his strength/accomplishments and his dejection would probably work better than just complaining to the Head Maid at a desk, and we’d get more plot out of it.
This is a very rough pass at what I’m hoping to do in the future (look for this being applied in full to Hyouka soon!), so let’s summarize quickly just in case I’m not being clear.
Maou is a show that is meant to be driven by its plot that is greater than any of the characters or their interactions. The adaptation fails because it doesn’t recognize this and tries to be something it’s not. The purpose of the work and its themes, though, are carried through regardless of this – albeit not very well, and often at the expense of the viewer’s interest and the plot itself.