Friday, July 12, 2013

Maoyu (Maoyuu Mao Yuusha) Final Impressions--Needs Less Cowgirl

Nobody actually thought that this was hot, right? Right?

There's a scene roughly halfway through Maoyu that summarizes my experience with it pretty well. After a public flogging in the place of the person she trusts, a character gives an uplifting speech about freedom and human agency, urging the people listening to rise up against the corrupt system that has held them down. The music swells and pans across the crowd...showing a sea of badly animated faces that look either bored or asleep. And that's the problem with Maoyu; it's convinced that it's offering something really compelling when the truth is that the execution makes it fall flat.

To be fair, it does offer up an interesting premise: the Hero finally makes it to the Demon King's castle, expecting a final fight to save the world, only to be greeted by a girl who wears demon horns as an accessory and wants him to help her change society from the ground up, without violence. However, the problems with the show are evident from the beginning. It creates a great opportunity to subvert tropes, but immediately undermines itself by having the Demon King's boobs flying every which way. The random and unnecessary fanservice continues throughout the whole show. The characters are named after archetypes--Knight, Hero, Scholar, etc.--with some kind of twist on the "fairy tale" view of these characters, but towards the end they turn out more like anime stereotypes: the perverted old man, the tsundere, the battle maid, and so on. Magician was pretty interesting to me because of her unexplained multiple personalities, but since she showed up so infrequently, I wonder if I really liked her because the show didn't have the time to hit her with another stereotype.

Speaking of tropes, I'm not sure if the creator of Maoyu was aware that the Inquistion has been used so much that having an evil church ruling the world in a story is a cliche in and of itself. You have to do a little bit more with it. However, Maoyu paints everyone not on the protagonist's side with the broad brush of "evil" and leaves it at that. The plot reads like a summarized version of the Protestant Reformation from a middle school textbook (which is unfortunately not an embellishment--the seventh grade kids I tutor were studying this while the show was airing, and the story beats were nearly the same, including the hand-waving over the more complex elements) with some fantasy elements thrown in for good measure. The result is a sort of well-meaning moral grandstanding, but since the show deals in black and white with no shades of gray, its message doesn't come across very well.

Similarly, the economics aspect accidentally undermines its own moral. The Demon King's idea essientially plays out like this:

1) Teach the farmers crop rotation

2) They produce more food

3) ???

4) Profit This then gives the lower class more time and income to spend on pursuits like education, which would then result in more technological breakthroughs, and so on and so forth. The idea to lift up the masses first is a good one--even though, again, it glosses over some important details--but the problems come in once the show gets to the education part. It emphasizes that the evil church and nobles have denied their people access to education, opening the door for one of the show's major themes revolving around human agency. Again, this is fine, but the execution makes it feel less like the Demon King (under the guise of the Scholar) is bringing out the people's real potential and more like the impoverished feel indebted to her as a noble who bothered to take the time out of her busy schedule to teach the lower beings how to read. It makes the heroes appear not all that different from the villans, but the show completely misses this point to push the good/evil side of the plot even further.

I've spent a lot of this review complaining, but there were aspects of the show that I liked. The town where demons and humans lived together was an interesting touch, and provided some of the moral duality that the rest of the show was lacking. I also enjoyed the merchant character, especially when he was manipulating the market of the continent through the medieval stock market (although the way the prices changed was pretty ridiculous). On the character side of things, Hero's dilemma about lacking a place in the new world the Demon King was trying to build was an interesting one, plus his vague adventures in the demon world. However, most of these elements are either forgotten through the course of the show or put alongside more fanservice. The truth behind the Demon King's title is far more interesting that the argument about potatoes as Satan's crop, but Maoyu is a show that doesn't have all its priorities straight.

It feels like Maoyu was afraid to get too complicated with the economics or stray too far from the fanservice, and its more interesting parts are cut down or ignored as a result. Whether that's the result of it's 2chan roots or a failure of the adaptation itself, I can't say. However, the result is that the anime itself can't seem to make up its mind about whether it is more concerned about presenting a slightly altered version of a generic fantasy story, a retelling of Spice and Wolf, or just an excuse to look at thongs through wet pants. It can't even commit to an ending, leaving a lot of loose threads hanging. In the end, while there are parts of the show that are genuinely engaging, Spice and Wolfhas already done a much better job at accomplishing all the things Maoyu only manages to be mediocre at. If you were thinking of watching this or enjoyed this show anyway, Spice and Wolf is a much better version of a fantasy economic romance anime. I admire Maoyu for trying to create a similar show, but its lack of confidence in anything but the fanservice overrides what it could have been.

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