I have to say that, until now, this was probably my favourite episode. It is also the episode in which the Hero plays the least prominent role. Coincidence? I think not.
With the Hero adventuring in the Demon World, looking for the Mage, in what surely is an exciting adventure full of epic battles, magic, deadly enemies and tension, we have time to focus on what really interests the people – trade negotiations. Which sounds a lot like Star Wars Episode I, but doesn’t come out bad at all. The Demon King advances her plan of restructuration of the world economy trying to stipulate a contract with the Alliance – one where she requires their collaboration in ending the war in exchange for yet another of her agricultural innovations which promises enormous profits – corn (this is also the confirmation that Demon World is actually America. Soon we’ll see tomatoes, tobacco, and possibly turkeys. Heed my word). The transaction isn’t as smooth as it could look like. In fact, there are lots of masked, costumed guys who look like they came out of Assassin’s Creed 2 ready to strike at Demon King the moment she tries something funny – and as a convenient counter-move, Maid has freed around the mansion a number of ghosts whose powers we do not know but that surely have a defensive purpose. It’s not really clear why would the Alliance need such a ready military force. Maybe they are afraid of a treason from Demon King (which they know as the Crimson Scholar, I guess), even though, if they really are “low rank” as they claim to be, little gain there would be for her in betraying and killing them. Luckily, anyway, things never get out of check and neither party needs to make use of their force.
What makes the scene interesting however is Merchant. He’s Demon King’s direct interlocutor and goes from mistrust, to admiration and amusement at the cleverness of this woman who is able to see through hypocrisy and propaganda and go straight to the point, to something more. By the end of the scene, without a moment’s notice, he very naturally proposes to Demon King and asks to marry her, while she panics and reacts in awkward ways. I liked this character and his way of relating to Demon King much more than I do with Hero’s. I guess this is a lost cause, but I’m going to say it – I’m on team Merchant, y’all. If the anime ends with Demon King with Merchant and Hero alone doing his thing (or with Knight, who cares), that’ll make me happy.
In the second part the Hero comes back onto the scene, and he brings the dumb back with him. Turns out he’s not been in Demon World fighting, well, demons – he’s actually in the house. Hidden in a chest. While wearing a huge suit of armour.
Maid is an accomplice of his and helps him come out and write the occasional letter where he tells his adventures (which I suppose are not fake – it seems that after all he DOES go to the Demon World, he can just come back as easily as he wants to with his super convenient teleport spell). As it is clearly explained in the following scenes, Hero is doing this because uhm, you see, maybe he feels that, well, and he’s not really sure of, or perhaps, whatever. Seriously, the most I got from the scene is that he’s avoiding to meet Demon King, as Maid cleverly guesses from the fact that he’s hiding inside a piece of furniture, and that he’s undergoing some sort of personal crisis because after joining Demon King he does not get to hack things with his sword, which evidently is his favourite activity. Maid quickly ends the argument by reminding him that since he belongs to Demon King, all these feelings belong to her as well. Which I still am not sure what really means, but whatever. Oh, when Maid suggests that the reason he is hiding is that in Demon World he met some other woman who enticed him, we’re treated to this little piece of what-the-fuckery.
Seriously, Japan, stop this. You are scarring me.
After this, little happens. The Serf Girl who became Maid Two asks Knight to learn to fight, and the weird vibes of episode 2 come back as she wonders whether or not she has finally really become “human”. It still strikes me how no one here raised to say that she has always been, and despite what that asshole Maid said, she shouldn’t feel ashamed of anything she did.
And so the episode ends. Thoughts? As I think I made clear already, I liked the first half. I like to see Demon King talking her way to her goals, and I liked the cunning Merchant who seems to have genuinely fallen for her – though one might wonder if he would have realistically behaved as he did in front of his mate. Maybe he’s sure that the guy is loyal to him and will not report his behaviour to people who might consider it a suggestion that he’s been biased in the negotiations. Maybe the writers just didn’t care.
Hero, however, stays a rather unlikable character. It already is kind of an oxymoron that someone called Hero would choose hiding in his own house as his course of action to avoid a verbal confrontation with a woman. That’s more like Scaredy Pussy. Also, why is he avoiding this confrontation? My best guess is, he feels uneasy because he sees that Demon King is seriously in love with him and doesn’t feel like reciprocating. Now, considering how he basically married her, he probably should have thought about this earlier. Or he should just try to cope with the fact that he’s now tied for life to a nice, smart, beautiful girl who’s totally into him and would want to have sex with him right now. And who’s also a queen. There are worst fates, Hero.
One thing I never commented on yet is the technical aspect, animation and sound. The reason why I didn’t is that I didn’t feel like there was nothing to tell – but I guess it’s better to make that explicit. Animation and music are simply very very OK. Nothing eyepoppingly beautiful, nothing mindblowingly obnoxious. Just the average. The highlights are some interesting use of colour in some scenes, which give the image an old, parchment-like look, while the lowest points are reached whenever the animation goes in CG mode. The computer generated people in episode 1 are probably the worst example of this. The entire thing anyway works well. I can see how they wouldn’t want to put more money than this into a series which, it is by now definitely clear, features no action at all.
This, in fact, is a last issue. By episode 4, the series has now a shape and we can start trying to guess at its overall purpose and nature. There still is no meaningful plot to talk of, all we get is a very straightforward narration of Demon King’s efforts to improve the economical solidity of the human world so that it can withstand the end of the war. The main focus seems to be on these ‘economical’ concepts she brings about episode after episode. This is basically the “Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?” of medieval economy – there’s people conveniently teleporting around in an incredible quest, but everything really boils down to an excuse to show us educational trivia. With the difference that in that show the trivia was actually more obscure and more packed into the episode, and also there was Carmen Sandiego who has to be the classiest piece of thieving scum to ever tread the Earth, while here it can take an entire episode to explain why crop rotation is a good idea. In other words, the bits of trivia introduced are few and neither deep nor interesting – most of them I learned in primary school in History classes. So who is this anime aimed at? If it’s an educational anime aimed at children, then they should provide more information and cut on the awkward and frankly uninteresting romance. If it’s a character-driven show for teenagers and up, then they should give more depth to characters and plot. As it stands now, at one third of his total run, Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is a forgettable hybrid which tries to do too many things and manages to do nothing too well.