In most fantasy tales, it is a common precept that when the hero defeats the demon lord, peace and harmony is restored to the world along with all problems plaguing it fading into the abyss. Endearing and timeless as the trope is, it doesn’t exactly make for riveting storytelling, but desirable in its own right. However, what if defeating the demon lord didn’t end the worlds problems and instead the hero and villain actually team up to find a solution to the underlying issue? Would the story still carry the same endearing mantle? From this simple shift the idea and premise of Winter’s 2013 Maoyuu Maou Yuusha (stylized as Mayou) is born, one that provides an interesting mix to the classic fantasy milieu, but also one that is something of a double-edge sword when it comes to doing it successfully.
Title: Maoyuu Maou Yuusha
Studio: Arms (Licensed by Sentai Filmworks)
The story is set in a world embroiled by war between Humans and Demons. The Humans’ greatest warrior known as the Hero invades the castle of the Demon King, leader of the Demons who is actually a Queen, as he is determined to vanquish her. However, instead of fighting back, the Demon Queen proposes an alliance with the Hero. She explains how a sudden end to the war can bring further chaos to the world as the Humans, once united to stand against their common enemies, would eventually begin fighting among themselves, with similar issues already occurring in the Demon Realm. Convinced by her words, the Hero joins forces with the Queen and together they execute a plan to bring prosperity and a lasting peace to both Humans and Demons alike..
With director Takeo Takahashi and script writer Naruhisa Arakawa bring over their experience from Spice and Wolf, the overlap between the two shows are almost identical as Mayou tries to put a very human face on some issues it presents on a topical level. Everything from politics, agriculture, human worth, education, and even societal structures are concepts that get explored and exemplified over the course of the series. However, instead of doubling down on the subject matter like Spice and Wolf did, it only seems to serve as a thematic footnote or food for thought as many of the down and dirty details get left out to pasture. Being slightly disappointed by this, it is something of a relief that the series doesn’t get too entangled into the niceties and spends more time focusing on how these social issues play a role in the everyday lives of the characters as well as what the main leads have to do to set things on the proper path.
Where the narrative does mainly revolve around the Hero and Demon Lord wheeling and dealing behind the scenes and playing their strengths to influence both the human and demon realms, I do like how they aren’t the major center of attention and how that more falls on the supporting roles. Despite said roles being very muted compared to other series, they do have some nice moments in the show and actually represent what the Hero and Demon Lord are working toward besides stabilizing the world: putting power into the hands of the people. Granted, the moments are few and far in-between, when I did see characters like Elder Sister (yes, people actually go by titles instead of given names) or the Winter King come into their own, it didn’t make me stand and applaud, yet did bring a smile to my face. That being said, while side and secondary characters do receive some sort of development, I can’t really say it is enough to build any attachment since the story does switch back and forth between factions to showcase the vital importance of their roles. Again, nothing terrible yet also not terribly interesting either or gives any extra character to the many players at the table. Of course, at the end of the day, much of it is still the Hero and Demon Lord working together and seeing the relationship between them grow.
As much as I liked the characters and concepts, the flow of the narrative is one area where Mayou does have a few weird problems. With most events seeming to happen on a whim, transitions from one episode to the next feel awkward and slightly jarring – most likely a symptom from the source materials beginnings, yet it is an aliment that can be easily overcome (or least getting used to) with time. And where it is enjoyable to see how all the smaller pieces and movements made by the cast come together to form a conclusive result, the in-between segments are sort of repetitive and begins to fray the nerves. With very little in the way in the way of tension or disruption, it usually circles around to the trite romantic tension between the Hero and Demon Lord or the cast trying make sure their carefully thought out plans come to fruition. If you are someone who likes constant intrigue and action, the series does seem to lack in that regard, so brace yourself for a more methodical and slow approach.
When it comes to the visuals, studio Arms does a decent job animating the characters and the action sequences, but the actually artwork itself – the finish product is less than impressive. More like looking at abstract pieces in an exhibit that had to scrounge the bottom of the barrel for talent, most of the background work tries to pull off a low-grade impressionistic style and a fraction the foreground looks even more undetailed and barren. For a world that is supposed to be reflective of high fantasy, the set dressing designs in regards to the artwork is probably the only disappointing aspect. On the other hand, the musical score is nothing special either, yet the tracks do capture the fantasy essence far much better.
With fantasy genre finally running its course with the same old recycled plot threads and themes, it is nice to see that Mayou puts it best foot forward in changing up the formula and showing that there are still some good ideas to be had. I can’t exactly call it the cream of the crop, but good for it is and turns out to be. Even though another season (which probably will never happen) would be great to see where things go from here, as of now, I am somewhat content with this fantasy endeavor.
Pros: Nice array of supporting roles, a different take on the fantasy genre, decent soundtrack, nice character designs.
Cons: Some supporting roles don’t get much screen time/development, dull backgrounds, awkward/rush episode transitions.
Final Verdict: Mayou is a breath of fresh air to the otherwise stale library of fantasy titles. Having it fair share of problems like quick narrative tempo and some awkward point of view shuffling, it gets balanced out by nice supporting cast and concepts that rarely get explored in most series. A very flawed, yet nice production to sink your teeth into if you’re a fantasy lover, fan of Spice and Wolf, or just looking for something slightly different from the norm.