[Synopsis]: In an attempt to conquer the land of Ente Isla, the Demon King and lord of the underworld Satan struck out against the four smaller islands surrounding his domain. Though his generals and their armies managed to invade some areas, they were quickly repelled and defeated by the Hero Emilia (Hikasa Yoko). With her comrades and the church behind her, she led the surviving humans against his demonic stronghold where Satan and his only remaining general Alciel resided. With the battle lost and his defeat near, Satan fled through a portal only to end up on Earth in Tokyo, Japan. Weakened and unable to use their powers, the two demons take up the names Maou Sadao (Osaka Ryota) and Shirou Ashiya (Ono Yuuki) and begin living week to week in a rundown apartment building. In order to make ends meet, Maou gets a job a job at a fast food restaurant and lives a relatively simple life until the Hero Emilia appears before him once again.
The cast of Hataraku Maou-sama! is relatively small and the focal characters are born out of storied, fantasy archetypes – the ominous demon king, his generals, and his nemesis the Hero. By using such simple character archetypes, the show attempts to set up fantasy expectations of the characters before subverting them in order to create comical interactions. This, along with the premise of the story wherein the lord of the underworld works at a fast food restaurant, is where the show attempts to develop its comedy. The characters don’t behave as expected and their mundane lives don’t fit with their archetypal designs. While this sounds like it has plenty of comedic potential, there are a multitude of ways in which Hataraku Maou-sama! falls short of capitalizing upon it.
While the show does perfectly well in subverting the initial portrayals of the characters, it often fails to do so in a funny way and rarely concerns itself with the implications of their characterization. Maou is introduced as the Lord Satan – a shadowy, purportedly evil, overlord responsible for burning down fields, destroying castles, flooding towns, and letting his kin run wild committing atrocities. Upon arriving on Earth, he does some brief surveillance to get the lay of the land before almost instantly transforming into a good-natured, enthusiastic, stereotypical protagonist. Were it not for the continued mention of his demonic nature and the occasional magic scene, he would be completely indistinguishable from any number of other male leads; he possesses no distinct characteristics.
This problem is pretty pervasive throughout the rest of the cast as well. The Hero Emilia is introduced as a strong and vehement foe of Maou though very little of this archetypal dynamic translates into their relationship on Earth. Though she rightfully displays animosity towards him, she does little to follow through on her task of defeating him and is quickly established as an entirely typical female lead. She gets flustered and embarrassed, especially by any allocations that she and Maou are a couple and she acts generally amicably towards him despite her tragic backstory. Maou too treats her in a similar way despite their stark opposition and continuously finds ways to help her, giving her loans, and treating her scuffs and bruises. Her tsundere attributes feel progressively more out of place as the show unfolds.
In short, the core issue of the characters is that they exchange their archetypal facades for stereotypical personas and no interesting and comedic characterization results. Maou’s general and roommate Ashiya is just the stereotypical, over-attentive friend and Maou’s coworker Chiho is almost solely defined by her attraction to him. The characters simply don’t make sense within their own subversion and people like Maou who don’t truly possess any malice or ill will are impossible to reconcile with their pasts full of atrocities and genuine misdeeds. The cast’s run of the mill designs weren’t anything you couldn’t see elsewhere in a better environment and context.
The art and animation were consistent enough throughout and didn’t present any quality issues. While not necessarily flashy, the animation surrounding the fight sequences did a good job of enhancing the fantasy of the subject matter against the otherwise mundane backdrop of the show. While not by necessity a negative element of the show, the somewhat typical, light-novel-esque designs of the characters only further flattened their appeal. Maou’s mundane appearance, while contrasting heavily against his previously introduced demonic form, further accentuates his quintessential, protagonist design. Similarly so with Emilia who looked very similarly to many other heroine characters.
The story is pretty straightforward in accordance with its premise. Maou flees from Enta Isla with his general Ashiya and, after getting a sense of Tokyo and beginning their day to day lives, their original conflict catches up with them. From there a variety of issues arise which call Maou and Emilia into action however the actual comedy of the show was rather lacking. At face value, the premise of the show might suggest that the comedy of Hataraku Maou-sama! originates from the zany juxtaposition of the trivial and mundane tasks of working in fast food and the nature of an all-powerful, demonic overlord. The first episode quickly disproves this as Maou sitautes himself within the workplace comfortably and with great work ethic. Surprisingly, until the latter half of the show, Maou’s workplace and the fast food element of the show is actually quite scarce with several romance elements and the narrative spillover from Ente Isle taking the show’s focus.
The key problem demonstrated by the show is that, in subverting the character’s away from their initial portrayal and placing them in a mundane setting, it seems to think that its job insofar as comedy is done. Hataraku Maou-sama! operated with the assumption that, by putting somebody as impressive and foreboding as the Demon King in a dingy apartment and having them live week to week by penny pinching, that the appeal and comedic part of the show would perpetuate itself. The lackluster and nonsensical characterization of the cast however upsets this greatly and with so much time spent going on dates and fostering the tense yet miraculously amicable relationship between Maou and Emilia, there isn’t anything terribly funny going on. The show doesn’t crack anything as straightforward or clear cut as a joke until around episode 6 and the earlier part of the show as a whole feels relatively devoid of the comedy that should be the show’s lifeblood.
The soundtrack is by no means actively detracts from the show however it is simultaneously of little benefit. The gloomy, ominous tracks attempt to further enhance the fantasy elements of the show and audibly differentiate those scenes from the ordinarily banal setting of the show. There wasn’t anything terribly memorable about the show’s music and it did the bare minimum and thematically supporting Hataraku Maou-sama’s subject matter.
[Final Thoughts and Rating]:
In summary, and to address why the show fell so short for me, it’s characters were overly typical and each scene wasn’t particularly funny. It ultimately felt less like a comedy show and more like a crude inverse of the classic light novel setting – instead of the protagonist wandering into a fantasy world, the protagonist of a fantasy world effectively wanders into our own, ordinary one. The other elements are more or less untouched as exhibited by Maou’s own characterization as well as Emilia’s and the general fantasy/romance elements pervasive throughout the show. Hataraku Maou-sama! felt like a stereotypical light novel first and a comedy second.
I gave Hataraku Maou-sama! a 2 because it wasn’t able to drum up any worthwhile comedy despite its apparent best efforts. The cast was woefully unoriginal and often their interactions with each other didn’t make in-world sense while the show’s comedy elements were both lacking and later ineffective.
I think that a number of other short, fantasy comedies such as KonoSuba and No Game No LIfe do a more effective job of things and are generally funnier however I’d recommend this show to essentially the same crowd. Anybody interested in a vaguely aware and subversive take on the classic Demon King and Hero archetypal story such as Maoyuu Maou Yuusha would likely enjoy the subject matter of this show as well.