I have a deep affection for stupid, ecchi shows. Ninja Nonsense and Penguin Musume Heart rank among my favorite diversions and I'll watch a good, nudity-filled Xebec series any day of the week. Anime with no pretensions that provides amusing, modesty-driven humor forms an enjoyable staple in any male anime fan's diet. Riding high on the moderate success of Ladies Versus Butlers, I checked out Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou on a whim and only needed two episodes before I was hooked.
Playing out like the bastard child of Fist of the North Star and Ladies Versus Butlers, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou concerns the trials of Akuto Sai as he wrestles with his fate. The well-meaning high school student fights his destiny as a Demon Lord until circumstances drive him right to it. At the start, fan service drips from every frame as Akuto's powers and the machinations of greedy classmates surround him with a harem of girls who can't seem to keep their clothes on. These earlier installments burst at the seams with the sight gags, character humor, and punchy one-liners that follow the practiced formula of ecchi hits like Kanokon. But after a delightfully manic two-part beach episode an actual plot emerges. The progression trades heavily on Akuto's personality and surplus of macho as its driving force, and as the show starts to bring more pieces onto the board, the plot holes and logical inconsistencies become harder and harder to ignore.
Of course, the series pluckily bites off more than it can chew in order to engineer a suitably satisfying battle as its finale, and consequently the back half of the anime quickly gets confused when it chooses to ramp up instead of backing down. That the destiny of a demon lord should extend beyond the confines of his high school should surprise no one, but trying to cram a story that contains political intrigue, clan warfare, time travel, and the death of gods into a twelve episode anime would prove challenging even for a series playing the whole thing straight, but Ichiban attempts these contortions while also stopping to show naked students at every possible opportunity. However, only the confused final episodes with their sequel-begging harem ending should leave a bad taste in viewers' mouths, and even then, the over-the-top events should have them laughing and fist pumping right along.
Much like the tramp in your high school class, Ichiban isn't the best looking in the bunch, but it's got the goods where it matters. What it lacks in imaginative design it certainly makes up for in gusto and smartly applied computer effects. Setting aside Sai's clever facial detail, the series' character designs lack imagination. The girls are attractive enough, to be sure, but the costumes lack the garish creativity of Queen's Blade and the animated exhibitionists themselves don't engender the same affection as the delightful and noseless ladies of Xebec titles. But, once the action gets rolling the anime doles out its modest budget to maximum effect. Each of Sai's battles sports at least one moment of sheer animation-fueled adrenaline and the motion, while filled with its share of corner-cutting, communicates Ichiban's underlying devotion to Sai's badassery.
At the time of this review, only the censored prime-time broadcast was available. Due to the heavy reliance of the show on nekkid fanservice, a considerable amount of scenes sported some kind of censorship. While the tiny SD pictures of each character that appear to cover their important bits amused in the same manner as Kanamemo's cat faces or Chokotto Sister's caution tape, the occasional black swaths that covered the screen during some scenes proved to be a considerable eyesore.
When the visuals fall short, the onus of entertainment falls to the voice cast. Ichiban's actors take that charge and run with it up the nearest mountain where they plant a victory flag before performing synchronized pelvic thrusting to the heavens. Aoi Yuuki electrifies Korone and by extension the anime like a pair of defibrillator paddles set to "cook", and becomes an instant source of laughs whenever she appears. The seiyuu's rapid-fire, deadpan delivery can crush three lines of dialogue into cutting, nuanced one-liners that feel like entire routines crammed into a single, breathless bullet point. If the silky-toned straight man act weren't enough, Yuuki-san uncorks a squeaky imouto voice during episode six, which returns from time to time with great effect. Following a close second, Jouji Nakata's Peterhausen shows off one of the best "stand there and be awesome" performances in anime by a man not named Norio Wakamoto. With his gruff pontificating providing dollops of badassery on demand, the remaining cast has little left than to fall in behind: Beyond the sufficiently-shounen Akuto Sai provided by Takashi Kondo, Aki Toyosaki bubbles along in the comfortable role of Keena Soga, dispensing her trademark enthusiastic moe into any scene in which she participates and Shizuka Ito whips herself into a frenzy of lusty proclamations in the role of Etou.
The music, on the other hand, hews closer to the simple-but-effective level of the visuals. Though it's not particularly overwhelming at first listen, the guitar-heavy opening theme matches the manly spirit of the anime and serves as the perfect incidental music when Akuto and the gang gear up for fighting. The tamer end theme trades on the ecchi harem nature of the show and uses a sappy pop track that becomes increasingly out of sync with the darker tone of the series as the episodes pile on.
Akuto Sai starts like a typical harem ecchi hero: kind, polite, and easily embarrassed. Fortunately for the show, he doesn't stay that way. Instead of bending when pushed, the spineful lead pushes back. Hard. With magic. The dizzying inevitability of the plot gets most of its fuel from the combination of Akuto's sense of justice and his growing indignation at the events that surround him. And while his power grows in and changes in a manner more perplexing than Ichigo Kurosaki's, viewers can draw a line between the unassuming and amiable young boy at the start of the series and the energy-blast flinging machine of mayhem on display during the OP.
Akuto might be the main character, but Korone is far-and-away the series' gem. For all her sedate mannerism, the precocious android's motormouth simultaneously provides humor and drives the plot forward. By dancing on the edge between emotionally invested and complete disinterest, she also provides a welcome dollop of quirky mystery in a show that remains otherwise preoccupied with a lot of big questions. The rest of Sai's harem falls into standard anime archetypes without much resistance whether it be the tsundere Junko or the perverted oujo-sama, Etou. Unfortunately, Ichiban's obvious desire to sell R-rated figurines bogs the cast down with a cart of cute, if one dimensional members of the student council. They have some animus toward the end of the show, but their motivations remain completely obscure. While their powers and actions certainly entertain, they steal some valuable screen time from the plenty interesting leads.
For fans who can enjoy a good, stupid action romp wrapped 'round with pleasant ecchi eye-candy, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou provides an amusing diversion. The decent visuals and remarkably solid character development displayed by the lead work well with the slapstick humor to create a witch's brew worth checking out if you can swallow the series' deliberate lack of intelligence. Though not as clever as Penguin Musume Heart or as pretty as Kanokon, this anime nonetheless emerges as a sleeper hit from the Spring 2010 season.
Akuto Sai enters the Constant Academy for Magick Arts hoping to become a high priest and change the world for the better. But when the school's oracle declares his future profession to be 'Demon Lord', he finds himself feared and hated by the entire student population. Now, instead of making comrades and studying for his exam, Akuto finds himself fighting off monsters, bullies, and well-meaning classmates in various states of undress. If navigating a magical high school as a transfer student wasn't difficult enough, Akuto now has to deal with a cute android ordered to observe him 24-hours a day, the precocious attention of the flying, invisible and naked Keena Soga and the advances of the school's most popular girl. Will he be able to overcome his fate, pass his classes, and mend his friendship with the violent Junko Hattori, or will he succumb to his demonic destiny?
These days I load up on comedy, slice-of-life, and horror shows, but I'll watch almost anything that sports a good voice cast, an interesting story, or looks particularly pretty. I tend to relate anime I review to other shows I've seen, because that's just how my mind works. Whether my warped view on a particular show totally misses the mark or you believe I've hit the nail on the head, I'd love to hear from you and welcome feedback and intelligent discussion of just how wrong I might be.