The problem with creating a historical anime is frequently similar to that of adapting a manga or video game: oftentimes, the author has to resort to filler or fan-service materials to clumsily meet the airing requirements for shows. However, an axiom that directors ought to familiarize themselves with is that quality is invariably better than quantity.
Thankfully, this inference only applies to certain aspects of Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, a recent adaptation of the original light novels under the same name.
Set in a time period of gruesome wars to political corruptions, Maoyuu depicts a fantasy world where humans and devils are fighting for the ultimate authority, while exploring the infrastructures involved in wars. Despite it falling under the fantasy genre, Maoyuu brings many historical references into play- from the great innovations of the Discovery age (such as the compass, movable type prints, etc.) to the spread of crops like potato and corn into the agriculture industry. Moreover, it is reminiscent of a certain series that many of us could've never forgotten- Spice and Wolf.
Better known for its formula of enchanting romance, Spice and Wolf consists of a very similar antique structure in the way that it handles its plot, drama, world-building, and specifically, the daily lives of merchants. While this may sound bland, Spice and Wolf manages to make it work with a recipe of individual arcs for concentrated purposes, and thus, the viewer can gain a fine viewing of diverse episodes with several delightful, piquant subjects at hand.
If Spice and Wolf is a mix between curry and rice, then Maoyuu would surely be a mix between potatoes and candy bars; since, it is neither a smart combination nor a completely satisfying experience. Still, it's only in comparison that one is weaker than the other. The steady, episodic approach that Maoyuu employs very much stands out on its own.
A scaffolding plot, after all, is better than none at all. The story of Maoyuu starts out with our protagonist Yuusha, a hero siding with the humans, not expecting the beautiful demon queen Maou, whose only wish was to negotiate with him, in the heart of the demons' castle. After their fated meeting, Yuusha then embarks on a journey at Maou's will, and each episode continues with mini-stories about Yuusha's encounters and findings for a seemingly nonexistent reason.
Whereas, it is fairly obvious from the start that Yuusha has difficulties conveying his true intentions for Maou, and oftentimes these misunderstandings are used for comedic purposes as well as entertainment. Although repetitive, the several quirks that Maou and Yuusha begin to form do add onto the character interaction, and definitely made certain arcs more interesting.
However, side characters do abruptly intervene in the capital of romance arcs, usually with very few good reasons for doing so, and thus, some developments can turn out stagnantly without progression. Most side characters also have very little to offer, ranging from a delusive maid to female knights like Onna Kishi. At times, female characters would surround Yuusha in herds, and it becomes questionable whether or not pandering to the audiences was the purpose. And, although some characters were satisfyingly fleshed out with conclusive stories, other individuals had trouble deciphering their prominent role in the series. Such abstruse matters also bring up the lack of characterization or any predisposition to determine the presence of a solid personality for specific characters, since most of the cast only experience trite developments.
Maou, for example, is best described by her acquaintance as "useless meat". Although Maou herself denies this, and claims at all costs the significant deeds that she has achieved and will, the fact of the matter remains that her role embodies a few inconsistent hiccups. At times, she continuously aims to resolve world peace, while the scenes which repeatedly follow her scholarly deliberations are abruptly placed daydreams of Yuusha. Such applies to the grander scale of Maoyuu as it deconstructs historical figures and side characters to bring concerns about the time period being depicted- the medieval ages. Contrarily, the portrayal of the church's public servants during prehistoric times may have exaggerated some of the exploitations, but Maoyuu does extensively illustrate the corruption which overtook officials of feudal societies. Additionally, a charming aspect of Maoyuu resides with how the characters were named after fantasy classes, which effortlessly resonated a lovely core. However, due its enormous cast, Maoyuu couldn’t engender insightful eccentricities for certain characters as it did for others.
Likewise, the character aesthetics in the series stuck with genuinely dull decorations as exemplified by Yuusha, whose character design emits the appeals of a generic, immutable male lead. Similarly, Maou has her own pairs of inflatable balloon issues, which many will see as being hackneyed and unoriginal.
However, the art directing, layouts for many of the map animations and arrangement of urban images are, in comparison, much better. Correspondingly, majority of the background frameworks and presentations also fulfill their duty in making a location look rural, metropolitan, or even appropriately hideous.
Music is undoubtedly one of Maoyuu's greatest assets. The original soundtrack entrances viewers with its vibrant nature, and likewise, the use of many instrumental pieces evokes an indelible atmosphere. With a spirited opening and ending theme, Maoyuu further enlivens its vigor. Correlation between the animation and music also paints an impressionable feeling for the series overall, and the seiyuus all befit their roles perfectly.
On the contrary, good narration doesn’t necessarily equal quality dialogue.
While the conversations in the series do present interesting observations about macroeconomics, some expositions on the networks of commerce can come off as brusque. Not only so, Maoyuu emphatically focuses on the construction of its own fantasy world, rather than the chronological order of its historical references, so some of the mentioned inventions furnish idealized timelines over what's factually correct. This, in turn, produces temporarily engrossing world-building, but it can also repeatedly bore or confuse the viewer with arbitrary elaborations on ultimately flimsy subjects.
From the tone of my writing, it may sound like the majority of Maoyuu is about monotonous history or economics; however, during the latter parts of the series character relationships take center stage, and action scenes transpire more often. As most climaxes do, the story delivers a closing end towards previously unresolved issues, and desolating sides of things take form in both dialogues as well as battles. This, in some ways, may dismay some audiences since the pacing relatively changes, but as a closure, many aspects of the show become a lot more tasteful and digestible even in spite of the several interrelated topics displayed.
Moderately diverse, Maoyuu is a series that really tries to bring something to the table for everyone, and in its mixture of historical references with fantasy themes, some of its themes are marred by oversimplified explanations. Although the stale, generic personalities some characters exhibit are very definite flaws, the majority of Maoyuu can still offer insights on the economic and strategic aspects of war, which shifts towards a manner infrequently attempted in its medium. It is most unfortunate, then, that this unique concept lacks the excitement its influences (Spice & Wolf) had obtained so gracefully. Perhaps if given a second season, the lackluster aspects of Maoyuu can do itself more justice through more concise yet lively handling of its themes, and its character relationships may become even more captivating. If nothing else, this series provides a fascinating outlook on the protocols and systems of commercial economics, but sadly, is a hero crippled by his towering boldness of attempting too many feats.
Despite its unfortunate flaws, Maoyuu can still compensate for its faults by further constructing its dynamic universe, but only if a sequel will be permitted to fully execute the conceptual values.