What They Say:
Names can be deceiving, something the warrior known as Hero quickly discovers when he storms the castle of the dread Demon King that mankind has fought for fifteen years. For one thing, the “king” turns out to be a queen! Even more shocking, though, is that she’s waiting for him with an unexpected proposal.
She points out that it would be bad for both sides if the war was to end immediately, as without a common enemy, the individual factions of the winning side are certain to turn on each other in a new series of civil wars. However, she has a plan to end the war, bring democracy and advanced knowledge to humanity, and ensure lasting prosperity for both sides, no matter who “wins”. But to accomplish this, she needs a collaborator on the human side, and she’s chosen Hero as the one partner she can trust! Is it a deal with the devil, or mankind’s only hope for lasting peace?
The audio presentation for this release has the original Japanese language only in stereo encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that while it has a bit of action in a few places, it’s largely a dialogue driven piece. It really is all about the interplay between characters and the conversations that are had and it conveys that well, though they’re not exactly designed in a way to really use the soundstage all that much. It handles the material well enough but it has a kind of center channel approach to it that keeps it from standing out or doing anything creative. With this being the bulk of it, the mix itself is fairly forgettable, but it does pick up a bit towards the end with the action going on and we hear some good design then that show some fun with the battles and various attacks. Dialogue and other sounds are clean and clear throughout though and we didn’t have any problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2013, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The series runs for twelve episodes and due to there being only one language track here, it’s able to fit quite well on a single Blu-ray disc. Animated by studio Arms, the show has a great look to it with a very earthy and natural tone that befits the times with certain elements having a whole lot of pop and vibrancy, notably our Demon King. The show uses some creative ways of handling certain costumes designs that comes across well as it brings in a whole lot of detail and there’s just some beautiful scenery throughout. The show is generally a low-motion piece when not involved in action and that helps keep the space requirements low so that when it does go big in the final couple of episodes, it goes big in a beautiful way. Colors are strong and solid, noise is nearly non-existent and there’s no banding or other issues popping up to distract from the appeal of the series and its design.
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized Blu-ray case to hold the single disc that it comes with. If there’s a quibble with this release, it’s that they chose decent but difficult artwork for the front cover. With a simple and elegant brown and gold border around it, we get our two leads together holding hands with sunlight peeking in through the very dark and earthy clouds, which mirrors the way the ground itself looks. The character designs have some great detail but it’s all done with a murky look. I really wish they had stuck to some of the more vibrant pieces that were bandied about in the mockups as this one just does not catch the eye. The back cover goes with a bit of a fantasy standard approach with a simple tagline along the top and a good premise covered across a parchment piece background. The two leads get some better and more colorful artwork along the run and the shots from the show through the middle portion are okay. The discs features and episode count is all clearly listed while the remainder as the standard production information and the solid and accurate technical grid. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release is pretty good overall for a static piece as we get the right two thirds of it with a big full color piece of character artwork with our Hero and Demon King together set against a cloudy blue sky. It’s all bright and colorful with the kind of pop and color that lets it stand out nicely. The left third has the navigation strip which is set on some good bound leather type of colors with some parchment to the side. The layout has the episodes by roman numeral design and title which is very clean and easy to read. Submenus load quickly and easily and navigating the release was a breeze.
The extras for this release go a little bit above the norm, but not by too much. What we get is welcome though as the solid standards are here with the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get a selection of the original broadcast commercials, the home video commercial spots, some of the social game spots which are amusing and the original Japanese previews. Nothing major but all welcome pieces to have and check out in translated form.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series of the same name that began in 2010 by Mamare Touno and has five volumes to date, as well as a few spinoff manga, Maoyu is a new series from ARMS for Pony Canyon, a company we don’t really hear all that often about compared to the 90′s and earlier. The series is directed by Takeo Takahashi who has done quite a bit of directing over the years, more recently known to fans for his work on Spice & Wolf, but he’s also done work such as Aki Sora. With this series, we go to the whole realm of humans versus demons for the general idea, though there are quite a few other aspects drawn into it as well as one might expect. Taking us to a time where a war between the two sides has been raging for some fifteen years, we get the classic mold quickly on before it feels as though it moves to somewhat traditional territory in a way.
What we get is a traditional fantasy series which are admittedly pretty rare, making this intriguing from the start. We get introduced to our Hero as he makes his way through a large castle in order to take down the Demon King. To his surprise though, the Demon King is an attractive (if busty) redheaded woman who is excited in her own way that he’s finally shown up. He’s intent on taking her down, but she seems to have a sense about her that she’s not completely aware of what it is that demons have done throughout the lands, how many nations have fallen to them in these short years and the scale of destruction overall.
Except, it seems, a lot of what he claims is actually things done by others who use demons as their cover for their own evil deeds. The Demon King is rather amusing in how she comes across as more modern in a way, talking about pollution, economics and other aspects that our Hero doesn’t grasp, bringing to bear the real tools of war and control that others are employing in order to raise their own place within the world. A bit of an exploration of the history that’s gone on is interesting and seeing how the Demon King has unified her side over time is certainly a decent approach, but a lot of what makes it really intriguing is just the way that she carries herself when it comes to dealing with our Hero, and the way that she makes it clear that the fighting must go on when you look at the bigger picture.
The show dabbles here and there at the start with other characters that are a part of our Hero’s group that was seeking to kill the Demon King, but most of it is about these two as they spend time together and she does what she can to try and educate him to the realities of the world. It’s a very heavy dialogue driven piece in a way that feels very odd for a first episode, but it fills it with solid character designs and a feel that is just off kilter ever so slightly so that it keeps you paying attention to see what it’s really going to be about. Of course, she makes an amusing proposition to him along the way, which is played for some laughs in a way, but it sets the stage for what it is the show may really be about, which is a new kind of journey tied up in a contract, which definitely gives us some familiar shades of Spice & Wolf.
Once the two of them engage in the verbal contract that they’ll spend quite a few years together, the two end up in the Southern Nations of the human part of the world where they set up in a small village where a head maid of the Demon King’s has been setting up shop. She’s a harsh woman to be sure even at a young age, but through her and her interactions with the Demon King and the Hero helps to illustrate how the villages operate at the time, with serfs abound and a very living on the edge kind of mentality because of the lack of real skills or ideas to grow, change and evolve. It’s an education for the Hero as he tries to understand how people live, having spent so long just fighting and dealing with the nobles of the Central Nations, but through the help of the Demon King and the Head Maid helps to expand his view.
The series is one that takes a long view of things as it works, spending the first year or so with the Hero missing from the picture as he spends time with the Demon King before getting established in that village. Once there and as we get to understand the layout of the world, with the demon kingdom down south past Bright Light Island and the configuration of the government, the church and the mercantile group known as the Alliance. It’s fairly standard stuff when looking at things from a social and economic point of view and the Demon King spends part of her time explaining it to a young woman who becomes a maid on her staff that has a real knack for it, allowing the viewer to get acquainted with it all in a friendly enough way without being insulting. But we also see that because the Demon King and the Hero want peace in the world, it’s not a matter of just stopping the war. There are too many vested interests in keeping it going – some of which aren’t revealed until the final episode in a surprising moment that ultimately makes sense.
What becomes engaging about the show for me, as it fits into my enjoyment of series – be they books, TV shows or even games, is that it has the Demon King working with people slowly but surely to introduce change into the human world that well help sustain them, grow their capability to survive and harvest the land and expand in many other ways. It’s not done at the drop of the hat and we see a lot of problems along the way. While introducing a new crop like the potato can change the way the White Country itself is able to now survive with a surplus crop, something that is good, we see how it affects trade elsewhere as now some of the Central Nations merchants have less of a stranglehold on them and that cuts into their revenue. We see in a different area how they propose to expand competition by using these changes, which leads to the church getting involved as they feel threatened with their power base seeing new ideas. And change, for the church, is always a bad thing.
The majority of the show is dealing with all of these issues, and the social and religious ones as well as it progresses, and I do find it endlessly fascinating because there are so many bits of nuance and detail to it that can affect things. And it’s rare that we get such stories in anime. Maoyu also spends time with its characters, though I hate that it does keep them to just titles rather than names as it depersonalizes it too much for me. While we get a lot of characters here and they do grow a bit in a number of ways, the primary focus is on that of the Demon King and the Hero, though both of them spend time away from each other for a few episodes, with one of them being off screen for the most part. It’s not the easiest relationship to connect with, and there’s a little triangle due to his familiarity with the Female Knight from his original party, but I liked seeing the way he comes around to the Demon King’s side and is forced to think of what the world needs to do to really get past war and towards peace. But still keeping some amount of tension between them since both are inexperienced but certainly curious about each other and where that can lead.
Maoyu is a kind of really specialized anime series and one that I’m not surprised didn’t light of the fans out there this past season. It holds some similarities to Spice & Wolf, but I wouldn’t place too many comparisons to it because this one goes for a much larger view and brings in a lot of different elements and has different goals. This is very much a big picture approach to the world and the kind of story it wants to tell, so the characters do suffer and never truly become accessible and easy to connect with. But looking at it from the big picture point of view, seeing the changes to the various nations over the course of a couple of years and the way small things become ripples to larger ones is really quite engaging for me. I like the characters and would love to see it expand to make it something more, but for what we do get here, well, it left me very pleased as a kind of rare show that doesn’t get made often. It’s flawed in a few ways to be sure, but it delivers on what it actually wanted to do and challenges the viewer to think through consequences and more. It’s a beautiful looking show and while I would have loved to have seen it get a dub so more people would try it out, it’s such a specialized show that I’m simply glad beyond words that it got a Blu-ray release.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Commercials, Blu-ray Spots, Social Game Spots, Japanese Previews, Clean Opening Animation, Clean Closing Animation
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: June 10th, 2014
Running Time: 300 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.