Hataraku Maou-sama! – Episode 1

Hataraku Maou-sama! This will be the fourth show I’ve gone crazy on in the last 24 hours, and it’s almost certainly the most speculative. And honestly, it was barely on my radar earlier – two other shows I was interested in, Karneval and Photo Kano, have simply slipped off my radar. Karneval because all the comments here are like, “Whoa, this is pretty solid… for a BL distribution platform,” and Photo Kano almost strictly because retrobrigade, one of the bright lights in our community, made a comment that basically confirmed the sum of my fears. But I have my reasons.

I love comedy. I think it’s a critically under-respected art form, I think it’s goddamn insanely difficult to do well, and I think it can contribute to truly lasting, powerful, incisive, important, emotionally resonant things. I also think a finely crafted joke in the abstract is a beautiful machine, regardless of its power or resonance. Unfortunately for me, most anime comedies fall into the same routines they’ve always trod – heavy slapstick, wacky misunderstandings, extremely broad gags, refrains on single-note characters. All really easy, obvious, frankly tedious stuff. And yeah, there are good anime comedies out there, but when I think of “anime comedy,” I mainly think of a lot of shows that put me to sleep.

So, fair warning. The concept of this show sounds rife for great jokes to me (or at least is itself one single great joke that could be riffed on successfully for a while), but if this show is pretty much a standard anime comedy, this comment will likely get kind of brutal. I’m just a guy who likes a good joke, and thinks they are a fine topic for craft discussion. So let’s see what we’ve got here.

Episode 1

2:00 – Wow, this is some remarkable production value being expended to set up this conceit. A good sign.

5:10 – Wow again. They’re using this exactly as hilariously as I think it could be possibly used.

10:00 – I… pretty much can’t even comment. The deadpan gags, the overwrought narration, the urgent, pulsating soundtrack, the overall tone – it’s perfect. By playing this running gag entirely straight from their perspective, but oh-so-occasionally veering out and letting the cinematography/soundtrack undercut their self-seriousness, it is absolutely searing this joke. So far, this is a show I am happy to have exist.

11:03 – Ermahgerd that scene. “CALM yourself, Alsiel! WOULD YOU EXPECT ANY LESS?!” Why is this so funny.

16:00 – Amazing crazy smile.

Also, I didn’t talk at all about the immediate transition to their complacent life, because it just fucking worked. The show slipped immediately from taking itself seriously as a fish-out-of-water story about two pompous ex-demons in the modern world, to taking itself seriously as a lighthearted slice-of-life within the working class of everyday existence. Despite the huge genre shift, the tone remained consistent, and framing both the establishment of their standard of living and the new social dynamic between the pair of them as jokes to us that are far from news to them both smoothed that vast gulf of a transition and immediately attached the audience to the new reality, all while making great use of this shift for some cheap, reliable gags.

Another thing that these creators clearly understand is that one of the great strengths of humor in a show that actually cares about its characters is its ability to humanize characters without dissecting them. Because we’ve seen these characters act ridiculous in a consistent way in a variety of circumstances, it doesn’t matter that we don’t know anything about their pasts – their goals are clear, their personalities are self-evident, and, most importantly, we’ve seen them fail in ways we can relate to and empathize with. Empathy is the most important variable in character-driven stories (and yes, I’d argue that most of the best comedies happen to also be character-driven stories), and one of the easiest ways to create empathy is to reveal characters making fools of themselves in ways the audience can relate to. Done and done.

20:30 – And now they’re applying the stakes of an overwrought high fantasy drama to the life of a fry cook. The joke is fairly obvious – this one’s all in the execution. And man, does this show ever know how to nail its executions.

And Done

Damn. Really, really impressed by this one. In fact, I’d say that of what I’ve seen, this is easily the most impressive show of the season, at least craft-wise. RDG is also pretty solid, but it suffers from some generic elements – this show is both fairly unique and pretty much a perfect articulation of why this idea is funny. A couple important components comprise that, and the most important by far is its level of commitment. It wholly commits to the idea of these characters, and plays it so very close to straight throughout the entirety of the run. This is good – the idea is what is funny, and the more it sells the viewer on the reality of that idea, the better. Secondly, it doesn’t settle for generic gags – all the humor in this show is a natural extension of the specific characters and the specific situations they encounter. So many shows start with an interesting premise and then tell the same story/jokes as every other show (I dropped it pretty early, but from what I saw Nyaruko was a pretty standard example of this). This one goes deep on its “protagonist,” and most of the humor comes from his very funny and very singular interpretation of the world. Plus, it all makes sense – I can completely believe that someone from an absurdly unrealistic, good-versus-evil fantasy world would believe that the regional contest regarding Spicy Fries is the most critical battle in the universe.

I hope this show keeps it up. This episode was really, really good.