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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou - Review

This week's review will be on the anime "Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou" (Or "Daimaoh," for those of you used to the old transliteration). In a nutshell, This anime was a show based on the light novel that simply was produced and aired at the wrong time. What do I mean by that? If there was any show that helped indicate that the year 2010 would be a year that would push along the era of weak stories and gratuitous amounts of fan service, it would be Seikon no Qwaser. Seriously, it was released in early January of that year and simply had breast feeding scenes every other episode, and it's as if they're only following the trend of Queen's Blade that first aired almost a year before. And then once we get into the spring season of 2010, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou would only disappoint fans as it would further support the argument that anime was headed toward a deep dark, fanservice flooded road. Had it been only released perhaps 2-3 years before, this show could've ranked fairly high and been regarded as a "good" show overall. Maybe it would have also had a 26 episode budget instead of being filler until summer.

But instead it gets one cours instead of the usual 2 because it's only purpose is to stall for time. They're gonna introduce a wide array of characters, introduce the main antagonist by the... 8th or so episode and attempt to wrap it up in the last 2 episodes because episodes 9 and 10 must now about about the lame ass backstory of said recently introduced antagonist who's actually just another useless idiot (like the main characters of visual novels, except he DOESN'T get the girl, so now he's in a state of NTR rage). Christ, it's so formulaic you might as well add onto say that "it's not lupus."

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is about a boy named Akuto Sai who is to transfer into Constant Magic Acadamy, a prestigious prepatory school that guarantees that graduates will attain a government position. His dream is to be a Grand Priest (apparently a high government position) to try and better society, but all of that crashes down on him when his aptitude test (a Yatagarasu that predicts the future of students) declares that his future occupation will be Demon King. All hell breaks loose (no pun intended) and the entire school panics as it will be educating a student whose goal in life would be to destroy them. Losing the trust of nearly around him, there are those that still seem to find themselves attached to a now reclusive Akuto. Which leads me to my next point.....

What the hell is up with the english title? "Demon King Daimao"? Really? You're going to repeat the same name except in a different language? How did that get even approved? I understand that saying Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou is a bit hard on the english tongue but what the hell happened? I understand that this title was probably included in one of those batch licenses that companies seem to be forced into doing if they actually want to license highly rated productions but at least translate the title or something.

Titles mean a lot. Whether it's books, movies, TV Shows, or animations. It helps give the audience a first impression of what to expect from the show. As stupid as it sounds, people who watch "Saw" are going to be expecting something sort of key element of the story that will involve a Saw. It sounds stupid because of how obvious it is, but WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO EXPECT WITH AN UNINFORMATIVE SHITTY TITLE?

Regardless, if you want to translate the title literally (like an idiot who's studying Japanese) it comes out to something like "The Demon King of the Most Furthest Back". Sorry, I dont' know why I'm so angry while writing this review...

My personal translation would be "The Grand Overlord in the Far Back". In this way, not much is lost in translation. In the show, Akuto's seating is in the seat at the back of the classroom which explains the title. While all Japanese school anime seem to feature fixed seating arrangements, such is less likely the case in American schools however, the multiple implications of the translated title still work. While sitting in the very back row can denote deliquency, it can also seem to imply those who are shy or anti-social. This double meaning works well for the main character and would have the audience expecting something from the show. Speaking of which, although "demon king" is the literal translation of Maou, I've always thought that Overlord worked quite well. It has a strong enough negative connotation that isn't too harsh (such as tyrant). It also makes fun

Considering the over arching story, shows like these tend to be very wide open and normally result in multiple mini arcs that then make up the series. Because of how short this show is, one would expect better/faster pacing and a need for efficiency to get main plot points out quickly but that doesn't seem to be the case. In fact, it seems hellbent on accomplishing as little as possible while attempting to introduce the large array of secondary characters. There's even a goddamned "school trip to the beach" episode which more or less guarantees a waste of budget and an entire episode for fanservice.

It's a shame too, because the cast is fairly diverse and all fairly strong alone. The main character for once isn't some loser, or a reluctant genius. He's a developed, level-headed and self-motivated character who isn't prone to random counter yelling during perverse situations and works well as a decent tsukkomi for comedic relief. The backstory and setting for the world isn't too half-assed either. The ultra-religious undertone existent within the government has been done before, but there's less emphasis on the strong religious aspect which works well to hide the cult-like society and Akuto's goals as well as his actual beliefs that are explained later.

There's also the SINGLE moment when Akuto acts sadistic and evil which counters his general personality but considering the length of the series and the actual main focus of the show, this never gets embellished and the deep infusion of technology with magic is also never explained which left me with many questions. However, as the show progresses on, Akuto's acceptance of the situation around him and his more level headed personality countering the hysteria around him is something interesting to watch. It's quick development in a short period of time but it strengthens Akuto as a good main character.

Considering that airing in 720p is almost standard now, not much can be said about the animation quality except that I'm seeing a lot of stills. It's not noticeable because many of us are used to seeing them in animation, but the very first episode is a good judge of how you'd expect the budget to be spread out. The main and secondary characters are very detailed, and their animation is extremely crisp, while most background characters will stay that way and pretend they're stuck in a landscape painting. Effects are done extremely well. While the 3D modeling needs work (as always. There's never been a case where an anime had well implemented 3D modeling except for Panty&Stocking) particle effects, bloom and general compositing is extremely fluid and nicely meshed into the animation. Actual fight scenes and the use of magic are animated quite well although explosions could use a bit more work. If you look closely enough you can see the repeated layers.

Good CG

Bad CG (Seriously, when will animators realize this looks REALLY bad when everythign else doesn't look that spotless?) The track looks great.... but the train.... just... urgh.

The humor is quite well done. Because of the dynamic range of characters, the comedic points of this show have a bit of extra flair, especially with the observational AI Korone. Not only that, the constant stabs at Akuto's actions and assumptions about the uncanny link to evil is amusing to watch. It's a bit of Schadenfreude as you laugh at Akuto's earnest attempts to establish good rapport with his classmates only for it to backfire on him and help him dig his own grave.

I'm not sure what to say about the music. It seems that since Disgaea, any other show involving Maou seem to follow suit in terms of music. Same instruments are used and similar melodies are borrowed. It's not particularly bad but it does mean that the music then becomes easily forgettable. Oh, and the opening theme is misleading. I have yet to see any part of the show get that dramatic or mindblowing....

It's not a heavy recommend from me. If there's a second season released, I would watch it to see if it improved but I simply can't deal with how much lost potential there was in this show. Regardless, this is currently streaming on hulu via Anime Network, and the DVD and Blu-ray are both out. This show IS visually appealing so the blu-ray will make a significant difference in quality over DVD.

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