Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jun 10th 2010
Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō
Episodes 1-6 Streaming
Sai Akuto wants very badly to be a nice guy. And by most measures he is. He obeys the law, is kind and equitable, and aspires to be a High Priest, the holiest and most austere of occupations. To this end he transfers to the Constant Academy for Magical Arts, a vocational school for magic users. All is going swimmingly—including a budding friendship with the student body's most upstanding girl—when the school's purportedly infallible oracle proclaims his future occupation as "Demon Lord." And everything goes promptly to hell. Everything he does is misconstrued as evil plotting, his ignorance of school law and etiquette not helping, and nothing he says or does can convince anyone otherwise. His new friend turns viciously on him, he attracts wannabe underlings, and the attentions of the luscious observer-bot sent by the government and the various black magicians and school leaders who want to exploit him has everyone convinced that he's womanizer of, well, demonic proportions. But worst of all, the whole mess seems to be propelling him inexorably towards his apocalyptic fate.
Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō establishes a pattern early on. One episode will deal seriously with Akuto's plight, and the very next will be undiluted fan-service pandering. Plot, then boobs. Plot, then boobs. So the series goes for its first six episodes.
Of course the division isn't cut and dry. The serious episodes feature plenty of the romantic complications and incidental nudity that wax supreme in the jiggle episodes and the jiggle episodes contain germs of substance that often become foundations for the (more) serious episodes. But as a rule of thumb it works, and its effect is undeniable: the show is absolutely infuriating. Just when you're ready to be seduced by its premise, reveling in the dark humor and inherent power of its tale of a man fighting a fate that is neither as evil nor as ill-suited to his personality as he thinks, the series will drown itself in boob-peddling nonsense. One minute it's forcing Akuto to decide between saving a friend and denying his burgeoning Demon-Lord-hood, the next it's locking him in a cell with a horny android and a naked girl. Discussions of discrimination via precognition alternate with gags about penis size, and gooey puppy-love vies for screen time with frightening shifts in Akuto's personality. The urge to throw crap at your screen, in other words, is acute.
And yet, somehow it keeps you watching. Part of that is because the naughty gags and romantic misunderstandings, for all their irritating dilutionary properties, are reasonably amusing. Part of it is because the series never takes itself too seriously, making it fun to watch even when it's dumb or vulgar (director Takashi Watanabe was the guy behind The Slayers after all). And partly—let's be honest now—it's because the fan-service is really, really good. The girls are cute, voluptuous, and of course frequently naked—a combination not to be underestimated, particularly when it's so darned good-natured. And bouncily well-animated. It takes an underappreciated level of skill to master the confluence of character design and animation that makes fan-service work. Give Ichiban Ushiro its due; it has that confluence down pat—even with its pervasive "paste a face over it" censorship.
But the real reason Ichiban Ushiro holds together, and onto us, is its cast of characters. Neither the harem complications, nor the naughty humor, nor the fan-service would work nearly so well (if at all) were it not for the strong, distinctive (if simple) personalities of its female cast. Akuto's robot minder Korone in particular is a fount of amusement; a cute, dead-pan delivery device for some seriously horrendous vulgarities. And the remainder of Akuto's harem, right down to the initially irritating black-magic schemer, is interesting—and possessed of their own oft-selfish reasons for taking up residence in his bordello.
And then there's Akuto. The rare male lead capable of out-competing his female compatriots, he wants desperately to be a spineless do-gooder, but just can't seem to swing it. For one, his ironclad sense of justice consistently puts him in conflict with the powers-that-be, and for another, somewhere beneath all that enforced goody-two-shoes behavior and denial is a genuine, ice-cold Demon Lord. The scene in which Akuto, ambushed by a variety of thugs, retaliates by breaking their legs and forcing them to watch as he tortures their leader is a real eye-opener to say the least.
It's also a reminder that behind the wheel of this colorful little comedy/magical action/romance vehicle sits the guy who gave us Ikki Tousen. That is, if the exploding blouses weren't enough to tip you off. Watanabe isn't versed only in reflexive joke-making a la Slayers; he and his Artland collaborators also pull off some pretty solid action set-pieces, sprucing up fist- and sword-fights with CG magic, cogent choreography, and little jolts of incongruous brutality. They're energetic and exciting enough that their occasional budget-friendly shortcut isn't that noticeable, and they have an eye for cool that many another action series could benefit from. The show overall is bright, energetic, and better animated than the norm, and the fan-service may hog more of the animators' time and effort, but the action—a mano-a-mano rumble with a dragon, that thug-ambush—linger longer in the mind's eye.
Tastuya Katou's score is at its best when serving up rousing fantasy pastiches and at its worst when filling ears with dippy comedy compositions. It's the kind of work that does its job—some pulsing action support here, a snippet of downbeat introspection there—without lingering unduly in your memory.
There is a lot to like about Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō. It has a clean, pleasant look, an excellent premise and a strong male lead. Fans of fan service will be in jiggle heaven, and its flashes of intelligence (the position of Demon Lord sounds suspiciously like that of a demonized revolutionary, a perfect fit for the unsuspecting Akuto) can catch even jaded anime junkies off guard. Even with its lapses into idiocy (the black-magic schemer's schemes) and habit of skirting substance in favor of harem silliness it stands as a lively, diverting slice of ecchi entertainment. It's just a shame that it doesn't try to be more.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B-
+ The rare harem comedy with a superior premise and strong male lead; solid secondary cast; excellent fan-service.
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