Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Oct 23rd 2008
Kyo Kara Maoh!
Having acquired the fourth box from Earth's Demon King Bob, Yuri and his entourage are hard at work renewing the seal that keeps the evil, all-powerful Originators from emerging and indulging in all manner of apocalyptic mischief. The nasty vibes escaping from the boxes continue to cause odd things to happen, including a ghostly wolf attack on a symbolic bridge being built between the human and demon lands. When he has some time, Yuri reads up on his predecessor, the Great One, learning the legend behind his triumph over the Originators and foundation of the Great Demon Kingdom. No sooner has he enriched himself with the knowledge than his brother, dining at Bob's with their mother Miko, is sucked into a lake and ends up in Yuri's back yard. Shori senses something off about the sealing ritual, something that only grows more sinister as Wolfram begins acting oddly...dark and a fleet of masked demons bursts from the office bathtub to attack Bob and Miko. Will the boxes be sealed? Does the Great One really have Yuri's best interests in mind? Will the series ever be funny again? One can only hope.
When Funimation announced its rescue of a raft of defunct Geneon titles, the fun but slight Kyo kara Maoh! likely wasn't at the top of many fans' cheer-from-the-rafters list, what with eminently salable properties like Black Lagoon and Hellsing Ultimate to drool over. It's a testament to the appeal of the series' brand of undemanding entertainment then that when the time comes to torture one's budget with the inrush of salvaged Geneon titles, you still find yourself forking over for it.
Unfortunately, with the end of the season fast approaching, it turns out that there's precious little time for the light fantasy parody and shounen-ai goofing that made previous volumes go down so easily. Whether it's fleshing out the history of the Great Demon Kingdom, intimating dire threats against Wolfram's sanity, delving into Shori's insecurities, or hinting that all is not well with the sealing of the Originators, this volume wants to be taken seriously. And for a series where persistent lightheartedness has always been its greatest virtue, that's a problem. The attempts at emotional involvement dash themselves to pieces on a cast that, even after nearly seventy episodes, is still too weak to shoulder the burden of straight-up drama. For all of its pretense at throwing obstacles in the way of Yuri's do-gooding, the series' belief in the power of good intentions to subvert millennia of hatred and violence is laughably naive, and even were one susceptible to it, the blundering obviousness (and frequency) with which the message is delivered renders it more precious than uplifting.
The Earthside material—with its byplay between Yuri's flighty mother and Bob's usually imposing underlings—is the one consistent ray of light in a stretch of episodes that hasn't time even to allow Yuri's sardonic nature to shine. Aside from some unfunny Gunter-being-Gunter humor and Shori's one genuinely amusing line (a reaction to Yuri's daughter), the Demon Kingdom material is one uninterrupted run of gently failed drama. Without any silliness to break it up, this volume is worse than just flawed: it's boring—something that, for all their flaws, the previous volumes never were.
If for some incomprehensible reason you forgot the series' spotty record with action and were hoping at least for some rousing battles, forget it. The animation for the two Originator battles is so heavily recycled that they might be the same battle were it not for the different lighting schemes. Animation has never been the series' forte, so trying to spice up the final arc with frequent fights—as this volume does—isn't the smartest of tactics. Magical showdowns, improvised swordfights, and mythical beast hunting abound, but are so heavily shortcutted, awkwardly animated and limply choreographed that they make director Junji Nishimura's work in Samurai Deeper Kyo look like Once Upon a Time in China.
Backgrounds, on the other hand, have always been strong, and continue to provide atmosphere and a genuine sense of the fresh, natural wholesomeness of Yuri's adopted homeland. Characters are more generic, but have a cleanness to their features and a clearness to their eyes that keeps the sizable cast of beautiful men (and women) appealing.
For a series so adept at using silence—it almost, but not quite, creates some tension during the Shori arc using oppressive silence—Kyo kara Maoh! can be surprisingly inept at utilizing Yoichiro Yoshikawa's sweeping fantasy score. Though probably not intended as a joke, the use of the awe-inspiring vocals of the Demon King theme during a showdown between a roaring ghost wolf and a flute-playing Yuri is probably the funniest thing this volume has to offer. Soaring fantasy themes burst out of the silence like guerillas from the jungle underbrush, ambushing viewers with obvious emotional appeals, while the quieter themes are wielded with the subtlety of a flyswatter upside the head. The driving pop-rock of the opening remains the score's highlight, while the easygoing closer is as pleasantly forgettable as ever.
Given the fantasy setting, the clunky script—which serves as a droning reminder of the unsuitability of grammatically-correct English for dialogue—isn't a problem in and of itself. The cast's unenthusiastic delivery of it, and the resultant loss of color and energy, however, is. That said, other than some laughable background dialogue (some of the villagers' lines in the bridge episode are belly-laugh awful), there's nothing terrible about the English version; it's simply uninspired. Some of the performances are quite good, Yuri's mother and Dark Wolfram in particular; others are less so, as with the perfectly serviceable but less drily humorous English rendition of Yuri, but no one is conspicuously miscast or outright botched. Dub fans will be fine, but fence-sitters may want to sit it out.
While the balance of humor and seriousness has definitely tipped in an unfavorable direction, Kyo kara Maoh! hasn't yet reached the ill-considered depths of darkness that made the Conrad's-arm business periodically painful. Glimmers of lightheartedness remain, and the tone remains bright—if serious—throughout. This is, however, probably the least enjoyable volume to date. The series has never been particularly memorable, but where previous volumes left one feeling pleasantly empty-headed, this one just leaves you empty.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ Provides historical background and plenty of clues about forthcoming revelations without growing painful.
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