Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 22nd 2005
Kyo Kara Maoh!
Yuri Shibuya may be an ordinary schoolboy in Japan, but in the fantasy world he's been transported to, he's a Demon King. Royal life takes a dark turn when he gets kidnapped by a rebel who wants revenge against the Demon Kingdom. Can Yuri's sense of justice, and the true Demon King hidden inside him, stop the war? Later, Yuri and the other nobles set out for the land of Svelara when they hear news of a fake Demon King who holds the valuable Demon Flute. However, the party gets separated, and their journey to Svelara becomes a test in hiding from the authorities, as people of Demon blood are despised in this region. Somehow, Yuri and Gwendal must find the Demon Flute while also helping a woman who is persecuted for loving a man of Demon descent.
Who likes pretty boys? C'mon, you know you do. And what better place to find them than in Kyo kara Maoh!, where dashing gentlemen try to protect the peace of a magical world… while running away from savage pandas. This quirky fantasy with a boy's-love flavor goes into full adventure mode now, but still makes room for silliness. New characters and relationships emerge, but so do new gags and comedic situations. Even as this series traverses through familiar sword-and-sorcery territory, it always manages to put an unexpected spin on things.
By a lucky stroke of episode distribution, Volume 3 finishes at the end of a story arc, making it an ideal self-contained disc. Yuri's escape from the kidnapping and his journey to Svelara comprise the five episodes here, introducing some new characters while also expanding on the politics of human-Demon relations. However, these developments mean that the spontaneous, off-the-wall humor of the earlier episodes gets pushed aside. There are still some golden moments—an encounter with a raging desert panda and Yuri's booty-shaking performance on the Demon Flute, to name a few—but this comedy-fantasy finally gives in to the demands of fantasy, focusing on a standard there-and-back story.
Along the way, Yuri's character steps up from pure wide-eyed innocence to curiosity about a world where even the food chain is different. He even says it himself after another watery trip from Earth to the Demon Kingdom: "After the first few times, the element of surprise goes away." This might also be true of the lighthearted boy's-love hints throughout the series—now that everyone's used to Yuri being engaged to blond bishounen Wolfram (see Episode 2), it's no longer a punchline in itself. However, Wolfram's jealous sniping at Yuri is still good for laughs; the mismatched couple is one comedy device that never gets old. Too bad they spend most of the Svelara story arc away from each other—probably another reason why this part of the series isn't as funny as previous episodes.
The setting of Kyo kara Maoh! maintains the status quo for high fantasy, with ornate castles, foreign landscapes and fancy outfits being the key visual elements. Fans of bishounen characters will, of course, point out perfectly groomed men like Wolfram, Gwendal and Conrad as being key visual elements too. The animation staff puts it all together with sharp colors and clean lines, occasionally paying attention to background details… but that's where the quality stops. Actual animation and movement often turns out awkward, and the staff also gets an excuse to slack off with the large number of dialogue scenes. Most of the smooth animation is saved for special effects and pivotal action sequences. (Yuri's buttshake looks great, really, but it's a repeating cycle of about 6 frames.)
Aside from the amusing tunelessness of the Demon Flute, the orchestral music score captures the swashbuckling nature of fantasy. With Yuri spending most of these episodes being chased or attacked, the dominant sound is one of tension, conveyed by dissonant strings and angry fanfares. During moments of rest, the music tones down well, although you'd never guess it from the brash theme songs by rock band The Stand Up.
The voice actors on the English dub seem to have finally settled into their roles at this point in the series, although for some of them it means putting on an unconvincing regal accent. Of course, this isn't true for Yuri(played by Yuri Lowenthal), whose plainspoken manner suits him well. Sadly, his transformation into Demon King isn't nearly as authoritative as Takahiro Sakurai's booming performance on the Japanese track. The real star of the show, however, continues to be Mona Marshall, who goes into her low register as Wolfram and berates Yuri with unflagging energy. Although the script matches well between subtitles and dub, the timing and phrasing on the dub suffer from irregularities that could have been improved with some re-wording.
If you're into Kyo kara Maoh! for the comedy, this volume may seem like a drag, focusing on a storyline that introduces new characters and complicated relationships. Sitting through that story, though, might be worth it just to get to some of the funnier moments in the series. As an added bonus, you'll learn more about the Demon world, and who can ignore the appeal of cute guys getting caught in embarrassing situations? This fantasy world isn't always the most spectacular, but it still holds some unexpected surprises.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B
+ An involved story arc that brings more substance to Yuri's fantasy world.
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