Mike wonders aloud which anime would be a good fit for the prestigious Criterion Collection.
Reviewby Carlo Santos, Apr 9th 2006
Kyo Kara Maoh!
Yuri Shibuya, a schoolboy transported to a fantasy world and destined to be King, continues to fight injustice while developing his magical powers. Placating a mother dragon is tricky enough, but imagine Yuri's surprise when he returns to the castle and a kid shows up claiming to be Yuri's offspring! After some shocking events, a slightly injured Yuri heads to a resort town to recuperate with fellow nobles Wolfram and Conrad. Unfortunately, a mysterious swordsman is out to get them, and a greedy businessman has turned the place into a gambler's paradise. An old friend enlists Yuri and his companions' help to take back the town, but its fate will ultimately depend on a race between some very unusual beasts.
As Kyo kara Maoh! motors past the twenty-episode mark, Yuri's bizarre boy-meets-boy adventure settles into a comfortable pattern. Perhaps too comfortable—gone is the initial hilarity of discovering the Demon Kingdom's quirks, or the danger of falling into a world-traversing toilet, or even the subtle romantic tension between Yuri and his courtiers. Instead it becomes a cookie-cutter quest with the usual foes and fighting. Whatever happened to the spark that made this series so oddly amusing?
Maybe they're just stalling for time. The disc seems like a transitory arc more than anything else, and the preview for next volume's first episode—"Everything suddenly gets serious!"—promises as much. For a series that extends well past 26 episodes, this midway lull could make or break a lot of viewers. Sit through it and jump back in when it picks up again? Or just give up entirely? The storywriters do have the big picture in mind, with plot points that build upon characters and events from several episodes ago. However, even that kind of continuity and depth isn't so appealing when you have to sit through generic swordfights, uninspired action scenes, and dry explanatory dialogue.
Only when the humor goes all out is it still entertaining. When Yuri's "child" shows up, his accidental fiancé Wolfram (see Episode 2) throws a hilarious fit, acting every part the jealous lover. In fact, Wolfram's tirades tend to be the highlight of any scene, whether it's about sleeping in the same bed as Yuri or complaining about the boy's tendency to wander. Effeminate mage Günter, despite not being involved in the main arc, earns plenty of laughs too when he goes in search of Yuri and accidentally joins a monastery. And despite the dull, plot-dragging filler about the resort town, it's hard not to enjoy the race between a giant panda and a giant koala.
Even if the show isn't so compelling at this point, at least it's still pretty to look at. Colors and linework remain consistently sharp throughout, especially with the detailed outfits. The handsome, flowing-haired character designs are sure to please anyone with an eye for bishounen, although poor Conrad seems to undergo plastic surgery every week as the animators fail to keep his face consistent. The backgrounds are just as attractive as the characters, evoking an alternate medieval Europe with lush countryside and elaborate castles. Unfortunately, most of this fine artwork goes to waste with choppy fight scenes and generally lazy animation. Despite some flashes of brilliance, like Yuri summoning his water dragons, most of the sword-and-sorcery action lacks any excitement.
A typical orchestral music score reinforces the fantasy setting of the series, with the occasional classical melody still sneaking in. Although the themes are familiar now, they still add an emotional aspect, and sometimes even provide comic effect—like the gushing harp music as Günter's written praises to Yuri are misinterpreted as scriptures of enlightenment. The cheerful rock songs in the opening and ending are a catchy reminder that, even with everything that's happened, there's no need to take it too seriously.
Although the show is admittedly cheesy, it's no excuse for an English dub that sounds like first-timers at a school play. Mona Marshall continues to be the standout performer as Wolfram, throwing all sorts of temper tantrums, but the rest of the cast is inconsistent—sometimes the dialogue flows decently, and sometimes it comes out hopelessly wooden. The dub script sticks fairly close to the original translation, but this might have worked against it, since the dialogue lacks any real spark and could have benefited from some clever turns of phrase. In the extras section you'll find various character sketches, including clothing variations like Wolfram's frilly nightgown.
It's a good thing that Kyo kara Maoh! still has plenty of episodes left to snap itself out of this dull autopilot mode. Without the bizarre sense of humor and "boy's love" flavor, it's just another by-the-book fantasy series, and we already have enough of those. This disc still brings some laughs, and a fair dose of fighting action, but it doesn't measure up to the energy of previous episodes. We can only hope that the next installment will kick the plot in a new direction, or at least re-inject the goofy humor that makes the series appealing. Oh, and some boy-on-boy romantic tension wouldn't hurt, either.
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Appealing bishounen characters and moments of absurd comedy.
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