The Summer 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
How would you rate episode 1 of
How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord ?
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How was the first episode?
Despite being comprised almost entirely of lazy tropes and being couched in a subgenre I have almost no patience for these days, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord also represents something of a best-case scenario for these kinds of adaptations. It's well animated and directed, with clean character designs and an overall aesthetic that is plain enough to retain as much mass appeal as possible while still managing a certain amount of charm in its execution. Takuma/Diablo also makes for a surprisingly decent protagonist; he doesn't ever go quite so far with the show's slave gimmick so as to come off as lecherous or distasteful, and the contrast between his personal anxieties and the way that others interpret his fearsome demeanor is genuinely amusing at times. It's a familiar joke, but told well enough, and I appreciate any series that has a basic grasp on comic-timing.
Unfortunately, this is still a no-frills isekai anime through and through, meaning there's only so far this premiere can go before running into many of the problems I feel are baked right into the genre itself, at least the most popular incarnations of it. The world of Cross Reverie, while well drawn and functional enough, has yet to demonstrate any characteristics we haven't seen in a thousand different series. Takuma's ridiculous power-bloat is also one of my least favorite tropes these days; outside of One-Punch Man, I've never seen any story use this setup for anything other than as an excuse for letting characters be godlike killing machines without having to waste time on, you know, character development. The brief action scenes we get in this episode are well-directed, sure, but there's no stakes in them whatsoever, because they simply act as a stage by which to show off how badass Takuma has become, and that simply isn't interesting to me.
Also, this show seems to be leaning all in on the fan-service, which is rarely my cup-of tea, especially with the whole “slave” thing looking like it'll play a prominent role in the series. To the show's credit, it doesn't go too far with anything this week, but after sitting through a whole season of Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody, I'm wary of the concept regardless. I also wasn't super keen on the extended faux-sex scene between Takuma and Rem; I get that the “cat ears are an erogenous zone” bit has been done before, but the power dynamics between the two gives the whole scene a slightly off feel that doesn't gel well with the humor its going for, and I don't buy how quickly Rem ends up bonding with Takuma after the fact. It's another example of the kind of cheap shortcuts and unnecessarily lascivious clichés that undermine what How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord does well.
If you're a fan of the isekai genre, though, you could probably stand to bump my score up to a 3 or a 3.5. This show obviously knows what it wants to be, and if well-produced junk food is what you're after, then How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord will likely do the job. It's the exact opposite of almost everything I look for in anime, but it at least seems to be putting some effort into its execution.
Based on its opening episode, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord seems like the kind of series that borrows good ideas from other titles but can't really replicate their success. Takuma/Diablo's backstory is somewhat reminiscent of the protagonist from Overlord, as is his current situation of being a powerful demon in a world that resembles his old MMO. At the same time, his panicked inner monologues and the bumbling incompetence of his new companions reminds me a bit of KONOSUBA. The problem, as you may have guessed, is that this episode is neither as intriguing nor as entertaining as either of those genre standard-bearers.
There's something inherently amusing about “fake it 'till you make it” comedy in a fantasy adventure story; having an unremarkable dork of a hero bluff and gamble his way to victory is a good way to poke fun at the grandiose nature of serious fantasy stories. That seems to be what this series is going by having Diablo act the part of a demon lord while remaining an awkward shut-in on the inside, but it sabotages itself by letting him inherit his in-game character's power and equipment. When the main character can lay waste to anything that crosses his path, it eliminates the need for him to be clever or lucky; the only thing he's faking is his ability to interact with other people. This episode also makes a big play for the fanservice angle, and while that's not an inherently bad direction to follow, the delivery feels a little too sleazy for my tastes. Between the magic slave collars and the uncomfortable bedroom scene, it's just a bridge too far.
Apart from those particular hooks, this is very much a by-the-book isekai story. A nerdy guy gets sucked into a world built around MMO game mechanics, and he's rewarded for his lifetime of gaming with insane powers and a harem of sexy girls. Assuming you're up for taking one more trip down this same old road, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord does at least have some decent production values working in its favor. Depending on how the story plays out, I imagine there might be a handful of entertaining battle scenes on tap for the season. For now, though, it looks like the audience will have to trudge through the tired plot points of the hero becoming an adventurer and humans being mean to girls with animal ears before anything new happens.
You'll probably need a high tolerance for fanservice if you're going to stick with this show, and the rest of it is unremarkable to the point where fanservice may be its only selling point. There are some signs that it's trying to branch out as a comedy, but I worry that the power fantasy elements will undermine the humor. Unless you're in need of a seasonal supply of busty elves and cat girls, I'd give this one a pass.
If 100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams is an iconic example of isekai harem series aimed at female viewers, then this new series can be pointed to as an iconic example of isekai harem series aimed at male viewers. The differences in style and approach between the two mostly come down to the common differences in approach between harem and reverse-harem series.
In other words, whereas 100 Sleeping Princes emphasizes the anonymity and passivity of its female lead, who only supports the fighters rather than fighting directly herself, this one is a power fantasy where the male lead gets to dominate the action. The series decidedly takes many cues from Overlord: the male protagonist was both monstrous and monstrously powerful in the game he was playing, but now finds himself as part of a living version of the game he played. He's so far beyond the level of anyone else in the setting that no one is easily going to challenge him, but because he's nowhere near as confident as the character he plays, he's putting up a front by making himself sound badass. The big differences are that this series takes itself far less seriously; Diablo gives no indication of being as cautious and strategic as his Overlord counterpart, and he's only starting with two other characters under his thumb. This setting also feels more like a pure game world than a fantasy world influenced by game mechanics, and Diablo has already decided to take up the quest-like cause of one of his starting compatriots rather than figuring out his own path.
And of course, there's a vastly higher emphasis on fan service. The opener and closer both make no bones about this being a prurient title, which would also be obvious from the attention given to the sizable bouncing boobs of the elf Shera, and Rem offers some contrast as the petite catgirl. Naturally that means that the male lead is also girl-shy when not in character, but I liked that they made him socially awkward in general and not just with girls. Doubtlessly a running theme of the story is going to involve him becoming less socially maladjusted through interactions with these girls, though the whole Enslavement Ritual thing and his overwhelming power make this vastly easier for him.
Some of the content gets a little edgy. Much could probably be read into the whole Enslavement Ritual thing and the girls having to wear collars because of it. Your mileage will definitely vary on these more risque aspects of the premise. On the whole, the first episode feels like a poor man's version of Overlord, but it adequately establishes its bona fides for harem, fanservice, and isekai power fantasy fans. I can't see it having much appeal beyond those crowds, though.
This isn't an entirely apt comparison, but How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord's first episode feels to me like someone decided to add more boobs to Overlord, or at least a protagonist who's more interested in them. This comes largely from the fact that, like Momonga, Diablo has found himself living in his MMORPG character and feels like he needs to create a distinct separate personality in order to survive – in other words, he's continuing to role play his online character while his real voice occasionally screams at him internally. That's probably the most entertaining aspect of this episode – the disconnect between shy and awkward Takuma Sakamoto and the suavely evil Diablo. Sakamoto is so uncomfortable around people that he gets nauseous walking through a crowded square (I can relate), and acting like Diablo is basically a survival mechanism. That it backfires spectacularly on him in a few cases is a given.
That one of these backfires is our protagonist bringing one of the girls he's accidentally enslaved to unwilling orgasm is decidedly less amusing. It seems like the easiest answer to “what do I do now that I've got this girl pinned down on the bed” would be “get up,” but Sakamoto is trapped in his role and can't get out of it. That this is part of the ecchi overlay to the otherwise basic isekai story feels certain, and while fanservice is fine in service of the plot, that doesn't necessarily seem to be the case here. Making it more annoying is the fact that the fanservice is censored – sparkling bars of light are the tool of choice here, and while they are certainly less obtrusive than other methods, they're still not great.
As for the overall plot, this looks relatively standard. Cat girl (“pantherian” in the lingo of the show's world) Rem has the soul of a demon lord trapped within her, and presumably she and her elf friend Shera have summoned someone to help them with that. That the spell backfired on them doesn't seem like it will be an issue on that front, because he's willing to help with what he perceives as a quest, and he's got all of his powers from his original game character. It could develop into an interesting direction on that front, but right now feels like a fairly basic ecchi isekai harem story. Some of it does concern me, but if that's your genre, this may have potential.
I am of two minds on Demon Lord, in spite of it in many ways being the culmination of a long and treacherous isekai road. It was a small step from “I'm trapped in another world!” to “I'm trapped in another world that exactly mirrors my videogames!” It probably seemed natural to transition from “I found love in another world!” to “in this world, all the girls love me!” And I have to imagine the first person to think “what if I was aware of all the hoary genre conventions I'm experiencing!” felt they were some kind of genius, even if that self-awareness has now become the nails-on-chalkboard background noise of the genre. Add all that up and you arrive at Demon Lord, a show whose main claim to fame seems to be tethering all those standard isekai assumptions to a softcore porn master/slave setup.
First off, if you're not already on the isekai train and somewhat amenable to all those assumptions above (trapped in a fantasy videogame where I'm all-powerful, unabashed harem setup, winking self-awareness), Demon Lord is going to be a terrible time. Isekai shows have essentially become more and more insular and self-referential over time, and though that's likely great for those who are deep into the genre, it makes them feel simultaneously samey and unapproachable to those on the outside. On top of that, this show's particular gimmick really does seem to be that it is basically toeing the borderline of ecchi OVAs and mainstream releases - the most consistently repeated shot of this episode is elf girl Shera's bouncing boobs, and Diablo's other “slave” Rem ends up trusting him after a scene that's basically a comically framed sexual assault. Demon Lord's narrative is familiar, its aesthetics mediocre, and its fanservice prevalent enough to probably scare off anyone not seeking a dedicated ecchi production.
That said, for all those negatives, there were things about this episode that genuinely impressed me. The show's greatest strength by far was its articulation of the protagonist Takuma's personality, a shut in-slash-master gamer who actually came off as a pretty convincing person. The idea that Takuma is so insecure about talking to other people that he can only comfortably speak in the voice of his demon lord character is ingenious in a dramatic sense and endearing in a personal one, while Takuma's clear understanding of his personal failings makes him far more sympathetic than the genre's usual snarky protagonists. And Demon Lord's riffs on videogame conventions also feel more thoughtful than the genre standard, with the show getting some fine comedic mileage out of Takuma's “intuition” regarding videogame conventions.
Still, on the whole, Demon Lord's adherence to many of the worst isekai tropes means it'd be hard to recommend in the abstract, and its unique focus on heavy ecchi and a master/slave dynamic means it's probably right out for anyone who's put off by that kind of fanservice, either. The neat stuff here appears in the margins, and is largely drowned out by the things that are either deeply familiar or unfamiliar for very good reasons. If you're a fan of the genre and don't mind the fanservice, Demon Lord has a reasonably convincing protagonist and relatively competent production values. Otherwise, feel free to skip it.
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