The Summer 2019 Anime Preview Guide
Demon Lord, Retry!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Demon Lord, Retry! ?
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How was the first episode?
A year or two ago, I might have started this preview off with some kind of snarky remark about how Demon Lord, Retry! is yet another isekai light novel adaptation about an otaku that gets sucked into his favorite video game and is given a host of special powers in this new world, where everyone else exists as a real flesh and blood character. At this point, though, I'm just worn out. This specific isekai subgenre has just never done anything at all for me. I have no interest in straightforward power fantasy stories, I find the integration of MMORPG mechanics to be distracting and clunky, and I have yet to encounter one of these series that actually makes good on the theoretically infinite potential of creating an all new fantasy world, even if it is just a video game. All of these fake anime MMOs feel so generic and boring. If you gave me an anime where a guy had to go live in the world of Nier Automata, or Bioshock, or something like that, then maybe I would have a different perspective on things. Games like this series' oh-so-creatively titled Infinity Game feel like the cheap knockoff titles that got resigned to the bargain bins back in the good old days of physical media.
At this point, a vast majority of the “trapped in a fantasy world with MMORPG powers and a [insert cute sidekick variety here]” feel to virtually indistinguishable, save for whatever their “gimmick” is. Disturbingly enough, the trend these days has been slave girls, which is all sorts of Not My Thing, so right off the bat I have to give Demon Lord, Retry! props for falling back on a much more palatable trick of having the main character, Akira/Hokuto, be the gruff caretaker of a surrogate child figure, Aku. Games like The Last of Us, The Walking Dead, and the PS4's God of War all made great use of this classic trope, and though the show doesn't exactly escape the creepy subtext that can so often creep up with underage girls in an anime like this, it's nowhere near as salacious as I expected it to be. It isn't exactly riveting material, but it didn't make me embarrassed to be watching it, either. That's a depressingly low bar to be commending Demon Lord, Retry! for clearing, but such is the year 2019.
Speaking of Akira/Hokuto, he's an alright protagonist himself. There's not a whole lot of conflict of dramatic tension to be found so far outside of his generally being befuddled at getting transported into his favorite game, but the mafioso personality is something we don't see in these types of fantasy settings a whole lot. In general, Akira seems more laid back and self-aware than the likes of, say, that one guy from Death March to a Parallel World Rhapsody, or that other guy from In Another World With My Smartphone. Again, it's kind of sad that I would be so impressed that a show's protagonist has any kind of vaguely discernable personality, but I try to give credit where it's due.
Really, I imagine most folks already know if Demon Lord, Retry! is going to be for them. Enough of these things have come out by now that you're either on board for a familiar, low-stress story that hits all of the checkboxes without trying to do anything particularly original, or you aren't. If you're positively starving for isekai light novel adaptations about heroes with video-game powers, you could definitely find worse shows to kill some time with. I don't think I'm surprising anyone by saying that I'm 100% not the person Demon Lord, Retry! was made for, but that's okay. I don't need any stories about a gruff father figure who carries around a smelly trash girl all day – I already own a cat.
The field of isekai titles is so crowded these days that a new one must do something extraordinary – whether in an outrageous premise sense or a qualitative sense – in order to stick out. This title opts for a different approach: just deliver a very likable protagonist, pair him up with an adorably moe First Girl, and allow a charmingly sweet relationship to develop out of it. The result is a first episode that isn't going to blow the world away but delivers enough promise to justify watching more.
The series certainly isn't going to win any points for originality, as its basic premise lands it somewhere amidst Overlord, How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord, and Death March to The Parallel World Rhapsody. However, one immediate difference is the character design: instead of appearing as something monstrous, the protagonist appears as a middle-aged yakuza who just radiates cool factor. He's also apparently not socially inept, and the series definitely isn't trying to sell itself on male-oriented sex appeal (at least for now, anyway) or using some kinky device like slavery. Aku is just the kind of ordinary downtrodden girl who might be found in any medieval village, though the suggestions that she has one artificial leg raise some interesting questions about how she got one that can mostly pass for realistic. The episode oversells the “downtrodden” part a bit with crass handling of the rock-throwing thugs in the village, But Hakuto's efforts to not only help the girl but also bolster her self-image are endearing enough to break through multiple levels of cynicism.
The first episode is all about set-up and introducing the two most important characters, so the episode ends with little clear indication of what the overall plot direction will be. However, Hakuto's encounter with the wish-granting entity, and the demonic ring he gets from that encounter, is interesting in its implications. If Hakuto created this world, does that mean that he has to take responsibility for all of the slaughter and bloodshed in it, even if he never regarded the setting as being real? This question has been touched on in other stories (most notably Re:CREATORS), but I have my doubts that this one will pursue the matter in much greater depth. The only other real indications we have about direction at this point are openers and closers which feature several additional adventurer-types and suggest that the setting might not be purely fantasy.
Technical merits for the first episode are run-of-the-mill, and it doesn't look like the series will dazzle with its animation or battle design. Even so, the series might succeed if it can maintain the charm factor displayed by this episode.
Modern isekai anime have become so self-referential, derivative, and indulgent that attempting to critique them on narrative grounds has begun to feel somewhat pointless. As the saying goes, how do you mock a clown - make fun of his red nose and big shoes? Hackneyed exposition, author insert protagonists, generic videogame worlds, and cloying self-awareness are at this point the default assumptions of the genre, meaning critiquing isekai for being poorly written is like critiquing water for being wet. Fortunately, Demon Lord, Retry! was kind enough to offer a unique point of differentiation: its incredibly amateurish visual execution.
The episode starts familiarly enough, with our protagonist Akiro Oono being sucked into the game he once programmed, and reincarnated in the form of his former character, the Demon Lord Hakuto Kunai. From this close echo of Overlord, even down to “better check the servers one last time before the game closes,” Demon Lord then moves on through the requisite saving of the first female follower, the unnecessarily thorough exposition of worldbuilding variables, and the inescapable mention that “this is just like in a light novel,” before a brief jaunt through the woods reveals its signature power: the truly abysmal quality of its animation.
The visual execution in that first third certainly isn't good; characters frequently look off-model, there's no fluid movement to speak of, the color work is bland, and the direction is entirely lacking in energy. But it wasn't until Demon Lord attempted a “walk cycle” that involved our protagonist's torso simply being shifted up and down the screen, while his legs are blurred to convey a vague semblance of motion, that I realized the full scale of the situation. Conversations between characters barely even involve the movement of lip flaps, and one scene of a statue “dissolving” essentially looked like the animators wiped an erase tool over the object layer while filming their own monitor. Demon Lord's visual execution is bad enough to actually hit “so bad it's good” territory, which certainly made my job more entertaining, but is probably not where this show actually wants to be.
On the whole, nothing about this episode's plot offered any indication that Demon Lord will rise above isekai's usual narrative doldrums, while its aesthetic execution was so bad it was actually funny. Easy pass on this one.
As I was watching this first episode of Demon Lord, Retry!, I realized that I was making a list of all of the other similar books, manga, and anime that it reminded me of. When my list began to grow out of control, I realized why I wasn't enjoying this episode all that much: not only is it more of the same basic isekai story we've had at least one of for seasons (years) now, it doesn't even really try to differentiate itself. From the Overlord-esque plot of a guy ending up in the body of his villainous character when the game ends its service to the Reincarnated as a Sword-like device of making him the guardian of a little girl and all of the points in between, Demon Lord, Retry! just doesn't seem interested in being anything but a pastiche of other stories. That doesn't make for a particularly compelling beginning.
There are hints, however, that this may be fully aware of its apparent faults. Akira's comment that he would have read more light novels if he'd realized he'd end up living one is both funny and has the potential to indicate that he's that rare character in a story who is familiar with his own genre, which could give this a good metafictional aspect. The ending theme, which appears to show others in his same situation, may be another sign of that, and it may be enough to set this apart, or at least give it its own schtick. The entire situation with Aku may also be worth paying attention to, and not in the sense that it could go downhill, because I didn't see any indication of that whatsoever. (Kudos to this show for no one blushing when he brings her soap and a towel.) If this is truly a dad story without subtext, it could be very sweet, especially since he shows zero reluctance at taking Aku under his wing – she's a child who has been ill-treated by the world and he wants to fix that.
Visually, I find Kunai's design the most interesting because it's emphatically not the typical demon lord look. He's just some middle-aged guy in a suit with an impressive collection of knives in his coat lining, and the way he anachronistically whips out a lighter and a cigarette is nicely bizarre in his fantasy setting. I also liked the field of yellow flowers he and Aku gambol through, but otherwise things look fairly standard. That's kind of my takeaway from this first episode – it's fairly standard, and while that might change going forward, you may have to really love the genre basics to have the patience to get there.
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