The Winter 2019 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
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How was the first episode?
Arriving just shortly after the debut of Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, we find a show that seems almost designed as the anti-Asuka. Both of these shows focus on magical girls (or magical girl-adjacent adventurers), and both of them start with the premise “but what if defeating the ultimate evil wasn't the end of the story.” However, while Asuka's answer to this question is “lots of post-traumatic stress and bloody violence,” ENDRO!'s is “I guess everyone faffs around and eats cake.”
In truth, as we eventually learn, this narrative is essentially following the demon lord's post-defeat story. After being chained by the heroes' spell, the demon lord found themselves thrown into the past, and now in the body of a tiny girl. Taking up a position as a teacher at “Adventurer School,” they're now determined to stop our hero from ever growing into the person who once defeated them.
That might sound like a convoluted setup, but this episode actually conveys it very gracefully, as it does mostly everything. The focus here isn't on that heroic clash - this is a comedy, its characters are useless dorks, and most scenes are their own reward. The demon lord Mao's introduction probably sums up this show's appeal in a nutshell; stomping into the classroom, she ends up shouting each individual word of her introduction over the teacher's podium, her dramatic entrance ruined by her tiny height. It's a very simple gag, but the combination of the wordless setup and visual accompaniment of her jumps punctuating each word makes it inherently hilarious. Comedy is as much about pacing and execution as it is about novelty of concept, and ENDRO!'s understanding of visual humor and comic timing is basically flawless.
Mao steals a lot of the scenes in this show, especially since she's voiced by Misaki Kuno using her inherently arrogant-slash-useless Kate Hoshimiya voice, but basically all of this episode's stars get at least a few good gags. Whether it's the party warrior Fai's “I'm a warrior! I smash stuff really hard!” or their mage Mei prophetically intoning the next day's weather report, ENDRO! nails its familiar RPG-riffing jokes with consistent grace, reminding me of a less mean-spirited KONOSUBA. Not every joke lands, but the balance is very good, and the fact that so many jokes are so entirely carried by the show's snappy timing make me confident it's not running out of material any time soon.
Finally, Endro~! also looks great. The character designs are expressive enough, but I was more taken by the show's painted backgrounds, which do a great job of bringing its fluffy fairy tale world to life. There's also plenty of fluid animation, which is put to great use both selling gags and even elevating the show's fight scenes. All in all, while the “comic riffs on RPG conventions” genre space is pretty crowded, ENDRO! is executed with such consistent excellence that it gets a firm recommendation from me regardless. Don't overlook these scrappy heroes.
Endro~! is set up as a fantasy comedy with a side of cute girls doing cute things, and so far the results are exactly what you'd expect. It has trouble coming up with jokes that other RPG parodies haven't already told a hundred times before, but its delivery is reasonably strong and the abundance of pastel-colored sweetness gives it a more clearly defined appeal. It's essentially high fantasy by way of Yuruyuri, a series with which it shares a character designer and screenwriter.
The opening scene is perhaps my least favorite part of this episode, as it's a little too gimmicky for its own good. The four main heroines confront a big, imposing Demon Lord and win the battle using the power of friendship, at which point a set of fake ending credits roll. It's mildly amusing, but not quite funny enough to justify the amount of screen time it takes up. Once that initial setup is out of the way, the episode settles into a more comfortable comedic groove, riffing on the usual fantasy character tropes as it introduces us to Yusha and her friends. Most of it is pretty familiar territory (the warrior's kind of dumb, the priestess is high-strung, and so on), but the punchlines are well-timed and the pacing is just about right by slice of life standards.
Crucially, the comedic chemistry between the main characters is reasonably strong, especially once Mao is introduced as the main antagonist. Her adorably ineffective schemes play well against Yusha's happy-go-lucky innocence, as Yusha manages to fumble her way to success without ever realizing that Mao's trying to sabotage her. Some of the little details in this episode are particularly funny, like the fact that Yusha's classless status means she gets a wooden club while her friends can all summon fancy magical weapons. I also appreciate the relative lack of overt video game references here, since it feels like we've had to endure too many jokes about leveling up in recent years. The art style matches up nicely with the overall atmosphere, and the animation is good enough to sell the occasional action sequence.
For better or for worse, Endro~! paints neatly within the usual genre lines. It seems like it's going to be a pretty harmless little show, with a laid-back comedic vibe and minimal fanservice apart from some mildly revealing costumes. It's cute, amusing, and competently produced, so it should work just fine as long as you're in the mood for this style of comedy. This is one of those cases where you can absolutely judge a book by its cover, or at least judge an anime series by its key visuals.
The advertising artwork for this series makes it looks like some cutesy fluffball thing, and it basically is that in execution. However, its first episode also pulls a number of surprises and atypical twists, resulting in a cheeky little fantasy tale which has more appeal than just its cute factor going for it.
The first big twist is that the end credits roll four minutes into the episode, and then the story resets in a new location. At first the assumption is that we're in a “what happens after” scenario, but unlike a certain other series this season, this is one where everything is fluffy. That the new teacher at the adventurer school is clearly (to the audience) a pipsqueak demon girl who's trying to avoid calling herself a Demon Lord is a little odd, especially given that the Demon Lord at the beginning was a he and defeated, but hey, maybe it's the next one in line, right? Nope; the second big twist is that it is the same entity suffering from the side effects of the Hero's finishing spell – a spell which actually didn't work properly even though it effectively got rid of the Demon Lord. The third twist is that the Demon Lord has actually traveled back in time to a point before Yusha became the Hero and is attempting to stop her from ever becoming a Hero by getting her expelled from Adventurer School.
In other words, someone is actually trying with the writing on this one, and the result is a delight to see play out. Before the episode is over it's played around with contrary twists on at least a half-dozen staple fantasy tropes, all while throwing in screwy things like a golem which has cat ears and meows. This makes other elements work which might otherwise be annoying, such as Yusha being a chipper airhead; she is such a natural extension of everything else that the story wouldn't work if she was even the slightest bit a serious character. The other girls are also fun to watch, and even the not-subtly-named Mao has her appeal as well. I can imagine a lot of fun and wacky adventures resulting.
The art style favors simpler designs and pastel colors, and the roster of the Adventurer School is an amusingly diverse collection of cross-cultural archetypes; where else would you see a ninja and a Native American warrior in the same classroom? The lively musical score is a nice complement. Overall, this one looks like it could be a nice little diversion from the season's heavier content.
Endro~! has one fairly solid gag that shows up in the beginning of the episode: The four heroes, Yusha, Fei, Mai, and Sei, have defeated the Demon Lord and saved their land from ruin, ad parties of fantasy heroes are wont to do. Yusha gives the camera a satisfied smile, freeze frame, and then roll credits. The episode actually pulls of the bit quite well, running us through a speedy but complete ending credits sequence for the anime, complete with still images that show the heroes' return to their kingdom and the rewards they reap (though it would have been slightly funnier if they had fully committed and found a decent pop song to lay over the ED). However, just like the title of this premiere lets us know, “It's Too Early for the End Roll!”, because the demon lord hasn't truly been sealed by the girls' magic – instead, she's popped back into the past as a little demon-girl named Mao. Her devious plan is to infiltrate the school where the girls learned to be heroes, and sabotage their careers before they ever get to stopping the Demon Lord in the first place.
Time-paradoxes aside, this is a cute premise with some potential, though what follows is a fairly rote “cute girls doing cute things” outing through and through. Yusha is the sloppy but fierce heroine, Sei is the responsible elf who keeps the group in line, Mei is the sleepy mage, and Fai punches things really good. All of the girls are the same, vaguely likable type of moe-girl that fits like a glove in these kinds of formulas, and the story is generally content to follow them as they stumble in and out of cliché fantasy shenanigans. The production is pleasing to the eye, though perhaps a bit too bubblegum-sweet for my current mood – everything is pastel colored and unceasingly bright, and all of the girls are as tiny and cute as they can reasonably be depicted without being mistaken for toddlers (and poor, diminutive Mao can't even attest to that much).
In a season that's surprisingly light on low-stakes comedies like this one, I can at least appreciate Endro~!'s appeal. It's certainly a more polished and enjoyable product than the like of Bermuda Triangle: Love Pastrale. I don't think the show is exactly for me, but it could certainly be worth checking out for anyone that needs a bit more candy in their anime diet.
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