Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Feb 14th 2012
Episodes 25-48 Streaming
Oga destroyed Ishiyama High School just before break, so when break ends he and his very bad classmates end up attending the very nice St. Ishiyama Academy. No one at St. Ishiyama wants them around, so they are all lumped into the same class and segregated while teachers and student leaders alike do their best to get them expelled. Of course, the fact that the opposing side is backed by strong fighters only excites Oga and his not-friends. Much chaos ensues. Afterwards, a new teacher sporting a suspiciously familiar mark takes over for their demoralized homeroom teacher. He is quickly followed by Baby Beel's elder brother En, a spoilt brat with a swollen ego and three deadly maids to ensure that no one punctures it. His royal guard isn't far behind. They are of the opinion that in order for En to hog the glory Oga must die and Beel must go back to Daddy. Much chaos ensues.
Even a great comedic concept can only carry a show for so long. Thirteen episodes can be stretching it, and maintaining pure comedic momentum for the indefinite time-span required of a successful Shonen Jump property is just this side of impossible. Which is probably why Beelzebub started reaching beyond comedy as far back as last season's Tojo arc. As its second season unfolds, it's clear that Beelzebub wants to go from being a good comedy to being a good series, period. It's a bumpy road even by the most generous of standards, but punch me in the face and bury me in a wall if Beelzebub hasn't reached its goal by season's end.
The first thing the show does this season is jettison its old setting, transplanting Oga and his delinquent peers into a posh private school. That of course comes with its own comedic possibilities, and the show wastes no time getting right on top of them. The fish-out-of-water jokes begin immediately, though the fish aren't always who you'd first guess. Being delinquents, and ungodly powerful ones, it isn't the Ishiyama crowd that has to adjust to the new setting, but the setting that has to adjust to the Ishiyama crowd. The introduction of their elitist homeroom teacher, and his subsequent education in the ways of Oga, is among the funniest material the series has had to date. The gags about the student who wants to be Oga's apprentice aren't far behind. The series plays the gap between his ideas of delinquency and Oga's reality for all it's worth.
Comedy isn't all that the new setting has to offer, though. There's also a simmering rivalry between Oga and a friend he apparently betrayed in the dank deeps of his dark past, and it isn't long before Oga's up to his old tricks, sniffing out powerful fighters to foist Baby Beel off on. The people he finds are the Six Holy Knights, the elitist counterparts of Ishiyama's dirty, Darwinian TKKH. Their egos are insufferable, their use of violence is sanctioned by the powers that be, and if Oga or anyone else fights them it means instant expulsion. Plus Oga's ex-friend Miki is one of them. Suddenly the fights aren't just larks; like the Tojo fight before them, they actually matter.
Not good. Anticipation, high stakes, actual drama—all fine. But unfortunately Beelzebub doesn't know what to do with them. Miki is essentially a self-righteous baby in desperate need of a spanking, which the series naturally puts off until it never happens. It builds the conflict between Ishiyama's top brawlers and the Holy Knights to a fever pitch, and then at the last minute scraps the big fight in favor of a big volleyball game. Which of course plays out as an extended joke. And is then cut off by a dead-serious intrusion from one of Oga's victims. Who naturally ends up the butt of the series' physical humor. The show is obviously trying to balance its elevated ambitions with its gag-comedy roots, but the two keep getting in each other's way. The humor makes out okay, especially the way Oga's idiocy throws the Knights off; the rest comes out choppy and decidedly unsatisfying.
You have to give the series points for bravado though. It isn't afraid to try new things, or to fail at them. And it isn't about to give up after one spotty arc. A lot of more serious series could use some of that moxie. For its next arc the show dives deep into world-building, introducing a whole new set of characters with ties to Baby Beel's home dimension. The series' fictional world expands greatly, and a couple of brutal encounters—with a demon-contracted teacher and with En's maids and scary royal guard—quickly demonstrate the trouble Oga is in, and how deadly the stakes are. And so the series finds itself at the same crossroads: how to balance serious new content with its own essentially silly nature.
It hasn't been twiddling its thumbs since the last arc. It's fully aware of its shortcomings. We know because it tells us. There's a dream midway through the En arc where Oga's subconscious beats him up for never settling his scores and never getting any stronger. So when it's time for Oga to grow and beat the living snot out of his foes, this time he does it. More importantly, though, the show has learned how to use its two sides to complement each other. When the inevitable training interlude trundles around, the series covers for it by intercutting it with an increasingly hysterical skewering of online gaming. The finale winds us tight with anticipation, but when Oga makes his entrance it's as bizarre as it is satisfying, and when he finally braces the bad guys his techniques are as hilarious as they are cool.
The show also has a firmer grasp of what its real strengths are. The great supporting cast is given plenty to do, especially during the Call of Duty parody, but also during the climactic fight. It is particularly satisfying to see Hilda take a more active part, kicking demon butt up and down the first leg of the final fight. The show also anchors the arc, not in some vague desire to see Oga prove his strength, but in the established dynamic of his makeshift demon family. It's Hilda who kick-starts his desire to grow stronger, and his growing bond with Baby Beel that gives him that strength—in a very literal way. The finale is as much about Oga affirming his new family ties as it is about bad guys getting their comeuppance.
Without its laser focus on humor, Beelzebub's uneven technical merits start to matter a bit more. It wasn't a problem before if its characters were rendered sloppily or its action scenes were so cheap that they didn't even deserve the name. Now that the characters' feelings are beginning to matter and the fights are actually important, it effects things when the art and animation aren't up to snuff. Both the fights and the darker sequences are definitely improving, with CG camera moves, flashy effects, and even some good old-fashioned choreography beefing up the fights and a decent grasp of atmosphere and emotional timing helping to heighten what drama there is. But there's too much general cheapness and too many outright mistakes for the improvement to match the improvement in writing, and you can feel the effect. The series' comic timing and eye for sight gags, by the way, are undiminished in their excellence and Hilda is still smoking hot, which helps more than you'd think.
The score remains unremarkable, with its most memorable compositions being its more demon-oriented ones. It is always appropriate to its current scene, rarely overbearing, and thoroughly disposable. As before, the opening and ending themes are far more interesting. There are two of each this season. The first opening is a reasonably rocking number designed to highlight the series' more serious tone, the second a poppier rap/rock effort whose general seriousness stands in contrast to the oft-funny visuals. The first of the endings features unrecognizable shojo interpretations of the female cast accompanied by a fairly generic pop ballad, the second a montage of dancing characters choreographed to a criminally catchy nonsense song.
Whether Beelzebub can stay on its upward trajectory is an open question. Even stable shows can be derailed, and Beelzebub is far from stable. That said, the season does end with a bagful of comedic and action possibilities in hand. And you can see it fine-tuning itself on the fly, cutting its too-long training episodes short with a joke and trying on and discarding various kinds of villains as the finale unfurls. If it keeps that up and remembers the audacity that got it this far, then it'll do just fine.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : B-
+ A brave willingness to upend the status quo and experiment with different tones and kinds of stories; finds an excellent balance of humor, action, and familial warmth.
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