Review

by Theron Martin,

Demon Girl Next Door

episodes 1-12 streaming

Synopsis:
Demon Girl Next Door
15-year-old Yuko Yoshida has always been poor and weak of constitution, but that's about to change if her ancestor has her way. A strange dream where a girl tells her to awaken results in her waking up with ram's horns and a demonic tail. She soon learns that she has inherited the demonic power of the Dark Clan, which is languishing in poverty due to a curse from the Light Clan. To break the curse, she must defeat the local magic girl (who is descended from the Light Clan) and gain her blood. And it just so happens that said magical girl, one Momo, is in a different class in her school! Despite being healthier than she was, Yuko is still pathetically outclassed by Momo in every offensive aspect, including height. Fortunately for her, Momo has no interest in fighting someone so much weaker and instead decides to help Yuko develop her strength and power. Though they're supposed to be enemies, Yuko may well end up also being the friend that Momo so badly needs.
Review:

One or twice a season a worthy title flies enough under the radar that it does not get picked up by our site for weekly episode reviews. This 12 episode manga adaptation was one such title in the Summer 2019 TV season. While the initial impression of it being a silly little spin on magical girl tropes does prove accurate, The Demon Girl Next Door not only fills that role quite well but also demonstrates a surprising degree of story development and depth in the process. It's easily the funniest comedy of its season and quite a bit more than that as well.

One of the keys to the series' success is its remarkably sharp understanding of how to make things funny by mixing tried-and-true gags with fresh twists. This shows most pointedly in one early scene where Momo goes through her elaborate magical girl transformation, but in this case she's clocked by a timer running in the bottom right corner of the screen which shows that it all actually happens in a hundredth of a second. The riff is a keen acknowledgement of how impractically long magical girl transformations are, and a joke that I've been waiting decades to see someone do. The series carries poking light fun at magical girls further by showing how ridiculously strong Momo is despite her unassuming appearance (even as a magical girl, she seems somewhat drab), and she's supposedly only mediocre as magical girls go. In fact, Momo's relative strength – and how she tries to train Yuko using her own impossible-for-normal-humans standards – becomes an effective running joke which lasts throughout most of the series without ever really getting old.

That's far from the only line for humor in the series. The way that Yuko's friends are not fazed in the slightest by her new demon girl aspect and magical girl conflict is amusing in itself, and the series successfully shows them delighting in Yuko's struggles without being mean-spirited in the slightest. Yuko's incompetence at being a demon girl, and the many misfortunes she has to deal with, may be a more standard collection of gags, but again, they work because they never cross a line on being too mean-spirited. Yuko's mother is also quite the character without being over-the-top, a second magical girl and her peculiar quirk also contribute, and Yuko's ancestor gets a whole load of jokes on her own with the modern conveniences she has in her sealed-off space and the oft-amusing t-shirts she wears. The series also has plenty of slapstick humor, but even there it is used effectively.

The series would probably work just fine even if it was just a comedy, but having all its humor without interfering in the slightest with its story and character development aspects is what makes the series special. For as hapless as “Shamiko” (the nickname Yuko's friends give her, which is short for “Shadow Mistress Yuko”) is in a lot of ways, she does have two close friends and an adoring mother and sister and seems to easily get along with everyone. Momo, for all her strength and relative wealth, has none of that; there is no hint of family in the picture, and she is not shown talking to anyone other than Yuko and, later, a visiting magical girl. In fact, behind her deadpan style she seems rather forlorn. Being a magical girl has isolated Momo, which gives the impression that she has decided to help a person who should be an enemy because she may be (consciously or not) looking for a friend whom she can relate to. For all of Yuko's other faults, she seems to intuit that about Momo, and that lends deeper meaning to her failures to treat Momo purely as the enemy she should be. Despite their opposing backgrounds, seeing Yuko and Momo develop into close friends becomes a goal of the series rather than just a joke, and a welcome one at that.

There is also a broader story aspect at work here, though it is not much evident until late in the series. The backstory about the ages-old Light Clan/Dark Clan conflict is not as simple as it is initially made out to be, nor are Momo's background and Yuko's backgrounds as divorced from each other as they seem for most of the series. How the oddly-specific-to-modern-day “$400 a month” curse came to be, what happened to Yuko's father, and why Momo hasn't crossed paths with Yuko's family before despite them living in the same general part of town are not just contrivances; they are interrelated. There's also a much bigger structure to the world of magical girls, suggestions of a grand conflict which was fought involving many magical girls, and special circumstances for the town in which Yuko's family lives. (One early offhand comment about how “there's a lot of weirdos in this town” may not have been as much of a throwaway joke as it seemed at the time.) The revelations which come out late in the series are earth-shaking and help set up some dramatic resolutions at the end which manage to be both funny and poignant.

The weak point of the series is the visual side of its technical merits. While the artistry isn't unattractive, the best thing that can be said about it is that the quality control by the J.C. Staff team is consistent. The character designs emphasize cuteness rather than sexiness, with Yuko's horns and tail looking endearing rather than evil. The animation effort suits that slapstick elements well enough, and is better than some more action-oriented series out there, but also isn't a selling point. The light, chipper musical score ably supports the comedy content, with the cutesy opener and energetic closer both fitting the tone of the series well. Amongst Japanese vocal performances, Konomo Kohara (Akane in Tsukigakurei) shines in an enthusiastic lead performance as Yuko, but all of the major roles hit the mark.

That the series became comedy gold with a touch of real emotion probably shouldn't be surprising given that the director, Hiroaki Sakurai, was once responsible for bringing to anime form a little series called Kodocha (which was one of the premiere dramedies of the 1990s) and other fan-favorite comedies like Di Gi Charat, Cromartie High School, and the more recent The Disastrous Life of Saiki K. He's struck gold again with this project. If you gave this series a pass the first time around, it's well worth another look.

Grade:
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : B+

+ Delightful humor, deeper story than initially apparent
Unimpressive artistry

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Production Info:
Director: Hiroaki Sakurai
Series Composition: Keiichirō Ōchi
Original creator: Izumo Ito
Character Design: Mai Otsuka

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