Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Aug 30th 2014
Devils and Realist
Living in the late 19th century, William Twining considers himself a realist. In his (admittedly brilliant) mind, there is absolutely nothing that cannot be explained by science. Thus when a trip home accidentally alerts the demon Dantalion to his location. According to Dantalian, William is a descendant of Solomon and thus has the power to vote for who should act as King of Hell while Lucifer sleeps. William staunchly refuses to believe in any of it, and thus begins the tale of a devil and the realist he desperately needs to believe in him.
Despite appearances, Devils and Realist is not based on an otome game. It also is not BL, although you could be forgiven for thinking that it might be – not a single female character is included in the cast, and most of the men are awfully pretty. And maybe it will go there in later volumes – who knows? But in terms of this first book, what it is is a somewhat strained attempt at gaslamp fantasy that is interesting enough, but not an especially strong entry into either the genre or the catalogue of English-translated manga.
The story takes place at some point during the 19th century. There is mention of electricity but no cars, so presumably we're in the latter half. This is an interesting time in which to set this particular story because science and spiritualism were maintaining an uneasy coexistence. This is nicely shown in the two main human characters – William, the hero, is a firm believer in Science Above All Else. He rejects the existence of the supernatural utterly to the point where he actively looks down on those who don't. His sort-of friend Isaac, on the other hand, is a spiritualist, summoning angels and demons and generally embracing the supernatural whole hog. Whether or not this was deliberate on the part of Madoka Takadono – and there's little evidence besides this that much research in to the setting was done – it sums up the conflicting beliefs of the story's world very nicely.
The supernatural core of the book is drawn from the 17th century grimmoire The Lesser Key of Solomon, which has been the source for other demon-based themes in anime and manga, such as Rental Magica. Its basic conceit is that the king of the demons, Lucifer, is due for his centuries long nap in order to replenish himself. While he's sleeping, someone needs to function as his representative, and that demon will be chosen by an elector. Dantalion, a demon who was once a human, desperately wants that representative to be him, and to that end he seeks out the descendant of Solomon – William. But he's not the only one looking, and soon other demons come looking for the reluctant young man. He agrees to put up with Dantalion for a bit since he's broke and needs the school tuition, but he's not ready to believe in demons, much less to cast a vote. This is the basic back and forth dynamic that makes up the bulk of the book, with flashy demons, William rejecting them, and so forth.
As a protagonist, William isn't very sympathetic. He's very full of himself to the point where he mentions his amazing intelligence and potential at least once every fifty pages. He's not especially nice to anyone, and by the end of the book one wonders why anyone would put up with him. Dantalion is much more interesting as a character, but he too comes off as largely one-note in this first volume, with hints that there may be something more serving as one of the best reasons to keep reading. Likewise the fallen angel turned demon Sytry is intriguing, far moreso than any of the human characters.
Seven Seas' translation is surprisingly uneven. At times the language sounds very 19th century, more like their work on Lizzie Newton. At others it makes use of very 21st century words, like “guys” and “hey,” which really break the mood. The art is attractive, and Utako Yukihiro does an excellent job with some of the more exciting designs, such as Dantalion's goat-headed secretary. She also does nice work with the cute bats that follow Dantalion around, even if their existence feels unnecessary.
Devils and Realist's first volume is not particularly wonderful. It has some good moments and it clearly is trying hard to be interesting, but a lack of a good protagonist and the same plot device being repeated several times in the book – find William! Make him vote for me! - gets wearying. While this is certainly not a horrible book, it is a mediocre one, and sometimes that feels more like a crime than if it had been unabashedly awful. Devils and Realist is just sort of there, waiting to see if you want to read it.
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : B
+ Some neat character designs, good sense of movement. Dantalion and Sytry have potential as characters.
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