by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Mao was an appreciable selling point of Endro in its first couple episodes, as a cutesy concept of a character executed well with strong voice acting. She's necessarily drifted from the spotlight as the show focuses on the antics of Yusha's party and their unconventional growth into heroism. But this episode finally puts Mao front-and-center for the first time in a while. I'm happy to report that she can still carry Endro even better now that the show has developed.
The fluffy moe appeal of the hero quartet gives way to a much more relatable brand of humor this week, as Mao comes down with an illness due to her irresponsible feckless lifestyle, and we see her stuck at home like many of us have found ourselves doing in early adulthood, in a dusty unkempt room with a poor stock of food to get by on. The contrast between Mao's former Demon Lord role and her pint-sized appearance has always been a key part of her charm, and now a third layer gets added to that with her slovenly bachelorette style. Mao's ironically the closest thing this show has to an ‘adult’ central character, so the raw relatability of her living situation makes for strong humor, but it also provides a key moment for the story as she hits rock-bottom, unsure of where she's going in this odd new life.
Endro takes this opportunity to expand on Mao's backstory, going all the way back to her actual childhood of being groomed into her destined Demon Lord role. It's nice to get more background details on a character who's mostly been a gimmick thus far, letting the show trot out more remarks on the cyclical nature of the reincarnated Demon Lord/Hero setup. More importantly, it puts forth the idea that Mao's loneliness stretches back to when she was still acting in this role, which paints being a Demon Lord as a surprisingly unfulfilling job. The show still knows it's a comedy and doesn't drag this in too dark a direction, relying on gags like our developing demon ruler writing angsty poetry in her diary at night. But we do still feel for her, even when we know she's been doing the standard burning and pillaging thing, because the simple emotional hollowness of her situation is so easy to empathize with.
The gentle skewering of fantasy RPG tropes to evoke feelings in the audience has been a boon to Endro. The idea of ‘heroism’ gets brought up again as Yusha and the others take the scene. Of course these good kids would see helping their teacher as something heroes are supposed to do, and even though they aren't aware of Mao's true identity, the subtext that real heroes would help nurse even a Demon Lord back from sickness is heartening. Moreover, their care feeds into the character arc we've been watching Mao navigate this whole episode.
The final section of Mao's flashback details how she once had even less than she does now, and that she found fulfillment in adventuring antics and being scouted as an instructor. More importantly, it's landed her in a unique revised relationship with Yusha and the hero party, who now appreciate and care for her. The second episode had already shown us how Mao arrived at the decision to quit pursuing her role as Demon Lord simply because it was too much hassle, but this episode articulates more personal reasons why she might want to stay in the good graces of this bunch. We're seeing her attain what was missing in those flashbacks: a place to belong where she doesn't have to be alone anymore.
I'm surprised and impressed that Endro worked all this characterization into an arc alongside more world-building. It still has some content speedbumps—I'm not crazy about Mao's fellow adventuring teacher's apparent lolicon tendencies. But overall this is another win for the series, achieved by approaching an important character from a new angle. Like Mao, this series still has so much potential to grow.
ENDRO! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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