by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 1 of
How would you rate episode 2 of
It's frustrating that ENDRO's best joke yet is still its very first one. Ending fake-outs are nothing original, but ENDRO commits to it so effectively that it works great regardless. The fight animation that leads up to the faux big finish is actually impressive, and the credits roll is in such a specific ‘anime final episode’ style that I was won over by its pure moxie. It's a great way to get the audience's attention and make them wonder what kind of series the show is actually going to be now. Given that the answer turns out to be ‘cuddly slice-of-life but in a fantasy RPG setting’, that makes for a strong segue into a pretty funny subversion.
From there, ENDRO is happy to go about doing its cute and cozy thing, with a side order of keeping the audience guessing plot-wise how we got back to the four main party members faffing about in school with no knowledge of battling the Demon Lord. As far as ‘fantasy life’ series go, I'm much more receptive to something like this as opposed to an isekai approach where some dork from our world finds all their dreams coming true with minimal conflict. But this storytelling choice can also make what follows more tedious than it needs to be, since we know there is a larger plot lurking beneath the surface, and it feels like we're just waiting for it to appear.
So thankfully, the twist of ENDRO doesn't take too long to become apparent, becoming the shot of energy that's carried the show so far. We're trading entirely on familiar tropes here, so a tiny girl as a teacher and a tiny girl who's actually an all-powerful demon boss are nothing new. But combine those types into ‘tiny teacher girl who is secretly the demon lord nemesis of the main characters’ voiced by a truly unleashed Misaki Kuno, and you have an alchemy that stands out. The idea of Mao trying to thwart her would-be arch-enemies in the past only to be utterly ineffectual and even end up helping them instead is a solid bit this series could get by on and do just fine. There's an easy charm to how seriously Mao takes this whole scenario, actually respecting Yuusha and her party's potential even as we see how useless they are in the present day, and it's funny to watch her gloat over a ‘brilliant’ evil plan that amounts to making them argue over who's supposed to be the leader.
But the series doesn't rest on its laurels there, rich as that dynamic could be to mine for laughs. The end of the second episode sees Mao entertain the possibility of a full-on Groundhog Day scenario, ending with her deciding to just give up on being a Demon Lord altogether! It's an interesting move for the show to make just two episodes in, and I am curious to see if it will actually stick. On the one hand, it would free up Mao to develop beyond constructing world-domination plots, and she already has amusing chemistry with the hero party that I could see working well enough to carry the series. It could also prove some surprising depth, if Mao breaks the show's described cycle of Demon Lords rising up and having to be defeated by heroes. But on the other hand, that underlying plot tension lends this show just enough energy that even its most frivolous parts still feel like they have have some momentum, so it would be a pity to lose that entirely.
The more-dedicated slice-of-life portions with Yuusha and her pals work well enough on their own. There is an emphasis on these girls just being fun to hang out with, such as episode 2 kicking off with a silly discussion of their favorite fantasy creatures. Sometimes the script does seem too eager to ride its world-building as a gag unto itself, like how often Mei mentions her obsession with the magic-providing Cartado cards. Speaking of Mei, I certainly can't be opposed to a character whose thing is making bad puns, but the show does have a bad habit of over-explaining those jokes instead of letting the terrible wordplay speak for itself. On the other hand, ENDRO can still deliver some extremely funny stuff this way, with the absolute highlight coming halfway through episode 2, when Yuusha leads the others into a random stranger's house to loot it for items. It's a great gag riffing on an accepted RPG convention, and the series would do well to lean into more jokes like this.
Right now, ENDRO just works as a cute slice-of-life anime in a fantasy setting. I'm hoping the characters will get more development as it goes on, because more variety and depth in these personalities could lead to a more impressive array of jokes. Mao's arc thus far has already proved that adding more splashes of complexity to these stock character types can be rewarding. Fortunately, ENDRO has shown enough flashes of ambition that I have hopes for the ways it might be able to surprise me, while also enjoying spending more low-stakes time with these characters.
ENDRO! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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