How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord
by Christopher Farris,
How would you rate episode 5 of
How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord ?
I praised the palpable forward momentum of How Not to Summon a Demon Lord in the past, and this episode keeps that going, picking up its new story arc right where the previous one left off. Shera's royal heritage is catching up to her, with her elven kingdom threatening war unless she's returned to them. This episode is mostly laying preparatory groundwork, as Diablo figures out how to stop Shera from becoming the breasts that launched a thousand ships, as well as finally touching on Shera's reasons for becoming an adventurer in the first place. The setup parts are okay, but the show winds up telling more than showing, grinding against its own premise in ways even more uncomfortable than Shera's curvaceous cuddling of Diablo.
Specifically, Shera left on this journey because she desired freedom and a chance to explore her destiny outside of royal expectations; you know, the usual Disney Princess stuff. While you'd think the foremost problem would be that she's accidentally become a literal slave in her quest for freedom, the irony of that situation isn't really touched on; the series just ignores the dissonance of basing a whole storyline on how important it is to respect this girl's cagency. Then there's the greater problem that Shera hasn't really displayed an untameable spirit; she's mostly followed Rem and Diablo around passively. Even in this episode, she gets kidnapped by a gaggle of goofy animal-people bandits, but makes no attempt to escape from their loose grip, simply squealing for help the whole way. It might be one thing if this arc was a step on the road to her learning to properly fend for herself, but right now it just rings as hollow lip-service.
Other aspects of the episode work better, at least. Finding itself with more down-time than last week, Demon Lord can engage Diablo's disconnected personality gag more fully again. It's funny to see him admit in-show that at this point he's ‘struggling’ to keep the persona up, acknowledging what a regular guy he is under all the bluster. One new element in this dynamic is how our anxiety-riddled archdemon might handle situations that demand actual conversation skills, times when he can't just shout down. The beginning of the confrontation with the Lord General includes some fun snappy editing, along with the seeming revelation that even Diablo's magically-bound servant girls don't take his attitude all that seriously anymore. This gets played up even more with the obligatory addition of a new party member.
Alicia does what any new character should in a show like this, shaking up the dynamics of the group's chemistry. Of all the things he's encountered so far in this world, someone with such a trusting and devoted disposition freaks Diablo out the most, and his reactions to Alicia are probably the comedic highlight of the episode. Her character also has some decently interesting aspects, with her desire to prove her worth at all costs being rooted in her status as a glass-ceiling-breaker among the Imperial Knights. It feels somewhat strange for a show like this to acknowledge societal changes within its own fantasy world in this way. The framing of the in-universe landmark of Alicia's station (alongside Shera's nominal agency) is positive on the surface, but still comes off as dissonant against the whole, you know, slavery premise. Likewise, Diablo's earnest attempts to help Alicia through her personality issues at the end of the episode are likable at face-value, but the whole scene ultimately feels like too much back-and-forth just to get the new girl roped into the Demon Lord's harem.
One piece of deviously clever world-building happens a little later though, with Diablo seeking to buy a weaker weapon so he doesn't accidentally kill his opponents. This is a nice little detail, as typically a series like this will see the hero obtaining some mythical overpowered weapon to let them steamroll everyone even more. But Diablo recognizes that the ease with which he can destroy people is already a problem, so he actively seeks to balance his presence in the world. Little subversions of the genre's power-fantasy formula like this have yielded Demon Lord is at its best, and it just makes me wish it would consciously lean into those elements more. After all, even an overpowered character can still be presented with their own kinds of problems and obstacles.
But perhaps spending too much time calling attention to all this world-building is a detriment to Demon Lord at this point in the story, because this episode definitely drags in places. While we are just getting the wheels of the story rolling, which necessitates some exposition, the characters spend too much time just standing around doling descriptions out. Not that the rest of the episode is so enthusiastic, as even the aforementioned kidnapping scene comes off half-baked. It features awkward cuts around action and no real sense of tension beyond Shera's odd refusal to just kick off her abductors. It's an action scene that feels more like killing time than anything else. This episode did have some funny bits and some interesting world-building, but between those moments that worked and alongside some of its confused themes, much of this came off as pretty dull.
How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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