What kind of image comes to mind at the mention of "bishounen"? Is it wispy, effeminate young males casting lustful glances at each other? Long-haired, tragic heroes gazing into the distance as flurries of flower petals swirl around them? Stacks of Prince of Tennis doujinshi exploring every possible permutation between the characters?
How about a goofy fantasy-comedy where the lead character is so clueless, he accidentally gets engaged in Episode 2?
That's exactly what happens when an enraged
Yuri, unaware of local customs, strikes pretty boy Wolfram with a slap of proposal. Sure, there's a straight-up fantasy story about Demon-human conflict as well, but the real reason this show exists is to poke fun at the genre and revel in "boy's love" innuendo. Kyo Kara Maoh! dares itself to be as silly as possible, stringing together absurd comedy moments to give us an irreverent, all-male version of Fushigi Yuugi. Despite the hints of a larger-scale plot, there isn't much room for story development in between the jokes. By Episode 5,
Yuri is on a quest to find a magic sword, but it'll be slow going—plot can wait when you've got gags involving sumo wrestling, G-string underwear, and pirates in sailor schoolgirl uniforms.
The offbeat sense of humor in Kyo Kara Maoh! also depends a lot on its cast of characters, whose personalities provide plenty of quirky man-to-man moments. Wolfram's petulant attitude makes him a great complement (and fiancé) to simple-minded
Yuri, and the older men also have their own unique relationships with the Demon King. Magician and scholar Günter, with his obsessive admiration for
Yuri, is a true fanboy at heart, and Conrad is a big-brother figure who gets just a little too
brotherly at times. Even gruff Gwendal, who doesn't have much screen time in these early episodes, shows a disdain towards Yuri that could cause friction between the two later. There's even room for the women, too—Celi, the former Demon Queen, incites plenty of laughs with her forceful sex appeal, while mad inventor Anissina shows early on what havoc she's capable of.
In addition to their distinct personalities, the Demon Kingdom's key players are also notable for their dashing good looks. The character designs in Kyo Kara Maoh! are all about fulfilling the bishounen quota, and then some. Even plain-looking
Yuri transforms (literally) into an awe-inspiring symbol of authority when he dispenses justice as the Demon King. Studio DEEN's sharp lines and bright colors help contribute to the "bishounen style," as well as capturing the fantasy atmosphere of the Demon Kingdom. However, the animation is fairly limited, so if you're looking for slick swordfights, maybe a volume of Samurai Champloo would better fit the bill. This is one show where the primary purpose is to feature lots of pretty boys… hanging out with other pretty boys.
While some fantasy anime shows set their sword-and-sorcery action scenes to anachronistic rock music, Kyo Kara Maoh! takes a more traditional approach with a swashbuckling orchestral sound. Whether it's a heated duel, a thoughtful conversation, or one of those oddball comedy moments, the background music stays true to the 18th- or 19th-century concept of the Demon Kingdom. Even J.S. Bach's well-known chorale "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme" sneaks into this show. Those who do like roaring electric guitars, though, will find plenty in the lively opening and ending songs.
Geneon's dub maintains the comedic energy of the show, although some of the voice casting might raise doubts. Jimmy Benedict plays
Yuri with just the right level of wide-eyed innocence, but the other actors still seem to be adjusting to their roles. Keeping in line with the Japanese cast, Wolfram is played by a woman—in this case, veteran Mona Marshall, who captures his fiery temper but has trouble locating the pitch of his voice. Conrad, Gwendal and Günter deliver their English lines adequately, but lack the spark that would fully bring out their personalities.
The translation staff also has some Japanese puns to adapt, which they do with varying degrees of success. Early in the show, bullies make fun of
Yuri's name by calling him "Shibuya
Yuri, Harajuku Furi" (advantage Shibuya, disadvantage Harajuku)—a reference to popular districts of Tokyo. In the English dub, this becomes a weak, stupid-sounding pun on "urine." The script fares better when Celi brings up
Yuri and Wolfram's engagement, or "kyuukon," which sounds like the word for flower bulbs; the dub version has Celi saying "Love is in bloom!" to which
Yuri replies in a genuinely dopey manner, "Are we talking about flowers?" Even the subtitles aren't spotless, however: things get confusing when the nobles apparently say "Conrart" while
Yuri calls him "Conrad." Is there really such a distinction between the two names?
With a Demon race that doesn't even look demonic, toilet portals between worlds, and same-sex engagement, Kyo Kara Maoh! is definitely an unusual take on the fantasy genre. Its predominantly bishounen cast and off-the-wall sense of humor won't suit everyone's tastes, but there's surely an audience out there for this sort of man-to-man tomfoolery. If you're tired of epic adventures taking themselves way too seriously and need a good laugh, then give Kyo Kara Maoh! a try.