Classic sword-swinging fantasy, goofball comedy, and blatant hints of male-male relationships—who'd have thought that such a combination would work? After five episodes, the hot bishounen gimmick of Kyo Kara Maoh! has started to wear off, but the show manages to stay fresh by introducing that mainstay of all fantasy epics: back story. Volume 2 does a lot to explain the history of
Yuri's newly acquired Demon Kingdom, but keeps it simple enough to allow for moments of frivolity ... and smoldering man-to-man interaction. Ever seen a cute blond guy wearing a frilly pink nightgown? Well, you're in for a treat.
Although the offbeat premise of this show is amusing enough in itself—high school boy travels to pseudo-18th-century world; meets hot guys who all seem interested in him—it can't ride on that single idea forever. Episodes 6-10 counter that by launching into an arc that's set for long-term adventure, while at the same time filling us in on the details of the demon world. Much of this world-building happens through people chatting with
Yuri, which tends to bog down the pace. Even so, each episode features plenty of story advancement, so there's never a problem of "standing around and doing nothing." The result is a substantial plot that weaves imaginary historical and political fragments together.
However, this broad viewpoint doesn't stop the narrative from exploring individual characters too. Most of the story happens from
Yuri's perspective, so we get to watch him evolve into a more confident, but still too damn nice, Demon King. One particularly telling moment is when he interrogates a captured thief by asking, "How is your mother? What would she say if she saw you now?" Forget the good cop/bad cop routine—this is the stupid cop at work. However, the best moments are still
Yuri's dealings with his male fiancé Wolfram, whose hot temper leads to hilarious outbursts of jealousy (at one point he gets so angry that he walks into a closet—insert your own joke here). Even inanimate objects can be characters in their own right, and Demon Sword Morgif turns out to be a remarkably sentient weapon with a serious penchant for young women. Hey, he is a phallic symbol, right?
Animating and illustrating a fantasy world is hard work, and while Studio DEEN shows signs of effort, they often fall short of the technical demands. Kyo Kara Maoh! continues to suffer from stiff animation, resulting in action scenes that look like staged poses rather than the real thing. Watch in Episode 10 for a man with a dog who basically slides across the screen. Artwork and designs fare better—the main characters are all fine-looking young men, drawn in fluid lines and distinctive colors. Stare too much at the pretty boys, though, and you might miss some of the richly detailed backgrounds. Drawing inspiration from the ages of European monarchy, the castles are fanciful but believable works of architecture, while the countryside is vivid enough to encourage tourism in the demon world.
The music score stays true to the fantasy atmosphere of the show with its heavy reliance on strings and winds. Battle action is accompanied by exciting full-orchestra passages, while softer character moments are punctuated by instrumental solos. At this point in the series there are already several tracks that have begun to recycle, including a honky-tonk piano piece that starts up whenever
Yuri and Wolfram get busy (busy arguing, that is). A couple of classical tunes also sneak their way in, and this time there's Chopin's "Harp" etude along with the Bach cantata that serves as a regal theme. The theme songs aren't quite so serious, and The Stand Up's catchy rock tunes are a lively reminder that this is a comedy show at heart.
What started out as an English dub that could go either way has fallen into the realm of mediocre; the warning signs come early when a side character in Episode 6 puts on a fake country accent. Many of the main characters' voices become cardboard exaggerations of their personalities:
Yuri sounds like an immature 12-year-old with his voice breaking, Gwendal is angry all the time, and Conrad is just plain boring. On the other hand, Wolfram—played by Mona Marshall in her lower register—shows how a temperamental character can be voiced without being harsh or grating. There's also some shady translation going on in the dub script, with adlibs and Americanizations popping up regularly. It's not in character for a Japanese guy like
Yuri to be talking about Yankees fans or lawyers, no matter how funny the voice director thinks it is.
A character image gallery is the only extra included on this disc apart from previews, so for those of you who like the pretty boys, you can view them from all angles at your own pace. Fanartists and cosplayers may find them to be a useful reference, too.
While Kyo Kara Maoh! isn't absolutely outstanding, this second volume shows that it's definitely going somewhere. If you like your fantasy plots thick and epic (but not too
heavy), then this disc promises some of that and more to come. For those who just like to look at the bishounen, don't worry, as the
Yuri/Wolfram spark is well and alive among this engaged couple. Whether you're in it for the adventure or the lighthearted man-on-man innuendo, this series is a quirky and fun twist of a well-worn genre.