Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 16th 2007
Kyo Kara Maoh!
With Big Cimarron's boxes retrieved and the Conrad brought back into the fold, Yuri gets down to the everyday business of being Demon King such as getting engaged, finding more boxes, and punishing wrongdoers in embarrassing ways. But when a plot by Big Cimarron endangers the lives of children from the newly-formed Great Demon Kingdom Alliance, Yuri rushes to their aid, only to find himself face-to-face with his nemesis Adalbert.
With the release of the second season, Kyo kara Maoh! can boast a total of 78 scheduled episodes, making it one of the few non-fighting shows of such length to make it stateside. And it isn't hard to see why, since it's exactly the kind of low-intensity light entertainment that is the bread and butter of many an entertainment industry.
Of course, like any good anime, it attempts to ratchet up the tension occasionally, but those concerned that it had taken a permanent turn for the serious with the four-boxes, Conrad's-arm business at the end of season one can rest easy, as this volume finds the show getting back to what it does best: having fun. By that measure, this volume starts off with a bang, introducing a potential fiancé for Yuri, which immediately devolves into a series of very silly romantic reversals. And of course there are more weird animals (an aquatic equivalent of the Boney Tribe), more of Anissina's crazed inventions (magical-powered banana boat anyone?), more of Yuri's hilariously inelegant magic, and—of course—more borderline boys-love hijinks. And while nothing in this volume quite approaches the dragon-hunting RPG-brutalization from earlier in the series, the creators still delight in skewering fantasy clichés. In what other show can you see the Demon King playing shogi with his own Demon Sword?
The grimmer tone of the previous story-arc isn't completely abandoned, and unfortunately the series' success with serious drama isn't nearly so consistent as its success with humor. The episode revolving around Gwendal's relationship with Conrad's father is more remarkable for presenting an interesting theory about demonkind's animosity towards humans (and for showing Gwendal knitting) than for any emotional response that it elicits. Even after nearly fifty episodes, the series' characterization is still too flimsy to support heavy drama. Out of all of this volume's grabs at the heartstrings, only a handful succeed, such as Greta's fear of being separated from her "father" and Yuri's realization that perhaps Conrad's motivations aren't quite so simple or pure as they initially appear.
Even with its uninspiring success rate however, the overall playfulness keeps the emoting (failed or otherwise) from gaining the upper hand for long, making the series' most serious shortcoming its animation. If the creators were allowed more money for the second season, it certainly doesn't show, as the animation is as stiff and cheap as ever. The animators still deem speed-blurring around the edges of a panned still sufficient to portray the intensity of a sword-fight, everyday movements like walking are often unconvincing, camera movement is nearly nonexistent, and shot compositions and editing are mundane at best. While it rarely looks actively bad, the show's underwhelming technical prowess is almost certainly partially responsible for its poor dramatic impact.
Disregarding movement, the visuals fare well. Characters have no-frills classic anime good looks (a nice way of saying that they are interchangeable with any other dozen anime that have competent character designers) with an eye towards providing each character with a distinctive color scheme (my personal favorite is Anissina). In an unusual move, both males and females are paid equal attention, making for a cast with attractive designs down both sides of the sex divide. Backgrounds—specifically the castle-town and the lakeside forest—are often possessed of a painterly beauty and epic scale, which causes some integration problems with the simpler character designs--the scenes of the Yuri's entourage moving through the forest very much resemble characters sliding over a painting rather than people moving through a forest.
The overwrought fantasy compositions that are the highlight of the background music are a double-edged sword, providing soaring backing for the more spectacular vistas and magical feats, but also occasionally crossing the line into cheesy first-generation Zelda territory. Though not omnipresent, quieter tunes are used in insistent and sometimes puzzling ways—such as the use of a low, vaguely menacing number during the hilarious verbal back-and-forth of Yuri's meeting with his proposed "fiancé".
The English dialogue clings to the subtitle script like a drowning man to driftwood, but it also makes some interesting casting choices. Stoffel sounds like a classic Saturday morning cartoon villain (think Gargamel); Wolfram—in an unusual move—is voiced by women in both languages; and the decision to have different actors voice Gwendal at different ages improves considerably on the Japanese version which insists on having the sepulchral Akio Otsuka voice even the 12-year-old Gwendal. The dub suffers from enough mildly mechanical delivery, slightly forced emotion, and periodically clunky rewrites to make the Japanese a better bet for less tolerant fans, but not enough to dismiss it as a viable alternative for those with dub preferences.
Previews and a textless closing are this disc's only extras.
For all the manifold meanings of picking up silverware and twisted wildlife, Kyo kara Maoh! fares poorly in world-building terms when compared to true fantasy luminaries like The Twelve Kingdoms. Nevertheless, if the series can maintain its beguiling mixture of unique humor, fantasy parody, and shounen-ai titillation, it will likely retain its core audience straight through to its as-yet distant conclusion.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C
Art : B
Music : B-
+ Plenty of laugh-out-loud fantasy silliness.
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