Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Jan 3rd 2009
Kyo Kara Maoh!
Egged on by an obviously-possessed Wolfram and his own burning desire to shelter Yuri, Yuri's brother Shori pushes his magical powers too far and loses control, resulting in much new work for the castle's masons. Despite his magical mishap, Shori's magical powers come in handy later when the resealing of the Originator's boxes inevitably goes sour, stranding Yuri in the Great One's tomb along with an Originator-corrupted Great One. As his retainers scramble all their resources—including a desperate bid to render useful the lackadaisical Demon Sword Morgif—Yuri must triumph over his own sense of inadequacy if he is to save the Great Demon Kingdom from complete annihilation.
Kyo Kara Maoh's conclusion is serious stuff. Betrayal, defeat, corrupted souls and impending worldwide doom—not the stuff of fluffy bedtime stories. Yuri must confront his inner weakness, the Originators play dice with Wolfram's life, and Murata reveals some unpleasant truths about the mission he shared with the Great One of old. It's heavy stuff with nary a boys-love gag in sight; anything less would have been anticlimactic. But it still isn't what Kyo Kara Maoh does best. As personable as the pretty-boy cast is, there isn't much to them outside of their central quirks. It's hard to care much what happens to them, and even harder to believe that the softhearted writers would actually do something irrevocably nasty to them. It's a facsimile of a climax, going through all the right motions, but without the muscle to make them work. There is never any doubt as to the ultimate outcome of the conflict with the Originators, and consequently no tension or excitement as the climax unfolds.
That doesn't mean that the series is without its little surprises along the way. Ploddingly predictable as the final act is, director Junji Nishimura is veteran enough to wring a few interesting scenes from it. The action in the last few episodes, though brief, is shockingly well executed (when compared to the sad attempts at action in episodes past), with a few gorgeous slo-mo charges and spectacular magical showcases for the series' superior art and character design. Nishimura wisely emphasizes Yuri's inner conflict—which unfolds largely in stills inside an eerily empty simulacrum of his home—over epic warfare that the budget is plainly incapable of supporting. He also makes the most of the continually inscrutable Murata, whose wild-card behavior not only drives the final act, but also provides the only genuine surprise these volumes have to offer.
The ripe score works pretty well so long as Nishimura's flourishes coincide with Yoichiro Yoshikawa's big fantasy compositions. When they do, sound and visuals combine to evoke something very close to epic—soaring magic and soaring orchestras synchronizing for a moment of pure fantasy eye-candy. Unfortunately, the remainder of the time Nishimura employs silence—particularly during Yuri's inner struggle—more effectively than he does music. The score is often intrusive and on more than one occasion clearly at odds with the mood of a scene.
Kyo Kara Maoh's English dub is far from the worst you'll hear. Patrick Seitz is a solid addition to the cast as Shori, and even if he loses some of Yuri's wry spunk during the scenes with the Great One, Yuri Lowenthal's straightforward performance is well suited to the somber tone of these episodes. But neither is this one of the better dubs you're likely to hear. It isn't unusual for characters to get their inflections off or flatten their delivery, and for all the well-intentioned sprucing of the duller dialogue, the script is still too staid for it's own good.
That Kyo Kara Maoh discards all of its humorous trappings in favor of straight-up fantasy adventure is in retrospect no surprise. It's difficult to wind up a light adventure lightly without being accused of finishing weak. But understanding why the series took the sober path it did doesn't make it any less leaden. Aside from the occasional smile from Yuri's parents the dominant reaction these eight episodes elicit is an overwhelming impatience to see it over and done with.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B-
+ A few surprisingly well-executed sequences; brings the story to a definite conclusion while leaving itself open for a sequel.
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