Hataraku Maou-sama caught me completely off-guard. I wasn’t expecting much from it, as the premise isn’t really all that grabby on paper and I recently got burned on Hero/Demon King shows with Maoyuu. The promo material struck me as being one of those dumb typical anime comedies. I was not prepared for these likable characters or this understated sense of humor.
Watching Hataraku Maou-sama felt a lot like watching a more laid-back version of Astro Fighter Sunred with General Vamp as the main character, which is about as high of praise as an anime comedy can get from me. It had the same effective juxtaposition of a larger-than-life archetypal hero/villain dealing with the mundane troubles of the everyday, delicately humanizing a character we’re used to seeing as beyond human. And more than that, it is a celebration of those very banalities in a way that makes you love and appreciate them every bit as much as Vamp/Sadao does.
It’s also got that same great dynamic between the evil overlord and his subordinates and archnemesis that was really the highlight of Sunred. The overlord and his lackey are best pals, chillin’ in a pad together and being as absolutely not-evil as you could possibly imagine. And while the hero and the villain go on and on about how they’re going to finally defeat each other once and for all, it becomes an almost playful banter between the two as each discovers that the other is not the embodiment of good or evil that they are supposed to represent, but just regular guys living from day to day and fighting to give their lives a bigger meaning. And in so doing, they realize just how much they need and depend on each other, even if their loftier ambitions are completely at odds. It’s a great message, and seeing Sadao and Yusa (or Vamp and Sunred) come to appreciate each other has delivered some wonderful and silly character interactions.
Where Maou-sama sets itself apart from Sunred is in its mood. It’s a lot less aggressive in its jokes, its pacing, and its atmosphere, which brings the whole experience closer to home. It’s also not quite as funny, but it fills in that gap with what has so far been a relatively cute romance element with Sadao’s coworker and with more time spent on its earnest depictions of the everyday lives of our characters. Maou-sama places its character interactions center-stage and tells the jokes through the characters, as opposed to Sunred’s approach of telling jokes first and showing us the characters through the jokes. And while Yusa has occasionally ventured a touch too far into run-of-the-mill tsunderekko territory at times, on the whole the characters have been pretty strong and this approach has worked well for Maou-sama.
Maou-sama also takes its fantasy elements more seriously. There looks to be some kind of overarching plot involving the fantasy world making its appearance at the end of the third episode. This could lead to an abrupt shift in tone for the series, but the serious fantasy moments have been competently-enough handled so far that I think it should be able to pull it off just fine. As long as the focus on the characters remains as strong as it has been so far and the newly-introduced fantasy conflict doesn’t completely overwhelm the real-world storyline, Maou-sama has more than enough going for it now that the change can be handled well. If anything, the third episode itself was a reasonably solid transition from the first two.
This show has really been an enjoyable experience so far. By making the extraordinary mundane, Hataraku Maou-sama succeeds in making the mundane extraordinary.