When the spring anime season was reaching its mid-way point five weeks ago, I listed The Devil is a Part-Timer! as one of the five anime you should be watching. And while the second half of the series didn’t quite live up to the quality of the first half, it is still an anime that is just plain fun to watch.
[Note: This review contains minor spoilers about the general nature of the plot.]
While ostensibly the story tells of a defeated demon king escaping to our world, what the show really does well is take a deep look at the motivations behind these archetypical characters—i.e. the hero and the demon king.
The hero’s story is rather cliché by design: born in secret and raised on a farm only to one day find that she is the only one capable of taking down the demon king. But where she really gets interesting is in how she reacts to the demon king’s passivity in our world. While she spends every moment of her free time stalking him—to prevent him from doing no good, of course—it doesn’t take long for her to see that his actions are far from evil.
Thus she finds herself torn between seeing him as the personification of evil—as she viewed him in her own world—and the normal everyman whose actions are often more than a little heroic. But what this truly does is make her question herself and her role as a hero. Is it right for her to simply finish him off? After all, what kind of hero would murder someone who has changed his ways?
On the demon king’s side, it is even more interesting. In his own world, the demon king sent his generals out to conquer the world—and had almost succeeded until the hero came of age. His armies murdered thousands of soldiers and innocents alike. The hero sees the demon king's motivations as doing evil for the sake of evil. But we soon see that it is almost the opposite.
It an interesting look at the “demon king” archetype. Because he looks human, the hero—and we the audience—assume that he thinks like a human. At the start of the series, though, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
To him there was never a moral question. It does not occur to him that killing humans and/or trying to take over the world is wrong. Humans were simply things in the way of his goal. But we see that when he escapes to our world and is surrounded by them on a daily basis, he not only wishes them no harm but also goes to great lengths to protect them.
In our world the demon king is far more of a hero than the actual hero.
While the series is all set up to be your typical fish-out-of-water comedy with the characters from a fantasy world entering modern Japan, it soon becomes apparent that it is the opposite.
While being a part time worker at McDonalds, the demon king’s drive and ambition make him the perfect employee. The demon lord’s tactician finds that his attention to detail and planning makes him a perfect fit for the role of housewife on a budget.
As the demons come from a world of constant life and death struggle, they treat any and all dilemmas that way. So when a KFC opens across the street from the McDonalds, it is treated with the same gravitas as a war; spies are sent out, tactics observed, an army mustered, and counter attacks prepared.
The hero finds herself as the straight man in the whole situation. She observes the over-serious drive of the demons while at the same time facing all the same struggles of modern day life that they do—be that a lost wallet or trying to set aside enough time to have lunch with a friend from work. The only difference is that she sees the irony and is completely un-amused by it.
For the first half of the anime, the show manages to maintain an excellent balance between the comedic elements and the overall story. By and large each episode is based on a comedy situation involving these other worldly characters in the everyday problems we all face. But in the background, the greater story is in constant motion. Earthquakes, reports of murders, and mysterious phone calls all manage to keep everything tense despite the comedy. And when it all comes to a head, the action climax is just as satisfying as the comedy.
Sadly, in the second half, the careful balance between the overall plot and the day-to-day comedy falls apart. Yes, the comedy is still there and going strong, but the mystery and action elements are nearly absent from the story. Suddenly, there is no tension. New mysterious characters appear, but they seem more than a bit harmless. Moreover, everything seems to be in a holding pattern in general and nothing is resolved one way or the other with the hero/demon king situation—even though after the events of the midway point, it probably should have been.
The Devil is a Part-Timer! is one of those excellent shows that uses a fantastical situation to make comedic social commentary about the world we live in. Best of all, despite it being about life in Japan, much of the comedy is universal. At some point we all deal with the day-to-day dramas of life: finding a new place to live, paying rent, being stuck in a terrible first job. And watching these larger than life characters struggle through life’s little dilemmas is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
All in all it’s a fun little anime, packed full of laughs. It is a must watch for anyone who likes fantasy or comedies in general.
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