Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Spring 2010 - Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaô

Make no mistake about it—the Harry Potter series has affected the stream of narrative globally to the point that it is once again cool to be enthralled with magic. The storm's wake in Japan not only changed the dynamics of manga (especially in Comic Market, where the dôjin world drooled all over the series), but it made the inevitable introduction of magic into school comedies easier. Harry Potter made way for his Japanese cousin Negi Springfield (Ken Akamatsu's Negima!), only to have the series dramatically raise the panty-shot-to-magic-spell ratio. Since the lasting success of Negima!, there have been a few "magic-academy" titles known more for their comedic situations (Gakuen Alice, Zero no Tsukaima, To Aru Majutsu no Index), as well as their fan service (Maburaho, Happiness, MxO).

Late out of the gate is Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaô ("The Demon King In The Back"), this season's ode to embarrassing magical accidents. The show is directed by the experienced Takashi Watanabe, who has directed magic fantasy (Slayers, Lost Universe, Shakugan no Shana) and just a smidge of fan service (Ikki Tousen), while Artland is providing the production (Megazone 23, Mushishi, Kateikyô Hitman REBORN!).

Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the story deals with an orphaned boy coming of age by moving to a new academy (coughNarutocough). Akuto Sai comes into the new city with a cloak billowing about himself, looking to right the world in the future as a high priest, only to get a kick to the face by Junko, a female descendant of a class of warriors, when he tries to help her grandmother out. Of course, during the process we get a glimpse of just how devoted Junko is to the samurai class with...ahem...a peek at her fundoshi (0:33 in the above movie). While things are patched up afterward, Akuto gets an alarming revelation when the decider of future occupations, a comic chain-smoking crow, declares that Akuto is destined to be a demon king!

This throws the class into a frenzy of distrust and accusation, as everything Akuto does to deny the prediction only knits him closer to his destiny and pushes him to the back of the classroom (hence the title). Junko ends up vowing to destroy him during the first class, but the initial battles somehow unlock the hidden potential within Akuto, and the resulting explosion leaves Junko bereft of clothing (much like Asuna's scenarios in Negima!). The other characters end up assembling in due time—the ditzy Keena ends up fighting to protect Akuto by episode's end, while the emotionless Korone appears without a real reason to appear. The other harem characters make their presence known to the viewer and appear to have more conniving intentions.

There doesn't appear to be anything new about Daimaô, as the whole idea of the completely misunderstood male as a target of the other females is about as old as Urusei Yatsura. The redeeming value could come in the form of Akuto's steady success--if he can convince the others about his good intentions, I can see the series being decent, but the sexcapades just seem to drive the show towards ridicule right off the bat. The more important questions have been addressed elsewhere—Akuto, how in the world weren't you told about how the academy works before you got there, and how in the world haven't you figured this whole "Demon King" thing already? And is society so dumb that they have to listen to a talking crow spirit in order to get their marching orders?

It's hard to ignore the glaring similarities to the other "magic-academy" shows out there (hell, one character has a talking witch's hat straight out of the Harry Potter films), so I'm not sure if the series is worth following to an expected ending. If Akuto actually decided to change his tune and become a "demon king", as the pictures have tried to hint, maybe the show would have some unexpected direction. Otherwise, Daimaô is just another apprentice that will never become a wizard.

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