"Kyo Kara Maoh! Vol.1": Much Funnier Than "Will And Grace"
Ah, shonen-ai. “Boy-love,” for those not in the know, and it’s not only a polite way of saying “somewhat gay” in Japanese, it’s also a genre of anime and manga where the focus is (you guessed it) a gay relationship. Now, these titles can range in quality from the seminal Gravitation to the forgettable Only the Ring Finger Knows. In Kyo Kara Maoh!, a new anime title from Geneon, the hero is a former junior-high baseball player who also turns about to be the demon king of an alternate dimension, where he’s soon engaged to another guy. (Funny how certain customs don’t transfer well between dimensions. Here, a slap in the face is assault. There, it’s a marriage proposal. Oops.) A lot of the other guys in that world seem to be interested in romancing him as well, much to his chagrin.
In other words, we have a fantasy-world romantic dramedy with a side of sports anime all overlaid with a considerable shonen-ai element. So, does Kyo Kara Maoh! knock one out of the park, or does it strike out and take a long slow walk to the benches?
Well, I’m happy to say that Kyo Kara Maoh! is quite enjoyable. It starts off with this kid, Yuri Shibuya, who used to play baseball at his local junior high. But he was booted from the team after punching out his coach, and that experience hasn’t tempered his anger one bit: on the way from school, he catches some punks trying to bully one of his classmates. Yuri tries to step in, but that just prompts the thugs to take him to a nearby public restroom and give him a swirlie. Instead of getting toilet hair, though, Yuri ends up in another world where, it turns out, he is a demon king. This isn’t just a case of mistaken identity either: he’s got the awesome power to back it up, and he even gets to bust it out a couple of times on this disc. As mentioned earlier, his brash ways result in him being betrothed to a guy, and, in general, it seems most of his cabinet has the hots for him, resulting in comedy and hijinks. Indeed, the handling of the boy-love element is pretty funny and fairly palatable, and Kyo Kara Maoh! manages to make its weird premise work through a fine tuned balance of humor, drama and just a dash of magical action. It even manages to switch things up a little: the demons are much more civil that a lot of the humans are.
On the technical side of things, Kyo Kara Maoh! is alright. It’s got pretty solid animation and compositing, nice character design, good sound production, enjoyable voice acting from both casts and music which fits the tone of the show well (maybe not the J-pop punk opening, but it’s okay). The DVD has crisp video and audio encoding, but it could use some more special features than the Geneon standard textless opening and some character profiles. The little pseudo-filmframe is a nice, unique inclusion, though, so Geneon gets props for coming up with a limited edition goody that’s fresh.
Basically, if you’re looking for a fun fantasy show with just enough drama and action to keep it from feeling too silly, and if you’re looking for a shonen-ai twist in the humor, then Kyo Kara Maoh! Volume One is for you.