Based on hit novel series in Japan that has sold more than 2 million copies and captured the hearts of a wide audience from young teenagers to adult ladies! Animation production by Studio Deen (Fruits Basket, You're Under Arrest!) brings this charming shoujo series to life in anamorphic widescreen and the first volume also contains the textless opening credit animation and character data!
Crossing worlds and alternating between being an average student and a Demon King, Kyo Kara Maoh mixes up a lot of different things into a formula that really works.
For our primary viewing session, we listened to this series in its original language of Japanese. The show has a fairly standard TV action mix which provides some decent directionality during action scenes and occasionally with some of the dialogue. There's a fair amount of action so we do get to have both speakers work out nicely and the dialogue has a number of good distinct moments. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in 2004, the transfer for this series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The transfer for this show is essentially problem free and looks great both at standard display level and upconverted to 1080i. The digital nature of the show comes across really well here with vivid and solid colors that are free of gradient problems, backdrops that are free of blocking and no visible cross coloration. This is simply a very smooth looking piece that's pleasing on the eyes through and through.
While the Japanese retail releases went for a single character on the cover, the US release (presumably using the rental artwork) provides a shot of the main male cast of characters for the first cover set against a standard background of purple that gives a bit of a royal feel to it. With the focus on the characters there's plenty of detail to their design and they all look good here and like they do in the show itself. The back cover is done in a similar style but with a different border that holds the basic summary and numerous pieces of artwork and shots from the show. The discs episode numbers and titles are clearly listed next to the discs features and extras while the bottom is filled out with the production credits and the spread out technical information. The insert for the release replicates the front cover artwork with a few less logos while the reverse side lists the episodes and future volume release dates along with a few shots from the show, which means this is a fairly useless insert. With the keepcase being clear, the cover is full color on both sides and the reverse side is just a purple background with a shield and crest underneath where the disc itself resides.
The menu layout for this series is nicely done with a central image that goes towards a fantasy/kingdom theme with the symbols of the demon kingdom set in the center against a purple backdrop while each of the four corners of the symbols lead to different menu selections, all set to a brief bit of instrumental music. It's a nicely designed menu that fits into the theme of the show and provides for quick and easy navigation that's free of transitional animations. The only downside to the menus is that it doesn't play our presets properly since they put the sign/song subtitle track as the first English track instead of the second one.
The extras for the opening volume here are fairly minimal but the Japanese release doesn't look like they have anything going for them. We get a clean version of the opening sequence as well as some pages worth of character information which we didn't look at in case of spoilers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Kyo Kara Maoh!, a thirty-nine episode series, is one whose trailer (which is just the opening sequence) was certainly confusing but intriguing. A mixture of slice of life characters combined with a fantasy setting and then throwing in copious amounts of baseball left you wondering just what it was all about. Having now seen the first five episodes, it's a show that's caught me off-guard and more humorous than I thought it would be based on what they're using to sell it with.
The series focuses on fifteen year old Yuri Shibuya, a young man who has something of a temper and has put up with a fair amount of abuse in his life. A lot of that stems from his name which is uncommon to be sure for a man which has given him something of a short temper in dealing with things. In fact, he was kicked off of the baseball team in junior high after hitting the coach during a game. He still has a great love of the game but he's spent his time since then simply trying to get by without causing much trouble or getting into anything else. Unfortunately, his sense of justice seems to get him into trouble as when he sees people being beat up on that are weak, he tries to help. This happens when a former schoolmate named Ken Murata is getting roughed up for his money.
This doesn't go well for Yuri though as the four end up dragging him into the women's bathroom stall and start flushing him down the toilet to teach him a lesson. It goes doubly worse when Yuri realizes there's a black hole of sorts down there and he's being sucked into it, only to arrive in another world, a place where he initially thinks its some kind of amusement park or something where people dressed up in medieval clothing and speak in tongues. He's quickly educated and changed though when a powerfully built blonde man named Adelbert arrives and clutches Yuri's head tightly which results in Yuri no understanding the language. The locals are all afraid of him, calling him the one they expected due to his hair and clothes, but Adelbert keeps them at length since he has his own plans for Yuri.
Before Adelbert can take him away though, he's interrupted by the arrival of horses and a man named Conrart who calls out for Yuri by name. Adelbert doesn't stay long at this point as the two are plainly adversaries but Yuri is simply out of his environment with all of this and sort of stammers around unsure of what to do. The presence of Conrart, who offers up the name Conrad as easier to pronounce, seems to keep Yuri relatively calm as the two travel to where Conrad promises numerous explanations of exactly what's going on. The way this all plays out is highly comical but done with a serious nature to it while throwing around all sorts of customs that are alien to Yuri but expected to be known.
Yuri finds himself being introduced to two brothers of Conrads. Gwendal is the eldest brother and currently the one taking care of most of the issues of the kingdom that Yuri has found himself in. The Demon Kingdom that is, as all the people here are members of the demon tribe, Conrad included though he's human. Conrad's younger brother is Wolfram, a very pretty but angry blonde lad who is furious about Yuri's arrival. Yuri is watched and guarded over by a very pretty man named Gunter who is unrelated to anyone else and serves as something of the guardian and teacher for Yuri in this new land. All of them have expected Yuri and he seems to fit some sort of prescribed bill that was handed down some fifteen years prior. He's now intended to become the new Demon King and to take over the country, though the brothers hold that in some dispute.
It's this dispute that causes the problems, mostly coming from Wolfram who can't handle his anger over it. When Wolfram insults Yuri's mother, Yuri slaps him hard across the face. This is apparently a mistake since in this land that's how you propose to someone and Yuri swore he'd never take it back before he found that out. Even worse, the two end up in a situation where they're going to have to duel each other to satisfy some insulted honor. While Conrad is nervous about this, Gwendal sees it as the opportunity to find out if Yuri is really the one that will be selected as the new Demon King. His ability to draw in magic or handle a sword will be critical at this juncture.
Though it plays up to a certain cliché, the fight starts off amusing since Yuri challenges Wolfram to some sumo wrestling and strips off his shirt (much to the delight of several of the men and a particular woman whose presence in this show is positively hysterical) and they go at it. But even then Wolfram is unsatisfied and insists on a sword fight. It's at this point that we start to see the true power that's hidden inside of Yuri, which is a cliché but one that must be gotten past to get into the show proper, and his body slowly changes as he fights and his personality seems supplanted by something much more familiar to this particular world with its speaking style and intent and Yuri in Demon King form masters powerful magics and slams down Wolfram hard, making it plainly clear that he is very much suited to becoming the Demon King.
With his acknowledging that he's supposed to be the Demon King, Yuri ends up in a number of odd situations, one of which is that large bodies of water seem to be transports between the worlds for him as he ends up back there at one point and tries to deal with whether it was a dream or not, as well as figuring out just what his parents know about all of this. What he's learned about them has him wanting to ask but not finding the right way to do it. There's a beautiful flashback sequence to fifteen years prior where we learn how he was chosen to be the Demon King and we get to see what his mother is like then. When she learns that her boyfriend is actually from the demon kingdom in another dimension, her fantasy oriented fascination has her vastly intrigued and interested in having babies with wings since he doesn't have wings and she's all giddy about it. Her character is simply beautiful in how this all plays out since she's fully aware of what her son is up to but keeping out of it to let him make the choices, which is a very welcome change from the oblivious parents angle so many shows push.
When in the Demon Kingdom, the show plays up another aspect that's becoming a bit more common in shows but is still working well enough to find funny when done well and that's the more shonen-ai elements. Yuri would be considered fairly average on Earth but in the Demon Kingdom he's considered quite handsome and you have people like Gunter who lust after him as well as a few other guys are choice times. The way Yuri ends up engaged to Wolfram plays up this as well to great comic effect but also to some acceptance as well on Wolfram's part. Yuri isn't exactly jumping up and down about all of this but it's something that he's trying to get a handle on. It's this aspect of his personality that's a welcome change since he does decide to take on the mantle of Demon King and to try and change things there instead of being wishy washy about it. He's intent on accepting a number of their customs but at the same time he wants some of his ways to come through as well.
The show is also surprising in some other ways. There's supposedly fairly easy passage between both worlds and the Demon King is supposed to spend a good part of it on both sides traveling and learning. We find out from Conrad about his own time spent on Earth where he stayed with Yuri's mother in the past and learned about baseball while living in Boston, becoming a fan of the Red Sox and talking it up with Yuri when he's trying to figure out his place in everything. There's a really neat growing connectivity to all the characters that's explored across the first five episodes that's just fun to see how it expands, especially as the past is brought to light and we see how they've worked things to happen as it is.
Visually, the show hits just about all the right notes. The Earth bound time is your basic city of today with standard settings and events going on there while the Demon Kingdom time has all the elements that are standard to that setting. Some of it's creative with the Boney creatures that help out and the magic elements are well played, but it's kept fairly simple at the start so as to not overwhelm. The show is intent on growing and exploring the other lands as well as a journey starts towards the end of the volume and we get to see more cultures and how they all interact together. In particular, I like how they deal with the magic in that the particles that people use are stronger in certain areas more than others, so supposedly the demon tribe members cannot use magic outside their lands since the particles/elements aren't keen on them in these other lands.
With the first five episodes, Kyo Kara Maoh! presents a very interesting world where a young man is caught up in things not of his own making but does his best to take the reins of. It's plainly obvious based on what goes on here that there is far more to being the Demon King than what's told to Yuri. The mixture of the different types of shows, from the fantasy to the baseball and to the general slice of life material all works really well here and the combination gives it something that we haven't seen before. There are a lot of little hooks in these episodes that can capture the viewer and it's a show that's likely to have wide appeal. At the end of the first volume, I was already disappointed that I didn't have a second volume to check out as I really liked this cast, laughed quite a lot and enjoyed the action sequences. This one starts off with a lot of promise and I'm looking forward to seeing if it can pull it off.
Japanese 2.0 Language,English 2.0 Language,English Subtitles,Textless Opening,Character Profiles
Panasonic PT50LC13 50" LCD RP HDTV, Zenith DVB-318 Progressive Scan codefree DVD player via DVI with upconversion set to 720p, Sony STR-DE835 DD/DTS receiver, Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer