Monday, May 25, 2015

Maoyu: Complete Collection (anime TV series), on DVD

Maoyu is a 12-episode fantasy series licensed by Sentai Filmworks.

Review:

Maoyu is technically a generic fantasy series featuring a war between humans and demons. However, the focus is more on commerce, agriculture, and negotiation.

Twenty or so years ago, the humans invaded the demon world and took control of one of their cities. Then the demons invaded the human world and took control of one of their small islands. This sparked a war that seemed to have no end, until a human hero and his allies appeared. The Hero, wanting to end things as quickly as possible, left his allies behind and sped to the Demon King's castle, only to discover that the Demon King was actually a beautiful woman who seemed to have no interest in fighting him. Instead, she wanted to partner with him (in a way that sounds rather like a marriage but never actually goes anywhere) and find a way to wrap up the war in such a way that there is neither victory nor defeat. The Demon King is a “big picture” person and knows that, even if the war was permitted to suddenly end, many would die of starvation and many would end up enslaved.

The Hero agrees, and so begins their partnership. The Demon King disguises herself as a human woman known as the Crimson Scholar and introduces various agricultural improvements to a human settlement. As the series progresses, her innovations have a butterfly effect, prompting merchants, religious figures, and more to get involved.

I bought this series because a review mentioning its connections to Spice and Wolf got me all excited. For example, the voice actors for Kraft Lawrence and Holo are the same as the ones for the Hero and Demon King. Plus, there's the emphasis on economics and politics, which both series share.

Unfortunately, while Maoyu was interesting and would probably make for some amazing discussion among people who know more about economics than I do, I don't think it was nearly as good as Spice and Wolf. Spice and Wolf thoroughly established the partnership between Holo and Lawrence, showing how they gradually came to trust each other and trust in each other's skills. At the beginning of the series, they were together all the time, and their interactions were delightful. When their partnership was threatened, it managed to be tense, emotional, and educational (more economics!), all at once.

In Maoyu, the Demon King simply declared that she had been waiting for the Hero for a long time and that she loved him. The Hero, after some blushing and listening to the Demon King's arguments about why a partnership would be a good idea, went along with it. They trusted each other almost immediately, which made their relationship far less interesting. I'm pretty sure that the Hero and the Demon King went slightly further, physically, than Lawrence and Holo (they kissed, vs. Lawrence and Holo, what, holding hands?), but their relationship didn't have nearly the same sparks. It also didn't help that I'm pretty sure the Hero and the Demon King spent more of the series apart than together.

Then there was the economics, which was on a far larger scale than anything in Spice and Wolf. Spice and Wolf focused on the ways a single merchant and his partner could operate within a larger system. Maoyu, on the other hand, looked at how a group of select individuals could affect the larger system. The Demon King introduced several agricultural innovations, including potatoes, corn, and a four-field crop rotation system. She taught several students who looked like throwaway characters, but who later turned out to be vital players in her larger economic game. She established agreements with the Alliance, a powerful group of merchants, and one particular merchant pretty much single-handedly arranged for the price of wheat and other goods to go up at just the right time. Meanwhile, the Hero fought battles across the country, trying to keep smaller problems from morphing into something that could lead to bloodshed.

I spent most of the series desperately trying to follow all the economic and political maneuvering. I'm just not that knowledgeable in those areas. However, I know enough to realize that Maoyu seriously simplified how things work. It was the only way the Demon King and the Hero could change so much is such a relatively short time. By the way, this 12-episode series covered a time period of at least a couple years.

I got to a point where I had trouble suspending my sense of disbelief. The number and scale of the changes everyone was managing to make in the human world was just too much. Those major shifts and changes also took time away from the characters, who never had a chance to do more than hint at what they could have been. Which may have been intentional – why else would none of them have real names?

The most interesting of the bunch was probably the Older Sister Maid, a serf who ran away and was trained to be a maid by the Head Maid, a demon. When the series took a more brutal turn and the Older Sister Maid was whipped and beaten as a heretic, she found the strength to stand up and defend her own humanity. Aside from that, there were hints about the Demon King and Head Maid's past, but nothing concrete. I was intrigued by indications that the Demon King had gone through all of this several times in the past, with other heroes (and perhaps other incarnations of the mage character?), but none of those threads ever led anywhere.

I feel like this series was too short for all the grand things it was trying to do. There was no way it could satisfyingly turn war into peace via economics, wrap up a romantic storyline, and properly develop all of its many characters in only 12 episodes, so it focused more on the “turn war into peace” aspect. Which was fascinating and led to some great moments (I particularly enjoyed the Young Merchant's machinations), but left me feeling somewhat disappointed. I'd have preferred fewer lines focusing on the Demon King's bountiful breasts, and more lines devoted to properly establishing and developing her relationship with the Hero. I needed more from the characters than this series gave me.

Extras:
  • Japanese commercials - Lots of short commercials. Not terribly interesting. I get the feeling that no one had any idea how to sell this series, beyond "let's include shots of the Demon King's bouncing breasts!"
  • Japanse Blu-ray spots - Again, lots of short commercials. Slightly more interesting than the first one, because the voice actors redubbed certain scenes, but still nothing to get excited about.
  • Social game spots - A social game based on Maoyu in which you battle each other using character cards. Or something. I couldn't help but think that a strategy game that made use of economic principles would have been more appropriate.
  • Japanese previews - For me, this was the best of the extras. And even here there were indications that no one had any idea how to sell this series, since the emphasis was still more on the romance, the Demon King's breasts, and the battles.
  • Clean opening animation
  • Clean closing animation
Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Spice and Wolf (book) by Isuna Hasekura; Spice and Wolf (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another fantasy series with more economics and more romance may want to give this series a shot. I prefer the anime, but the light novel series isn't bad. I've written about both seasons of the anime and the first two volumes of the light novel series.
  • The Devil is a Part-timer! (book) by Satoshi Wagahara, art by 029; The Devil is a Part-timer! (anime TV series) - I've only seen the TV series, and I haven't yet reviewed it, but it's great fun. Those who'd like another fantasy series in which the demon and hero characters are in an unusual relationship may want to give this a try. During a battle in a fantasy world, the Devil retreats to our world, only to discover that he has lost almost all of his magical powers. He gets a job at a place much like McDonald's and tries to scrounge up enough power to go back home. Meanwhile, the hero, also now powerless, watches him closely and suspiciously. I thought this would be a one-note comedy series, but it was more varied than I expected.
  • The Twelve Kingdoms, Vol. 1: Sea of Shadow (book) by Fuyumi Ono, translated by Alexander O. Smith; The Twelve Kingdoms (anime TV series) - This is another series in which several of the characters have so much governing to do that there's no time for romance. On the plus side, there is also thankfully no half-hearted attempt at romance that must be abandoned in favor of the plot (except in the first part of the anime, ugh). Like Maoyu, this series takes a wider view of country governance, although it does still feature quite a few battles. I've written about both the anime and all the books that were translated into English.
  • Kyou Kara Maoh! (anime TV series) - Sadly, this series is now prohibitively expensive. Still, if you manage to stumble across an affordable copy or have the patience required to collect the cheaper single-DVD releases, it might work well for those who liked the generic fantasy setup of Maoyu. Once again, it's demons against humans, and in this series the demons look exactly like humans. The main character is trying to figure out a way to end the conflict between the two groups, but he's not nearly as intelligent as the Demon King.

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