Maoyu: A Review, Confession, and Discussion

I’ll start with a condensed review. Maoyu is very, very good. It deals with highly complex and intelligent themes with a maturity I haven’t seen in an anime. I’ve seen some smart and mature anime’s, but Maoyu seems to exist on a higher intellectual plane. Watch it for the war, romance, class struggle, or economics. Just please do watch it. It is quite far from perfect, but it is entirely worth powering through those imperfections. I enjoyed it so much that it made me extremely angry. Who the hell likes being that happy?! Check it out on Crunchyroll. That ends my review. I’m excited to delve deeper into this anime, but first allow me to communicate to you my falling out with anime.

I haven’t enjoyed anime much at all since high school, having been disenfranchised from the form for a variety of reasons. Why does Inuyasha have an overarching plot if there seems to be no intent of developing it? I don’t enjoy being strung along. This phenomenon carried me a fair emotional distance from anime. Jumping forward a few years, I heard they’re doing a Valkyria Chronicles anime. “Super good,” I thought, “I love the Valkyria Chronicles game and can totally see the narrative being compelling as an anime!” Then I saw what they did to Alicia Melchiott…. No, I’m not watching that. Fuck anime.

At this point, it’s been easier to say that I generally hate anime and qualify those that I like rather than the reverse. Common hates bring people closer than common loves, so I’ll justify this position by saying I’m just a social butterfly. I’ll segue back into Maoyu by asking you a question, reader. Given my history, why on Earth would this anime be the one to suck me back in?

Hello, meet the foreground: my boobs!!!

Hello, meet the middleground: my boobs!!!

Because it’s awesome. Seriously, I got Lady Geek Girl herself to hang in there past this scene and she’s glad she did. Still, I do not exactly know why I kept watching once the above boobs were introduced. It’s probably because my brother asked me to watch it and assured me I’d like it, but even that should not have been enough. I suppose that I must have been enthralled with the dialogue exchange, because boy does this anime have enthralling dialogue.

I’m about to discuss some of this dialogue as well as the formation of the plot, so if you want to avoid any first-episode spoilers then you can go ahead and skip a few paragraphs ahead. Maoyu begins in medias res, specifically at the hero’s meeting with the goddess. This is important because of its explicit reference to the monomyth, Joseph Campbell’s ingenious work outlying the common narrative of “the hero’s journey” that seems to pervade across cultures. Indeed, it’s equally applicable to both The Lord of the Rings and Musashi, despite the vastly different cultures in which the stories are told. Maoyu makes a lot of references to the monomyth, right down to all of the characters simply being named as a specific narrative archetype.

While characters such as Hero and Demon King are clearly references to classically important narrative archetypes, others such as Head Maid are more broad. Less than five minutes into the first episode, the hero reaches the climax of his journey in his encounter with Demon King, humanity’s great antagonist. Here is where Maoyu begins to differentiate itself from the monomyth; the viewer’s perspective of Maoyu is better informed by Maoyu’s juxtaposition against the monomyth. When Hero encounters Demon King, he finds the attractive, largely busted redhead pictured above. It turns out that “Demon King” is an honorific title. Demon King quickly establishes herself as the narrative focus of the narrative. She stops Hero’s efforts to slay her with appeals to reason, quickly educating him on the reasons for war from both the humanity and demon-kind’s perspectives.

These reasons are somewhat political and largely economic, which is an accurate reflection of our own human history. Through negotiations, Demon King convinces Hero why the war cannot end with victory for either side, principally because war will continue to be a necessary tool for offsetting poverty and because the losing side will likely be enslaved to help offset this poverty for the victor. Demon King’s idea is to deescalate the war to minimize death for either side and focus her efforts on empowering nations and their people with education and economics. To do this, she wants Hero’s help.

Oxymoron: noun, a figure of speech which makes a self-contradicting statement. ex: ”I am Hero, friend to all humanity and enemy to all evil!

Oxymoron: noun, a figure of speech which makes a self-contradicting statement. Ex: “I am Hero, friend to all humanity and enemy to all evil!”

Hero, who is himself uneducated and raised as a tool for war, astonishingly becomes her first empowered individual. He decides for himself that what Demon King says makes sense and he wants to help her. The deal they strike with each other is that they will give all of themselves to the other, becoming each other’s owner, as a manifestation of their commitment to their cause and to each other. Thus begins their awkward romance. (Note that this mutual ownership is best characterized is a mutual giving of self, rather than a taking of the other. Hero often tells Demon King that he is hers, and she tells him the reciprocal just as often.)

What follows in subsequent episodes are Demon King’s development of a small kingdom by educating its citizens through herself and convents, developing its agriculture with scientific farming methods, and improving its economy through trade. This is compelling narrative because of how it is juxtaposed against conventional narrative arcs. On a more fundamental level than that, there is so much conflict and so many dynamic changes that take place as a result of this process so as to make it all maddeningly compelling. Hero must find a place for himself without fighting in a war or making use of his awesome power alone to solve his problems. Demon King and Hero’s relationship develops a complexity of reciprocation and mutual benefit, with elements such as mutual inspiration and sharing of strength taking precedence over exchanges of romance and sex. It’s all very engaging, and much of this is thanks to how different it is from other narratives.

However awesome Maoyu is, and I cannot stress enough to you how good it is, it is not without its faults. The most egregious of these revolve around Demon King and Hero, respectively. On Demon King, almost every episode draws explicit attention to her enormous breasts. This happens to a far greater extent in the first two episodes. If you don’t understand why this is frustrating, then at least go back up to my second paragraph to see why it is such a sore point for me. Hero, on the other hand, is explicitly characterized in every episode as a virgin. As almost any woman who is on this blog, is involved in feminism, or consumes almost any piece of pop culture will tell you, constantly having virginity identified as the most powerful characteristic of a character is insanely frustrating. It’s somewhat novel to see a male character subjected to this, but that only goes so far (it’s complicated). Really, neither of these things are necessarily very bad in a vacuum, but Maoyu makes it a point that it does not exist in a vacuum through the connections it draws to the monomyth and virtually every other hero story ever told. And what frustrates me most about Demon King’s enourmous breasts and Hero’s virginity is that I perceive them to be extremely weak devices being used for a necessary end in the plot.

Aww, her breasts and his virginity make such a cute couple! :D

Her breasts and his virginity make such a cute couple! 😀

Both Demon King and Hero are very strong characters, yet they never cease to be dynamic and struggle with conflict. These conflicts are not always enough to make them seem anything less than unreasonably perfect. Even their relationship doesn’t serve well to humanize them to a very large extent since they’re being contrasted with each other. If you wanted to make a god more relatable from a human perspective, you’re not going to get very far by comparing them to another god as opposed to a human. So Demon King’s breasts and Hero’s virginity seem to be Maoyu’s feeblest attempts at establishing tragic flaws in its characters. Demon King’s breasts are often referred to as useless flesh since she’s not using them to breast feed, and Hero’s virginity is portrayed as an embarrassing naiveté and weakness that everybody else must compensate for.

On one hand, these can be seen as steps forward since it’s not “female anime protagonist loves little cute things” and “male anime protagonist is bound by honor to carry the weight of the world,” so that’s good. On the other hand, it just replaces them with bull puckey that we should have been over for decades. Now that I mention it, however, maybe the very datedness of these concepts speaks to why they are relevant artistically to the narrative. Still, I have to believe that there are other ways to establish human relatability and awkward comic relief than these. Other flaws include the presence of a stereotypically evil church and a stereotypically horny old man.

All in all, Maoyu is a great show. The narrative flows quite well and doesn’t string you along like a drug-addicted cat to get you to watch all 12 episodes. Its voice and perspective alone end up being enough to keep all the main characters relatable at all times. The cast doesn’t grow very large, but the main characters are notably mostly female, though it balances out a little over time. Among the main recurring characters that I did not mention are my favorite characters. Older Sister Maid is my favorite, as I identify closely with her struggle and especially her haunting memories of that struggle. And I cannot recall a time that I’ve just listened to a character’s speech and felt moved to tears along with the fictional masses to which the character is speaking, and yet Older Sister Maid did this so well that it makes me sincerely angry. Go watch Maoyu. It is captivatingly entertaining and contains sound historical concepts revolving around economics, science, and war that remain relevant even today.

You should watch us now. Seriously, just click the picture and watch.

You should watch us now. Seriously, just click the picture and watch.

2 thoughts on “Maoyu: A Review, Confession, and Discussion

  1. Pingback: Oh, My Pop-Culture Jesus: The Catholic Clergy and Pop Culture | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  2. Ah, you definitely hit the nail on the head with this review. I just finished watching Maoyu myself after a long dry spell of no good anime – a mix of not watching any and being tricked into watching horrible ones. Good characters, good premise, strong writing – phew, why does quality have to be so rare these days? Color me impressed with the show’s clip pace that also never becomes breakneck. In a medium with far too many writers willing to dump words and inconsistency onto the page and call it an episode, it’s nice to see some discipline.

    Still, thank you for bringing up the fan service and the outdated and stereotypical sexual themes. As sparing as they are in comparison to so many other series out there, it’s still undeniably there. It’s such an uncomfortable thing when an otherwise fine show has to fall back onto fan service in order to provide the titillating screencaps necessary to attract a broader audience. It’s an odd sacrifice we have to make as viewers and especially as feminists to ignore that and hope there’s actual content around the corner. One can only hope that more pop series can discover that you don’t need sex to sell well, but until then there’s something to be said about directors who can present those elements and then move right past them, granting them only the least importance. Small steps!

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