You could certainly be forgiven if you were initially suspicious of any title that opens with the premise of a schoolboy getting a "swirly". In case you aren't familiar with the technique, it is one in which a bully or group of bullies take a weaker individual, flip them upside down, dip their face into the toilet and flush. In normal circumstances, aside from being terribly unhygienic, the only long-term affect to the victim is a bit of a tall, twisted hairdo. Believe it or not, Kyo kara Maoh! Opens with our lead character on the receiving end of one such tactic only rather than simply twisting his do, this toilet happens to be a transporter to a magical realm. We don't even want to know if it worked on the same principle for countless not-so-pleasant flushes, but either way...
Released in full season collections, Funimation is once again bringing the Geneon classic title to the masses. At the time of this review's writing both the first and second volume have been released. The first box set (Season 1) contains 39 episodes across nine discs (thin packs within a very attractive cardboard slipcase). The second box set consists of the 37 episodes that constitute the complete second season but since this review if of the first release, let's stick to those specs for now.
The collection comes in at a whopping 975-minute runtime and packs a nice host of special features. Among these are a conceptual art and image gallery, textless themes, memory slideshow, promos, and previews for upcoming Funimation releases.
Language options are of the sub & dub variety; original Japanese dialog and English dub each presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and the choice of English subtitles below either.
The show wears an appropriate13 & Up rating. Appropriate because while there's nothing extremely offensive for the youngsters, it's quite possible that children around the age of 13 will get the most entertainment out of the multitude of gags presented here (after all, its doubtful they would have needed my above definition of a swirly).
The story goes something like this: Yuri Shibuya happens upon a new and wild world once bullies stick his head in the toilet. After encountering some nobles and discovering that the world as he knew it was no more, our hero discovers that he's the long-awaited Demon King (and here you thought he had it bad enough just surviving high school).
It turns out that in this new world (called the "Great Demon Kingdom"), humans are the enemy and though considered a human in our world, Yuri is classified as a demon there. Not just any demon at that; but rather the one who could balance out the tension between the humans and the demos.
After a brief return to Earth, Yuri is forced to contemplate which world is more to his liking. Long story short, thus begins young Yuri's reign as Demon King. Did I mention that magic is a fact of life in the Demon Kingdom but the catch is it only works in the thralls of battle? Yuri will learn these things just as the viewer does and more often than not: it's too little, too late.
If your still with me after all of this, let me just say that it was all be completely and hopelessly ridiculous except for one redeeming quality; It's pretty darn funny at times.
Kyo kara Maoh! has the distinction of combining fantasy elements with comedic charm to such accord that it harkens back to some of Monty Python's earlier works. Each episode is driven along by a fantasy inspired plot structure (find the magic sword, figure out a way to get back home, learn how to cast spells, etc.) but actually consists of dozens of silly humorous moments to connect the grander dots. Need examples? Well Yuri ends up accidentally getting himself engaged to be married (to another man) by the second episode, encounters some jiggly sumo wrestlers, pirates in schoolgirl uniforms, and gets up close and personal to a g-string by the fifth episode!
The offbeat and prevalent humor presented here depends heavily on its cast of characters. Luckily it works, much to the credit of the show's writers. Wolfram's snappish attitude makes a great counterpoint to Yuri's easygoing nature. The women aren't forgotten either, take Celi (the former Demon Queen) and her forceful personality and the eccentric inventor Anissina who has more tricks up her sleeve than a Vegas poker pro.
The music works really well with upbeat rock beats in the lighter moments that switch subtly to orchestral scores when the tension goes to red alert phase. Geneon's dub, though pale to the efforts of Funimation's more recent stuff, maintains the comedic intentions of the program. The script, however, does take a few ugly twists in effort to "Americanize" some of the jokes and puns. It is serviceable if you've only experienced the show in English but starts to lose ground once you compare it to the original Japanese script.
In all, this is a show that could be considered an instant classic or a blend of sheer strangeness depending entirely upon your mood going in. The fantasy elements work really well in both languages and the humor is equally addicting (especially in the Japanese version). However, if you were seeking a well plotted, fantasy adventure, you would probably better off looking into the much-less gimmicked One Piece series.
I came in not knowing what to expect and came out quite amused. It's silly for sure, but sometimes that's exactly what you were looking for, even if you didn't know it.