Set in a time of war between the kingdoms of Human and Demons, the Yusha heads towards the Demon King’s castle to end the war once and for all. When he arrives there, he encounters the Demon King who is revealed to be a red-haired woman named Mao. She offers the Yusha a choice: defeat her or help her end the war. After some thought, the Yusha agrees to help her change the world.
‘This is unlike other fantasy anime.’
Maoyu is based on the first major work by Log Horizon light novel author Mamare Touno. Unlike other fantasy anime, which can often rely on video game mechanics and logic, the anime draws more from the tradition of strategic RPG-style board games. It showcases the day-to-day interactions of people in fantastical worlds and the steps they take to gradually modernize. Despite being a fantasy series, Maoyu grounds itself in a very pragmatic, realistic world. Economics is a heavy theme in the series, and although the material can be dry at times, its purpose in the story demonstrates how people negotiate trade and work to find land and food in a feudalistic system.
One interesting element is how the names of the characters aren’t specified and represent the generic role each person plays. You have characters simply named as ‘Female Knight’ and ‘Female Magicians’ among many others. The exceptions are the main characters, with Yusha’s name translated into English from Japanese as ‘Hero’ and Mao as ‘Demon King.’ On that note, their relationship is a strong highlight of the series. The anime displays the deep trust they have for each other after starting out as enemies. Mao’s smitten affection for Yusha is really cute and shows her adorable side. I wish I could have seen more of that rather than some spotty shots of her cleavage. Mao and Yusha are voiced by Ami Koshimizu and Jun Fukuyama; both have great rapport and vocal chemistry similar to their work in Spice and Wolf.
Mao wishes for peace and prosperity in the world and is presented as more progressive than her Demon King predecessors. Wanting to enlighten and unite the Human and Demon worlds, her pacifism and intellect help her make rational decisions and introduce new technologies to cure sickness and improve living conditions. She also holds her own ground when negotiating with shrewd merchants – a skill right on par with Yusha’s sword skills.
Unfortunately, one weakness of the anime is how Mao is left out towards the end of the series, making her return only in the final two episodes. I feel that from that point the story loses some focus and jumps along to several other unnecessary plot points. It was also hard to pay attention to some side characters, like Yusha’s party members, who are mostly absent after the first episode, save for a few episodes here and there. Young Merchant and Big Sister Maid take the spotlight instead and do an effective job of moving the story along. The latter has an awesome moment (which I won’t spoil) that represents a turning point in the anime.
The last episode brings everything full circle when Yusha and Mao reunite, with him reminding her of who she is. It also concludes on a somewhat open note, suggesting that there is more to expect from the main antagonist of the series: the Church of the Central Nation. Afraid of a rebellion, they brand Mao as a heretic and use their powers as an oppressive institution to stop her. Although she’s victorious in the end, the church continues to conspire with corrupt humans and demons that want to keep their power intact. I think we’ve only seen a fraction of the things they can do to our heroes and would have liked to see them pose more challenges.
The first season of Maoyu has a solid narrative, despite leaving the adaptation incomplete. The anime ends on a satisfying note and doesn’t linger with any unanswered questions or loose plot threads. It proves that fantasy anime can incorporate a certain degree of realism into its characters and the way they resolve problems. While much progress has already been taken by Mao and Yusha, they’ll still have a lot of work to do before they achieve true peace.