Final Approach is a column by the mangatron as he approaches an just-concluded anime for his final word. That, and, the anime "Final Approach" was a nice, half-half series (It was a 13 minute episode, 13 episode series that was the first (or second) half of Princess Hour in 2004, the other half being "W Wish")
So, with the end of the broadcast run for Ichiban Ushiro no Dai Maou, I thought it's time I posted my final thoughts on this series. (these thoughts will try to be spoiler free as much as possible, in the weird hope that it would be somewhat of a review. Yes, it may look weird too, given my not too healthy state my body has become of late)
First off, how my whole involvement came to be. I first heard of Dai Maou as a manga, of course after coming off that nearly 3 year tour with death, manga was something I needed to catch up on. Interesting school life manga in the first volume, and it was from the manga description on list sites that I found out it was based on a novel. So I naturally thought "oh, if it got a manga version, surely an anime version is possible". You can probably imagine that half-surprised look on my face when two novel->manga->anime adaptions came out in the same season.
Fast forward towards the end of the Winter Anime season, I made no secret in the Chu-Bra and Omamori Himari threads at the Animesuki forum to declare my intention to invade the Dai Maou once Winter season is over. What a interesting 3 months that followed since.
Dai Maou starts off in the usual way of showing viewers what's in store for them for the basic premise of the series. As the episode comes to a close, one would naturally think this would go the way of a romantic school comedy harem centered around the impending bad luck of our lead male who just so happens to have the eventual future to become a Demon King.
Yes, this series' first airing is censored.
But that was never meant to be. Some people declared Harem, others called Soga Keena an airhead (probably rightfully so), but this series wasted no time in getting into the main segment of part 1 of the series. In which this series made romance take a back seat, along with half of school life, but brought on full on comedy with Korone's arrival. This is where the first half of the story sets up the part where we get a change in the future following the end of episode 05, which set up the second half of the story, which some agree didn't really carry the "drive" of the first half, with episode 07 not helping things at all.
But in my view? I didn't call Keena an airhead :p, and episode 02 made me think that in some weird way, we may not actually get to see some things (my very first Dai Maou 4koma lol). It was with the appearance of Keena where my theorizing began to take shape, and of course once my Eiko arrived things got way out of control and my takeover of the Animesuki thread was unstoppable. As the series went on, and my theories pouring in at one point in nearly every post I made, one would think this series could be really epic in the direction it's headed. But alas, for someone like me, I already felt the tingling down my spine of a previous experience where I theorized a game to death (Luminous Arc 2) which eventually led me to realize, the only way that happened (my theorizing) was because something didn't go right in the progression of the story. For LA2, it had too simple of a storytelling for a story which could have been grand had it been worked on properly, and Dai Maou started to take shape in that regard once episode 06 started its second half.
Admit it, you want to cry tears of joy being an Teruya Eiko fan.
For Dai Maou, it's greatest asset was also at times its downfall: its pacing. On the one hand, it carried its basic premise quite well (Sai Akuto is labeled the Demon King), and on the other hand they introduced some story elements that, really, it could have done without and took a route some other elements took and just "be mentioned". This is where the pacing, while good for it's basic premise, didn't go so well when said unneeded story elements came into view. Not to mention that with a ED that screams harem, it went so off mission with that, that one of the harem candidates got as much as 2 episodes only where she really shined. The 1st one made it look like she went way ahead of the harem, and the 2nd one was purely action and nothing else. This series also had quite a lot of cliffhanger-brickwall-ending episodes, which to me, in recent times, was the most I've ever seen for a series as long as this (12 episodes). It also didn't help that the second half of Stargate Universe Season 01 returned to the airwaves around the same time of Dai Maou's start, bringing with it some cliffhangers of its own (which were somewhat more bearable than Dai Maou's).
The following may have the occasional spoiler or two. Recommend watching entire series to proceed reading below.
Cliffhangers weren't really a problem, though, it was the waiting for the next episode which seemingly seemed more bothersome. Although, that's not to say some cliffhangers were great, one has to wonder couldn't they have at least ended it in a way that isn't so sudden, like have a narration end it like "I soon realized,... we are not alone." Nice end huh? XD Ok, I digress. Still though, cliffhangers aren't fun to wait for the next episode, as Stargate Universe pulled the biggest cliffhanger I have seen in recent days, with an episode ending in such a suspense, the next episode didn't arrive until almost half a year later.
The real problem probably lies not in the pacing, but rather the placement of scenes that somewhat produced a confused approach to an episode's content. Something similar occurred in Omamori Himari where a battle was interrupted by a bath scene. A bath scene. Maybe some people wouldn't have minded having a little fanservice thrown in, but it was in the middle of a rather nicely animated fight that didn't transition well into the bath scene due in no small part to the music's inability to climacticaly enhance the transition, although it did resume very nicely. Still though, placing the bath scene in there kind of ruined the fight for me, and Dai Maou had it's own share of oddly placed scenes (probably most notable was the Constant Academy's headmaster being in two different places for no reason at all), maybe Keena's egg caper too, and Lily's totally forgotten kiss to Sai. Alas though, those did not break the series, but just made something to bicker about :P
One of my most favorite scenes (yes, it wasn't censored at all)
Probably more so of my disappointments in this series largely has to do with what wasn't seen, than what was. I'll get to that later in the "cons" part of my post. For now though, let's start with Pros and Cons as to my preception of this series:
--The pacing meant there was going to be a no-bs ride down a straightaway.
--All of the harem candidates, and then some, had Zettai Ryouiki.
--My Eiko-chan. XD
--The continued use of medicinal guns. Imagine what a sniper rifle in this series can do: long-range morphine! :P
--Characters not following their sterotypical forefathers/foremothers was a nice change for once.
--Voice actors and actresses did a tremendous job with their respective characters, where most of the time they defined the characters as how I eventually came to think of them as.
--A nice soundtrack complemented most scenes with feeling, not overly blaring to ones ears.
--With an ending that starts all over again, the series remains open for another season.
--(the PROs section will remain open until I can remember what else was nice)
--Having lived in an area surrounded by movie studios, and having studied a bit of film making, and having watched a great deal of Hollywood movies, I always believed the screenplay decides what scene goes where and how well one can flow a combination of action and drama. With this series sharing 2 screenwriters over just 12 episodes, I have to wonder if budget, time constraints, or both, played a part in a 12 episode series having 2 screenwriters. If this was a 24 episode series, I can understand, but it's just 12 episodes...
--Some characters didn't have enough screen time or much of an effect on the overall progress of the series.
--Probably the biggest con here being, as I mentioned earlier the placing/creation of some scenes that for the most part, viewers could have done without.
--Mister X is surprisingly not supposed to be here, as I wasn't annoyed by him :P
--Etou Fujiko went from dead serious to a dead end joke. The manga places her in a darker light, where one can only hope she doesn't become a joke there as well.
--Lily was... nowhere to be found. Some say Hiroshi should have taken her spot in the ED >__> but I think they should have broken protocol and made the ED a four person harem candidacy. It's not like killing sterotypes was new to this series, right?
--Not enough episodes :P
--Not enough of my Eiko :D
--Of all the people to apparently die in this series, they instead chose Peterhausen to be quite possibly the only thing significant to die in this series. Some even escaped death, but not the poor, red-eyes brown dragon...
--With an ending that starts all over again having accomplished nothing in poor Sai's life as far as the world is concerned, the series may be a train wreck should a second season not be greenlit. Or rather, the story process isn't going to be winning over any purists of great storytelling.
Like the view? Too bad that serious look in her eyes was gone by the start of episode 06.
So perhaps the meat of this ridiculously long post is here, where I'll explain some of my beefs with this series, with that all to familiar beef I had with LA2.
--The showing of content that we could have done without
There were some things in this series that we saw that we either never saw again, or found an acceptably official explanation of. For example, the woman at the very start of episode 01. It's just the start of the series and of course that brought about some questions, theories and speculation as to Who (this woman was), How (this woman knew what she knows), and Why (place Sai into hiding away from what appears to be pursuers). You can probably throw in Lily's kiss in episode 05, which instantly sparked cries of "She's way ahead of the pack!" or "Lily FTW" XD or something like that, which, the kiss works well if this series was a harem, but it wasn't [that kind], and it ended up giving false hope, which in turn leads to just plain disappointment.
The woman in question. Yes, she is floating.
Then there's Korone's head honcho's, in the beginning of episode 06. Seeing them gave off quite the "ooh, here's one of those corrupt organizations of the government", which, not only that, but the alluded corrupted organizations the series made implications of, where it would seem like "oh, these big wigs of Korone might be the baddies of this series", where after its all said and done, those big wigs were nothing but a memory, and a very questionable memory at that. These are the same big wigs Lily says to work for, which apparently, by series end we have no idea if she's still working for them or not, which by then during this war they took a back seat... In this 12 episode series, they shouldn't have been shown [the way that they were], especially when they had their eyes censored "secure line" style.
I'd also like to talk about the sword of Sohaya. In a way, my opinion is that this sword's appearance was rather useless, as it only served to fuel the masses again into the whole "WTF love power?" mode. Sure, I was right in that she was only going to use it against Eiko, but after it's been all said and done... it's significance was rather weak. We already knew she had the hots for Sai, so we didn't really need to see this grand scene of her realization of her feelings, not to mention as the series ends this has very little effect on its continuation, as well as, during that scene, Sai was apparently present nearby, but he remained off screen and pretty much still oblivious to this girl screaming her declaration. Or maybe this whole rant is because I'm not really a Junko fan... >_> or maybe I'm just having it hard to believe a god would give a sword off to someone that can only be used when they're in love. As a weapon to be used for, well, killing, isn't that kind of like a contradiction...
A really big question mark in this series is Keena's Egg Caper scene of episode 08. Face it, there was no logic applied to it, and no matter what theory I came up with it still ended up with a "Bad move, Keena". This is probably the only scene everyone can agree on, that it made no sense and only helped to show Keena is, at times, rather stupid. We could also probably make this section a place of Keena Question Marks, where the next question is, just how does Keena access the Fujiko Secret Room, which as we see earlier in the series the door to that room is opened via some open sesami mumbo jumbo(yes I did mean "sesami"). So I would ask, how in the world does Keena open this door, which a simple unofficial answer would be she spies on people. Peeper, stalker, whatever it is, it just adds to Keena's shortcomings. And while we're at it... how does the blind "Fujiko Oniisan" see things, when he is "eyes wide shut"...
There's also a missed potential where Torii Mitsuko mentioned how Sai's school life would be tough in that there would be students out for his life. Well, it only happened twice, and both times it wasn't of their own volition, one they were threatened by Fujiko, and the other, was a failed attempt led by Junko. The manga works on this element for a bit, which if this series went 24 episodes, it would have worked if they had went with the core story, romance, and Sai's school life. During all that a fast pace could have been kept intact, with every character getting ample screen time.
Since this is about the things seen and not seen, maybe I'll just add a little rant about Torii Mitsuko (the Necromancer/Shaman teacher). The only character to have enough speaking lines in this series that got a 4 straight episode shaft, we never did get to see her zombie love in action. I had wished they made Keizou Teruya's revival due in part because of her, which would have gave some additional sense into his sudden return instead of the typical "Terminator Daddy" that instead became his tagline. But we're instead left to assume Keizou has some Korone parts...
Then there's the CIMO8, or as I like to call them, Simon5. 2V, Rubbers and Mister X. They're still around when the series ends, but they left such a convoluted tale behind. Mister X, apparently somewhere in jail, Rubbers, who seems to still be running around without an upper body, and 2V, who left behind the most ominous words of the 3, that if this series doesn't get a second season, 2V will be amongst the villians who were quite important and were never dealt with, instead tossed aside to the back of the story somewhere hidden from view.
Overall, though, my enjoyment level remained peaked at maximum well throughout the series, up until the final episode, where one bad day/week after another led me to shut down major brain functions for non-essential duties. The following is, but not limited to, my interest of the series:
--It was yet another 12 episode series, which seems popular of late, with the only more-than-12 series that I recently followed was To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. I certainly enjoy these 12 episode series if merely because I get to finish a series in half the time a 24 ep series does (after all, having been away from anime for almost 3 years, I was in need of some anime, and I don't think it would have been funny if I was bombarded with several 24 ep series that were somewhat standard before my 3 year disappearance.). I wonder what happened to those 13 minute episode series...
--It's no secret that apparently my first and foremost reason for watching anime is for the girls, heh even in real life I enjoy observing girls, perhaps rather I'm a celebrator of girls' beauty. Then there's of course my figures... and that mass amount of Hatsune Miku pics I have :P Dai Maou continues to entertain me with a nice feature set of girls who most of the time, destroy the stereotypes that at a glance one would place on them. We have a tsundere who broke all tsundere protocols in the very first ep by not engaging in a successful "go and die, pervert" that several tsunderes have exhibited in some form or way like that. We have the big booby girl who somehow doesn't even realize she's got the assets, we have an airhead'ish girl who apparently has been doing some smart things, we have a student council president who apparently doesn't go around policing the place like a certain other prez does in another series airing in the same season, and we are introduced to a robot girl who somehow manages to only exhibit as much as 2 of a human's emotions. So yeah, certainly a nice bunch of girls that appeal to several types of viewers. By the way my favorite is mysteriously not mentioned above >___>
--With a series that displays a few story fragments here and there, at some point an explanation was needed for some viewers, and I lent my hands to type out a few of what I believe happened. While some were somewhat of a joke, others were compelling enough and brought about some sense of understanding, but alas, it is merely my thought on the subject and not an official explanation. My theories were also brought in to somehow shed light onto certain story elements, but some of those, too, were not reflected upon in the series so they forever shall remain a theory. Certainly, not once did I feel like wasting my time typing out those long posts of theories and speculation, if merely because I enjoy hyperthreading my brain at maximum more so than anything in this world, not only does it make me feel alive, but it's something I enjoy more than anything in this world and every little subject that I can overclock my brain to, is a welcome sight to me.
--The pacing of this series was actually a welcome sight to me, which is probably because of previous experiences of slowly paced series of old. Of course being somewhat of a psychic that I am (I wonder if people who over-use their brains a lot become this way >_>), I did see this series not having the grand finale it could have, which my psychic abilities were probably supplemented by the existence of an ongoing novel and manga, which history showed me adapations with ongoing source materials don't always end up with their own grand end to it's own story, which of course wasn't helped any more so with the previous season's Omamori Himari. I guess you can take this as I didn't find the ending impressive, don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad but it also wasn't "OOOH! Best ending evar!(of the season)" material to throw in my list of "great conclusions to a storied run" list. This means, of course, that the Dai Maou anime is not at fault, rather I believe with an ongoing source material of these kind of things, it was meant to be [open-ended].
--Of course, I found this series amusing enough to do a few 4koma manga combining my weird thinking process with art, and the result was a hilarious start. My favorites in an order of good to least good: Fujiko's, Lily's, then Keena's. Another relation to LA2, I had always wanted to do some 4koma's for a series, but my sickness ended my LA2 run, which is why I am happy to have at least done 3 for Dai Maou. Thanks to all the readers of my 4koma!
--Taking a back seat in my devotion to Dai Maou was photochops, where I chopped up a couple of scenes into photoshop, which was about just 2. Guess the pacing was too fast for me to chop up :P
--Deserving it's own space, probably the defining moment in my enthusiastical enjoyment of Dai Maou, was my sudden overbearing love for Teruya Eiko after episode 04 ended its broadcast. After years of food poisoning, the only other green colored, tied hair girl to grasp my attention is Hatsune Miku, and to see my Eiko was a long time coming. So much so that I went way overboard than most viewers who simply liked a girl, I plastered Eiko among any of my devices that can set wallpaper, I dreamed from time to time of how a leg lock would feel, I even suggested at one point she was a part of the good guys. All of a sudden a cold chill ran down my spine; I hope it's not another 2-3 years before the next green-haired beauty comes along. I certainly am not looking forward to getting sick to pass the time till that time comes around.
--Now I know some people found Mister X annoying, but I actually found him amusing. Perhaps the real reason being that I saw him before, in which I am the only known person at Animesuki to make the connection between him and Full Metal Panic Fumoffu's Sameshima The Cook. Sure, I may have typo'ed his name, but you gotta admit, that was like 6-7 years ago, and I'm not one to remember male names that well, seeing as how I remember a girls' name a heck of a lot better. Shouldn't we all? :P at least I remembered he was a cook...
Mister X and Sameshima respectively
--One thing I found... "amusing" XD about Lily, was her scarf. I made note how it looks like somthing the "Fujiko Nii-san" wore, but what amused me more was that I have seen something similar (small girl big scarf) recently before. That of course being the Kure-nai manga, and the girl in question is the Guillotine (Kirishima Kirihiko). My my that's a lot of i's.... I think though Kirihiko is more amusing to me, mainly because swimsuit + big scarf = the best warm-looking outfit for a girl XD (manga chapter 21), which is something Dai Maou's episode 06 failed to bring to the table.
Many more things to entertain me, but alas this post has gone on far enough. So now, my closing words. The Dai Maou novel brought to the world a romantic school comedy, but the anime shed all that and tossed it aside like dead skin, and went all story, with a couple of short moments of school comedy (I'll say, they really weren't pushing the romance in this series), but the last nail on the coffin was all about the story, which in my opinion appeared fragmented throughout the way, and really not fitting of 12 episodes. Sure, you'll find it weird when I say the pacing worked for this series, but that's because the series has become such a simple plot, that for 12 episodes they didn't need to stray from this fragmented storytelling. But that's the downside these days, lately there have been a few series destroyed by not conveying its message properly, with general opinion being the weak storytelling writers have been bringing out(which could explain some series being a "based on ___" kind, with not many original stories from studio's themselves). It's no secret the Dai Maou production staff were going to compress a novelization into 12 episodes, and that to me was the start of their one-sided approach.
The game Max Payne 2 (PC) would explain it more better than I can (one of my favorite games). I'll quote Max Payne, and his words about Vladimir Lem:
"There are no choices. Nothing but a straight line."
"The illusion comes afterwards, when you ask "why me?" and 'what if?' When you look back, see the branches, like a pruned bonsai tree, or a forked lightning."
"If you had done something differently, it wouldn't be you, it would be someone else looking back, asking a different set of questions."
Let's work my magic here. For Dai Maou, there were no choices [for the staff]. Nothing but a straight line [using the novel as a base]. The illusion came afterwards [to us viewers], when the series was all said and done, where we'll always ask "Why [did it end up that way?]" or 'what if the series did ____'. When we look back, we see the story branch [out into other potential paths], from that straight stick of a novel based story. If this series had been done differently [like more episodes, or slower pace], it wouldn't be me, it would be someone else asking a different set of questions like "why was it slower?" [if they had went at a slower pace], or "they could have done ___".
Ultimately, this series could only please a certain group of individuals, alas, it will not appeal to everyone, nor will it please everyone. bouken from the Crazy's manga shoutbox said this, quote "...anticlimatic and there's a lot of unanswered answer, beh they must've though anyone watching the anime have read the novel >.>" Which is interesting, because I always felt when watching Dai Maou like "is something missing here?", where if I wanted to know more I would have to read the novel or something. If you asked me though, I'll say the pacing went great for this series, but it's story left much to be desired. The general consensus among some is "turn off your brain for a bit", but if all series tried to be great in that we'll all have to turn off our brains for a bit, is this to say anime nowadays is supposed to be for zombies? I want to please my mind too, not turn it off!
The Riddler showed us a shut-down brain while watching TV is no good. (Batman Forever)
My Final Approach? I enjoyed this series for the things other than it's story (like my 4koma's, the theorizing and speculating, convos with Animesuki forum members, etc), and what a fun ride it was. And not once did I shut down my brain entirely.