The world of Entei Isla is under siege. Resting in a dimension that lies parallel to our own, this feudal world of magic and sorcery has been set upon by the generals of Satan himself, a man as thirsty for blood as he is for power. Millions of people have perished, both soldier and civilian alike, and only a union of Heaven and Earth could ever hope to stand a chance against the demonic dictator and his terrifying troops. Thankfully, such a union has occurred. A young hero has risen, born from the carnal embrace of a human man and an angel woman, young Amelia has been raised with both a human heart and an Angel’s might, and with a rare heavenly sword bestowed upon her, she has grown to lead the forces of good and righteousness against Satan and his scourge! Pushing back against him, challenging his power and stripping away his defenses, this young warrior has pushed Satan and his remaining general Alciel to the point of desperation. With nowhere left to run, no hope of defeating the forces of Heaven, and a radiant hero aiming a sword of light at his throat, Satan has fled the dimension of Entei Isla with Alciel in tow!
Promising to return someday and exact his revenge, Satan and his follower travel through the magical gate and begin their plans to bide their time and gather their strength in the world of… Modern day Japan. A world of strange conventions, strange people, and a language neither one of them can understand. This isn’t quite the situation they’d find themselves in, and to make matters worse, they’ve both taken on the physical appearance of the denizens of this world… A world populated and dominated entirely by humans. They could probably use their natural advantages to gain a foothold in this backwards society, but therein lies another problem… This world has no magic, and while they haven’t come completely impotent, their little remaining power is disappearing at a rapid rate with no known method of replenishing it. With no choice left but to play by the rules of this world in order to merely survive in it, Satan quickly finds himself living in a cheap studio apartment with Alciel, and working part time at a local McDonalds rip-off, where the idea of slowly climbing the corporate ladder has rekindled a fire in him that he’d once lost… Will Satan be able to climb in social status and eventually conquer our world, or will a slowly growing collection of Entei Isla escapees… Including the Hero Amelia herself… Be able to put a stop to him?
If you’ve read my Steins;Gate review, then you’ve seen me talk about the production company White Fox before, although I’ve still only seen the same three anime from them that I’d seen back then. I said before that the animation in Steins;Gate was minimal, and while the same is mostly true for Devil, I’m going to have to take back what I said about this being a low budget show. The budget is fine. It’s not absurdly high, nor is it restrictive… It’s a fine budget, and it clearly gave the animators some much needed leeway to create a visually pleasing series. Character motions are clean and fluid, and whenever it slows down, the cinematography is on point with just the right angle or visual effect to keep it from bothering the viewer. The movement of background people is limited, but the show rarely holds on them for long enough for their lack of movement to really become a bother. I’ve seen tons of shows where extras and even named characters will freeze onscreen like statues and not blink for extended periods of time, so I’m glad Devil was able to largely avoid this.
White Fox’s keen eye for visual quality pays off whenever there’s an action scene, as the budget is no doubt at it’s loosest whenever characters need to throw down, whether it’s a one-on-one fight out on the street or a massive magical melee involving multiple Ente Isla citizens throwing spells at each other with rare CG effects. There are no broken or dropped frames, as no matter how much motion is required for a fight, the animation quality is smooth and consistent. There are classic tricks such as speed lines during close-ups, but these are done more for style and effect than for budget aid. The action is a lot of fun to watch, but where Devil really shines is in it’s artwork, which is detailed to the point that you’d almost think it was photo-realistic. Whether a scene takes place in a feudal style fantasy setting or a grungy modern day Japanese suburb, it almost feels like you’re there, with every smudge on the wall and leaf on a tree lovingly and intricately represented. Lighting and shadow effects are not only physically consistent, but incredibly pleasing to the eye.
Considering the kind of themes this show was aiming for, the character designs are extremely well thought out. At first glance, they may look like your standard harem or romantic comedy anime trope characters… You have the spikey black hair crowning the head of the male protagonist, you have the long red and partially braided hair and slender figure(my nice way of saying itty bitty titty committee) of the angry tsundere, the short hair and partial pigtails of the large breasted moe girl, the younger looking girl adorned in traditional attire, the effeminate looking guy, and of course, the long white hair hanging ever so tauntingly off of the eventual villain. I won’t say anything yet about how off these assumptions actually are, but there was clearly a lot of effort that went into making the cast look as generic as possible, with a style just sharp enough to distinguish them from the garbage they’re representing, and a vast collection of highly diverse and expressive countenances that help them to emote far beyond the typical blushing and blank stares of the genre.
I’d like to keep being nice, but if I’m being honest, the music is a bit on the generic side. The best tracks happen in the first episode before Satan and Alciel leave Ente Isla for the gate, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some credit to the awesome The Beginning of the Battle, but aside from that, the ost for this series is fairly unremarkable. That’s not to say it’s necessarily bad, it actually does it’s job in the backgrounds very nicely, but there were only very rare instances where I was even consciously aware that the series even HAD music. I guess that speaks to the strength of the soundtrack on some level, as it was able to support the story without ever stealing the show, but a lack of standouts is still disappointing. I actually kind of hate the opening, both in terms of visuals and sound, and found myself skipping it more often than not. The song’s not horrible, but it’s a poor fit for the tone of the series, which may have been intentional, considering it’s sarcastic attitude towards the Slice of Life genre. Visually, it takes kind of a ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ approach, and the ending’s a lot calmer, but not much better.
The music may be forgettable, but do you know what isn’t? The English dub, which is without competition the best Jamie Marchi dub I’ve ever heard. Don’t get me wrong, all of her trademarks are here, but they’re used sparingly and with noticeable restraint. I guess having her be script-writer while the incomparable John Burgmeier worked as head writer, the two opposing standards must have canceled each other out? I’ll be honest, there are a few lines that don’t work… There’s one scene where Emilia the hero asks a strange girl if she’s ‘going after’ Satan(name changed to Sadou Maou), which could be interpreted as either an intent to kill or to conquer romantically, and in the Japanese, this is exactly what happens… But the slang-happy Jamie changed the term to “crushing on,” which made the confusion between characters all the more confusing to the audience, but moments like those are thankfully few and far between. Other regrettable examples include a reference to “Super-size Me,” because although I’m perfectly willing to let a few movie references slide, there’s no way two guys with no TV and limited access to the theater could have seen an American movie that was released in the mid-2000s.
Aside from that, believe it or not, most of her trademarks actually work here. Totes and What the Crap are used a couple of times each, as they’re apparently her favorite phrases, but the fact that they’re coming from characters who speak English as a second language and had to learn about our idioms and expressions in a short period of time, neither phrase ever feels unbelievable from them. Turns out all Jamie needed to make her conventions work was a cast full of characters who are only pretending to be human. I jest, of course, but not as much as you may think. Actually, one of the best things you can do to Jamie Marchi is to challenge her with something new and innovative, which is exactly what this anime did when it tasked her with coming up with her own language for use in a select few of the Ente Isla scenes. Taking the challenge head-on, as she’s known to do, she came up with her own method of reversing and distorting the English language, which she describes in very enthusiastic detail in a DVD special feature. It sounds breath-takingly authentic, as an Eastern European accent was chosen to fully capture and convey the unique music of it. I feel as though Monica Rial sounds the most natural speaking it, but in all fairness, the entire relevant cast knocked it out of the park when delivering the jibberish that was placed in front of them.
There are plenty of instances where the role of ‘male protagonist’ is an easy one, as the actor playing him must remain strong and likeable, and rarely anything else. The role of Maou is not one of them. Yes, there are scenes where the performance calls for good natured blandness, but there are other shades of his character, too… When at work, he must show what we in the retail business call “Agressive Hospitality,” smiling and being unflinchingly polite to the customers at MgRonalds(the ingeniously nicknamed Miggy ‘Rs). When he’s in Ente Isla, or even just talking about Ente Isla, he has to speak with much more power and authority, and the occasional hint of malice and mischief. Josh Grelle does this fantastically, and adds a practical edge to the character. The Hero Amelia, now known as Emi Yusa, is played by Felicia Angelle, who takes almost all of the cadences of Maou’s… Power and authority, aggressive hospitality, and normal Tsundere tones to differentiate herself, and gives it back just as well, using a much lower register than I’d previously thought her capable of using.
Tia Ballard plays Chiho, the youngest main character as well as Maou’s closest coworker at MgRonalds, and while I’m not the biggest fan of her high-pitched voice, it works really well here. While she goes through the moe tropes of being clumsy and obsessive, it also calls for a surprising amount of strength in several scenes, and if you’ve heard Tia as the voice of Tifa Lockhart, you know strength is no issue for her. I can’t tell you who Aaron Dismuke is playing, or why he fits into the cast so perfectly in the second half of the series, because both details would be major spoilers, but rest assured, this is one of the best roles he’s done as an adult. I also can’t tell you who plays the villains towards the end of the series, not only for similar reasons, but because this particular actor’s become persona non grata at Funimation, and I agree with them completely. What I can tell you is that the star of this dub has to be Alex Moore, who plays Sadou’s eventual next door neighbor Suzuno in what she refers to in the commentary track as her ‘natural voice,’ a strange and quirky girl with an adequately strange and quirky voice. Caitlin Glass and Alexis Tipton also feature in some memorable side roles.
Earlier, I said that Devil is a Part timer had some goals in mind with it’s characters. What I was referring to are the romantic comedy and harem tropes that it takes a lot of joy in subverting. Now, to be clear, it doesn’t do quite as deep or thorough a job of it as Toradora, a show that walked right up to those tropes and said “Fuck you,” it’s more like it secretly pissed in their coffee and then told them ‘good morning’ right afterwards. It’s a decent effort, is what I’m saying. Starting with what should be a spineless yet perfect male protagonist, you have the literal devil, who proves to be more than a little capable and less than a little clueless. Then you have the Tsundere, who… At least in this season… Has no romantic feelings for him, and whose bipolar nature is perfectly explained by the conflict of her duties and desire for revenge vs. the fact that she can’t justifiably kill a man who’s just trying to live his life in a complacent manner. The klutzy moe girl, who you’d expect to be some punchable infantile blob like Mayuri from Steins;Gate, is actually surprisingly bold, straight forward about her feelings, and proves more than once to have a hell of a backbone. Hell, instead of the moe girl being a childhood friend, the tsundere is a childhood enemy!
All of this reeks of the effort and intelligence that went into this series’ writing. It’s an action/comedy series, and on the comedic side, it has a great sense of humor. To be fair, humor is subjective, so I can only really speak for what works for me, and this anime utilizes the ‘fish out of water’ comedic set-up… Which happens to be one of my favorite kinds. I love seeing supernatural or otherworldly beings trying to live in our society, learning about us and trying to grasp all of the odd wonders of our culture that we take for granted. Seeing both the heroes and villains of another world settling down, getting jobs and trying to play by our rules while still battling each other as ferociously as they can without getting arrested is an absurdly funny set-up, and it’s rich with potential jokes that the writers did not at any point ignore. They take every possible chance to either exploit the ignorance of our main cast, or even to make up weird conventions about Ente Isla culture, like the regional delicacy of lizard cuisine or the fact that demons have multiple hearts. Even putting aside the premise, there’s no potential joke that doesn’t get explored without the utmost effort and creativity, and yet it still remains more or less grounded.
As far as the action side of things goes, I’ve already said that the fight scenes are animated beautifully, but that sentiment alone doesn’t do justice to how well the action is written. Not a single movement is wasted in these scenes, as they all tie in to the story in some important way. There are two major climactic battles in the series, each one representing a different half of it’s 13 episode run, and every single scuffle or genuinely tense moment that we see is setting up one of the two climaxes in some way. Even episodes that you’d think were filler, such as the obligatory swimsuit episode and the entire episode dedicated to MgRonalds competing with freshly opened neighboring restaurant(Named… I shit you not… Sentucky Fried Chicken), are crucial to the development of a heavily conflicted character who winds up playing an integral role in the ending. I’m not going to pretend like every single joke is important to the plot… Although, most of them are… But it’s rare that I find an anime that manages to rope in two different genres of anime as gracefully as this one does.
Of course, this tight focus on story and plot does lead to what many consider the show’s biggest flaw… The fact that it’s incomplete. Yes, for all that I love about it, Devil is a Part timer has yet another of those dreaded ‘Read the Manga’ type endings. There are a lot of questions the ending leaves unanswered, a lot of character’s we’ve yet to meet but were obviously meant to, and our main character, after 13 episodes, has gotten nowhere closer to either conquering our world or returning to his. This has drawn criticism from scores of other critics, but honestly? It doesn’t really bother me. Okay, maybe I would have liked to see a certain character’s love confession get a response, instead of just being completely forgotten about, but I have no problem with the idea of these characters just living their lives in our world. That’s probably a testament to how good the characters’ chemistry is, that I can’t get enough of the show’s status quo as it is. Of course, I still have to take away points for the lack of a solid conclusion, whether it bothers me or not, it’s still just a matter of principle.
What DOES bother me, and what I haven’t seen anyone else complaining about, is the show’s lack of depth. It’s a very straightforward show with no real meanings or metaphors hiding in between the lines of the writing, and while I’d normally like that sort of thing slide with most other shows, it’s much more of a shame here because there was so much potential depth that it COULD have had. The very fact that the star of the show is a dictator and tyrant who was responsible for untold death and destruction, but was able to escape to a new land and live a clean and earnest life while people from his past toiled over whether or not to kill him should have made this a perfect opportunity to talk about criminal justice and whether or not someone should face the consequences of their actions if they’ve already managed to turn their lives around. Don’t get me wrong, it’s there, and the audience is free to take from it what they will, but the fact that the series itself never seized onto it drives me nuts. Yeah, Amelia does mention several times that Maou is responsible for the deaths of her parents, but she never acts on this fact, and the series never expounds upon it. I enjoyed this show, so is it weird that I wanted so much more from it?
The Devil is a Part Timer is available from Funimation in a nice, attractive little Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack. It can be viewed for free on Funimation.com and occasionally on Netflix. The light novel series that it was based on is available stateside from Yen Press, as is the translated manga by Satoshi Wagahara. A Spin-off manga called Devil is a Part-Timer! High School is available just the same. A second season, which would easily solve the lack of conclusion, has yet to be announced or confirmed.
The Devil is a Part timer is one of my favorite anime comedies of all time. The humor is sharp enough that I can watch it multiple times while still getting a laugh out of it, the action is more than solid enough to keep me engaged when the laughter fades. I hardly even have to say anything about it, as popular as it is and as explosively as it’s taken off in both America and Japan. I wish it had taken itself more seriously in terms of thematic writing, but that’s hardly the crux of a series that puts so much effort into showing off some of the best potential of it’s genre, nor does it take away from it’s impressive level of female representation. Crestia Bell alone is one of my favorite female characters in recent memory, although really, they’re all stand-outs. The majority of it’s problems could easily be saved by a second season, much like One Punch Man, but until it finally gets announced… This series came out the same year as Attack on Titan, for comparison’s sake… I can’t really over-look the areas where it’s lacking. Maybe there’s more development in the manga, maybe the story does all that it needs to there, but just judging by what it’s shown us thus far, it is what it is. I give The Devil is a Part Timer an 8/10.