Judge Brett Cullum would like to remind you: just because you wear a dress to a Red Sox game and take your male fiancé doesn't mean you are gay!
"Was I really flushed down the toilet?"
Yuri Shibuya is a normal teenager in high school who loves playing baseball. He seems to be the typical Japanese kid, who just wants to sail through life on an even keel. One day fate intervenes. While helping a classmate fend off some bullies, he finds himself plunging head first into a toilet bowl. For some unknown reason the toilet bowl transforms into a swirling vortex that transports him to another world. Once this stranger finds his strange land, things get even weirder. It turns out Yuri is the twenty-fifth coming of The Demon King, and is immediately recognized as such thanks to his black hair and eyes. In this new world he is the ruler of the Demon Tribe, and finds that his mere appearance is the harbinger of war. In this strange land humans and demons are fighting each other, and humans fear the magical demons (who look just like normal people, except they have strange powers over the elements of nature). Can Yuri find a way to stop the war and be the bridge between the two warring tribes?
Kyo Kara Maoh! God(?) Save Our King (Vol. 1) is an interesting surprise from anime distributor Geneon. It's a show produced in 2004 in Japan and broadcast on NHK. I hear there are quite a few episodes, so hopefully Geneon will find enough support to release the show's thirty-five-odd episodes. It's an interesting storyline coupled with some clean straightforward animation that should amuse anime fans and convert a few non-fans along the way. The series seems to play out quite nicely over these five episodes, with a lot of interesting developments along the way. It's totally unique, as you can tell from the first two episode titles: "Flushed Into an Alternate World" and "Duel! Hot Boy vs. Baseball Boy." This is one show that doesn't take itself all that seriously to begin with, so right there it has distanced itself from the anime pack.
Kyo Kara Maoh! seems to represent a new breed of anime I am seeing more and more of—the hybrid. In a very self-knowing way it parodies some of the elements of "traditional" anime, and finds a way to spin it all out into a new blend of an unidentifiable genre. It has elements taken from the typical adventure series, a Yaoi sensibility (anime for girls that often have boys with boys and less boobs in the way), a middle ages saga (in feel), and broad comedy. People who come into these stories for lots of flash and fan service are going to be disappointed (very few explosions and no mecha battles to be seen), but fans of slash and journeys (homoerotic-tinged adventure) will find it charming. The nice thing about Kyo Kara Maoh! God(?) Save Our King (Vol. 1) is it reveals a show almost anyone can get into unless they only prefer sci fi battling-cyborg stories.
The series has mistakenly been called "gay" by many American anime critics and fans who don't quite get what is happening here. It doesn't deal with homosexuality in any direct way. Even though Yuri is accidentally engaged to a young man when he slaps him (in the Demon world that's a proposal), their relationship seems to be more of a male bond than a love affair. Nothing is consummated, and women still seem to play a large attraction for Yuri. Even the voice actor for Yuri's male fiancé is voiced by a woman, so don't take everything at face value. The guys in Kyo Kara Maoh! bond more over their love of the Boston Red Sox than each other's hotness—and if that makes them gay [Ed. Note: It damn sure doesn't…Not that there's anything wrong with that…], then all those rumors about Ben Affleck and Matt Damon are true, and 3/4ths of Boston is gay without anyone knowing. It's meant to be funny, not a political or sexual statement. Blow it off, and move on. Oh yeah…and never mind that Yuri's bodyguard chooses to dress as a woman at key moments. Wearing a dress doesn't make you gay, it just makes you fashion-forward in some circles.
Geneon has produced a nice transfer with bright colors and no aliasing whatsoever. Chainlink fences and plaids don't shimmer in the slightest, so this is a solid job on the visual end of things. The animation is not too adventurous—it's a standard cel method with very little computer additions. The sound mixes are both in simple stereo, whether you chose the English or original Japanese. Go with the Japanese on this selection, since the voices seem a little more natural and better suited to the characters. The English track is fine in a pinch when you want to concentrate on the visuals, but there really isn't enough in that department to support an argument that the subtitles are detracting from them. This is one show where the story is front and center, and you will get more subtleties out of the Japanese track and translation. Extras are sparse, limited to a clean opening and some character bios. The character feature is nice, but is loaded with spoilers, so avoid it until you're at least halfway into the series.
All in all, Kyo Kara Maoh! God(?) Save Our King (Vol. 1) is a solid beginning for what appears to be a smart, witty show with a lot going on. It's certainly worth a look for open-minded anime fans who don't mind old school animation, some homoerotic overtones, and Red Sox discussions. Don't let the fact that the show literally starts off in the toilet throw you—it really is quite unique and engrossing on many levels. I look forward to future installments.
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