OP: 「Blade of Hope」 by sweet ARMS
「妹ができた日」 (Imouto ga Dekita hi)
“The Day I Got a Little Sister”
Yes, this is a magical-fantasy-action-harem-ecchi anime, but so far it’s executing well on both the concept and its own story. I was optimistic going in, and it hasn’t let me down yet.
A Word On Fanservice
I’ve been a little down on fanservice lately, especially on my book launch, which had some people confused. Let me clear the record: I don’t have a problem with fanservice as such. My problem is when it’s shoehorned into a story where it doesn’t belong, or when it’s a detriment to the show overall. My favorite type of fanservice is when it’s totally over-the-top, with High School DxD being the ur-example. It’s both so ecchi and having so much fun with it that’s it’s impossible to take it entirely seriously, so we as viewers sit back and enjoy the ride … which, ironically enough, means the story can dial up the serious later on, and we usually accept it, even if the main character is still stripping girl’s clothes off with magic.
It all comes down to prevalence, tone, and execution. If fanservice is a major component, it’s easier to swallow even if it’s just thrown in there, whereas occasional fanservice must be justified within the story to avoid disrespecting the characters. But tone is even more essential, because a story that’s trying to take itself seriously while it’s flashing panties doesn’t work. Finally, if all the little story movements are taken care of, you can toss in a little fanservice for fun and it works. To repurpose a metaphor I’m stealing from Zero Punctuation, fanservice is like ice cream cake. Ice cream cake is great, but if you have it all the time, you’re going to get sick of it. You need to have the meat and vegetables of characters, world-building, and plot before you can add in a sweet dessert.
These are things that Absolute Duo didn’t take care of, so when a girl flashes panties in the middle of a battle, it seems exploitative and crash. Shinmai Maou no Testament, however, has done a better job so far.
Execution Report: Pretty Good
I lambasted Absolute Duo (which I keep typing as Absolute Zero, a way cooler name anyway), and part of the reason I gave was because I’d seen it all before. Sort of. What I meant (and I should have stated this more clearly) is that, because I had seen it all before, a magical-fantasy-action-harem anime needs to show above average execution for me to enjoy it, whereas in the past I could enjoy a magical-fantasy-action-harem anime even if it was objectively pretty crap. This is someone who used to watch anything in the genre moving to what most people were doing all along—saying “I’ll only watch the good ones.”
So Absolute Duo’s problem was not that it’s generic or clichéd. It’s that it didn’t execute on its tropes well. By way of contrast, Shinmai Maou no Testament executed on those same tropes fairly well. Notice how many of the same things happen in Shinmai: The main character is somehow different. He becomes acquainted with beautiful girls at the start of the series. He has some kind of dark past/trauma. There are no parents in sight. But it executed on all of these better. Let’s take them one by one:
- The main character is somehow different. They did two smart things here. First, he comes pre-trained and powerful. I don’t know why more anime don’t do this! Instead of having to go through tiresome training arcs and miles of exposition to get the main character up to speed, he can already manifest his sword and knows the score. Now we don’t have to waste time! Secondly, he’s no different from other people like him (heroes), or if he is, we don’t know it yet. He’s not presented as an Irregular among heroes. It’s just that he’s a hero. He’s different from normal humans, sure, but he’s not The One Chosen Hero. That keeps him more believable. These are both things I did with my own novel, so I like seeing others follow the same tact.
- He becomes acquainted with beautiful girls at the start of the series. Once again, original creator Uesu Tetsuto was smart because he justified it. The girls don’t just come up to him because he’s The One Chosen Hero or whatever, there’s a reason (they’re tricking his dad). And by the end of it, you have to wonder if his dad didn’t put himself into a position to be “tricked”.
- He has some kind of dark past/trauma. They did almost the exact same thing with this, but it worked better because they let us get to know Basara (Nakamura Yuuichi) before they tossed out the trauma. There was some kind of conflict, he proved himself to have some actual personality, so when they throw out this trauma, I’m like “Hmmm, interesting. It looks like he hasn’t used this power in a while,” instead of “There’s the dark past/trauma. Bingo!” (Bonus points: They actually gave Mio a traumatic past too. It’s like she and Maria are real character with hopes, desires, and agency, rather than just erotic objects there for Basara’s (and the audience’s) pleasure! Gasp!)
- There are no parents in sight. Absolute Duo wasn’t bad here, actually. It just wasn’t good. The boarding school is so common that I’m just like “Oh, all right,” but Shinmai actually gave us a GOOD reason for why Basara’s father is gone: first, because he was letting Mio (Asai Ayaka) and Maria (Fukuhara Kaori) “trick” him, and really, because he has chosen to. Yeah, he’s probably a freelance photographer too, which is a good reason for him to be leaving, but if he’s not brainwashed, he made a choice to go. It’s nice to see a parent that’s not dead for once.
Another smart thing Shinmai did was use technobabble we’re familiar with. They didn’t create all new magic systems, they used the ones we’re familiar with to quickly bring us on board. Demons on one side, gods/heroes on the other, there are races other than humans, magic exists. Good, cool, got it. This is something I did myself with my own novel, where instead of renaming everything about my magic system, I used tried-and-true terms like mana, spells, casters, etc. What this allows the story to do is waste less time on technobabble and use those existing ideas as a jumping off point to tell a new story. As a commenter in the Absolute Duo post said, if it’s not broke, why fix it? The answer is that you can (and should) break it if you think you can do better, but it’s not necessary.
Related: They also didn’t explain things unnecessarily. For instance, they don’t explain why Maria is talking about being wet in combat. Anyone who has read the preview would know she’s a succubus, but they didn’t feel like they had to stuff that explanation in there for anyone who forgot. Good. Tell us later when we have more time.
Not Perfect, But Pretty Good
Not everything is super well done. The pacing is a bit off at times, such as when the thugs approach Mio, and there’s a good few seconds where we watch them approach with little emotion or reaction. The pacing isn’t bad though, and it’s understandable since adaptations are prone to some awkwardness. There’s also some throwaway lines, like when Basara’s father said the girls were “attacked by those weirdos”, and then didn’t explain it. My response: “Wait, go back! I feel like that was important!”
Another example is them putting the OP mid-episode. It was good to not run it at the beginning, because they drew us in with the magic/other races reveal, but I would have preferred to see Basara go all badass right then, rather than lose the moment (and interrupt the flow) so the OP could play (as nice as it was). They could have also made what was coming (the betrayal) less flagrant … sure, anyone who read the premise knew Mio and Maria weren’t normal girls, but the reveal and badass turn would have worked better if the betrayal was more sudden.
There’s also the fanservice. Most of the time I found it more hilarious than erotic, such as when Basara pushed Mio up on the sink (way too suggestive, unnecessary), when Mio was thrusting on his lap (whaaaaat!), or when Basara fell on top of Mio (clichéd). But as I said before, if you take care of the story, you can toss in some fanservice and get away with it. These did take away from the story somewhat—those moments would have been sexier without the faux-thrusting, and wouldn’t have made me laugh—but it doesn’t deter me from watching since everything else is taken care of. Though it will work better if (when) Maria is causing most of the Mio fanservice to happen, because she’s fun!
And Today’s Theme Is: Protect The Home, Protect The Imoutos
I’ve been talking so much about how the story is told, but not about what it’s about! Well that’s because they’ve mostly just introduced everyone and set everything up. What impressed me is that it’s all relatively tightly tied around a single theme. Basara’s father, Toujou Jin (Fujiwara Keiji), plants the bug in his mind to protect the house and his new imoutos, which would have seemed odd if we didn’t learn that Basara was a hero five minutes later. Everything is built around an idea of him protecting them and looking out for family, and it’s rare to see that. It’s also the hardest thing that Shinmai was able to do, which I can say because I don’t even know that I did it as well. Even if the premise sounds kind of complicated when you first read it, after the first episode, the whole idea is easy to grasp:
Two demons try to con their way into Basara’s house posing as his sisters, not realizing he’s a magic-wielding hero himself. He decides to protect them anyway.
Not bad, as far as elevator speeches go. There’s this stuff about a master/servant contract coming up, but if they can wrap the entire story around the theme of protection, it will make it easier to tell a good (and consistent) story.
Looking Ahead – Bring On The Ecchi
Reading this, it probably sounds like I’m gushing. In truth, so far Shinai Maou no Testament is above average. It’s good, it might even become great, but it’s too early to tell. (It also bears noting that the source material I read was better, but that almost goes without saying. Also, most of what I praise comes straight from the source, more than how it’s being adapted into anime per-say.) Mostly it sounds like I loved it because it allowed me to illustrate a point: Using the same old magical-fantasy-action-harem tropes is not a bad thing, as long as you execute on them well. So far, Shinmai is executing quite well, so I’m bullish on the series going forward, and I’ll remain that way until/unless it slips up.
As for whether I’ll pick this up, I was honestly hoping to only blog one show this season since I’m going to be traveling around a lot, and because I got burned on ecchi shows after Trinity Seven. I’ll leave the door open for now, because this episode was good, but I’d put the likelihood at 40%. I do plan on following it, though, so you can probably expect it to see it on the monthly impressions, and you can always check in with me on twitter if you want to chat. Enjoy!
tl;dr: @StiltsOutLoud – Above average execution turns a magical-fantasy-action-harem-ecchi anime into a solid show. Plot and PLOT? I’m in! #shinmaimaou 01
- I liked how both the father and Basara are all scarred up. It makes you go “I wonder if they’re not normal…?”, or if not, makes the reveal make more sense in retrospect.
- Dude, what’s with the weird amount of sweat? Stop that, Production IMS. It’s weird.
- Nakamura Yuuichi is using his Satomi Koutarou voice, which didn’t feel like a good fit to me. Fukuhara Kaori on Maria, however, is perfect. She’s so much fun!
- I liked Maria’s transformation sequence. I was afraid they’d go with a mahou shoujo-esque one, but they zoomed in on parts of her body (Ex: her ears when they were growing, her wings when they were coming out), like that was where Basara was looking at the time. Very natural, and probably helped their budget too.
- Another thing that makes good fanservice: equality! If you’re going to show all the girls in genitalia-less sexy poses, you might as well do that for the guys too. Genitalia-less equality, huzzah!
- One thing I didn’t realize was that original creator Uesu Tetsuto also create Hagure Yuusha no Estetica. Which is good because that one was pretty over-the-top, in a not so good way. I could tolerate Estetica’s main character more than, say, Kirito, because I never once took him seriously, but the ecchi was just raunchy. From what I’ve seen here and read of the Shinmai manga, I feel like he’s gotten better at storytelling enough to enjoy the ecchi without having to lean on it so much. I’m expecting a better story than Estetica, though you should still be prepared for more ecchi starting next week.
I wrote a book! My first novel, Wage Slave Rebellion, is available now. (More info) My personal site has also moved. Last four posts: Lessons from the Dresden Files: All alone, Mind meld, Interview with Little Red Reviewer, & Sneak Peek: Wage Slave Rebellion prologue.
ED: 「Still Sis」 by Sadohara Kaori