「国家騎士」 (Kokka Kishi)
“Imperial Knights”

I like to understand why stories work. It’s what I do. Which is why stories like this fascinate me: it’s lowbrow entertainment that the critic class turns their nose up to (and justifiably, to an extent—it’s not a world-shattering drama by any means), but many people enjoy it. Why? That’s why I stopped hating stories like Twilight, and instead tried to understand them. What itch are they scratching, and how are they scratching it so effectively?

I won’t belabor why isekai fantasies are popular. The logic is clear enough. But this episode once again bolsters my case as to what makes Isekai Maou work: Diablo’s social anxieties. Or more correctly, anything that keeps the overpowered Diablo from feeling like he can solve all of his problems instantly, and nothing illustrates that better than the scene with the lord. I have never felt so proud, for so little, for a man who can blow up so much, as I did when Diablo managed to thread the needle and both greet the lord and maintain his demon lord act at the same time. Go you, Diablo!

Which goes to show another thing this series does well: it’s not making fun of Diablo’s anxieties. It’s not shitting on him, like shows like Big Bang Theory does to nerds (I finally figured out why I hated that show GODS thanks Wisecrack). It has sympathy for his struggles, and it celebrates his victories even as it makes use of his failures—but not in a mean way! Which is the sneaky other reason Isekai Maou works: it’s not shitting on shut-ins with social anxieties. Why would you, right? Seems like that’d be your target market. Yet other series have done exactly that, and even been enjoyable despite it. Isekai Maou hamstrings Diablo’s power to make him relatable and likable without taking the piss out of him, which is superb! That can be good too, but this is structured as a drama, not a comedy. It works so well because it doesn’t make those mistakes. That’s one of the reasons it works.

The other reasons are simpler things, like good dialogue, memorable characters, and a mix of romance, action, and funny gags. I say simpler, but there’s nothing actually simple about any of that—it’s just more ineffable, and harder to point to precise moments that make someone like Alicia Cristela (Hara Yumi) so much fun. She’s fun because she’s tropey, but just enough not tropey (in her uber-diligence) to make her play off Diablo in a way that promotes comedy. In short, she’s suited to the story because she plays off another existing character (Diablo) in a way that makes the story better. It’s like how each of the girls of YoriMoi is perfect for that story, even if they would be superfluous in another tale. She’s right for here. Also, funny sexy hijinks happened. Can’t go wrong with that.

Next week it looks like we’re detouring into a slave market, which, er. Okay? I guess I’d like them to confront that, and either get those collars off or have them accept them as an entirely symbolic reason why they get to stay with Diablo. Still, hm. We’ll see how it goes.

Random thoughts:

  • “We don’t need empathy from others. We face hardships as we please, put forth our efforts where we please, challenge our limits as we please, and savor the success we achieve by our own strength. When you’re following a path you chose yourself, you mustn’t be led astray, no matter what others may say. That’s what it means to live free.” I don’t agree with everything in that—no one gets anywhere alone, and humans (and pantherians, and elves) are too much of social creatures to operate well without empathy and a support network—but when it comes to choosing your life and not being led astray … yeah. That I like.

My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for updates. At stephenwgee.com, the latest post: Risk Tolerance in the Creative Life.




  1. I really enjoyed ep 4, but this had its own unique charm as well.
    I thought it was great that Diablo comments to the lord were so far
    our of the lord’s comfort zone, that he simply attributed them to
    “that’s how adventurers are, I guess.” I still smile when I think
    of that line (from memory) ‘burn you to a cinder to prove it’.

    I’m really glad this is being covered, thank you!

  2. The series itself might not hate Diablo for his social shortcomings, but it’s also the main reason a lot of “isekai” fans don’t like this series. They call him too much of an idiot that isn’t growing enough to recognize social cues, and doesn’t have enough spine to back up his views against authority when that authority is “big and scary”(overbearing, threatening, has a mob behind it, not just a mook like Galluk, etc), even though it’s easy to guess that doing so would save his friends a lot of grief. I don’t see that yet, I think he’s actually doing pretty good for a solo guy with no friends and lots of anxiety, but if I remember later parts correctly he does have a lot more than his share of “What the hell, Hero?” moments that are pretty exhausting and leave people in a lot of danger. His social ineptness becomes less of a character trait and more of an excuse/plot device so that he doesn’t solve everything too fast.

    Well, aside from all that I’m enjoying this series now. I wish Shera was a little more than just helpless fan-service right now, but like I said, early days. I like how Emile is useful and not just another character that is supposed to be strong, but really sucks because the world is weak. He’s also a good foil, like “see, that’s what happens when you’re too confident.”

    1. Isekai Smartphone and Isekai Death March and Isekai Maou, these three shows literally made the same mistakes, i don’t know how the manga/novel counterparts go and i don’t care but adaptations of them feel like someones scraping the bottom of the barrel.

      1. Okay… what mistakes? Cause I know and enjoy (to varying degrees because Smartphone really falls off later) all three series pretty well and I can’t think of how what I wrote about people criticizing Isekai Maou relates to the other two.

      2. Death March :: If you read the web novel, many things in the Anime
        begin to make sense. It’s up to 16 volumes and the adaptation barely
        scrapes the surface, but does a good job on the visuals and the basic
        core of the characters. There’s some superman stuff in the novels, but
        he does face challenges (always overcomes them) all the same.

        Smartphone :: I (and you) should not take this seriously after the first
        episode and just saw it as a sophomoric harem show (I wouldn’t say it was
        even that funny – not terrible). But if you want a relaxing brain-in-neutral
        kind of series, this nails it perfectly.

        This :: So far I’m really enjoying this ride (except for the over-the-top ecchi).
        Yes, Diablo is over-powered but ep 4 showed that there are real costs to saving
        the day (which is what Smartphone didn’t do – everything really was too simple).

        Just my HO…

      3. it’s really impossible for me to answer that unless i want to spend 10 hours writing what is basically a blog post on what is wrong with them, it’s easier to say they deserve their ratings and are basically what people mark as “isekai trash”, generalization is bad but damn it saves so much time.

      4. vinny i love isekai, but those three are just terrible and give bad name to Isekai genre, Evil Tanya, No Game No Life, Log Horizon (one of my favorites, so underrated), Drifters, Re;creators, Re;zero, Konosuba is okay as Isekai but it’s top as comedy, Sword art is ok but too mainstream appeal.

    2. @Aex

      I won’t be surprised in the least if his social anxieties get annoying later on. A problem many long-running stories have—and many light novels in particular, which are very much commercial fiction—is that they avoid real, substantive change to the characters. If the characters undergo big changes, they threaten to grow out of that which make them struggle, or satisfy their desires, or in some way reach a conclusion that would make the series end. And we can’t have that, right? Both because the author usually likes writing this thing, and more concretely because the author likes making money doing this rather than working at a convenience store, so it’s tough to let a popular series end. Change threatens to do that.

      All of which I’m sure you know. I was just using your comment as an excuse to jump on my soap box, haha 😀

  3. IMO the isekai genre isn’t the problem; it’s the prevalence of poorly written rehashed isekai that’s the problem.

    One main issue would be its webnovel origins – too many of them are written by wannabe/aspiring authors eager to make it big, but with little idea on how to actually write a good story. I suspect a lot of them end up cribbing plot ideas/concepts/fanservice from their peers and other more established series, leading to the case of most isekai novels reading nearly the same.

    In addition, I think most publishers are less interested in looking at the quality of the WN isekai getting published – it’s more about the quantity to take advantage of the isekai trend and its fans.

    No matter how bad the novel generally is, it’ll always have its fans, usually those who followed the WN from the beginning and will buy the LN versions to support the author’s efforts. It’s often why so many of these authors afterwords thank their internet fans for their loyal support that allowed their stories to be headhunted for publication.

    1. IMO the isekai genre isn’t the problem; it’s the prevalence of poorly written rehashed isekai that’s the problem.

      Of course. Isekai has been a concept since long before it really developed into the genre it’s become today. There are some very good series which technically qualify as isekai, but weren’t called that because nobody thought about it at the time. Take “The Twelve Kingdoms.” It is an extremely good series that remains one of my top-rated anime to this day. It is an isekai: the main protagonist was brought from Earth to another world, where almost all of the rest of the story occurs. It serves as proof that the concept of Isekai by no means requires the story to be a trashy, low-quality work.

    2. Agreed. This is the main problem, I think. The over-abundance of copycats that show little effort. “Trapped in another world” stories are actually a classic staple of literature (Peter Pan, Oz, Narnia, Alice in Wonderland…), but the repetition in Japanese Isekai can be glaring.

      Let’s see if these sound familiar:

      -A protagonist who is a normal-to-the-point-of-boring high schooler or an adult wishing for a second chance at life.
      -They go to another world either by being summoned as heroes or by dying and being reborn.
      -The setting is a medieval fantasy that seems straight from a Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy game. Not just in atmosphere and races, but down to RPG tropes: there will be guilds, levels, experience points, mana consumption, etc. Sometimes it will be explained as it being a literal game world or influenced by one, but more often than not no explanation is given and everyone assumes it without questions.
      -The protagonist will be overpowered, sometimes to the point of being boringly invincible, and end up with a harem. Here usual harem tropes apply.

      It’s not surprising then that those who deviate from that formula in one way or another, or play with it, or parody it, catch people’s attention. Personally, I like it when they try to justify either the setting’s or the character’s features in a matter that is either believable or entertaining, not just “because”. Sometimes it’s not even “what” they tell, but “how” they tell it, which marks the difference for me. Like Diablo’s adventure here.

    3. You’re all zipping right past a rather more elemental truth: most light novels aren’t that good. And I don’t mean in a Sturgeon’s Law kind of way, I mean that it’s a format designed to be written quickly and consumed quicker, which is why it cuts out a bunch of the tricky stuff like descriptive text in favor of heavy narration and dialogue (and they often seem too adjective-heavy and badly edited—though maybe that’s a cultural thing). They’re commercial fiction. They’re pulp! The average LN’s writing style and publication schedule actively discourages truly good writing, because the fans are looking for pulp and there’s another book due soon so there’s no time to make this one really good. Doesn’t mean some light novels aren’t great, but the form and industry discourages it. It’s not wonder so many of them are cliche.

      That said, doesn’t mean they can’t still be enjoyed for the pulp they are. Pulp fiction is fun! It’s just not gonna reshape our worlds. That’s why I’ll be shoehorning references to YoriMoi into every third post from here until kingdom come, something I don’t imagine I’ll be doing for Isekai Maou after it’s aired. It’s still fun to watch, though.

      1. Oh, no. I had that truth in mind. Whatever the LNs are lacking as a medium, it still doesn’t excuse the repetition of plots and cliches in Isekais.

        All media have their strengths and weaknesses. I wouldn’t hold that against LNs, lest I repeat critical mistakes that have been committed against other media (coughcomicscoughvideogamescocugh). But plot repetition? I mean, there are many more LNs that are not about Isekais. Heck, there’s even another formula that is repeated ad nauseam (the “magical academy with swords” variety). Those examples mean that variation is possible, even when the style limitations are taken into account.

        On the other hand, I agree that the motions of the LN industry explain a lot of things, because it doesn’t incentive authors to go beyond small reference pools and lucrative cliches.

        In that regard, I agree with LoliHat: it’s Sturgeon’s Revelation in the purest form of the term. Because Sturgeon was also talking in a time when most science-fiction was pulp, and for every Isaac Asimov there were 9 writers who regurgitated the same tropes of the genre in a vicious self-referential cycle, which is the same thing we see in these LN Isekais. Stanislaw Lem’s criticism years later against the state of American SF could apply:

        “In culture an analogous situation leads to the emergence of enclaves shut up in ghettos, where intellectual production likewise stagnates because of inbreeding in the form of incessant repetition of the selfsame creative patterns and techniques. The internal dynamics of the ghetto may appear to be intense, but with the passage of years it becomes evident that this is only a semblance of motion, since it leads nowhere, since it neither feeds into nor is fed by the open domain of culture, since it does not generate new patterns or trends, and since finally it nurses the falsest of notions about itself, for lack of any honest evaluation of its activities from outside. The books of the ghetto assimilate themselves to one another, becoming an anonymous mass, while such surroundings thrust whatever is better downward toward the worse, so that works of differing quality meet one another halfway, as it were, in the leveling process forced upon them. In such a situation publishing success not only may but must become the sole standard of evaluation, since a vacuum of standards is impossible. Hence, where there are no ratings on the merits, these are replaced by ratings on a commercial basis.”

        He called it “herd creativity”. It rings familiar, doesn’t it?

  4. Diablo reminds me of an insecure Momonga from “Overlord” still as powerful but unsure of himself when it comes to the opposite sex. With this Anime it seems like the writers took a really great player who is socially awkward with a high-level character and teleport him to a real-world version of a game. I enjoy seeing how many different trait writers can add to the main character to move the plot forward before the audience start seeing similarities and no originality.

    We are already acquainted with Kirito from SAO who is a determined sort, Shiro from Log Horizon cunning as ever, Kazuma from Konosuba…useless but gets the job done by unexpected circumstances.

    1. I too am enjoying how different personalties play out

      Kazuma? Useless? He’s the most productive of the bunch. You’ve never seen the manga where he swaps into a regular team for a day, have you? He’s actually the most individually productive of, heck even all three here– even beyond Shiro by revolutionizing his Isekai. Shiro would not have been able to do that alone, but Kazuma would.

      I definitely get the Overlord Momoga vibes with Diablo too, but SAO’s unsung hero was Klein. If he and his VA weren’t the perfect comedic foil for Kirito, he’d be legitimate MC/hero of his own story. Leader of his own guild, constantly forgiving guy, saves Kirito’s butt on more than one occasion and comes out on his own. Only a bit awkward around women, and if the story had more time he should’ve had his own family eventually (or other women should’ve come onto him).

  5. https://randomc.net/image/Isekai%20Maou%20to%20Shoukan%20Shoujo%20no%20Dorei%20Majutsu/Isekai%20Maou%20to%20Shoukan%20Shoujo%20no%20Dorei%20Majutsu%20-%2005%20-%20Large%2020.jpg
    I am guessing everyone here, including the female knight and bunny girl, are part of Diablo’s harem.
    Notably, based on the anime opening, I think the female knight had a miserable childhood, wonder what is her story.

    Must look for more big breasted heroines. Notably, I wonder if there are any heroines with the same “fashion sense” as that bunny girl.

    I think Diablo is the only main character that uses a scythe. I think, if I exclude Durarara’s Celty

  6. I am eagerly awaiting Diablo taking on the Elven kingdom and teaching them to not try to kidnap… erm, steal his posessions.
    I am impressed by the kinda workaholic Imperial Knight. She will be most helpgul in this mission I hope…
    Oh and Berger gets useful again. Despite being totally dumb nad sexist.

  7. Seiyuu Yumi Hara (Albedo/Alicia) making Momanga/Diablo uncomfortable in both Overlord and Isekai Maou. 🙂
    Overlord is currently my favorite show (of the year), but this lighthearted Isekai is doing a good job as well.


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