Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou (The Demon King in the Back Row)

Takashi Watanabe obviously woke up one morning, head still groggy from a night of drink, drugs and debauchery, one hand clutching a napkin with a list scrawled on it - ninjas, cyborgs, magic, gods, dragons, breasts - and in the other a production contract, sloppily signed by himself. There is no way else a series as bonkers as Ichiban Ushiro no Daimou could have been born except from some ill-informed bet or dare. Cramming this amount of content into twelve episodes means dispensing with a consistent art-style, rounded characters and coherent storytelling; that the series hangs together at all depends entirely on the infectious enthusiasm and deviant pleasure of wondering where the story could possibly go next.

a show that Michael Bay would create if he were a long time anime fan, slightly deranged and on the breadline
Despite Akuto Sai's desire to become a High Priest - a peerless champion for good - his Constant Magick Academy aptitude test predicts he will become a fearsome Demon King. Panic amongst the student population ensues and although Akuto remains defiant, forces begin to align themselves both for and against his ascension. Ancient clans such as the samurai Hattori and black magic Etou become involved, just as the ruling government sends an android to keep watch; Akuto isn't alone however, his childhood friend Keena and spirited minion Hiroshi stand by him, doubly so when the fearsome dragon and loyal servant of the Demon King Peterhausen is unearthed. Akuto's plan to remake the system of gods and scriptures may yet come to pass, though maybe not with him as the soldier of justice he envisioned.

Please note: the remainder of this post contains images of nudity, if you are offended by these or are otherwise unable to view these images within your municipality due to laws or moral obligations, please do not proceed.

There is no one point in the series where it sheds all pretences of being a raunchy romp through a magical school - close to being a slightly more racy Maburaho - only a rapid descent into utter bedlam that sees episodes feature a dragon, a superhero, ninjas and a sharply suited man with speakers in his coat and still maintain a semblance of continuity. The opening entries are comparatively sane when placed against the climax - characters come back from the dead as cyborgs, riflemen gun down samurai as betentacled monsters swarm around the school, a steampunk-esque flying gunship smouldering in the background as characters spout soliloquies about gods and governments. The show barely has enought time to squeak in some casual nudity.

And what nudity there is, when consistency goes out the window any and all excuses to disrobe the female cast is fair game: a trip to the beach contrived as school lessons, a dip in the hot springs while searching for ancient underground cities, or the old standard of explosions burning away the most conspicuous gaps in clothing. It's hard to be repulsed by it when it boils down to "Why not?". Why not throw some topless females in when neither the story nor animation can keep up with the deceptively earnest vigour and breadth of imagination. There is no subterfuge going on here, from the opening flash of Junko's undergarments the series was hell-bent on crafting the most outrageous and hilariously entertaining series it could with the budget and staff available.

Not content with half measures, it goes full bore and demands the viewer keep up or shut up and enjoy the ride: a show that Michael Bay would create if he were a long time anime fan, slightly deranged and on the breadline. In a sense the series should be commended for understanding both its audience and precisely what sets this series apart from its multitude of contemporaries. This doesn't absolve it of some heinous crimes against narrative coherency, character development or plot exposition but those criticisms fall flat when it is so enjoyable and captivating not to be treated as an infant or bludgeoned with mediocrity. Given twice the run time and four times the budget this could well have been a wholly different series with the same key points: a diatribe against god and society? Sure, but what about time travellers and robot shrine maidens?

Its closest peer then is Code Geass, but far from the ostentatious politicking and aloof indifference of the havoc that ensued in R2, this is scrappy, dirty and so much more fun. The problem it faces then is its lack of staying power, without anything but momentum to sustain it there is nothing after the credits roll for the final time to chew on. Being based upon a light novel series provides the option for further reading if the world glancingly hinted at during the anime satisfies, but it is difficult to see the series as anything more than a flash in the pan. A potential sequel will have the dual problem of satisfying fans of the original, an attention light crowd clamouring for more explosions, magic and madness, while providing more exploration of the world that Akuto has irrevocably changed.

That is for the future though and what is presented here is more than satisfying enough to recommend. The otherwise B-list cast of voice actors is broken up by conspicuous heavy weights such as Shizuka Itou as Fujiko or Jouji Nakta as Peterhausen but regardless of their stature they have as much fun with their roles as the production staff likely did with other aspects. A lament for the animators who were likely put through the wringer with each episode stretching their constitutions to breaking point - Artland may not be the most reliable of animation companies but the climactic battles in the final two episodes somewhat absolve them of the choppy and distorted slideshows that characterised earlier episodes, the most egregious being the seventh with its GAINAX-like sketchiness but bereft of the accompanying fluidity.

So much is present that it would be tricky not to find at least one element of Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou that piques one's interest. The laughs may be inadvertent and the raunchiness utterly implausible but the series defies anyone not to find one of the copious gems hidden amongst the detritus. It may be Korone's deadpan teasing of Akuto, Junko's ambivalence towards the Demon Lord, Fujiko's raunchy thoughts in front of the disembodied head of her brother, or even the robot piloting student council member who communicates only with "gagun". After only a few episodes one can't help but be entirely inured, brain no longer shouting at the inconsistencies and huge grin worn at all but the slowest moments; bizarre, chaotic and absurdly enjoyable.

Responses to “Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou (The Demon King in the Back Row)”

Nice review, unfortunately for me I fell away from the pace. I still have a good feeling about the show but it's not quite the same high as I felt in the opening episodes.

The one point I might argue is B-list seiyuu comment. Several of the voice actors are either rising stars or well established. Hirohashi Ryou would certainly fall into a veteran A-list status. Hikasa youko and Aoi yuuki are current rising stars. Aoi has turned some heads with her versatility at such a young age. With her breakout role of Murasaki in Kurenai and then a notable turn as Mina in Dance in the Vampire Bund she is currently on a few peoples watch lists. Hikasa youko naturally is Mio of K-On and beginning to find plenty of roles herself. Lastly, Toyosaki Aki is quite possibly the biggest new thing in the seiyuu idol world. Being of both K-On and Sphere fame has earned her no shortage of exposure. I'd say the only new seiyuu idol who can match Aki for exposure would be fellow Sphere member and VA of Ichiban Ushiro side character Tomatsu Haruka. Speaking only of seiyuu who only started working (or getting popular in Aki case) in the past year or so.

yeah, I'm a seiyuu fan. Just couldn't let the B-List go :-\ Maybe a B+...

Malicious Intent

This is more easily enjoyable, in a sense, but at least Code Geass had a point beneath all the mess. Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou...just hits the reset button with a hammer and expects us to laugh at/with it one more time before forgetting about the whole thing entirely.