At first glance, anime Maoyu is hardly what you would call original. There are two worlds, a human world and a demon world, at war in a fantasy setting. And as these stories go, after many adventures, the Hero sets off to have his climatic one-on-one battle with the evil Demon King. But that's where Maoyu bucks the trend.
What if the Demon King isn't a monster but a beautiful young woman? And what if she doesn't want war, but longs for peace? And what if she is willing to give up everything she has if the Hero is willing to help her peacefully end the war? Well, then you get Maoyu.
Good — A High Concept Fantasy
More than anything else, Maoyu is a thought experiment starting with a simple question: What happens after the hero kills the bad guy? And from there, it explores questions like: How does the world react to sudden peace? What happens to the kingdoms that are dependent on the war economy and would collapse without it? How will the war-ravaged nations feed their people without other kingdoms sending war support? Do the demons become a slave race, now that they have lost? And if the demons won, wouldn't all the same problems exist but only in reverse?
Thus, the Hero and Demon King in Maoyu set about to fix these problems before the war ends so that a peaceful solution doesn't end up claiming as many lives as the war would have; and in doing so, they change the world using everything from the potato to the printing press.
Good — Generic Yet Deep Characters
The characters in Maoyu are all fantasy archetypes and literally have no name beyond their titles. The Hero is a fantastically strong swordsman, the Demon King is a powerful mage, the merchants are smart and greedy, the Female Knight is loyal and true, etc. They are all very generic as the tale begins—and that is the point.
Maoyu succeeds by taking these stock characters, putting them into a situation we have never seen before in a fantasy, and watching them develop. Sure they have their own original backstories, but one of the main points of the anime is seeing where these archetypes find themselves in this non-archetypical fantasy world.
Mixed — Didn't Really Need to be Animated
Because Maoyu is a story about using agricultural and technological advancements to peacefully end a war, there is little fighting in the anime. More correctly, there is little action beyond the characters sitting around talking.
Thus, on one level, there is no real need to have an animated version of this story when a novel series already exists. The act of having an animated component adds very little to the story being told. Of course, anime certainly reaches a wider audience than light novels and that may be enough reason for the existence of an animated adaptation.
But regardless of all that, if you're not interested in the world-building aspects of the series, you will more than likely be bored by the almost total lack of action to be found.
Mixed — The Love Story
Outside of its unique concept exploration, Maoyu really becomes nothing more than a simple love story revolving around the Hero and the Demon King. It's a cute little love story between two people who never really expected to find the perfect person for themselves and is good enough for what it is — most of the time.
On the downside, the love story is often used as nothing more than the jumping off point for lame sexual humour — mainly about her “plumpness” (read: busty-ness) — or awkward romantic misunderstandings. While it isn't really offensive, the juvenile humour in the midst of an anime primarily geared towards older audiences comes off more than a little annoying at times.
While I don't think Maoyu was the best anime of last season, it was the one I found myself most excited to watch each week. If you, like me, are a person who loves deconstructing classic character archetypes and enjoys a setting-focused narrative, this one is a definite “must watch.” However, if you are looking for your next epic fantasy adventure with heroes being heroes and villains being villains, you will likely find Maoyu boring and too caught up in its own details to offer a satisfying adventure.
Maoyu aired on Tokyo MX in Japan and can be seen subtitled for free in English at Crunchyroll.