A Different Reading on Hataraku Maou-sama

Imagine you’re a leader of a country. Your country is at war with another country for some reason. Maybe you feel that their territory is yours, or you simply don’t like them. The other country feels the same way. Maybe they feel especially murderous and genocidal, because you started it. Either way, the war rages on, many people are killed, and you somehow find yourself on the defensive.

The hostile country’s forces lay siege to your fortress, and you are locked in mortal combat with the enemy’s champion. But you have a trump card, a method of escape. You use it, taking along a loyal aide, swearing revenge on your enemies. You promise to return with a vengeance.

Except that you don’t. You land somewhere else. Wherever it is, it’s not your land, or anywhere you know. There are people, but they are different. It’s not as if they are hostile to you, but they are apathetic. You are a nobody in this strange and terrifying new world, where technology is magic and vice-versa.

Your immediate concern is to return to your land and avenge your country’s defeat. But whatever conveyance you used doesn’t function anymore, so your next priority is to find a way to return it to working order.

To do so, you must survive and fend off for yourselves. You and your aide learn the ways of the world. It is harsh, and you barely get by. Time passes, and there is no sign or clue of how to get back home. You keep soldiering on, but wait a minute! Didn’t you want to beat back the enemy occupation in your country? Why are you worrying about work tomorrow? You try to convince yourself that you’re doing this in order to return to power, but home seems so distant, its concerns so trivial to your mind. Maybe it’s this world’s people, who treat you differently. You were feared back at home! Now you have to earn it all over again!

Somehow, your mortal enemy appears, swearing vengeance and all sorts of unpleasant things lined up for you. But like you, she is powerless, and forced to work with the ways of this world. She is a link back home, but why does she sound so… petty? Why do her actions seem so ridiculous, carrying a grudge across worlds? You are both mired and helpless, and want nothing more to be back at home, but why isn’t she cooperating?

And then you learn why she hates you so much. It is the story of many, but you never imagined that hers was one of them. She had a loved one who died to your army’s swords. Because of this, she swore revenge and became the greatest thorn in your side, the hero of the enemy’s army. Maybe you even suffered the same tragedy. You wish you could humor her, to summon up your own strong feelings towards the matter, but it feels so unreal compared to the riddle of your next meal. In your clumsy interaction with one other, you see that she isn’t really the genocidal maniac you thought her to be, and she begrudges the thought that maybe you could act out of altruism, too.

But it doesn’t end there. More people show up from your world, and threaten to end both of you. You can’t be allowed to exist, they say, but their reasons are so beneath you that you can’t help but laugh at them. They went all the way here… to secure their own power? Suddenly you don’t feel like you know your home anymore. It’s almost tempting to just let them squabble for eternity, after you’ve ceased to be part of the equation.

It’s a funny feeling, but you want to protect this world that refuses to acknowledge you because you’ve done nothing of worth. And when you do finally get to return home, there’s going to be a lot of restructuring.

* * *

Sometimes I really wonder if Maou-sama is an allegory for our fractured humanity. Different countries squabble among themselves. What if we exiled all world leaders into another world? How would they react to the change? Would they be forced to cooperate with hated enemies, or would they try to settle the score there? If they were to be made to look at our planet from the outside, can they see their own problems with a broader perspective? Two arbitrary groups of people living on clumps of land with arbitrarily-drawn borders, hurting and maiming and killing each other because of a difference in faith, wealth, skin, or culture?

Maybe the lesson is that some people aren’t really as evil as presented, and that some causes aren’t as just as some people believe them to be. And, if these people are put in the same life-threatening position, then maybe they should put their differences aside and work together. After all, maybe we’re all just human beings. Devils or angels, our labels get peeled away in the face of great adversity, in which we redefine ourselves by what we do, not what we were.

Forgive me, I’m just in a thoughtful mood tonight.

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12 Responses to A Different Reading on Hataraku Maou-sama

  1. omo says:

    I’m not sure how this is a different reading? Isn’t what you have laid out the fundamental absurdity that drives the ongoing humorous atmosphere?

    Good paraphrasing of the situation though.

  2. its funny how this also applies to Gargantia as of episode 7 as well. War without context loses meaning fast.

  3. Mushyrulez says:

    Eh, I thought this was a pretty novel idea (then again, I also haven’t been surfing around reddit/4chan/twitter lately). I always thought about Maou-sama from the main characters’ perspectives in the context of our contemporary world, not their thoughts towards the old world…
    An interesting parallel is in the realm of sports: on the field/track/rink/ring/whatever, competitors are fierce and aggressive, but off the sports-thing, competitors can still be friendly with each other. Perhaps war is the same; in medieval, more chivalric warfare, I think warring kings weren’t totally hostile to their enemies.

    Still, definitely very interesting idea about the perspective change. I never really realized that their big change in setting was basically a forced change in perspective…

  4. lalunafelis says:

    What’s funny is that you’re the among the few ones besides me to read that confrontation between Maou and Emi in Episode 4 in that manner. Majority of comments I’ve read are people taking offense on what they deem as casually dismissive apology on his part (WHAAAAAAT sorry for the genocide?! I’ll KILL him if he said that to me that Hitler/Nazi!!!), and even TV Tropes listed the not so flattering “But For Me, It Was Tuesday” trope under his name. They apparently missed the point that he only recently gained a human conscience and naturally, has no idea on how to go about this situation properly. But the guilt is certainly there, if they look closely at his eye and body language. He’s definitely NOT being casually dismissive; he’s just overwhelmed by this new thing called guilt from a human conscience.

    On the other hand, there are those who rag on Emi’s continued aggressive antagonism towards Maou (especially in Episode 7 where she kicked and punched him after he caught her from falling down the stairs), completely forgetting the fact that she has every right to act that way since he, or his forces at least, took away her loved ones and destroyed her life.

    It amazes me that a seemingly absurd and mindless comedy actually has more depth and meaningful commentaries on human nature(not to mention an interesting test of the audience’s perspective, or lack of it) more than any heavy-handed, angst ridden shows that dominate today’s anime landscape. Maybe it helps that this show is not down on its knees begging me to take it seriously because it trusts me that I am smart enough to find its hidden serious elements on my own.

    • schneider says:

      I am morbidly amazed that people would read Maou the way you brought up. I thought it would be difficult to paint him that way, considering the show’s tone. It is anything but callous.

      I agree with you that Hataraku Maou-sama often transcends its stature. There’s a lot more layers to it than most people would think. Thanks for commenting!

      • lalunafelis says:

        Well, it’s that those people can’t stomach Maou’s simple “….I’m sorry, it’s just that I don’t understand humans then..”. The reaction they’re probably expecting(or ordering) him to have is to either stay silent or go all angsty/melodramatic “MY GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE!!! Q_Q” to drive home the point. They even looked forward to Emi going berserk on him, because that’s what they say is what they want to do to him, too bad for them Hataraku is not that kind of show.

        Sure, he talks about climbing the corporate ladder and taking over capitalist Earth, but considering what he’s been showing so far, I doubt if he’ll really go far with the “ruling” thing.(Maybe become a benevolent ruler/tycoon/CEO/president, at least?)So what makes it even more annoying is that when Maou was talking about taking responsibility for whatever his underlings did and his new attitude towards humans in general, instead of taking it as a “bad guy learning to be good” thing, those people insist that he’s only viewing things as the overlord that he is and he only views humans as another race to subjugate instead of being his equal.

        I know, my views will be dismissed simply because I’ll admit, I’m a big fan of Maou himself, but largely because when he learned “right” from “wrong”, he chose to do the right things. And above all, is NOT a douche.

        Forgive the ranting. The hive mind seems to be getting to me. And you’re welcome.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yeah, the show conveyed it very very subtly, but the messages are there! I’ll expect season two to be even more awesome. If….there is one, though.

  6. sadakups says:

    I recently discovered this gem of an anime a few days ago. I pretty much skipped it because I thought it was another maou anime and the last few I’ve seen were crap. I thought this one fell in the same category. And I was hella wrong. This show is one of the best I’ve seen this year.

    Anyway, I like your alternate take on the show, which is pretty much how the show plays out, except that it’s more comedic than serious. Heck, it’s even better than Alsiel’s corporate version (which was hilarious). My take, though, is that the show is the deconstruction of things – the hero and the villain (who between Sadao and Emi or whoever is which), the working environment (as much it makes fun out it, people working in food service and call centers do experience such shit shown in the show) and good vs evil dynamic (you can’t really tell which side is). And yes, despite how funny the show is, I could deny thinking these things while watching it. There’s some serious shit going on.

    If a second season happens (oh god, please let those Blurays sell), I want the show to go back to this never ending dilemma for the show, especially for Emi. She said it over and over that she couldn’t forgive Sadao for everything he has done on Ente Isla and despite him living a complete 180 on Earth, she still couldn’t trust him completely. Although I would hate it if some chumps from Ente Isla (either from the Church or the demons) keep on coming to Earth to screw with both Emi and Sadao again. And the most important thing – it should still be funny as hell. Of course, if it does not happen, I’m pretty much happy with the way the show ended.

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