Previously I had mentioned trepidation at the tainting of this world with the matters of Ente Isla, and although Hataraku Maou-Sama! has managed to avoid any major pitfalls thus far, it still seems surprisingly unsure of where it wants to go in the future. It regularly wavers between using Ente Isla to set up jokes and to hammer in the banality of the life they are currently living, and using Ente Isla for dramatic moments that foreshadow a much greater emphasis on Maou’s quest to get back to his homeland (and in the process conquer the entirety of this new world). The height of the latter is in the “magic bullets” that come from an unknown assailant, which place a sense of urgency on the fantasy side of the plot, forcing the characters to account for yet another magical force that has turned up in our modern world. If more and more characters from Ente Isla are introduced, each more powerful than the last, then the show is at grave risk of turning Japan into nothing more than a CoD map for these supernatural characters, and would lose much of its flavor.
Regardless of Ente Isla, the real star of this episode is Emi Yusa, as she transforms from random passerby into a full-fledged tsundere. Although her reasons for hating our lovely protagonist are better than most tsundere characters nowadays, the use of a tsundere in any comedy makes me wince, primarily because it signals the transition from good comedy to romantic comedy (which nowadays are nearly mutually exclusive). It further opens the gate for fanservice ad nauseum, the effects of which are immediately seen in the awkward poses Maou and Yusa often find themselves in and the discernment of the omnipresent male gaze (and let’s not forget the infinite times that extraneous characters will act as mouthpieces of the fandom in shipping the pair).
The show still goes to lengths to make sure that Yusa isn’t an object—at first. We are given many shots of her going to work, talking with friends, and engaging in a life that is independent of Maou’s life (although the punch line to the segment is her comparing herself with Maou). Over time, however, Yusa finds herself spending increasingly large amounts of time with Maou and Ashiya, culminating in her staying the night at their house after she loses her wallet. By this point, Yusa seems to exist solely to follow behind Maou and whine about how much she hates him. By contrast, Chiho, who is supposed to be the rival for Maou’s affections, seems to have a much stronger personality than Yusa does—although Chiho meets some of the standard features of “moe” from an artistic standpoint, she is much more independent than Yusa and seems to fully be in control of her life, an atypically strong figure for the standard moe highschool girl. At this point, Chiho’s personality is much more attractive than Yusa’s, and this is something that Maou picks up on; Maou is very comfortable talking to Chiho, and treats her as an emotional equal, while his interactions with Yusa are much more apathetic, and felt very similar to the way in which Mugen treats Fuu in Samurai Champloo. This perspective from which Maou approaches his interactions with Yusa are thus far the only thing keeping the pairing from becoming indistinguishable from the masses of tsundere-based romcoms. When combined with the light and subtle humorous moments that arise from Maou and Ashiya’s banter, the show manages to retain most of the flavor that it had established with its premiere episode. Twenty-five minutes later, a show that seemed destined to head down the clichéd routes of either apocalyptic fantasy shounen or wish-fulfillment romcom has thus far managed to continue walking the tight-rope of excellence that lies between these two anime hells.