Do you remember when the Protestant Reformation was done exclusively because the Catholic Church was hoarding all of Europe’s wealth for itself? Maoyuu Maou Yuusha remembers. How about when a woman persecuted for heresy singlehandedly won the hearts and minds of thousands in order to spur a splinter-branch of the church, being declared a saint in the process? Maoyuu Maou Yuusha remembers. And, like your doddering grandmother with a bizarrely specific memory when it comes to remembering and implementing the details behind key historical events into her own work, it remembers nothing else.
The big problem with the show’s blatant allegory to the Protestant Reformation is that it distills the many factors actually involved into a simplified “old church bad, new church good, RIGHTEOUS SMASH” pulp. Hell, the new church design is even a none-too-subtle allusion to Luther’s Rose.
None of the points brought up in the episode are particularly wrong—rampant corruption in the Church was one of the crucial issues that led to the schism—but exploration of its supposed misdeeds is hampered by narrowing it down to the hackneyed cliché of the decadent church with no evidence pointing to the contrary. It certainly doesn’t help that, though the Church is said to be a facet in everyday life, nobody seems particularly affected by its practices, save for villains that barely occupy a single dimension personality-wise; why even reform something that nobody seems all that bothered about? It could make a hell of a more compelling argument, is what I’m saying.
Probably worst of all, there’s the issue of the Winter Kingdom trying to eliminate feudalism without really having an incentive to do so. Everyone has all of their eggs strictly in the “Yay Feudalism” basket for a reason, and trying to force such a drastic socioeconomic change in a brief period of time, without any sort of catalyst to naturally spur its fall from practice, is asking for mass starvation and anarchy, regardless of food surpluses. Of course it could happen over time, but I still doubt this plot point was thought through all that well.
Thankfully, the episode goes in an entirely new direction after paying lip service to its almost insulting interpretation of history and the notion of abolishing the principle of serfdom in a matter of months. Maoyuu is at its best when it focuses on the machinations behind the scenes of actual conflict, as the lackluster battle with Giant Fucking Walrus in Episode 5 has so eagerly demonstrated, and that strength thankfully takes up the rest of the episode, accompanied by some truly questionable character designs.
The merchant so eager on hounding Maou is finally showing his business savvy, setting up a scheme to simultaneously crash the economy of the Central Nations and create a scarcity of food for his own profit. It’s surprisingly refreshing to see a character driven by his own material desires, rather than an intangible goal, with the capability of leaving entire kingdoms at his beck and call. He not only takes advantage of feudalism’s weak centralization to launch an otherwise impossible scheme, but it’s intriguing in a way that the show hasn’t been since Maou decided that being a paragon of social change was more important than being a decent character.
There are two directions that the focus could blearily look to at this point: It could either attempt to make the religious conflict something more than a cringe-inducing sideshow, or it could expand the principle of knowing economic sabotage for personal gain to make a substantially more fun show. Obviously I’m leaning toward the latter, as it creates actual stakes and much better writing. Granted, that’s not saying much, but it’s true.
Either way, as long as it does away with this guy’s war crime of a moustache, I won’t be too displeased. Because fuck that thing.