It’s amazing how much distance Maoyuu Maou Yuusha has covered since the halcyon days of hero dakimakura jokes. We’ve journeyed far from pretensions toward developing a commentary on post-feudal society, only to have an entire episode revolve around proselytizing the virtues of freedom and choice in as heavy-handed, condescending, and above all predictable a manner as possible, and no amount of minimizing Hero’s harem moments can change how self-satisfied it is with doing the minimum amount of effort. I have almost never been so insulted by such laziness.
Predictability is never a deal breaker for a series by itself, but there’s failing to shake things up, and then there’s plumbing the depths of clichéd writing and Oscar Bait to pull out a gem as horribly made as this. Picture any speech given by a figure that’s portrayed as something of a rebel (usually a woman) made to be a pariah by an antagonistic authority that blindly adheres to tradition, or its own selfish desires, in any film made in the last thirty years or so. Now imagine that pared down to the basest element of freedom of choice and stretched out over the course of a twenty minute runtime, and the problems begin to become much more evident; hell, even the slack-jawed audience looks bored. (Hilariously enough, this is panning over the crowd to show how inspired they are).
Then again, it’s not necessarily the fault of a by-the-books, pseudo-inspirational speech that the entire episode fell flat. It would certainly help if the surrogate Church was portrayed as something other than a nebulous force that had long ago abandoned its original mission, letting the people suffer so it could retain its increasingly tenuous grip on the realm of secular politics. While that’s not exactly as rare an occurrence as it should be, to paint the Church in the broadest of unfavorable strokes only makes it a ham-handed adversary that’s hardly worth exploring in the depth that any examination of medieval society worth its salt would try to.
Yes, intentionally making Faux-Maou’s flogging as gratuitous and painful to watch as possible certainly gives her speech some level of context, but by doing so, it ironically pushes the level of engagement horribly low, near the quality of the writing. The speech, and by extension the episode itself, isn’t pointing out some infected stab wound on history’s ass and relating it to modern problems of a similar nature; it’s pointing at the stab wound and saying “Yep, that was certainly a stab wound alright. Now that I told you about it, I’m going to sit on my throne and bask in how brilliant I am while you drown me with praise.”
What bothers me the most is this is a segment that could have been made with some modicum of complexity, by not portraying the Church officials as hardheaded zealots who refuse to see differences as anything other than targets to purge, flay, dismember or what you. Again, there are definitely some people like this, but it’s disappointing for the whole organization outside of the Winter Kingdom to fall into the tired archetype of the corrupt organization that peddles salvation to the highest bidder, whipping dissenters in the street and treating the common folk like vermin. In short, this fucker is the only example we’ve seen of the Church outside of the Lakeside Convent explored to any reasonable degree, and he’s cartoonishly evil.
Still, with that said, it’ll be interesting to see what the fallout is, provided there is any at all. To have the Winter Kingdom try to form a splinter branch of the religion in response to clear examples of rampant corruption would certainly alleviate some of these concerns, and maybe even lead to a more nuanced portrayal of the Church, and its relation to the people that it services. But hey, at least there weren’t obnoxious levels of ass.
So basically what I’m indirectly getting at is Mel Brooks did it first, better, and in roughly half the time. Or maybe I just wanted an excuse to put this into a post, regardless of its actual relevance because c’mon. Mel Brooks.