'The Devil Is a Part-Timer': Japanese anime with a kinder, gentler Satan
Charles Solomon finds a great anime series that turns the Satan story on its head: "The Devil Is a Part-Timer" puts Satan in an apron.
The Japanese anime "The Devil Is a Part-Timer" offers the kind of take-no-prisoners humor American animation seems to have abandoned. And the premise is so outrageous, it may give fundamentalists heart attacks.
Here’s the story: After a titanic battle in an alternate reality, Satan, the Lord of Demons, is hurled through an inter-dimensional portal with his general Alciel and his archenemy, the Heroine Emilia. The portal dumps them in contemporary Tokyo, without their accustomed supernatural powers — or any means of support. After a run-in with the police, Satan and Alciel take the names Mao and Shiro, and rent a minuscule apartment in a run-down old building.
Mao gets a job at the fast-food outlet MgRonalds, where he’s praised as a model employee. He’s delighted when he’s promoted to assistant manager. One of his co-workers falls for him. Inevitably, other characters — both friends and foes — cross the barrier to Earth, complicating life there. Mao astonishes everyone by being so nice. As his powers return, he protects his friends, aids innocent bystanders and repairs the damage the battles with his foes inflict on the city. Voice actor Josh Grelle makes Mao so likable, this improbable behavior feels believable.
Eventually Mao has to confront the cruel angel Sariel in a climactic battle. But the filmmakers once again juxtapose the fantastic and the mundane with hilarious results. His powers restored, a muscular, winged version of Mao begins the fight taking off his MgRonalds uniform and carefully folding it. Any damage to that uniform would be deducted from his salary! Clad in his boxers, he literally beats the hell out of Sariel, makes sure his friends are safe and repairs the nearby buildings. Then he puts his uniform back on so can start his shift at MgRonalds.
The moment is hilarious, perfectly in character and impossible to imagine in an American animated series. Despite the often-outrageous antics of "The Simpsons" and "South Park," American audiences don’t expect this kind of blending of the mundane and the absurd from human characters, let alone the Lord of Demons.
"The Devil Is a Part-Timer" is based on a series of 11 light novels by Satoshi Wagahara; the novels and the manga adaptation are slated to be published in America in 2015. The animated version’s first season ends with the quarrelsome cast ready for a new adventure. Viewers on both sides of the Pacific are hoping a second season will follow.