Note: Review copy supplied by Manga Entertainment
Title: How Not To Summon A Demon Lord
Anime Studio: Ajia-do Animation Works
Publisher: Manga Entertainment
Genre: Isekai, Ecchi, Harem
Released: February 17th, 2020
Language: Japanese / English
How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord contains Episodes 1-12 of the anime directed by Yta Murano. Takuma Sakamoto is famously known as Diablo throughout the MMORPG Cross Reverie. And although he’s a magical prodigy in-game, in reality, he’s a total social outcast. One day, in his video game body, Takuma is summoned to another world by two girls seeking to control him. But when he accidentally reflects their enslavement ritual back at them, the only way to save face is to act how he looks
Long term readers of the site may be surprised to read this, but I actually enjoyed a fair bit of How Not To Summon A Demon Lord.
This is now a show without problems, of course, and I want to talk about them a little first here, largely because most of them are so subjective, I felt we should get them out of the way. Being an ecchi leaning series, there is plenty of fan service to be had. From Shera’s close-up bounce shots to framing power transfers to look more sexual, and all the way back to accidental groping, it runs the gauntlet. Sure, it’s not as overt as some, but it’s there.
My tolerance for scenes like this really depends on how much they feel like they’re interfering with the story. The series does its best to not make it the sole focus and actually makes an effort to make the fan service part of the plot. That rarely works well in fiction for me, but at least they tried.
The slave theme is certainly going to be controversial for some too. I mean, we all know that slavery is bad, so to have it forced upon the heroes as a means to ensure they must work together may seem a little off. I will get into why it isn’t as bad as you may think later on.
My biggest issue was the age-old sexualization of young-looking characters. This mostly applies to the Demon Lord Krebskulm. As a character, she’s integral to the plot, so her presence is a necessity. In human form though, she may be over 1,000 years old, but she looks like a child. Throw in that she acts like a child too, and frankly, the skimpy outfit and the brief kiss with Diablo are uncomfortable. It’s honestly my biggest issue with the series and absolutely prevents it from getting a full score.
That being said, the series actually does a lot of stuff really well. As an overpowered lead, Diablo is pretty decent. He doesn’t just rely on firing off more-powerful-than-needed attacks, but rather applies some strategy when needed. He also has limited power reserves, meaning he can’t just push through everything all the time and the fact that his cohorts remain vulnerable means that there’s never a guaranteed win.
On top of that, the duality of his real-life personality and the Demon King persona that he uses to mask his awkwardness is pretty well done. The sheer disparity between the two sides of him provides some surprisingly decent humour, and best of all, we even get a brief flashback to explain why he is the way he is.
The two women that are bound to Diablo are a Pantherian called Rem and an Elf called Shera. They’re very different as characters, though they do fit the generic tsundere and bubbly types respectively. Where they succeed is in the fact that they have proper backstories with something at stake. There are good reasons for them both to try summoning a Demon Lord, and those reasons – especially in Rem’s case – play into the overarching plot nicely. Also worth noting is that Rem is the opposite of Krebskulm in portrayal; she has the slight, child-like frame, but her actions come across as more mature, meaning she comes across completely differently.
While initially squabbling companions, the two girls do grow closer as the series progresses too, and the growth in character relationships helps the show along a bit. As it pertains to the slave angle, this was played for laughs initially, with their binding spell backfiring. It was clearly just a tool to force the characters together and could have been replaced with something else. However, it doesn’t go the way you may think. Diablo doesn’t want to be their slave master and is actively seeking help to reverse the spell. He also doesn’t take advantage of the situation near as much as he could have.
It would be fair to say that much of the supporting cast is relegated to feeling like relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Even characters like the guild master, Sylvie, don’t get enough time to be fully fleshed out. In a way, it’s a shame, because there’s undoubtedly potential there to give them all bigger roles. At the same time though, it’s worth noting that that only-here-when-needed role works well enough for them that you don’t grow to hate it. Emile was a blast though.
The various arcs we go through only last around four episodes, meaning that nothing outstays its welcome. They’re also littered with plenty of little snippets to set up the world itself. Of particular note are the times when Diablo is forced to acknowledge the differences between this world and the game world that he is used to, and is so similar. The lack of teleporting, actual death, and different inter-species divides, for example, all pop up at different times.
Visually, the show will either be fairly standard or absolutely stunning for you. Personally, I love the way anime deals with magic-based fantasy battles, so this was the latter for me. The flash of magical circles in the sky and massive explosions appeals, and you see them plenty here, along with a bevy of varied opponents and beasties.
Character designs too are good, if not particularly standout. The girls’ outfits are mostly built to show off their body types but feel fairly standard for the genre. Diablo’s more regal appearance is a little better. Background characters can seem a little interchangeably cut-and-paste at times, but that serves to help the main cast stand out a little more on-screen, I think.
The background scenery is much the same; competent but not stand out. The same applies to the background music. I did thoroughly enjoy the dub casts performance though. As you might expect, it’s the main trio of Eric Vale (Diablo/Takuma Sakamoto), Sarah Wiedenheft (Shera), and Jad Saxton (Rem) that shine the brightest here. Everyone else did their job well too though, and nothing felt off in that regard. The opening theme has an almost 90’s anime retro edge to it, which made me smile, while the ending theme feels a little more modern standard. The lewd artwork running through the end credits was unneeded though.
So, where does this fit overall? Well, it surprised me. Though slightly derailing, the fan service only really becomes an issue during scenes with either Krebskulm or dubious consent. When not falling into these sadly common story beats though, How Not To Summon A Demon Lord is an enjoyable show. Featuring a strong core cast, a decent story, and the magical flash you expect, it does plenty to keep you entertained, and even throws in some emotional moments. If you can get past the negative side of the shenanigans, this is a strong 4 out of 5.