Anime Review: "The Duke of Death and His (Black) Maid"

So let’s talk about the elephant in the room first, so I can spend the rest of this review convincing you to forget about the elephant, and watch this anime. The characters in this series are done in CGI, using what appears to be the same kind of process that was used in one of J.C. Staff’s other series: “Hi-Score Girl.” You’re either going to let that bug you, or you won’t. For some people CGI is a complete turn-off, and means an instant drop. For others, they don’t care. I’m kind of in the middle. I much prefer standard animation, not too big a fan of CGI, so when I saw the trailer for this, I was initially really disappointed; I’d read some of the manga, before the announcement that this was coming out, so I was pretty excited when I heard it got picked up, but when I saw the trailer I was crestfallen. I’m sure a lot of people had the same reaction. But, if you can, be a bigger person, and see beyond the CGI, you’ll find something pretty special.

Since we’re already on the topic of visuals with the CGI I’ll start by saying the art in this series is fantastic. The backgrounds are done with incredible detail, even given texture to make them look like they’re paintings on canvas. It gives the entire series a glorious fairy tale vibe, like you’re watching an anime that’s come to life right out of a pop-up book. I caught myself, at times, just fascinated by all the little minor things that decorated each frame. So, despite the fact that the characters are CGI and move around a bit weird, it somehow comes together pretty well and I didn’t find myself overly bothered by it.

From art, the next obvious thing that needs to be talked about, is the sound. This series had probably the best sound track of the year I think. It was enchanting. There were multiple vocal performances by the main VA’s Mano Ayumi (Alice) and Hanae Natsuki (Bocchan); they sang not only the opening theme song, but also did several other insert pieces that popped up within the show as well. There were also a number of classical songs featuring beautiful piano arrangements which were a joy to listen to. I’d say “glorious,” is a pretty good word to summarize my feelings for the music of “Duke of Death”. I may end up hunting down a copy of the OST if I can find one.

Also, Hiroshi Kamiya (MAL’s #1 Person) is in this. He plays a bird-faced witch. Anytime I get to hear him play anything I count that as a win.

Witches and magic are pretty central to the story of “Duke of Death”. The plot revolves around the titular duke, who was cursed by an unknown witch, when he was just a boy. The curse causes him to kill anything he touches – plant, animal, or even people. It’s honestly a very, very dark plot hook, but it’s used in an extremely creative, fun way, through the antics of the character Alice. She’s the (black) maid of the moment, who’s favorite past time is getting as close to the duke as she can, without touching him, in a cute/sexy kind of “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you,” playful way, while also sexually harassing him every opportunity she gets. She delights in his adorable, embarrassed reactions (which are done extremely well on both an animation level and acting one). This dynamic is the core of the show, turning it into essentially a rom-com with a strange, slightly morbid kink to it.

With that being said, it’s quite a bit more than just your standard romantic comedy though, because the plot hook of the show, the duke’s curse, is actually quite intriguing; the more we learn about it, the deeper the mystery surrounding it gets, but that’s something you can enjoy yourself watching the series. I don’t wanna spoil anything.

All in all, the flirting between the Duke and Alice is really entertaining to watch, making for a fun little SOL/rom-com with a unique premise, so I’d be happy giving this series a 7 or an 8 on just those merits alone, but as it turns out, by the end of the series, I was genuinely invested in the characters, their futures, and the answer to the mystery of the curse, thankfully, after the credits, they announced that the story will continue in season two, so hopefully we’ll get to find out then, because the season ends with all the big questions still up in the air, which is to be expected because the manga for this has been going for near 200 chapters now, and expecting to cram all that into just twelve episodes is asking much too much.

This all leads me to say that this was a perfectly enjoyable watching experience. Not even going to take off points for the CGI characters and wonky animation because after about episode 2 I had completely gotten over it, forgetting all about the elephant, and just enjoying the ride.

Masterpiece, round of applause, etc. 10/10 from me.

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