ANIME REVIEW | A "Maid" Brings Meaning to Life of "The Duke of Death"
Love and curses go hand-in-hand in fairy tales. The most famous of curses can be found when one person is seen as a monster, like in Beauty and the Beast or The Frog Prince. But what if the monster wasn’t really a monster, but rather a human whose curse may make others look at them like they were a devil in disguise? This is the case of the series The Duke of Death and His Maid, as a man riddled with a dreaded touch finds solstice in his current company.
Based on the manga by Koharu Inoue, The Duke of Death and His Maid places its focus on Botchan (Natsuki Hanae), who was dealt a dreaded hand by a jealous witch. At a young age, the witch cursed Botchan with the touch of death. Because of this, Botchan cannot lay his fingers on any plant, animal, or even human, as they will die literally by his own hand. Frustrated, his mother sends him off to live in a mansion isolated from the rest of his family, with trusted butler Rob (Hochu Otsuka) there to serve him.
Fortunately, there’s another person by Botchan’s side: the maid and childhood friend Alice (Ayumi Mano). On top of her being good at her job, Alice finds herself fond of Botchan. Even though she knows a single touch will kill her, Alice loves getting close to Botchan, going so far as to flirt with him to the point of frustration. And yet, Botchan doesn’t quite mind this level of attention Alice gives him. After all, they’re both fond of each other, and they know it.
This leads to one of the most refreshing things about The Duke of Death and His Maid: the romance element. Practically at the get-go, it’s made apparent that Botchan and Alice love each other, going so far to even confess these feelings. As such, this story doesn’t become a “will they/won’t they” sort of narrative. Instead, it takes a road less travelled in anime rom-coms: the “when they”, with the answer being quite obvious. The series isn’t about finding romance; it’s about breaking a curse so that the romance can happen.
But that doesn’t mean the two of them can’t have fun together. Walks through the town, playing in the snow, and even something simple like sharing a cup of tea are framed in a very romantic way. There’s meaning behind every second Botchan and Alice spend together, as they both cherish their time like it was worth its weight in goal. Of course, even if they can’t be physical with one another, Alice does find a way to get a rise out of Botchan through her teasing.
There’s something both funny and sweet about the way Alice plays her mind games with Botchan. From getting extremely close to his face to showing a little more skin than normal, Alice finds joy in making Botchan blush and fumble his words just by using her beauty. And while he may seem upset whenever she does this, it’s not like Botchan minds; in fact, he actually find some enjoyment in Alice’s flirtatious ways.
Where The Duke of Death and His Maid shines is in its sweetness. It’s apparent that both Botchan and Alice will go to any lengths to show how much they care for one another. A search for a missing earring, a late-night dance, and nursing one another back to health are shown with a good amount of care and concern for these characters. There may be a bigger emphasis on the comedic parts of this series, but when it wants to be heartfelt, it does so with flying colors!
The humor isn’t just squared solely with Botchan and Alice. The younger sister Viola (Inori Minase) has her fair share of laugh-out-loud moments, from her fawning over the much, much older Rob to the way she tries to teach Alice some unnecessary rules of love. (Alice plays along, solely just to mess with her.) Then there is the witch Caph (Wakana Kuramochi) and her bird-like wizard boyfriend Zain (Hiroshi Kamiya), who aid in Botchan’s quest to cure him of his curse. While both are there as helpers, it’s when they get swept up in romance things that bring some of the best slapstick style of humor.
This level of humor and endearment is captured perfectly by its voice cast. Hanae gives Botchan a tired-yet-enthusiastic personality that’s support by the hope of his curse being broken one day. Mano is a little sultry as Alice, but it’s the right amount that can deliver a strong punchline or a much-needed dose of kindhearted words. Kuramochi & Kamiya work off each other as Caph & Zain, with the chemistry of a strong sitcom couple. Minase gets both the bratty and coy parts of Viola down, especially when swooned by Otsuka’s stern-yet-gentle performance as Rob.
Composed by Gen Okuda and Takeshi Watanabe, the soundtrack is a mixture of beautiful classical pieces and lively jazz numbers. These songs fit the old-time setting well, adding both another level of emotion to the scenes at hand. The more classical pieces boost up the romantic elements, whereas the jazzy ones do a great job supporting the show’s impeccable comedic timing. Hanae and Mano took to task the opening theme “Mangetsu to Silhouette no Yoru”, perfectly encapsulating their characters emotions. Mano helms the end theme “Nocturne” solo, and while it doesn’t fit with the show’s setting, it’s still a rather good pop/R&B number.
Alas, this does lead to the elephant in the room: its animation. While this is a far cry better than J.C.Staff’s adaptation of Hi-Score Girl, it’s still a rather shaky in parts. Characters can move rather stiffly, with the quality being under par with even some of the amateur CG animation I’ve seen pop up in my YouTube feed. It’s not terrible, but you know it could be a lot better, as we’ve seen Japanese studios like Orange (BEASTARS) and even Square-Enix show how to make beautiful computer animation.
Despite this hiccup, The Duke of Death and His Maid still finds a way to make it a must-watch rom-com. The love Botchan and Alice have for one another is both sweet and funny, and the lengths they go to be together demonstrates the strength their hearts have. Whether or not that curse is broken remains to be seen, but what’s been showcased thus far makes this anime worth sticking around for. Even if it’s not the best-looking anime this Summer 2021 season, The Duke of Death and His Maid is certainly one of the best-written, bar none!
Final Grade (not an average):
The Duke of Death and His Maid can be viewed on Funimation, and has been licensed by Funimation. Episodes 1-7 were observed for this review. Promotional consideration provided by Funimation.