The Duke and His Black Maid Anime Review
I saw this show’s poster a few months back and just passed by it after reading the plot. The plot just didn’t scream interesting. It didn’t help that it was listed under the fantasy, comedy, romance, and supernatural genre where there were far more options to choose from that had better premise. The Duke and His Black Maid was surprisingly pleasant to watch.
If you’re looking for fast paced action and high stakes tension building, this anime isn’t for you. It does have its moments of mystery but the show’s strength is showing believable characters inside the supernatural circumstances they are surrounded with. And I’m glad I came back to check on the pilot episode which subsequently ended up me making this review.
Note: Spoilers ahead.
At the age of 5, the Duke was cursed by a witch with a death’s touch. Any living thing he touches dies. This made his mother shun him and sent him to live in their mansion within the forest. In his involuntary exile, still yearns to find an end to the curse and return to his family. He lives with Rob, his butler and black maid, Alice, a child of the head maid of their family. Alice came on her own volition to serve the Duke two years after he was sent to live in the old mansion for reasons unknown to the Duke. The Duke’s peaceful days have been mixed with episodic chaos since then. The seductive Alice continues to tease the Duke finding amusement from his reactions. The Duke’s hope to return to his old normal life and his feelings for Alice brings him resolve to break the curse.
Love or hate the plot of the show but the pilot episode’s execution to what it’s all about was done right. The first episode established what the character’s will be like, the conflict of the main plot, and their motivations to propel the show to move forward from a story-telling point of view. And even when it was done right I’m sure there’s still going to be people out there that think it doesn’t deserve to be a hit. Some like traditional art while some like waifu posters on their wall but both are their own art connoisseurs.
This show is a classic beauty and the beast tale except the Duke is your standard confidence lacking protagonist that does a believable self-doubt and depressing monologue.
Right off the start of the show, the Duke and Alice’s relationship was made clear about how open they are attracted to one another. But this is often undermined by Alice’s reserved demeanor and Duke’s lack of confidence at being romantic. What I like about this setup is removing one of the most frustrating parts I find whenever romance is involved between characters in an anime. Ok, you two like each other now why spend several episodes dragging the show when things can move forward for the better?
I maybe a bit too hard on this part because the chase can be just as entertaining as the time these two hit it off. But Duke admitting his feelings for Alice and Alice reciprocating those right from the start already is a tell that these two are more mature than what the show frames them to be on the surface.
The Duke and Alice have a dynamic of virgin boy meets seductive onee-san on the surface. I didn’t have a lot of expectations for the show’s characters but I’m glad I stuck around long enough to finish the pilot episode. I know a lot of Alice’s looks and demeanor plays a part for the fan service and Duke’s reaction serves as a comedic relief. But this routine can become bland especially after watching a lot of shows that play the trope over and over again.
The saving grace of the show is the underlying tension built by subplots surrounding character motivation. Beyond the superficial humor that gets thrown around, the show can get you completely off guard on times when it does want to play serious. This is exemplified by the Duke’s concerns about acceptance, his future, his threat to those around him, isolation, uncertainty and all the burdens of constant rejection from the world outside his small social circle.
The Duke is in a state between prolonged bargaining and depression. And whenever we get a piece of his self-doubt monologue, I can’t help but appreciate how real those concerns are to what any person likely be thinking in his shoes. We can’t relate having a death’s touch but we can relate in some sense of social rejection, doubt, and moments of self-isolation we have no control. It even comes more of a surprise that he can still be who he is for more than a decade since he was cursed. I wouldn’t be surprised if we met a Duke that lived in spite, self-loathing, and hate for everyone else around him.
This is the part of Duke’s character that I find as a plot armor.
Alice’s motivations are always a constant mystery and she knows how to play her cards well. I find her character well written that given enough screen time, she can just be as good as the protagonist of the show. She has her own backstory that plays an equal weight to the Duke’s struggles.
Alice’s presence throughout the show commands a lot of attention because of how she carries herself. Despite her constant teasing to the Duke and their wholesome exchanges, she is still remains as a wholesome enigma. At times she would be a caring big sister, a supportive friend, and motherly towards the Duke, she could do all these things while keeping a poker face and feint smile.
This is what I like about the show’s way of story-telling. The characters can feel real and relatable but still leaves some mysteries for the audience to guess.
The animation has been one of the best I’ve seen blending 2D and 3D together. Now I know a lot of anime consumers out there belong to the naysayers of 3D mixed with 2D in an anime. There are good reasons from several bad examples out there like the Berserk movies. I think there’s only a few examples of good shows blending the two together. One of the staple examples I got is the Fate Stay Night series where subtle 3D animations are thrown with good synergy.
3D animations on top of 2D or vice versa is a tough order to pull through because mastering one requires years learning and even more with combining. Inexperience animators in blending the two would have glaring results especially if they were producing an action packed genre where fluid motion has to be in sync.
The Duke and His Black Maid doesn’t suffer the burden of having too many awkward movements. I could think of two major factors why. The first would be their character designs and environment. If you look at the color palette used for the characters and the background, there is strong contrast in colors but at the same time it’s not so overbearing that they just fit out of place visually with the scene. Black in a lighter background just stands out. If you look closely at the prolonged moments of dialogue where there is less movements, the characters can appear flat like how 2D animation would be.
This isn’t an action packed show. Characters moving a lot means reminding viewers visually that these are 3D models moving against a 2D background. The chill atmosphere and use of different camera angles helps prevent scenes being stagnant.
I'm not really fond of the opening theme for this show but the ending theme just struck the right chords especially the lyrics.
I recommend watching the show for the simplicity and wholesome atmosphere it offers with a 3.5 to 3.75/5 rating. There are still some dull moments such as overused tropes but I’m sure I’m not the only audience this show tried to cater.
If you made it this far reading, thank you for your time.