How Not to Summon a Demon Lord; or, how not to make a parody

Where do I even start with this? Hmmm… how about the title? When I was browsing through summer seasonal shows on MyAnimeList, my eyes glanced across the word “dorei.”

Slave.

I stopped. Oh my god, what is this about? My cursor felt drawn to the word. I had to click it.

MyAnimeList gives the original Japanese as 異世界魔王と召喚少女の奴隷魔術 or, for those of us still stuck somewhere on the mid-hundreds kanji plateau, Isekai Maou to Shoukan Shoujo no Dorei Majutsu. An English translator offers the very generous suggestion How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. A fine title for a comedy, but given the original Japanese, maybe not quite right. Let’s work through this word-by-word, shall we?

  • Isekai: different world, nowadays usually a genre label for fiction with a fantasy or MMO game setting
  • Maou: demon king, standard isekai stuff
  • to: particle, here meaning “and” or “with”
  • Shoukan: summoning, more isekai nonsense
  • Shoujo: young girl, an anime staple
  • no: particle, indicating possession or a noun used as a modifier
  • Dorei: slave
  • Majutsu: magic, part-and-parcel with fantasy isekai

Alright, the title seems decent enough. The translator made a stylistic decision to use the common English frame “How not to ~ .” That’s clever enough to hint at satirical elements in the show. Isekai is probably too clunky for a snappy title… Maou as demon lord is on point… summoning, alright check… shoujo, young girl, not in the title but perhaps removed for the sake of fluency… dorei majutsu, slave magic… Wait, what? Slave Magic? Oh my god, what is this about? How could a translator ignore that?

Because How Not to Summon a Demon Lord sounds so inoffensive as to not bat an eyelid, hopefully I can provide a more literal but less marketable English title: The Isekai Demon King and the Summoner Girls’ Slave Magic. Oh my god, what is this about?

MyAnimeList provides this helpful synopsis, likely from an awkward translation of some Japanese marketing materials (I laughed out loud at “There, there are…”):

In regards to the MMORPG Cross Reverie, Sakamoto Takuma boasted an overwhelming strength that was enough for him to be called the Demon King by the other players. One day, he gets summoned to another world with his appearance in the game. There, there are two people that insist “I am the real summon master.” Takuma gets slave-turning magic used for summoned beasts cast on him by the girls― However, the peculiar ability “Magic Reflection” is invoked! The ones that were turned to slaves were the girls!

Oh my God. Did I miss a hentai tag? Is this a porno? No? Oh my god… anime was a mistake.

I don’t think I can sufficiently convey my surprise at this premise. For the remainder of this article, I will call the show “Slave Magic” so that no one forgets that this show is about enslaving girls.

The main character is a “hikikomori gamer” that has lived his entire life playing solo, whether in the sandbox or in his favorite sandbox MMO. He has turned his “poor social skills” into a defining element of his personal identity: he hates happy couples in ordinary relationships and dismisses them as “normies” or “plebians” like the worst internet nerd stereotypes. Because he has an excellent “gamer intuition” and no time for the real world, he has become the strongest player in the MMORPG Cross Reverie, a game so generic that its animal-peopled fantasy setting does not even receive a name in the first episode (maybe that wall of text describing the summoning tower gave the world’s name, but no way am I reading that). The MC enters this grand new isekai when two girls simultaneously kiss him as if in a dream, because remember audience, ~it can happen to you~.

But let’s get to the girls, because no one is watching and enjoying this show out of affection for the lifeless MC. The first episode reveals approximately three girls: a yellow-hair genki elf girl, a black-hair tsundere cat girl (sorry, a panther girl), and a blue-hair mature woman, for the odd fellow that prefers that kind of thing (you know, adults). Each girl is little more than a sex object, with massive boobs that ooze out of their tight, braless blouses like water balloons (if they even have a shirt, many in the OP simply cover their nipples with a loose strip of cloth) and butts as plump and solid as basketballs.

Within five minutes, the show has already presented its two main heroines completely naked, only partially concealed by light rays that will inevitably be removed in some “uncensored” DVD or Blu Ray release. Within six minutes, both girls have clinking slave collars snapped around their necks that force them to adhere to every command from the MC. They show shockingly little concern over this predicament though: within 15 minutes, one of the girls has even fallen in love with the MC after a mock rape in which he tickled her cat ears.

The first episode tosses out some “plot” about defeating a demon soul that resides inside the cat girl for fans that want to pretend the show is more than just an ecchi harem. After all, the MC wants to save the girls! He doesn’t really want to enslave them, much like a Virginia plantation owner who writes in his will that he seeks to free his slaves at the earliest possible convenience (that being his death). Later, a boring side-plot ends with a fight scene to prove to the audience that they can expect some violence on top of their sex. Of course, the MC wipes the floor with the enemy because he is level 150 and possesses a magic-reflecting ring that would put Touma’s Imagine Breaker fist from A Certain Magical Index to shame. Then finally, the ED rolls with more naked girls (this time concealed by chains, yes, chains) again awaiting an uncensored DVD or Blu Ray release to boost sales. Game Over.

Let’s back up though. Does Slave Magic have any redeeming value? Not yet, but at least it tries. The show offers a number of winks at the audience that suggest a degree of self-awareness to elevate it above a gross cash grab. For example, the MC isn’t a simple self-insert. Instead, he is a vile incel that exudes hatred for a society that cannot fulfill his wishes. No one wants to become that person; that is the crux of the “in-” in the involuntary celibate worldview. Takuma then seems to operate more as an exaggerated parody of the typical isekai self-insert otaku, a Kirito from Sword Art Online taken to his logical and ideological extremes. Hello audience, you want to meek, pliant women? Well here, have two slaves, losers! The show isn’t as direct as that, but it at least seems conscious of the absurdity of some isekai tropes.

Slave Magic also seems to know its niche within the genre. The obvious homage to Megumin’s “Explosion” spell from Konosuba sticks out in this regard. Much like Konosuba, Slave Magic styles itself as an isekai parody (with extreme ecchi elements) rather than a bona-fide production of the genre. Of course, the problem with this comparison is that Konosuba is a much, much better parody. Konosuba works by reframing the genre’s most common tropes with a few clever twists. Aqua is a graceful goddess archetype… except she is subordinated to a man the show directly compares to human garbage (Poor Kuzuma… sorry, Kazuma). Megumin is an overpowered mage archetype… except she can only cast one spell a day. Darkness is a paladin tank archetype… except she is also a masochist that seeks out the beatings she endures.

Slave Magic seems to follow a similar parody style but unlike Konosuba, it throws any sense of decency to the wind by dialing the absurdity up to 11. Where Konosuba trapped a single woman in a fantasy world, Slave Magic enslaves two girls. Where Konosuba had an otaku protagonist, Slave Magic has a spiteful hikikomori that hates “normies.” Where Konosuba comically contrasts Megumin’s overpowered magic with Darkness’s limitless endurance, Slave Magic grants the MC both invincible power and invincible damage reflection. In a way, Slave Magic reminds me of that dumb kid playing pretend who insists that he has a mega-death-laser that never misses and always kills everyone. At some point, the kids with mere finger guns will just go home.

I think Slave Magic crosses a similar invisible boundary. Though it seems to aspire to satire, the humor is so over-the-top that it becomes the thing it seeks to parody: wish-fulfillment for young and lonely otaku. That sort of wish-fulfillment is not necessarily bad; with a just a little shame, I will admit that I’ve enjoyed pure ecchi harem shows like To Love Ru. However, the slavery angle acts like that mega-death-laser in a game of pretend. You can’t just “pretend” to enslave women given the historical suffering caused by the institution and the ongoing problem of global sex trafficking. This goes beyond playful finger guns and, intentionally or not, could promote an ideology that tolerates the literal objectivization of women. Or put more succinctly, it becomes difficult to defend the show as a harmless parody when it parades near-naked girls in slave collars across the ending song as good fun.

To offer another analogy: Slave Magic seems to recognize its genre’s sins but not its own. It lampoons some of the most annoying isekai tropes but then gleefully doubles down on the misogyny and excessive sex appeal anyway. I suppose that self-awareness is an important first step with some redeeming value because, after all, unrecognized sin cannot be corrected. But at the same time, sin is still sin and I am not sure that I am ready to forgive Slave Magic for using the enslavement of two girls as a comedy premise. Maybe the show could have worked as a successful parody with a little more tact. To return to the Konosuba example, Kazuma merely outsmarted Aqua at her own game. He did not enslave her and, after trapping her in the isekai, she retained her autonomy. But slavery, especially sexual slavery, is just a step too far. The social good from satirizing the oversaturated isekai genre cannot overcome that original sin of consorting with slavery for laughs.

“Dorei.” Oh my god, what is this about? I watched one episode, and I don’t want to find out.

[Update: I found out anyway in this final review. The show is competent, but the flippant treatment of slavery still bothers me.]

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