When it comes to ecchi anime, the characters all need to be having fun. Although I dislike ecchi, even I know this. Too often the genre falls into exploitation, and female characters yelling “no” all the time. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord avoids this for the most part, but it goes too far in other ways. Whenever I watch an ecchi I ask myself why. Well, as a reviewer and writer, I make it a habit to watch anime I dislike, if only a few episodes. Most of the time, I’m numb to anime’s…er…animeisms, but How Not to Summon made my eyebrows lift with how far it goes.
When the show gets away from the ecchi nonsense, I rather enjoyed it. The characters had great chemistry, and despite being an isekai, the story had some interesting themes. Diablo, the overpowered protagonist, is hamstrung by his extreme social anxiety. He can only function by role playing as his demon lord video game persona. It creates rather funny social faux pas, but it also touches on how difficult social interactions can be. As an introvert who has controlled social anxiety (people don’t know I struggle with it), I sympathized with Diablo.
Diablo avoids the meathead problem most shonen characters have. He’s calculating instead of impulsive. He knows the attraction Rem and Shera, the main female characters, have for him. I mean, how could he not? They sleep in lingerie with him whenever they can and otherwise try to entice him. I found his intelligence and self-awareness refreshing.
Rem and Shera are the main female members of Diablo’s harem. Unlike many harem mates, they share a genuine friendship and don’t mind, uh, sharing Diablo. In a small defense, polygamy isn’t unusual in the anime’s world. In fact, if Diablo existed–powers and all–in our history, he would likely have a large harem. It was normal for powerful men (and more rarely, powerful women) to have multiple mates.
But back to Rem and Shera. Rem has a past that proves key to the plot, which is an interesting departure from most stories. Usually the smaller breasted character plays support to the more buxom girl. Both girls drive the story forward, taking Diablo along for the ride. In most isekai, the protagonist pushes their agenda through their overpowered status. In this one, Diablo plays a more passive, reactive role. Rem and Shera assert themselves, not just sexually, while still remaining vulnerable. Compared to most harem fantasy projections, these two come off as strong and with their own unique personalities.
I found myself liking Rem the most. Which brings me to how far How Not to Summon a Demon Lord goes. Some spoilers ahead.
First, How Not to Summon plays fast and loose at times with consent. Namely with Diablo but also with some of the women too. Ecchi always plays up a guy’s refusal for laughs. After all, every guy would kill for the chance to be with girls like these right? (Answer: no) Of course, the genre also does the same for girls. “No, don’t touch me there” translates to “Yes, touch me, but I can’t admit that I like it.” It sets a poor idea for consent for both guys and girls. Yes, it’s supposed to be all in fun, but it can send messages that confuse people at the very least. It is quite an issue for ecchi in general.
Of course, the anime falls quite uncomfortably into lolicon areas. Rem might be considered a loli with her small physique, but with her behavior she never comes off as underage. Klem–the demon lord the villains are trying to summon–does. While supposedly centuries old, Klem comes off as a child and looks like a child. Scenes with her in skimpy outfits made me cringe. To be blunt, I found it unacceptable. It is one thing to have a grown woman with a slight physique. I know many women my age who look extremely young, but their behavior sets you straight quickly. But it is entirely another to have a character be a child in all regards except for the bumper sticker stating “she’s really 1,000 years old.” It is no wonder so many people consider anime a pedophile’s escape.
Speaking of Klem, her summon, or rather birth, gets uncomfortable. Diablo has to put his immense magic power (wink wink) into Rem’s womb. Klem is sealed in that area. Well, to get close enough to the seals to break it, Diablo has to insert his finger into Rem. She consents (although she doesn’t have a real choice)–and the anime makes a show of her enjoying it–but wow. Just wow.
My thoughts as I watched the scene:
Me: Well, they aren’t veiling much with their innuendo.
Anime: “You need to get closer to the seal. Her stomach isn’t close enough. But there is a hole that is closer….”
Me: *eyebrows raising* They aren’t going that far are they?
Rem: “I am okay with you doing it, Diablo.”
Diablo: *freaks out but inserts finger*
I’ll give the anime credit: I didn’t expect it to go there. It was, uh, certainly a twist. At least it did somewhat handle Rem’s consent, and by that episode she and Diablo had a close relationship. Arguably, their relationship was closer than Diablo and Shera. So it wasn’t like it was a complete violation. Voyeuristic and uncomfortable, yes. But it wasn’t molestation like an earlier scene with a drunk Diablo and the female guild master. But the scene still felt icky.
When How Not to Summon a Demon Lord drops its ecchi elements, it has an interesting world and cast of characters. But when it drops into the elements, it only hurts itself. Rem, Shera, and Diablo are fun to spend time with, when they have their clothes on. Perhaps if the story took its time and built up their relationships first, I might’ve been okay with the tired sleep-together ecchi scenes. But, honestly, ecchi isn’t for me. The antics are too contrived. Now certainly some relationships can play that way, but it takes time to get to that point. Of course, I’m also against modern hook up culture (I’m an old school Christian in my values–no sex until marriage and the like), so perhaps ecchi has more realism than I realize.
But on the whole, How Not to Summon a Demon Lord is a mixed bag. I enjoyed it most of the time, but I found the ecchi elements annoying and detracting from the story.