By Utako Yukihiro and Madoka Takadono. Released in Japan as “Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist” by Ichijinsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Comic Zero Sum. Released in North America by Seven Seas.
It’s timely that Dictatorial Grimoire has just ended, because this series has a very similar feel to it. A young, somewhat serious man discovers that he has a larger role to play in the supernatural, and is attended by a somewhat smug older man who can explain the plot to him. The man in this case is William Twining, whose family business (I’m guessing tea, from the name) has just collapsed, leaving him struggling to figure out how to stay at his expensive English public school. Luckily, he stumbles across a magic circle that summons a Duke of Hell, which is having a bit of a succession crisis.
This is the sort of series that lies of dies by its protagonist, and luckily Devils and realist has a protagonist who is up to the job. William Twining is the Number One Reason to read this manga, as his humorless bullheaded approach to life is alternately his one saving grace and also completely hilarious. We sympathize with his inability to immediately accept that such things as Dukes of Hell and Goat Butlers exist (clearly he hasn’t read enough Umineko), but as the volume goes on and more and more supernatural things and people come into play, his denial starts to drive the humor as well as the plot. He can calmly explain to his friend what’s really going on, and then immediately denounce everything he just said with cries of “SCIENCE!”. I loved him.
I am less enamored with the rest of the volume. Dantalion, the Duke of Hell in question, is a lot less interesting, though it’s good that he doesn’t have the completely invulnerable aura of smug that so many of these characters do. (It’s there, it’s just not invulnerable.) William’s friend Isaac seems to be thrown into the mix merely as contrast, as he’s a magic user and believer in all sorts of occult things (naturally, this means he gets our heroes into trouble.) And far too much of the plot relies on people explaining the machinations of Hell and its elections to William, instead of them coming naturally from the plot. Honestly, I want to go back to Hell for a bit, rather than lurking around the school.
Still, there’s a good foundation to build on here. The cast can be pleasingly snarky, particularly William. There’s clearly something going on with his one remaining servant, Kevin, which I’m sure we’ll see in future volumes. There’s also lots of BL tease for those who are inclined. I’m not sure whether I really care who ends up being the new King of Hell (the Kings seem to be the Permanent Secretaries to Lucifer’s Prime Minister), but I do very much want to see William having to decide everything and finding it incredibly annoying. And saying so. At length. A good fantasy, recommended for fans of Black Butler, Dictatorial Grimoire, and the like.