by Satoshi Wagahara
I promised myself I would shelve the books I had left out on my last A-Z run before starting on “A” again. I lied. (Though I did finally shelve them, and I’m only up to “D”.) But then, the whole point of this project was to read the hundreds of books I had accumulated over the years but not yet read.
So, having plucked this book to read before I go on to my L.P. Davies novel—that’s another kind of lie.
On the other hand, these are called “light novels” for a reason. Despite clocking in at 240 pages, the pages are dialog-heavy and it was no strain to breeze through this in a couple days. So, it’s minor sin, or perhaps a little white lie. But it’s also a breeze because it’s cute and funny, and a nice little send-up of a lot of popular Japanese tropes.
Last year, to try to connect with “the younger generation” (my kids, really), I started watching some anime on their recommendation. My previous attempts at watching anime (going back to before they were born) had been a decidedly mixed bag, as Japanese tropes can seem as dumb to Westerners as I imagine Western tropes seem to the Japanese. But with my kids making suggestions, I had found some series to watch that were quite good. (Doubly challenging, as I find TV series increasingly hard to bear.)
But I saw this whimsical show titled “The Devil is a Part Timer” and watched it, and then turned them on to it. And it became something we all enjoyed for a variety of reasons.
The typical story of this type has a super-powered teen learning how to control his or her powers at a school in preparation for some horrible situation that exists, or is about to arise. Being teens (and more importantly, being aimed at a teen audience) this means that teen angst and melodrama is given a backdrop of epic magnitude.
TDIAPT, on the other hand, begins at the end of an epic battle, when a defeated Satan flees to earth to escape The Hero, and finds himself a powerless human teen, struggling to make ends meet with his sole minion, and being pursued by the Hero, similarly reduced in condition.
It’s not really a “fish out of water” scenario in the usual sense of humor coming from people misunderstanding the little things that are common knowledge in modern life; our other-worldly characters seem to have a good grasp on the events and trends of the day. But where a more typical anime might have an existential struggle punctuated with melodrama on the level of who takes whom to the prom, TDIAPT imposes the epic drama of its back story on the banalities of everyday life.
So, instead of two warrioresses fighting for their lives against some kaiju (giant monster) and one suddenly crying out “Why wouldn’t you let me borrow that dress?”—and I swear I’ve seen something very much like this—the Devil will celebrate the $1/hour raise he gets as taking him another step toward full-time employment which is just another stepping stone to conquer the world!
The bombast coming from such events as making the rent, buying a refrigerator, or the betrayal when the demon’s general discovers that he has been sneaking out to the occasional movie—which occurs when they are locked in an epic, existential battle, come to think of it—provides a lot of laughs.
But one of the other reasons it’s so popular around here is that the Devil loves his job, and does it very well, much to the surprise of those who know him. My son, on viewing the series, said it had given him a new perspective on employment. If the Devil can work a job like MgRonald’s with enthusiasm and see his path to world domination from it, my son figured he could, too. He’s highly technically skilled, so he doesn’t have to, but it’s always a good thing to remember that honest work is honest work, and there’s no shame in it.
It’s not a bad reminder for anyone.
The series hews to the book remarkably closely, making some condensations and allowances for things, but that should tell you again how “light” this is: The 240 pages are effectively shrunk into about six episodes, or about 144 minutes, from the Devil’s arrival in Japan to the big reveal of Things Aren’t Quite What They Seem Back Home in episode six.
A few jokes have been added to the series that are not in the book, and some exposition—things that make you shrug and say “Huh…well, that’s anime for ya” in the series—is provided so that the book actually makes a whole lot more sense, conventionally, then the series. There’s also a little more insight into the Devil’s (and Hero’s) psychology, which is somewhat murky in the series. It’s clearer that his plans for world domination are sincere, but not all that menacing.
Anyway, I did enjoy it. And I can see why all these Japanese kids (in anime and movies) have bookshelves full of these light novels. You could literally read all eighteen books in the series in a month, I’m guessing, without breaking a sweat.
On re-read, it’s not as “unwritten” as I recalled, and there is a kind of meticulousness to the plotting. It’s not (at least in its English translation) something you’d read for the density of its craftsmanship, though. I re-read it as a prelude to reading volume 2.