Good CGI does exist. And yet that’s not even close to being the best thing about this show.

This beautiful showcase of audio-visual artwork is about as good as a lightweight fantasy/rom-com combo could be. I had zero expectations going in—honestly I started watching it because I saw the video clips of Alice teasing Bocchan with her clothing—and I was overwhelmed with warm feelings by the time I finished S1. And a S2 has been announced! I will look forward to that with the greatest expectation.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters

Rating: 9

What an amazing, earth-shaking, beautiful voice!

I was not a handful of episodes in when I thought to myself, says I: “Omg, Inori Minase is being out-acted by Ayumi Mano.” That’s how great a job Mano-san was doing with Alice, the beautiful maid who loves her Bocchan.

Ayumi Mano started voice acting in 2017 in Tsuredure Children actually, a decently prominent anime with just a few characters, so she got a fair amount of screen time as Ayane Matsuura in that show. But the first place I heard her was as the overwhelming Natsumi Kyouno from the Date A Live series. I noted Natsumi more for her appearance then, but perhaps there was more to it than just that. Maybe Mano-san really did make that character more impactful than I knew at the time. Because her voice performance as Alice in Shinigami Bocchan is about as good as it gets. I could probably only bring up maybe five characters who have more memorable voice performances, and most of those are from Monogatari, which is at the pinnacle of seiyuu performances. Alice’s voice is an experience. It’s like a dream. It makes you feel things you cannot describe in words. It’s incredible, colossus, stupendous. It’s fantastic, a human joy to hear.

Whoever designed this character and decided to cast Mano-san in the role deserves an award. While Mano-san totally brings the character to life, Alice herself is really nicely designed. The strange black maid outfit, the blonde hair and blue eyes that work perfectly, the subtle mannerisms, the cool demeanor that only shakes just a tiny bit when her emotions rise very high, the piercing but calm look in her eyes, the sweet voice—omg that voice—that speaks evenly at all times, and her nearly incessant teasing of Bocchan through getting uncomfortably close to him or showing just a little bit more of her skin as she hints at other kinds of fun and amusement, she’s adorable and to die for. My heart was in melted pieces at the end of Ep12. She’s an A-plus character in a show where I mostly expected to by concerned about the CGI.

She’s such a sweetie.

I absolutely can’t neglect Bocchan either. Alice is the creme de la creme in this show by far, but then there’s this guy named Natsuki Hanae playing the Duke of Death. Another newcomer with a great voice for this show? No: he’s only the guy that plays Ken Kaneki (Tokyo Ghoul), Kousei Arima (Your Lie in April), and Tanjiro (Demon Slayer), among others. Yeah, he’s been around. Since Bocchan is usually in the same room with Alice and is there conversing with her, much of his performance is overshadowed by Ayane Mano, although he does a notably great job with the dialogue where Bocchan confesses his love to Alice, the handful of times that happens. But when he gets with other characters or is by himself, you can listen to him a lot more and you can tell he really does a good job. Especially when he gets going with Viola (Inori Minase) or those two witch clowns Zain and Caph. It’s a lot of fun to listen to him chatter with those guys. 

So yes, Inori Minase appears again. The adored VA most famous for Rem in Re:Zero puts on the slightly cutesy version of her voice again in this show as the imouto Viola. The character is a little annoying, but you cannot ever overlook that Inori Minase voice. I’m telling you, I knew there was some serious sh*t going down with the voice acting in this show when not only was Inori Minase doing a great job as usual, not only was Inori Minase doing a great job as usual and being outdone by Ayane Mano (Alice), but when those two were in the same scene together and would both talk for any length of time, and I would become ecstatic over these performances. It was an audio treat for any anime fan of any experience level. Minase-san’s clear voice demands attention, and she definitely deserves it once again here.

Wakana Karamochi is going to be good too. She plays the rather daft and flighty Caph in this show, and a memorable job she does of it. It’s not often that a completely monotone character could be remembered for their voice, but Karamochi-san makes it happen here. I say she’s going to be good: this was her first role! Welcome to the world of anime Karamochi-san! We are definitely looking forward to your upcoming roles!

All the voice actors are great in this show. The studio brought in both inexperienced and experienced actors—even Yuuma Uchida is in this show (as in Jujutsu Kaisen, Fruits Basket (2021), Banana Fish, etc.)—and they made this show great. Character design is one thing, but executing that vision and making your mark on that character as a voice actor is something entirely different. These guys and girls take really nice characters and make them into totally unexpected perfection. In a show where the visuals definitely were meant to be forefront in our attention, the voice acting easily competes for our focus at all times during this show. These characters are easily and forever memorable simply because of their voices. I cannot shower enough praise on these seiyuus, directors, and the studio itself for their work in this area.

Artwork

Rating: 7

Good CGI does exist!

It doesn’t happen very often in anime, but decent CGI designs actually do appear occasionally. I looked on this show with the Eye of Sus when I started watching it. CGI in anime causes me to make faces: ugly faces, recoiling in horror. I still have dark memories of Ex-Arm that dog my memory, making my anime CGI experience negative from the moment I lay eyes on such a show. But this show surprised and pleased me in this regard.

Biggest problem I have with CGI in anime: the eyes aren’t nearly as expressive. And although I’m certain the eyes in Shinigami Bocchan probably lose a little of the expressiveness they could have had under traditional animation methods, I cannot deny the beauty of some of these eyes. Or, perhaps I should simply say, of Alice’s eyes.

I did not think I’d see the day when a lead female’s CGI eyes would draw me into her soul. But Alice’s sky-blue eyes shine with life almost like nothing I’ve ever seen. They are gorgeous. And expressive! Her subtle changes in expression are totally captured by these beautiful eyes. I’ll say it again: I did not expect to see a day in anime, at least any time soon, where CGI eyes would be this expressive. And give credit to the artists and animators, they made this happen. Award time.

That being said, sometimes the eyes are afflicted with the CGI syndrome. You can’t really tell on Bocchan because his irises are so small, and generally smaller colored parts in eyes make this issue less apparent. But you can easily see the blank stare of CGI in the eyes of Viola. Her face is decently expressive (something else this anime does a decent job with in the CGI realm) but the eyes look like computerized versions of the empty eyes in those ancient clay model animations. There’s still work to be done in this realm.

So pretty.

Fanservice? It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely there. Part of Alice’s thing as a character is her regular lightly erotic teasing of Bocchan. It’s kind of sweet because you know her motives are very good—she is in love with him after all—but more than once the good ship Boob starts to get underway, mercifully always stopping just short of fully exiting the dock. As it is, I think it’s a positive overall. It gets the viewer just a bit more on edge, something this show is good at doing (see Story section below). Alice will slip her strap off her shoulder and coo innuendoes about “amusement” or “play,” and our nerves tingle just a bit. So this element works. The notorious camera angles and the clearly oversized bust that is the subject thereof is a little on the egregious side, but it’s not super noticeable either. So overall, I think the erotic elements work well enough, even from a visual perspective.

One thing the fanservice brings into play is lighting and skin tone. CGI bodies have some of the same movement issues that plague CGI eyes, aforementioned. They also tend to have a lot of sheen, something CGI either can’t or won’t ever shake off. I don’t want to say it like this, but the idea of a wet balloon comes to mind. It’s a little unsettling actually! However, once again this show deals with this fairly effectively. Alice is the only person to regularly show her skin, and it doesn’t look so CGI-ish as to make it not feel erotic. The way the lighting is treated as it shines on her works well enough, and doesn’t give me that balloon connotation. 

My overall impression of the artwork is this: the CGI is good. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I do believe this praise is warranted. This show is visually very interesting to watch (partly due to the no-touching thing, but more on that below) even though it’s all CGI. Alice is a joy to watch, making the viewer feel like he or she could really envision being there with her. I guess I should say it this way: this CGI starts to impinge on that line between the human and the non-human form, something that anime has impinged upon successfully—indeed, it is the greatest success of the anime art form—for generations now. Here in this show, we see CGI that actually gets me close to thinking “This looks very non-human and very human at the same time.” And that is what makes anime artwork great ultimately.

Story

Rating: 8

The premise is this: Bocchan is the heir of a wealthy family, but is cursed sometime during his childhood. The curse causes any living thing he touches to die. Obviously this is a problem. Even brushing against him means instant death. So he becomes isolated from his family and everyone else. His mother pushes him aside in disgust, ultimately making him live in another house on their extensive property, away from everyone else. There he becomes depressed, holing himself up in his room and raging day and night. For a time, only the faithful family butler Rob attends him there. Until Alice suddenly returns to his life.

Alice felt the kind of childlike love that often occurs in anime for Bocchan almost from the moment she met him. Her mother was an important servant at the family manor, and so Alice regularly interacted with Bocchan before his curse fell upon him. Then they were separated for some time, both by circumstance and distance. But she never forgot her young love for him. And ultimately she comes to his lonely house to serve him there. Her gentleness and persistence brings a light to Bocchan’s life once again, and he begins to emerge from his depression and love life again. All because of Alice. It’s so sweet!

It’s a clever story, even if it is pretty simple. But the thing with the curse is everything. Obviously it’s central to the story, but it does more than just that. Remember, he can’t touch anything or it will die. This plays into this anime in two ways, both of which have an immense effect on one’s viewing experience in this show.

Ooooh, here it comes boys!!!

I mentioned this show does a great job of lightly putting the viewer on edge. It’s a very lighthearted show, but it uses effective plot elements to keep our senses heightened. One way is through the light mystery surrounding the origins and possible removal of Bocchan’s curse. Another is the aforementioned fanservice, with Alice’s sexual teasing that occurs at least once per episode. This is where the curse shines as a plot element.

The whole point of erotic teasing between lovers is to entice physical attraction and—touch. And as the show progresses, you can definitely feel the tension here, because Bocchan and Alice can’t touch each other or Alice will die. Alice will get just about as close as she can, and I know I was holding my breath the whole time, envisioning this show going from a sweet fantasy romance to a tragic horror story in a single moment of carelessness. The effect was profound. I would finish an episode of this show and turn on another show, and I would see a character touch another character in that other show, and my heart would leap into my throat! Then of course I’d realize my mistake. But that’s how powerful this effect was. It’s a little thing, but it was everything to this show.

The curse as a plot device adds another element as well: it draws you into the action. I would zone out everything and my attention would become enveloped in this show whenever these near-touching scenes happened. The screen became the world around me for just a few moments. In hindsight, I think some of this was due to the combination of Alice’s alluring voice and the wonderful visuals along with the no-touching tension, but I cannot deny that the tension itself played a major role in that feeling. That’s partly why I say this show was more memorable simply because of this. It has a strong effect.

The curse hasn’t been lifted as of S1’s ending, so we have that to look forward to in S2. That definitely adds some mystery to this show, as does the inclusion of the various characters inherent to the curse. That thread hasn’t been unraveled yet, and so hopefully S2 can bring this to some resolution.

Overall: 8

I hope this is brought to a resolution at some point. I don’t think I could bear Bocchan and Alice never being able to share physical contact. It’s already pretty sad in this show, despite the lightheartedness of the series. So I hope for resolution to the curse.

Between the directing and the voice acting, this show had some super sweet scenes. The dance scene between Alice and Bocchan was heart-melting. That’s the most memorable, because of the added tension of them not being able to touch yet moving in unison in a dance. But the scenes where they’re in the bedroom together are really sweet, also somewhat for the same reason. Bocchan declaring his love for Alice in so many terms, and directly once or twice, is really nice. He just treats it as a normal matter: of course I’m in love with you, he’d probably say in an even tone! I loved that, it was so sweet.

One little thing that bugs me about certain anime is when the title in Japanese and the title in English are so different. This was released with the English title “The Duke of Death and His Maid,” whereas the Japanese title is “Shinigami Bocchan to Kuro Maid.” “Bocchan” is one of those tricky words that doesn’t really translate into English. It’s usually used in the context of a servant addressing a “young master,” but most of us have regularly heard terms like “wakasama” in that context also, and “bocchan” can be used to refer to young males in other contexts as well. We English speaking viewers will have to be content with “young master” in this case. So the Japanese title more or less translates to “Death God Young Master and the Black/Dark Maid.” Woah, that’s really different from “duke of death.” Again, “shinigami” is also a bit of a cultural word in Japanese, but still, we find this difference somewhat frustrating. As we do “dark” or “black” maid, which refers to her outfit of course here, but which both Japanese and other cultures often use to connote skin tone. So the title is a bit confusing no matter what language it’s in.

But ’tis a small quibble. I pretty much liked everything about this show and can’t wait for more of it to come out. It’s lightweight but feels intense, and the combination of those two makes for quite a unique anime experience. Add that to the magnificent voice acting display and the refreshingly decent CGI, this show is a big winner in many regards. This show tries to be a little different and it completely succeeds, and I always admire such efforts and results. I’m a big fan, and am eagerly looking forward to the next season.

Please let this finally happen in Season 2!

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