Andrew Osmond finds Satan in a burger bar
There are two ways to see the comedy anime The Devil is a Part-Timer. The set-up of the show is that “Dark Lord Satan,” the evil overlord of a magic parallel world, is defeated in an epic battle and flees randomly through the multiverse to Tokyo. Here, he finds himself on the level of an ordinary human, and must do ordinary things in order to survive. That includes earning money however he can, even by taking a part time job shovelling chips at MgRonald (sic).
There’s a long fantasy tradition of imagining what would happen if our gods and demi-gods tried living mundane lives in ‘our’ world. Examples include Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods and the Brad Pitt film oddity Meet Joe Black. More recently, the female manga artist Hikaru Nakamura, known for Arakawa Under the Bridge, took the idea to extremes in Saint Young Men. Here, Jesus and Buddha are shown rooming together in a Tokyo apartment, very much as Satan and others from his world do in Devil is a Part Timer.
But Devil can be viewed another way as well. While magic is clearly real in the show’s world, with big super-battles on the streets of Tokyo, a lot of the series is about Satan – who renames himself Sadao – just getting on with what many of us face. That’s to say, things like keeping a menial, high-pressure job; living on an absurdly tight budget; and starting to forget the fantastical dreams which once seemed so exciting. In that sense, the show is a comment on real life, on the way we’re pressured to give up childish things – like, say, becoming an Evil Dark Lord of the world – and focus on the adult world of work.
The joke’s extended when Satan’s otherworld nemesis, the heroine Emilia, pursues him to Earth, determined to end him for all time. The snag is that Emilia’s earthly hours are consumed by her phone customer service job, so that finding time to fight evil is a tougher challenge than a fantasy quest! Indeed, Emilia has absorbed a conservative work ethic. When she’s not berating Satan/Sadao for the terrible things he did as Dark Lord, she disparages him for being a part-timer, calling him a “freeter.” That’s modern Japanese slang for an underachiever who’s only semi-employed. Satan, though, counters that MgRonalds has upward mobility, to full-time employment and world domination…
Not that the world in Devil is a Part Timer world is quite the same as ours. Befitting an anime rooted in ‘mundane’ urban Japan, the show is awash in fake, copyright-avoiding names which are still clearly recognisable. Some are groaners to Westerners, others less so. There’s MgRonald and Sentucky Fried Chicken, as well as Moonbucks and Unislo. Less obvious names to foreigners include Docodemo (for Docemo, Japan’s biggest mobile phone provider) and Book-on (for Book-off, a chain of vast second-hand stores, selling books and much else). We expect most people reading this can work out what the ‘Bocky’ sweet is…
The show’s based on a set of a light novels (by Satoshi Wagahara), and animated by the rising White Fox Studio, which also made Steins;Gate and Jormangund.
The Devil is a Part-Timer is out on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.