The Duke of Death and His Maid: The Best Teasing Anime Because it Isn’t a Teasing Anime

Aug 3 · 8 min read

Maybe the genre finally wore me down, but The Duke of Death and His Maid feels too good to simply be counted among the likes of Nagatoro and Uzaki-Chan.

“if these are pot cookies again, I swear to god…”

This article is a part of AniTAY’s Summer 2021 Early Impressions series, where our authors offer their initial thoughts on the new, prominent, and exciting anime from this season!

Despite being a fan of good anime comedies and romances, I hesitate to call myself a fan of anime romantic comedies, because I struggle to name even five or so series that fall into that genre that I genuinely like. I’m lukewarm on Kaguya-Sama (and prefer the dub to the sub to boot), and the one I recommend when prompted is Boarding School Juliet, which is practically a cult classic at this point due to still being trapped on Amazon Prime. Horimiya was fine and dandy, and shows like Fruits Basket and My Youth Romantic Comedy SNAFU both evolve into drama series despite its lighthearted start. As for genuine rom-coms? That’s a tricky area for me. So what is it about The Duke of Death and His Maid that grabbed my attention?

Well… at first, it was because of its animation. While I am (it feels like) more forgiving towards CG anime than most people, don’t let that give you the impression that I give CG shows a free pass. In this season alone, we have Duke of Death, Beastars’ second season, D_Cide Traumerei, and Night Head 2041, and Beastars is the only one I’d say is legitimately good looking. While studio Orange is still killing it, the team at JC Staff working on Duke of Death have put in some surprising effort into making it stand out upon closer inspection. The character models are simple and don’t fall into an uncanny valley of “CG that wants to look like traditional 2D but can’t look like traditional 2D,” some tricks from Orange are implemented here like some background characters being drawn in old-school 2D, and there are even some smart aesthetic choices such as every background having a filter that makes the whole show look like a vibrant canvas painting. There’s real thought and care put into this show, which is to be expected from the same studio and director who produced Hi Score Girl.

This kind of stuff only really happens in the first episode, honest

However, I can hear the niggle that still hangs over this show: “isn’t this a teasing anime?” While this subsect of anime rom-coms doesn’t quite have a proper name, I’ve borrowed the moniker from 2018’s Teasing Master Takagi-san, which focused on two middle school students and how the girl in the relationship teased the boy by pulling pranks and jokes on him. It wasn’t a bad show — it simply wasn’t my thing — but what I have noticed is that in the years since, other series have emulated its style. Last year’s Uzaki-Chan Wants to Hang Out had a similar dynamic but in a college setting (and an annoying mangaka who killed my interest in seeing if the show improved), and this year’s Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, a show which has gained popularity but started out under scrutiny due to its early episodes being a bit mean-spirited. While I am interested in a series where the woman in the relationship takes the sort of lead men usually do, these shows have done nothing for me since they still fall into the unattractive and often-harmful narrative of “if they’re annoying/mean to you, it means they like you.” Even if the roles are switched, they’re still problematic.

Which brings us to The Duke of Death and His Maid, which claws its way out of the teasing hole by showing potential to be something akin to (and I’m being serious here) Fruits Basket. Duke of Death takes place in a fantasy world where magic exists, but the show mostly plays out mostly like a slice of life show, centering on two main characters: the titular Duke and his maid Alice Lendrott. The two (along with the seasoned butler Rob) live in a large mansion far away from the Duke’s family and the rest of the townsfolk due to the Duke’s condition: he has been cursed by a witch to kill anything he touches (from plantlife to animals to people). The Duke is effectively banished to the empty estate, and only Alice and Rob volunteer to take care of him, even though his family has started making moves to cut him out from inheriting his wealth because of the curse. After scaring off people who know about his affliction, and his own personal wish to not cause harm or trouble to others, the Duke has nearly become a hermit.

But not a complete hermit, mind you, thanks to Alice electing to care for him. Despite knowing the danger, and everyone’s wishes against her doing so, she decides to stay with the Duke (who has been a friend of hers for years) and serve as his maid, cooking, cleaning, and keeping him company… even though said company often annoys him. That aspect is the one issue I will address, as the series does start out on Alice inviting the Duke to have a better look at her chest and legs, despite the Duke asking her to cut it out, calling it “sexual harassment.” Now, this would normally annoy me, but Duke of Death quickly won me over thanks to a variety of small factors that coalesce into something great. For starters, Alice doesn’t have an infamous “smug face” like Nagatoro’s or Uzaki; she doesn’t give the impression that she’s getting much enjoyment when she messes with the Duke. Also, the show’s tone is rather restrained, with a simple soundtrack to make it clear that we shouldn’t find too much enjoyment in her antics either (it might get a smile out of me, but it’s not a killer joke, and the show knows this). Finally, there’s the whole dynamic between the two: not only do these kinds of jokes quickly go away, but the relationship between Alice and the Duke opens up quickly as well.

This scene, you guys

The scene that really got my attention was in the second episode, where the Duke and Alice (at his suggestion) try to ballroom dance. They both know he can’t touch her, but they try to make it work as best they can. The scenario, with the cinematography and music that plays over it is simple, but so well done that it genuinely took me by surprise. On top of that, the scene right after has Alice say out loud that she does indeed like the Duke after he asks her what she thinks of him. The next episode, he reveals that the feeling is mutual; this show, just three episodes in, has both the leads reveal how they each feel to one another, which in anime romance is a speedrun. That part though is what appeals to me in shows like Boarding School Juliet: not the build up towards two characters revealing how they feel to each other but the story afterwards where we follow the two as they try to make their relationship work and the quieter moments where they just enjoy each other’s company. This isn’t technically the prettiest anime of the season, but is one of the most beautiful in a way I wish we saw more often.

While the dynamic between the two leads is the foundation of The Duke of Death and His Maid, I also have to highlight the show’s setting, which features magic that doesn’t draw attention to itself, instead relying on intrigue and subtle worldbuilding. Why the Duke had a curse placed on him, the growing mystery behind Alice’s heritage, what role do witches play in the world (and society’s attitude towards them, which has become increasingly hostile apparently). Lastly, the show’s supporting cast is pretty good too, either through encounters with the Duke or Alice that elicit character growth from them, reveal past events, or simply throw another wrench in the works to cause some good comedic moments. The cast does start out pretty slim, but each episode has introduced people at a steady rate, so seeing who will come in later is another aspect that’s keeping me invested. And with every character having top notch voice acting and direction, I wouldn’t say that this is a series in dire need of a dub; the sub really is that good.

The Duke of Death and His Maid is far, far from being the heaviest hitter of the season. Among Vanitas, Sonny Boy, and Remake Our Life, this is yet another season packed to the gills with shows demanding your attention. There’s other stuff that’s prettier, that wants to go deeper, that maybe even have premises that sound much more interesting than a light-fantasy romantic comedy. But Duke of Death is one of the more wonderful surprises of the year so far — the more I’ve stayed with it, the more it has rewarded me, being a show that’s not just pleasant, but quite possibly my favorite JC Staff show in years. And for a studio that’s pumped out nine shows this year so far, that’s no mean feat.

“please give the show- er I mean me, a chance? Pretty please?”

The Duke of Death and His Maid
Based on the manga of the same name by:
Koharu Inoue
Directed by: Yoshiki Yamakawa (Hi Score Girl, Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Season 1)
Written by: Hideki Shirane (Hayate The Combat Butler, Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?)
Produced by: JC Staff (Is It Wrong to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?, Planet With)
Streaming on: Funimation
Episodes watched: 5

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