Me coming into this anime
Back near the end of January, school was back in full swing. I was kind of depressed with the way life was going and wasn't thinking straight. I was somewhere in between finishing my first playthrough of Mass Effect 2 and starting Mass Effect 3. I was pretty hooked on role-playing as my female Commander Shepard, and my grades suffered.
I almost stopped watching anime. But I wanted to start watching a new anime anyway. Something light-hearted and humorous to take my mind off my more 'serious' studies. It just so happened that Crunchyroll had just acquired Ghastly Prince Enma Burning Up . I didn't give the plot much thought at the time... something about a pint-sized Demon Patrol team who aims to keep Earth safe from Demons.
I remembered hearing about its retro-anime art style (since it is a remake of an anime from 1973) and its fan service. Sounded simple enough, so I gave it a whirl and watched the first episode. And I'm enjoying it so far. The opening should give you an idea of what the series is going for:
There is a noticeable amount of fan service and it uses familiar tropes and situations. But I think Ghastly Prince Enma is one of those anime that uses tropes in a tongue-in-cheek way. It parodies those tropes and exaggerates things to allow the audience to distance themselves from what is being shown. Sometimes this leads to laughter, other times to consternation or indifference. For me, the best case is when I'm watching an anime and I find something interesting to think about. And Ghastly Prince Enma was able to do just that! So in my books, this anime is a success so far.
Children and Playing Make-Believe/Role-playing
Basically what I found interesting about this anime is that it can be interpreted as a bunch of kids playing make-believe! You know how some children play house during recess? Others pretend to be characters from their favorite TV show. I personally pretended to be characters from Final Fantasy games as a child (good times). With that said, children are really smart. Psychologically-speaking, playing make-believe can be very important in helping children understand social roles and also improve social relationships with others.
Children are also incredibly curious, sometimes brazen and fearless. You know that one child who sticks his finger in everything? Or the other child who always says what's on his mind? Or one that always pleads, "let me seeee!" Well the thing is, they're all trying to do the same thing, learn about the world, and they're doing it the only ways the know how.
This also applies to playing make-believe or role-playing. By playing make-believe, children are basically using tropes, stereotypes and archetypes to learn about the world. Tropes can be thought of as guidelines, a brief sketch of types of people, types of events, or even things what is appropriate or inappropriate.
Meet the Demon Patrol!
So this is why I think the characters in this anime can be thought of as children playing make-believe. The whole anime revolves around the "Demon Patrol", which consists of 4 characters. Each of them have their child-like counterparts imo:
Prince Enma: A hot-headed demon prince boy who uses fire magic. He wields a staff that turns into a huge burning hammer. He is also quite the pervert. Remember that kid who always teased girls and was also kind of loud, obnoxious and troublesome? Well, that's Enma for you.
Yukiko: A pale-skinned ice princess, who is childhood friends with Enma. Although it is clear from all his teasing that Enma likes Yukiko (trying to look under her skirt and all that) Yukiko won't stand Enma's perverted antics. Often literally giving him the cold shoulder. Remember that one girl who always seemed to stand up for the trouble-maker in class (in this case Enma), but no one could really understand why she puts up with him?
Kappairu and Chappeaudie: Kappairu is a kappa spirit who acts as the group's "spy". Meanwhile Chappeaudie is a talking wizard's hat who acts as the teams intelligence on demons. However they aren't really that helpful when hunting down demons. Usually it's Enma that takes care of the Demons, with his huge fire hammer. So Kappairu and Chappeaudie are kind of like Enma's sidekicks. They are Enma's "friends" but just aren't as cool or powerful as Enma. But there is one thing the they have in common, they're perverts and wouldn't mind catching a glimpse of Yukiko naked (or other girls for that matter).
And lastly, we have Harumi, a human school girl who is technically NOT part of the Demon Patrol. But after a series of events, she is co-opted into the group to help them. Harumi acts as the archetypal stand-in for the audience, the "voice of reason". She's almost like that transfer student who is somehow pulled into a weird social circle, but ends up going with it anyway.
So who are the Demons then? Use your imagination! (that's what children do)
So I've sketched how the Demon Patrol can be though of as children playing make-believe. But then, who are all the demons they fight supposed to represent? Well, they could be anything! What is clear is that the Demons are affecting the world negatively (whatever they are). But one answer is that they might stand for adults. I don't know about you, but as a child I found some adults scarier than others. Heck, depending on how old you are, some adults can be twice your size. You may not understand they're motivations, why they get mad at you. Sometimes they do things that seem clearly unfair, other times they are very kind.
For example in episode 3 Harumi notices that her teacher Miss Chiiko has been acting differently lately. Usually she is fun-loving and enthusiastic, but recently she has been throwing temper-tantrums, going on angry rampages. Eventually with the help of the Demon Patrol, Harumi finds out that Miss Chiiko was infected by a kind of Demon virus.
Eventually they track down the demon, Enma defeats the demon and Miss Chiiko is back to normal. Enma tries to grope Miss Chiiko and Yukiko a number of times a long the way, but is unsuccessful. It seems that being a 'demon slayer' doesn't translate to getting girls to like you.
All this is to say that 'demons' are just a stand-in for what children don't understand. If you don't understand something, make things up for it! They don't know why Miss Chiiko got mad, but maybe some demon infected her! Likewise, Enma's inability to control his sexual impulses is almost like a young boy going through puberty. His hot-headed nature and naivete keep Enma from giving up. So what if Yukiko kicked him in the balls for trying to touch her? Enma is a child trying to figure out his place in the world. Playing a role like a fiery prince who hunts demons is like a way of giving himself confidence to explore the world! Sure he might get into trouble along the way and a lot of the times he might be wrong and make mistakes, but that's all part of learning.
So yeah, that's what I think of Ghastly Prince Enma. I am enjoying it more now that I realize it can be interpreted as a bunch of children playing make-believe. Initially I didn't really plan on drawing comparisons to Mass Effect or role-playing games, but it seems rather apt now. I can think of role-playing not as escapism, but as an opportunity to think about the world in a new way. A lot of the times this requires taking a step back, looking at the bigger picture.
In this blog I didn't really show any of the actual demons, or get into any of the underworld mythology. How those are portrayed could provide some commentary on the actual world as well. But on the interpretation I have presented they can be thought of as products of children's imagination. Seeing the world through the lens of a group of kids playing as the "Demon Patrol". In this way I think Ghastly Prince Enma is actually quite charming. I would recommend to anyone interested in watching it to go in with an open mind, and don't take everything so seriously. It's a parody after all.
P.S. Some miscellaneous pictures