The Duke of Death and His Maid startled me in a good way. What I had expected to be more tedious and drawn out turned out to be one of the more wholesome and interesting romances I’ve seen in a while. The Duke of Death is a fairly melancholy tale about two people who truly want to be together, but they can’t yet, in contrast to other shows that employ the concept of tease to prolong an uninteresting affair. The Duke claimed at the conclusion of the episode that he would break his curse not only to be with the love of his life, but also because the friends he made had given him a sense of self-assurance. It was uplifting, and it’s wonderful to see that what was a tremendous buildup in season one has settled into the status quo in season two. By all accounts, Alice and the Duke are a couple that everyone accepts. Although it still contains some of the humorous teasing from season one, it feels more formulaic and upbeat. So what happens when the series’ big romantic arcs have largely been resolved? We can now focus on other things since we have time!
When the Duke was a youngster, a mystery witch cursed him. Who was she, and why was he cursed in the first place? Can the curse be lifted, or do the circumstances surrounding it require investigation? The curse is a recurring theme in the series, but unlike season one, where it was primarily used to make the romance between our leads more tragic, here the quest to end the curse serves as a catalyst for other plot points rather than serving as a standalone resolution. Almost every character exchange in season two involves the curse.
For instance, dialogues might allude at a solution to the curse at first, but the following episodes might concentrate on how that solution involves other characters who would later have their own arcs. The arc then comes to an end, and we must look into a different lead. Again, even while practically everything introduced eventually links into the primary story point of the Duke’s curse, it’s done in such a tangential way that you could theoretically wipe out a significant portion of these plot strands from the series without changing the general narrative trajectory of the program. In many respects, it reads like filler or an excuse to give other characters more time on screen while our main couple’s affairs are put on wait. The Duke of Death’s second season devotes about two-thirds of its time to secondary characters, but I’m used to shows giving them one or two episodes each to allow for some character development. There isn’t really anything wrong with this strategy. Nevertheless, it occasionally gives the impression that the show is dragging its feet, especially because every other episode includes a strong portion that also concentrates on unexpected, out-of-the-blue jokes (sure, let’s spend ten minutes conversing with a genie straight out of Aladdin and then never bring it up again). These jokes are funny, but they offer nothing and distract from the show’s main plot.
All of stuff is useless. Other dramatic story elements, like the mother-related mystery, can be said to be dormant. Her mother’s situation was significantly hinted at in the close of season one, and it is brought up again here in season two, albeit it doesn’t carry any dramatic weight. It served only to connect Alice’s background to the Duke’s curse because it is strongly hinted that the two are related. Although I can see what the story is trying to accomplish, I would argue that it is not required, especially when the two already have emotional ties to one another. The biggest issue with season two is likely that sense of needless dramatic tension.
As a result, the side characters wind up being the best part. If it weren’t for how effectively their character interactions were handled, I would be criticizing this choice much more harshly. Our primary couples’ connection reflects the development of the wider group, much like how the Duke’s curse dominates the narrative story elements. The Duke’s brother Walter is beginning to connect with others who understand his struggle as the second-born son in an aristocratic family, the main antagonist realizes that she too deserves a happier life than what she was given, and we even get one-off quirky characters who manage to express love in their own unique way. These are just a few of the many interesting and heartwarming characters in the story. In a similar vein to how the Duke discovered in season one that he doesn’t have to be alone despite his curse, it is sweet and makes many of the characters seem more like grownups gradually discovering they are permitted to find pleasure in this world.
The Duke of Death has always been amazing at fusing that notion of idealized whimsy with a subdued undercurrent of melancholy. Characters learn they can be joyful despite the tragic situations around them in this story. The anime OST, which has a very Alice in Wonderland vibe and some scary strings accompanied by a very delicate yet atmospheric tone, perfectly captures this. A conscious decision, in my opinion, was made to show that everyone is gradually moving away from their darker backgrounds into a world that feels brighter than what we had before. That said, I will admit that there are more tracks here that concentrate on the more silly and spontaneous moments of our characters rather than the dark, ominous ones. The plethora of insert songs sung by the series’ characters is another item that illustrates this. Although I won’t go so far as to label the anime a musical, the increase in insert songs makes me happy. When the series is released on home video, I hope the songs are dubbed.
Speaking of the dub, it’s still good, with our two stars, Kristin McGuire and Clifford Chapin, continuing to be a standout. They retain a lot of their first season’s chemistry. Although the voice acting is still wonderfully expressive in both languages, the animation doesn’t seem to have justified itself as much as it did in season one. The majority of the primary cast is created using 3D models, while 2D drawings are used for background characters and components. I didn’t mind it in season one because there were still lots of opportunities for the CG to be really expressive, but I can’t say the same for this season. To the contrary, I saw a lot more startling animation scenes where the 2D and 3D collided. Although it wasn’t bad, it frequently crossed the line into distraction.
There is obviously much more story to tell now that a third season has been confirmed because many important issues are still open. It’s nice that there will be a season three announcement because season two concludes less definitively than season one. Overall, season two feels less like a stand-alone season and more like a transitional period. As the narrative concentrated on establishing everything surrounding the Duke’s curse and our famous couples, the narrative’s growth and important plot aspects didn’t receive as much attention as I believe they should have. This didn’t cause the tempo to lag at all, especially when things are only distantly connected in, but it did result in many secondary characters receiving great focus and experiencing really tender moments that felt earned. I believe you could have completed the season two main story in half the episodes. However, since that most people are approximately on the same page as our major characters, I’m interested in watching how season three resolves its important issues. Even though it’s just moving in one way, it’s still in the right direction.