The Duke of Death and His Maid – 04 – The Witch and the Snow Fairy

After three weeks of chiding her for getting so close to him, one day Alice is keeping her distance, seemingly avoiding Bocchan. When he tries to approach her, she Shunpos away like a Shinigami out of Bleach. But he soon deduces that she’s caught a cold and doesn’t want to give it to him.

Defying her caution, he tucks her into bed in her cottage and vows to stay by her side until she’s better. It’s a lovely inversion of their usual dynamic, with Alice seeminly capable of anything while Bocchan is weak an ineffectual.

Winter has come to Bocchan’s villa, and with it a fresh blanket of morning snow. The episode really captures the childlike glee that comes with the first sight of such a snowfall (assuming you’re not trying to drive to work that morning).

Bocchan is similarly elated to get to see Alice set against the pure white backdrop, accentuating her loveliness. The two and Rob build a snowman and have a spirited snowball fight, with Alice demonstrating she also has Matrix-like powers of evasion.

In the midst of all the wintry fun, Alice loses one of her earrings, which belonged to her mother and is thus precious and irreplaceable. By the time she realizes it’s gone it’s nighttime and snowing harder, but Bocchan goes out unbidden to dig through the snow looking for it.

The conditions quickly sap his energy, and he’s soon lying in the snow, exhausted. This is how the witch Caph finds him, and when she hears what hes doing, for whom, and why, and that he won’t give up, her initially hostile stance softens, and she decides to help him with her fire magic.

The earring thus found, Bocchan and Caph go in and the witch is introduced to Alice. A lazier or more obvious choice would be to make Alice jealous of Caph for vice versa, but the two women get along famously, and in any case, Caph apparently has her own guy friend whom she admires and adores the similar to how Bocchan and Alice adore each other.

What she doesn’t have is any concrete answers for Bocchan about his curse or how to break it, no matter how much Alice plies her with food, tea, and dessert. Caph is sympathetic to Bocchan’s plight and has even taken a shine to the guy, but she doesn’t consider herself anywhere near the league of the witch who did this to him.

Caph flies off in her bat form, but I’m sure she’ll be back. The next day while outside touching up the Bocchan snowman, Alice recalls a memory from when she was bullied by the rich kids for not being rich, even though she was adorable. Only Bocchan was kind to her, dusting the snow off of her (he could touch people at the time) and saying she looks like a beautiful snow fairy when set against the white powder.

It really brings into focus Alice’s love and devotion to Bocchan, and when he says the same thing he said back then—that she’s like a snow fairy—Alice can’t help but chortle gleefully, for her beloved Bocchan has scarcely changed in all these years. Indeed, the main change is the curse, about which hopefully something will be done before this series concludes.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 03 – A Distant Kiss

Bocchan loses a game of pool to Alice, and so cannot refuse when she asks if he’ll accompany her into town for a festival. Because many will be in costume, he’s able to wear a steel-framed suit to avoid contact with both Alice and bystanders. It’s a way for him and Alice to feel like they’re on an actual date out in the world for the first time, even if they still can’t touch.

When they become separated by the crowd, Bocchan demonstrates how despite the rumors around town about a monstrous shinigami, the actual person of whom they speak is actually a kind and gentle young man. When a lost boy clings to his coat, he cheers him up by playing a song on the piano set up in the town square.

Bocchan sheds his heavy disguise to join Alice atop the clock tower, where they gaze at the moon and she tells him the story of another couple separated by a witch’s interference. In the case of the story, the man is on the moon while the woman is on earth.

But the man could be on Pluto and the basic tragedy would be the same as Bocchan and Alice’s; they are together in their hearts, but can never actually touch as long as the curse remains in force.

One night Bocchan gets a note from Alice to meet her in her bedroom (set off from the mansion) if he has trouble sleeping. When he enters to find her brushing her hair while nude, he assumes she has naughty plans for him. In the end, however, between a calming scented candle and cammomile tea, she really was simply trying to help him sleep…though it’s clear she was also hoping he’d get the wrong idea so she could gleefully watch his reactions.

Another night, when a once-in-a-decade meteor shower is to occur, Bocchan is the one to invite Alice to an intimate boat ride on the lake. His true intention is to properly confess his feelings—as opposed to the offhanded ways he’s told her he loves her. Things go pear-shaped when the wind snatches his hat, Alice leaps into the drink to grab it, and he can neither stop her nor help her out of the water due to the curse.

When she tells him straight-up that she’d be fine dying by his kiss, he leans as close as he dares before backing off, not willing to sacrifice Alice for just that one kiss. Alice, knowing he wouldn’t do it, tips the boat so he falls in the water with her. Thankfully, the water doesn’t conduct his curse like it does electricity!

In all the excitement, they missed the meteor shower, but as they both dry off by the fire, Alice says she’ll accompany him to the next one, in ten years. Bocchan is constantly worried that he’s not properly expressing how he feels, but Alice already knows, and feels the same way about him. It’s why she’s stayed with him this long; it’s why she has every intention of being with him in a decade, curse or no curse…but hopefully no curse!

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 02 – Moonlight Waltz

The third member of Bocchan’s family, Rob, makes his first appearance, and proves to be your typical jovial, dependable old butler who might just be a bit long in the tooth for the strenuous work of maintaining a mansion. Even so, he gives it the old college try, which incidentally leaves Alice with little to do but toy with her beloved duke.

She eventually agrees to behave herself and sit quietly as Bocchan plays some of the new piano piece he’s working on, which is indeed both somber and beautiful. Alice’s rush of emotion during the piece precedes the good duke telling her he composed the piece for her; as a reward she leans in to kiss him, her lips stopping only an inch from his.

Bocchan may be relatively content with Alice and Rob, but a member of his original family does come to visit him now and again, treating it like a special service and act of welfare on her part, but visiting him nonetheless.

Viola (Minase Inori in Adorable Squeaky Mode) may not be as overtly honest as Alice about how she feels about her brother—she wants him to break the curse so he can return home—but it’s clear that unlike her mother she does care.

When a black cat appears in the mansion, Bocchan is terrified, not because he’s scared of cats but because he’s scared of killing it if it touches him. So he runs from the cat, Rob mistakes him for the cat, and Alice makes much of the fact the cat tore her dress in just such a way.

They find a note with that cat—”Forgive Me”—that Bocchan takes to mean it was abandoned, as he was. As for me, I wondered if that black cat wasn’t sent by the witch as a messenger; maybe the curse wasn’t intentional? It would explain why it was cast upon a five-year-old boy who no one had reason to curse.

The pièce de résistance of the outing is the ending, as Alice finds Bocchan in the deserted ballroom and the two dance inches from one another under the gorgeous, massive full moon, a scene lifted from a storybook. Like the music Bocchan composes, it’s sad, beautiful, and with just enough of a touch of hopefulness.

The Duke of Death and His Maid – 01 (First Impressions) – Ducal Distancing

An young duke (or Bocchan) is cursed by a witch at age five to bring death to any living thing he touches, like the Grim Reaper, AKA Death. He is shunned by his family and exiled to a villa in the woods. His only companion is Alice, the daughter of the head maid who grew up with Bocchan. There’s also a butler, he doesn’t show up in this first episode—bad back!

While everyone is scared of Bocchan and thinks him a monster, only Alice (and presumably the butler) treats him like an ordinary guy. She is absolutely fearless in how close she gets to him, and loves to toy with him by presenting her ample bust or garterbelts because of his innocent reactions.

But behind the playful and occasionally raunchy teasing, there’s genuine affection and devotion behind everything Alice says and does that has nothing to due with the fact she’s a family employee. She is happy when their old childhood friend Phillip shows up, but even when it goes predictably pear-shaped, Alice flatly refuses Philips’s offer to get her a “safer” job, while Bocchan forbids Phillip to disrespect her.

Bocchan has his issues—he’s a little traumatized during every meal due to the unpleasantness of meals with his family between getting the curse and being exiled—but a monster he is not; he really is just an ordinary young man who cannot be touched. Alice is hoping by being with him and treating him with love, kindness, and occasional sexual harassment, they can break his curse together, and he can do what it’s clear from the outset they both want: for him to put a ring on her finger.

As is typical of first episodes of new series that don’t introduce the whole cast at once, I enjoyed the elegance of following just Bocchan and Alice. Phillip and his four(!) bodyguards were a well-timed break from their routine, and while it wasn’t a fun experience, Phillip isn’t an altogether bad person, as he is capable of pitying Bocchan even as he fears his curse.

If you’re not a fan of CGI or canvas-textured backgrounds then this show will not be your visual cup of tea! I’ll admit the characters are a bit stiff and uncanny as they tend to be with this animation method, but like most things it grows on you. One advantage, however, is that the models remain perfectly consistent from shot to shot, and some very subtle hand gestures, body movements, and facial expressions are possible.

These subtleties are crucial in a show all about how close Alice is willing to get to Bocchan without actually touching him, and her acceptance of his wilted white rose—interpreting it through the language of flowers as swearing his whole life to her—was genuinely moving and gorgeously shot to boot. Also, Alice’s azure eyes of deepest summer are mesmerizing to the point you can see why Bocchan cherishes her so.

Hanae Natsuki and Mano Ayumi get the lion’s share of credit for bringing the characters to life and making me care about them right from the get-go. The classy Victorian aesthetic and classical score also heighten the material, while both OP and ED go pleasantly against the grain with more contemporary music and visuals.

I may have just finished a show about a girl teasing a guy, but that turned out to be way more heartwarming and profound than I expected, and I foresee enjoying this new take on the formula as well.

Rating: 4/5 Stars