Remember when you were a kid, and wanted to keep all of your toys to yourself? Your friends, parental attention, special toys; these were all things which you just really didn’t want to share. So, does that make you a devil child? Of course not. As children, individuals instinctually create attachment to certain things, and it’s only natural to not want to risk losing such a thing by giving it away. You hold what is dear to you close. So, what is it that changes when we all grow up? Do we develop some great ‘adult’ kindness that allows us to treat such things as trivialities? Nope, not at all. In fact, those same ‘selfish’ attachments are with us our entire lives. Human beings just gradually find ways to conceal or circumvent the desire to monopolize what makes us happy.
In Hataraku Maou, we see this complication in a none-too-subtle way. Enter a world where the lines of good and evil are plainly displayed. You have the demon lord and his monsters on one side, and the hero and humans on the other. It’s not too difficult to understand; typical genre scenario. What is a bit unusual however is in the next episode when we are forced into the mind of not the grand hero, but rather the demon lord. The audience is forces to realize just how normal the demon lord and his minion actually are. They aren’t giant menaces bound for death and slaughter. No, they are simply trying to live life with the means available to them. The show quickly takes the neat orderly line between good and evil, and blurs it beyond distinction.
Of course, it’s not exactly a perfect reversal of roles either though. The hero, while brash, violent, and destructive, is nonetheless trying to do what is right. The demon king, while power-hungry, competitive, and straightforward, is likewise trying to make his way in the world. What do we call normal human beings like the demon king? Hardworking. The demon kind is motivated, serious, and trying to reach for a goal. Is that wrongs? He doesn’t intentionally hurt others. Rather, he’s just doing what he thinks is best. So how exactly is that any different from what the hero does?
As the plot thickens, we are again and again reaffirmed with this idea that life isn’t clear-cut. The ‘good’ church turns out to be corrupt. The ‘evil’ demon becomes quickly rehabilitated and becomes a nice NEET citizen because he can find happiness in his new lifestyle. The executioner grows a conscience and defies orders that should have been absolute. No one in this show is perfect. Rather, they are all messed up in some way or the other. The only true determination between hero and antagonist then becomes the methods of one’s advancement. The good try to hurting the people around them. The bad couldn’t care less.
So, what does this mean? I can sum up the idea in one sentence: empathy is the only true statute of ‘goodness’. Let’s be frank for a minute. Everyone wants to be happy. It would be stupid to not. Sure, people can get joy by helping others, sacrificing themselves and whatnot, but it’s hard to argue that individuals would ever do that if somewhere deep down they didn’t think that such a service was self-rewarding in some way or another. So, it’s not really fair for individuals to judge others depending on just how they choose to pursuit this happiness. That is, unless said person is willing to hurt their fellow being to do so. This is the essence of what Hataraku Maou-sama! represents: do what doesn’t harm others. People are naturally selfish, self-righteous, prideful creatures, and we are all in the pursuit of happiness. We’re all equal, and equally muddled these innate motivations. Still, there is a line, though it is hardly clear in the sand. It is the line in which personal greed damages other creatures around you. That is the true sign of evil, wherever it may be, however it may be justified, and whatever form it appears in. Being good doesn’t mean being selfless. It means being as selfish as you could possibly want, but to also be courteous and empathetic to the people around you so as to not disrupt their happiness either.