The Devils and the Realist, or Makai Ōji: Devils and Realist, is a manga series written by Madoka Takadono and illustrated by Utako Yukihiro. It was first serialised in Monthly Comic Zero Sum, starting in 2009. Volumes translated in English are being released by Seven Seas.
Set in 19th Century England, the story focuses on young William Twining who finds himself in a bit of a bind. On the surface his life seems perfectly on track: he’s top of the class at an exclusive school, prefect, and heir to a vast fortune. He plans to graduate with straight As, get into Oxbridge, become a lawyer or a politician, and then finally retire to a sedate life of publishing books and giving lectures. However, William’s carefully planned life is set to be shattered.
The problem is that his large fortune has been under the management of his uncle, who is now bankrupt. Suddenly William cannot even afford to pay his tuition fee for the next term. Debt driven plots are ones I’ve become familiar with through a few different manga series, but I particularly enjoy the way this plot line is played with in The Devils and the Realist as William fights to keep the narrative centered on the debt issue.
William’s defining characteristic is that he is the eponymous realist. He’s a man of science who doesn’t care for magic or religion. When he comes home during the break and discovers the depths of his new-found poverty the last thing he expects to happen is to meet a demon. Meeting, however, does not equate to believing. What I enjoyed most about Will’s perspective was his absolute commitment to maintaining the tuition fee issue as the central conflict of his story. Even when he falls into the demon realm and is almost forcibly kidnapped, he does not sway on this point. William gives off a very Alice in Wonderland vibe in the way he processes his interactions with the demon world by filtering the absurd through real-world-logic tainted lenses.
The first demon we meet is Dantalion. He is a candidate in the upcoming election for the next representative of the emperor of hell. Other demons make an appearance too, and I’m sure many more will in future volumes. For Dantalion, and the other demons, getting William on side is of key importance. As the descendant of Solomon, William is an elector with the power to help select who gets to claim the representative title. There are tantalising hints in this volume of the relationship Solomon had with some of the demons but the connections between Solomon and the demons in the past, Solomon and William, and by extension William and the demons in the present is just starting to be introduced in this volume. I am left looking forward to seeing how the relationship dynamics in each of these groups is developed over the course of the series.
Midway through this volume the story focuses around William’s school as demons attempt to infiltrate William’s everyday life. They do so because he point blank refuses to interact with the supernatural plot threads they want him to be a part of. Devious methods are thus taken up to pull him in. Their main strategy involves playing along with William’s steadfast belief that his tuition fee issue is the biggest conflict he needs to overcome in this narrative by dangling a solution to his problem in front of him, on the condition that he support their bids for power in the demon realm. I enjoyed how the demons intrude more and more into William’s carefully maintained realist view of the world, much to his frustration. Nevertheless he keeps up the fight, albeit increasingly unsuccessfully, to maintain the narrative in the vein of a historical boarding school debt story.
Another lovely touch in this story is the research the writer has done to try and ground the story in the reality of the 19th Century England setting. The references to the IRA, Whigs and Tories, Benjamin Franklin and John Dalton in the dialogue served to ground the story in a real world scientific, historical and political context. This element of realism provided a nice counterpoint to the demons and their realm. William’s fight to be a realist feels more solid due to these references.
I am definitely intrigued to see how the story develops and will be reading volume two very soon.