Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou was, I think, this season’s biggest long shot - though it teased viewers from the beginning with the groundwork of a brilliant dramatic premise, the first handful of episodes seemed to ground it firmly as a harem anime, while the ED did its best convincing us that that was the intent. Despite this, between episodes 05 and 10 the show has certainly cemented its strength as an engaging action series with a relevant social message.
Daimaou has shaped that original premise - that our friendly protagonist was destined to become an evil demon lord who would terrorize mankind - into a powerful commentary on the symbiosis of religion and hierarchical power structures. The clearest turning point was the beginning of episode 09, with a young Akuto standing up to a priest who told him to thank God for the priest’s donation, telling the priest that ”God is nothing more than a system created by humans”. This hearkens back to the earlier parts of the series, in which Akuto admits that he has no strong personal investment in the church but simply sees its power and social sway as the most efficient means to accomplishing as much good as he can.
We see others in positions of power alluding to this more and more throughout episodes 09 and 10 - that the importance of the religion and of stopping Akuto stem not from the will of any actual gods but from their need to preserve the system which supports them. It’s reminiscent of the final conflict between structure and morality of Gurren Lagann, but is so far more nuanced and taken more seriously.
For example, even in the midst of the leaders’ mobilization of a front against Akuto, many of the players are still most interested in vying for power - as with Teruya Eiko murdering to take control of her clan’s army, then exploiting the Hattori family’s dedication to honor and tradition and their god to send Junko and Yuuko on a suicide mission.
So the show loosely outlines a 2x2 division of thought with regards to religion - those who believe in religion, or at least in their religious traditions, versus those who don’t, and those who exploit others’ belief in religion to their own ends versus those who don’t. The 1A and 2A groups, those who exploit others’ beliefs and may or may not themselves believe, are not very clearly defined, but one can certainly place the cunning Eiko and so far our primary villain Yamato Bouichiro. The former is currently exploiting others for the short-term goal of becoming dominant in the Teruya clan; the latter, if the principal is to be believed, has been fabricating and engineering conflict grounded in religion to perpetuate a hierarchical government for over 100 years.
The 1B group, believers who do not exploit others, is probably comprised of the majority of the world’s citizens and is best detailed in Junko. Her dedication to either her family’s religion or traditions, which the show has been indicating to be a less and less important clarification, is leading her along with the rest of her clan to their death at the hands of a *A.
Finally, our 2B group, those who neither personally subscribe to a religion or exploit others in the name of that religion, is comprised most clearly of two characters - our protagonist Akuto and the school’s principal. For a pair of atheists in a world where the supernatural is canon and a genre and medium with deep socially-conservative roots, these two characters are depicted in a remarkably positive light - the former already established as putting little or no stock in the systems of religion, and the latter having lost his faith when he realized that the “will of the gods” he had been following was engineered for a political purpose.
Hiroshi, and his Brave persona, illustrate the internal conflict of these ideas - his dedication as a superhero to the preservation of the status quo and systems already in place clashes with his respect for and trust of Akuto’s motives. As of episode 10 he’s placed his allegiance with those in power and the destiny laid before him, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see his change of heart marking the climax of the series.
Daimaou has two more episodes yet, so I’m uncomfortable proposing any concrete thesis for its intended final treatment of these themes - for one, given the conservatism present in anime and the dedication to tradition throughout Japanese works, I doubt the ending will be an unqualified endorsement of the importance of personal freedom over religion and respect of power. But the pieces are all in play, and the show has proven that it’s prepared to do something with them.