Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Aug 11th 2009
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue
DVD - Collection 1
Maia Mizuki is at the top of her class at the Ocean Agency academy. When her grandpa, with whom she lives, passes away, Maia—assuming that her job at the Ocean Agency is assured—moves out of her house, only to fail the exam. With no job, no home (she can't reverse her moving decision) and no money, Maia is forced to sleep on the streets, where she (in a pattern that will continue over the course of the show) is caught up in a firefight, kidnapped and then shot. Shocked, but essentially unharmed, she soon finds herself in the employ of the woman who shot her: the head of the local branch of the odd-job agency Nereids. There she develops her shooting, running-away, and getting-abducted skills, and tries to unravel the mystery behind her grandfather's last words: "Daphne".
Daphne has a good deal against it, even at the start. Its premise is clichéd, its characters are stereotypes and the plot seems to go nowhere (adhering strictly to the job-of-the-week formula for the majority of its running time). And that's before even beginning to factor in the ridiculous beyond ridiculous fan-service uniforms of the Nereids. That said, the show is so good-natured that it's hard to fault it for its shortcomings. It never tries to be more than simple entertainment, and on that front it generally succeeds. The episodes, while often revolving around cliché situations (the terminally ill person who really isn't terminally ill anyone? How about abductions? Or more abductions? ), are given enough of a spin (usually of a humorous nature) that they never fail to at least divert, if not outright entertain.
The show's often off-beat humor helps a lot: from the characters' weird tastes, to a recurring family of half-related thugs, to Maia's world-class bad luck and her abominable script-writing skills; the humor manages to work more often than not, due largely to the straight-faced nature and impeccable timing of its delivery by the generally excellent cast. The show isn't without its other little charms, including a reasonably effective sentimental streak and Maia herself, but it's that sense of humor that prevents its consignation to the anime slag heap. It never takes itself seriously for too long, and even its most uninspired episodes—and there are many—are enlivened with great little gags: Maia's signature entrance (sliding face-down into the frame), Gloria's unrepentant vulgarity (viva la puke gag!), or Yu's expressionless response to basically everything.
The series' other selling points—namely sex and violence—aren't even effective enough to warrant the name. You'd think that armed women with bandages over their genitals would at the very least draw crowds of hormonal teenagers, but the character animation is so wooden that the fan-service fails utterly to be titillating. And we won't even speak of the characters' Reticulan foreheads. As for the violence...one hesitates to call it “action” for fear of raising unreasonable expectations, like excitement and suspense. And movement. Actions are suggested more often than actually shown; a punch will be thrown, followed by a cut to some poor pulped thug. What movement there is tends towards the plain bad, as when Gloria falls from a window in one of the most pathetically unconvincing spills in anime history. Only when the action goes underwater does it get moderately polished, and then only because the underwater vehicles don't have fancy things like articulating joints. Damned humans and their articulating joints.
That same cheapness of animation, though, is put to good use for the series' many gags (Yu's first fight is portrayed via off-screen horror sound effects and Maia's facedown entrances are hilariously uniform in their shoddiness), making it pretty obvious that the perfunctory action and non-service fan-service are the result of a lack of will rather than skill. For all its posturing as a gun-toting flesh-fest, Daphne is more interested in lighthearted fun than sex or violence or, for that matter, deep drama.
Not that it hasn't its moments of seriousness. Maia's back-story is tragic (though a long time in the coming), and the first episode mixes humor and pathos with a skill that the series unfortunately never matches again. Rarely has an episode been so effective at raising sympathy for the main character: the progression of atrocities visited upon Maia is simultaneously horrible and very, very funny. Later attempts at recapturing that mixture have the misfortune of trying to do so with the supporting cast, who are to a man (or woman) more joke than character. What success the series does have drama-wise is thanks to composer Kô Ôtani's incongruously beautiful piano, which also has the added side-benefit of lending a certain lyricism to the underwater scenes.
A razor edge of delivery is all that separates Daphne's gags—which in all honesty are no more original than the rest of the plot—from unfunny oblivion. It isn't easy for the English cast to replicate the effortless camaraderie and timing of the Japanese track (delivered by seasoned pros who are obviously having a blast), but they give it the old college try. A lack of confidence undercuts the humor of the first few episodes, but as the cast wriggles further into their characters that disappears. Unfortunately, they are working from a nearly word-for-word transcription of the subtitles, so no matter how apt their acting, the comic timing is never quite right. Nevertheless, there are some comedic standouts, particularly Doug Stone as the Nereid's pathetic manager and Stephanie Sheh (credited as Lulu Chiang) as his daughter (coincidentally the two played father and daughter in Koi Kaze as well). Interestingly, the cast has no problem carrying Maia's heavier episodes.
The mysterious sunglasses guy who lurks mysteriously in the background hints at mysteries to come, as does Maia's strange childhood, but for the most part Daphne is an airhead of a show. It just wants to have fun, and so long as you keep those unreasonable expectations about quality storytelling and actual animation (and rounded characters and cool action and sexy fan-service) in check, so will you.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C
Animation : C-
Art : B
Music : B
+ Good sense of humor; sympathetic lead.
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