Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 13th 2005
DVD 1: 1st Contact
One year ago, a race of aliens crash-landed in Japan and chose to assimilate themselves into society. Quickly winning the hearts of the population, these beautiful and superbly talented DearS ("deerz," not "deer-ess") are now treated as friends of humankind. However, high-schooler Takeya doesn't trust them, so imagine his displeasure when he accidentally finds a stray DearS and has to take her home. Unlike her counterparts, this DearS named Ren is a blank slate, and Takeya must educate her in the ways of modern Japanese life. With the help of his neighbor Neneko, Takeya is soon teaching Ren basic skills like language, hygiene, and wearing clothes. When Ren follows Takeya to school one day, she's quickly accepted as a new student, but that might not last long after a "fake DearS" named Miu shows up at school...
Japan must be a pretty seedy place if guys keep finding strange, helpless girls on the street and taking them home. That's what happens in DearS, which falls firmly into the genre of "average Joe finds unspeakably beautiful girl and cohabitates with her." The comparisons to Chobits are inevitable—fortunately, this show isn't as pretentious as Chobits; unfortunately, it lacks the distinctive characters and charm. (The fact that Takeya looks like an uglier Hideki doesn't help much.) Although there are some genuinely funny moments, DearS lacks the appeal and quality to be a real hit, except among fans of this particular genre.
The problems begin right at the start. The premise is about as original as having a spunky young boy discover his special untapped skill, and there's not even an effort to put a unique spin on this paper-thin story. The idea of a universally beloved, predominantly female race of aliens seems like just a weak excuse to throw R.E.N. into Takeya's hands. If they're so much better than humans, why aren't they trying to rule over us? How come they're so similar to humans anyway? Why would Japan, of all places, be so willing to accept not just a new culture but an entirely new species? It doesn't matter. R.E.N. has awesome boobs and likes to traipse around naked, and apparently that's enough to drive the story. The end of each episode tries to add some mystery by having unfamiliar characters speak in ominous tones, but the effect is more like being beaten over the head with the Foreshadowing Stick. In truth, the only impetus behind the plot is wanting to know what kind of hilarious predicament Takeya will get into next.
However, most of these predicaments are hilarious only if you've really, seriously, never been through this kind of series before. There might as well be a checklist: Takeya wakes up to find naked R.E.N. next to him; Neneko walks in to find Takeya lying on top of naked R.E.N.; R.E.N. does something saucy that gets Takeya all flustered, and so on. Oh, and if you thought Hideki in Chobits had mastered the art of overreacting to everything, just watch—Takeya takes that to a whole new level, and the resulting shock faces and poses are pretty funny. The show's sense of humor drifts between deadpan and psychotic and cynical, and while it's not innovative or intelligent by any stretch, it does earn more laughs than the usual toothless, brainless "romantic comedies." Unfortunately, Takeya's amusingly uptight attitude and Neneko's subtle wit are offset by the mind-numbing "moe" power of R.E.N., who keeps insisting that she is Takeya's slave. How's that for being personality-deficient and unable to think for herself? As if that's not bad enough, there's also Takeya's sex-crazed schoolteacher, who breaks new ground in being annoying. Maybe someone thinks this is actually funny—that the teacher enthusiastically molests any student dumb enough to look at her—but to those with finer sensibilities, the resulting lingerie and cleavage shots are just offensive.
Of course, there's far more to this show than just cleavage shots; random acts of nudity and undressing are a natural part of R.E.N.'s behavior, and will probably be the main attraction for most fans. With fully exposed female bodies constantly assaulting the eyes, it's easy to miss some of the clever animation techniques in the series. Director Iku Suzuki has a strong sense of comedy timing, freshening up time-honored techniques like the double take. For example: Takeya walks into the apartment and turns on the light. He sees R.E.N. doing housework naked. He turns off the light, leaves, and re-enters. This works surprisingly well on the screen. Even the animation frame rate is fairly smooth, although a lot of it is wasted on scenes like Neneko groping R.E.N.'s boobs. The trade-off to this fluidity is that there are also plenty of static conversation scenes in each episode. Meanwhile, the character designs aren't much to look at; in contrast to Peach-Pit's charming manga art, the anime version is too spiky and stylized, with strange facial proportions. This could be a problem in a series where much of the focus is on how pretty the girls are supposed to be.
There's one musical cue that stands out in the show: whenever R.E.N. transforms into her alien uniform, this sultry light jazz/soul melody accompanies the sequence. That's right, DearS is proud to bring us softcore porn music! The rest of the soundtrack isn't quite so distinctive, being the usual bouncy jolly carnival music that accompanies a comedy title. The theme songs are equally forgettable, although the submissive lyrics of the opening song ("Love Slave") might be rather scarring if you think them over for too long.
Geneon's dub production is one of the few highlights on this disc, showcasing some lively comedic voice acting. T. Axelrod shines in his role as Takeya, grumbling and sniping and overreacting his way through each episode with a delightfully cynical voice. Karen Thompson is equally amusing as Neneko, although her delivery is more subtle (think of the old MTV cartoon Daria). In fact, those two voice actors outdo their Japanese counterparts in enlivening their characters. Mia Bradly and Michelle Ruff aren't quite as exciting when they play the DearS R.E.N. and Miu, but that's something that bland characters bring upon themselves. The script itself is a fairly accurate adaptation of the subtitles, and some of the colloquialisms even work better than the original text.
Although the DVD case advertises just the creditless opening as a bonus, there's also a small gallery of anime art and illustrations from the manga duo Peach-Pit. Viewers can go through this gallery just to prove to themselves that Peach-Pit's drawings are, indeed, prettier than what's in the show.
If rampant fanservice with occasionally clever comedy sounds appealing to you, by all means give DearS a try. If other concerns like a coherent story foundation and complex characters are more important, it might be best to pass on this title. It's funny to watch Takeya lose his cool every time R.E.N. gets naked, but it's a stupid kind of funny, and there's no way that joke can sustain itself for an entire anime series. Apart from that, there isn't a whole lot of substance behind DearS, unless of course you count exposed female body parts as substance. In that case, there's plenty to go around.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : D
Animation : B-
Art : C
Music : C
+ A wide-ranging sense of humor and some well-timed comedy moments
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