Reviewby Theron Martin, Oct 16th 2005
DVD 1: God & Detectives
The Norse god Loki has not only been banished from Asgard for some transgression, but he has also been trapped in the body of a young Japanese boy! With the aid of his faithful servant Yamino he sets up a detective agency to investigate all manner of potential sources of evil in the world in hopes that dealing with them will redeem himself in the eyes of Odin, the All-Father. Other Norse gods have taken an interest in Loki's plight and also descend to Earth in the form of Japanese children; while some remain indifferent, others bear a harsh grudge against Loki for his past actions.
Mayura Daidoji, a teenaged mystery freak, is oblivious to the real identity of Loki and those he associates with, however. She sees working with the cute little Loki as a great opportunity to encounter all sorts of neat mysteries (much to Loki's consternation) and further her goals of one day becoming a detective herself.
That Detective Loki wants to be a supernatural variation on Detective Conan/Case Closed is beyond doubt; there are too many similarities of basic premise and structure for it to be a coincidence, and the lack of fan service and graphic content (and its TV-PG rating) mark it as being a family-friendly title. Granted, MD Loki does have a high Cute factor working for it, and has enough young characters and action that it should appeal to youthful viewers. Unfortunately the cutesiness lacks solid structural support. Underneath its surface the series is a mess.
The problems here are many but primarily involve the writing. Despite the premise's unusual twist, these four episodes taste stale. The plotting and execution are strictly run-of-the-mill and predictable, as are most of its silly attempts at humor, and the series struggles to find its dramatic-comedic balance. Too little is explained about how and why Loki came to be in this predicament, although admittedly it is still early in the series. Among its principle characters, none are especially interesting or original beyond Mayura's father. (The way that his ability to see things that normal humans can't belies his skepticism about the supernatural is certainly a different take on the common priest/monk character.) Mayura, though easy on the eyes, has little depth or character beyond her obsession with mysteries and girly behavior. She primarily exists just to get into trouble and give the others someone to manipulate or play off of; “Danger-Prone” Daphne from the American cartoon Scooby-Doo would be an approximate American equivalent.
Then there's what the series does with its dramatic reinterpretation of the Norse gods. MD Loki makes Loki out to be a somber, misunderstood individual who may be seeking redemption, while according to stories and myths he was actually the Trickster God, dedicated to sowing strife and mischief, and thus the most evil of the Norse gods. Thor, while never portrayed as one of the wiser or more intelligent gods, was the fiercest and most noble warrior in the Norse pantheon, so it's hard to imagine him as being practically manic about part-time jobs and prone to showboating. Heimdall, the steadfast, dedicated guardian of the Bifrost Bridge, was an enemy of Loki but was never portrayed as an evil, twisted soul so hell-bent on revenge that he'd endanger innocent humans just to get at Loki. Were the series played up more as a parody of Norse mythology this might be acceptable, but it takes itself a little too seriously for that excuse to be valid. Granted, these reinterpretations won't be an issue for anyone who doesn't know much of anything about Norse mythology anyway, but those that do – and especially those who ever read and liked the long-running Marvel Comics Thor titles – will probably find this a difficult title to stomach.
The writing isn't a total loss, though. Episode 4, the standard “flashback to a character's youth” episode, is remarkably well-written and well-executed compared to the first three episodes – but it's telling that it's also the episode which least involves Loki. Not a good sign for a series where he's supposed to be the star!
The lack of freshness also applies to the series' visual qualities. Mayura does have an appealing look, but it is not a fresh, original, or especially detailed one (and when did it become a rule that the hottest-looking teenage girl in an anime has to have pink hair?), nor are any of the other character designs. The artistry in general is bright and friendly but has a very generic quality about it; good enough for an anime aimed at younger audiences, maybe, but nothing that's going to excite older fans. Even the uses of magic and repetitive scenes where Loki draws forth his magic staff look like left-overs from a magical girl series. The animation also fails to impress, relying much too heavily on stock footage and shortcuts and all but eliminating background animation. Once one gets beyond the cutesiness there's not much appeal left here, either.
The soundtrack tries a little too hard to play up the comedic scenes and highlights Loki's staff-summoning sequences with a lame rock guitar number, but fares better when supporting gentler or more dramatic scenes. The opener is a forgettable J-rock number, while the James Bond-themed hard rock closer is more distinctive and tolerable. General sound production is very good, as the rich sound which can be heard on a surround-sound system is a step above the norm for series animation. It is, without question, the series' best quality so far.
The problems inherent in much of the rest of the production do not also pervade the voice acting. The Japanese performances seem solid, and most of the English dub voices and performances are respectable matches. Shannon Emerick, who is perhaps best-known to American fans for dubbing Kishimoto in Gantz, does an exceptionally good job as Loki, which balances out the valiant but ultimately futile effort by Kira Vincent-Davis to capture the squealiness of the original performance of Mayura. The English script generally stays pretty close to the subtitles, with the only significant variations coming when Mayura is descending into her loopy spouting off in the background of a couple of certain scenes.
In addition to ADV's standard company previews and next volume preview, extras on this volume include typical stuff like clean opener and closer and a limited character art gallery, with the more distinctive extra being the 7-minute interview with two of the original seiyuu, which was apparently included on the 2nd Japanese DVD release. (Oddly, it features a seiyuu for a character which doesn't appear in this volume.) The truly special feature on this volume, though, is its Easter egg. This can be found by starting the Character Art Gallery feature and hitting the Back Chapter button the moment the first image appears. Those who find it get a collection of humorous outtakes from the English dub.
Though it has its strong points, a single good episode, good voice acting, and great sound production aren't enough to save the first volume of MD Loki from mediocrity. It is a safe view for anime fans of all ages but isn't likely to much excite older and more experienced ones.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C+
Music : C+
+ Great sound production, one effective episode.
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