Review

by Carl Kimlinger, Mar 19th 2007

Disgaea

DVD 1&2 - Netherworld Prince & Netherworld Story

Synopsis:
Disgaea DVD 1&2
Awoken by the assassination attempt of a love-obsessed angel-trainee called Flonne, Prince Laharl of the Netherworld arises to find himself poisoned and dumped in a, well, dump. Dead set on claiming the title of Overlord for himself, and finding out just who had the gall to throw him out of the Overlord's castle like so much trash, Laharl, along with Flonne and his not-so-trustworthy vassal Etna (and her squad of not-so-trusty penguinesque Prinny servants), sets out to return to his father's castle. A motley assortment of Overlord wannabes will have none of it, however. Before he can get anywhere he must deal with money-grubbing pigs, deceptively cute little sisters, wriggly counts, under-confident demonslayers, and a self-proclaimed Dark Adonis (and Laharl-proclaimed Mid-Boss). And that's without even taking into account Captain Gordon, the fantastic (and occasionally cosplaying) 37th defender of Earth, whose entourage comes complete with bouncy babe and Robby the Robot rip-off.
Review:

The prefix dis- places the word "Disgaea" in the company of words like dismal and disappointing. Coincidence? If the first two volumes are any indicator (and as they comprise 2/3 of the series, they probably are), then no.

Dismal is the plot—or what passes for it—and disappointing are the production values. The common perception of video games as poor fodder for films (or anime) isn't entirely accurate—check out Gungrave, Rumbling Hearts, or even Fate/stay night if you don't believe it—but Disgaea isn't one such exception. Even with story expectations low, the five-minute English promo distributed prior to the show's release (available as an extra on the second volume) gave some hope that the show would at least have stellar production values, but very little of the shiny theatrical-quality animation showcased in the promo actually makes an appearance in the show itself, which sticks closely to standard anime technique. While a far cry from being dismal (that's coming later) the stubbornly average animation (pans, stills, speedlines, nullified backgrounds, and movement that takes advantage of low detail-levels dominate all of the action scenes) is a letdown given the promise of those early promos.

Which wouldn't really be a problem if it weren't for the dismal writing. Episodes are so devoid of substance that they damn near float away. Apparently the demon world can't muster an opponent strong enough to withstand a single blow from a demon-brat. None of the fights—not a one—lasts more than a single blow (okay, maybe two), and the villains have all the menace of fat-free cream puffs. Of the villains, only the wriggly count makes an impression; not because he's vile, evil, or dangerous, but simply because he's hideously annoying. Flonne, Etna and Laharl have one-word personalities (good, devious, and arrogant respectively), and the story, rather than anything resembling a continuous plot, is a jumble of silly fights with no stakes and even less tension, strung together only by the tenuous thread of Laharl's journey to become Overlord. In an on-disc interview, the creator of the original video game claims that the story (of the game) eventually becomes that of a lonely boy, and thankfully glimmers of that concept occasionally interrupt the cotton-candy fluff. The humor also wrings periodic laughs out of the wearisome pandemonium—having Laharl's father die by choking to death on a dumpling (of the damned) is an amusing touch, and the wry, sarcastic Etna is often a hoot.

The riotous color scheme matches the show's hyperactive tone, as do the strange—and strangely uninteresting—demon designs, the most frightening of which are the unintentionally creepy Prinnies. Characters and buildings manage to be cartoonish without looking simplified, and backgrounds evoke an effectively hellish (though menace-free) atmosphere. Laharl is an odd mixture of puffed-up arrogance and little-kid cuteness; Flonne, while not as cute as the illustrators think, is plenty frilly; and, in addition to being the most interesting character, Etna—in her own droll, evil way—is also quite attractive—though her loli-bait antics may be an issue for some.

In keeping with its video game origins, Disgaea's soundtrack is (literally) non-stop game-friendly drivel. While initially catchy, in a television-jingle kind of way, it soon becomes an omnipresent earsore that, much like the show itself, would be a lot better if it would just stop. The ending and opening are moderately pleasant, utterly forgettable pop tunes.

As befits a show whose only possible appeal, despite the preponderance of jiggling, is to children (and perhaps fans of the original game), Disgaea is blessed with an energetic English dub, and actors whose willingness to chew the scenery up one side and down the other recalls the overwrought silliness of the Saturday-morning cartoons of yesteryear. Other than Laharl, who sounds somewhat forced, the cast is fine. The English script cleaves very closely to the Japanese, only going astray when lip flaps (or a little ad-libbing) demand it.

Other than the two-part interview and English promo, extras only cover such staples as video game previews, Non-credit openings and endings, with the addition of a short music video.

Disgaea isn't offensive. It isn't the kind of thing that makes you want to burn it just so that others won't suffer as you have. It isn't despicable, cynical, or exploitative. Far more damaging than any of that, it's boring. For a magical action/adventure, that's straight-up death.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall (dub) : D+
Overall (sub) : D+
Story : D-
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : C-

+ Acceptable technical merits, some amusing humor, Etna is kind of cool.
Bad music, flat characters, boring writing.

Director:Kiyotaka Isako
Series Composition:Atsuhiro Tomioka
Scenario:
Chinatsu Houjou
Mariko Kunisawa
Kouji Miura
Atsuhiro Tomioka
Music:Tenpei Sato
Original Character Design:Takehito Harada
Character Design:Akira Kano
Sound Director:Jun Watanabe
Producer:
Shuhei Arakawa
Kazuya Furuse
Jun Nishimura
Rika Sasaki

Full encyclopedia details about
Makai Senki Disgaea (TV)

Release information about
Disgaea - The Netherworld Prince (DVD 1)

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