Reviewby Theron Martin, Mar 21st 2011
DVD - Complete Series
Laharl, demon prince of the Netherworld, awakens from a two year long sleep to discover that his father, the Overlord Krichevskoy, has died in a rather ignominious way, so he sets off to claim his birthright as the new Overlord of Netherworld – and woe be anyone who stands in his way! He almost immediately claims the treacherous demon girl Etna as one of his vassals, along with the Prinnies (think demonic penguins who are former human souls working off their sins) who are her vassals, and also picks up the hapless “Love Freak,” Angel Trainee Flonne, who had originally come to Netherworld from Celestia to assassinate him and/or his father but now seeks to open Laharl's eyes to the (for him) odious ways of love. During his quest for power Larharl regularly crosses paths with many colorful characters, including Captain Gordon (the 37th Defender of Earth), Gordon's busty sidekick Jennifer and robotic sidekick Thursday, the handsome demon Dark Adonis, Prinny revolutionaries, an overzealous angel, and a girl who claims to be Laharl's little sister.
The anime version of Disgaea, which is based on a popular tactical RPG video game series from Nippon Ichi, originally aired on Japanese TV in early 2006 and was subsequently released in the U.S. by Geneon in three individual volumes between late 2006 and mid-2007. In September 2010 Funimation license rescued the title from Geneon's grave and gave the series its first collected release in early 2011. Which begs the question: why? Of all the former Geneon titles which hadn't been claimed yet, why this one? Did someone honestly think that this series deserved a rerelease?
Granted, the series is hardly a total disaster. It is abysmally stupid and typically ridiculously silly, but it does at least make an effort to be funny and does occasionally succeed at it. The English dub, which sticks pretty close to the original, does everything it can to play up the jokes to American audiences by having the voice actors exploit long-standing, parody-worthy speech patterns; Captain Gordon is done in gloriously cheesy, over-the-top, cartoon-hero form, for instance, and the demonic penguins talk like stressed-out surfer dudes. The series parodies numerous different genres as it follows its thin plot about how Laharl gradually gets softened by Flonne's presence even as he embarks on an ambitious quest to seize control of first the Netherworld and later realms beyond, too, and that story does somewhat come together in the later stages. A late episode which focuses on the role the Prinnies play in this mythology, and why one seemingly special Prinny is special, even achieves a surprising degree of quality and emotional appeal, and the conclusion, while it wraps things up too quickly, seems fitting in a twisted way.
But all of this is set against a parade of weak jokes, inane gimmickry, and cartoonish devices. For every mildly inspired element or successful bit of humor exist numerous failed attempts. These twelve episodes also do not have much of a story to fall back on, characterizations never get involved, and - surprisingly for a series based on a video game - the action elements are simple and basic. The delivery of the series also raises some issues on focus audience, as much of the humor and visual styling suggests that it is aimed at younger audiences even though it still has some elements decidedly aimed at older audiences, such as Jennifer's brazen displays of her bosom (and how that becomes a story element at times) and occasional jokes about sexual harassment and implied naughty behavior. It also has its distinctly fan-pandering aspects, too, such as the heavily moe design of Laharl's supposed sister and the costuming for some supporting characters.
The overall visual look of the series leans in a more cartoonish direction than most anime series do, to the point that it could be a turn-off for those deeply invested in typical anime art styles. Designs lean more towards cutesy looks, even in monsters, and in too many cases lack a sense of refinement and liveliness. In the one bit of inventiveness, clear “Robby the Robot” rip-off Thursday is giving his own distinctive Japanese twist by showing on several occasions that he can transform into various weapons. CG effects get used generously in the animation but do not help much and action scenes rarely achieve much sense of excitement. Other than Jennifer's barely-covered bosom, the artistry offers almost nothing for fan service.
The musical score speaks more to the series' video game origins, creating a fun and unobtrusive but also generally unexciting sound. The rare occasions when it does do anything special come late in the series, as it does get suitably dramatic in the series' biggest battle scenes in episode 10 and does work to promote the poignancy of episode 11. The opener and closer are both pleasant but forgettable efforts.
Funimation's release of the series just regurgitates the content originally present on Geneon's individual volume releases, including the original English dub and even the end credits' irritating lack of an English cast breakdown. (Yes, that's the venerable Barbara Goodson as Laharl.) Extras include a four part interview segment involving the original seiyuu, clean opener and closer, a video game trailer, and a Japanese promo.
The animated version of Disgaea can provide some entertainment value if one goes into it with no expectations of quality and it does have occasional scenes where it has its act together fully to enough to create some real fun. It certainly is not offensively bad, either. On the balance, though, this is a wholly forgettable effort.
Overall (dub) : C-
Overall (sub) : C-
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : C
Music : C+
+ Episode 11, occasional good jokes and parodies.
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