Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 3rd 2008
Rin Tsuchimi has lived with cute classmate Kaede Fuyou since losing his parents in an accident several years ago, but otherwise is a normal high school student in a world where gods and demons (devils in the subtitles) have entered the mortal realm and cohabitated with humans. The worst of his troubles were dealing with a girl-obsessed friend and over-aggressive members of Kaede's fan club, but his life gets more complicated when two cute new girls transfer into his class. One, Nerine (aka “Rin-chan”), is the daughter of the King of the Demons, and the other, Sia, is the daughter of the King of the Gods, and both are there because they have loved Rin since childhood encounters and now seek to marry him! Even further, both of them and their hyper-involved fathers move in to the vacant lots to either side of Rin and Kaede's house. That now leaves Rin with three overly-aggressive fan clubs and two overly-aggressive fathers to deal with, on top of which another girl named Primula shows up to live with him and Kaede, too. Choices, choices. . .
“Oh, Rin, is it okay if I fall even more in love with you?”
If this line does not make you gag, and you are a big fan of harem romantic comedies, then you just might be able to tolerate Shuffle! All others should stay at least a mile away.
Although the first four episodes can, at times, be genuinely enjoyable, usually they alternate between brazen stupidity, lame jokes, and disgusting sweetness, all the while carefully tailoring the female cast to male fantasies of having so many love interests, and ones the get along so well, that other guys get jealous of you. Kaede behaves so much like Rin's wife that he feels a bit guilty about “freeloading,” but she never seems fazed when other girls keep coming into the picture. Sia and Nerine, although they should be bitter rivals for Rin's affection, get along like best friends, and naturally Rin has another female friend who's “just friends” from his viewpoint but apparently not from hers. Primula fills the requisite loli slot in the harem scheme, even getting a strikingly sexy pose at one point despite her obvious youth. Naturally there are breast-size discourses, and of course the whole desire of Sia and Nerine to marry Rin goes back to childhood encounters. (What harem series would be complete without those?)
Amongst all the typical harem trappings like working together closely on homework, learning to cook for your guy, and walking together under an umbrella, the gross stupidity filters in. The fathers of Sia and Nerine sacrifice any dignity and purpose they should have as the kings of their respective realms to serve purely as comic support buffoons and give the girls something to be exasperated about; many of Sia's father's antics merit Sia clubbing him over the head with a chair, but that gag gets old fast. Far, far worse are the fan clubs. Despite not being portrayed as overwhelmingly beautiful, Kaede is regarded as the school's princess, so she has her own devoted fan club which periodically pops up and tries to go after Rin for monopolizing Kaede. Sia and Nerine get their own fan clubs once they show up, so by late in episode 2 Rin has to spend a lot of time dodging all three groups (although curiously he always seems to find sufficient peaceful moments to spend quality time with his harem). And, for inexplicable reasons, the girls rarely do much to discourage or stop this despite the fact that their love is in apparently mortal peril, probably because it would interfere with the sad attempts at humor.
Given that the founding harem series featured aliens and goddesses, gods and demons in the harem hardly cuts any new ground. That would have still been fine if Shuffle used the gods/demons angle to distinguish the girls and play up the contrasts between races, but at best the series makes only a half-hearted effort. No sense of conflict exists between the two realms (the respective kings are, in fact, very chummy), only ear designs offer any visual distinction between races, and all that behaviorally distinguishes Sia and Nerine from normal humans is their ability to call on vastly powerful magic when sufficiently annoyed. Take that and the ears away and they could be any anime girls; to put it another way, they simply have no presence as gods/demons. Episode 3 does offer an interesting tidbit about how differently language skills work with gods/demons, but it's far too little and only mentioned in passing.
One of the strengths of harem series is usually the wide array of pretty, interesting-looking girl designs composing the cast, but this lot, if one ignores the ears, has a blandness to them which fails to distinguish them much from girls that could be seen in a plethora of other series. Male designs fare no better except in the deliberately uglier designs used for the male fan club members. Good background art anchors the look, and the rare explosion scene looks satisfyingly cool, but otherwise the production does not look especially sharp. Mediocre animation, which balances out its group movement shots with plentiful shortcuts and awkwardness in some walking scenes, provides no help.
The soundtrack likewise does little to spruce up the production. It strolls along cheerily with the kind of synthesized and orchestrated light numbers that might be heard backing a dating sim game, which means that it supports the comic components relatively well but is also utterly forgettable. The opener “You” by Yuria, which kicks in with the second episode, delivers a strong, energetic J-rock number worth listening to independently; it is unquestionably the soundtrack's highlight. Closer “innocence,” which features different visuals in episode 1 than in the rest, is a more laid-back love song.
The script offered a special challenge to American adaptation because the fan clubs of Kaede, Sai, and Nerine are all named by triplets of the first letters of their respective names. That makes Kaede's the KKK, which may be completely harmless elsewhere but comes heavily loaded with baggage in the States. [For those who do not live in the U.S., KKK is the common abbreviation for the Klu Klux Klan, a notorious white supremacist movement that has been around for more than a century.] Funimation apparently decided it was too hard to work around, so they left it intact but compensated by adding lines into the English dialog about how they are “not the guys in the sheets” – and yes, this is a necessary adjustment, as it would have been too edgy for the content otherwise. Their script otherwise adjusts dialogue to be more appropriate for English humor styles but rarely strays far from the original meaning, although the English script is regularly at odds with the subtitles over the use of “demons” vs. “devils” and uses the “butts in seats” line by the teacher more frequently than the subtitles do. Although the timber of his voice matches with that of the original performer, the quality of Jerry Jewell's voice makes him seem like an odd choice for a harem male lead, but it is the only even slightly questionable casting choice and performances lose nothing in the switch between languages.
The first volume contains only textless songs for on-disc Extras. The case also includes bonus interior art and a mini-poster featuring Sia and Nerine.
The first four episodes do offer at least a few not-entirely-weak aspects: Rin does show at least some backbone and occasional selfishness, the more gentle kidding sounds natural, Rin's male friend Itsuki offers surprisingly welcome comic relief with his confident ladies' man routine, and the homeroom teacher has a likeable gruffness. Those seeking fan service will find a couple of decent scenes, and when not going overboard (really, who needs that much practice just to crack an egg right?) the series can be entertaining. Much too often it plays to extremes, however. Based on its first volume, Shuffle does not have what it takes to succeed even within the low standards for harem romantic comedies and shows little potential for improvement.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C+
Art : B-
Music : B-
+ Opening theme, occasional likeable moments.
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