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Why Date A Live Will Win Your Heart

by Thomas E. Beck,

Date A Live is the girl-dating, world-saving light novel series that resulted in over twenty volumes, four anime seasons, three films, and four video games. For many people, a franchise of such a pedigree making even more strides would only seem natural. Yet while many—including myself—are delighted by Yen Press' announcement in September 2020 that the light novels that started it all would be getting released in English, the news was also met with cries of “irrelevancy.”

For some, the idea of releasing something like Date A Live in the new decade seemed a tad late, given that the first season of the anime debuted in 2013. Such a sentiment is understandable considering that the novels have finally started releasing in English during the same year as the franchise's tenth anniversary. Yet, at the same time, the franchise is anything but irrelevant.

Even disregarding the regular novel releases in Japan, there has been the airing of Date A Live III, two new films, and the news of a greenlit Date A Live IV just in the past two to three years. Don't let the long-since-ended-drought of anime content fool you; Date A Live has been consistently relevant, and for good reason. The entire franchise is pretty darn great and has been one that enraptured the hearts of many. There is a lot to love about this series, but the greatest aspects have to do with the foundation upon which the series is built.

The spacequake that starts the events of Date A Live

This romantic comedy series centers around Shido Itsuka, a resident of Tengu City, as he is made to follow the orders of Ratatoskr, a specialized group with the goal of neutralizing extradimensional ladies with extremely destructive superpowers called Spirits. While other organizations seek to achieve this through violence, Ratatoskr takes a more pacifist approach. Using Shido, Ratatoskr hopes to seal the powers of the Spirits away via a true love's kiss. While Date A Live encompasses many genres, the series is a comedy at its core. This comedic lean has its roots in the series' conception. According to the Yen Press release of the first novel, translated by Jocelyne Allen, Koushi Tachibana based the premise of the series on a gag. As Tachibana remarked, "The initial idea for this book was 'wouldn't it be kind of funny if the members of a secret organization were very seriously playing a dating sim'? Like, imagine a torso shot of a beautiful 2D girl on the large screen on the bridge of a battleship, and the captain and everyone are trying to choose an option, sweat pouring down their faces..."

The thing about comedies is that they can be hit-or-miss, as they are wont to be. As a comedy light novel, Date A Live holds a bit of an advantage in this regard: it has to rely on written jokes alone, which means fewer visual gags, but also results in more methodical gaffs. One of my favorite gags from early on in the series comes from the first season's fourth episode, where Yoshino taunts Tohka through her rabbit hand-puppet Yoshinon, causing Tohka to snag the puppet and yell at it. This gag incorporates Tohka's misunderstanding of basic real-world ideas as well as important information. The scenario of a young woman strangling a girl's hand-puppet is not only absurd, but also plot-relevant as it establishes Yoshino's connection to her puppet, which becomes vital later in the arc. Many of the gags in the series have a similar balance of characterization and absurdity. Though if visual gags are more your thing, the anime adaptation sweetens the deal by adding unique reactions that hit a nice sweet spot of enhancing the punch of many jokes, but not pushing too hard to get laughs.

Tohka strangles Yoshino's puppet, Yoshinon

One of the reasons why there's a lot to love about Date A Live is that there are many characters to love. The cast of Date A Live is rather large and tends to grow with each new arc in the series. On one hand, it can mean that your potential favorite character takes a while to get introduced. On the other, it means that there is a constant drip-feed of new characters to learn about and enough time for the story to develop the characters beyond their initial archetypes and for each of them to carve out their unique place within the setting. With how many characters there are, everyone is bound to find at least one to love—whether that's the fan favorite goth-lolita fashion clad Kurumi Tokisaki, the headstrong but airheaded Tohka Yatogami, the calculated and obsessive Origami Tobiichi, or any among the swaths of other personalities.

On top of all of this, Date A Live is simply built differently compared to light novels from the early 2010s, and especially compared to current light novels. The very idea that Date A Live is out of time actually works in its favor by serving as greater juxtaposition to what gives the franchise its identity. Where the isekai boom has shifted light novel adaptations towards fantasy settings more than ever, Date A Live sticks out as a decidedly sci-fi series (Ratatoskr, Deus Ex Machina, AST) with a little hint of fantasy (Spirits)—the clash of which sets the story into motion. This conflict is immediately established with the initial clash between Tohka and Origami in the very first episode of the anime. There are other romantic comedies with a large cast of colorful personalities. There are other series centered around science-fantasy conflicts. But none else boast the exact mix—and the exact sensibilities—that Date A Live has.

Tohka and Origami clash for the first time

The franchise's unique identity is—in my personal opinion—why the fanbase remains so persistent and strong throughout all these years. To people who only pay attention to anime, it may be surprising to learn that Date A Live has a very passionate fanbase both in Japan and abroad. Yet, it is these fans who cemented the series as a top seller with each novel debut until Tachibana concluded the series only recently, and made possible two additional anime seasons—as well as two films—past where many thought the anime had stalled for good. With the anime, the third game that also collects the prior two, and now the original novels available in English, the franchise as a whole is thriving more than ever. With the fourth season coming, those interested in diving into the series should be rest assured that catching up is no monumental task and is more than worth the thirty-four-episode commitment. Whether through the anime or the novels, Date A Live will make you fall in love.

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