The Summer 2014 Anime Preview Guide
DRAMAtical Murder

Hope Chapman

Rating: 1


DRAMAtical Murder takes place in the future, and the future is a living nightmare. I don't mean that it's post-apocalyptic or war-torn or anything like that. In fact, the future seems pretty neat, with persistent network connections bringing people into effortless contact with one another, and persocom-like bots in the form of cuddly puppies and kitties that connect you to the net while being adorable talking pets. No, the world of DRAMAtical Murder is a nightmare, at least for me, because it's my nightmare. I think this show is one of the cheapest and most hideous I've seen in a long time. It's not cheap in the same way as say, Rowdy Sumo Wrestler Matsutaro or other minimally animated kids' and family shows, but its ambition and execution are so widely divorced that it's comical and endlessly distracting.

It's hard to pay attention to the story because the show itself is just a baffling laundry list of animation errors. It's barely animated most of the time, but when motion is demanded of DRAMAtical Murder, its characters jitter forward on three-frames of a run cycle, usually out of sync with the speed of the moving background behind them. The backgrounds seem so divorced from the characters in fact that they feel more like plastic cut-outs than almost any anime in recent memory. Kids climbing a shelf appear to be floating on top of it, thanks in no small part to the awkward two-frame animation of them swaying. One guy sits on the steps in a backalley which seem to be about two feet long, but immediately become five feet long when the camera cuts to a closeup of the dude. A policeman's punch is delivered in a panned still frame with speedlines while his mouth flaps awkwardly on top of the image. I could keep going forever, but from a technical standpoint, it's just a disaster.

The art is in a little more dispute. Some may like the cotton candy bishounen and retro-future cyber city. Once again, I thought it was ugly as sin. The characters seem both ultra-generic and overdesigned within an inch of their little paper-y lives, and it doesn't help the lighting is weirdly uniform on them. Our blue hero is nearly the same bright shade of blue no matter the time of day or environment, and it's bizarre. Either way, people's faces go off-model given even a mild change in perspective, so whether the aesthetic is your cup of tea or not, the stilted life it's given is anything but glamorous.

I was so bewildered by the production design that it was hard to care about the story, but sadly the story's nothing to get excited for either. I can appreciate that it was attempting to build up its sci fi setting naturally instead of spewing exposition at us like so many visual novel adaptations, but it didn't build or explain very well. I was confused for most of the experience, and I didn't care about any of the characters, mostly because protagonist Aoba doesn't seem to care about anything himself. The first episode basically consists of him going from plot element to plot element with little connections between them, saying "Eh, I'm not interested in that," and moseying back home. By the end it turns out he's the superpowered chosen one of some kind of cyberized survival game, but it hardly matters.

The story may clarify itself or improve with future episodes, but I just wanted to stop looking at DRAMAtical Murder with all my heart. Once it was over I was in mild shock at how incompetent the whole affair was and no amount of cyber-future-pretty-boys can ever bring me back.

DRAMAtical Murder is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Rebecca Silverman

Rating: 2


Aoba is a young man living in a highly technological, yet somehow very 80s, future Japan. He works at a store named “Junk Shop Mediocrity” (definitely a harbinger of the show's quality), his signature color is electric smurf, and he has a dog-shaped personal computing device named Ren. He often has to make deliveries for his boss, which gives him a chance to wander sulkily around town, meeting up with other beautiful men who will surely be important later. On one such ramble he encounters what looks to be a pick up game of “Rhyme,” a virtual fighter where people summon avatars to do battle. Aoba's not really a player, which means he's all the more shocked when the next day he's caught up in a random Rhyme event. He gets his behind handed to him by a sinister looking bunny doctor and his adorable minions, but there's nothing he can do about it – Ren tells him that the logout function has been disabled.

From the flow of the show, it isn't hard to tell that DRAMAtical Murder is based on a game. Every character interaction has the feel of a basic encounter, giving us the basics of who they are (gang member, crazy cop, roving hairdresser) without doing much for the plot yet. Given the the game is yaoi, it seems possible that they are all also potential love interests, although that's pure conjecture right now. The episode's real hook comes at the end when Aoba is unable to leave the game, but given recent shows like Log Horizon and SAO, it's not really all that exciting. It also doesn't help that Aoba doesn't have much in the way of personality at this point; the most we know about him right now is that he lives with his grandmother and that his stunning blue mullet is extremely sensitive to the touch. Granted, this is more than we know about the other characters, but it is very little to go on when trying to get viewers interested in a show.

The designs are fairly interesting, which is probably the biggest plus here. Aoba looks like the 1980s' vision of the future with his mullet, moon boots, puffy jacket, and leg warmers, while other characters have a distinctly Japanese flavor or a more punk look. (Or a terrible plaid suit.) Backgrounds are busy but not overwhelming, maintaining a balance between flat-out futuristic and dangerously shady. The colors are mostly dull, which makes Aoba's appearance stand out.

All in all, DRAMAtical Murder's first episode banks too much on style at the expense of substance. The hook isn't unique enough (or well enough done) to really pull you in, the lead seems bland, and you can practically see the text bubbles from the game when characters are speaking. If you're desperate for some futuristic pretty boys or have the patience to hang around for the yaoi content, it might be worth watching, but otherwise, it's pretty bland for a show with “murder” in the title.

DRAMAtical Murder is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Theron Martin
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: As female fan service-oriented series have become more numerous over the past few years, the same flaws that have long been problems in male fan service-focused series have started to show: so much emphasis on the hot guys that anything else – plot, depth, creative setting – commonly gets sacrificed to generic formula and characterizations. This new series, based on a BL visual novel, looks like it may actually buck that trend. Although it does introduce a plethora of hot guys, it actually also does some ambitious things with its setting in particular and looks like it will have anything but a run-of-the-mill plot.

Surprisingly, the setting of the story is not described to us; we only see a picture of an island which has a domed city part which looks like it might be cutting-edge futuristic and an adjoining outside city part which is more run-down but still has advance technological features like holographical Walk/Don't Walk signs. Various tidbits dropped throughout the episode suggest that this may be a futuristic totalitarian state, as people are not allowed to leave the island without permission and the crackdown on a rogue cyber game gathering is very harsh. Young men in the outer city commonly join gangs called “teams” which are identified by tattoos. Aoba is not part of that scene, though, or at least he isn't anymore (there are strong implications that he was at one time, though, as he is known and respected by various prominent members of different gangs); he is a “No Mark” working at a store called Junk Shop Mediocrity and living with his grandmother. Urban legends of people being spirited away and coming back with wiped memories, and how they might be associated with cyber games, have lingered for years, but Aoba has just flat-out never been interested in the hot new thing called Rhyme. Someone seems intent on drawing him into that world, though – literally.

DRAMAtical Murder is getting a high rating from me not so much because it does anything particularly well, but because it invites viewers in rather than grabbing them by the collar and dragging them along, an approach that most anime series these days do not have the guts or patience to try. For a series which so heavily emphasize female-oriented eye candy, its approach is unusually casual and subtle, and it respects the intelligence of its viewers more than most other anime series of its type do. The setting is interesting, with all sorts of cool technological applications, and all kinds of potential plot threads are suggested – and all without a whiff of info-dumping. Director Kazuya Miura has never helmed an anime project before, but if this first episode is an accurate indication of what he can do in putting an adaptation together, this won't be his last.

DRAMAtical Murder is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Carl Kimlinger

Rating: 2.5

Review: Based off of a Nitro+chiral BL game, Dramatical Murder is a mystery/romance/action sci-fi series with some implied social commentary. And as that description suggests it fills its first episode with all kinds of stuff: characters, details of setting, dangling ends of plot threads. Now, if only some of that stuff were interesting… Well, at least if we're bored stiff, we're being bored stiff with lovely visuals. Another series from NAZ, the guys who gave the abominable Hamatora its interesting look, Dramatical is an honest treat for the eyes. Which is important when a large part of your show is tied up in following a teeming cast of gorgeous boys wondering which will hook up with which. The hero is total uke Aoba, who has long girly hair and an oft-hinted-at complicated past, and we follow him for most of the episode as he wanders his city meeting other handsome guys. All of whom are lovingly illustrated and perfectly squeal-worthy—and not quite as unpleasantly affected as fetishized males (and females) tend to be, either. Unfortunately they're also boring as hell, which goes double for personality-impaired Aoba.

At least Aoba lives in an interesting place. With its jumbled streets and vibrant colors, his slum (which abuts a glistening futuristic bubble-city) is far more interesting to look at than the show is to follow. Sure there are multiple mysteries hinted at between the bishonen meet-and-greets—street gangs that are mysteriously vanishing into thin air, a virtual reality game that is mysteriously addicting the youth, a mythical gang that lurks mysteriously in the shadows—but none hooks more than skin-deep. And then there's the game-made-real aspect (about virtual-reality attackers sent to mysteriously hurt Aoba for reals) which is just plain dispiriting. The show would have been better served by choosing just one hook and setting it deep rather than throwing a big handful and hoping one accidentally sets.

Dramatical Murder is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

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