The Fall 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Dance with Devils
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dance with Devils ?
Ah, so this is how you get me interested in an abusive boy-focused reverse harem. You stage it as an actual musical, and wholly embrace the camp of your concept. Good to know.
Dance with Devils opens with shadowy figures alternately chanting and singing about a mystical grimoire, giving you some idea of the nonsense to come. This show is a legitimate musical, or at least it is so far, meaning that after we're introduced to the protagonist Ritsuka as she does her chores and waves her mom goodbye, we get to hear her sing a Disney-styled “I want” song about dreaming of a magical prince. But no sooner has she arrived at school than she learns she's been summoned by the mysterious student council, led by the “Great Rem,” Rem Kaginuki. And their introduction is something to see. In an absurd, gleefully camp sequence of pretty boys dancing with spectral damsels, Rem and his three shimmering council-mates exult in their obvious devilishness, crooning about “labyrinths of depravity” and how they “love your sweet soul.”
It's pretty great.
That sequence is the highlight of the episode, and unfortunately marks the end of this first episode's musical interludes. But there's still more to enjoy here. For one thing, Ritsuka's a nicely strong-willed protagonist, given she's stuck in the “dangerous boys abuse a waiflike heroine because some people are apparently into that” subgenre. She fights back against Rem's condescending questions, and when she later sees her house being invaded by sexy burglars, she does her best to handle the situation. In a show like this, I want to be laughing at the indulgences of the style and narrative, not sighing at the emptiness of the protagonist.
And there's plenty to laugh at here. The show is clearly in on the joke, and just having a great time with the assumptions of its genre. The character designs help, from the aforementioned sexy burglars to the member of Rem's student council who just can't manage to get his jacket over his shoulders. And the songs are a great boon as well, essentially adding a scorching personal signature to plot elements that we already knew were coming. Even the direction gets in on the fun, with many scenes being framed to emphasize the gothic melodrama of the premise, and Rem's fight with the burglars being composed almost as a dance-battle. Overall, Dance with Devils’ first episode is just an unexpected pile of fun, and worth checking out even if you have no interest in sexy vampire boys.
Dance with Devils is available streaming on Funimation.com.
Who guessed that the word “dance” in the show's title was going to be literal? Dance with Devils is Rejet's other supernatural harem airing this season, but color me surprised when it turned out to be both a literal musical and not starring a mute waif bombarded by asshole devil suitors.
The show stars Ritsuka, a confident high school girl who is interested in finding her prince charming. Her mom works as a British fantasy novel translator and has a more than passing interest in witchcraft. This is more along the lines of new-age hedgewitch practices that can be seen throughout the family home. She makes her daughter wear verbena in a locket, a protective spell that proves useful since apparently Ritsuka's sprawling, European high school is home to a Satanic cult. This cult is after a “forbidden grimoire” and they kidnap Ritsuka's mom while hunting for it.
Also at the center of the mystery (and the anime's major selling point) is a student council of devilishly good-looking guys. They're headed by Rem, an all-business type blonde who is probably a demon. The show automatically gets bonus points for having only one guy that looks ready to murder the female protagonist, no trilbies, and as of yet no suitors referring to Ritsuka endearingly as “Little Bitch.”
It also has musical numbers! Not just insert songs played in the background but actual musical numbers. The first is a rather generic opener that introduces Ritsuka as a no-nonsense type who is considering romance. The second number is like a response to Starmyu's counterpart. There's no choreographed gyrating, unfortunately, but it has the same self-declaring lyrics and pairs each student council member with his dangerous animal counterpart (Goat! Spider! Snake! Raven!). The result is just as silly, but this a musical reverse harem anime starring a student council full of demons, so “silly” is quite at home here.
When approaching this genre, especially a first episode, I only expect a few things. The female character has to be likable. She's a self-insert for the female viewers so she probably won't be unique, but watching her interact with other characters can't be frustrating. The male characters need to be both distinguishable from one another physically and in personality, even if the latter portion is somewhat generic. Finally, there has to be some kind of passably interesting plot. Diabolik Lovers has the latter two but lacks the first (whether you like male characters' personalities is another topic) and the same could be said of Amnesia. The first episode of Dance with Devils leads me to believe it has all three and barring Ritsuka losing her backbone or the plot going entirely awash, it could be one of the better reverse-harems in quite a while.
Review: In the “things that seem improbable” category, the first episode of this original new anime production gets multiple ticks. It's at least partly a musical, it is completely a darkly-shaded reverse-harem scenario, you won't necessarily hate it even if you are normally averse to both of the above, and perhaps most surprisingly, I am actually giving it a mildly positive review even though I am well outside of the target audience.
The action centers on Ritsuka, a mildly cute girl who, despite coming from a seemingly-middle class home, attends an ultra-posh high school. (For once a series does not spell out that this is a school for the elite; it just makes that obvious through the visuals.) One day a notice summons her to meet the President of the all-bishonen Student Council, who attempts some kind of mystical trickery on her but, unbeknownst to her, is repelled by a special pendant her mother insists that she wear. Her day gets stranger when, upon returning home, she finds her mother badly injured and three individuals ransacking the house. By the time she returns with police, though, they (and her mother) are all gone and everything looks normal. On the advice of her elder brother, an apparent priestly type who says he's returning from overseas over this, she goes to a friend's house, but on the way is beset by the supernatural hoodlums who had attacked her house. She is rescued by the Student Council President, who shows that he has the strength to fight the attackers off. In the process she leans that devil worshipers may be afoot at her school and that they are looking for a forgotten grimoire and think she knows where it is. Virtually everything screams that she does, indeed, have an intimate connection to it but is unaware of it. But what is the President's angle?
The most startling aspect to me is that all three of the musical numbers – a dark and ominous prologue song, a lighter number where Ritsuka sings about going to school, and the Student Council introduction number – were actually good performance pieces. They are not the cheap, throwaway garbage which normally serves as performance numbers in anime, but given that the series is being made in collaboration with the Japanese composer group Elemental Garden, that perhaps shouldn't be so surprising. Even beyond that, though, it feels like the series actually trying to not just be openly pandering to fujoshi audiences – because, let's face it, it use way too many common tropes and structural elements of reverse harem series to claim otherwise. It may even have an actual story here which goes beyond just a thinly-veiled excuse to gather all of the hot guys into Ritsuka's orbit. The production merits, while not top-notch, are pretty decent, too. (Well, except for those absolutely hideous outfits that the girls have to wear for school uniforms; those things could hurt the eyes after a while.)
While I hesitate to say that I would actually follow this series, because it is still a combination of two genres I normally don't like, it has intrigued me enough to worth checking out for at least one or two more episodes.
Song alert! Song alert! Dance With Devils, a reverse harem with once again no basis in an otome game (I clearly have to expand my expectations), is a musical. Well, the first half is – after opening with a song about grimoires, our heroine Ritsuka sings a lovely little song about how she doesn't believe in fairy tales anymore but still basically expects there to be a prince charming just for her, before she gets called before the Student Council who belt out a song about how awesome and irresistible they are. And then the music stops. So I guess it's half a musical?
In any event, while Dance With Devils is in part unintentionally very funny – it has song titles and credits like in an episode of Jem and the Holograms, only they're written in runic script – it also is surprisingly kind of good. This episode introduces Ritsuka, who lives with her translator mother, is the granddaughter of a British folklore scholar, and the sister of a...priest? Her brother appears to work in something church related in England, which is clearly going to be important. Based on Grandpa's work, Ritsuka's mom is fairly superstitious, refreshing the verbena charm Ritsuka wears everyday for full potency. It turns out she may have been on to something when the (hot, dangerous) student council president Rem summons Ritsuka and tries to bewitch her. Ritsuka luckily knows enough to get the hell out of there, and later when she gets home and finds devils/vampires/thugs ripping apart her house, she knows enough to go to the cops as well. But when she gets back? It's as if nothing ever happened...except for her mother having vanished.
Naturally only Ritsuka's brother believes her, and he's wasting no time getting home. Meanwhile she is saved from...vampires...by Rem. At this point her brain apparently gives out, because she goes to his house with him, where he fortunately declines to sing to her. Clearly this is a show which will rely very heavily on our suspension of disbelief, whether it is for the musical numbers or the gorgeous yet evil guys after Ritsuka, or even just her awful, fussy school uniform. But if you can get past all of the silliness, I feel like there's a good reverse harem story in here. The ending theme implies that the real fight for Ritsuka will be between her brother and Rem, which may prove problematic if that's not your thing, but Ritsuka seems to have it enough together that she won't be a doormat in whatever is ahead for her, and there's a nice variation of designs for all of the characters. The colors and patterns can be a little much at times, and the emphasis on Evil Glowing Red Eyes is already overdone in episode one, so this doesn't feel like a hit out of the gate. But if you're in the mood for reverse harem with some J-pop, or even are interested in how British folklore is used in horror fiction (or whatever genre this is), this really could be a pleasant surprise.
I can't believe I'm writing this, but Dance with Devils is a musical. I don't mean "the show is themed around music in some way" like Love Live! or Beck: Mongolian Chop Squad. I don't mean there are occasional musical interludes or insert songs that define the show like Cowboy Bebop or some Macross series. I mean the characters straight-up break into showstopping showtunes in the middle of their normal day, and everything from the highly incidental fully orchestrated score to the fantastical staging of musical numbers is reminiscent of a Broadway show. I'm not just making a simple comparison because the characters sing their feelings either; this show is different from other pseudo-musical anime like Nerima Daikon Brothers or Red Garden. Where the former repeated simple melodies with alternate lyrics across multiple episodes and the latter randomly sprinkled in improvisational-sounding songs into an otherwise normal show, Dance with Devils plays out like a Broadway libretto translated directly into animation. Think Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. It's that close in style, except all the songs are one minute long instead of three, to fit the shorter TV runtime.
The episode opens with a classic "tone-and-setting-defining opening number" sung by the chorus, since we don't know the cast members yet but everyone expects a stage musical to begin with song, never dialogue. Who's our chorus? Why, a cathedral full of devil worshippers, of course! They sing about the hour of darkness approaching and the great power of "the forbidden grimoire," right before their king sacrifices our hypnotized heroine to the POWERS OF HELL! Gasp! With that hook firmly planted, we flash back to the heroine's normal high school days, where she sings her "I Want" song. Ritsuka is a practical, no-nonsense girl who knows that fairytales aren't real, but she really wishes that a knight in shining armor would sweep her off her feet someday. Almost immediately following this, we get another song: an "I Am" number for the show's reverse harem, a student council of demon-boys with bad attitudes. Ritsuka's magical pendant marks her as the girl of prophecy or something, her mother gets kidnapped by devil worshippers, and the not-very-nice student council resolves to help her while solving the mystery of the forbidden grimoire. Say what you will about the story, but its mimicry of stage musical form is freakishly perfect. (The songs themselves aren't great, but they're not at all bad either! They at least sound better than basically every other anime-musical thing I've heard before, so I consider that a victory. Yes, I'm including that musical Space Dandy episode. I appreciate their effort, but it only had one listenable song.)
That central conceit by itself, "this anime is a Broadway musical," should basically tell you whether this is a new must-see or if you should run screaming in the other direction. At the very least, it's unique, and I also think it's really prescient! The idol anime market is cornered at this point, so why not get a jump on the relatively untapped stage musical anime market? I know I would watch the hell out of a full Takarazuka Revue anime of some kind!
Of course, that's not the kind of story Dance with Devils is telling, and that's the big problem. Underneath its great gimmick, this is still schlocky garbage, with a wallflower female lead being tossed to the whims of a pack of abusive fantasy boys with angelic faces. This is definitely from the 50 Shades-flavored Amnesia or Diabolik Lovers stripe of vicarious romance, rather than the more positive and upbeat Ouran Host Club or Uta no Prince-sama harem fluff. I do think the stage musical format and already high-stakes premise give it a huge leg up on all its competition, so I would heartily recommend this to ladies looking for some trashy good fun since it seems to have a sense of humor about itself. This has "guilty pleasure" written all over it, but at least it's written in blazing hot neon.
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