The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Devils' Line ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Vampire action shows are pretty much a dime a dozen within anime, even more common if you expand to near-vampires like the creatures from Tokyo Ghoul. Tokyo Ghoul actually seems like a reasonable comparison point for Devils' Line, as the focus is just as much on struggling with living with the desire to eat humans as it is on combating those who desire to do so. This premiere offers an even mix of violence and melancholy, and though its aesthetic issues and general predictability somewhat hold it down, it still establishes a fairly reasonable premise.
The show's first scene comes on far too strong, mixing up letterbox framing, an overbearing red filter, and shaky camera work to convey a vampire just murdering the heck out of a whole bunch of strangers. That contrast of ambitious technique and mediocre or overbearing execution carries on throughout this episode, with some impressively animated fight scenes ending up undercut by the show's weirdly choppy pacing and constant faded-out look. Devils' Line is full of visual compositions that are grounded in very good ideas, but lack the clarity or beauty to follow through on those ideas.
The writing is a similarly mixed bag. I really enjoyed this episode's consistent framing of vampirism as a tragic addiction, even from the police's perspective, which lent a welcome sense of melancholy to its confrontations. That framing paid off wonderfully in this episode's climax, which focused on heroine Tsukasa's secretly vampiric friend attempting to justify his own actions. Her friend's murders were obviously unforgivable, but the show successfully built up his situation as one with no right answer, lending some real emotional weight to his panicked defenses.
Unfortunately, the writing surrounding that compelling seed is more hit-or-miss. There's a fair amount of slow boilerplate dialogue throughout this episode, and some of the reflections on vampirism fall fully into schlocky melodrama territory. Tsukasa's co-protagonist Anzai also looks to be a very typical “super cool and haunted by personal demons” type so far, leaving me worried this show will go in the most obvious direction this genre shell tends to lead. Still, on the whole, there's enough good in Devils' Line that if its premise intrigues you, I'd definitely give it a look. If Devils' Line can sort out its muddy visuals and hone in on the compelling tragedy of its premise, it could turn out to be reasonable entertainment.
If there are any two genres I can forgive for indulging in more lurid tropes, it would be vampire stories and police procedurals. Vampires have been used to exploring forbidden lust and monstrous personal secrets for centuries, and procedurals can often mine guilty fun out of even the most formulaic plots. Devils' Line takes these two concepts and mixes them together, giving us a sexy half-vampire (who is also a stoic cop) fighting to keep vampires from hunting down their victims. Tsukasa Taira is the innocent everywoman who gets roped into Anzai's crazy world when one of her friends turns out to have a taste for human blood. It's well worn territory, but there's potential here for an exciting supernatural romance that's tinged with some cop drama grit to keep things interesting.
Unfortunately, this premiere botches things pretty badly. I'm not familiar with the manga, but I have been informed by some readers that this first episode doesn't do the source material justice, and I'm inclined to believe it. Production-wise, this is one of the shoddier premieres of the season, laying thick color filters and film grain over choppy character animation and some supremely bad pacing. There is one scene, the climactic moment where Tsukasa realizes that one of her best friends is a murderous vampire, that's just one long cut of nearly silent back-and-forth closeups of characters' eyes. Another fight scene between a police officer and a vampire is choreographed well enough, but the choppy key frames of the fight were sped up in a bizarre manner that had me checking multiple times whether the HIDIVE player was accidentally set to 1.5x speed.
Because of these glaring directorial issues, the little amount of story present in this episode is given no time to breathe whatsoever. Tsukasa, Anzai, and the rest are given almost no dialogue until the final moments of the episode, with the rest of the episode's runtime devoted to bad action sequences and unengaging mood sequences. Instead of trying to develop Tsukasa and Akimura's relationship naturally, the episode awkwardly squeezes in a saccharine flashback as the former watches the latter get stabbed to death, and even that final scene is inexplicably cut short: Just as Anzai jumps on Tsukasa to consume her blood, the credits roll, leaving anyone who hasn't read the manga to wonder if the show's ostensible hero is any better than all the other vampires. I understand that this is the point, but I don't think the scene was supposed to communicate this point so poorly.
Given the show's production issues, I hesitate to hope for much improvement from this series, but if the story evens out and the characters are given room to breathe, I can envision a version of Devils' Line that could be a fun, if heavily flawed, guilty pleasure. For now though, go into Devils' Line with your expectations seriously lowered.
Even though I was a fan of The Vampire Lestat and the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series back in the day, I've never had much interest in the romanticism that goes hand-in-hand with vampire stories. I can understand the allure that vampires can pose and the psychology behind it, but they've never been attractive to me. Hence I wasn't expecting much out of this vampire romance story going in. For a while I thought the series might actually defy my expectations, as the first episode turns out to be far more action-oriented than its synopsis implied. Then the first big plot twist hit, revealing the real co-protagonist, and my hopes fell through the floor; it's the emo guy who is of course secretly a vampire. Then the last scene happened, and I was more than ready to leave this one behind.
To be fair, this episode does a decent job of establishing the ambiance surrounding its premise, which is a darkly-tinged variation on the concept of vampires becoming unstoppable, insatiable monsters once the smell of blood is in the air. At least Tsukasa's wannabe-boyfriend was genuinely in love with her and not just courting her as part of some game to make feeding more interesting. The action scenes both at the beginning and especially in the rooftop fight involving the agent Jill also showed some promise, with the latter in particular showing a respectable amount of dynamic movement. The reddish color filter used for that opening scene also provides a stylish (if also typical) look, and Tsukasa is strikingly pretty.
However, Anzai being the co-protagonist just kills any interest I might muster for the series. He gives every indication of being one of those morose loners that you're supposed to sympathize with, but from the moment it became clear that he wasn't the villain, my overriding thought was that he either needs to drop the dark eye shadow or get a proper night's sleep. Take him out of the equation and focus on Tsukasa and I might be interested, but Anzai presents such a powerful turn-off that it overrides all other factors for me.
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