The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Doreiku the Animation
How would you rate episode 1 of
Doreiku The Animation ?
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How was the first episode?
Doreiku belongs to the seemingly flourishing sub-sub-genre of borderline fetishistic gambling anime that I was only recently made aware of thanks to Kakegurui. Gotta hand it to anime, I cannot think of another medium where I would encounter a series where the premise can be summed up as “Characters compete in various competitions using drug-infused retainers that will force the loser to become the winner's mind-slave”.
Doreiku is pure pulp trash, reveling in the lasciviousness and profanity that its adult characters engage in throughout the premiere. (The first scene of the episode contains a presumptive date rape, and sexual assault rears its head again as a key plot point later on in Lucie's story.) However, it handles this material better than other nihilistic series I've seen this season in a couple key areas. First off, it bothers to set up a somewhat intriguing premise; I like the idea of any possible form of competition being turned into a potential battleground, even if the “master and slave” dynamic is not my thing. I also appreciated that the lurid subject matter was kept somewhat tasteful; we aren't forced to watch the worst of the sexual violence, which helps place the focus squarely on the revenge of victims like Lucie. The show is still too exploitative for my tastes, but it was executed well enough that I could find some enjoyment in the basic concept.
Unfortunately, I'm not sure if that's enough to make Doreiku worth watching overall. The production values are horribly inconsistent, and given that most shows only degrade in quality as the season goes on, I doubt that Doreiku is going to win anyone over purely on its aesthetic merits. I also found Yuuga and Eia to be lacking as protagonists; as much as I enjoy series that feature everyday adults as their heroes, there just wasn't enough chemistry or personality between the two to suck me into their story. Outside of their enjoyably offbeat rendezvous in a swan-shaped paddle-boat, their interactions struck me as functional rather than engaging. Perhaps this will change as the series progresses, but I'm not sure if their relationship will be able to flourish under the shadow of Doreiku's more hyperbolic sensibilities.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy Doreiku The Animation, and though I can't say that I was exactly swooning over this premiere, it certainly wasn't as bad as it could have been. With a little more script polishing and a modicum of restraint, Doreiku could prove to be a guilty pleasure that doesn't overplay its hand. It isn't my thing, but it could be worth checking out if you're in the mood for something with more R-rated edge to it than most other series this season.
Doreiku has a pretty uncomfortable premise, and its first episode touches on some very loaded subjects, but neither of those were my biggest issues with this premiere. No, my biggest complaint is that it gives off a very specific kind of bad impression, of wanting to be clever and provocative but only coming across dumb and tactless. It feels like a pulp paperback masquerading as an intellectual thriller, and the script comes across amateurish instead of edgy. Rather than coming away from this episode disturbed or intrigued, I was mostly bored and a little weary.
The story presents a grim view of human nature, and that perspective brings us a pair of main characters who are tough to like at the moment. Yuuga's motivation for seeking out SCM duels is at least less sleazy than it could have been; being a competitive thrill-seeker sounds better than being an aspiring slave owner, for whatever that's worth. That said, there's nothing especially redeeming about his personality, and we haven't been given any compelling reason to care about what happens to him. Eia's observational skills do seem like a plausible side effect of her tendency to keep people at arm's length, but her judgment is shaky at best. When a guy tells you that he dumped your friend in order to focus on a world of winner-take-all mind-control duels, you'd have to be pretty darn bored and amoral to willingly sign on as his “insurance policy.”
The big SCM duel we see in this episode doesn't give me much faith in Doreiku's ability to serve up compelling conflicts between characters. It's obvious from the outset who's going to win, and the eventual revelation of Lucie's winning strategy is pretty underwhelming. If this show is going to use games of skill and chance to decide its duels, it'll need to get much more creative with the tricks and tactics that characters use. Aside from being heavy-handed in its presentation, Lucie's storyline also lacks any thematic depth beyond the obvious reversal of victim and predator roles. The only real message it conveys is that Doreiku isn't shy about using the narrative equivalent of an atomic bomb to set up an episodic storyline.
Other titles have made good use of high-stakes gambling and battles of wits between unscrupulous characters, but something tells me Doreiku isn't going to be one of them. Its point of view is too dismal, its premise is too shaky, its storytelling is too sloppy, and its messaging is too blunt. It may be worth a look if you're in search of a story about bad things happening to bad people, but there are better shows out there serving the same niche.
Doreiku The Animation can't go anywhere good with its whopper of a premise: a device exists that can effectively enslave people who lose a duel. At the same time, that's also what makes it morbidly fascinating. Exactly how sensationalistic is this show going to get? Will it just be plumbing the dark impulses of humanity for sport or trying to make some kind of social statement? I'm a little intrigued by how far this series is willing to go.
Doreiku is passable where Magical Girl Site was despicable because its characters are adults rather than middle schoolers (at least so far) and most of the characters who wind up enslaved are aware that they're taking the risk willingly. Suffering because of poor choices you've made – which will clearly be a core theme of this series – is entirely different from suffering just because the world is filled with inexplicably cruel characters. There's no question that getting involved with these SCMs is a poor choice if you understand what they actually do – unless, of course, you have a serious sado-masochistic bent, in which case I could see these being utterly irresistible. I'd be shocked if such fetishes weren't a recurring theme in the series.
The mechanics of how this device causes mental enslavement – by amplifying the wearer's sense of obligation – is an interesting if improbable twist that excises supernatural elements from the equation. The details for its application seem too specific though, so I have to wonder if there aren't side effects like obsessive-compulsive behavior from wearing a SCM. I can see all sorts of parallels being made to drug addiction as well, and I'd be disappointed if the script doesn't explore such an angle at some point. I can also see all sorts of ways that these things could be abused by criminal groups, since the trick we see the freckled lady pull just scratches the surface. Force someone to wear one, rig a duel that the person must lose, and you would have an instant slave. Frankly, this SCM thing is scarily powerful.
Of course, given Eia's ominous closing words and what we've seen so far, trashy exploitation seems a more likely path than anything more analytical. But in a season that's relatively light on fanservice offerings, that could be a worthwhile angle on its own. This one won't be for all tastes, but I can definitely see an audience for it.
Although Doreiku is billed as a “survival game” series, it's not about actual fights to the death. Instead it relies on ideas of dominance and submission in the cruelest way possible – without the possibility of escape. Based on a light novel series (that was originally self-published online), the story appears to revolve around the idea of really evil orthodonture, a device that you can buy and wear behind your teeth called an SCM. Should another person also be wearing an SCM, the more dominant person can make the lesser one their slave. Sure, you can't order the “slave” to die or do something beyond their means, but since even removing the device won't break the master's hold, that's arguably worse than death in some (or maybe all) cases. It's a highly unsettling premise, more horrifying the more you think about it.
It's also a damned uncomfortable premise for any kind of story, especially since it comes without an escape clause – the only way to break the curse (for lack of a better word) is for the master to free the slave, and given that the kind of person who wants to experiment with making other people their slave in the first place isn't likely to be big on compassion, ethics, or self-control, it's easy to assume that people don't break free often. Presumably this is intentional on the story's part, as it wants to make some statements about how the formerly powerless can become the aggressors if there's a shift in the power balance. This comes to mind through the first person we really see use the SCM, a rape survivor named Lucie. Lucie uses the SCM to get revenge on her rapist, which at first sounds like a decent idea – he's clearly a predator and won't stop with just her. But once Lucie gets a taste of having power over him, well – the punishment may fit the crime, but is it possible to make the victim the villain in such a way?
I'm not terribly hopeful that Doreiku will explore its ideas gracefully based on this episode. The fact that SCMs have somehow been allowed into the market in the first place beggars belief. (As does the magical orthodontic science that allows them to exist in the first place; tongue spikes don't feel like a believable mind control method.) I'm also not sure that Lucie's case was a great one to start with. Yes, she's going too far, but it's an unfortunate hypothetical that makes it hard not to feel like the guy deserves it anyway. Given that the first example of an SCM being used is a guy telling a hot lady to have sex with him, it feels like these two examples are being directly compared, which sits wrong with me. Add in probable protagonist Eia's total lack of emotional intelligence, and it feels as if the story may have psychological ambitions beyond its capacity to handle them. Things could head into torture porn territory very quickly. If that's not something you're up for, I suspect that this isn't going to be the series for you – based on the mixed messages of this episode, it's not one I'll be watching.
Doreiku's exploitation-ripe premise had me pretty nervous leading into this premiere. A show that revels in S&M imagery while presenting a world where people become actual slaves seems like it would have to be at least pretty tasteless, and at worst be the kind of joylessly brutal horror I can't stand. This episode doesn't really evade those fears; it's willing to reach for dramatic hammers like rape and assault to bolster its intensity right away, and the story is drenched in that “everyone in this world is secretly a monster” tone that I tend to find exhausting and juvenile. But in spite of its ham-handed dramatic choices, proudly repugnant characters, and relatively mediocre aesthetics, there's a seed of something more engaging than pure exploitation in this premise: a potentially thrilling gambling/puzzle drama.
Both this episode's central expository conversation between its two leads, along with its ongoing vignette about a woman getting revenge on her rapist, seem to imply that the focus will be less on the troubling implications of a world where people can be turned into slaves, and more on the tactical back-and-forth of the duels people fight to win control over others. The twist for this particular episode's duel wasn't terribly satisfying, but Doreiku is certainly traveling through dramatically fertile space. From Kaiji to Liar Game to Kakegurui, stories about melodramatic brain-twisting duels possess a clear appeal that Doreiku is definitely seeking, even if it hasn't quite grasped that appeal yet.
On the whole, Doreiku offered a more promising opening than I'd expected, but still not strong enough to hold my interest. The show's focus on intellectual battles and trickery is intriguing, and the central conversation between Eia and Yuuga certainly kept my attention, but this episode's duel-focused vignette wasn't clever enough to convince me that the show will manage to match the appeal of its genre predecessors. On top of that, this episode's visual execution was middling at best, and there was still a ton of the mean-spirited reveling in misery business that doesn't appeal to me at all. Doreiku is better than I expected, and if you're a big fan of these sorts of puzzle/gambling dramas I might check it out, but don't feel bad about skipping this one.
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