The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
DamePri Anime Caravan
How would you rate episode 1 of
Dame×Prince Anime Caravan ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
Yeah, DamePri Anime Caravan can safely be paired with The Ryuo's Work is Never Done in the pile of winter shows labelled “Most Definitely Not for Me”. I'm not particularly a fan of most harem-style shows in the first place, reverse or otherwise, but this series is doubly hampered by the obvious limitations that come with being adapted from a mobile game, the story of which I cannot imagine being terribly engaging. This isn't as actively irritating or creepy as Ryuo's Work, but it is most definitely just as lame.
The biggest problems are the cast of characters and the plot, which are as paper-thin as it gets. Despite ostensibly dealing in our protagonist Ani's journey to secure the safety of her small kingdom via the signing of a peace treaty, the episode really just consists of the poor girl being introduced to a never-ending stream of the bland or obnoxious weirdos that make up her presumable love interests. While the fact that literally nothing gets accomplished because of these boys' constant preening and grandstanding is indeed meant to be a joke, it isn't very funny or entertaining. Her knightly companion Teo is a total bore, Prince Ruze of Selenfallen is functionally useless without the help of his sketchy Prime Minister, and Prince Narek of Milidonia is obnoxiously narcissistic. These quirks are intended to foster the show's comedy, but it just never clicked with me. By the time Ani's mother is scheming to send her out on yet another diplomatic errand, I found myself feeling sorry that the heroine of this story is stuck with such an unimpressive cast of prospective dates.
DamePri Anime Caravan does have some saving graces, one of which is Ani herself. While the men she meets during her journey make underwhelming first impressions to say the least, Ani herself is a likable lead. She doesn't get much characterization outside of her obvious frustration with the day's shenanigans, but that alone is enough to make her more relatable and charming than many otome-game heroines. The show is also decent to look at; while the animation itself is nothing special, the colors are bright and appealing, and the character designs are uniformly interesting to look at. It's a shame that nobody outside of Ani seems to have the personality to match their eye-catching looks.
I can see the appeal for stories like the one DamePri Anime Caravan is telling, and I wouldn't be surprised to find that this particular otome adaptation improves as it goes along. But a premiere's job is to engage its audience enough to invest for an entire season, and this first episode simply didn't succeed in that regard for me. Winter 2018 is absolutely chock-full of comedies and romances so far, and most of them are funnier and sweeter than this series by a wide margin. DamePri isn't an abject failure, but it doesn't do nearly enough to earn a spot on my personal watch-list for the season.
Have you ever watched a reverse harem series and thought, “What these obnoxious trope-laden guys need is a heroine who can stand up to them!” If so, Dame x Prince Anime Caravan might be the reverse harem you've been waiting for. Ani is the least wilting heroine in the genre (or in a lot of romances, for that matter) I've seen, and she's positioned not to take any crap from her potential harem of weirdos. They're hardly prizes, from Prince Ruze of Selenfallen who can't do anything without Prime Minister Chrom's say-so to Prince Narek of Milidonia who has a very high opinion of his own good looks, this is a particularly unappealing bunch of would-be suitors that also includes the aforementioned Prime Minister and a Milidonian lord who acts like he's just walked out of a bodice ripper. It says a lot about Ani's fortitude that she didn't just immediately hop back in her carriage and go home.
The basic setup seems to be that Princess Ani, a relatively normal young lady, is going to be thrown in with this group of misfit suitors as part of her work as the ambassador for her one-horse kingdom of Inaco. At first this involves signing a peace treaty with the militarily focused Milidonia, and she begins to suspect that something is off when the prince of the brokering nation (Selenfallen) can only parrot back what his Prime Minister has told him. (That Chrom is preparing to take over the kingdom seems kind of like a foregone conclusion.) Then when Milidonia's prince enters, he looks like he's about to challenge her to a dance-off before deciding that she's obviously enamored of his masculine good looks—really, Ani (and the audience) is staring at him trying to figure out what the hell is going on. It's a fun way to establish the characters and their personalities without resorting to exposition – rather than telling us who they are, we get to see it first-hand. Not only is this good storytelling technique, it's also pretty funny. Listening to Ani's inner thoughts get drier and drier (even if it's just her repeating “ah” in different tones), while seeing the increasingly ludicrous behaviors of the guys is very entertaining. Probably the best example of this is when Vino, a Milidonian lord, comes to bring Ani a cup of tea and she just isn't having any of his romantic garbage, from his ridiculous pose draped across the table to calling her “Little Flower.”
Hopefully Dame x Pri will be able to maintain this level of fun and thinly veiled sarcasm going forward. The reverse harem genre definitely needs more parodic takes, and this could be a good one.
I've been disappointed by otome game adaptations in the past. In cases like Amnesia or Diabolik Lovers, the transition from self-insert game protagonist to anime character translates into a barely sentient lead and a pretty boring viewing experience. Thankfully DamexPri Caravan isn't that at all; it's one of the most self-aware otome adaptations I've watched. This anime knows it's kinda silly and it's not afraid to poke fun at itself for the audience's enjoyment.
Our country-bumpkin princess Ani fills in for the reactions many of us would have if we were suddenly surrounded by posturing archetypal princes. Instead of “oohing” and “ahhing” over Narek's machismo or getting wrapped up in Ruze's angelic cuteness, she's rolling her eyes and trying to find a way to diplomatically shut them down. Her “knight” Teo fills in the dedicated childhood friend role, and while Ani is appreciative, she has no issue sending him off to wait in another room while she handles royal business.
Despite DamexPri's playfulness, it doesn't lose its appeal as a successful harem, especially if you're a fan of big dumb gorgeous guys or little dumb gorgeous guys. The character designs are plenty attractive, running the gamut from rock and roller (Narek) to insomniac emo boy (Mare). Personally, I'm electing the knight with 1980s Wall Street hair as best boy until proven otherwise.
There's enough glossy variety here to appeal to reverse harem fans and if the first episode is any indication, some light political intrigue coupled with a heroine with a backbone. That said, the pacing of this episode is a little weird and not every joke lands on both feet. There's an undercurrent of “is this guy evil, or maybe THIS one?” in the show's second act that amounts to a lot of standing around outside looking pensive. The episode moved at an even clip at the beginning but loses momentum in its second half before trying to set up the thread for the next episode. The transition is hardly smooth and I'd like a better idea of where the show is going by the end of the premiere. At this point, it seems Ani might just be sent out on random diplomatic missions and encounter the weird princes at each turn.
If you're open to not taking your harem too seriously, DamexPri offers a fun diversion that still manages to stand out from the genre's usual offerings. It might not really go anywhere, but there are attractive characters to ogle and enough self-awareness to keep it fun.
The homepage for this series uses the tagline “the more messed up the prince, the more he grows on you”. For the sake of anyone who actually intends to follow this series, I certainly hope that's the case. By the end of episode one, we've been treated to one of the most obnoxiously narcissistic bishonen princes you'd ever want to avoid meeting. Throw in another girly prince, a couple of dashing Prime Ministers, a stern but handsome knight, and the female lead's more down-to-earth (but still handsome) knight and you have all the guys you need for a proper reverse-harem show. (Another prince, who's apparently a recluse, is also waiting in the wings.)
Given that this is based on a smartphone game, that's doubtlessly the direction things are headed. All signs point to heroine Ani's mother having slipped in some kind of marriage agreement as part of the peace treaty featured in this episode, so presumably the young male cast will all be potential suitors. At least in this case, the reverse-harem format makes sense. Even though Inaco seems to be a bucolic country, Ani is still a princess, so her hand in marriage would be of great value. (And it doesn't hurt that she's also rather cute.) The problem is that she's obviously best off with her knight Teo, the least feasible candidate in a greater political sense. None of the other male characters show even the slightest hint of compatability so far, and only one has shown any hint of depth – involving an apparent nastier side that he's hiding.
In fact, nothing about this first episode suggests any depth, with a much greater focus on silly antics. It even goes so far as to have live tree branches apparently growing out of Ani's carriage and a spherical catlike creature with a heart on its chest as a mascot. (Supplementary material on the website says that's actually a griffin, Inaco's guardian beast.) The dodges it takes to avoid animation are also pretty severe, especially at the beginning of the episode, and all of the male characters have utterly generic designs, although the shoulder guard for one knight is pretty ridiculous.
The one thing that may be a saving grace for this series is Ani. Though obviously meant to be the insert character for female viewers, she actually has both a likable personality and the most distinctive character design so far. She's the entire reason that I'm scoring this above a 1, since its attempts to be dumb fun are just turning out to be dumb overall. If the supporting cast and content gets even slightly better, then she might be able to carry the series.
Like many mobile game adaptations, DamePri Anime Caravan feels like a show made for people who are already in on the joke. The series' premise is so simple that it's able to tell its story completely within the first episode. Of course, the plot can't possibly end that neatly, so this bookended bit of unmemorable character introductions probably constituted the prologue in the original mobage. After signing a peace treaty to keep her chalet-sized "kingdom" (which you can probably decorate with various special items by spending gems and completing various princes' routes or something) safe from invasion, poor princess Ani has to go back to the big city to fulfill her mother's unknown capricious whims next episode (which probably involve meeting more boys).
What lies between the start of this low-stakes story and seemingly wrapping it up are a series of incredibly lame jokes, delivered by characters the show seems to assume you already know and adore. There's Prince Narek, an empty-headed narcissist who spends his overlong screentime finding new ways to brag about how handsome he finds himself. There's Vino, who has no regard for personal space and so little connection to the peace-treaty-signing that he has to be introduced in a teatime scene that feels truly random in an episode where every scene feels disjointed and barely connected to anything. And then there's Teo, who just doesn't understand all these high-falutin' nobles and would rather spend time in the garden with his favorite hoe. They all roll up to flaunt their various gimmicks with a wink and a smile, as if this is a reunion episode for some sitcom I never watched, and then the episode just kinda stops after quickly establishing that Ani has to go back to Selenfalen and hang out with them again, although we have no idea why we should care about this featherweight plot buoyed by unusually tepid jokes. (Even by this genre's standards. The Royal Tutor looks like Ouran High School Host Club compared to these antics.)
I don't get the appeal of this one at all, and I doubt many reverse harem fans will be impressed either. It's definitely comedy-focused, but the jokes aren't outlandish enough to be parody, while not being charming enough to make this generic cast endearing. No relatable character motivations are established, and very little plot beyond what is strangely resolved within the first episode. The animation is okay. The music is bad. It just seems like a lame premise for a mobage that's executed with very little impetus to get new viewers/players invested. Until we get that actual caravan of princes rolling in earnest, it's hard to recommend a show that barely seemed to care if I was watching it or not.
Are you tired of reverse harems with wet blanket heroines who never really bloom into actual people? Do you long to see a show skewer the absurd assumptions of cute boy archetypes, from the outrageous unbelievability of “the headstrong one” to the blatant vapidity of “the sensitive one?” Do you think it's possible to make a show that undercuts all these assumptions while simultaneously working as a fine entry in that same genre? Well then, DamePri just might be the show for you!
The show's opening scenes and enthusiastic OP didn't really give me much indication of what I was getting here. Even when the show first started introducing useless princes, I wasn't quite sure if this was actually parody or simply an exaggerated form of the standard genre template. But by the time Milidonian prince Narek was attempting to gift our lead Ani a portrait of himself, and Ani responded by considering how much she might be able to sell it for, the jig was up. DamePri Anime Caravan is a fantastical reverse harem that knows fantastical reverse harems tend to be kind of silly, and has clever fun with that fact from start to finish.
The show's greatest strength is its rarely oversold sense of humor. DamePri assumes the audience likely has some familiarity with how archetypes like “the brash, overconfident boy” and “the quiet boy who thinks deep thoughts” tend to play out, and so it doesn't need to beat you over the head with its twists on the formula. One of my favorite running gags here was how the quiet Prince Ruze initially comes off as a sensitive and mysterious figure, but as the episode continued, it becomes slowly more clear both to us and Ani that he simply doesn't have a thought in his head. I also appreciated Ani pointing out the absurd posturing of lady's man Vino, as well as her deadpan “ah, that's nice” response to her knight swearing to stab anyone who tries to hurt her. The show's humor occasionally gets a little broad or oversold, but on the whole, it's a smart and loving riff on a well-worn genre tale.
DamePri's second great strength is that its comic choices don't just result in a genre takedown - they result in a much better show within the same genre. Ani in particular exemplifies this, as her growing competency and weariness over this episode granted her far more personality than reverse harem leads often possess. Ani moves from hopeful to briefly dazzled to utterly perplexed to wearily resigned, giving DamePri a strong emotional center and a heroine well worth following. And the fact that DamePri embraces the terribleness of its suitors actually makes them more likable, as well; there's little room to grow from an idealized template, but I can easily see how these deeply flawed idiots might eventually grow as people.
On the whole, DamePri is a loving takedown of reverse harems that also works as a very strong reverse harem in its own right. Its lead is charming, humor consistently effective, and setup just coherent enough to justify all the rest. Its production values are very middling, and some of its jokes fell flat for me, but if a funny and self-aware reverse harem sounds fun to you, definitely give it a shot.
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