Review

by Rose Bridges,

Dance with Devils: The Complete Series

Blu-ray/DVD

Synopsis:
Dance with Devils Blu-ray/DVD
Ritsuka Tachibana is an ordinary high school girl—or so she thinks. When mysterious forces burn down her house and kidnap her mother, Ritsuka finds herself enmeshed in a grand supernatural conflict between devils and vampires. Her brother, Lindo, is an exorcist determined to protect his sister at all costs, but she bristles under his control, eager to learn more about the alluring boys at her school who seem more than a little obsessed with her. It's because they are literal handsome devils, and Ritsuka holds the key to a mysterious object they need called the "Grimoire." At least her magical talisman locket keeps her safe from their worst natures, for now...
Review:

Dance with Devils is my kind of Halloween entertainment. It's campy, trashy, and a little spooky, but never seriously scary. Sure, it tries for some thrills, but this is a reverse harem musical, and a pretty standard example of both its genres too. It's got the Bella-Swan-esque female protagonist, a colorful array of jerky dudes with magical powers, and ornately gorgeous backgrounds and environment to make you swoon. Its character designs may be rote and boring, but it goes all out on its world's color design, making it easy to lose yourself in the show. All of this is amped up its musical numbers, which work so well for this genre that I'm surprised that it took until now to realize this appeal in an anime.

So let's start by talking about the music, since that's the main reason to watch this show. The songs themselves are not much on their own—standard musical-theatre ballad stuff with a pop flavor sprinkled in—but the way the show uses them is what makes the gimmick so fun. I found it genuinely hard to predict when the characters would burst into song. While there are plenty of climactic musical moments, Ritsuka could also just turn away from her homework desk and start singing at any moment. Dance with Devils doesn't always follow stage musical conventions, making it more fun for its unpredictability. The background music is no slouch either, using unusual instrumentation and style to add just the right spice to each plot twist and turn. It's good the presentation is so stellar, because the meat of the show leaves a lot to be desired.

Dance with Devils' biggest narrative flaw is its characters. Ritsuka falls into the same trap as so many heroines in "dark" reverse harems. She's a boring everygirl, not really a character in her own right. Ritsuka is there to be someone the viewer can identify with, sprinkling in just enough individuality or plot significance to put her at the center of the story. This might work for starry-eyed teenagers who haven't seen much of this kind of media before, but I wish I had a heroine with a little more bite. Like most girls in these stories, her specialness lies in stuff beyond her control (connection to a mystical talisman and her secret heritage) rather than any personality traits or abilities she cultivated on her own. At least Ritsuka has more spunk than most of her peers, although usually in a way that gets her into avoidable trouble. In that respect, her intelligence and foresight vary based on the needs of the plot. Lindo and Rem are even blander, though stoic enough that these traits will make them perfectly serviceable romantic leads depending on your tastes. The rest of devils are more fun, but their comical gimmicks can can get tiring quickly, especially in their focus episodes. In general, Dance with Devils' character writing is extremely archetypal and by-the-book. That's just fine for a campy musical, but it also results in stumbles like highlighting the most boring characters and sidelining the more interesting ones at key moments.

Luckily, the show is saved by its entertaining plot. Dance with Devils teases and foreshadows its future twists well, playing its cards just close enough to its chest to keep you watching, but not so close that it's confusing or frustrating. The story keeps you perpetually curious about the true nature of the Grimoire, Ritsuka's connection to all this, and why everyone with any supernatural impulses seems mysteriously drawn to her (beyond her being a fantasy protagonist). Once all these questions are answered, the show transitions into a difference mystery centered around family legacies. There's also the whole question of which boy Ritsuka will pick, with several compelling options being juggled across the show's run.

The first thing to know about the English dub is that the songs are translated into English, unlike Funimation's approach to the Love Live! franchise, for example. Unfortunately, it seems clear that the dub voice actors were picked for their singing ability first, because the acting for most characters is largely wooden. Major characters like Ritsuka, Lindo, and Rem are all played pretty flat, not helping the characters' already lacking personality. At least the actors' singing abilities are serviceable, but the songs are hurt by some clunky English lyrics. Translating songs between two very different languages and preserving the meaning along with the meter and rhyme could be extremely difficult, but this endeavor isn't quite good enough not to mostly just be distracting. While the dub cast and crew clearly put in a decent effort, the Japanese language track is the recommended experience for this one. On-disc extras are pretty bare-bones, with a handful of episode commentaries, clean themes, and trailers.

Dance with Devils has a lot of problems, but it does avoid the biggest pitfall an anime can fall into by being wildly entertaining despite its flaws. While it certainly doesn't hurt if you love musicals or reverse harems, anyone can be at least somewhat taken in by its twisted plot and eccentric style. If you want a good Halloween watch that's higher on the camp and lower on the terror, Dance with Devils is a solid choice.

Grade:
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B-
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : A

+ Massively entertaining and campy, fun songs and creative background music, plot twists keep viewers on their toes, colorful and varied fantasy worlds
Characters are mostly wooden plot devices and romance archetypes with flat and samey designs, English dub's awkward translated lyrics and lifeless acting make for a diminished experience

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Production Info:
Director: Ai Yoshimura
Series Composition: Tomoko Konparu
Music: Elements Garden
Original Character Design: Hirotaka Maeda
Character Design: Yuka Takashina
Animation Director: Takuro Shinbo

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Dance with Devils (TV)

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