Reviewby Theron Martin,
Date A Live
BD+DVD 1-4 - The Complete Series [Limited Edition]
30 years after a massive “space quake” killed tens of millions, much smaller ones have become irregular but hardly infrequent occurrences in Japan. Seemingly normal high school student Shido, who lives with his seemingly normal younger sister Kotori, has a startling encounter when he gets caught on the fringe of one such blast: at the heart of it is a girl in elaborate clothing whom he later learns is a Spirit, a being from another world whose appearance in this world seems to cause the quakes. Even a team of battle suit-enhanced young women – which happens to include one of Shido's hottest classmates – struggles to combat the spirit, so Shido gets drafted by secret organization Ratatoskr and its rather surprising front-line leader (his sister Kotori!) to take an alternate tack on the problem: befriend the Spirit, take her out on a date, get her happy, and then seal her powers with a kiss. As preposterous as it sounds to Shido, he soon understands that the Spirit he comes to know as Tohka is but the first of many that he will have to subdue this way. At the same time he must also work to keep Tohka happy (lest her powers return and run amok again) and deal with both another girl who shows up and claims to be his real little sister and the rather aggressive romantic interests of said classmate/battle squad member, who has a full-bore hatred for Spirits which, naturally, causes conflict in other ways, too.
In the mid-2000s the American TV series Heroes pitched its first season with the catchy tag line “Save The Cheerleader, Save The World,” which did, in fact, form an overly brief summary of the first season's main plot thrust. Date A Live plays out entirely like it was built around an alternate version of that tag line: “Date The Girl, Save The World.” In this case, too, the plot can be overly (but fairly) simplified down to that line, at least based on what is revealed in its first season. The result is a harem series which gets some credit for trying something at least a little different and has periods where it can be entertaining, but it is ultimately the victim of its own devices.
The essential concept is a patently ridiculous twist on the legitimate tactic of defeating enemies by befriending them, one which is made even more so by having Shido trained and advised on the basis of decisions made in a dating sim format (i.e., there are always three choices, one of which is usually pretty risqué or otherwise obviously inappropriate in most circumstances). That is then compounded by the reveal that Shido's younger sister is actually the commander of the invisible Ratatoskr ship that is advising Shido, a revelation which makes no sense outside of anime logic; how this came to pass is not explained in this season, either. Neither is the presence and armaments of the AST (Anti-Spirit Team), how Shido's classmate Origami got involved in that, or why all of the AST members are very young women. In fact, the first season doesn't really concern itself with explaining much of anything, requiring viewers to take everything for granted. Even Shido quickly recognizes just how ridiculous the situation is and the curious demands being place on him, but he, like the audience, plays along.
As long as the series sticks to being mostly ridiculous, though, it gets by all right, provided that one has a high tolerance for harem romantic comedy content. It does, at times, hit the mark with some rather funny jokes, and watching how the Spirits and other girls/women react to Shido's heavily (and in some cases bizarrely) coached flirting can be amusing. Some of the strongest humor – in particular, a sequence where Shido demands some outlandish things of a date in order to discourage her from romantically pursuing him, and she still does them anyway – could also just as easily be offensive, however, and for every good joke or scene there are a plethora of failed ones; for instance, one entire episode focuses on an unfunny routine where Shido has to simultaneously juggle three dates with the help of the invisible ship teleporting him around. (That none of the girls get wise to it earlier than shown does not speak well for them, but Tohka is a classic airhead and Origami is a classic single-mindedly-obsessed type.)
The entertainment value wavers, though, when the series tries to take itself seriously. Granted, many other comedy-oriented series have successfully turned serious as needed in the past, but the patently ridiculous concept becomes awkward when attempts are made to shoehorn it in to actual life-or-death situations. The graphic bloodiness that Kurumi brings with her when she is introduced gives the series a jolt in the wrong way, which is a shame since she is arguably the series' most interesting character. Later scenes involving issues Kotori has also fail to make much impact because sticking her in the role of the commander is not conducive to what she is being required to do later on. Tonally disjoint constructions have long been fairly popular amongst anime fans, but this is not an example of that being carried off with smooth transitions or good balance.
The technical and artistic merits, while hardly spectacular, either, are at least more consistent. The most important thing that any harem series can do is provide a bevy of attractive girls, and Date A Live does not fall short in that regard. While it actually goes milder on what it shows for fan service than many other recent titles in its vein, it nonetheless still gives its girls sufficient opportunities to show off their figures and provides a pleasing array of clothing and swimsuit designs. On the male side, Shido has a little more visual character than the typical harem lead, but not by much, and the only other male characters who stand out visually are the bit part bouncers Kotori uses to drag off her masochistic second-in-command when he oversteps his boundaries. Battle scenes make some good use of CG enhancements but are otherwise limited by their animation budget, resulting in only a couple which have much dynamism to them. Graphic content, though uncommon, can spike pretty high when it does hit, and Kurumi's habit of shooting herself in the head with a pistol to trigger her power can be quite visually disturbing.
The strongest feature of the production may actually be its music. The eponymous opener is a rousing song which is a good number taken independently but doesn't quite fit the content, while the closer rotates between three more ordinary options. In between the musical score by first-timer Go Sakabe (he had arranged a couple of theme songs prior to this, but never a whole series) shows why he has gotten a fair amount more work since this project, as he shows a good ear for choosing appropriate pieces for the tone, whether it be haunting vocals, dramatic string pieces, or even peppy, low-key J-pop inserts.
Funimation provides the English dub for this one, and while it does not exactly fail, neither is it one of their strongest recent efforts. The English script, though solid, also feels somewhat restrained compared to some of Funimation's snappier recent efforts, as do many of the acting performances, and some of the female casting choices are imperfect fits. Amongst the better performances are J. Michael Tatum's masochistic Kyouhei (Kotori's aforementioned second-in-command) and Alexis Tipton's balance of sultriness and mania as Kurumi/Nightmare. One also has to wonder how many takes Alex Moore had to go through to say some of those cheesy lines in the opening narration with a straight face and serious voice.
The Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack release comes in the normal Funimation format: each type of disk in its own case and both cases included in an artbox; in this instance both cases have reversible covers rather than bonus interior artwork. On-disk Extras included largely unremarkable English audio commentaries for episode 4 and 7, clean versions of the opener and all closers, a promo video, and a teaser for the second season, which will be released separately. Although line detail is normally sharp in the Blu-Ray version, minor blockiness which may only be apparent on a larger screen was noted in a few places. The audio quality has a small but distinct advantage in the English dub track.
Harem series are never known for being bastions for positive portrayal of female characters, but despite the girls being the ones to throw around all of the powers, Date A Live comes across as a little more demeaning than most of its ilk. It also rarely seems quite funny enough or dramatic enough to fully succeed (or at least succeed for long) on either of those fronts. The concept clearly worked well enough to ensure a second season, but in the grand scheme of things it is merely a run-of-the-mill harem title.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B-
Music : B
+ Does have some good jokes, Kurumi is more interesting than most harem girls.
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