DRAMAtical Murder Episodes 1-8
by Gabriella Ekens,
DRAMAtical Murder is the anime adaptation of the hit 2012 BL visual novel. If you browse Tumblr at all, you've probably seen it. It's about this blue-haired superuke named Aoba who has the flattest butt in the world. Aoba turns out to be an escaped Top Secret Government Thing who is promptly found out and put under the informal protection of four semes, Koujaku, Noiz, Mink, and Clear. Now, in order to clear all the character routes, Aoba has to navigate street gangs, virtual reality combat, and the techno-utopia Platinum Jail - and all without the prospect of actually getting laid in the end.
Straight up, whether you'll enjoy this show will depend on whether you buy into its aesthetic. Personally I think it's ugly as sin - a sort of anachronistic love child of the DeviantArt and Hot Topic fashions that were big in middle schools around 2006. (My favorite part is that Aoba wears multiple layers of color-coordinated leg warmers, despite seemingly living on a tropical island.) I can see some people liking it, I guess, but it's extremely Not My Thing, so this show has turned me off from the get go. What really kills it even for people who buy into this look, however, is that it makes a number of fundamental visual errors that you don't usually see in completed products. Like how characters don't seem to exist in the same plane as the background, or details about the setting will inexplicably change between shots. It's also off-model pretty much constantly. The exacting flatness of Aoba's butt varies between scenes, and they have a lot of trouble with gas mask dude's gas mask. On this front, episode three was also released pretty much unfinished. It looked so bad that screenshots from it immediately became memes (this dog's walk cycle in particular is incredible). Part of the issue, I think, is that the character designs are so complex. This show seems to have pretty much no budget and possibly the most complicated character designs of anything this season, leading to disaster. Even pretty high budget shows like Aldnoah. Zero or Terror in Resonance choose to simplify their character designs in order to enhance their expressive power. Here, a good number of the characters never change their facial expressions. It's a cheap looking show, so it loses a good chunk of its potential audience of fans of the game who want to see their favorite scenes in glorious, GIF-able motion.The backgrounds are pretty bad too - Aoba and co.'s hot hangout is a filthy stairwell in a dark alleyway that's apparently so desirable that gangs hold turf wars over it.
Narratively, however, DMMD (as it's bizarrely shortened) isn't the worst thing in the world. The premise is a lame mixture of the "if you die in the game you die in REAL LIFE" subgenre that's been mod for a couple of years and the carnivalesque futuristic dystopia used in stuff like Deadman Wonderland or The Hunger Games here in the west. The overall design conveys just about the opposite of what it intends to at any given moment, but at the same time a couple of the character relationships work well, particularly if they aren't routes. I felt for Aoba's grandmother and his tragic friend, Mizuki. However, the first arc the series tackles - Koujaku's - hits like a sack of "what" after three episodes building towards Aoba's confrontation with evil mastermind Toue in Platinum Jail. In this 12 episode series, it looks like the first six were spent building up the plot, the four episodes afterwards will be spent on one route each, and the last two will be wrap-up. In terms of the character episodes, Koujaku's was rushed and atonal while Noiz's mostly consisted of lingering shots of him getting injured. It's dull, dull, dull, dull, dull. There's enough for me to guess at what their deals might've been in the game (Koujaku - being pushed into family duties and changed by them, Noiz - abandonment and fear of connecting with people), but the presentation is inept. Twenty minutes are just insufficient for what must constitute hours of gameplay, but they've got to work with what they've got, I guess.
At least there hasn't been much of anything uncomfortably nonconsensual (yet), unlike a lot of other works with yaoi pedigrees. However, there hasn't been much of anything to appeal to people's second brains. There have been moments that seem like they're trying – Noiz kisses Aoba and holds him in suggestive grapples – but these are almost placed in the background of their shots, in no way supported by a sexual gaze. I think the showrunners are trying to put that stuff in, but just don't understand how to make it sexy for people who are into dudes. For example, episode eight keeps lingering on Noiz's scarred, simply drawn hands as if there's supposed to be something arousing about them on their own, but there really isn't? Otherwise most of the action is people putting their hands on Aoba's butt while something else is happening. Compare this to shows that understand the sexual gaze like Monogatari or DMMD's BL brethren Free!. It's all about framing, focusing on certain body parts and poses (although not always the obvious ones), and the idea of a spectator. DMMD, meanwhile, is about as sexy as rubbing against someone's crotch in a crowded elevator.
Maybe the new few episodes will land better? I'm intrigued by Mink, who's hardly gotten any screentime, and Clear is one of the more personable characters. Most of the big mysteries have yet to be wrapped up and the show had developed a decent momentum before the episodic stalls began. Let's see if it can recoup that.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. She writes at animeintrospection.tumblr.com.
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