Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 25th 2014
To Love Ru Darkness
Sub.Blu-Ray - Complete Collection
Life continues for Rito Yuki and the gaggle of girls who surround him in the wake of his ill-fated attempt to confess to Haruna at the water park (at the end of Motto To Love-Ru). What was already a fairly complicated romantic situation get messier as Lala's younger sister Momo starts to get more romantically and lustfully aggressive towards him, even going as far as actively planning to form a harem for Rito (because when he rises to the title of King of the Universe such a thing is quite legally feasible) so that he can share his affections with all of the girls who seem interested in him – including, of course, Momo. That involves simultaneously encouraging the other girls and trying to awaken the “carnivore” in Rito. A new potential threat has also come on the scene, however, in the form of Mea, a relatively recent transfer student that Nana befriends when she and Momo start attending Sainan High. Mea, as it turns out, is actually like Yami, an artificially-produced weapon in human form who is still beholden to a mysterious Master, one who seeks to revert Yami back to her Golden Darkness ways and also kill Rito in the process. Fortunately for Rito, Momo is no slouch in a fight and Yami's claims to still want to kill Rito are only words, for she is now far more interested in being friends with Mikan.
As the third TV series in the franchise, Darkness adapts the eponymous follow-up manga to the original saucy “alien girlfriend/harem” manga by manga-ka team Saki Hasemi and Kentaro Yabuki. While in some respects this Fall 2012 effort provides just more of the same compared to its TV series predecessors (To Love-Ru and Motto To Love-Ru), in many others it marks both a turning point in the franchise and a dramatic escalation of its content. The result is a production which partly trades in the goofier, more fun-loving aspect of earlier installments for a somewhat darker, definitely more dramatic, and certainly edgier approach, especially on the sexual front.
It also marks a distinct shift in character focus. While Rito is still the prime male character – in fact, hardly any other named male character even makes an appearance in these 12 episodes, and aside from the episode about Momo's fan club, male speaking parts beyond Rito are few – Lala and Haruna are relegated to mere ensemble supporting status, with both making little more than cameo appearances in many episodes. Instead Momo effectively becomes the lead female protagonist, although Yami and Mikan also get substantially meatier roles, proportionately-speaking. Granted, each of the other girls still gets a turn, with Yui, Nana, and newcomer Mea each also getting feature time, but Momo is the driving force of the series in terms of both personality and pushing things to happen. And that changes the tenor of the first several episodes.
Lala as the female lead was undeniably fun to watch; her bubbly personality and gorgeous curves delicately balanced sexy innocence, airheaded genius, and childlike exuberance with more mature romanticism. However, the fragility of that balance and the necessity of keeping it on a comedic focus also left virtually no room for character growth. In that respect the more conniving and calculating Momo is a breath of fresh air. She comes on to Rito like an adult seductress, one whose plays are certainly not innocent and whose schemes are designed to promote lustful scenarios both with her and with other girls she sees as potential harem candidates. (And yes, there is that amusing irony that a harem series does, for once, actually involve an effort to set up a literal harem.) Along the way she gradually starts to realize her own feelings towards Rito may go beyond just a play for position, and watching her trying to sort out her actual motivations for forming the harem – does she really want to make everyone happy, does she just want to be at the side of a young man who will eventually be one of the most powerful figures in the universe, or does she see it as the only way she can be close to the one she loves given the strength of the competition? – gives the series a bit more depth than one might expect.
The introduction of Mea also shades a substantial chunk of the series in a darker and heavier direction, as well as helping to give the series a more distinct plot than either of the first two series had. That introduction gives Yami more opportunity for character development, feeds into a greater number of action scenes, and also allows for a protracted exploration of Yami's background, something that has been conspicuously absent in the animated content up to this point. It also leads to the addition of a couple of extra new recurring characters to the roster. The downside is that the series not only does not come close to completely resolving that storyline but actually just ends in the middle of it. Presumably the story just caught up with the source manga, but whatever the case, it is by far the series' biggest flaw, and the OVA which follows the series (which is not included) is a side story which does nothing to flesh it out more.
The fan service aspect also gets dramatically ratcheted up in intensity. When To Love-Ru came out in 2008 it was a pretty typical fan service fest for the time, with lots of panty shots and near-nudity, but since then titles like Queen's Blade have come out and dramatically upped the bar for quality fan service, which begs the speculation that perhaps the source manga for Darkness became much racier in response. Regardless of whether any causal link exists or not, the previous two series are positively tame compared to this one. Bared breasts are commonplace, with virtually every female character except Mikan being shown with exposed nipples at one or more points (and she only avoids it by the barest of margins), and character behavior and dialogue is aggressively sexually suggestive in several places, including barely-disguised implications of actual sexual acts; that Sentai Filmworks only gave this a TV-14 rating, when something like Funimation's High School DxD release earned a TV-MA, is astonishing, as this one is easily the more explicit of the two. If fan service is what you watch for, you will certainly not be disappointed.
Director Atsushi Ootsuki (Kanokon) and his Xebec team are back once again for the production job, resulting in another solid (if unspectacular) effort. Rito looks just as dumpy and ordinary as ever, while all of the girls look just as appealing as ever. Loving attention is paid to depictions of nudity, especially the realistic way breasts hang and move when the female character is in certain positions. (How rarely this is paid attention to in even dedicated fan service anime series is not usually evident until one sees something like this.) Despite using its fair share of shortcuts and still scenes, the animation is actually pretty good when fully used.
The musical score is also up to the task, handling the push to darker and more dramatic themes quite skillfully and even successfully being a little poignant when required. The tonal change simply would not have worked without the good effort here. Opener “Rakuen Project” is an ordinary song, while closer "Foul Play ni Kurari / Sakura Meikyuu" is a better one with a neat alternate visual look at the Deviluke sisters. Amongst Japanese vocal efforts, Aki Toyosaki (Kazari Uiharu in the Index/Railgun franchise, Ai in Sunday Without God) makes the most of her greatly expanded role as Momo.
Sentai has not dubbed any previous installment in this franchise, nor have they picked up any associated OVA episodes, so no one should be surprised that their Blu-Ray release of this series also contains neither. The subtitles are not entirely without flaw, as they amusingly replace “harem” with “Harlem” at one point, but the mistakes are limited. Extras are also limited, consisting of only clean opener and closer. All 12 episodes are packed onto a single Blu-Ray disc, which seem to be becoming a common practice for Sentai lately.
Darkness does eventually get back to the more light-hearted fare that it was originally built on, and does sprinkle some humorous moments even through its more serious content, but this time around that composes only a fraction of the series rather than a predominant part. The character development, storyline, and fan service elements execute well enough that this would be one of the better harem and fan service series in recent memory if it properly wrapped its new storyline up. That it doesn't leaves it viewers wanting more, and not entirely in a good way.
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Much stronger and racier fan service, solid character development, actual plot, Momo is a more interesting female lead.
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