Date A Live
Long time no see, dear readers, if anyone remembers who I am or how I usually write. If not, hello there, I’m bringing you a random review and I hope to be back to covering weekly shows starting this Spring.
This show isn’t really a show I would normally review, but since there was something I decided to watch and actually got positively surprised with, this is what I’m bringing here this time.
Date A Live is a twist on the harem genre that uses the dating idea to achieve this effect, which thankfully gets around the problem of the extremely dense harem protagonists one always sees around. In DAL’s world, there are entities called Spirits, apparently originally from another dimension, who randomly appear in the human world, each time causing the happening of a phenomenon called “spacequake”. A spacequake is, quoting the words of the show itself, “when a region of space shakes, destroying all within”. The AST (Anti Spirit Team), being part of the JSDF, try to deal with the Spirits by killing them, which they’re never able to achieve due to the Spirits’ great power, and the solution ends up being a makeshift temporary one of driving them away. Our protagonist, Shido ends up “joining forces” with another organization, which seeks to take the pacifist, yet more permanent approach of, through love, making the Spirits wish to remain in the human world, thus avoiding the spacequakes problem. This is the base the show builds itself from.
So, first of all, let’s start by clarifying what DAL is and what it isn’t: DAL is an action fantasy harem. DAL isn’t a deep show that explores interesting and relatable themes. The good part? It knows what it is and that’s very clear from the start. It doesn’t take itself seriously and doesn’t try to come up with stupid half-assed excuses for things that are the way they are because it’s convenient for sales reasons (ex: everyone in the AST is female), and in part due to that, the transitions between more lighthearted and more serious parts ends up feeling really natural, even in those moments where you just go “well, that escalated quickly”.
The aforementioned brings me to the good points in DAL. I have to say it really impressed it with what it did right since I definitely didn’t expect it to. Its set-up is perfect for harem antics to take place, yet while these do take place, they are, for the most part, not intrusive at all. In fact, I can only remember two cliche harem scenes taking place, and both were used for effective and, more importantly, persistent character development. I think this works in big part thanks to the characters, since they understand situations and act accordingly, rather than blindly acting on jealousy in some important situation and making things terribly worse for the sake of taking a laugh from the audience with their horrible unawareness and inappropriate actions. (This literally does happen once. And as said above, it plays an important role in character development – a role that makes sense.)
Another point in its favor when compared to other shows that would fall on this type is definitely the fanservice. Or rather the lack of an excessive amount of it. It has its fair share, obviously, but it doesn’t unnecessarily draw the viewers attention with unnatural camera angles and the decidedly fanservice-y scenes are relatively few. The twist on the hot springs episode was the best thing ever to make a point on this show’s approach to the matter.
Going onwards from comparisons with shows from similar genre, let’s now take a more global approach to DAL and talk about elements common to the entirety of fiction, starting with its plot. Its premise is definitely a strange one, and the fact there are groups trying to approach the Spirits in different manners usually lead to the arcs being split between battles and dates. This approach works in balancing both aspects rather well, creating an enjoyable package.
As is mentioned above, the story is structured in arcs. Sporting the same formula, they could have felt repetitive but that was fortunately avoided by key differences and a growing plot. It IS a Sprit-of-the-week formula, yes, but the overarching plot is there, the biggest problem being the fact this season seems like having barely touched the surface. And that’s not because it just beat around the bush, since it definitely dropped a good amount of interesting sounding elements, but it left many of those plot threads open by the end. While this is understandable considering DAL is a novel adaptation with 9 volumes out and, apparently, 3 more to come, one can’t be sure whether these are things that will get proper answers or simply plot holes without having read the source material. Perhaps the second season will clear this out, but for now my rating of the story aspect reflects my caution regarding these aspects. This caution is intensified when one thinks of just how absurd some of these events sound.
On the other hand, throughout this first season, DAL has actually proved to be able to do a rather good job with foreshadowing. Two instances in particular really impressed me with their subtlety, for I didn’t realize they were supposed to be foreshadowing an event until such event happened. Other, more blantant instances existed, and I’m glad they did since they made some rather wacky things feel like they made sense rather than being taken out of nowhere. It’s a good feeling to see a story be consistent with itself, and despite falling short of having what I would consider a good plot (so far, it actually does have some potential), DAL achieves this very basic but often left aside requirement with its rather impressive execution.
Jumping from praise to one of the things that bugged me the most in this show might not be the best thing to do, but seeing as it’s the last thing I have to say about the plot on its own, there’s little room for avoidance. Characters used (simply) as plot devices are one thing I’m not exactly fond of. I’m overall quite tolerant of it when it’s in the beginning of a show but when a character turns out to be a majorly important plot device to one arc, in which it gets no development at all, just to disappear into irrelevance right afterwards is simply a bit too much. This is what Takamiya Mana is in DAL’s first season. Now, this might have been just a character introduction, she might be relevant again and the info she gave and what her existence implies are both very interesting things, so I might be exaggerating. However, in the end, I’m judging this season on its own, and the fact she had amazing relevance to the plot while being a one-time character that barely did anything but move the plot without a word and dump plot points… it bugged me. I do think having something like this as the main thing to point my finger at speaks well for DAL’s plot, though. After all, it was an interesting one. The premise and the secrets behind it are interesting, the protagonist’s past is interesting, and a certain thing we learn about the Spirits at some point is interesting. That it’s got me curious enough about it to be looking forward to the second season is enough for me to give it that credit.
Moving onto the characters, there isn’t as much to say. The truth is, most are simply a variation of a common archetype. However, while they’re unfortunately underdeveloped for their screentime, they have just enough individuality, both in their desings and in their personalities, that they can be memorable. Yoshino and how she talks through her puppet more than half the time, for instance, is something I consider a nice display of criativity in character design. Furthermore, and that really is an important thing, I found them all to be likeable. There isn’t one character that annoyed me, or that I hated and that’s already a plus in my books.
As for character development, while I said it’s fewer than I would have liked (and fewer than it could have been), it does exist, with Yatogami Tohka, arguably the main heroine, being the subject of most. The good thing about development in this series is that when it happens, it happens. There are no touching acknowledgement scenes of being wrong only to take the same actions again in a never ending circle of dumbness (see Zero no Tsukaima one of the biggest culprits of this cycle of dumbness and relationship regression). There’s few evolution but is there is permanent and that’s just the kind I like to see. In summary, my opinion is that there is good quality development of likeable characters, but unfortunately in quantities below my line of approval.
It may not look like it at first but DAL’s production values are definitely good. The scenes turn grainy whenever spacequakes occur – a way I really appreciate to make the scenario look more abnormal… and the filesizes bigger. The art may not look like anything special, and I don’t believe it is, but when it comes to the animation, not only can it be fluid enough during action sequences, there is just something great in the fact the characters never look off-model. By never I mean that nor while watching it, nor in my several frame-by-frame adventures did I notice a frame looking wrong. I actually think it might be the single most impressive thing about DAL, and the visuals are otherwise just clean, very simple but fitting.
Ok, I might have lied with the above sentence. The best thing is clearly the OP and I’m completely addicted to it as of now. Seriously, the OP is great. Continuing on the sound field, the OST has at least two tracks that stuck in my memory and is, in general, always used fittingly. The voice acting has no big feats to speak of, but it’s worth pointing out the lack of annoying voices and overall pleasant voice acting.
In the end, Date A Live was a truly enjoyable show that surpassed expectations by not only being enjoyable, but being a little bit more than that. It surpassed decent and got into “good” territory and that’s a lot more than I expected it to do. Its premise has me curious, I liked the characters, the action was entertaining and the comedy was… admittedly quite hit-or-miss, but everything Origami-related got me smiling, at least. Even the dates are fun, honestly, as they definitely should be, the triple date in Kurumi’s arc being my favorite. (I honestly enjoyed it a lot. Why do I like packed dating schedules so much… I blame it on Kaminomi.) I was a little wary of the show at first but about half way in I had the confirmation I needed about DAL. The reaffirmation of Tohka’s development being proved not regressible and the amazing trolling done there convinced me the show knew what it was doing, as silly as what it was doing could turn out to be. From there on… well, it’s just a show one will want to sit back and enjoy. It’s made for entertainment and it manages to be entertaining. There’s not much more to DAL, but it really doesn’t need it.