Review: Date A LivePosted: July 12, 2013
In the first episode alone of Date A Live, there are a decent handful of panty shots. In the first few minutes alone there are about three. “Whelp, this show is going to be pretty awful,” I thought to myself. There were a couple of funny quirks introduced in the episode, like Shido’s classmate who’s girlfriend is a girl from a dating sim, and that one chick whose only line of dialogue is “gross”, but nothing big enough to make me change my first impression; especially at the end, where it showed that Shido was going to use dating sims to “train” himself in order to seduce the Spirit girls. It seemed like the show was going to turn into a totally straight-faced version of The World God Only Knows.
But then the show did something I didn’t expect: it became self-aware.
Obviously I don’t mean that in the literal, robot sense of the word; I mean the show points out the mindset of guys that play dating sims and think they can pick up girls in real life the same way and laughs in their faces. Well, okay, it’s not that extreme, because there are times where they make dialogue decisions dating sim-style and they actually work, but most of the time they choose the blatantly incorrect option and justify it with the silliest of reasons before it almost gets Shido killed. I mean come on, the crew choosing the decisions is made up of a guy with all five of his marriages ending in divorces, a guy with a hundred waifus, and an incredibly masochistic, lolicon vice commander, among others.
I don’t know whether the first episode was just there to trick people into thinking it’d be a “kawaii anime girls uguu~” show so they’d watch it before it did a 180° or not, but the show becomes absolutely hilarious. I know that’s not exactly something I can argue since a person’s sense of humor is about the most subjective you could ever get, but if you find the idea of a wacky adventure to the hot springs that just won’t go right for the main characters while an entire town full of food stands that are actually military weapons level half the city in an attempt to delay the opposing army to be a funny concept, you’ll probably have a decent amount to laugh about here.
It’s actually pretty amusing how the show changes from something to laugh at into a show that you laugh with.
That’s not to say that the show can’t be serious, though. In fact, it handles serious situations pretty darn well. A lot of shows have the problem of being too dramatic about stuff, so it’s like the show is trying to make you feel certain emotions at certain scenes, rather than just having those reactions come from you naturally. Date A Live, believe it or not, is actually an example of how to do those kinds of scenes correctly.
For example, there’s a scene in the second half of the series where Shido is able to notice something that others don’t. However, he can’t entirely make it out, and as he tries to concentrate on it, his mind starts going haywire and he winds up passing out. Rather than simply being a scene trying to get you to feel concern for the main character, the scene also showed that there was more to what was going on than meets the eye. This is also known as foreshadowing.
There are more examples than just that, though. Rewinding back to the third episode, there’s quite a bit of dramatic stuff going on near the end of the episode, the beginning of which is Shido getting shot and supposedly killed. When it happens, it doesn’t linger on a shot of his corpse, or do reaction shots from every single character in the show; rather, it just focuses on Tohka and Origami, and their reactions. Tohka because she was finally going to be able to escape from her cage of solitude and distrust with Shido’s help, and Origami because she’s the one who shot him.
In all honesty, Tohka could have had more of a reaction to the whole thing. She’s just kind of emotionless about the whole thing until she yells out how the world has denied her. It’s actually a pretty powerful line, seeing as how Tohka was always being hunted down despite her not consciously doing anything wrong, and her one chance at freedom from that was taken away from her. The problem is that as she shouts the line there’s this random gust of wind that flutters her hair and clothes, and it just makes the scene look silly rather than more dramatic.
You don’t need any “dramatic effects” to make a scene more intense, you just need to have characters show a bit of their humanity and get emotional. Not overly so, but just enough dialogue to show where their current mindset is at, and a bit of intensity to their actions to show they’re losing their restraint. You don’t need to beat the audience with a stick to get that kind of raw emotion across.
Origami’s reaction is actually a perfect example of this. When she realizes what she’s done, she doesn’t start wailing to the skies or sob uncontrollably, she just straight up shuts down. You don’t necessarily need aggressiveness to show raw emotion, the whole “losing their restraint” part of what I said just has to do with composure in general. You can have that happen towards either end of the spectrum.
I also like the audio effect they used for Origami in that scene. All the outside noise was sort of muffled, while the only thing that could be heard clearly was her own thoughts inside her head. It showed just how hard what just happened had hit her. She didn’t even take notice of the fact that Tohka was bombarding her with attacks, she was so horrified by what she had done that she had lost all sense of self-preservation.
If you’re still confused about what my point is with dramatic scenes, I’ll try and simplify it. The point is that there’s an actual storytelling purpose behind these scenes, rather than them only being there to tell you what emotion to feel at whatever time it may be. You don’t need to dwell on anything, you get the message across about what’s going on and what the characters are feeling, and then you move on with the scene. You don’t need constant crying or shouting from characters to also feel those emotions. Just get your audience to connect with those characters (or at least whatever situation they’re currently going through), and just let it happen. The audience’s connection to the characters and/or their struggle will make them feel the intended emotions, not shoving the camera constantly into a character’s face and essentially saying, “THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD BE FEELING RIGHT NOW”.
It’s not just these tense situations that Date A Live manages to handle well, though. It also has a (sort of) main antagonist who’s batshit crazy. Maybe it’s just personal taste, but I love psychotic villains. It’s an example of a trope that I think is inherently good. An insane villain allows you to have their actions be unpredictable, but still make logical sense because… well, because they’re fucking crazy. Being illogical is logical for these kinds of characters. Even better is when there’s a reason for the character’s insanity, and seeing how this girl’s powers work, yeah, you can see how she might have been driven loopy.
Though, despite everything I’ve said, this is all stuff you could still manage to find in a good chunk of other harem shows. The world and such may be different, but the qualities I’ve mentioned are still decently prominent. However, there’s one thing Date A Live has that most harem shows lack, and that’s a main character who isn’t a bland self-insert.
You see, the point with harem shows is to make the lead male personalty-less so that the audience can insert themselves into his shoes and see themselves with all these wonderful ladies in their fantasies. However, Shido isn’t like that. He’s a nice guy who genuinely cares for these girls. Perhaps not romantically, but he still goes through the process of seducing them because it’s the only way to save them from being murdered. It also helps that Shido typically does an infinitely better job of gaining the trust and affection of these girls when he completely ignores the dating sim dialogue suggestions he gets. They actually show this extremely well, because he essentially gets brainwashed into thinking the dating sim route is the way to go for women, but when he gets genuinely invested and his emotions flare up, he starts saying all the right things. Not because he knows they’ll work best, but because those are his genuine feelings and thoughts.
This would still kind of get shaken up if the girls all genuinely developed feelings for Shido due to what he does, but Tohka is really the only one this happens to. The others seem to just know why he did what he did. Similar to how he’s seducing these girls without any real romantic feelings because he wants to save them, they understand this mindset and don’t develop feelings in return.
…Unless they’re just hiding it.
I’m still surprised by how much I enjoyed Date A Live. I’m still wondering whether it was a genuinely good show, or if I just approached everything that happened in the right mindset. Who knows? I still say give the show a shot if you haven’t already, it could end up surprising you. Even if the show itself doesn’t surprise you, the soundtrack just might.
Seriously, the soundtrack is pretty amazing. I mean, sure, some of it is generic, happy, anime music; but there are a ton of great tracks on it. Even if you don’t like the show, give it a listen. I recommend “Seirei”, personally. It’s fantastic.