Judge Jon Mercer hates being dissed; he can only imagine how much it would irk the Prince of all Hells.
His sword is big. His ego is even bigger.
Drawing its origins from the cult hit series of video games, Disgaea is a breed of anime that from the outset seems genetically tailored to strike a nerve with Hot Topic frequenters. But is its comedic take on Dark Princes and Angelic interlopers going to be worth more than a chuckle?
Facts of the Case
Laharl, heir to the throne of the Netherworld is in quite the princely pickle. He's been napping in a poison induced coma for the past two years and wakes only to learn that his father has suffered a tragic demise. Before Laharl can lay claim to his dark throne and take his place as the Overlord of Hell, he must carve a swath of destruction across an adventure filled with angels, demons, Flash Gordon meets Reed Richards would-be-heroes, a wannabe Dark Adonis, and more exploding penguins than anyone could ever wish for.
Just so we're clear, I've been a casual supporter of anime since before anyone even knew what an anime was. I've been buying product since before I had even discovered its archaic "japanamation" nomme de guerre. I remember watching "Robotech" as a youngling in the late 1980s and knowing somewhere in my heart of hearts, there was something different about it, that it was cut from a different cloth than usual Saturday morning fare. Long story short, I've been around, and I've done my time with both the good and the bad when it comes to frames from the Land of the Rising Sun. I guess that qualifies me as much as any other film jockey to tell you that Disgaea: the Complete Series belongs firmly with the latter.
Stripping the story from 2003's Disgaea: Hour of Darkness for the PlayStation 2 (Makai Senki Disgaea if you're among the import crowd), and then shaving down all but the basic structure to fit into twelve half-hour episodes, Disgaea is not going to be for fans of complex narrative. Truthfully it's not really for anyone outside of the game's most rabid followers. What can I say, the three main characters run the gamut between quirky for the sake of quirky, to complete personality vacuums. Between Laharl's unhinged and arrogant snarling to the general presence of bubble headed angelic ditz Flonne and the eyebrow twitching antics of the chemically volatile Prinnies, I can't say what viewer's hands will be flying for first, the remote or a bottle of Excedrin. Disgaea slathers on a thick layer of self-aware goofiness, but the story fails to build up any forward momentum until it inexplicably arrives at a contrivance of a climax where each character suddenly proceeds to drop a shock and awe campaign of exposition.
My biggest beef with Disgaea, however, wasn't the plodding story, it wasn't even the thoroughly unlikable characters. It was the wooden quality of the animation. This is a series begging for an elastic sense of movement to go with the numerous sight gags and exaggerated personalities, and instead everything just looks cheap, nothing like an anime produced post 1998 should. It's really disappointing when the big action scenes start up and deliver a collection of near still frames with no wind up. Animation junkies, you know of what I speak.
Funimation delivers their usual level of quality in terms of a crisp transfer. The series' bright colors are as vivid as can be expected, but I did notice rather persistent levels of pixelization and mild artifacting throughout. The 2.0 stereo tracks are passable, and while I did have reservations about the voice acting, it bears mentioning that the original dub was performed by Geneon in 2006. It's not completely dreadful, but there is a definite step down in quality from what Funimation are capable of nowadays. Extras include a collection of trailers, a promo for the video game Disgaea 3 (available on PS3), the usual clean opening and closing credits and four sit down interviews with series creator Sohei Niikawa and the Japanese voice of Laharl, Kaori Mizuhashi. The pair discusses everything from the humble origins of the series to the eventual sequel (the interviews were conducted in 2006).
While the most resolute of vassals will certainly thrill over the animated adventures of their favourite netherworld miscreants, mere mortals should be wary not to trip over the arthritic animation, hokey storyline, and gauche fusion of fighting and farce.
As guilty as any demon.
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Scales of Justice
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