Judge Adam Arseneau wishes he had a pet bunny rabbit that transformed itself into a set of giant black feathered wings. Err, wait—maybe not. That's just weird.
Give in to the Dark!
From the creators of Love Hina and Nadesico comes D.N. Angel: Complete Collection, based loosely on the popular manga by Yukiru Sugisaki. I say "loosely" because D. N. Angel the television series bears only a passing resemblance to the manga of the same name, kind of like an Indy stock car passing an ice cream van.
A romantic comedy with a healthy blend of supernatural action, D.N. Angel tries to strike a balance between these elements and comes up with something reasonably cute, charming, and entertaining for pre-teen audiences…but unfortunately, not wholly original.
Facts of the Case
Daisuke may seem like your everyday high-school boy: he goes to class, gets decent grades, and yearns for the pretty girl in his class, Risa Harada. But Daisuke's family is far from normal. Every day, he trains with his grandfather, learning computer hacking, surviving tests of agility and deadly complex traps. Despite his otherworldly agility and talents, Daisuke has two left feet around the object of his affection and thoroughly fails to impress her.
Then on his 14th birthday, he receives the surprise of his life. He transforms unexpectedly into a strong, tall, winged teenage boy named Dark, the latest in a long line of genetic Phantom Thieves, who reoccur every few generations. His family protects this genetic secret and has been training Daisuke in secret for his task, stealing valuable works of art from across the land.
Unfortunately for Daisuke, he has little control over his body when he is transformed into Dark. Worse, Dark is something of a ladies' man…and Risa has eyes for the handsome and mysterious Mr. Dark! Now, Daisuke has to deal with the back-and-forth romantic trapezoid of Risa's affections during the day and breaking into high security vaults in the night…all the while trying to avoid Dark's ancestral enemies!
Rather than trying to adapt the popular D. N. Angel manga into anime form, the creators of the D. N. Angel television series made the strangely inebriated decision to change almost everything, save the name of the series and a few main characters. The end result is a combination of two well-established genres of anime—the "boy in love with a girl who doesn't know he exists" romantic comedy with the "high school boy gets magical powers to fight evil" genre—and the end result is something that feels very familiar. There is a good reason for this. We've seen it many times before.
For further reference, we consult the "Anime Cliché Checklist." There's the slightly dorky kid who has the nimble agility of a master thief, but around the girl of his dreams, trips over his own feet…check. In the first episode, said kid suddenly discovers his magical powers, with which he will fight in the struggle between good and evil…check. Leading a double-life may seem like a burden and wreak havoc with his social life and schoolwork, but in the end will no doubt win him the affections of the girl he loves, since his secret identity is much cooler than his real-life one…check. Of course, there's always that one kid in the class who knows his secret identity (usually a loner wearing glasses) and just may have secret powers of his own. Yes, yes. Check.
The end result of this sarcastic observation can be surmised thusly: D.N. Angel isn't a bad anime by any stretch—quite entertaining and whimsical in a pre-teen sort of way, in fact—but it certainly contributes little of its own originality to the medium. If that kind of thing doesn't bother you, there is actually a fair bit to enjoy in D. N. Angel. Being light on the action and heavy on the shoujo, young girls will no doubt find the series extremely romantic and entertaining. The environmental designs are quite stylish and unique for an anime, placing the series in a colorful mountainous European Mediterranean locale. Placing the protagonist on the side of "evil" (or at the very least, Dark versus Light) sets an interesting tone of mystery to the series. And the schizophrenic relationship between Daisuke and Dark takes on a Ranma level of hilarity at times, with the two personalities arguing and fighting over women.
And I admit; the ultra-cute finale misted the old eyes just a bit. Aww shucks.
But for those outside the targeted demographic of 9-to-13-year-old girls with a bit more anime experience, D. N. Angel is of questionable appeal. Extremely slow to develop, the first 12 or 13 episodes are delegated to basically nothing—some minor character development, Dark stealing artifact after artifact, some high-school bickering. The endless preoccupation with romantic triangles, back-and-forth affections, and innuendos make for easy laughs and charming moments, but these alone have difficulty sustaining the show, and the plot only starts to gain momentum in the last ten episodes. You keep expecting something to happen plotwise, something significant…and by the time it does, most of the older audience has lost interest.
Packed in a handsome sturdy cardboard box stuffed with slim DVD cases, D.N. Angel: Complete Collection is a good-looking set; and considering how much money you'll be spending on these bad boys, this is refreshing to see. All 26 episodes of the anime series have been included, crammed onto five DVDs.
The video presentation is quite solid, though not quite perfect. Colors are exceptionally vibrant, with primary hues being extremely well represented, and black levels are decent, though the color palate of the anime tends to hue blacks into deep velvet purple. Though a bit tough to nail down, the problem seems to be the quality of the animation itself, which is mediocre. The character designs are a bit on the bland side, and the merging of 2D and 3D animation, especially in later episodes, gets a bit awkward. Certain frames appear skittish and jumpy, and the transfer often takes on an unnatural softness at times, contrasting the overall sharpness. During sequences of movement, the transfer also has the tendency to go jagged along the edges. There is some print damage here and there, but nothing too terrible. Don't get me wrong—for an anime, we're definitely on the higher end of acceptable here—but I've seen better.
Audio is a mixed bag, primarily because of the preferential treatment given to the English Dolby Surround 5.1 presentation. The surround channel has good bass, very nice channel distribution, and clear dialogue, but occasional murky environmental noises. In contrast, the original Japanese language track is delegated to a mediocre Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo presentation, lacking volume, bass response, and the excellent immersive quality of the surround track. Take this with a grain of salt, of course. I am not a fan of dubbed anime personally, so I would have liked to have seen this presentation reversed. It was considerate of ADV to give audiences a choice, but it just doesn't seem right to shortchange the native language track. But considering the pre-teen market that D. N. Angel is no doubt being targeted to, I guess it makes sense. Plus, the quality of the English language dub isn't that bad.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If you have been collecting the single-disc versions of D. N. Angel, your early buying and large wallet have paid off, literally. In order to fit the entire series down onto five DVDs, D. N. Angel: Complete Collection comes sans extras of any kind…nada, zilch, zero. In contrast, the single-disc installments were filled up with goodies. So be warned…if extra material does it for you, you might want to think twice about this box set.
There isn't much in D.N. Angel that speaks out to me personally…you know, not being 9 years old, and a girl. After a few episodes, I had to force myself to keep watching the series, not because it was particularly poor, but simply because it failed to grab my attention. Admittedly, it had some moments of true sweetness and brilliance along the way, but they were few and fettered.
With the never-ending stream of anime titles flooding the market, uniqueness and originality are elements that help define an anime to a North American audience. Unfortunately, D.N. Angel fails to distinguish itself meaningfully from the crowd, and by the time the show starts turning up the intensity, the audience has gone home.
Is it a bad show? Not by any means. It just isn't a show I can recommend over all the other numerous, better female-targeted anime on the market, like Love Hina, Chobits, or Cardcaptor Sakura…hell, anything from CLAMP for that matter.
The romantic comedy and the action are there, but the show never quite manages to dish out the correct one at the right moment to attract a diverse anime audience.
But if I was a 10-year-old girl, I'd love it. Not guilty.
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