In the anime world, there are harem shows, and then there’s Date A Live. Date A Live is a comedy series from AIC Plus+, which revolves around seemingly (though not really) normal high school student Shido. Like most boys his age, Shido lives with his younger sister Kotori, with whom he shares a loving, trusting bond.
Well, kind of. At first blush, their relationship seems like the thing that will eventually end in the back of an unmarked, windowless van. Seriously, the show basically opens with a shot of Kotori’s striped pink panties.
Anyway, the two live in a world that’s been devastated by a phenomenon known as “spatial quakes.” Spatial quakes are devastating energy bursts, that led to the deaths of over 150 million over the course of thirty years. Nobody knows what causes them because, despite the billions of dollars in scientific advancements, scientists wouldn’t even dream of finding the root of these disasters. Nevermind that the planet’s being obliterated one quake at a time, they world needed weapons and lots of ’em!
At the same time, people began to treat the phenomenon, a catastrophic event that levels all structures in a given radius, with a fairly cavalier attitude. When disaster is imminent, they merely shuffle into the nearest shelter, wait for it to pass, and go about the rest of their day.
Shido’s life of brotherly bliss is shattered one day, when a spatial quake rocks the area near his home. Fearing the worst for his dear sissykins, the lad rushes out into the quake zone. At ground zero, he finds a mysterious girl, clad in armour and wielding a massive blade. And, though their first meeting is brief, the red string of fate ensures that they will continue to see each other once again.
Shortly thereafter, Shido finds that his perfect, pseudo-incestuous life is a lie. His sister isn’t really a fawning stereotype, nor is she the type to really settle into the chipper sister role. She’s a smart-mouthed, no-nonsense captain in the secret organization of Ratatoskr and head of the airship Fraxinus. Similarly, the popular girl in Shido’s school, Origami Tobiichi, is a soldier for the organization, whose goal is to eradicate the girls who appear in the aftermath of spatial quakes, known as “Spirits.” Not much is known about the Spirits, though their destructive potential is immense. Most wouldn’t dare get near a spirit, let alone talk to one!
Shido’s a “special” case, though. He alone holds the power to seal the Spirits’ devastating powers, though to do so, he must make the Spirit fall in love with him!
Of course he does…
As a show, Date A Live plays out as a by-the-numbers harem. The One True Pairing is obvious from the outset, and the entire world seems hell-bent on getting Shido to do the horizontal mambo. The “secret organization” bent is a clever idea, that derives a lot of humor by poking holes in the very idea of a “dating sim.”
Actually, this was one of the better ideas for the show. To guide Shido to the land of Milk and Booty, Ratatoskr’s forces assembled a collection of the greatest romantic minds. Kind of.
Basically, they got a guy that likes hookers, a pimp, a five-time divorcee, and other quirky “love experts” to carefully select the dialogue Shido would use in his conversations with the Spirit. And, in true dating sim fashion, the answers range from the obvious to the utterly absurd. This format helps to set up a number of surprisingly funny situations, though it often feels like these elements are a bit forced, as they tend to guide the show deeper into creeper land. For example, in episode two, the group decides to practice their skills in the art of persuasion by having Shido try to mack on his homeroom teacher. And yes, it’s as dire as it sounds.
Between the sleaze and creeper bait, though, there are inklings of a decent show that could have become something more.
The animation is similarly attractive, particularly in the battle scenes. Though they are brief, the choreography for these segments tends to be well-planned, and truly fun to watch.
A number of charming characters are dotted through the cast, including Kotori and Ratatoskr Systems analyst Reine. Kotori, in particular, is a great figure, as her quick wit and sharp tongue lead to many of the show’s funnier (and more quotable) dialogue bits. Reine, on the other hand, seems to have been designed around the knowledge that this show is incredibly skeezy, and just revels in it. Her dead-tired, baggy eyes and deadpan demeanor just scream “that’s it, I’m done with this world.”
Similarly, the relationship between Shido and Tohka the spirit is sweet, as the two stumble through a rapidly changing reality. Tohka, as the outsider, offers a unique perspective on the world that mixes wonderment with fear, excitement with caution. The chemistry between the two is infectious, and invites viewers to really invest themselves as the two grow closer together.
Had things been handled differently, Date A Live could have become a decent harem series. There are a number of sweet, utterly fantastic aspects to the show, be it the relationship between Shido and Tohka, or the fantastic battle segments. Unfortunately, these bits are flanked by so much garbage, so much shamelessly creepy material that they lose all meaning and impact. As a result, viewers will be left with a depraved, generally unfunny example of wasted potential.
Thanks to FUNimation for sending us a review copy!