31 March 2007
This review is about the Disgaea anime. Not the game. Just so we're clear on that. I would really, really like to play the game, but there hasn't been a PAL release of it yet. Never mind that there was a PAL release of the sequel. Didn't they think that when people saw Disgaea 2, they would wonder where Disgaea 1 was? No, that's not even REMOTELY confusing.
Either way, Makai Senki Disgaea THE ANIME is based on the PS2 game most people probably already know as Disgaea: Hour of Darkness. It's a mini-series, only twelve episodes long, that focuses on the story of Laharl, a demon prince who is woken up after a two year long nap by a bumbling angel to find his father dead and the Demon Realm in a state of disarray as various demons vie for the coveted position of Demon King. Laharl, feeling himself the most appropriate for the position, sets out with his sycophantic demon underling Etna and her small army of Prinny servants, along with the angel Flonne (who is on a personal mission of her own to teach Laharl about love) to claim the throne. That's the gist of it, anyway.
Most video game to anime adaptations are, quite frankly, terribly boring and painfully lame, with only a couple of notable exceptions. Disgaea manages to fall into that exceptions category, as the main selling point is humour more than anything else and the cast is kept small and centralised throughout. This means that the appropriate time is given to develop the main characters, so when the drama starts coming in the last few episodes you actually care about what's happening. However, it doesn't entirely manage to shake off its gaming origins, as particularly towards the middle of the series I found myself repeatedly thinking that game had to be awesome, instead of just sitting back and soaking in the anime; a similar sort of experience to Xenosaga. That said, once it starts ramping up towards the conclusion, you forget all that, and Disgaea manages the rare feat of standing on its own two feet.
Probably one of the main reasons that Disgaea survives the transition to anime is due to the characters. As it stands, they are more typical of your average comedic fantasy than that of an epic RPG. Laharl is the best protagonist I've seen in a long time - he's self-serving, ambitious, has a city-crushing ego and an awesome megalomanical laugh. Busty women and kind words make him ill, and he'll refuse to do anything for anyone, no matter how small, unless there's something in it for him, citing the Demon way. There was nothing more satisfying than the moments where he starts walking out of the room in the middle of a side character's lengthy tale of woe. He's a BASTARD, and you love him for it. Likewise, Etna is an extremely cool, coy and devious character, whose praising words always sound more than just a little sarcastic. Then there's the angel, Flonne, which is highly annoying with her heartfelt speeches and 'by-the-book' goody-goody attitude, but then, that's her whole schtick. And it plays off the other two nicely, creating much more interesting character interaction than the usual stereotypical relationships present in these sorts of animes.
The animation itself wasn't particularly high budget, but the style used for Disgaea was very appealing and closely matched the artwork for the game which was in itself based on an anime style, so that was an awfully easy transition (Though I am going off screenshots. Because, you know, the game hasn't been released for PAL. Even though Disgaea 2 has. Which I'm not sore about AT ALL.) The setting lent itself to some very funky, if faintly generic, visuals at times, and the anime made appropriate use of it. More impressive, however, was the audio. The voice acting had mostly top-notch deliveries, especially considering that such often over-the-top theatrics can create cringe-worthy performances from even good actors. The sound effects were well done also, and the musical score was especially noteworthy, varying the mood from comedic to whimsical to epic without losing its style and really tying the entire anime together. It sort of reminds me of what might happen if you mixed the soundtracks for Harry Potter, xXxholic and Slayers together. Actually, Disgaea itself is a lot like what might happen if you swapped the heroes and villains in Slayers around.
In summary, Disgaea made a decent leap from game and anime (I think. I may have mentioned that I haven't played the game, since it never got a PAL release, even though the sequel is already right there on the shelves TAUNTING PAL GAMERS EVERYWHERE). I'd still say that the game is probably better, but for those (BELEAGURED PAL GAMERS) who haven't played the game, the anime is an acceptable alternative and an enjoyable diversion. It's not the funniest, nor the saddest, nor the most dramatic, but it doesn't sport any glaring flaws, either. That's a bigger accomplishment than it sounds.
Overall score: 670,666/1,000,000