13 September 2013

'Devil Survivor 2: The Animation'

I like anime. I really do. Some of the conventions and cliches are fun, hilarious, and enjoyable. Some characters fit the same mold constantly, but others break down boundaries and create a new spin on tropes of characterization.

Some shows are classics. Some are memorable and provide a lot of commentary. Some are forgettable, but still watchable. Others are just simply bad. Even fewer reach legendary levels of awful. Basically, anime is like everything else: movies, music, shows, books, and various other mediums of entertainment.

Maybe I've been on TV Tropes for far too long and I'm even more jaded than ever since I became a realistic pessimist. Maybe I'm just naturally finding faults in everything. Maybe I do too much simple research on suits, temperature, and health concerns before I dive into a public pool. Regardless of the reason, I came to the conclusion that Devil Survivor 2 The Animation is a sterile anime.

How it fairs as an adaptation will not be a strong factor as I have not played the game. However, I will stress a few things that rubbed the wrong way with me, still relatively new to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise.

To put it simply, this is Shiki meets Sonic Colors... with Altus and the SMT label slapped on for sales.

Great. Spoilers ahoy.

First, the good parts. Like this spoilerific, but freaking AWESOME moment at about 3:18.

Deus ex machina has never been so gloriously perfect.

Anyone who doesn't like Jack Frost, Black Frost, and their relatives should go to a store and buy his/her self a soul, hee-ho! Not only that, this was the only scene where Daichi actually does something other than summon weak demons into a fight with eldritch abominations that yawn agidyne frequently.

But seriously, did anyone involved in making this show laugh until they pissed themselves? It's so freaking adorable!

On a slightly more serious note, the second best thing has to be Yamato. I'm not sure how true his character is to the original game, but he is the most fleshed out and interesting guy in the cast. Brooding, apathetic, stoic white-haired pretty boys aren't my cup of tea, but Yamato's an exception this time. He's a fantastic foil to Hibiki and I bought their complicated relationship. The protagonist cares deeply for his friends to the point of losing his marbles if someone he knew for two seconds dies. Yamato sees everyone as a tool to further his firm agenda in creating a meritocracy where the strong conquer the weak.

Having been raised in solitude to become a powerful leader, he doesn't have any friends. The Anguished One, a mysterious figure sees promise in him, but ultimately concludes that Hibiki would be the real chosen one to decide humanity's fate. So watching the three of them constantly at ends over whether or not Hibiki or Yamato will shape the world is well established and explored. Honestly this is the only story arc that has a pulse. I felt a bit warm inside over the ending when Yamato and Hibiki recognize their differences and respect each other. It's a heartwarming moment worth waiting for.

Third, this show is beautifully made. The opening is colorful, stylish, and striking. All the characters are introduced, and scenes from the show interlaced with the Nicea interface from the characters' cell phones produces a really striking combination. And I love "Take Your Way". Yeah, it's cheery and upbeat, it's got charm, like "Reach for the Stars" from Sonic Colors. It does it's job well: to get you excited for whatever comes your way in the episode.

The ending theme is far simpler, but just as cool to watch. As the story progresses and more people die, the characters will vanish from the sequence - both in modern and destroyed Tokyo. "BE" is pretty fun too, since it reminds me of the alternative rock I obsessed over when I was younger. So thumbs up to the superficial, but awesome parts of any anime.

In the show, the action tends to be decently paced and the animation is quite fluid. At least it starts off pretty decent. The quality declines, if only because there's less of an emphasis on fighting and more so on "character development". ... I'll get there, trust me. This is definitely a new show, and I'm still trying to adjust to the change in technology, but I was pleased with the animation overall. Even the CGI doesn't clash too much with everything else, unlike in Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood.

The worst thing though has to be the art style. Yeah, it's all based from the game's artwork, but still. The big-breasted female characters annoyed me. Airi is the least frustrating, considering how her chest looks quite normal. But Hinako is the greatest offender. All I can say is, look out Final Fantasy X fans, Lulu's been outclassed in the outrageously dressed compartment.

Seriously, as a female with fairly prominent features, I know THIS is ridiculous. I can let some fanservice slide... but THIS... thing... My back hurts from thinking about how this could possibly work. How... I don't even...

*takes tylenol*

Well, at least Hinako is a fun, energetic character. I could look past her awful outfit and see a cool big sister figure to Hibiki. I'm sure she's even better in the game. I can't say the same about the nurse lady (forgot her name, she was so useless) and Fumi.

Other than the fanservice that will never go away because the universe decrees that men are only driven by the existence of a pair of massive boobs, this show is quite nice to look at.


Now things start to go downhill hard.

The plot... oh, boy. Allow me to have a mini rant that is relevant to this review. [Actually you have little choice... whoops.]

In Persona 3, there's a theme that plagues the entire game. Momento Mori. Remember you are mortal, remember you will die. Death plays a gigantic role with villains, supporting characters, and teammates either dropping dead or nearly falling into the monster pit. Even the protagonist dies at the end. Ever since, Atlus has created this subplot about reviving the protagonist at all costs. While everyone in SEES moved on after the events of "The Answer", Elizabeth, a resident of the Velvet Room who SHOULD KNOW that the protagonist's fate happened and should be respected, throws a hissy fit and goes on a journey to save him. Persona 4 Arena takes it further by making her able to use multiple Persona like the P3 and P4 protagonists. The Fool, the bearer of the Wild Card.

Burn this stupid girl and this stupid story arc with agidyne.
This is really stupid, and I loathe it. If handled poorly - which is pretty likely, considering the split opinions from fans, the meaning and emotion of the sacrifice would be undone. It would cheapen the Persona 3 canon (1). This isn't like the optional routes in saving Shinjiro and Chidori because at least their fates do not change the fact that the protagonist will always die. But they do weaken the momento mori theme by not enforcing the theme of the cause and effect of death in life. Now, I don't mind the optionality of Shinjiro and Chidori's fates in one playthrough (since their deaths are still technically canon in the ongoing series), but save the happy stuff for fan fiction.

I wish I could ignore my irrational hatred for the bullshit regarding Elizabeth (and Theo if the female protagonist's story would unravel in a similar fashion). Sadly, Devil Survivor 2 The Animation does something that pissed me off just as much, if not more.

The story ends with a reset button a la Sonic 06. While the horrible game deserved such a continuity re-write, DS2TA didn't need it at all. There is no consequence for the universe collapsing on itself. Everything starts over as if the Septentriones never existed.

Boobs, boobs, boobs, boobs, boobs, lotta boooooooooobs...
in a show overflowing in homoerotic subtext. WTH, Japan?!
This could have ONLY worked if there was time to bond with the cast. If the show gave us a reason - logically and emotionally - to demand to see everyone living their lives and reaching for their dreams. We need to really want them to go back to the world they once knew before the hellmouth burped out demons. We must ache for the world we all take for granted to come back to them so they can dream for tomorrow. BUT we can't.

Fine. Then what's the main premise?

Within one week seven mysterious entities named after stars invade the world to allow everything to be consumed by the Void, nothingness. Once the Septentriones are defeated, a chosen one shall seek audience with Polaris on the final day. The individual shall make a wish that would influence the creation and establishment of a new world. There are still people fighting for their lives by summoning demons through Nicaea, a software program found on their cell phones. But every so often, someone receives a video foretelling the probable death of one of his or her friends. Sometimes such a fate can be delayed at best, inevitable at worst.

Sounds cool to me, even if it's a standard MegaTen franchise plot masked with different entities and demons to confront and make contracts with. It's a wheel that doesn't need to be fixed too much, but this anime has stripped it of everything that makes the premise of Devil Survivor 2 interesting as a simple story, let alone an installment in the same mega umbrella as Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne or Persona 2.

And I thought Tom Cruise's wife in Oblivion pissed me off (2).
Not even the characters can support the bare-bones plot because no one but Yamato, the Anguished One, and Hibiki matters. Daichi is a stupider and more exploited Ron Weasley reduced to a worthless moron who wastes his time investing in fleas to stop a tsunami. Io had a moment to serve a purpose, but the plot went down the Disney route and used "the power of friendship" so badly that the Persona 4 investigation team would call bullshit. It was so bad, I had to stop watching the show for a few hours. Makoto is nothing but a piece of exposition and be Haku to Yamato's Zabuza. But this isn't Naruto. This attempted subplot ended anti-climatically and cheaply here because of this comparison (3).

Everyone else has a name, but none of them matter at all. One guy dies in the very episode he debuts in. No time is dedicated to establishing who he was as a person before the fight that lead to his demise. And I'm supposed to care about a nobody because...? Most filler episodes do a better job at establishing people, places, and things. Something is wrong here, but it only gets worse. After the third death or so, you just don't care anymore. People drop like flies and you don't have any reason to want them to come back. Everyone is disposable and forgettable, which is much different from disposable but likable.

And had I not checked the Megami Tensei Wiki, I would not know of the various factions and their leaders. It's mostly gameplay-related as joining or ignoring one of these routes will determine the fate of the world once you confront Polaris. Whatever the ideas behind these factions are become obsolete because one of the leaders gets the ax not four episodes after he appears. Fans of Devil Survivor 2 were quite surprised.

"Da fuke iz tis shiz?!" o_0

Yeah, that's about right. My reaction?


It was just a waste. If they wanted to make the simplistic plot of Hibiki vs. Yamato, then why bother with establishing the multiple factions with conflicting ideologies of how to shape the new world after the apocalypse in the first place? Why bother with Renaldo? The Anguished One managed to be essential to Yamato's backstory and character development, so why couldn't Renaldo get the same treatment? How come none of the kids and adults who "befriends" Hibiki pick a side? Why does everyone sit around, talk about Yamato being an asshole, flash their massive breasts, and brood until the next Septentrion shows up?

The only time the secondary characters try to have personality happens too late in the series. The very next episode, three of them die. Only one was really sad if only because she stuck around a lot longer than the others - save for Daichi and Io.

Jungo and Airi could have been decent together if they had actual purpose. Airi could have had a moment against one Septentrion fight with Hinako, but the fight happens offscreen and lasts for only two minutes. And don't get me started with Jungo. The poor dude's a hybrid of Shinjiro and Junpei from Persona 3: tough, scary-looking, concise with words, but kindhearted and dumb as a brick. His only trait is protecting the puny Shana clone in Airi. It's adorable, I won't lie, but this shallow, simple setup can easily be replicated in a fanfic... (don't judge me). And I don't think this dynamic even exists in the video game this 13 episode mess is based on. Someone is free to correct me on that though.

But the most worthless character of all is Fumi. She does nothing at all. She is just not worth spending a thought on because she's just a hologram of a character. Heck, she looks bored to tears every time she ever "appears". Just... NO. Good bye, the end. At least the nurse lady showed some sign of life.

Anyone else I forgot? Most likely, but they get even less characterization than miss computerized two-by-four. That's called a waste of time, energy, and space.


I can't say I completely hate Devil Survivor 2 The Animation entirely. It held my attention from start to finish. It wasn't physically painful to watch. The premise was intriguing and the presentation is gorgeous... most of the time. But it's an embarrassingly forgettable anime that's poorly paced with generic cliches that spoils nearly every piece of salvageable good potential. As an adaptation, it did a fantastic job of luring me to the game... if only to pray that the source material is much superior to what I had to sit through.

Yes, this show makes me very angry. I haven't played the game and I feel somewhat offended by this show. Persona 4 The Animation stayed truer to its source material and treated its ideas with more respect than this. If you ask me, you are better off with that over-milked cow than this. Atlus, I swear to the superior beings if you and AIC ASTA (4) so much as fuck up the Persona 3 movies, I will fly over to Japan personally, start a killing spree, cut off the balls of every male employee in both companies, stuff them in a rocket, draw Mara all over it, and blast it off to Uranus. All on live TV. This bad adaptation better not be an omen for things yet to come.

I can't recommend this to anime fans because it's too flat. I can't speak to fans of the game, but I will agree with the crowd that says this show could have been better if it spanned 26 episodes. Because characters should never be this insultingly boring. This adaptation is so confused with itself and the source material, I feel sorry for it. Then I forget why I'm wasting crocodile tears on something so subpar in the first place.

1.5 out of 5

Now... back to Mass Effect 2, where it looks like someone actually gave a crap.


(1) - Worst of all, how can you bring back a character whose sole trait was being a silent protagonist? Maybe the movies will fix this, but how will you expand upon a character based on the player's choices? Sure, this isn't as bad as the issue with adapting Commander Shepard into another media, but a similar logic applies. Atlus, please stop appealing to butthurt human beings who hate bittersweet endings where the hero dies. Honestly, I'm surprised Les Miserables and Beowulf haven't been destroyed forever considering how uptight we get.

(2) - Like in Oblivion with Tom Cruise's wife, Io should have died about halfway through the show. Don't give me the excuse of her being Daiichi's crush, Hibiki's friend, or the third major character. She does NOTHING but pine for the guy who has no interest in her and ignores Daiichi. This cliche is beyond the ashes of an equine. If a character like her has no use besides being a stupid female character who's only good for fanservice and estrogen-angst festivals, then dispose of them. IMMEDIATELY.

(3) - To the show's credit, Yamato seemed legitimately shocked when Makoto sacrificed herself to save him. Considering how the show plays him up to be incapable of seeing people as something above pawns, it was nice to see a subtle crack. Unfortunately, that's the only memorable moment for Makoto. And - like Y Ruler of Time always says - feminism marches on.

(4) - Upon further research, Studio Bridge, not AIC ASTA made this series. So... I guess as long as the right people respect the original material of Persona 3 enough, I can sleep well at night.


Voltech said...

Huh. This went up faster than I expected...then again, the anime's been done for, what, two months at least? I guess that's to be expected.

In a nutshell, I've pretty much got to agree with you on all accounts of this review. Explaining all the things that went wrong would take several pages, so let's see if I can hit a few of the high notes.

1) The team behind The Animation got the "idea" of Yamato, but they bungled the execution. IIRC, Yamato in the series is a very grim and serious person, and cold to a fault; in the game, he's serious, but he's also charming and even charismatic, so it's easier to understand why people would follow him. (His official art and default sprites have him smiling.) He recognized and rewarded talent whenever he could, and while he withheld info from the cast, he willingly revealed it if he was pressed. There was a confidence to him, and a passion that you wouldn't expect. Anime Yamato? Not so much, if you ask me.

2)Daichi and Io got hit HARD in the anime. Game Io starts pulling her weight before the end of the first hour, and she's a lot more than Hibiki's waifu-in-waiting. Daichi has a cowardly streak, but that never, ever stopped him from being a solid ally (story-wise and stat-wise). They were Hibiki's partners in the game, but in the anime, they're almost liabilities.

3) There is a little bit of a relationship between Airi and Jungo in the game, but that's more because they're both in Nagoya at the time. If anything, Jungo gets closer to a stray cat than he does to Airi.

4) If there was ever proof that the guys behind the anime missed the point, it's the fact that they killed off Ronaldo. That was THE ONE CHARACTER they had to keep alive to the end, and they blew it. The game was about a struggle of concepts and worldviews, a clash between Ronaldo's order and Yamato's chaos. The Anguished One was a wild card at best; why they would choose to make him a key player while axing THE key player is a mystery best left to a summit of philosophers.

...Damn it all, I HAVE to do a post on this series now. That is, once I cool off a bit. It feels like some old wounds are starting to reopen.

Melanie~Light said...

... I'm sorry this brought you so much pain. I'm really, really sorry. Once you make a post (no need to rush) I'll apologize again. I'm sorry that this adaptation caused so much damage. Dui bu qi. Gomen'nasai.

Anyway. Back to business.

1) It seems the anime did get just the bare bones of Yamato and stripped him of some flesh. But he still comes out a lot stronger than anyone else in this show. With all the time dedicated to fleshing him out, he should have been the main character. I can say far more good things about the stereotypical white-haired Sephiroth than anyone else. Though the Anguished One wasn't too bad either...

(2) One thing I especially disliked about Daiichi's treatment was near the beginning when he was positioned with a bunch of medics. I thought the creators would make him a pathetic fighter, but decent healer, thus making him a little reliable rather than worthless. But NOPE. Medics are never addressed ever again. What the heck!

As for Io... I don't want to talk about her anymore. She should have died when she became that sacrifice. Then Hibiki blew it. Screw you too, anime!

3) Okay. I did some digging and found that their semi-romantic subtext is anime-exclusive. At least that's what I interpreted their banter as. Again, fanfiction does it all the time, and usually better.

4) It makes sense to kill him off here if only to keep the Hibiki-Yamato conflict simple and contained. Honestly, it ended up being the only salvageable piece of plot in this anime. It greatly avoids the point about the factions, but at least the anime made it clear that it wasn't going that route. Mechanically, it makes sense.

HOWEVER, the change makes this anime unfaithful not just to DS2, but to the Shin Megami Tensei franchise as a whole. Again, it's just like the Persona 3 Protagonist story arc if handled incompetently.

As someone who played the game (and did a post on it), you have far more to work with than I. So heal yourself up and press on.

Please don't go overboard too. Your sanity is your life. @_@

Anonymous said...

This is a 13 episode anime. It was doom from the start. I wish the first DeSu had an animation

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