A romantic comedy in the guise of fantasy thriller, D.N. Angel is a poorly scripted anime that does not understand the basics of storytelling through any aspects of the medium. Like many an amateur fan fictions, the premise of a world where art comes to life and wreaks havoc on a little seaside town has much unfulfilled potential.
The story follows a boy, who recently turned 14-years-old, being initiated into the family business of art thievery. He takes on the alias passed down for generations, the Phantom Dark. To take on this alias, he literally transforms into another person by special genetics he inherited as a reincarnation and resurrection. The transformation depends on conditions involving the manifestation of certain emotions regarding his love interest.
Loosely referenced, magic seems to be the default dues ex machina, latin for “god from the machine,” and magic in this literary universe tends to depend on emotions to an unspecified degree. Unrequited admiration, love and arousal are all stated or hinted to incur the transformation into Dark, but then suddenly are thrown out and are debunked in favor of will and choice. The inconsistency of what Dark truly is ranges from a separate entity, to a conflicting dual personality, to a curse, and the relationship he has with Krad is completely glossed over with one line in the last episode.
With the exception of a few episodes, D. N. Angel focuses on the protagonist’s life involving two girls and a number of school activities, which would not be inherently dreadful if not for the superficial nature of the relationships. The relationships go through a series of phases, instead of a progression through developing familiarity between the two characters. Within this society, maturity is oversimplified, and the basic concepts of human behavior are all but ignored.
D. N. Angel’s characters are rather bland; not for a lack personality, but more a lack for depth and motivation. Adapting the manga into an anime was done rather sloppily, as many character developing moments and relationships were left out in favor of a simplified version. The rules of the world are defined by the dilemmas that the protagonist faces, when it should be the other way around.
The characters lack arcs because they have few opportunities for change while they are developing. Characters simply come to conclusions or realizations.
First resisting becoming Dark, Daisuke had an opportunity to explore his and Dark’s motivations, but instead this becomes grounds for Daisuke to complain about his predicament. A few episodes later, he and Dark are best friends, pulling heists as partners. The transition is never explained, and the sudden shift in their relationship is ignored for another subplot with no pay off.
D. N. Angel attempted to address many themes, with little success. An episode or two were dedicated to the theme of legends and how they affect the public as well as people individually. Another section of episodes alluded to the complexities of love and defining it.
These themes barely intertwine with the narrative and almost never affect the characters. The one time a character was affected by the attempted exploration of a theme happened in a poorly constructed subplot specific to the anime. The subplot obviously helped the anime end on a more definite note, and caused one character to mature in a way contradictory to the source material.
Differences between the adaptation and the source material do not guarantee a narrative disaster, but for this specific anime, it does ensure that D. N. Angel shall be confined to these 26 episodes with no further installments.
Due to major changes from its source material, D. N. Angel adapts very poorly to the animated medium. The D. N. Angel manga is much more developed in its world building and characters, but the adaptation takes most of that away for a lot of inconvenient rabbit trails, the extension of cute gags and the inventions of new characters. This explains many mistakes in continuity, development and the poor setup, with amateur pay-offs and awkwardly placed cliff hangers.
From a narrative standpoint, D. N. Angel suffers the consequences of poor and inconsistent pacing, caused by sloppy edits, to amateur cinematography. Nearly all the frames seemed to be lifted from manga screen panel or simple portraits or landscapes. There were a few perspective shots for the heist scenes that were decent, but they were computer generated. D. N. Angel seems to be an experiment, an excuse to integrate traditional two-dimensional animation with computer generated images (CGI).
The two-dimensional animation is decent and the CGI is skillfully rendered; however, the two styles are too distinct. When both are placed in the same frame, it is simply jarring. There are shots that look as if a paper cut out were on top of a video game screen; others that resemble a smatter of childish images from different magazines.
To overcome this, the viewer must suspend a huge amount of disbelief. Ironically, this same studio (Xebec) animated Heroic Age, an anime with far superior integration of these two styles, four years later, proving D. N. Angel to be the precursor of animated greatness.
D. N. Angel was dubbed by Discotek Media, which usually dubs older anime. This translation is awkward, as it tends to follow the quirks of older anime without the atmosphere to make it charming.
The lapses in logic and awkward wording don’t have context or substantial compensation for the confusion. These moments are rather frequent, yet it passes off as a reason to establish drama or to drive the story in a specific direction, convoluting the narrative.
In addition to insulting the animated medium, the cultures presented in D. N. Angel are misconstrued. It states that the Japanese holiday, White Day, is in December when it is really in March, and its attempt at American slang is laughable. Who in America would say “It is so sweet that this place is banging and not full of ding heads?” This dubbing is not able to portray humanity or its cultures in the correct light.
There is an unfortunate struggle between talented voice actors and the degrading script. Many of the characters are voiced by amazing voice actors: Dark is Vic Mignogna, Satoshi is Greg Ayres, Kosuke is Andy McAvin and Diaki is John Swasey. All four are very seasoned actors and their talent definitely shines through, despite the terrible dialogue.
For all its flaws, D. N. Angel has an amazing music selection. The music does not really move coherently with the plot line, but it is well composed. All of the tracks are classically inspired with a full orchestra usually incorporated; the exceptions being the one opening, two ending songs, and two songs integrated within the series at rather random moments.
D. N. Angel is, in general, a pathetic excuse for an anime, but I love it. I watched it as a kid and it still spurs up a wave of nostalgia. I laugh at all the pathetic jokes and enjoy the flimsy suspense as Dark pulls a heist, but looking back on it, even without a critical eye, it does not hold up.
There are so many plot holes and dropped subplots, yet the music is so addictive, especially the opening. With this in mind, people, who are fond of older anime, might find it quite enjoyable and others, who like silly and rather nonsensical anime, might appreciate it as well.
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By Kimberly Joy Ward