Anime Review 239 Date A Live

There’s truly something to be said about the mid-2010s. It was the era where ecchi/harem genres dominated the anime charts. A seasonal anime fan in the mid-2010s couldn’t go through a season without seeing one or more series with an ecchi/harem tag. Of course, these genres eventually were phased in favour of Isekai and seasonal shounen, which makes my consuement of many of the ecchi/harem shows interesting in the year 2022.

The one thing I learned from watching these shows is staying power and how many of them seemed to lack it.
Many of the ecchi/harem after they have aired, seemed to be forgotten by the anime and they are often subjected to sale and mystery boxes.

I’m talking about your Aesthetica’s, Dragonar Academia, Maken’s and many more.
Of course, those are notable expectations of the genres like High School DXD, To Love Ru, and the subject of this review Date a Live.

Date A Live anime premiere in 2013 and since then the series has become wildly popular, spawning three squeals, video games and a whole bunch of anime merchandise. Sure it wasn’t as massively popular as medium defining giants like Attack On Titan, Death Note and Sword Art Online, but it was one of the more popular animes out there.
I remember watching the first two seasons of Date a Live back in the day and I remembered just being just okay.
It just didn’t stand out all that much compared to many of the shows that I was watching at the time, despite the colourful characters.
Of course, over time, I watch a lot, more anime since my feelings for Date a Live worsen and worsen to a point I can recall myself hating the series due to its flat characters and style over substance meandering storytelling.

When I heard that Season 4 was coming out this spring, I decided to buy the BDs for all Date A Live, including the never watching infamous J.C Staff’s Season 3 and revisit the franchise just to see if the has aged badly or if it was a highly misunderstood gem. After watching three seasons including the never released OVAs/Movies I can definitely say that I, fortunately, fall into the latter.

Date A Live is actually a good series all this time, and I slept it like a bitch, ignoring various aspects that made the franchise good.

Now I don’t think Date A Live is a masterpiece or even amazing.
It has notable flaws, especially regarding one of the seasons, but as a whole Date A Live is a good and fun ambitious series that has a lot of heart.
Date A Live’s story can be best described as fun, intriguing and chaotic. It may follow the familiar dating formula of a date sims game where the main character had to bond with various girls to keep them happy, but the show has two uniquely clever elements that help it dismisses itself from its peers. For one the girls that Shido has to seal and protect are spirits who are capable of destroying the world and two it manages to reconstruct the various dere tropes that each girl had to offer.

The TL DR version of Reconstruction: Acknowledges the flaws of the tropes and manages to make them fresh again.
After rewatching all three seasons as well as the OVAs and Movie I truly understood the genesis of Date A Live. It is not the best written nor focused anime out there, but it’s easily the most passionate, honest and self-aware anime to come out from the harem genre. Which makes watching almost every since arc a blast. My favourite arcs were the Tohka, Kotori and Miku arc as well as the Date A Bullet Movies/OVA that focuses on Kurumi.

Speaking of Date A Bullet they are easily the best thing to come out of the franchise. It was a well-executed take on the series in almost every way and the character and story written while shorter than the main series was a nice step up compared to the TV series.
Aside from all that, Date A Live’s story, is funny, charming and an overall blast to watch.
Before I talk about the characters let’s talk about Season 3 and all I can say is why.

J.C Staff the same studio that produced Toradora, Shakugan no Shana, Slayers, Utena and Raildex went on to produce one of the most visually unpolished anime that they have done. The way they treated Date A Live as a generic low budget show is unacceptable. I can’t believe I’m saying this A Certain Magical Index III that compressed dumpster fire was more visually appealing than this and that show didn’t look all that great, to begin with.

I know I’m getting into technical aspects this early, however, for this case, I have to talk about it as despite the season featuring some of the most emotional moments in the franchise the dull unpolished presentation kills these otherwise well-written components.
I was fortunate enough to buy the BD version of the show, and it certainly looked a lot better, however, compared to seasons 1 and 2 visuals it still falls short.

Don’t get me started on how J.C Staff decided to cram the last key arc into one episode.
Yeah J.C Staff you did Season 3 dirty although you did a decent job with the Oragami arc which is the only credit I will give to you.

The characters in Date A Live are compelling and fun for the most part at least.

At first, our MC Shido looks like your generic anime harem protagonist that wouldn’t offer much weight, but as they say, never judge a book by its cover as he’s one of the best-constructed male MCs I’ve seen from the genre. He isn’t useless, a beta simp or a pervert, Shido is just a cool smart lead that values people, especially the spirits. He also isn’t physically or mentally overpowered. Sure he receives a ton of power when he seals a spirit, he doesn’t abuse its powers like a madman, he only uses these powers when needed especially fighting against more difficult to seal spirits. He struggles a lot in the show and even fails in many objections, yet he doesn’t become power-hungry, he just sticks to his values as well, bonding with his spirit harem purely.

As for the spirits aka the female characters, well that is there to say about them, they are all colourful, flawed and engaging collections of characters that are all fun to watch as well being very interesting. Sure some spirits get more attention and development than others, as well as, fall into harem girls stereotypes, but I feel like Date A Live has an excellent female cast that has depth and substance beyond being stereotypes.
Due to how many female characters are in the show, I will only briefly go over my favourites.
Tohka, the classic cold-hearted badass, Tsundere, Kurumi the chaotic, difficult to read Yandere, The Imouto determined tsundere Kotori, the beta mysterious revenge-driven Origami and the male hating feminine idol Miku.

Aside from the technical mess that was Season 3, Date A Live/Bullet visuals are fantastic and stood the test of time. The character designs are done by Tsunako, the same person that did the designs for Hyperdimension Neptuina, as well as JRPG video games such as Fairy Fencer and Omega Quintet and they, are just colourful and striking as his other works, bringing these unique and distinctive characters to life. The background scenery outside of a couple of scenes were plain and basic.
The animation is rather excellent, The Dating stuff may have typical standard animation that you expect through anime from that time period, but the animation for the various spirit battles especially in Season 2 is well animated and smooth.

Date A Live’s soundtrack is amazing.
Despite being done by a rather niche music composer Gou Sakabe, I feel he did an excellent job producing the music for this show. Provided a lot of rich upbeat, action-heavy and slice of life tracks.
All the opening and ending themes are great and catchy.
My favourite is the first opening theme Date A Live and the third ending theme Last Promise.

I haven’t seen much of the original Japanese version of Date A Live, but what I heard was nicely well acted which leaves me with the English Dub and it’s actually very underrated.
It’s well-acted, nicely scripted and has strong audio quality.
It features some strong Funimation talent such as Alexis Tipton as Kurumi, Bryn Apprill as Kotori, Brittney Karbowski as Kaguya, Jad Saxton as Miku, Michelle Rojas as Tooka and Josh Grelle as Shidou.

Date A Live is what I label as an underrated gem. It may look like a generic harem junk you would see in the mid-2010s, but it’s much more than that. It manages to reconstruct a fun and compelling storyline with these tropes as well as doing an amazing job at diving into the complex personality of these character archetypes.
It isn’t perfect, it falls short in a handful of areas, especially with its third season, but Date A Live is still a very good show with a lot of heart, passion and energy that many of its peers lack.
I’m definitely looking forward to where this series will go after the third season as well as the movie. I knew the franchise was planning to build something big.

I just pray that going forward the franchise would stick to one studio like Geek Toys which are doing a fantastic job with the currently airing 4th season of Date A Live. Speaking of that, that’s for another time when it finishes airing.

Strong Recommendation

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