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"D.N.Angel" Steals the Viewers Heart like Dark Steals Art

Daisuke Niwa was pretty much your average teenage kid. Sure, his family was a little odd, what with the weird rituals and the physical and mental training, but his demeanor was light and perhaps even a little clumsy. We join him on his 14th birthday, when he thinks he’ll be able to turn that clumsy into cool once he suavely asks out his beautiful childhood friend, Risa Hirata. However, everything that can go wrong with his little plan does and to add insult to near injury, Risa, albeit unintentionally, pretty much spells out that she views Daisuke as a friend, almost a girlfriend kind of friend. That’s gotta sting. He could probably live with that, if weren’t for the fact his DNA contains a gene that exists almost solely in his family, a gene that brings out the legendary thief, Dark Mousy, whenever Daisuke thinks deeply of his unrequited love for Risa. The only way he’ll be able to break this curse is to win her heart, so he can’t just back down now. Romantic hi-jinks and the thievery of cursed/haunted art pieces ensue. Therein lays the basic setup for D.N.Angel.

ImageNow, this anime had a huge potential to bomb. It’s based on a manga by the same artist who created Candidate for Goddess (AKA Pilot Candidate,) and the adaptation was handled by a different branch of the same studio that adapted Pilot Candidate for television (Production I.G.’s Xebec division rather than I.G. itself this time.) It’s got some experimental visual techniques like Pilot Candidate, and the adaptation even plays a little fast and loose with the story the manga layed down. Add to that things like an OP song written by a previously-unknown 17-year-old kid and ADV’s notorious dubbing of 14 year-old characters, and really the whole project seems risky.

Except at every turn, this show manages to hit the mark. Virtually nothing falls through on this, the series’ first disc.

The setup, story and dialogue all complement each other, smoothly blending the high school side and the home-life side, the romance and the capers into a story that’s quite congruent. The exposition gives out just enough information to maintain interest, but not so much as to deprive the show of suspense. The series so far completely avoids the recent anime problems of excess establishing shots and uneven balancing of action, drama and comedy. It’s a well-rounded opening: not too dry, not too flashy.

The characters, though not necessarily the deepest I’ve ever seen, have enough back story and personality to be likable, and they dodge the issues that plagued Pilot Candidate. While Daisuke is clearly cut from same cloth as Candidate‘s Zero, a dash of insecurity balances out Daisuke’s upbeat demeanor, making him not as grating as his predecessor. In general, characterization is also fairly balanced from the start. It’s nothing revolutionary, but it well done and entertaining nonetheless.

The animation is stellar. The backgrounds, however they are done (I’m not fully sure whether they are straight 3D, 3D that’s been painted/hand textured, multiple layers of 2D backgrounds or some combination of all that) are some of the best I’ve seen in any TV anime, and are at points better than a number theatrical anime. That especially applies to some of the glorious establishing and action shots, which though clearly animated, have the depth of real buildings and cities. The use of cel-shaded 3D for the cities’ Tram system is only a few steps below Futurama quality, and it fits the surroundings and look of the show very well. The hand-drawn portions are backed with great storyboarding and very tight, smooth animation. The character design is vibrant and cute too, familiar, yet distinctive. Only one or two shots out of the 4 episodes I saw struck me as lazy. Basically, Xebec not only hit one out of the park when it comes to the visual quality, they hit it into the next town over.

Meanwhile, the voice acting, music and overall audio production both in Japanese and English is quite nice. It was a stroke of brilliance to cast Kevin Corn as Daisuke (cast a teen to play a teen) and it works very, very well. The rest of ADV’s casting is quite solid also, coming through with a lively dub that’s quite pleasant to listen to. Meanwhile, the Japanese casting is equally adept and listenable, and much to my surprise, eschews some of the cutesiness that would normally turn up with all the bishoujo and bishounen running around. The music, even though it was largely made by a teenage unknown, fits very well, with an opening theme that really fires up the viewer for the show with its tinges of Queen-style guitar work and its very emotional piano intro. Lastly, both language tracks sport good sound quality whether on headphones or on a home theater system.

With a show this well-done, one might wonder whether ADV got lazy on the DVD. Well, they didn’t. It’s one of the most feature-loaded discs I’ve seen for any anime series, featuring a wonderful little documentary on the making of that great theme song, reversible cover art, every variation conceivable for the Japanese TV promo ads, the Japanese In-Store Promo ad, the Japanese trailer, textless opening and ending sequences and voice actor commentary from Kevin Corn and Vic Mignogna, the US actors for Daisuke and Dark. As a matter of fact, the only part of this release that doesn’t work as well I’d expected was the VA commentary, which relied on a gimmick that fell flat. The producers had apparantly told Corn and Mignogna next to nothing about the show (kudos to them for their solid dub work inspite of that), so it was their first time actually watching it. This made it, as you can imagine, hard for them to comment and watch at the same time.

I can live with one gaffe in such a great release for such a fun, beautiful show. Waiting for disc 2 in January is going to be the hard part.

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