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"Shuffle!": There Are Some Jokers in This Pack

Years ago, the worlds of the devils and the gods were opened to Earth. No war broke out, and humanity wasn’t enslaved. In fact, we all got along pretty well.

Rin is just a normal human attending high school alongside his tomboyish friend Asa and childhood friend Kaeda. When the daughters of the King of the Gods and King of the Devils show up, Rin has the option of becoming the next King of a realm, or of just living a normal life. What’s a man to do when he’s got too many choices, and two imply inheriting a royal title?

Shuffle! throws viewers a curve. The first few episodes set up the concept of a generic harem show: the male lead has the girl he’s lived with all his life, the girl he’s been friends with all his life, the two girls who can offer him something if he chooses them, and the too-young girl who crushes on him. These are all tropes that other harem shows have covered before: Tenchi could have married Ayeka and become royalty (well, moreso), Shinobu crushed on Keitaro a little too much, and so forth. Midway through this series, the show throws in a mini-arc, taking one of the cast members away for a while, on an almost live-action-induced-feeling medical leave. From there, the series starts to go incredibly dark.

Quickly, one character who’s been nothing but cheery is revealed to have an incredibly dark past. Sure, mom died early, but that’s almost a trope of it’s own, and a common plot point to explain why there are no parents around. Hell, the male lead has lost both of his parents, so this level of tragedy is almost set up in this world. But here we’re talking full-on The Good Son levels of Macaulay Culkin evil dark past. Sure, things changed, turning the character into the nice girl we meet, but then it pendulums into something straight out of The Stepford Wives: essentially, the character is incredibly broken, and for a first time you’ll want to rewatch an anime to see if there are any hints of this dark side. Near the end, another character gets severely sick, and given the recent darkness we’ve emerged from, you honestly wonder if the character will die. Most harem shows return to status quo by the end of the episode, with the final arc being an exception as the lead eventually chooses (or chooses not to choose).

The first episode or two make you think that Rin will have to choose between Sia and Nerine, the daughters of the kings. In fact, this choice is explicitly put to him; the Kings pretty much say he has to decide between the two. Annoyingly, no real reason is given for why this random high schooler is chosen to decide the future of the other realms. This plotline is almost quickly dropped in favor of Rin having his choice of all the girls (alongside being put in awkward situations, like making sure the underage girl buys a bra), followed by these girls almost being completely taken off the market. The two other girls, the ones that Rin has known for years, end up being the real contenders. With only a few episodes actually referencing the fact that there are two other realms available, it almost seems like a plot point tacked on to make it the story a little ethereal, a little different from any number of high school dramas. Unlike Tenchi, in which it’s a very driving force of the series (the girls are alien in nature, coming from foreign worlds and mindsets), it’s more of a passive “their ears are different, and occasionally they use a healing ability.” A few changes could have been done to make them just normal characters.

Shuffle! is based on a Japanese porn game, and the series doesn’t completely shed the erotic game origins. While there’s actually no sex, there are some awkwardly detailed breasts on characters that you don’t feel right seeing detailed, alongside the ones you actually don’t mind seeing since they’re in their late teens. Sure, you then realize it’s animated and you shouldn’t even notice them, but then you’ve written a paragraph about it in a review and don’t want to backspace.

As you’d expect, there are no real extras in this set. It does shove 24 episodes into four discs, so it’s a good value for that, but I’d like some extras that aren’t a textless intro, ending, and a set of trailers. The first two are the bare minimum, and the last one is just straight-out advertising.

Shuffle! at least is a surprising series, and it definitely shuffles (ha! thought we could go the whole review without a pun?) things up, but with nothing really new and with no extras to speak of, it’s a rental or stream at best.

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