A shounen adventure through and through, Nanatsu no Taizai avoids many of the pitfalls of typical never-ending shounen to give us a story that never lets up, never gets boring, and never lets the excitement diminish … all while giving us a real conclusion with world-changing effects by the end.
I love me a good shounen action-adventure. It’s what got me into anime, and judging by the last round of new writer applications, probably you as well (Dragonball Z, Bleach, Naruto, etc). But I get leery when a new one pops up, because there’s a definite fear that it’s going to stretch on forever.
Nanatsu no Taizai doesn’t do that. It reminds me of stories like Mirai Nikki and No Game No Life, which aren’t afraid to burn through plot events in order to give us a good story right now. We started the story with Elizabeth and Meliodas searching for the other Seven Deadly Sins to save the kingdom, and by the end of the second cour, that quest was fulfilled. And, unlike stories like Bleach, I feel like the next adventure might be something different.
Let’s back up. From episode to episode, what makes Nanatsu no Taizai work? What this show does extremely well is manage the ebb and flow of telling a story. That’s a hard idea to grasp, so I’ll try to explain. Part of it is knowing when to take it slow, and when to ramp up the tension—and to always increase the stakes over time, so we don’t go from defending the kingdom one episode to finding a little girl’s lost shoes the next (a criticism I had of the latest season of Log Horizon). To quote the Left 4 Dead episode of Zero Punctuation:
“While most games endeavor to have a uniformly rising difficulty curve leading up to a satisfying crescendo, and hopefully a massive boss fight, preferably in space…”
That’s true of anime as well. (Replace “games” with “stories” and “difficulty” with “tension” for a more direct comparison.) Nanatsu no Taizai did that, which is a tried-and-true storytelling form for a reason.
Other reasons involve knowing how to execute a story well. Every arc had that same rising tension that led up to a satisfying crescendo, and never did they feel like they were wasting our time—we always seemed to be going somewhere, and in the end, we did. No episode was boring either, which is a lot harder to do than it seems—you can take my word for that as a storyteller, or simply look at all the other anime who screw that up.
I think it all comes to Nanatsu no Taizai valuing the feeling and experience over plot coherence. Not that the plot was bad—it was usually good, and usually made sense—but when something came up that didn’t quite gel (Arthur appearing out of nowhere, Guila suddenly crushing on Gowther, the revelation that Elizabeth is a Druid Maiden who can heal wounds with the power of the Goddesses, etc), it was easy to ignore because I was having so much fun. Plot coherence is a bonus in this kind of a story; the fact that asspulls were rarer than they easily could have been is a point in Nanatsu no Taizai’s favor.
I also really liked the main characters, because there wasn’t a damn one I didn’t like. Ban is a fan favorite for a reason, and he could have easily been an immortal bully, but his enduring plotline with Elaine makes him something more. Meliodas could have been an overpowered shounen protagonist, but he’s actually a smiling stoic with a dark past who, by midway through the series, was reliably running into enemies who put him through the ringer. Some people didn’t like Elizabeth because she was the weak girl Meliodas was protecting, but she was anything but weak in personality, and by the end, her magical power showed through as well. Not everyone needs to be powerful, especially when other girls are picking up the slack.
Speaking of, Diane was a bit more one-note, spending a lot of her time pining after Meliodas, but her insecurities are compelling while never turning her into a meek girl, which would have done her a disservice. King used to be my least favorite sin, but his run in with old friend Helbram and the revelations about his past with Diane were … just, dammit. *wipes away a tear* Being King is suffering, so seeing Diane pick him to go to the festival with during this last episode was sweet indeed.
The other sins weren’t as well developed. Gowther is more silly-stoic in the emotionless way, but we never get to dive deep into what makes him tick … save that it seems like there might be a dark reason behind Guila’s sudden love for him, and why Merlin wants to make him more armor. Merlin too was barely introduced before the series was over, though I have a feeling she’s going to be a lot of fun. And the last sin, Escanor … wait, that son of a bitch never even showed up. What the hell!
It’s clear that there’s more Nanatsu no Taizai after this last arc, and there’s a risk in that. The pacing was so good that trying to muscle Escanor into this adventure would have caused a time crunch, in addition to leaving all sorts of side plots (most notably, Ban’s quest to resurrect Elaine) unfinished. Yet would it have been better if the mangaka finished it in one amazing arc rather than stretching this out? I have great affection for works that know when to end, lest that continue for too long and poison their own success. I hope Nanatsu no Taizai doesn’t do that, that it eventually quits while it’s ahead. That time isnt yet though, even if it will need to continue in manga form only for the near future.
Nanatsu no Taizai is one of the shows I reliably enjoyed, and will be looking forward to more of even if the risk of never-ending shounen fills me with uncertainty. It’s a damn good shounen anime, and from the very first episode, was one helluva ride.
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