Yami is feeling frisky, and her hands are claws. That’s probably not good.
Yuuki Rito’s shamelessness will save the world.
In my intro post of this season, I posed the eternal [To LOVE-Ru anime] question: To wait for the uncensored DVD/BDs, or not to wait. I clearly didn’t wait, so let me tell you why I made that decision, and why I didn’t end up regretting it. Prepare for some navel gazing storytelling diversions along the way.
To LOVE-Ru’s Foibles
To LOVE-Ru is a strange beast. It’s always been able to get away with things more recent series could never attempt. It’s like how we excuse older series for having worse animation, because it’s from a time when that level of animation was the norm. Well, To LOVE-Ru has been going on for so damn long that we give it a pass on its, and let’s be frank here, frequently lazy comedy and status quo obsessed storytelling. It’s like how we don’t mind it when the original Die Hard does the talk-about-what-type-of-movie-we’re-in bit, because that was new back in the 80’s, but when Kingsman: The Secret Service does it, it feels too cheeky by half (though I still enjoyed that movie, so recommended). To LOVE-Ru does that with a lot.
Take Rito’s unerringly perverted comic pratfalls. No new series starting today could get away with a relentless running gag so uninspired without a sizable portion of its audience, myself likely included, rolling their eyes and tuning out. But we grade To LOVE-Ru on a curve, because back when it started, this kind of humor was more common. It hadn’t saturated the industry yet, so mangaka could get away with it. Though with Rito’s clumsiness in particular, there’s an interesting wrinkle. It works in the same was that Keitarou’s invincibility in Love Hina ended up becoming more than the go-to, lowbrow slapstick it began as. That worked for a while, but because they did it so often it was elevated to a running gag, until it became canon that Keitarou was supernaturally invincible. Same thing with Rito—his act of god shamelessness has become so over-the-top and, well, shameless—but in the other sense, in the Hasemi-Saki-don’t-give-a-fuck way—that it loops around the back and becomes funny again as a running gag. But that only works if you can do it for a long time, and no new story would get that leeway. Interesting thing to think about.
The other area I feel like To LOVE-Ru gets a pass is its absolute obsession with the status quo. After 38 episodes of the original series (+ 6 OVA) and now 26 episodes of Darkness (and 7 OVAs, one still to be released, plus the possibility of more seasons), we’ve gotten a lot of To LOVE-Ru, and it’s remarkable how little has changed. That’s almost become a running gag in and of itself, though one even fans of the series seem more tired of (or maybe I’m just projecting, because I fall into this camp). And here, at least, is where Darkness makes some advances.
How Darkness Improves To LOVE-Ru
I’ve always claimed that the switch from Haruna and Lala (as female leads) to Momo and Yami was a smart one, not the least because I find Haruna to be uninteresting and Lala to be annoying (or really, just her voice—worst. Tomatoes. voice. Ever!). In addition to both being roundly more interesting, they each have motives above and beyond “I love Rito” (though they both have that too), and their motives in particular are key to possibly dislodging To LOVE-Ru from the quicksand that is the status quo and actually having it progress to some kind of conclusion (eventually). Momo has her Harem Plan, which is the only way this series doesn’t end on a bittersweet note that would be completely at odds with the tone of everything that’s come before, whereas Yami is the greatest impediment to the harem’s formation because she’s hard tsundere and wants to (ostensibly) kill Rito. Add onto that their pain points—Momo wants to be with Rito even though she would, at best, be third in line, so she needs to Harem Plan to have a shot at any of his love; Yami is struggling with her internal identity as a weapon in a town that seems to have no need for weapons, which, now that I think about it, feels like a light-weight sci-fi version of PTSD, though with more groping and moe—and they’re way better female leads than Haruna or Lala could ever be.
Phew. When did I turn into an actual critic? Well, don’t stop me. I’m having fun.
Actually, I misspoke before. The biggest impediment to the Harem Plan is not Yami—it’s Rito. Maybe this happened in the original seasons, which I never watched (though I spent a lot of times on TVTropes, Wikipedia, and various other wikis back in the day, so I was able to jump into the first season of Darkness knowing broadly what had happened), but this season delved more into Rito’s gap moe—the gap between his act-of-god perverted pratfalls and his restrained active nature. And that’s where, it turns out, Yami became the key to moving the Harem Plan forward.
This is all a roundabout way of saying that the thing To LOVE-Ru Darkness does better than the original, and To LOVE-Ru Darkness 2nd does better than the first Darkness season, is that it actually feels like we’re getting somewhere! In this season, we saw marked progression in Nana’s feelings for Rito; Haruna seriously contemplating the Harem Plan; Mea first coming out as trans weapon, then Yami telling everyone Mea was her imouto, then Mea deciding she wanted to live in Sainan, and eventually Mea breaking away from Nemesis(!!); Lala turning into a loli because blah blah power loss whatever; and of course, Yami’s Darkness side being revealed and her (now beyond denial) feelings for Rito functioning as the key to literally save the world. All of which is to say that, at the end of this season, the eventually end game of the To LOVE-Ru series—the Harem Plan—looks markedly more likely. That’s probably still grading on a curve, but the dirty secret is that, for a series built on teasing, a lot of progress is not necessary. But some is, and it feels like we got that here.
Let’s Talk Ecchi
None of this answers the central question: Should you watch this series now, or wait for the uncensored DVD/BD’s? I’ll be blunt—if I want to see tits and asses, I’ll watch porn. Or, ya know, go on dates and try to meet a nice girl, woo her, marry her, have 2.1 kids and the whole shebang. I’m pretty sure tits and ass happen somewhere in there. So to me, the tits and ass alone aren’t the reason why I watch ecchi anime. (I can hear your disbelief from here. Stay with me.) It’s one of two things, and frequently both: (1) A refuge-in-audacity style reaction of disbelief, a sort of, “Is this really happening here?” which slides quickly into hilarity, and (2) The inherent comedic possibilities that can be pulled from the goldmine that is human sexuality. Basically, fanservice can lead to some good jokes, and over-the-top shameless fanservice is a joke in and of itself. Also, you know, the tits and asses are nice too, especially when there are some pantyhose, thigh-high stockings, or kneesocks, because I’m a leg man, and American women just don’t rock those styles often enough. Or maybe they do, but Texan women sure as hell don’t.
It occurs to me that I probably live in the wrong part of the country and/or world. But I digress.
This is exactly why fanservice in the middle of serious scenes so often annoys me, often violently so—it’s inappropriate! And that’s not because the naked human body is somehow shameful (it’s not), but because it’s not appropriate for a serious, tense scene. This is something High School DxD had trouble with on occasion. (It’s also disrespectful to the characters in a way that comic fanservice, funnily enough, isn’t. We humans are strange like that.)
What makes To LOVE-Ru fanservice work, even when it’s censored, is the comedic aspects. And, amusingly enough, even when it happens in a serious scene, the scenes are never so serious that the fanservice doesn’t work. In fact, the fanservice functions to lower the tension in the scene and make it fun! Yes, even when the entire world is literally at stake. Which means that the censorship doesn’t honestly bother me that much, because the comedy remains intact regardless, and once the plot (and the characters’ feelings) began moving enough for me to actually notice it, the PLOT became less important.
Everything I’m Forgetting
I forgot something important—Nemesis (Hidaka Rina). The current Big Bad of the series (as much as anyone will be the Big Bad, other than the true villain: Rito’s restraint) finally showed up this season, and she’s a lot of fun. Sadistic, sure, but it’s her teasing that’s the best, and Hidaka Rina voices her with a good balance of darkness, mirth, and loli. You’d better believe I’m rooting for her to join the harem, because if the three trans weapons are looking for a reason to exist, I’m sure hanging around with the future emperor of the universe should provide plenty of uses for their abilities, as bodyguards and generals if nothing else. (Nemesis would clearly be the spymaster, though she may be too good at that job.) And there are already signs of this, since she’s at least got the hots (sexually) for everybody’s hunk of loving man meat, Yuuki Rito. (Who, I just realized, is practically destined to be some kind of galactic sex symbol. Roll that around in your mind for a few. Tastes weird, eh?)
What else, what else. Okay, that’s pretty much it. To LOVE-Ru Darkness 2nd still is, in the end, a To LOVE-Ru series. It just so happens to be a part of the (I feel) stronger Darkness branch, and there are actual events of consequence that happen this time, which makes it better than much of what has come before.
Oh, that’s it! The final battle with Darkness, AKA Yami’s evil side. The final confrontation, from Lala fighting herself into a loli form to Rito bringing Yami back to her senses by virtue of channeling the principal and groping her willingly was great! Most of To LOVE-Ru is pretty forgettable, individually, but it made sense why they got an oddly-numbered 14-episode season, because Darkness 2nd would have been nowhere near as good without the battle against Darkness. If anything else I’ve said doesn’t convince you, let me say this:
Yami acts totally shameless. She’s an uninhibited pervert. She gropes girls, takes off her clothing, says ecchi things, and has a big smile on her face while she does it. The dissonance between her normal attitude and her Darkness persona is delicious. It also makes normal Yami all the more delicious. Ecchi Yami is fun, but calm, slightly monotone, and easy to embarrass Yami is the best. Fortunately, Rito was able to bring her back.
“Your shamelessness will save the world, Sempai.” -Mea
Yes, that really happened. It’s stupid as hell, but it’s a lot of fun. If the Darkness manga does more of this, I wouldn’t mind another season. And I ain’t tsundere about that.
Do you want blonde darkness or brunette darkness? Trick question, I’m taking both.