Also there was some action and shit, whatever.
Another season of Date A Live comes to a close. Here, at the end of it, and having approached it from a different point of view than before—older, wiser, with less time for anime and, thus, someone who marathoned most of it in the last few days (note: only that last one is remotely true and/or relevant)—it made me mull upon the nature of Date A Live, and the allure it holds over those of us with trashy taste. But first! I wanna yak about everything that happened this season, ’cause there wuz a lot.
I’m not sure how many light novels with season encompassed, but it largely focused on two different spirit girls: Natsumi, and Tobiichi Origami. That the second person is now a spirit is super crazy, but I’ll get to that soon! Natsumi is a fun character, though she has the issue that I felt with Miku last season (though Miku this season has partially assuaged it): it’s not entirely clear what role she adds to the cast that isn’t already filled by another character. Grumpy, maybe? And her magic actually does add something real to the group battles (much like Miku’s support magic does), but she doesn’t immediately stick out. Her arc, though, was pretty fun over all. I really felt the mystery of who she was impersonating was lacking, mostly because Shido is an idiot (an enduring issue), but once that was over and she chibiified everyone, I enjoyed the resolution of her arc. I’m not sure she adds enough to not feel like clutter sometimes, but she doesn’t always feel like too much, so that’s a good sign.
Which brings me to another thing this season did well: better integrate all the various spirit girls/haremettes, so they all didn’t feel lost in the crowd. This is something I felt the series has struggled with before, but I thought everyone got at least some screen time this season, which was much appreciated. Mostly I groused about the lack of Kurumi, but I always complain about that. I want 100% Kurumi. She is best evil spirit.
Then there was the Origami arc. Once again, there were good and bad things. For the record: I hate time travel. Usually it comes off as uninspired (once you’ve seen/read one time travel story); mostly, it’s aggravating. And that happened here, especially when Shido was characteristically stupid and useless at preventing the tragedy (just push her parents out of the way more than one second ahead of time, jeez!). Plus Origami’s whole face-heel turn (trope!) was really hard to take seriously early on. But once again, the tail end of the arc was better, once we got happy|Origami and the intrigue of the spirit Devil. Which goes to show: Date A Live is better when the story goes quick, as long as it’s not rushed. That might not make sense, but it does. Rushing when the story needs time is bad, but when the story doesn’t need a lot of time, Date A Live is better. The second halves of both arcs were that, and were better for it.
Then there was the last episode. That was great! Best episode of the entire season, I wish there were more like that.
Which brings me to my rumination on this series as a whole, because, as you may have noticed, my impressions of this season are split about evenly between good and not so good, but with an overall satiated tone. The reason for that is … well. The thing about Date A Live is … it’s not always good. Sometimes it’s bad. Often it’s uninspired and clichéd. But I still enjoy it. Why? The characters can be good, but aren’t always. The premise is decent, but it’s wonky. The magic is sparkly, but the rules don’t always make sense. Which made me realize something big about this series: I think I tend to enjoy it precisely because it’s clichéd. Or because it’s tropey, to take the kinder tact. Because the truth about tropes is that they work because they’re familiar, but also because they work.
Not much about Date A Live is innovative, or even a cut about the rest, which is why I was so many episodes behind on this season when it came time to do the finale (other shows I found time for even when I was busy; with Date A Live, I did not). And that’s a dangerous place for a story to be in, to be so easy to set aside. But once I actually was watching it, I enjoyed it. It’s an easy kind of enjoyment. I don’t think many would call Date A Live high art—not the anime, which has uneven animation and is frequently rushed, and not the light novels, because they’re light novels. (Good stories come out of light novels, but it’s despite the format IMO, not because of it. It’s a shite format. f i t e m e.) But that doesn’t mean the series isn’t fun.
Generally, what Date A Live does is lean into young males’ fantasies just enough to be amusing, maintain enough distance (from the haremettes) to keep the plot going, instill in the main character enough morality to not feel debased, and mostly not do anything to fuck things up big time. Most of Date A Live’s mistakes are ones of low ambition; in the moment-to-moment game, it mostly works. This whole realization of mine isn’t an indictment of the series, nor a celebration. It’s just as I said: it’s a realization. Date A Live is fine, it mostly works, and at the end of the day, it’s fun to watch. There are worse things, even though I’ll always save the depths of my love and respect for stories that try to do more, even if they don’t always succeed.
All in all, season three of Date A Live was fun. Probably better than season two, maybe not better than season one, though I’d have to go back and compare them to be sure, and honestly, I ain’t gonna do that. It was enjoyable! Plus I really appreciated how the one skill Shido is world-class at is makeup application. He’s an epic-level cross dresser! That gave me a good laugh, even if the season still had far too little Kurumi. Maybe next time. Let’s shoot for 100%, we can get there crew.
My second novel, Freelance Heroics, is available! (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Third book in progress now! Sign up for my email list for updates, or follow me at stephenwgee.com for miscellaneous blogging.