Firstly my apologies to my readers. My health continues to be poor, and the most important thing for me is to keep my stress levels low by not placing high expectations on myself regarding things like writing blog posts, but I do still plan to post when I am able, I just have no idea what sort of frequency that will be.
Dance With Devils is a series which follows the experiences of Tachibana Ritsuka, whose life is thrown into disarray when supernatural beings, both devils and vampires start pursuing her as they believe she has knowledge of a powerful magical tool, the forbidden grimoire. As a reverse harem story, incidentally all the supernatural beings pursuing her are attractive males. The thing which makes this series unique from others of its genre is the fact that it is a musical, with each episode having one or two musical numbers which contribute to the storytelling. While there are musical stage shows of certain anime, this is the first anime series which I have encountered which is a musical (if there are others, I’d love to know).
I heard this series mentioned by Shoujo Thoughts as a series with musical elements which was unintentionally funny. If there’s something which I love almost as much as a good musical, it’s a bad musical, which was my motivation for checking out the series. In this regard, it didn’t disappoint.
This is the first serious reverse harem series I’ve watched (I’ve seen Ouran High Host Club, but it’s definitely not a show which takes itself seriously), so I have no frame of reference as to what things are genre staples and which are unique to the series, but the storytelling to me was reminiscent of the Gothic romance. Gothic romances, popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries are stories which feature heroines to whom things happen (there’s a lot of writing in the passive voice). Ritsuka feels much the same in this story, she is passive in her own adventure, and it feels merely as though she is caught up in the events of the story, she is not driving them forward. Rather like the way that I remember old word processor grammar check discouraging you from using the passive voice as it was less interesting, I think that having a passive protagonist makes a story less engaging.
The music for me elevated the series from unwatchable to fun. I realise that musicals are a bit of a divisive thing, but I absolutely adore exposition set to song, and people getting up and dancing for no reason. The animated medium also definitely gives a lot of freedom to the creators with the scenes, so there’s some dramatic visuals accompanying many of the numbers (my husband raised an eyebrow at the singing dogs, but I would have been disappointed if they’d done anything less). There’s not a strong musical direction for the soundtrack, but the two key influences are rock opera and J-pop. I would have appreciated a bit more cohesiveness between tracks, but I did feel that they were effective at creating insight into the characters. As the musical tracks were translated (I watched the subtitled version of the series, I know there’s also a dubbed version which includes performances of translated songs), it’s a bit difficult to tell if the original lyrics were at times awkward, or if it was merely an effect of translating the songs into English. As I mentioned earlier, I like bad musicals almost as much as I like good musicals, so slightly cringe-worthy lyrics can add to my enjoyment of a performance. Even when characters weren’t singing, the soundtrack helped to complement the mood of different moments, although I think also suffered from a lack of cohesiveness in its tone.
I am not really the target audience for this type of series, so I can’t say that I had a ‘favourite boy’, but it is worth noting that Ritsuka did choose one boy at the end of the series (I understand that an undecided ending is a point of frustration for many people who enjoy harems or reverse harems). In spite of their supernatural powers, the boys fall into fairly typical archetypes; the ‘bad boy’, the ‘older brother type’, the ‘leader’ and so on. The characters to me didn’t feel like they really had any depth or personality outside of these character traits, but I believe this is basically as intended for the reverse harem genre. I don’t consider having characters who mainly consist of one personality trait a weakness in slice-of-life series as long as I find them endearing, but I didn’t find these characters endearing, aside from some very fun character songs.
While Dance With Devils is a series which is very much about its sound, the visuals did not disappoint. Many of the events take place in a light-filled, airy school with implausibly opulent architecture, the school uniforms were over-the-top but very pleasing to look at, and the characters were colourful and distinctive. It was interesting to me to note the difference in dealing with action scenes in this series as compared to shows which I have watched with primary genres like action or shounen. There was very little fight choreography and things were pretty static. The impressive camera work and design seemed to be saved mainly for the musical sequences.
While I cannot say that watching Dance With Devils has made me a fan of the reverse harem genre, I enjoyed it as a musical oddity, and was also glad to be able to meet one of the viewing goals I’d set for the year in trying a shoujo series. It’s hard for me to be able to gauge if this is something others would enjoy or not, but if you like bad musicals and anime (a subset of people which probably only contains myself) you are likely to enjoy this series.