Diabolik Lovers
Medium:
Year:
2013
Director:
Shinobu Tagashira
Original creator:
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Format:
13 fifteen-minute episodes
Url:
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Review date:
19 October 2016
diabolik.lovers
Apparently it's popular in Japan, but loathed in the West. It's based on an otome game, i.e. one noble female protagonist and lots of sizzling hot boys who can't leave her alone. Guess what the target audience is. It's called reverse-harem. However what makes this one different is that the heroine is almost entirely passive, while the men are vile, creepy, abusive vampires who keep telling her she's worthless while drinking her blood and revelling in her fear, pain and humiliation.
No, I'm not joking.
Firstly, yes, I meant "vampires" literally. They live forever and they drink your blood, albeit with some twists on the standard mythology. Crucifixes don't work, but silver daggers do. (I thought that was werewolves?) They'll also often bite you repeatedly, in case you thought it wasn't bad enough to be gushing blood from just one sensitive, intimate spot at a time. Presumably the appeal for the target audience is "bad boy who insists on giving you oral attention", but personally I'd be frightened about anyone for whom this satisfied sexual fantasies. This goes beyond "bad boy" into "call the police and lock the doors". These aren't twinkly Twilight emo-vampires. Look at what the triplets did to their mother, for instance. They murdered her three times, because she hadn't stopped moving after the first two. We watch them doing this.
Secondly, they're abhorrent people as well as being bloodsuckers. Their names for Yui include "servant", "prey", "no tits" and "Little Miss Slut". (The subtitles I was watching gave a bowdlerised translation of the latter, but "bitch" is a more loaded word in Japanese.) They love inflicting pain on Yui. They'll wax rhapsodic about the deliciousness of her despair and fear, even as they start biting. There's a lot of that biting, by the way. This is intimate, obviously, and if you choose to see that as a rape metaphor then you're going to find this anime unwatchable and you should run away now. Their characterisation tends to be pretty samey, to be honest, because they're all sadistic, abusive and sneering in a similar way. In the game, apparently there's incest and rape in their backgrounds.
The main exception to all this paradoxical anonymity is Kanato, who's childish, gentle-looking and always carries a teddy bear. If Kanato were real, he'd be a serial killer. That's nothing to do with him being a vampire. It's just him. He's terrifying, frankly, above and beyond the show being deeply disturbing in general.
The third potential problem is the protagonist, Yui. She does nothing. (Well, nearly. She does something in ep.11.) She just droops around meekly, never saying boo to a goose and at most offering feeble protests when being bitten. This isn't just the usual "bland harem hero" stereotype, but more like a character who's being primarily defined by victimhood.
I liked the show. Admittedly that's partly because I knew its reputation and had set my expectations accordingly, but I think it's quite good.
For starters, I never saw it as a reverse-harem show. If you found this on TV and your first thought was "romantic fantasy", you'd need locking up. It's horror. Not scary horror, because it's only occasionally frightening, but instead disturbing wrong horror to make you wonder what kind of sick freak writes stories like this. Horror should push your buttons. That this does. It's a torrent of male-on-female abuse, obviously, but in a weird way since it's also female fantasy (and as such apparently very successful with its target audience!!) with a female lead around whom everything revolves. The boys are tormenting Yui, but she can take it and they can't tear themselves away from her.
Yui's behaviour I also find rational. She's told in ep.1 that she'll be killed if she tries to flee. Her father (a priest!) deliberately sent her to live in this vampire mansion. What the hell? She's trapped with six supernatural monsters, all far bigger and stronger than her. She's got nowhere to go. She's living in constant terror. If I were her, I'd be talking and acting like that too. You could perhaps choose to criticise the writer for putting her protagonist in this no-hope situation, but Yui herself is doing nothing wrong. I liked her and I never lost patience with her.
There's not much plot, but there's a little. It's just that it's slow-burning and mostly character and backstory. However something bad and surprising happens in the closing stretch, which also casts disturbing new light on Yui's role in the show. The finale then has antagonists and conventional plotting, which by that point seemed almost out of place.
Cool title sequence, by the way. I'd also forgotten how haunting the song 'Scarborough Fair' is.
In a way, it's a shame there's a Season 2. I say that despite liking the show, because this year ends so strongly and disquietingly that I'd regret that being undone by a continuation of the story. You'd lose its ambiguity. That said, though, this show's virtues are esoteric (to put it mildly) and I wouldn't dream of recommending this to ordinary people. They'd respond by vomiting their brains out in disgust. This show has anti-fans. They think it's the Antichrist. As horror, though, I think it's distinctive. A very specific kind of horror, admittedly, that would disappoint gorehounds and people looking to be scared. However I'm tentatively looking forward to seeing where they take this next.
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