Saturday, 2 July 2011

ドッグデイズ/ Dog Days

Dog Days, which just ended at 13 episodes, seemed oddly out-of-place in a 2011 season. Perhaps it’s just the lingering shadow of Madoka, or the fact that this was animated by Seven Arcs, who tried so very hard to make Nanoha darker than it looked, but I spent the whole thing expecting the cutesy series to take a dark, depressing turn.

It’s no bad thing that it did not. The story is not dissimilar to that of MÄR: a Japanese schoolboy is mysteriously transported to another world, where he finds himself a warrior hero and pretty popular with the ladies – while at the same time looking for a way back home again. Unlike Ginta, the protagonist here (シンク, variously transliterated by fansub groups as ‘Shinku’, ‘Cinque’ or even ‘Sink’) is a gifted athlete on Earth, too, and the world he finds himself in is not threatened by a malevolent overlord. In fact, two things define it: firstly, there are two nations at war, one of which has mostly feline characteristics while the other seems more canine – the latter having summoned Shinku and presumably given the anime its title – and secondly, a form of magic is in place which allows those who fall in battle to simply turn into a cutesy ball-with-a-face rather than dying. So with little real risk, warfare has evolved into what is essentially a huge gameshow.

The series hints at directions the plot might take, but none of them end up taking a darker turn. The areas outside the reach of magic are not explored – perhaps in a second season? The queen on the opposing side sees a dark prophecy, and tension comes from her acting on the premonition without explaining her actions, but nothing comes of it and a dramatic battle with a third party soon comes along to make the tearful apologies at the end flow more easily. Ultimately the last episodes revolve around the angst of saying goodbye, but it is all clearly a set-up for big smiles and an impression of ‘to be continued’.

But if Dog Days stays very superficial, it certainly suits it. Dog Days is the cutest action-adventure I’ve seen since…hmm, I don’t know, Mai-Otome? Its character design looks like characters from Haruhi Suzumiya redrawn by the mangaka of Bamboo Blade, and every character is adorable, from boyish, sensitive Shinku, who in that great tradition of half-Japanese, half-European anime characters is so blonde and blue-eyed Hitler would cringe, to the female captain of the guard who is voiced by the seiyuu who was Azusa in K-On and embodies the ‘tsundere’ concept better and more likeably than any other character I can think of. Then there is the sweet childlike princess Miruhi, who goes into adoring disciple mode when around the opposing army’s princess Leo, the bookish head researcher Rikotta, always trying her best, and the sweetly bratty cat-prince Gaul. Everything here comes from an already somewhat tired moé moé tradition, but is done with affection and sincerity, and works.

There’s not much to this show. It doesn’t even seem very well-conceived, starting off with an idea of warfare through athletics that is soon dropped, telling us things like Shinku is from Cornwall that never really gain relevance and hopping between mini-arcs in a desperate plea to keep the audience’s attention. But while it could perhaps have made a much greater impact, as a piece of fluff it was always fun to watch and enjoyable, and in 2011’s more cynical seasons, refreshing too.

Season two: here

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