Slowly, yet surely I am starting to recover from my nauseating bout of writers block and finally might even return to writing editorials soon. For now, I’m very comfortable with reviews and since they are an innumerable list of titles I want to get to – it seems like a favorable course of action. Taking a look the Winter 2014 season, I decided the next review would be on D-Frag, a school life comedy that is sometimes good at making its shenanigans amusing and other times just makes a buffoon out of itself for not being very funny at all. Or something along those lines…
Title: D-Frag (aka D-Fragments)
Studio: Brains Base
The story focuses on a semi-connected series of sketches as delinquent student Kenji Kazama is forced into joining his school’s struggling “Game Creation Club” by its members, a quartet of crazy women with their own eccentricities that drive him crazy. As he attempts to distance himself from the club, the more he seems to run into not only his fellow club members, but others from his school who drive him insane to different degrees.
Looking back on the Winter 2014 season of anime, I can say with full assurance that comedies were something that was never short in supply. Between romcoms like Nisekoi, Chūnibyō, and Engaged to the Unidentified to the blue of humor Seitokai Yakuindomo and other miscellaneous entries, I find it baffling to say there was nothing in the pile that I did not enjoy on some level or another. Of course, with all the titles mentioned, the unmentionable D-Frag has to be one weirdest as well as one that caught my attention for not only its school life trappings, but also because it prefers to go with one of the most difficult forms of comedy, absurdist humor. That does mean it ends up “trying-too-hard” to get rise out of its audience to the point where the joke itself is ill-conceived, lost to the endless abyss of ridiculous antics it throws out one after another, yet through all it, has a few redeeming qualities. Although, I use the word “few” very liberally, if can get more from this than I did.
On the whole, D-frag certainly isn’t a bad idea, especially considering how many times the formula has been done and still mildly entertaining. In this case: Kenji Kazama, an infamous delinquent is coerced by group of four girls to join the “Provisional” Game Creation Club (which hardly does anything) and in the process, saving it from shutting down. Much to its credit, that is the only strand of narrative it has as the series turns into slice-of-life hybrid as it chronicles the misadventures of the Provisional club into largely standalone episodic vignettes. It clearly isn’t the most cohesive when it comes this end and the brand of comedy (I’ll get to that later) is large part of it, but at least D-Frag does have a wide range of outlandish character personalities to savage what is left of its narrative and more importantly, the attempt at humor it tries so desperately to make at every possible moment.
For example, take Kenji’s female captors: they seem normal enough, but in their seemingly innocuous club each possess an elemental attribute – that is more of a reference to RPG’s than anything noteworthy to the story and tries to tie into comedy. One represents “Earth” having the power to throw mud, one for “Water” that carries around a bottle of it to splash on people, their adviser represents “Lightning” – due to the stun gun she carries around, and finally club president Roka possesses both “Fire” and “Darkness”, which the latter, relies on a bag to cover the person head. You would think something this idiotic would be amusing (and in some cases is), yet since this is an element (see what I did there?) that does not come up much, it is basically wasted during the course of the series. Nevertheless, the characters are still rowdy and crazy enough to be turned into a positive citing such examples like: Ataru, token masochistic of the series that doesn’t mind being used as a human shield and Takao, the busty club president of the “Real” Game Creation Club that is at odds with Roka and secretly gains a crush on Kenji. For a series that is character-driven as much as it is wit, I am glad that this one area it is given its best effort – unlike the wit, of course.
As aforementioned, D-frag “joke-to-punchline” setup is rather unique, but is an double-edge sword in terms of it being genuinely amusing verses forced. Most of it is situational bits that work, such as the infamous flying zipper that Takao unwittingly hit Kenji with in one episode to even obvious physical humor on par with the likes of MM! and Baka Test, but the absurd side of the spectrum is “hit-or-miss” deal – with more “miss” opportunities than “hits”. This is usual due to the fact that the jokes themselves are to the point of incomprehensible and where Kenji (the comedic straight man who the job falls upon) ends up shouting the follow-up in overblown manner. Ironically, the show even mocks itself about it. I can see overemphasizing the “endgame” is desirable, but when you can’t even get the crux of the non sequitur, all you can do is bat your eyes and wait for the next only to hope it is marginally better. The elemental ability thing I mentioned seems better planned than this, but by comparison, just seems lazy on the part of the director, since the writer – Makoto Uezu, basically has the right idea, drawing from his previous experiences in titles like: Carnival Phantasm and Is This Zombie. Shame most of it does not shine through the cruft of directorial decisions.
Regardless of some of director Seiki Sugawara’s poor choices, he does make fairly good ones in terms of the visuals – both animation and art, that consist of very vibrant and colorful shades that bring out the wacky and campy feel the series wishes to exhibit. Actually, one of my favorite uses of the animation is Roka transformation from her cute, diminutive super deformed character to the “darker” version where her eyes turn a deep swirling black with a yellow tint that is very visual striking as it is creepy and somewhat hysterical when done at the right moment. To this end, this is probably one of the better examples of not only the animation, but again, exaggerated comedy. The musical score ranks around average with pieces fulfilling their immediate duty and nothing more beyond it. Nijine (aka Akito Matsuda) compositions are about the same in nature to what he has done in series like: Baka Test and Akikan – however, don’t stand out as much.
All things considered, D-Frag was not a bad option to have on my list for Winter, but considering titles in same vein like: Engaged to the Unidentified and Tonari no Seki-kun, they do spin the charming and humor yarn respectively better. Although, when comes down to picking up a quick series that is relatively easy to shovel through and might marginally enjoy, D-Frag is a fine choice if every other one has been exhausted. You likely won’t take pleasure in it based on the way you would for a normal comedy – still, it is better than nothing when the show has so little to work with or like in the first place.
Pros: Animation/artwork, cast of characters are enjoyable, moderately decent soundtrack.
Cons: Most of the non sequitur and absurd humor falls flat, weak writing.