Ahh, the ecchi harem genre. It's no secret how much I ''love'' it (see my Bottom Five anime), but from time to time there comes a show which, while far from great, succeeds at winning me over with cool action, likeable characters, a decent sense of humor, and an at least passable storyline, despite the ridiculousness and exploitation so typical in these anime.
Oh hey, speaking of the devil...
So, does Date a Live qualify? Well, no.
To begin with, the storyline. There's a premise about some extraterrestrial beings, Spirits, coming down to Earth and causing mass destruction with each appearance, and two organizations that try to either stop them from provoking further damage (Ratatoskr) or kill them (AST).
As it couldn't have been any other way, these Spirits look, feel and act exactly like young human girls, for which there's not a good reason, nor is there any actual further insight on where they come from, what the point is in them appearing on Earth, whether or not there's something bigger behind the scenes... to sum up, the setting is as loose as it gets and the world building is nigh zero.
But who cares about a story making sense when you can have buxom ladies acting all innocent and falling for a sef-insert main character for no real reason, right? Right? So here comes Ratatoskr to give this the ultimate twist: in order to stop the Spirits from destroying the Earth... the male lead (Shido) has to date them! Whenever he makes contact with these Spirits, such as Touka, there's a whole group of no-life eroge masters military experts (of course, led by a middle school girl) to back him up. They gauge the target's ''affection levels'' and for whatever thing Shido needs to reply there'll be three stereotypical options to choose from, which he gets support to choose from.
Now, I perfectly understand that this is mostly played for laughs and it doesn't actually intend to make any sort of logical sense (please tell me it doesn't, PLEASE), but my problem is that I didn't find it particularly funny. Most of the humor parodying eroge in this show has been done better in other anime which weren't even focused in this particular kind of comedy, and they're not very good at selling it to me for some giggles.
Now THIS was some funny shit. Needless to say, I was cheering for option three the whole time.
Even so, if Date a Live just aimed to be a mediocre genre parody with no real serious business, that'd be quite fine. Except that's not the case: angst and melodrama are everpresent in each of these girls' arcs (which by the way are everything the show has to offer plot-wise), and it is blatant, contrived and badly executed - very much so. Thus, what I have here is a show that does not try and tries to take itself seriously at virtually the same time, with decidedly mixed (translate as poor) results.
The story really goes nowhere beyond presenting all these female characters and their one-dimensional plights one by one - sometimes without even some sort of resolution. Obviously, it's open-ended and they plan to do more of this, but I'd think it's important to at least give the season a sense of closure, which this doesn't really have (e.g. things are left unsolved with the character who's been the main antagonist so far). And I don't think it was ever mentioned why, in fact, Shido had the ability to seal the Spirits' powers. My guess is the author is still trying to pull it out of his ass.
Doesn't matter: had lollipop.
As a quick overview on the female characters, I can tell you they are all as bland as I've come to expect from this genre of anime as a whole: their dramatic situations are more than familiar, their personalities can be defined in very few words and you can always predict what they're going to do next. Silly, one-dimensional, done a thousand times before. However, I also ought to mention that besides the little sister, the other main girls (Touka, Origami, Kurumi) didn't strike me as particularly annoying, which could be a saving grace if not because the rest of the show is dull, ridiculous and unappealing to me. But hey, it's still a step up from most ecchi harems, where I find myself wanting to smash my computer open and go do something more worthwhile with my life.
As for the male lead, he's pretty much the very shallow, dense, dull, but uncannily kind and naive stereotype that this industry has been selling for very long now. He isn't interesting on his own at all and only acts as a catalyst for the females to ''develop'': which happens to be my definition of a self-insert character, i.e., one who's there just so the otaku bunch can mentally put themselves in his place and pretend they have a harem of human girls, aliens, underage human girls and underage aliens all of their own. Let alone that I find this kind of device utterly retarded, but how am I expected to relate to a guy who gets sad and angry when he sees animal tormenters being brutally murdered? I'd totally be cheering and dancing and bringing in torture tools of my own!
Eh, at least Shido is not THIS GUY.
The side characters are unremarkable and unfunny, and that minor trio of girls should all die terrible deaths, especially the one who's always saying ''Gross'' or ''You make me sick'' for no reason and making no sense. Well, you know what else is gross? The fact I can't Falcon-Punch your teeth off your mouth from the other side of the screen.
Regarding the technical values, they're pretty good, if only what's to be expected of a 2013 anime.
The action is rather fluid and occasionally flashy, even if it's short and dull (and there's no real tension - we all know how these things always end). The character designs are good enough by genre standards: a personal favorite would be Kurumi's black & red goth loli dress, black hair, a red eye and especially that golden clock eye. The color scheme is varied and vibrant without hurting the eyes, and the backgrounds do their jobs.
Yeah, this actually looks pretty cool in my book. I wouldn't mind seeing this exact character design in a better story.
The background music is not particularly memorable, but serviceable in that it complements the scenes well. The voice acting is pretty solid and helps not to make the characters annoying and noisy (again, Kotori excluded). The opening theme is fine, I often listened to it before starting the episodes. I didn't really care about the endings.
Overall this is just another average ecchi harem which fortunately tried, at least, to do something different, although the resulting experience was decidedly negative for me due to the uninspired humor and dull writing. It is more watchable than many other shows of the genre (even as stupid as it gets in all fronts), but yeah, this is no passing grade material. Fans of this whole moeblob side of the industry are likely to dig it anyway, so if you're one of these, by all means feel free to ignore this review.