I'll start by saying I've played the Devil Survivor 2 game, and I am a pretty huge fan of both it and its ''prequel''. Both have a grim, increasingly complicated plot, compelling characters you grow to care about, intense battles and plenty of relevant choices to make until you reach one of the final destinations.
And out of the two, in many ways I like the second better, and I was looking forward to this adaptation very much. It isn't really a game that is hard to translate into a TV series (very story-ridden, brimming with action...), and since most people had positive feedback for Persona 4: The Animation (same director), my hopes were pretty high.
As an adaptation, however, this turned out to be a goddamn trainwreck and, as a standalone anime, it is just very mediocre. What I'm truly going to review here is the anime per se since that's what this site is for, but I don't want to miss the chance to throw in a few paragraphs about the game-to-series translation, so if you're not interested in this feel free to scroll down a few paragraphs.
I'm not pulling any punches here: this adaptation sucks donkey balls.
The first episode was decent and I think both game players and new viewers alike appreciated it in general, but after that the whole essence of the game was lost.
First and foremost, the characters. This being just a 13-ep long anime there's no good way at all to develop all of them, but even in these conditions the show does a terrible job. Hibiki, the protagonist, has a 180º personality change compared to the game for the sake of supporting idealistic shonen-ish bullshit, faux heroicity, contrived morals that make no sense and all that crap the industry loves so much. Yamato is made into an uber arrogant douchebag with no balance to his character at all, and his clever social commentary in the game is turned into pretentious nonsense... honestly, I had my fears, but even so I didn't believe it was possible to ruin a character this awesome so damn much. The rest of the characters are even worse because the airtime they get is so scarce and their lines so silly that it's nearly impossible to relate to any of them (especially hurt about Fumi, who was arguably my favorite character in the game and her role here was anechdotal and a fucking bad joke at that). They die and you feel nothing, it's honestly painful to see what they've turned all these characters I liked/loved into. The only character who I sort of liked in this adaptation was Alcor: he was okay, although he's just a shadow of what his game counterpart proved to be, and his very early appearance takes away much of the mystery surrounding him.
The way the story was handled is not as incredibly offensive, but almost so. The way the exposition of the world building is made is meager and confusing, the twists are introduced in a way with no impact whatsoever, they basically do whatever the hell they want with the pacing, order of the revelations and what they choose or not to show (still baffled that they didn't include Fumi's explanation about the Akashic Records and how the whole Nicaea system was based on the past, present and future files stored in that humongous, astral database... they basically left the juiciest bit of plot for me out of the anime). For a game that progressed in such an understandable, yet very interesting, puzzling and increasingly complicated manner, this storytelling was utter bullshit. Not to mention that the show also does whatever it wants with the story itself and the last episodes have nothing to do with the game's ending routes. No multiple decisions, no social commentary, no different factions formed according to each person's beliefs... NOTHING. Just people dying randomly, Yamato being obnoxious as all hell and Hibiki rambling on and on about his ham-fisted morals like an utter retard.
The demon system is not explained at all and its favoring some users over others because ''FUCK IT, NATURAL ABILITY'' takes away most of the charm and POINT of humans having this app for the sake of making Hibiki into some sort of chosen one (whereas he was just a clever, sensible normal guy in the game), while making for example Daichi the fucking butt of the joke in every single episode (until they give him a completely ridiculous ''power-up'' because friendship and shit, that is). The action is not all that interesting, either: it's well animated, but since there's none of the tension and atmosphere from the game you can't help but feel underwhelmed.
I could keep this rant going forever and go into much more detail, but the main interest of this review is another. Overall, as an adaptation this is totally awful. Generous 2/10. Fuck you Seiji Kishi.
Now, let's talk about this as a standalone anime. Granted, it is difficult to put myself in the shoes of a new viewer and consider what my opinion of this would be without the bias of the game - but I've made an effort.
Plot-wise, it's easy to see that this is not a case where it is simply crap with no sense or redeeming values, but more like vastly wasted potential due to the sloppy narrative. You have a very fine premise of young men and women struggling to survive in a world that's quite literally going to hell, with the help of a mysterious program that can foresee their friend's deaths and an app that allows them to summon powerful demons from other worlds. Besides the enemy demons, there are more powerful, strangely shaped weapons of mass destruction of origin unknown bringing chaos and death wherever they go, and an organization dedicated to intercept and kill them off before they annihilate mankind.
No matter how I think of it, that's a cool as hell premise with endless possibilities, and as the episodes go by you can tell there's thought put into it when it is revealed why Japan alone is still standing, who gave mankind the ''death face'' program and demon summoning app and for what purposes, what kind of threat is it that humans are exactly facing and why is it all happening... All of these things and more are touched upon (heavily or slightly), giving the story a sense of direction.
So, then again, what is the big problem? The presentation of it all. As a newbie to the franchise I think I'd have grasped the gist of the story and many of the bits and pieces, but honestly, the introduction of new story elements and plot twists is a damn fine mess. The director and whoever the scriptwriter is clearly had a very vague idea of what they needed/wanted to do with the existing game material, and thus there is not a good sense when it comes to making the revelations impactful, the little bits of spare information assimilable, and the big info-dumps engaging.
This is a deeply flawed narrative due merely to the inability of the staff to give you the right pieces of the puzzle at the right time and in a manner that compels you to ponder about the overall plot, its mysteries and what might be ahead. Moreover, the demon summoning dynamics and such are hardly ever expanded upon and mostly make no actual sense.
It doesn't help, either, that the dialogues are mostly bollocks. Clichéd, unoriginal, they say a lot but almost nothing is particularly meaningful or memorable.
And speaking of the dialogues, shall we talk about the blank-wall cast reciting them? These characters are neither well introduced, nor well developed, nor do they have proper catharsis. The director just throws them in your face and expects you to figure out on your own that they must actually have personalities or something.
There is no valuable characterisation, no remarkably cool moments, no worthwhile interactions other than clichéd melodrama and extremely obvious setup for deaths that will happen before that same episode ends. The cast is in general extremely forgettable and one-dimensional, and some like the protagonist Hibiki or Yamato can get downright annoying with their pretentious nonsense and self-righteous nature for both of their extreme 'moral' positions. I honestly didn't give a heck when these characters lived or died (other than raging at the stupid deaths of some) because you really need to belong to a very shallow audience for this cast to mean anything important to you.
I did like Alcor, though: he managed to be reasonably compelling to follow, the better handled plot revelations were done by him, and he was in general just likeable and with an interesting role to play in the story. However, they constantly beat your head with his ''what am I, why do I feel?'' rethoric, which honestly got pretty tiresome at times. Regardless, he would be for me a bit of a saving grace regarding the cast.
The technical values are okay, both animation and sound departments. The color palette is appropriately dark, the fights are flashy, the demons look cool in general, the character designs are fine and mostly consistent, and I honestly didn't care about the CG usage for the Septentrions. The OST was solid and fit the scenes, but I'm going to deduct points here because the voice acting was incredibly cheesy in many occasions and further contributed to making the characters trite. Props to that ending theme, however: I freaking love it, and it was perfect for wrapping up the otherwise mediocre episodes in a rather despairing, cool note.
Overall this isn't a must for anyone: neither game players nor 'virgin' viewers, but the difference is that for the former group it is a MUST NOT, whereas it is merely a ''watch if you have nothing better to do'' for the latter. Interesting storyline wasted by terribly unfocused scriptwriting, generic underdeveloped characters, and simply good technical values are combined to create something that's very mediocre but at the same time sort of entertaining and not bereft of some worth.