Every now and then, you come across an anime that makes you wonder just what the hell everyone involved in the making of it was thinking. DearS is one of those animes.
This 13 episode, 2004 series is from studio Daume, probably best known as the studio that brought us Shiki, and pretty much, nothing else of note. Unless you want to count Please Teacher, which I’d rather not.
Of more interest is that original manga, by duo Peach Pit, the same team up that brought us Rozen Maiden and Zombie Loan. Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara, the two woman team behind these titles, are actually childhood friends who both got into doujinshi manga work separately, but ended up being teamed by Dengeki Comic Gao, which is probably fate or something making sure they stay together. Their team name is actually taken from Beverly Hills 90210, where The Peach Pit was a common hangout for the characters.
The more I read up on them, the more I’m amazed they aren’t long lost twins or something. Seriously, if you think fate is a thing, then these ladies were meant to be together.
That aside, I can’t say I’m a huge fan. Rozen Maiden wasn’t my cup of tea, though I did enjoy Zombie Loan quite a bit. DearS, however, just really did nothing for me. I can’t say if that’s a failure of the anime adaption, or just an idea that never did quite come together, but for now, I’m just going to focus on the anime, and let Peach Pit do their thing, which by the way, they’ve now been doing, very successfully, for 16 years.
The story of DearS is set one year after an alien ship crashed in Tokyo Bay, exposing the world to the alien beings known as DearS, or “dear friends”, as apparently, they don’t have a name in their own language, for reasons I’ll explain later.
Our protagonist in this series is Takeya Ikuhara, an average slacker high school student, who distrusts all things alien, even though the rest of the world has embraced them fully. One day, he encounters a female DearS, who suddenly kisses him, and proclaims him her master, before passing out. Left with no choice but to take her home, since calling an ambulance or something is just crazy, he soon learns her name is Ren, though she seems incapable of communicating much more than that.
Various shenanigans follow, until Takeya’s best friend, Neneko, discovers Ren, and decides to help her learn to at least communicate so they can figure out where she is suppose to be, and how to help her get there. Ya know, instead of just getting in touch with the DearS leadership through proper channels or something stupid. Ren learns Japanese overnight, and quickly explains that she belongs to Takeya, as his slave.
Which is where this story really starts going off the rails.
The reason DearS have no formal name for their race, is because they are manufactured beings, whose sole purpose is to be the perfect slave. Highly emphatic, and capable of predicting their master’s needs and wants, DearS don’t have free will the way we think of it, and are only capable of wanting what their master wants.
Basically, they are a commodity. Disposable beings. The reason no one has come looking for their crashed ship, is because no one cares. A lost ship full of DearS isn’t worth looking for, as all of them are easily replaced.
This is a problem for Takeya, however, as he’s incapable of seeing people as anything but people, and refuses to see himself as a slave owner. Making things more complicated, Ren is a defective product, and the DearS want her back for disposal, before she accidentally leaks out to the humans the true nature of the DearS.
See, they get that slavery has been abolished on Earth, and that humanity wouldn’t be okay with owning them. So, they’ve decided to become undercover slaves, working their way into human lives, and quietly serving them, so they have a reason to exist in our world, which is now their world, since nobody is coming to look for them. Ren threatens that, because part of what makes her defective, is that she tends to blurt out whatever thought crosses her mind, and didn’t take to the retraining that would allow DearS to live in Earth societies as undercover slaves.
Basically, DearS is the result of a drunken one night stand between Chobits and Alien Nation, creating an unwanted love child that then grew up and had a drunken one night stand with Fifty Shades of Grey, giving birth to whatever the hell this is.
Which manages to be ecchi as fuck, despite not having a single clue what it’s about.
There’s two big problems with DearS. The first is that nothing that happens makes a lick of sense. Ren being a defective product that accidentally gets out into the public is one thing, but that the DearS can’t seem to retrieve her just strains believably to the point of absurdity. Especially since they know where she is for almost the entire the run of the show. General incompetence more or less less guides their every action, instead of just going and picking her up from the high school student, which is their only real obstacle.
At least, it is until too many people know about Ren. After that, it does get a bit trickier, but not enough so that it should be as impossible as it is. Just explain that Ren didn’t take to retraining, and may pose some danger to the general population. The Japanese government would have happily helped, and pretty much nobody, after a year, would have thought the DearS in general to be dangerous as a people. Just like humans, they have a few bad elements. Problem solved.
The second real problem is that there’s actually a really good story in here, which never shows up. The idea of a race of manufactured beings, who only know how to serve, crashing into a society that values life, and freedom, is touched on, but never really explored. The idea that Ren is defective because she’s capable of free will would have been a much more compelling story, as it would clash with how the DearS see themselves. Instead, Ren is just happy to be a slave, and wants nothing but to be Takeya’s slave. The biggest thing that happens is the idea that Ren was able to choose her own master, something the DearS see as almost a religious experience.
Which is still just the same as saying being a slave is okay, and that isn’t something I can get behind. Even the finale of the series embraces this, as in order to save Ren, Takeya takes his claims as her owner, which everyone is apparently okay with. For no reason.
In short, DearS is basically pro-slave ownership. Granted, it is more an accidental acceptance of the practice, and a by-product of the story itself, rather than something I think anyone involved in the writing of the story actually thinks, but still. Slavery is pretty okay is not the message ya wanna be sending, ya know?
The show gets further garbled by having a lot of stuff happen for no real reason, and featuring characters who serve no purpose whatsoever, including being even remotely interesting. Most of all, it relegates the single most interesting character story to a B plot.
We’re frequently shown the DearS leader, Rubi, who is basically a dominatrix, and something of an asshole. That’s it. That’s her character. Past snapping orders and punishing a younger DearS named Khi, Rubi has no role in the story, and no personality.
There’s also Hiro, a fellow student at Takeya’s school, who only shows up in little interludes, where he’s seducing various girls at school into sleeping with him. He doesn’t do anything else. He has no character arc, doesn’t affect the other characters in a meaningful way, and doesn’t really do anything else at all. He just seduces girls, sleeps with them, then moves on to another while talking about coffee. That’s it.
Worst of all is Nia, an obnoxious and grating character who dresses like a cat, sort of, and is so air headed, I’m surprised she has a head at all. She’s suppose to be retrieving Ren, but keeps forgetting what she’s doing, and wandering around eating stuff. When she isn’t grating on your last nerve by uttering complete nonsense. She has no impact on anyone, does nothing, and is probably the most annoying anime character I’ve ever seen.
More annoying even than the absurd home room teacher Takeya and Neneko have at school, Mitsuke. Who is also a porn actress, exhibitionist, and frequently teaches class in her underwear. She uses her own erotic novels to teach English, as well. Because why not? She’s loud, grating, stupid, and serves no purpose int he story except to be the worst part of fan service, rammed into your eyeballs with insane frequency, to the point you kind of wish something terrible would happen to her, just to make her stop moaning and screaming.
How the woman has a job as a teacher is never explained.
Then, there’s Miu, another DearS who starts going to school with Takeya and Neneko. She has the only interesting character arc in the story, as she is staying with an elderly couple, who were never able to have children of their own. They see Miu as an adopted daughter, and tend to dote on her, which conflicts with her own desire, as a DearS, to be a good slave to them without them knowing it. Over the course of the show, Miu eventually comes to understand that want they want, what they need, from her isn’t service, but love, the same thing they are giving her. She learns what it is to be part of family, to be accepted just for being who you are, and being cherished as an individual.
All of which is a B plot to the main story. Even though it’s a way more interesting story.
Because the main story, of Takeya and Ren, is just one ecchi fantasy after another, as Takeya tries to get Ren to stop coming on to him, being naked all the time, getting in the bath with him, and generally, being a busty ditz who wants to please him in every possible way. Often as literally as possible, since she lacks anything remotely akin to common sense, and while take his outraged demands as orders she attempts to follow.
That’s the whole A plot right there. It doesn’t get much better, either. There’s lot of suggestive nudity, but that’s as far as it goes, though some of the conversations get pretty R-rated. Ren doesn’t change, either, but rather, Takeya does, and eventually accepts that Ren is his property. Which is the climax of the story, at least, in the anime. I’ve not read the manga, but I can certainly hope it’s better than the anime.
Which isn’t to say the show doesn’t have a few really funny moments. It does. When it plays for laughs, DearS can actually be damn cute. Ren is frequently hysterically funny as she tries to navigate Japanese culture, or just do anything without messing it up completely. The ED features chibi versions of the cast dancing, and is adorable as hell. It’s just everything else about the show that’s dumb as a box of rocks that kind of kills any value the show has as a bit of brain candy.
In terms of animation, DearS is all over the place, and most of those places are not good. Animation style and quality frequently changes, as do character designs, so much so that on occasion, it’s hard to tell who a character is. The whole thing frequently looks like an 80s anime, which isn’t bad, but when it switches between that and 2004 level work, it’s jarring.
One thing I will give the show on the animation and character design front is that all the human characters are obviously human. There’s no weird hair color and style among the normal people. The crazy hair styles and colors are reserved for the DearS, marking them in a visual way as being not human. Though, they do get hair styles that defy physics to an absurd degree, so while it is a plus, it gets taken a bit too far with many of the characters.
The series was directed by Iku Suzuki, who’s done some work, but none I’m familiar with. Some of it was films like Dark Cat and E.Y.E.S. of Mars, but he’s also done other tv work, such as Happy Lesson. I’ve never seen any of these, so I can’t say if he’s good and DearS was just an off thing, or if he’s not very good, and DearS is typical. I can say that the show as a whole suffers from a lack of cohesion and wanders around a lot in search of characterization and plot, though. That falls at his feet, so odds are, he’s just not real good at directing.
The writing was done by Takao Yoshioka, who was the head writer on Elfen Lied, Working Season 2 and 3, Ikkitousan, High School DxD, and a mess of other stuff. Normally, I’d say he’s got mad skills, as pretty much everything I’ve seen that he’s been involved in at least had a plot that made sense, and more or less well crafted characters. Maybe DearS was just for the paycheck. Maybe he and the director didn’t see eye to eye. Who can say. All I know for sure is that that DearS makes Ikkitousan look like high drama by comparison. Not a feather in Yoshika’s cap, even though he did get to pull off a few good funny moments.
The music was arranged by Tomoki Hasegawa, who has also done Legend Of The Galactic Heroes: Golden Wings, Nana, and some other stuff I’ve never even heard of. The music in DearS isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either, which kind of fits the show overall, really, so I guess that’s good. Beats being the worst part of an already crappy show, at any rate.
Which brings me to my final thought. This show could have been amazing, It really could have. There’s so much there to work with, so much that could have elevated the idea to greatness. Sadly, it gets buried under corny ecchi scenarios, flirting with nudity, directionless characters, a non existent plot, and a poorly delivered message. The show goes in circles, accomplishing nothing, and arriving at a nonsensical conclusion that makes the trip not even worth having.
About the only redeeming quality I give to DearS is that Ren is actually a pretty adorable and funny character for much of the show, and Miu’s character arc is pretty darn good. Past that, there’s nothing here to see, unless you just really want to be ecchied to death.
All that said, I will give DearS one last bonus point, because it was in part responsible for planting an idea in my head for a story of my own involving a crashed alien ship, the crew of which had to navigate human culture, and the ramifications the proven existence of alien life would have on human cultures around the world. Where DearS is just a bad ecchi romance comedy, what I want to do is a deep philosophical, political, religious and economic look at how the presence of stranded aliens would affect the whole of human civilization.
Ya know, in between writing epic fantasy novels about lesbians. Cause I’m a serious author.
Yup. Totes serious.