Disgaea

Release date: 7th June 2010
Certificate: 12
Running time: 300 mins
Director: Kiyotaka Isako
Starring: Kaori Mizuhashi, Tomoe Hanba, Yuko Sasamoto, Chihiro Suzuki, Chiwa Saito
Genre: Anime
Studio: MVM
Format: DVD
Country: Japan


Based on the RPG videogame of the same name, the twelve-episode anime version of Disgaea attempts to capture the hearts, minds and free time of its gaming fans in a Pokemon meets Hayao Miyazaki quest in the Netherworld.


Trainee angel Flonne (Sasamoto) has been on a continuous two year quest in the Netherworld to locate and kill King Kirchevskoy, only to discover his castle in ruins, the king already dead and his son Laharl trapped in a coffin.  Upon freeing the heir to the throne, they venture out on a journey for Laharl (Mizuhashi) to take his rightful place as king, having to fend off pretenders to the title along the way - including Vyers - while trying to avoid the ‘Defender of the Earth’, Captain Gordon…


Western audiences are ultimately spoilt with anime, as the majority of the titles that reach Europe are strong, coming out of the wonderful Studio Ghibli from its creation twenty-four years previously. The gaming market, until recently, has been a little less selective, and it is this gap between the two mediums where a lot of titles find their way beyond the highly saturated shores of Japan.  The animation in Disgaea is simplistic, like Ghibli’s Spirited Away, but with little touches for the expectant gaming audience who wish to see their favourite game as an anime title. There are some beautiful psychedelic moments that are reminiscent of the artwork of Francesco Poroli. The glimpses inside the head of Etna during the episode Welcome To The Netherworld Hall Of Treasures is both cute and funny. The Mr. Americana persona of Captain Gordon is extremely stereotypical without being rude, as he most likely represents the Japanese super-ideal of what the masculine American alpha male is all about.  Overall, though, the animation falls short, as sometimes the background work or characters leaping into shot look rushed, if not a little crude. The character of Dr. Jennifer is another good example of how the animation sits uneasily amidst itself. Laharl, Flonne, Etna (to an extent) and the Prinnies are clearly modelled on, firstly, the game and, secondly, on the targeted age group, i.e those kids that have gotten a little old for Pokemon and Dragonball Z but a little young for the animated version of Dante’s Inferno. Jennifer, on the other hand, is a highly sexualized animation of the typical blonde Caucasian girl you see in some of the less reputable anime circulating. Like Jessica Rabbit dressed for spring break, her heaving bosoms are enough to make Laharl feel nauseous and send any parent watching with their children racing for the door before a conversation about the birds and the bees appears on the horizon.

Saying that, some of the imagination behind the animation is truly wonderful, and leaps and bounds ahead of what’s coming out of American animation studios. The Prinnies, peg legged bat winged penguins stitched back together, are truly fantastic. Filled with the souls of the dead, who have committed sinful acts, they are forced to work as servants for money until they have enough to buy their way out of their zombie pingu shells and be reincarnated. It is their interactions with Etna and Laharl that are the most interesting, as they touch on a fair deal for the worker, unionization and slavery, all against the backdrop of a youth orientated anime without getting too preachy. The shopkeeper, with a Halloween carved vegetable for a head, and Zaninsky, a well built ruler with a hog face, also provide creative glimpses of the character grotesque that we’ve come to expect from anime over the years. They also show flashes of a genuine story, as capitalist monsters who crave money and power for nothing more than the collection of said money and power. Unfortunately, these characters, as well as Prinnies, are supporting characters to leads that are on a well trodden path with little extra to contribute to the genre.


The soundtrack is a real joy, however. Whether it be the in-show score that is clever enough to feel like it belonged to a loading screen in the videogame, or the super catchy pop track over the opening and closing credits of each title that you simply can’t help but hum along to.  Similarly, the use of colour is exceptionally strong, with the mansion in A Dungeon Of Temptation…Maybe using a healthy potion of rich purples and blues to create a cold semi-menacing feel upon arrival at a Bram Stoker residence.


The best and yet worst thing about Disgaea is the dialogue, ranging from the sublimely mundane to the hilariously funny, when confronted with the knowledge that Captain Gordon has arrived to collect a bounty on his head, Laharl petulantly remarks “tell him to come back later I’m eating,” and it’s an odd mash-up that always seems to be at war with itself.


Fans of the videogame will find elements in the show to savour, as it does manage to capture the mood of the game, however, the rest of the viewing world will be left feeling more like a Prinnie servant than a contributor to the quest.



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