D-Frag! Review

This is review number three hundred and thirty. This anime is part of the Winter 2014 lineup, and it’s called D-Frag or D-Fragments. It’s a twelve episode anime about a guy joining a club full of weird characters. Oh great, another boring dialogue heavy club themed anime, this’ll be fun. This anime is a lot more impressive though. Seriously, I’m still in awe after watching this anime, so let’s read on.

Story

This anime is about a guy named Kenji Kazama, who recently entered a new school that he plans on taking over because he’s a cool delinquent. After being kind to a small girl handing out fliers outside the school, he is immediately asked to join the Game Development Club. He refused, but the members chased him around school until he ultimately agreed. The anime now follows his misadventures with the club…but he also fight other delinquents and his club members are the strongest in school…and he also lives a rose colored high school life surrounded by a lot of pretty girls that all likes her. So basically, it’s about a guy who has a not so normal life at school.

Taking the Pants Off

D-Frag honestly didn’t strike me as much. It looks like a crappy harem show, and I bet it’ll have the same things Haganai has already. It seriously had that vibe in the first episode, when a loli and a bunch of eccentrics started harassing our hero to join their club, but a lot funnier I guess. D-Frag seems uninteresting at first, but the characters hooked me and the show slowly became a lot more than a harem show. I seriously watched the first eight episodes in one day, and I even sacrificed work for it. I don’t have a lot of anime I would prioritize over my work life, since I’m a recovering bum, but this anime had the perfect ingredient of characters, comedy and story. The big hook here is that this anime doesn’t have a story. It’s just riddled with constant cliché and tropes, yet it somehow made me sit through a lot of its episodes without me being bothered by it. When you’ve watched and reviewed three hundred plus of anime, the tiniest of clichés will make you sick but it takes a brilliant show to really make it work. This anime looks simple but it’s amazingly complex, because it incorporates a lot of elements in the story. Take the elements of battle manga, add it to the elements of a school club anime like Haganai and then combine it with the elements of a rom-com school anime, and you’ll get D-Frag. Can you imagine how f*cking complicated that sh*t is? You’re playing with three different genres, making sure it’s funny and also weaving them together where an episode would contain a battle manga trope with rom-com school characters to the pacing of a club type anime. As a hardened veteran watching and analyzing all these genres, it takes one hell of anime to pull all of this in a seamless manner. D-Frag did, and the flawless execution instantly hooked me. I wasn’t really caught up in the anime’s comedy or content, but the way it executed its ambitious sh*t is like spotting a unicorn in a forest with two rainbows in the backdrop for a reviewer like me. I’m teary eyed right now.

This anime is brilliant all over. The first episode featured our main character, Kenji Kazama, joining a school club. It’s seemingly the simplest premise for an anime, and you just give a big sigh at the following episodes containing nothing but mindless fluff. Kazama also plays the straight man to four eccentric girls, so the school club formula is certainly a big part of the show. Or is it? It’s the characters that instantly draw me into the anime, because they seem off tangent than you’d expect. While club anime usually have insane characters, the dialogue suggests differently when “cool guy” scenes are present and the show keeps shoving new characters at any available time. It’s a bit hard to explain this anime, but the feeling isn’t like a school club anime after finishing the first episode. It feels like there is more, and sure enough to off tangent draws me in. As I keep progressing to the anime, the story eventually disappears and we are left with a show that just looks strangely fun to watch. There’s really nothing special here, since the comedy is the one thing that encourages you to keep on watching. It’s just full of situational comedies and colorful characters that take advantage of the scenarios. The craziness intensifies in further episodes, and you’re really just watching on because the show is simply fun. Gawd damn, it’s hard to do this review. How exactly do you explain a brilliant show that has no story? I’ll just skip to the best part, because the anime’s main appeal is drawing strength from three different genres, and creating something unique out of it. I’m gonna call them plot points because they’re a deep part of the show even though this anime doesn’t have an actual story.

The first plot point is the school club anime. This is really the premise the show started out with, as you see a level headed guy entertaining eccentric female characters and they’re all part of the same club. For better comparison, think of GJ-bu or Setokai Ichizon as a good example of this plot point. The format is basically about the characters entertaining themselves inside their club room, and the episodes mostly consist of random skits. This is different from a slice of life school club anime like K-on or the lazy shows that came after it. This school club anime mostly centers on one male character being the only guy in the club, and the rest are female characters. The school club anime is boring as hell, but the eccentric girls teasing the only boy in their club works because there’s often a sincere element behind it. Naturally, this first plot point can be a bit dry but D-Frag makes it interesting by really cramming a lot of jokes in the skit. It’s fast paced and the abuse the straight man receives is a bit cruel for the sake of comedy. In this anime, the characters would often do random games in their club like a space porno board game or playing cards. They never develop any game, but that’s part of the gag as well, since it knocks on how most club themed anime never really do anything club related. The first three episodes are basically about this first plot point as well when the Game Development Club goes up against the “real” Game Development Club in a battle to be the legitimate Game Development Club. It uses the school club’s main appeal of exploring relationships and characters teasing each other to really make it work. The humor is different though, because it draws that from a different genre.

The second plot point is battle manga, or rather taking a sh*t all over the battle manga concept. The humor in this anime can be a bit crude, and it’d often have characters doing something stupid that’ll catch the audience off guard. It also draws strength from poking fun of the genre it originates from. I believe this approach is also done by a certain Gintama anime, but I dropped the show after learning it has too many episodes for my limited attention span. Gintama basically works by parodying the battle manga genre, and making fun of it while also featuring characters that act like worthless idiot trolls. The approach is done by D-Frag as well as it features popular tropes of the battle manga genre. Stuff like suddenly having a tournament for a sack, which is washed by a pretty girl, is a normal occurrence for the anime. It features familiar elements of the battle manga genre like characters explaining their special moves, fights drawn out by commentary from the people watching the fight, characters having a serious face while monologing and employing flashbacks. The humor comes from poking fun of these elements though like the special moves involving drowning someone with water, the commentary going off track by talking about a characters big breasts, the monologues about the stupidest things like how to enjoy being a masochist and the flashbacks having no real relation to the skits like Kenji picking up money on the street that is supposed to be a present for Tama-chan. The way it mentions popular tropes of the battle manga genre is absolutely brilliant, since it points out the ridiculousness of the tropes while also utilizing it to create strong comedy for the anime. I personally love it when the club members suddenly become part of the second plot point, as they’re soon revealed to be the strongest people in the school. How? It doesn’t matter because the show is now poking at the overly serious high school battle manga like Ikkitousen and Tenjou Tenge. The way it puts importance on the status of certain characters is absolutely inspired because it pokes fun of how it’s a trick to put importance on one dimensional characters in high school battle manga. The parody runs deep for this anime as you can tell the author really loves the genre, but he also has enough knowledge to talk sh*t about it. The one that ultimately stand out, as the perfect middle finger salute to battle manga, is the overabundance of side characters for this anime. It’s done on purpose that in one episode sixteen characters are introduced to illustrate the same amount of characters in popular battle manga today. Every episode dumps a new character on us just to illustrate how annoying this particular trope of the genre is, but it also utilizes this to create some funny moments for the show.

This anime is brilliant because it captures the ridiculousness of the battle manga genre by constantly parodying it, but it maintains structure because it’s still a school club anime by heart. The show pulls this incredibly daunting task thanks to one solid school club staple: random skits. While I would prefer a solid story that ties everything together, the anime is structured on a skit by skit format. Some skits can run longer than your average skits like the ridiculous tournament having two episodes, but it still follows the familiar format. The skits all have different circumstances, different settings and different characters to them so it can incorporate the battle manga element. In some episodes, the characters are playing in their club while it suddenly shifts into a story about someone beating another character up. With new characters, the skit is then padded by literally anything to introduce the new characters and create some funny jokes thanks to them. A good example is the first episode as it features Kenji being forced to join a club and then shifting to a story of his delinquent gang fighting with the student council president and his masochistic friend enjoying his verbal beating. It captures the strength of the two plot points to create something really amazing and fun to watch. But wait, there’s more because we have one last plot point to explore.

The last plot point is the rom-com genre where Kenji experiences some cute situations with another character. I guess I’d relate this one to the second season of School Rumble where the entire class becomes part of the story, instead of just Tenma and her friends experiencing crazy love. The classroom setup, where the students do random things in school, is captured by D-Frag and it also utilizes the rom-com cliché of girls blushing over a guy that doesn’t pick up their horny signals. This one starts when Kenji gets his lunch stolen by a couple of girls, and then they all blush trying to give them their lunches. See, it’s a cute setup with Kenji oblivious of the romantic gesture. This is also a true plot point in the show because it focuses on Kenji’s relationship with one particular girl. Some of the skits involve her fumbling into slowly getting close to Kenji, and most of them fail in a remarkable manner. The cuteness is intact though, and Kenji’s relationship with her soon becomes a big part of the anime as well. He also has some cute moments with other characters, and they all involve a girl fawning all over him. Combined with the school club format, some skits would involve Kenji going out on a date or someone giving him lunch. Of course, the comedy is still strong so the cuteness is often being crushed by sheer stupidity or randomness by the characters. It actually works a lot smoother in this plot point since seeing the girls fail at love is pretty fun to watch.

As you can see, this anime is one complicated mess, that is something you seriously just have to watch to understand, but it doesn’t stop there. The first half of the show features three plot points, but the second half (episode six and so on) features all the plot points weaved into one. So you’ll have skits about characters fighting in a tournament with some of the girls involved as they get some cute moments with Kenji, but the club members are also in it so eccentric situational comedies also ensue while the show rips on the battle manga concept. This anime is seriously insane, and I love it. This is also the true strength of the show: organized chaos, as it draws strength from three genres and weave them together. Every episode would feature skits that has the elements of all three genres, and it’s f*cking amazing to watch. The execution is flawless and the comedy is spot on. A lot of comedy anime doesn’t really have a good story, but D-Frag completely obliterated its story and then relied on cliché to have structure. The story of a guy trying to be a delinquent or a girl trying her best to make a guy notice him are all clichés that functions in the story. This anime, keeping in mind the already clusterf*ck of the genres it balancing, still has the awesome execution to make the comedy work. It has three types of comedy to choose from, so anything can happen in this show. From cute situational ones to eccentric character inspired ones to parody jokes, this anime presents them in a smart manner. Since its approach is a bit chaotic, they also mix and match to create solid skits for the show. There aren’t a lot of shows that can honestly do this, so it’s not surprising that I spent a good chunk of a day watching eight episodes in one sitting.

Of course, the anime’s style isn’t perfect. For one thing, it creates funny moments but it lacks depth to make it really memorable. The over reliance on the cliché makes an episode fun to watch, but the simple formula can get tiresome. The lack of focus, which is intentional, might also be a bother for some people. This anime is not for everyone, and the issue lies at its core as well. This anime lives and dies by its characters though, so they’re really the ones that make this show both good and bad. In terms of a satisfying pay off you’ll remember for a long time, which any good anime should possess, this show lacks it. That’s alright since this show is just dumb fun, but it’s a complicated dumb fun like solving a rubix cube with one hand tied to a chair. Sacrificing the overall pay off gives more enjoyment to each episode so I think it all works out in the end. With that out of the way, let’s talk about the characters.

First of all, they’re bland as f*ck. As in the show literally relied on clichéd characters that lacks originality and shoved them in the story, but they did it in an intentionally hilarious manner. In order for the comedy to really shine, it needed simple characters. Our main character, Kenji Kazama, is the typical straight man in a comedy anime. He’s the level head normal character that the audience can relate to, but the show piles cliché on top of that simple character. In this anime, he has his own accidental harem, he’s a delinquent that loves to fight, he’s a cool shounen character with some awesome monologues, and he’s the cool boy a lot of the girls fawn over. This is where the brilliance of the anime lies in. It takes a simple one dimensional cliché character and then adds more simple cliché one dimensional characteristics to him to better serve the show. Sure, a lot of light novel main characters have the same multi-faceted personality but it often makes them look bad. For Kenji, the intentional overcomplicating of his oversimplified character is just pure genius. With the erratic storytelling, Kenji’s character is able to keep up and create some golden moments with other over complicatedly oversimplified characters like himself. The club president is a loli type character that does moe things but she pokes fun of her stereotype by doing forced cute responses, she is a girl that fights grown men by stuffing their heads in a bag, she’s the typical potential lover with a mutual relationship with Kenji, she’s the typical quiet type that every other characters admire, and she’s also one of the eccentric members of the club. With the anything goes format of the show, this character can easily steal the moment with her great personality. The important characters of this anime basically all have the same kind of personality. It’s stupidly simple and intentionally one dimensional but there’ll be seven of them or so in just one character. I think there’s also the student council president, the vice president, and the president of the real Game Development Club that are over complicatedly oversimplified as well. I’ll refrain from talking about them though, since part of the fun is discovering how insanely awesome they are.

Dfrag55

There are those characters that are just one dimensional and cliché characters. They’re just simple characters that provide some sort of fence for the three genres the show is playing at. These characters prove as an element to make the genres a lot more effective in its execution. A good example is Kenji’s delinquent buddies that represent the battle manga format the show has, and they only serve as gag for that part of the anime. There are also characters like the adviser of Kenji’s club that has only one role: to be part of the school club element of the anime. These characters often get lost in fold, but they did serve their purpose of introducing the genres they’re a part of. The anime has this wonderful way of introducing one dimensional characters though by featuring them in a gag before they ever debut in the show. An example of this is Kenji’s classmate, Funabori, who is introduced as the perfect wife idolized by the school, and she’s introduced when her picture is a prized possession of one character. Keep in mind, she wasn’t even a character when the gag was done, but then she pops out of nowhere to establish the rom-com genre of the anime. Of course, there’s also Tama-chan that I will always remember because of her awesome mental image. These characters just serve one purpose, and they also make the show special when it crosses the genres for the second half. In the tournament, the eccentric personalities of the club members mix with Funabori’s rom-com pace and Kenji’s delinquent friend’s love for fighting. The characters make it all work, and I can’t believe the show took the most shameless and shallow approach to create something so complicatedly wonderful.

Then there are the blatantly shallow and worthless characters the show introduces as a gag to poke fun of the battle manga’s ridiculous churning out of one dimensional characters. I want to talk about them because they’re so ridiculously bad that you instantly like them. When you realize they’re dumb on purpose to prove a point then it makes the experience a lot more special. Some of them even have nicknames to illustrate the pointlessness of most side characters in popular battle manga shows. I should really be mentioning Shounen but I like battle manga a lot better. Let’s face it, shows like Hunter X Hunter and One Piece goes over the top with the amount of characters it has. Some are eventually forgotten while others are brought back because they serve to be popular with readers. This approach is also done for the anime. It brings back random characters just for sh*ts and giggles, and it’s also part of that whole commentary about worthless side characters. For the most part, side characters in battle manga are employed to lengthen an arc and this anime sh*ts on that concept as well. It introduces new characters every episode, and it’s solely to cover up the fact that the anime lacks a story. It’s brilliant on so many levels that I really want to enshrine this anime for future generations. There are also characters that are parodies of characters in other works. Bottom line, Sean Connery is in this anime and the characters of Earthbound also assume a role in the story. They’re “extras” in this anime, but I love how they often shift the focus to these characters for no big reason. It adds an extra layer to the anime, since really almost anything can happen in this show.

Brain’s Base gave us a hell of a gold mine with this anime. They don’t do a lot of shows like this, since their specialties is soft hearted rom-com and otome anime. I always believed Brain’s Base will eventually deliver something as amazingly wonderful like this anime. Looking back, they have experimented with shows like this when they gave us Blood Lad, but the small episode run kinda hampers it a bit. They also gave us something decent with Ixion Saga, but I think D-Frag is the kind of anime they’ve always been aiming for. They should adapt other shows like this, and just focus on making it their niche instead of f*cking otome shows. Seriously, who thought BroCon is a good idea? This is Seiki Sugawara’s directorial debut and he did a hell of a job at it. Most first time directors suck, just look at Super Sonico, but this is a rare case. I believe the original source is pretty strong by itself though, and Seiki just stayed true to the manga. I’d knock points off for playing it safe, but he did capture the author’s vision so that’s something. I’ve seen powerful mangas get pissed away by inept directors, just look at Bokurano, so I do appreciate the way he stuck to the original source. In terms of style, he lacks it though like any first time director but he should learn from this anime to get a better idea on how to create solid shows in the future.

Sight and Sound

Tomoya Haruno is an incredible artist, and there is no denying that. His manga is even more incredible so I suggest picking up the manga as well. His designs are simple, but it stays true to the cliché aspect of the characters. He takes the best parts of these cliché characters, and then adds it to his own to create a strong look for each. His manga flows like a battle manga, by the way, since he puts focus on the action lines and Shounen features of his characters to sacrifice for the lack of background. It gives a more definite feeling of the genre in the original work. Anyways, the designs have a wide range to it. It stays true to the genre’s spirit by utilizing the details that make them effective. Battle manga characters have Shounen-like hairstyles with spiky hair, female characters have a tomboyish design despite wearing their school uniform and those one dimensional thugs just have a rough design to further illustrate their lack of importance in the show (but it actually adds a certain charm to them). Rom-com characters look gentler with a big focal point of their calm faces. The female characters in this genre all look timid and they fidget about when they get nervous. Their hairstyle is reminiscent of those Shoujo styles that look neat to emphasize how they’re a maiden in love sorta appeal. The school uniform also adds more emphasis to these characters, since they look normal and harmless in it. Characters of the school club genre just basically look plain. There’s not much here since it’s still a school based design. They just don’t stick out, so it can add more focus on their eccentric personalities, like the masochistic characters in this anime and that out of place trap character. Seriously, this anime has the checklist of cliché characters. The design also adds tons, since their strong ties to their original genre makes the comedy a lot more effective. Tomoya is really a genius to create the story, and design the characters.

Animation is pretty great. It’s able to bring out the beauty of all the three genres the shows play around with. The fight scenes have a great pace to them, and the different camera angles are used to make the storytelling a lot more effective. Of course, Tomoya adds different angles to his manga, so I’m sure Brain’s Base just sticks to what they already have. The one thing they should be given points for is the visual storytelling, since consistency in design is a minor thing for a manga. Brain’s Base is able to make the characters look good through and through. The animation is able to keep up with the erratic storytelling, and that’s really the great thing about it. It can go fast pace with the fight scenes, an even faster pace for the school club genre and then halt the breaks to create a cute mood for the rom-com. Considering these three genres starts combining in the second half, it’s a lot more impressive to capture the pace of all three in one episode. I also love how they add some details on the flashbacks, and create a wonderful atmosphere for the anime. It’s often a second thought for most studios, but this visual storytelling plays a huge part in the experience as well.

For me, the soundtrack would have to be the least impressive part of the anime. It honestly sucks for my taste, since it’s trying a bit too hard to be whatever the hell it was attempting to be. The anime’s OP song is “Stalemate!” by IOSYS jk Girls. It’s a fast paced random song about stupid things being taken priority because it’s fun. The song is decent, but it’s hard on the ears on the first try. The lyrics is also a mangled mess so I didn’t appreciate it at first, but it grows on you eventually. The singer’s voice is decent as it captures the vibe of a school club anime. The OP sequence captures the anime to a tee, so I suggest watching it if you’re uncertain about the show. It spoils all the characters though, and sotens the blow for some of the debuts but the OP sequence still has the genre genres nicely represented. The anime’s ED song is Minna no Namae wo Irete Kudasai” by Roka Shibasaki (CV: Kana Hanazawa), Takao (CV: Shizuka Itou) & Funabori (CV: Aki Toyosaki). This is sung by the three girls proudly representing the rom-com genre. It’s another dumb song about random things, and not even the singers can make it special. It reeks generic, for my taste, and the fast pace makes it hard to listen to. The ED sequence is about the characters in the club doing random stuff, as a narrative for the ED song. It’s better than the song, that’s for sure.

Overall Score

9/10 “How exactly do you make a club themed anime with rom-com elements and Shounen tropes attached to it? Well, you simply can’t so just go watch it perfectly done in this anime.”

This is still a comedy anime, but it’s a really rare one because it’s not a fickle kind of comedy where subjective taste gets in the way of appreciating the show. This is all around funny and entertaining as it captures a wonderful balance between lots of elements. Any ambitious anime can try it and fail, and I’ve seen it done before, but rarely do you see it actually work so tremendously. This is short of a perfect score because of the numbed ending, since it just happened, but the experience is still something worth trying. If you like Shounen then laugh at how this anime pokes fun of it. If you’re a fan of high school love stories then admire how the anime captures the sincerity of the genre. If you like school club themed anime then enjoy how the various skits can have you laughing in stiches, and then marvel at how one anime can do it all at the same time. D-Frag is a rare experience I urge everyone to try, so I highly recommend it.

 

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