DearS: 1st Contact Review
DearS is one of the latest shifts from manga to anime, based upon Peach-Pit’s successful work. In Japan the series has also seen two videogame releases on Sony’s PS2, which unsurprisingly are also dating simulations. So can the anime expand upon the series and provide plenty of fun and excitement? I dunno ‘cause I never played the games or read the manga.
Exactly one year ago a U.F.O. crash-landed in Tokyo, off the shores of Kasai; with it came 150 aliens who were now without homes. Sensing that they were friendly beings the Japanese government awarded them with official citizenship and kindly adhered to the aliens’ request that they refer to them as “DearS” - meaning “beloved friend”. The DearS then integrated themselves into Japanese society and learned about traditional customs, along with mastering the language; they were then selected to enter home-stay programmes in order to experience real Japanese life.
One day, while walking home a young student by the name of Takeya Ikuhara stumbles across a lost girl, wrapped in a blanket with no place to go. She’s quick to respond and out of nowhere kisses him, before fainting. Feeling sorry for her he takes her back to his apartment, but he soon discovers that she cannot speak a word of Japanese. Takeya realises that this girl may be a DearS, which is a huge problem for him as he has never trusted their species since day one. Fearing that the DearS are really some sort of lizard people, hidden behind masks, with the intent to brainwash the public and take over the world he naturally finds it difficult to get along with the girl he calls Ren. Matters aren’t helped when she constantly refers to him as “master”. With a DearS investigative team hot on her trail and Takeya facing multiple difficulties both at home and at school things are going to be awfully tough as Ren gradually learns more about life on Earth.
You’ve only got to see episode 1 to realise that DearS is re-treading familiar ground. With so much anime being produced each year it’s a wonder as to how certain shows stand out above others and ultimately get licensed for overseas distribution. DearS concept is initially promising; alien slaves stranded on Earth, seeking a master and getting up to all kinds of mischievous things. And then it dawns on the viewer - “But I’ve seen all this before”. The series is practically devoid of any new ideas, past its visual design: Boy meets girl, girl is from another world. Girl is unversed in Earthly tradition, girl studies and goes to school. Relationship between boy and girl is difficult, everybody loves her but they pick on the guy. Guy is a loser, there’s a pervy teacher, strange secondary characters and plenty of sexual humour, not to mention nudity and misunderstandings. Now don’t get me wrong, I like this sort of thing and DearS succeeds at making most of it enjoyable enough, but one can’t help but feel that the ideas here are wafer thin and the clichés are - this time - tired. In the same year we were treated to Girls Bravo and in many ways this show feels like its identical twin, right down to the order of how events play out. So right now it is hard to gauge DearS’ worth based off its first volume.
The setting of DearS though is about as normal as you can expect. There’s no clear time frame to suggest that this is set years in the future. In fact it is very much in the now moment and as far as science fiction and fantasy elements go they extend about as far as the aliens themselves and the magical powers that they posses. So we have a typical Tokyo surrounding, with fairly normal and familiar locals who go about their daily lives; shopping, gossiping and so on, while the media diverts its attention toward the DearS.
So this brings me to the inevitable discussion of its primary characters, which will give a better understanding of how things work. First up we have the protagonist, Takeya. Takeya is a lazy boy and if it wasn’t for his childhood friend, Neneko (who just happens to be his landlord’s daughter) then he wouldn’t even be able to get himself up to go to school. Takeya also works part time at a video store, where he often borrows adult videos without the store manager’s permission. Obviously being underage Takeya wouldn’t be granted them anyway, which means that on occasion whenever he’s caught he ends up being punished for his actions. He’s also teased at school for constantly hanging around with Neneko, who the students dub his “little guardian”. Neneko is an intelligent girl and certainly doesn’t take any rubbish from anybody. At school Takeya sits with his best friend, Oikawa - who is an idol crazed young lad (as in adult video idol) and trades food for porn with Takeya. Their classes are taught by Miss Mitsuka, though how she has managed to stay in her job is anybody’s guess. See, Mitsuka is a sexual maniac, who without quite realising it is sexually harassing her students. When she’s not teaching her underage class in nothing but her underwear she’s having them translate her own erotic stories, so that she can get all flustered and continue fantasizing about boys or girls.
Then we come to the DearS themselves. Although there are a documented 150 on planet Earth we only meet a few. First up is Ren. She’s typically unaware of the world around her. She’s naturally well filled out and is the most beautiful girl that anyone has seen. She’s prone to fainting when she hasn’t eaten in a little while, and she’s generally innocent. She has a willingness to learn though she fails to grasp certain meanings as quickly as those around her would like her to. Then we soon meet Miu. Miu is due to start at Koharu High School as the new transfer student, though unbeknownst to her Ren has already beaten her to it and everyone thinks that Ren is the real student. Miu has entered the home-stay programme and finds herself living with an elderly couple who are both set in their ways. Miu wants to help around the house as much as possible but is disappointed to learn that she isn’t needed as much as she hoped she would be. With Ren and Miu trying to adjust to their new situations that leaves a small cat-girl by the name of Nia (a.k.a. “The Biter”) to search the town for the elusive Ren. So with the exception of our leads most of the characters on display here are rather two-dimensional and serve the story with a means of providing awkward situations for Takeya.
So as you can see everything here is all too familiar, and for some the content may even be enough to have them cancelling their order or not even bothering with the show in the first place. Unless this is already your kind of thing the idea of teachers fantasizing over their adolescent students and further sexual devices will undoubtedly be a turn off. Personally speaking if I hadn’t seen it all before (and so recently) I might have responded better to it, although Mitsuka does seem to generate the most laughs. However there is too much reliance on Mitsuka’s behaviour and when the writers deviate from this they focus on Takeya and Ren’s relationship. While this would be a fine opportunity to create some nice developments it all ends up amounting to very little. During the course of this volume there are far too many repetitive moments that see Takeya refusing to let his guard down by shouting at Ren a lot and denying that he has any feelings for her. Cue a lot of nudity and built up frustrations and then throw in plenty of suggestive moments and there you have the bulk of the story. Lastly we have the whole misunderstanding portion of the episodes, which means that as it approaches the last episode we get a typical face off, which will decide who the better of the two DearS is. The writers can’t even manage to make the “DearS Decision Battle” all that hilarious, which leaves it with sporadic moments to entertain here and there.
Much of this first volume is fairly slow and builds up very little of the storyline, past showing a couple of mysterious DearS who are searching for Ren because she is “defective”. The final shot of episode 4 shows Lord Xaki, who we know next to nothing about, but is surely going to be of some importance later on. So for the time being these episodes provide Ren with several lessons to learn as she begins to master basic communication, while managing to constantly but inadvertently embarrass Takeya by not wearing any clothes or being a little too worshipping. As a whole this volume is a mysterious affair. While its characters and situations are largely predictable it doesn’t give anything away as to where it’s going, which might be a good thing for now, but for a short series it needs to gain some momentum, in terms of storytelling and provide some originality if it’s to recover from this early lull.
“I Want to Nibble Sweetly“
Takeya is on the verge of being late for school again, when his friend Neneko wakes him up and urges him to leave his apartment. His day is largely made up of eating junk food and listening to his permanently, sexually aroused teacher. When his classes finish he makes his way home, but he meets a girl who appears to be lost and upset. After saving her from an oncoming truck he takes her home and informs her that she can stay for the night but must then leave. When he wakes up the next day he finds her lying next to him; not only is she not leaving but now she’s referring to him as her master.
“Was it too Small“?
Takeya has named the new girl Ren. After she refused to go home he left her in the closet as he headed off to school, expecting that she’d be gone by the time he returned. When he arrives home he finds her half naked in his apartment and freaks out. Soon afterward Neneko walks in and finds Takeya on top of Ren in a compromising position. When Takeya eventually manages to explain the situation Neneko tells him that he should teach Ren Japanese. After just one night Ren learns enough Japanese to be able to communicate with her new friends. When they all go shopping for clothes Takeya runs into Miss Mitsuka, who assumes that Ren is his girlfriend.
When Takeya comes home to find Ren washing dishes in the nude he kicks off and demands that she gets dressed. She explains to him that she didn’t want to get her new clothes dirty while doing her slave duties, and so Neneko says that she will get her an apron. Later, while Takeya is at school, Ren decides to go shopping with the 400 yen that Neneko gave her. She buys her favourite melon bread and then tries to find Takeya’s school. While on the town she runs into a cat-girl named Nia and she gives her some bread before hurrying off. Meanwhile, Miu has found her home-stay, which belongs to an elderly couple. When Ren eventually arrives at the school the principal assumes that she is the new transfer student and immediately enrols her.
“Wipe Your Mouth”
It’s Miu’s first day at school, but to her horror she arrives to find that a DearS has already been enlisted. She comes to the conclusion that Ren is an imposter and sets out to rid the school of her by challenging her to a decisive battle.
Geneon bring us an attractive package for their first volume. The reversible sleeve features some nice pastel shades and has Takeya with Ren on the A side, with Neneko copping a feel of Ren’s breast on side B. Also provided is a mini fold-out poster, featuring Miss Mitsuka and super-deformed versions of Miu and Ren. Menu designs are simple but nice enough, with some bubbly effects.
DearS is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and being a new series it looks pretty swish. Colours are made up of nice pastel shades; the series has an overall toned down look to it which has been captured well on this disc. Aliasing is present but it’s far from Tenjho Tenge bad, keeping itself to a minimum. Likewise, Edge Enhancement sneaks its way onto the screen but is quite high frequency and doesn’t prove to be distracting. Black levels are good and detail is fine, with just the occasional softness during wider shots or those with added lighting effects, which usually result in portions of the image being a stylistic choice.
Our sound options consist of Japanese DD2.0 and English DD2.0. For this review I opted for the Japanese track and it proves to be decent enough. There are no faults at hand, which leaves us with a fairly standard listening experience. Most of the sound channels itself throughout all the speakers, with the occasional special effect being put to good use for the rears. Dialogue is clear and is forwarded to the central speakers well, while the show’s energetic score is given a nice boost.
As per usual for anime releases we get the complete opening sequence without credits. This is a nicely animated opening, complete with Under17‘s catchy “Love Slave”.
This is a very paltry effort, which is made up of just nine pictures. Most of these are pieces of art used for the DVD artwork.
Trailers for Stellvia, Hanaukyo Maid Team and Girls Bravo.
DearS is entertaining to some degree but when all is done it’s no more than a re-tread of other shows and ideas. It’s a nice looking series with attractive character designs and enough bizarre humour for fans of this type of anime to appreciate, but it remains to be seen if it can go on to greater things. My advice is that if you have a low tolerance of suggestive anime or ecchi in general then steer clear. Those who do like a little variety and don't mind the odd bit of perversity may find some enjoyment in all of this, but don't expect any revolutionary developments.