D-Frag! [Anime Review]

Original version posted in August 2015

Today, I’m going to be talking about D-Frag!, a series that I discovered somewhat at random. You see, at the time, my then-partner and I subscribed to the Animax streaming service, and wanted to make sure that we got the most out of the system. Part of that meant taking a chance on random series that we hadn’t seen before. One evening, we picked D-Frag!

The source manga is by Tomoya Haruno and runs in the seinen magazine Monthly Comic Alive, while the anime is created by the Brain’s Base studio (of Durarara fame), and is licensed by Funimation. The story is mostly about Kenji Kazama and his daily toils at Fujou High. You see, Kenji is a proud delinquent and leads the gang known as the ‘Kazama Party’. One day, Kenji and his gang stumble across a clubroom where a group of girls is attempting to put out a fire. After assisting them in doing so, the girls proceed to kidnap poor Kenji and, through threats of element-based physical torture, force him to join ‘The Game Creation Club’. And so begins Kenji’s journey as the comedic straight-man amidst a group of eccentric females with an inherent ability to drive him crazy.

Now, you’ll notice that I said ‘element-based torture’ there. This is because Kenji’s new club members have each assigned themselves ‘element affinities’ that form the basis of their attacks when faced with competitive situations. The president of the club, Roka, represents Fire and Darkness. Chitose, president of the student council, holds the Earth elemental. Sakura, the first-year tomboy is ‘Water’, and faculty adviser Minami is ‘Lightning’. Yes, it is indeed all a bit Pokémon. But a lot more vicious.

The opening video, as seen above, does a good job of summing up the feel of the series. If that’s not enough of a hint, or if you can’t see the vid, then I can pretty much sum it up like this: it’s bonkers. When the humour is ramped up, it verges on insane, and in all the right ways. That’s not to say that the show is a one-trick pony though. When it’s not being played entirely for laughs, it does go out of its way to add depth to the colourful cast of generally likable characters. For example, despite his delinquent reputation, Kenji actually acts with a lot of compassion throughout the series. Then there’s the backstory/rivalry between Roka and Takao (the president of a rival club).

To my (rather pleasant) surprise, the fan service in the series is not as focal as you’d expect either, especially given the type of series that it is. It’s not like it’s devoid of it, especially once Takao is introduced, but it’s mostly pretty inoffensive and a lot of it is actually genuinely funny. There is one scene towards the end of episode one that is a little more OTT, but it is at least used to add to Kenji’s character and introduce us to the dynamic between Chitose and the Student Council Vice President, Ataru (who happens to be Kenji’s childhood friend who likes pain…a lot). That said, if the idea of a board game based around collecting intergalactic porn magazines is likely to make you tune out, you may run into issues.

Truthfully though, a lot of the gripes you could hold with the series are fairly minor. It would be fair to say that, no matter how likable or cool the characters are, they do fit the pretty standard harem types. You could also argue that one or two of the designs aren’t entirely original, in particular with Chitose at times resembling Revy from Black Lagoon. That in itself shouldn’t be enough to deter you though.

My only major gripe as a whole is that Sakura, the pink-haired tomboy of the group, is not given as much space to develop as the others. Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea with that. Sakura is actually my favourite of the club members. The problem is the way the anime has dealt with her. In the manga, there are a number of moments where Sakura is given center stage, even if only for a couple of pages. The result is that you get a fairly good idea of her character and her motivations. Then there’s the ‘Shrine Water Arc’: By far my favourite of the story arcs in the first five books, the story focuses on Kenji and his little sister helping Sakura in a race to win some water (‘cause that’s her element, see?) from a special shrine. For one reason or another, this was not included as part of the main series despite chronologically sitting in the middle of the last two story arcs. Thankfully though, it was adapted into an OVA and bundled with book 9 in Japan. While not identical to the manga, it’s a pretty good adaption and goes some way to redress the aforementioned lack of fleshing out for the club’s resident water elemental.

I’ve seen both the subbed (on Animax) and dubbed (on Blu-ray from Madman Entertainment in Australia) versions of the anime. As English dubs go, D-Frag! is pretty good as a whole but does suffer some issues. The script is slightly different from the subbed version which, after watching the show subbed first, is a little jarring at times. Also, the OTT scene I mentioned from episode one is cut it completely. While I’m not a big fan of fan service, this does mean that the scene that follows makes little sense and that we miss out on Ataru’s proper introduction. While the English cast is good, the Japanese cast is a fair bit stronger in my opinion, and despite the changes and removal of some of Sakura’s lines, the script is more satisfying. So, if you want the full experience of the insanity that is D-Frag! then you’ll want to go for the subbed version.

In summary, D-Frag! is a hidden gem. It may not break any new ground, but it does what it does far better than most. The combination of off-the-wall humour and a well-rounded cast make it far more appealing than it should be, and most people should find some genuine laughs if they give it a shot.


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