Review: Daphne in the Brilliant Blue
It’s Friday, and Spring Break, so time to focus on something a little less mentally taxing. Namely: anime. Now, with age and taste comes a little less of the geeky obsession I had with it in my highschool and undergraduate years, but certain, select titles still make up a solid twenty percent or so of our DVD collection. Why? Because it is a great vehicle for speculative fiction. By using an animated medium you dodge the cost spikes of practical and computer generated effects and it becomes no more difficult to make breathtaking and bizarre scenes than it does to make mundane ones. You can take an interesting premise or setting and explore it in a manner unconstrained by skyrocketing budgets.
This is exactly what Daphne in the Brilliant Blue fails to do.
Animated by J.C. Staff and produced by Genco, Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is a sci-fi/action story set in a flooded world. Humanity survived the deluge by building underwater cities where they preserved themselves and a great deal of Earth’s animal life. At an appointed time, 100 years before the start of the series, all (but one) of the submerged cities rise to the surface to form floating city states associated with whatever remaining land masses they can find. Society is rebuilt under the watchful gaze of a centralized government, scientific, law-enforcement organization known as the Ocean Agency.
The story opens with our young heroine, Maia Mizuki, completing her application for employment with said agency. Despite receiving top marks she is denied a position with the Ocean Agency, and not having made any alternate plans, winds up frantically looking for work. After a few traumatic incidents and with a bit of luck she finds a job with a rough and tumble company of freelance problem solvers called Nereids. Over the next year with Nereids, Maia grows up and begins to unravel her (apparently requisite in these sorts of series) mysterious past.
I love this premise and setting. Further, it is animated by a great studio. About a week ago, when I saw that this was up on Hulu and realized that my weekend was mostly free, I wound up sitting down to watch it with high hopes. Those hopes were quickly dashed.
The beginning of the first episode seems almost promising. We open on a young girl salvaging a box from a wrecked ship, some friendly ocean life, and a submersible hover bike/jetski. But right after that things begin to go…well, not really bad, but weird. From the second episode on I felt like I had stumbled into a different show: some kind of all-female scantily clad Cowboy Bebop/Firefly knockoff with a bit too much absurdist comedy tossed in for good measure. And things never really circled back until the last one or two episodes of the twenty-four episode series. But by that time I had mostly lost interest and none of the reveals that they were poorly building to seemed that important or surprising (save for the one about the true nature of Maia’s grandfather, that was kind of neat).
I don’t think I have ever been so let down by a show. I was really hoping for at least some sense of curiosity or wonder about this cool world with its strange cities and tech. Where does their food come from? How do the mouthpieces that let the characters breath under water work? What terrestrial life has been preserved and what hasn’t? How do they obtain fresh water? How were these cities constructed? How the hell do those bathing suits even stay on…spirit gum? There is quite a bit to explore here and the setup is so interesting, yet the creators seem to think that the only thing their audience should be interested in is guns and T & A. Which is profoundly disappointing.
This is not a bad show. It’s certainly well animated and I am sure that a number of people will be able to find it passably entertaining. There are even obscene amounts of exploitative fanservice (I will grant that the whole aquatic world concept well justifies putting their characters in swimsuits…but nothing justifies the specific swimsuits they decide to use) for those who are into that. But it is certainly not a good show and really fails to live up to the promise of its setting. I suppose if I want my aquatic cyberpunk fix I will just have to go read Starfish again.