Monday, September 10, 2012

Review: DEARS

DearS (Diazu), by Peach-Pit (Banri Sendo and Shibuko Ebara).  First published in 2002, and first published in North America in 2005.

PLOT:  Sometime in the not too distant future, a race of aliens have crash landed onto Earth.  Unable to fix their ship, they choose to assimilate with the Earthlings peacefully, and it seems that all of humanity has embraced the lovely, well-spoken creatures known as "Dears"  Well...almost everyone.

Takeya is a sullen slacker who is not only unimpressed with the Dears, but downright suspicious of them.  Mind you, he's unimpressed with a lot of things, things like caring for himself (which is instead done by his landlord's pushy daughter, Neneko), schoolwork (not aided by his sex-crazed exhibitionist homeroom teacher), and life in general.  One day after school he runs into a mute, doe-eyed girl huddled under a tree, wearing nothing but a large cloth.  Circumstance leads to his saving her from nearly being flattened by a truck, and from that moment on the mysterious girl vows to never leave his side.  Now Takeya must help this girl, nicknamed "Ren", to adapt to the world as she is initially incapable or ignorant of the slightest things.  Things don't get any easier for Takeya once Ren learns to speak, as she proudly declares herself to be Takeya's slave and he her master.  Will Takeya ever learn to get along with Ren?  And why are the other Dears so interested in getting Ren back?

STORY:  You know, I don't expect a lot out of magical girlfriend stories.  It's a genre known more for massive amounts of fanservice and outrageous concepts than for solid storytelling and well-developed characters.  So when I say that DearS didn't even manage to meet my expections, I am saying that it fails to hit what is already a very, very low bar.

Like comedies, magical girfriend stories live or die on the strength of their cast.  More specifically, they live and die on the strength of their lead couple.  The male lead needs to be sympathetic and relateable, while the female lead needs to have an appealing personality to go with her looks.  DearS fails this on both counts.  On one hand, I am glad that Takeya actually does have a personality, as most magical girlfriend mangaka believe that "relatable" means "having no personality or backbone whatsoever."  They make them so mild-mannered and ordinary as to make their leads into complete and utter nebbishes.  The only problem with Takeya's personality is that it's not a terribly sympathetic one.  I don't want to root for a kid who makes no effort to care for himself, or spends most of the volume grumbling about the girl that he chose to rescue.  Takeya is quite frankly a bit of a
douchebag, and I spent most of the volume wanting to slug him.

Ren, on the other hand, has a far different set of problems.  Now, a completely helpless magical girlfriend has been done before (coughChobitschough), but there the girl being helpless makes logical sense and the story uses that helplessness to subvert some of the cliches of the genre.  Ren's helplessness is simply her default mode, the only thing she has resembling a personality.  She has no wishes or will of her own; her only desire is to be Takeya's slave.  She does what she is taught to by Takeya and Nenako (mostly Nenako) and does it because she depends on her 'master' for guidance and approval.  This isn't a healthy relationship - hell, it's not even kinky in a way you would expect from a master/slave relationship.  It's closer to the relationship between a puppy and the bratty kid who begrudgingly cares for it.  When you try to translate that kind of dynamic to what is supposed to be a romantic relationship, that comes off as INCREDIBLY CREEPY.  There are hints that such behavior is not normal for her species, and that she is some sort of prototype that the rest of the DearS want back, but that is far too little and far too late to make Ren even the tiniest bit interesting.

The rest of the cast merits no mention outside of two others.  The first is Mitsuka-sensei, the mad cougar of a homeroom teacher who is at once bizarre, offensive, and annoying.  She is there to deliver terrible comic relief and equally terribly fanservice.  The second is Nenako, who is suprisingly practical and level-headed for someone who is meant to fill the "tsundere childhood friend" slot.  There is no romantic tension between them, so she comes off more like a big sister pushing around her bratty little brother, and she naturally slips into the same role with Ren.  Part of me wished she was the protagonist instead of Takeya, as her efforts to teach and habituate Ren moved the plot along a lot faster than Takeya's whining, moping, and mooning over Ren.

You'll note that I haven't spent much time discussing the plot.  The reason is that the plot is fairly episodic, covering many of the usual plot points for this genre (bring boy and girl together! Teach her to talk and feed herself!  Buy her some underpants clothes! Take her to school!), and none of them are presented in a way that is remotely original or interesting.  Really, that's the best way to sum up all that is wrong with DearS, as far as the story goes.  There's nothing original or interesting to be found, and most of what is there is crass, annoying, and pandering.  There is no magic in this magical girlfriend manga, only tedium and grossness.

ART: Something else that is normally expected from a magical girlfriend series is that the girl or girls who are the focus of the story are visually appealing, to all the better lure in those lonely otaku with money to spare.  How I wish someone had told the guys in Peach-Pit about that.

The character designs are all at once overly simplified, squashed, and oddly pointy.  They all have tiny anglular heads over matchstick bodies with faces that are so crudely drawn that they're only a couple of step removed from emoticons.  This strange combo looks even stranger with the DearS, as all the female DearS are stacked like Playboy models, and it looks about as convincing as a child sticking balloons under their shirt to simulate boobs.  Oddly enough, while the characters themselves are drawn crudely, the artists put much more effort into the clothing, especially Ren's little fetishy jumpsuit, complete with oh-so-symbolic collar.

Surprisingly, most of Ren's fanservice moments are more restrained that I would have expected.  There's quite a bit of nudity, but it's not framed in the low, close angles you see with a lot of fanservice.  Of course, I suspect that's because much of it was left for Mitsuki-sensei, who takes every moment she is on the page to strip to her underwear, regardless if it makes sense or not. 

The backgrounds are exceedingly lazy, substituting screen tones and effects for actual backgrounds at nearly every chance.  The page composition is also very cluttered.  It's like the guys of Peach-Pit knew they wanted to liven things up visually, but got lazy and threw panels together at the last minute.  Even the splash panels for Ren's costume changes and such feel cluttered and squished onto the page.

The art for DearS is sloppy and half-assed.  Their lack of effort shows in pretty much every artistic element possible.  Maybe if they had spent more time making their characters look attractive and less on making their underwear look attractive, the story might have been ever so slightly easier to accept.  As is, it's just as hideous and ill-thought as the story.

PRESENTATION:  Nothing to see here.  Move along to the rating.

I don't ask a lot from magical girlfriend stories, but I do know I can ask a hell of a lot more than this trashy little series.

This series was published in the USA by Tokyopop.  All 8 volumes were published, and all are now out of print.

You can purchase this volume and many more like it through!

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