Nov 23, 2012

Anime Review: A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives

A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives logoWithin the first few minutes I knew this would be something good. You ever notice that? When a show strides in and gives you that wink and he’s just so… confident and sexy… and… uh, we’re talking about a twelve episode anime series, right? Yes. Well. If it were anthropomorphized it would be a strapping young man with poise and purpose and your knees would buckle, man. Friggin’ buckle.

A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives is both incredible and shallow, a one-inch deep pool of pure, concentrated awesome that I lapped up quickly but was left sorely wanting after it’s brief passage. But I’ll get to that.

A girl is stabbed through the back as her lover looks on shocked, shown contre-jour to a giant yellow moon backdrop

First off, the show is oozing style and shine, with “grandiose” as its driving theme. Everything is hyper-stylized: a vibrant and colorful palette; swelling musical crescendos; extreme contrasts of light and shadow; dramatic shots of eyes; sound effects that dot every swing, leap, and crash; the girls are cutesy, blushing, teary-eyed; the men are tall, eagle-eyed, and bold; everyone has impossible hair; everyone talks in ridiculous hyperbole, accentuated with pretentious physical stances and flourishes. Backdrops include an oversized golden moon, cosmic scenescapes, and dark otherworldly places. Giant freaky monsters, vampires, occult magic, love, passion, loyalty, and honor. Nothing is remotely realistic. Everything uses the medium to its extreme. It puts the awe back into awesome.

And I enjoyed the ever-loving shit out of this show.

A man stabs another man through the chest as he leaps at him, set in front of a starlit cosmic background of galaxies and nebulae

Now, not everyone is going to agree with me on this one. And I understand. My review is going to sound quite glowing and enamored. But let me provide a bit of background on my tastes as they were shaping so many years ago.

I grew up getting into this stuff via the scraps to be found at my local movie rental. It was a small Southern town, which meant it didn’t stock much, but every now and then if you hunted you could find a VHS of something. Akira, Ninja Scroll, these were fairly easy, but also so many other one-offs whose names and stories I’ve long, long since forgotten.

Old 80s and 90s anime, especially the kind that made it here to the states, tended to be really dark, violent, and super-natural/sci-fi. “Japanime” was “cartoons for adults” and so they loved to push the blood, sex, and guns like this was some really hardcore shit. Much of it, you can imagine, was over-the-top, stylized, and ridiculous. And I loved every bit of it. It was so foreign and different and exciting. It appealed to me on so many levels.

Those days, however, are over, and I’ve grown into liking very different things in my anime, but a bit of nostalgia exists in me even today for that certain old-school flavor.

Admittedly, this show is not old-school. It is polished and modern and plagued with commercialized adaptation clichés. But there is a certain feel to it, that throws realism to the wind and embraces the over-the-top to tell a tale of epic proportions.

A guy and girl stare into each other's eyes against a vibrant blue-violet sky

Though a bit late, a little summary is in order. Boy meets girl. Little girl is sad and lonely and boy offers to be friends and they play and grow close. Girl offers to make a pact with boy. This confuses him, especially when she reveals she’s an ancient vampire, and then bites him, making him immortal and her protector. Some shit goes down and the girl is taken by other demonic forces and sealed away. They wipe his memory. Nine years pass. Boy is now in high school and a normal guy but keeps having dreams of those times and can’t figure out why they seem so real and familiar. While saving a strange girl on the way home from school, he gets run over by a truck and dies. Except he can see his body get up and his head is still talking. He heals and comes back and is baffled. But then he remembers the pact and the girl. What follows is a tale of love, magic, fighting, and intrigue as the show’s plot grows thicker and thicker.

And it will start to overwhelm you. There seems to be no end to the threads and with only eleven episodes you end up with a lot of loose ends that never get resolved. Considering the many and still-ongoing novels it's based on, it’s no surprise, but damn does it need a continuation! It’s practically a teaser as it is.

A girl is enveloped in lightning as she dashes toward the viewer to attack

Which brings me to the big problem with this show. Yeah, I know, I’ve been talking it up so much so far, and I stand by that still, but I’m fully prepared to bitch about the warts too. It’s not just too short, it’s too much to try to tell in so few episodes. And the entire thing is just one big cliché that, while immensely enjoyable, it does absolutely nothing new. All of the characters are one-dimensional archetypes. You’ve seen every bit of this before elsewhere, but, still, so few do it so well as this. Earlier I said it was a shallow pool of concentrated awesome. Too few episodes, too many loose ends, too much cliché, and too little depth. I don’t think any of these are deal breakers, though, but it means if you don’t absolutely love it by the second episode, expect it to just get more annoying as it fails to resolve anything and keeps introducing more and more interesting things that never get explained or fully utilized. Smoking guns litter the place.

I also said there were eleven episodes. There’s actually a twelfth but it is a throw-away filler episode, which I was not happy about. Especially given that the final arc felt extremely rushed and the “ending” was so obviously not an ending, why waste one of the few episodes on a god damn bath house comedy episode? Argh!

You see, this show tries to do way too much. It has everything: a love triangle, vampires, magic, fighting, dashing men, cutesy girls, monsters, comedy, and even occasional ecchi, panty shots, and fanservice, too. But this is way more than any show can really handle. So it feels shallow as it tries to juggle several genres simultaneously with only a small number of episodes.

But you know what? None of that really stopped me from enjoying the hell out of this thing. It’s cliché, too short, but damn if it doesn’t just throw all the cards in and just go hog-wild. The confidence of execution and style, its desire to be over-the-top, epic, and extreme, it just works. For me, at least. I loved it. It was fist-pumpingly good. But, yeah, don’t expect answers, meaningful character development, or anything like that.

As of this writing, you can watch A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives for free on Crunchyroll.

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