Ok, before we begin, let me just preface this with saying that I do see this review being a bit on the shorter side. From your perspective you can just look at the whole of the article and see whether it is in fact long or short, but I figured there was little harm in addressing that specifically. You know how there can be these series, particularly short single cour series, that you’ll watch and have an opinion on, but it may not be a deep or complex enough opinion that it’s worth delving into for more than a few minutes? That is the case of this series we have today, D-Frag, a 12 episode comedy from the 2014 winter season and adapted from the manga by Tomoya Haruno. Comedy can be hit or miss, especially so when anime is concerned, so let’s see how well D-Frag does.
As always, the review is provided in video format and transcribed directly below. I would like to note that my reviews are written first and foremost to be experienced as videos (that is, read aloud), so no guarantees that jokes, grammar, or anything else will transition entirely smoothly to text.
A well-worn scenario: the Game Creation Club (really just a front to goof off) is a member short of the required student number, and must go recruiting to keep the club afloat! But do they find a good samaritan MC-kun or mild-mannered senpai who can find it in their heart to help out a club in need? Not at all, instead lighting a fire in their room to draw attention and coercing with bodily harm the very first person who comes to investigate, until they agree to join the club.
Yes, this is D-Frag, an anime comedy about this Game Creation Club, and since most comedies derive their comedy from the characters in one way or another, let us waste no time and introduce each of them. We’ll start with Roka Shibasaki, the fire-type and club president, a stout blonde girl with a mask of cuteness that hides an abyss of darkness, Chitose Karasuyama, the earth-type and Student Body President, with a rough, confrontational and even vulgar personality, and Sakura Mizukami, the water-type and first-year student, somewhat airheaded but undeniably valuable in a fight. Then we have the teacher advisor, Minami Osawa, the electric-type who attends club meetings as an opportunity to catch up on sleep, Takao, the president of an opposing Game Creation Club that exists for plot reasons, and lastly, Kenji Kazama, a low-level delinquent and new inductee into the club, playing of course the role of the straight man in this bizarre world that he has found himself forced into, and all the wacky shenanigans that come with it.
Here’s why I said this review would probably be on the short side; I don’t have the easiest time analyzing comedies because, to a point, I feel that once I explain the usual construction of a series’ usual jokes, whether it leans toward referential humor or absurdity or deadpan or raunchy, I come to feel that once I explain that baseline, it applies to more or less the whole series and much further elaboration would be a waste of everyone’s time.
So let’s make that happen here. To sum up the gist of D-Frag’s comedic tendencies, I would say this. Imagine “anime comedy”... and that’s it. Whatever comes to mind when you think the most anime comedy you can think of, that’s pretty much the style of this whole show. It relies heavily on absurd situations, and then the straight man of the scene (usually Kenji) exaggeratedly pointing out the absurd situation, and that’s the joke. This is counterbalanced by every character having their own trademark joke or two that you can guarantee will pop up at least once an episode (early on at least), which is where those types you may have noticed I mentioned in The Premise come into play. The electric type favors a taser, the earth type sand, the fire type, well, fire, so if Character A has Type B which leads to their affinity for Item C, you’ll probably be seeing a lot of Item C in any Scene D with Character A. Got that? Good.
Now I know that sounded derisive and unimpressed, and while I am not always hugely enamored with “anime comedy” so to speak, D-Frag did have reasonable success getting in the strike zone. It didn’t always, it just as frequently fudged the comedic landing, but there were definitely some good gags that produced audible laughs on my part. I would say whether or not you think this show funny simply comes down to what brand of ridiculousness you find amusing. If a board game called “The Scramble for Porn Mags in Space” is to you hilarious on principle, great! If the idea of a two episode tournament with over-the-top shounen-esque contestants over Roka’s torture bag sounds appealing, awesome! If you think it’s vaguely subversive and neat that the spiky hair actually hurts when people touch it, good for you! D-Frag is the type of show where, well, I wouldn’t say it was a laugh a minute, but it was funny enough to not feel like a complete waste of time. One of my favorite jokes was actually the last of the series, the final punchline before the credits rolled, and I’m just going to say that punchline because I don’t like being vague, so if you really don’t want to get spoiled on that one particular joke... well, skip to the next section of the review.
At the end the club members get abruptly suspended for all their off-the-wall shenanigans, which I think is pretty hilarious, in how it oddly grounds the show in some manner of reality.
I also do like how the skits flow into one another, there’s a definite chronological sequence throughout the series, rather than entirely disembodied jokes (not that entirely disembodied jokes are inherently all that bad, but they can be). In D-Frag, Episode 1 will end with a punchline and consequence that leads into Episode 2, Episode 2 will end with its own humorous consequence that leads directly into Episode 3, and so on. There’s an actual arc of events and connections that you can generally trace from beginning to end. For example, in one scene, the big-busted Takao crams herself into a tracksuit too small for her post-puberty chest and it explodes, the zipper popping and smacking Kenji in the face, which leads to a skit next episode wherein these same two characters are being interrogated by teachers about the zipper-shot fad that has swept through the student-body, questioning the durability of these tracksuits and whether or not they should be replaced. I do like this, I like this more than a GJ Club for instance, where, aside from a few key character introductions, the jokes could come in any order you please. It just feels like there’s a little more effort put in, when a story is actually being told with a beginning, middle and end that also manages to be reasonably funny.
Most of the characters were competent but not much to look twice at or remember for any period of time after the series is over. My summary earlier already encapsulates enough about them that I feel there’s really no need to be redundant and go over everyone again at all, but I could at least tell you about a couple specifically I liked. The teacher I enjoyed quite simply on principle, because it’s so laughably lazy that she advises the club just to have an opportunity for naps. Another I liked was Roka, the club president, mainly because she has this chibi persona she morphs into, which she’s in for I would guess maybe a quarter to even a third of her screentime (or at least, that’s how it felt). Aside from allowing for humorous boob-punching gifs, Chibi Roka is cute, and that cuteness makes for a laughable disparity with her dark, violent “underground boss” tendencies.
The show has a pretty rockin’ voice cast too, if I’m being entirely honest. Katsuyuki Konishi as Kenji, Chiwa Saito as Chitose, Kana Hanazawa as Roka, Ami Koshimizu, Jun Fukuyama, Shizuka Itou, Akira Ishida, Kana Ueda, Jouji Nakata, it’s no exaggeration to say that nearly every major character of the series (and even some minor ones) are played by voices I know and love (or at least like), and that’s cool. Strong voice acting can’t always make up for an unfunny scene, but it eases the blow.
But the blow would be eased a little more if the rest of things on the presentation end were, well, better. They’re certainly not god awful, but they aren’t very memorable either. D-Frag was produced by Brain’s Base, and traditionally, I would call Brain’s Base a solid enough studio. Their anime, while rarely visually stellar, are at least easy to look at and not egregiously lazy or low budget. That reputation is upheld here with no significant variance one way or the other. The show looks fine. You probably won’t remember anything particular about it visually, for good reason, but neither will you remember consistent problems with the art or animation, because there are none. Serviceable, in other words. Almost completely unaffecting my overall opinion of the show.
Music, ditto actually. I don’t even know who composed it since not a track stuck out in my mind enough to compel me to look it up, except for the opening perhaps, though I would be hard-pressed to call it much better than above-average.
And while I did enjoy, as I said, the fact that there exists an actual chronological sequence to events, the fact that they have an actual story implies that at some point they will try to do actual storytelling, besides cracking jokes, and these inklings of “plot”, whenever they happened to come up, just didn’t do much for me. There’s threads of romance, threads of drama, all meh. None of it fleshed out enough for me to care, really. It always left me waiting for the jokes to pick up again. Sometimes I even experienced some slight tonal whiplash, when the series would try to go for a brief heartfelt and emotional scene that I just couldn’t get behind as much as it wanted me to.
If the humor had been incredibly on-point, snappy and well-written and kept me glued to the TV, it would’ve been able to surpass all these relatively minor problems, but unfortunately... I can’t say it was, and sadly that led these small issues to bog D-Frag down more than they otherwise would have. My biggest issue, I think, is just the common problem I run into with anime comedy, that it’ll do something that’s actually decently funny, but then overreact with the characters shouting the joke and repeatedly pointing out the joke to the point that it then becomes unfunny. I don’t need a character to comment on the fact that the situation is absurd, because I can already tell from paying attention and common sense that it is absurd.
I have been led to the conclusion, from this series and others like it, that Japanese comedy (not always, but frequently) fundamentally works differently than here in the West. That may sound obvious given the cultural differences, but it didn’t really click for me until now, until a scene where Kenji was getting upset at the girls for being their weird and stupid selves, and they complimented him on his delivery of “the punchline”, implying that apparently the act of screaming at an absurd situation is in fact itself “the punchline”. And I just generally prefer something a little cleverer, or more subtle, than that.
Unsurprisingly, this means that, while I undeniably cracked a grin or a chuckle or guffaw here or there, D-Frag, it never had me gasping for air, never doubled over hard enough that I had to pause the video or rewind because I missed the next joke (which has happened in other anime).
Let’s see here, D-Frag. Hm, not the worst of the worst, not the best of the best. For me, an all-around “eh?” experience, really, which may disappoint some people, but if I didn’t find it funny... sorry, I didn’t find it funny. It was adequate at what it was trying to do but nonetheless felt something like a chore to watch all the way through. At a point, I can’t say I was even enjoying the experience, I was just sitting there and soaking it in.
I… probably won’t be reviewing another comedy for a while, or at least not one like this, of the club variety. There’s a certain sameness to a lot of them, in my opinion, to the point that I might feel as if I’m starting to repeat myself, and I also don’t think I’m wholly the audience to really enjoy this type of thing, 9 times out of 10.
So, after taking everything into account (as well as my own subjective enjoyment), on a scale from F to S… D-Frag is, well, not exactly bad enough to be a D. I didn’t feel like I outright disliked the experience, I was just nonplussed by so very much of it. So naturally, that will bring us to a C.
Why is it called D-Frag, anyway? They never really touched on that, so your guess is as good as mine. I’ve heard the manga does actually bring up the title eventually, but unless I’m an idiot (which is always a possibility), I didn’t catch anything like that over the course of the anime.
Whatever, regardless, I feel like this is the type of show where you’ll already know if you’re going to like it before you even begin, so if it sounds like your cup of tea and you would fancy a gander, D-Frag is currently for legal streaming from Funimation and Hulu, subbed and dubbed as per usual for any half-popular Funimation property, though I have no comment on the quality of the dub itself.
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