DRAMAtical Murder (Cert 15)
2 Discs Blu-ray/3 Discs DVD (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 332 minutes approx.
“What the heck is going on?”
Those words are spoken by the protagonist of this futuristic mystery drama, Aoba Seragaki, in episode two yet even after completing the hole series plus bonus OVA episode, one might be tempted to ask this question themselves on a regular basis.
Adapted from a controversial BL (Boy’s Love) visual novel, Aoba is a young chap working in a junk shop aptly named Mediocrity on the island of Midorijima, which has been privatised by the powerful Toue Company. Now segregated into two distinct social castes, the affluent new arrivals live in the idyllic resort called Platinum Jail while the original inhabitants remain in the Old Residential District.
One popular pastime in this district are battle games; Rib is an old school gang turf war whilst Rhyme is a virtual reality game in which combatants fight using their AI companion called an All-Mate. Aoba has no interest in these games, preferring a quite life until one day, when out making a delivery, Aoba is suddenly challenged to a Rhyme battle, kicking off a chain of events that reveal a secret about himself with major repercussions.
Your typical sci-fi cyber fantasy “journey to self-discovery” plot with a potent touch of social commentary thrown in for good measure as our reluctant hero is forced to adjust to a newfound power to overcome the odds and save the world. That’s what the storyline appears to suggest but what it delivers is something much different, and for seasoned anime fans, the BL tag is the big clue there.
Regular readers will know I don’t play video games and know nothing of visual novels but it has been well documented that DRAMAtical Murder is notorious for its explicit gay sex content, including rape scenes. Fear not, however, if this isn’t your bag as the BL aspect has been all but eliminated from this anime version, save for one throwaway kiss in episode three and the OVA which does indulge a little but nothing too graphic.
Since visual novels have proven to be a fertile source for anime adaptations they will continued to be mined by animation studios for their next project; however the message that appears to be ignored is that they rarely make for a GOOD anime adaptation and DRAMAtical Murder is no exception.
For some fans, the excised BL element is a disappointment with some feeling it was integral to the story and the interactions between the practically all male cast. Even if this was the case, for the rest of us it is down to the poorly planned out script which dithers too much in the early episodes in the world building and leaves the story development for later.
Case in point, the background of Midorijima coming under the control of Tatsuo Toue and the creation of Platinum Jail isn’t explained until four episodes in, something a voice over or preamble in the first episode usually deals with. Instead, the opening chapters are devoted to introducing the characters, which is fine, but not establishing their movies or positions within the story.
Aoba already has Ren, his All-Mate which takes the real world form of a small dog but is a deadly warrior in the Rhyme game, and his childhood friend is hairdresser Koujaku. At the junk shop, he is stalked by a taciturn chap named Noiz, a hacker who pulled Aoba into the Rhyme battle whom Aoba naturally fails to recognise. Also loitering with intent is Clear, a quirky umbrella carrying fellow hiding behind a gas mask, calling Aoba “Master”. Later they are joined by Mink, a gang leader with a score to settle with Toue.
By now, the lack of female presence in this show should be obvious due to its BL origins, with tough talking Grandma Tae being the sole representative of the opposite gender. She too is harbouring a dark secret relating to Aoba, only choosing to explain half of it to him later in the series, concerning his magical power Scrap, which allows him to enter other people’s conscience and control their will.
This dormant power Aoba didn’t even know he possessed presumably compensates for the lack of BL action as Aoba metaphorically “entering” of another man in the eyes of the writers, since many an emotional climax to a deep rooted personal issue occurs once Aoba is “inside” one of his compadres. Cue plenty of tears and manly hugging to conclude the painful recalling of a tragic backstory.
Yet little of this has any bearing on the central story, and true to form – something many anime are guilty of, visual novel inspired or not – it finally picks up the pace and gets down to the real guts of the drama (sans murder as the title promises) in the last few episodes, by which time many viewers might have already given up.
In other words, another potentially decent idea wasted, which is down to either the original BL distractions or the fact the writers tried too hard to encompass the multi-route format of the visual novel foundation, arguably appeasing the wrong audience in this instance, since the anime would have greater mainstream exposure.
Visually, production by NAZ boasts top-notch backgrounds in both the virtual world and the real world, while the animation is a bit stiff. There was an embarrassing incident when a BETA version of episode three accidentally aired on TV, featuring characters that were wildly off model and incomplete animation, causing much outrage and hilarity. The fixed version is included here.
Since DRAMAtical Murder is hardly high drama and features no murders, as well as eschewing the very element that gave the source material its infamy, it is hard to recommend even as a time waster. One has to dig too deep to find the fleeting rewards the central premise offers to the overall detriment of this poorly scripted and disjointed affair.
Japanese Language with English Subtitles
Disc 2 Only:
Clean Opening Animation
Clean Closing Animation
Rating – ** ½
Man In Black