I knew the Devil was a great fiddler, but not a phenomenal dancer. I guess that’s why the world’s best dancers are all devilishly handsome.
I don’t engage in too many series targeted at adolescent girls and young women because I perceive that type of content to be homoerotica. Before anyone judges me and says not all anime and manga material targeted at adolescent girls and young women is in that genre, I know this. It’s just my bias. On top of this, I actually have little animosity towards homoerotica, as I still want to buy the gay erotic manga Handwitch out of curiosity and I’ve taken some pleasure in watching Junjyo Romantica: Pure Romance. However, I had my first real experience with an anime series for adolescent girls and young women with the 2015 series Dance with Devils (ダンス ウィス デビルズ). All I can really say about the series is, wow. Disregarding the fact it was a lackluster romance series for a moment, I couldn’t help but feel there was sense of battered woman syndrome regarding the protagonist and the male characters vying for her affections. It made watching the series incredibly uncomfortable in a way I haven’t felt since reading the manga series Kodomo no Jikan. But at least there was clear commentary about the Japanese educational system in Kodomo no Jikan. For its part, however, about the best we can say about Dance with Devils was that it wasted its potential on the musical numbers seen in a handful of the episodes. Had the series been a genuine musical from the start, it would have made the viewing experience entertaining at the very least.
One thing that interests me about anime is new ways of presenting stories. I’m not referring to visual means or creative storytelling techniques, but in methods that haven’t found a foothold in the industry. Consider, film and theater use a variety of ways to present a story to their audience and in some cases they work well. However, I feel theater has cornered the musical production market over the film industry. Yes, there are films that are musicals, many Disney films are, but generally when I hear the word “musical” I think of theater productions. It begs the question then, why haven’t many anime production companies tried their hand at creating a musical anime series? Sure, there are plenty of series that offer one musical number, but very few if any traverse the musical territory in full. It’s an interesting prospect and provided an anime production company was willing to invest in the scores, choreography, singers, and the like it could yield fascinating results. However, it seems as though not many anime production companies want to take the risk of creating a series that follows the musical format.
Dance with Devils came very close to being a full musical production, but it still fell short. It’s a shame, too, because there were some wonderful songs written for the series. But, it was the lack of songs, or rather their brevity and the time between them, that kept the series from reaching its full potential. It’s frustrating thinking back on it because, while I had issues with the singing voices of the cast, this was a unique way of presenting an anime series to viewers. In fact, it was jarring when the protagonist, Ritsuka Tachibana, began singing five minutes into the first episode. Yet, as surprising and comical as this was, the mere fact the production team at Brains Base, the anime production company that made Dance with Devils, made this decision was bold. However, as I’ve already stated, there was a distinct lack of song numbers throughout the series.
I understand if the production team was trying to use the musical numbers as a method to entice viewers and if this were true it was a failure on their part. As viewers, the first episode informs us of the nature of the series and when we were presented with two song numbers it became instilled in us we would be hearing many more throughout the series. Yet, when looking back there were a handful of episodes where a song number wasn’t included. This greatly disrupted the presentation of the series, but more importantly made it pedestrian. Even when a number was included in an episode they ended within two minutes, making them feel out of place rather than integral to the identity of the series. As such, I felt Brains Base should have commissioned Elements Garden, the music composition company that made the pieces for Dance with Devils, for more songs even if it would have increased the production costs. At the very least they would have had a full album’s worth of songs to put on the market.
While I may complain about the lack of songs, they were, for the most part, entertaining to listen to. As I said, the singing voices seemed a bit off key at times, but this added to the charm of the series being a musical. This is why I say it was a shame there were so few musical pieces heard throughout the series. They really made this series fun to watch and added a great deal to the characters’ personalities. What I mean by this is listening to any given piece in the series informed us of the characters’ personalities. As such, if a song was in a minor key there was a sense the character potentially had a tragic past. If the tempo was upbeat we could infer the energy of the character. Although this may not be the best tool for every anime series produced, how Brains Base used it here was remarkable and should be commended, even it was underutilized.
That’s as far as I can go in complementing Dance with Devils though, as the narrative was genuinely uninteresting, not because it followed certain tropes of the harem subgenre of romance series, but because the story lacked tension. That’s not to say there wasn’t any tension—there was sense of anxiety watching Ritsuka being hounded by literal demons and vampires—but Ritsuka lacked a great deal of agency throughout the series. True, she was trying to solve the mysteries presented to her, but at every turn the male characters, particularly her brother, Lindo Tachibana, stifled her by saying either, “I’m protecting you,” or “Give in to me and I’ll give you what you want.” In fact, one of the best instances of the supporting cast interfering with Ritsuka was in the opening of the fourth episode. Here Lindo quite literally barred Ritsuka from leaving their house. Granted, the production team worked around this by making sure Ritsuka was independent enough to exert her will on others. But, when the story was predicated on her solving a mystery with little to no avail, there wasn’t much of a story at all.
Added on top of this, the main conflict wasn’t appealing. Perhaps it’s the fallout from the Twilight novel series or just a general lack of interesting male characters, but what the men in Dance with Devils wanted with Ritsuka wasn’t inspired. It was no more than Ritsuka being the key to master the world. This is a plot point other anime, manga, and even videogame series have used and seeing it crop up here and utilized rather poorly was frustrating. This made Ritsuka not a character per se, but an object for the male characters to fight over. In turn, because Ritsuka was essentially an object for the men to fight over, it gave them very little in terms of personality. In a certain sense I shouldn’t be complaining too much as female characters have been relegated into positions of little personality from time immemorial and I’m just receiving a small taste of it here. However, in order to make a compelling narrative each character needed more than just one song to inform us of their personality and motives. I admit, we learned one of the character’s motives during the twelve episodes and it was noteworthy. But, as always, delving into this could ruin the surprise factor.
The major issue with Dance with Devils, though, didn’t come from the narrative or lack of songs, but the treatment of Ritsuka by the supporting male characters. As I said above, Ritsuka seemed more of an object for them to win and as such gave them little personality. But, the problem stemmed much deeper than this. I equated the relationships to battered woman syndrome (BWS) in my introductory remarks and to a degree this was true, perhaps not to a degree seen in other series, such as Diabolik Lovers, but there were certainly instances where Ritsuka succumbed to the abusive tendencies of the male characters. While I mentioned the opening of the fourth episode above, the fifth episode was a fine representation of the male characters treating Ritsuka poorly and Ritsuka essentially obliging. Although this episode lacked the telltale signals of BWS, it certainly had elements of it incorporated into the episode. For example, findlaw.com describes the cycle of BWS as follows:
First, the abuser engages in behaviors that create relationship tension. Second, the tension explodes when the abuser commits some form of abuse: physical, psychological, emotional, sexual, or otherwise. Third, the abuser tries to fix his wrongdoing and apologizes. This third stage is frequently referred to as the “honeymoon” stage, and involves the abuser making amends for his bad behavior. During the honeymoon stage, the abuser is forgiven, and the cycle starts all over again.
Examining the fifth episode, we actually saw many of the same patterns in the male characters Mage Nanashiro and Rem Kaginuki. As such, watching Ritsuka engage the male characters was disturbing to say the least.
Herein lay the greater issue: Is this what Japanese women view as romantic? I honestly can’t say because I know very few Japanese women and I try not to pry into the lives of others. But, it can be said there is a culture of psychological oppression of women in Japan. Consider, even though Prime Minster Shinzo Abe tried to push Japanese companies to create women-friendly work environments, women are still encouraged to leave their place of work if they marry or become pregnant. On top of this, prior to writing this article the highest courts in Japan upheld a law that required one party in a marriage to take the surname of his or her spouse. In many cases—I believe it’s over 90%—Japanese women take the name of their husband. Thus, Japanese women can be considered second-class citizens compared to their male counterparts in certain instances. In regards to domestic abuse cases, though, I can’t actually say if there’s been a rise or decrease over the years. But, if an anime instills the idea that women can be treated as Ritsuka was in Dance with Devils, it makes me question if young Japanese men and women will be influenced. I’m not speaking of overt influence mind you, that would be ridiculous, but it could reinforce Japanese gender stereotypes that have thrived since at least the early 1900s, if not well before that.
Personally, I found Dance with Devils to be a lackluster series. This came more from the narrative presented to the audience more than anything else. However, it can be said Brains Base could have utilized the musical aspect of the series much better. I was also hoping for more out of the protagonist, Ritsuka Tachibana, but it seemed as though the producers were interested in making her an object for the male characters to fawn over rather than a three-dimensional person. Then again, very few characters were multilayered in this series, so it’s not much of an issue that Ritsuka was one-dimensional as well. The real issue stemmed from how she was treated by those same male characters. It wasn’t just that she was a prize to be won, but the relationship dynamics in the series mirrored the issue of battered woman syndrome in the real world. I fear this may reinforce some gender role stereotypes within viewers and I wish the production team would have addressed this a bit more than in the final minutes of the series. That being said, I’m actually glad Dance with Devils was made. It gave me some insight into anime series targeted at adolescent and young women and provided me with the basic tropes for a romance series for this audience. As such, if you can disregard the flat characters, blasé narrative, lack of musical numbers, and issues of batter woman syndrome plaguing the series, you may find it as insightful as I did.