Disgaea (the anime) | Anime Nonsense
I have never been privy to the actual Disgaea video games. From what I’ve gathered, the people who enjoy them really love the heck out of them. But I’ve also gathered that their battle and magic systems are a little cumbersome, and it comes out as a tad too technical of a gaming experience for me. My passions for games lie either in first-person RPGs, colorful 2D and 3D platformers, FPSs, or arcade games. So I doubt if Disgaea’s series of titles will ever become an addition to my gaming library or experience.
However, that being said, I’ve always had an interest in the characters of Disgaea, as there is no denying the special distinctiveness or allure of the art style used throughout the video games, designed and drawn by Takehito Harada. It’s a style that uses thin, colored outlines, and loosely painted colors and shading. It’s a softer artistic style than I’ve typically seen, and the colors used, especially the greens and reds, are extremely vibrant and beautiful to look at.
So I was very interested to learn that there in fact was a Disgaea anime series, originally Makai Senki Disgaea (Netherworld Battle Chronicle Disgaea), which quite a few years back, had been acquired by FUNimation and released on two volumes (later released as a single-case set). It took me quite some time before I actually got up the interest to purchase it. But that time has finally passed, and I not only now own the entire single season series, but I am rather glad that I did.
The show is by no means a masterpiece: it suffers slightly from a rough and sometimes awkward animation quality (far more reminiscent of animes from the early 90s), and a loosely constructed story that feels like it drags its heals more than it ought to. But let us explore the good points before we explain the bad.
Our main protagonist is Prince Laharl: son of the late King Krichevskoy—Overlord of the Netherworld—and heir to the throne. His primary traits are that he is hard-headed, and hell-bent (pun intended) on finding his way back to his palace to reclaim his throne; which after his father’s death, has been left in limbo. The identity of the rightful heir to the throne has been held into question. But Laharl knows the truth, and he isn’t going to let any monster, demon, lacky, or flunky tell him what to do or who to answer to.
True to (what he considers) his true demon self, Laharl is wholly against the concepts of love, trust, happiness, compassion, or friendship: as he considers them weak-minded concepts not befitting a powerful demon Prince. Beisdes which, most things embuing those qualities automatically harm Laharl, and/or drain him of his power. Furthermore, he—at least initially—looks out only for himself and his personal interests: allowing those beneath him to lay in the dust if that be their fate. However, it is the angel, Flonne, who slowly but surely turns Laharl’s heart around, and allows him to embrace his kinder and gentler side.
This then leads us to Flonne. Flonne’s role is that she was sent down from Heaven by her superior officer, Seraph Lamington, to assassinate King Krichevskoy. But instead came upon his son, Larharl: who, for some reason, was left buried and unconscious in some long forgotten ruins. He was also presumed dead.
Whether fortunately or unfortunately, Flonne is unsuccessful in her mission to kill Prince Laharl, as the King was of course already dead. And in a stroke of bad luck, she loses her amulet: a necklace charm, which is required to be worn by all angels traveling to the Nether Realm, as it is the only way that they can physically survive in the darker and harsher environment. Laharl then leaves Flonne alone and on her own, and Flonne, going against all preconceptions of her character, pushes past pain and hunger to continue her duties, and attempts to dispose of Laharl once again. But please don’t consider Flonne to be a bad person. On the contrary, her character is simply following orders from “on high,” which I’m sure is meant to be religious commentary. And as we will see soon enough, Flonne’s character changes as she eventually gives up on trying to kill Laharl, and becomes his second vassal, or contracted servant. And during her time in his servitude, she valiantly continues to spread her good words of love, compassion, and understanding to Laharl, in the hopes that his heart will change in time. She also slowly becomes a little less “pure” and “perfect” in the process, effectively gaining a little more sass and edge: which ends up being rather funny.
Then we have Etna, the scantily-clad first officer of Laharl’s troupe of vassals. She is most definitely the most cunning of the characters in the show, as it was she who drugged Laharl and left him stranded out in those dingy ruins, in the hopes of putting out a bounty for him and collecting the reward for an unknown 3rd party. And yet despite that, she still comes upon him when he is finally woken up, and gladly joins along with him as his servant.
Etna also has a bit of a surprise when she calls upon her Prinny Squad: a gaggle of purple penguin-like creatures who serve the citizens of the Netherworld as their servants and lackies. This is because Prinnies are actually the reincarnated souls of humans who committed a mortal sin in live, and now must atone for that sin for many years in the Netherworld. But once their sins have been made whole, they then migrate to an in-between realm, where their souls leave their Prinny bodies, and ascend to a blood-red moon: thus completing their obligations and ending their life-cycle.
What is interesting about the Prinnies, though, is that their characters are not so dramatic or sad as all that: at least not at first. On the contrary, the Prinnies are a source of a great amount of humor throughout the show: one of the key elements being their catch-phrase, “Dood!” Sort of like a bad impersonation of a Miami surfer, or a hip 90s teen; every single Prinny, male or female, ends every single sentence with the word “Dood” (the show’s way of spelling “dude.”) And despite how this sounds, it becomes absolutely hilarious on numerous occasions.
A few remaining main characters to introduce are the Defenders of Earth: sort of the Buzz-Lightyear meets Lost in Space characters.
First there’s the Captain Quark-like, Captain Gordon: who speaks with a very strong and announcer-like voice, always does right, always upholds his best morals, and always acts in an honest manner. He is apparently the 37th Defender of Earth, which begs the question of who were the other 36? Or are there still currently 36 other active agents in service? This fact is never explained.
Then there is Captain Gordon’s right-hand woman, Miss Jennifer: who stands by Gordon as his second-in-command and his genius tech expert. She also serves the show as the quint-essential eye-candy to Gordon’s 1950s styled spaceman super-hero.
And then there’s Thursday: a multi-purpose robot companion and equal partner, designed and built by Jennifer, and the secret weapon of Captain Gordon’s valiant crew. Thursday is probably my most favorite minor thing about the Disgaea anime, because I just really love what the FUNimation dub team and sound editors did with his voice: creating this phasing and warbling robotic sound. It’s just so damn cool to listen to. And it makes everything that Gordon and his team do sound really epic.
It’s such a strange thing for a series about Netherworlds and Heavens to include a team of Flash-Gordon impersonators who look more fitting in a late 50s outer-space monster film. But as the show progresses, they begin to really feel at home. Because as you eventually discover, the people of Earth are actually really far advanced in their technology, allowing for both flying ships and advanced weaponry, which they eventually use to invade the Netherworld and attempt to annihilate every single demonic creature within it. But thankfully Gordon and Laharl manage to stop this heinous plot before too much damage is done.
And what is really nice is that by series’ end, the characters of Gordon, Jennifer, and Thursday no longer feel like just a bunch of exaggerated caricatures, and become somewhat more rounded and three-dimensional: which makes their presence during the events of the series that much more meaningful and worthwhile in hind-sight.
The world of Disgaea the anime primarily takes place in the Netherworld, only occasionally going outside to see the Heavens, although we never get to see Earth. The Netherworld is basically a big barren wasteland, filled with craggy rocks, lava flows, perilous obstacles and pitfalls, and unforgiving heat. Finding a town, water, or food is not at all easy. And finding an honest place to sleep can be quite tricky unless you have a well-supplied group of Prinnies in tow.
Admittedly, though, the Nether Realm never quite feels like an interesting place. Each main location within it is haphazardly placed around what appears to be an endless landscape of high mountains, broken and cracked earth, and barren wastelands with no identifying marks or cities of any kind. No one ever produces a proper map to show us the relative distances or locations of any place we visit: so the world of the Nether never quite feels well defined or tactile.
Furthermore, the approach to design in the Netherworld never quite feels as it ought to. There are minor hints to the Netherworld being somewhat “sinful” in its imagery or its practices. But the most distinctive element like this is Etna’s fashion-sense, which juxtaposed with her presumed age, seems a tad awkward. But other than that, there are no gritty or grimy caverns, there are no slime covered or oozing monsters, there are no monstrous abominations, or skulls that have multiple eye sockets and spindly horns. And there are no books or sources of dark and secretive information that could drive you mad. All of which are things you might expect to see in a very dark and twisted place such as the Netherworld.
Even the realm of Apocrypha in Skyrim’s Dragonborn side-quest fit the bill. And it presented its dark and twisted world beautifully. With every wall and hall built from the trillions upon trillions of forbidden books that had been sent there. Strange plants and sources of light popping up from the ground. Pits of tar with Cthulhu tentacles erupting from beneath. And strange floating creatures that blast mental energy at you to try and slow you down. This is what I think of when I think of a Netherworld.
Disgaea’s Netherworld, on the other hand, is more akin to Rayman Legend’s “Desert of Dijeridos” if you simply stuck a few precariously lofty evil castles in the background. I understand that this show is meant to be bright and colorful and relatively harmless in its visuals, but they could have still achieved that while also allowing for a bit of a darker color scheme and perhaps some better artistic design with a bit more of a structure to it.
Aside from the design being a bit lacking in grit, the cast of side characters is rather long, but they ultimately amount to nothing.
Through most of the first 6 episodes or so, Laharl is followed by a series of characters trying to kill him, besides that of Flonne, and even Captain Gordon. We also have a group of Demon hunters consisting of three young teenage girls, who only prove to be a minor nuisance. And we also have a lone Demon hunter, who at first seems rather good with a sword, but manages to fail miserably once directly confronted with her target. She also has the distinct character trait of backtracking on everything she says by saying “or do I?” “or am I?” “or will I?” And other phrases like that.
We also have the minor comic relief of Vyers, aka the Dark Adonis, but Laharl quickly refers to him as “The Mid-Boss:” a derogatory term reserved for those threats that are only stepping stones towards the true dangerous adversary. And mid-bosses are often easily dealt with.
Mr. Mid-boss, as it were, does return occasionally throughout the series, but he never make a mark on the story or affects anything, and is really only there as a character to be charmed and won over by Flonne’s praises of love and compassion. Apparently these concepts don’t harm ole’ Mr. Mid-boss.
There’s also Etna’s boss, whose name escapes me, but he only shows up for an episode. Basically every other character in this series only shows up for one episode. Which would be alright, that’s how most animes function of course. But some of these characters feel like they were meant to be bigger threats, or perhaps were meant to show up repeatedly until they were finally killed or taken down a peg, thus ending their respective arc. But I suppose with only 13 tightly-knit episodes here, that just wasn’t going to happen, what with Gordon and his gang being prominently featured throughout the course of the show.
Relatively speaking, the amount of enjoyment you will garner from this series is average. But in a time where dark and serious animes seem to be the norm for highly popular and talked-about titles (Attack on Titan, Kill La Kill, Soul Eater, Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, Death Note, etc), I think recommending a much lighter show like this is a good thing. It certainly isn’t something youre likely to be disappointed with, at least not entirely. The humor is palpable, the characters are very likable, Laharl’s character is decently well-developed by show’s end, same with Etna and somewhat with Flonne, and the show’s story progressively becomes more heartfelt and high-stakes as you close in on the last few episodes. So this isn’t entirely a comedy-only series, there is some drama to be found here.
As long as you don’t go in expecting something spectacular, but just something to occupy your time between some of you more grand anime titles, this is a great little treat to enjoy. Consider it the Graham Cracker of animes: it might not be your first choice, but it still has some nostalgia, some spice, and just enough sweetness to get you by. And you certainly wouldn’t be sorry that you had it. Lol