Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Thoughts about Diabolik Lovers

The text below contains spoilers for the Diabolik Lovers anime and the first game in the series.

I should warn that this post is somewhere between a review of the game, a look back at the anime in a new light and a badly-written moan about the mean remarks that are made whenever someone admits to liking it. It's been a while since I soapboxed so much. Here we go!


There are few things which aggravate the Internet's anime community more than otome games and attractive male vampires. When it comes to otome games about vampires (with a dubious moral message), it's very difficult to turn a blind eye to the condemnation.

I am a casual player of otome games who was vaguely aware of the tremendous success of the Diabolik Lovers series of games and audio CDs. However, it appeared to be an expensive fandom to enter (it is) and the school uniform-clad characters looked a little younger than my preferences, so I hadn't bothered looking into it further out of fear that it might be a standard mushy romance loaded with misunderstood angsty teenagers. Last year's anime adaptation proved very effective at banishing those misgivings and convinced me to give it a try, so after picking up a PlayStation Vita TV, Diabolik Lovers ~Haunted Dark Bridal~ Limited V Edition and a bunch of situation CDs featuring my favourite characters from the anime I eagerly immersed myself in the world of the game.

(I'd been wanting an excuse to buy a Vita TV as an upgrade to my much-loved PSP for a while. This decision wasn't quite as reckless as it sounds.)

As my level of Japanese is sufficient to understand the content without having to look things up I had a lot of fun supplementing the anime with the extra material contained in the game. Coming from the anime adaptation I had discovered very quickly that it was best to avoid reading forum threads or reviews about Diabolik Lovers unless I wanted to make myself angry, leaving me with several unanswered questions about the storyline. Because anime fan circles are dominated by a certain demographic in the west, the series - along with its fanbase - was absolutely savaged by people who didn't care that they were never the intended audience. This isn't a complaint about rational people who tried it, didn't like it and moved on; it's about those who completely missed the point and made ad hominem attacks. For example, here is a snapshot of what I have learned about myself according to comments about the anime adaptation of Diabolik Lovers:
  • I'm a teenage girl.
  • I have no self esteem.
  • I don't understand real relationships.
  • I want to be abused.
  • I 'need help'.
  • I have never seen good anime before.
  • It's ok for the anime industry to make fan service shows aimed at men, but not for women.
  • Fujoshi are ruining the anime industry (with a heterosexual horror-romance, apparently!).
It's ironic that many of the people condemning Diabolik Lovers for being backwards and abusive are far more backwards and abusive than the series itself.


So, what is it about Diabolik Lovers that appeals to a self-assured adult such as myself? I'm comfortable with bondage themes and I like dark, psychological horror which isn't afraid to go beyond sanitised gore and peril. One pet hate is that whenever someone is kidnapped in fiction they're generally left to rot in a cell until their hero arrives, or lightly threatened by a toothless villain licking a blade to emphasise how scary he/she is supposed to be. Then, after they're rescued, everything swiftly goes back to normal with no further consequences. Abduction is a throwaway plot device most frequently used to motivate a chivalrous hero as part of a larger storyline, yet the loss of power experienced by the 'damsel in distress' might be an interesting topic in itself.

It helps that I'm not averse to beautifully illustrated men with seductive voices, either. With all of this in mind, a series which officially describes itself as a 'super-sadistic bloodsucking love adventure game' was naturally going to appeal.

(It's harder to work out why so many people who plainly wouldn't like it decided to watch the anime in order to insult it. My guess is they got the wrong idea and thought it was a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy... or perhaps they wanted something new to make fun of now that the Twilight fad has run its course. It made an easy target.)

The simple plot of the Diabolik Lovers anime is told in a haphazard way to reflect the heroine's experience. Komori Yui is a sweet, sheltered girl whose clergyman father sends her to stay with a distant friend of his and disappears. Moments after she arrives she's shocked to discover that the house she was sent to is home to a family of hungry, aggressive vampires who think that she's been offered to them as a sacrificial bride. Her attempts to escape are fruitless; all she can do is try to work out how to survive her predicament and piece together what's going on from the jumble of half-truths the vampires tell her. I'd be lying if I said the scenario was particularly coherent or original (especially in the trimmed-down anime adaptation) but it's important to understand what the show is trying to do. Some anime series exist to tell an epic story, others use unconventional scriptwriting to breathe life into an otherwise-tired genre. Then there are titles which dispense with both and stick to comedy, or immerse the viewer in an experience. Feel-good shows like K-On! can coexist with artful masterpieces like Millennium Actress without needing to adhere to any particular conventions since anime is a medium, not a genre.

Diabolik Lovers, then, isn't a plot-driven show so much as it is an 'experience'. The viewer can choose to enjoy it as a self-aware satire of the romantic harem* genre or as a pure gothic horror series which explores the vampire-prey dynamic more closely than usual; I think either interpretation is valid. Rather than having the antagonists experience 'character growth', this series puts the onus on the main character to develop relationships with her captors as she learns more about them and their circumstances. Whether she can successfully adapt to what she discovers will determine whether she lives or dies.

The series is unapologetically melodramatic, dark and occasionally trashy. None of this precludes it from being interesting at the same time.

The traditional shoujo romance version of Diabolik Lovers would have involved Yui forming bonds with the six vampires and gradually uncovering their vulnerabilities. They'd all end up falling for her, changing their ways and squabbling over who would be the one she would choose. I'd never find out whether or not she picked any of them because I'd have stopped watching long before the end.

Instead, Diabolik Lovers offers the viewer a twisted parody of the usual harem dynamic where all of the men want her for her blood alone and otherwise treat her like a slave. None of the vampires attach any importance to the human idea of 'love' and the wholesome, chaste bishounen of other popular otome game adaptations are nowhere to be found. Instead, there's inherent fan service value in hearing popular voice actors slurp and pant as the attractive vampires indulge in their blood cravings. The icing on the cake is that if the viewer chooses to read between the lines and follow the hints that are dropped there's a tantalising web of social interactions lurking behind the titillation. I watched the anime back when it aired on Crunchyroll last year and I'm still enjoying coming up with new theories about how vampire society (and biology) works in the Diabolik Lovers world today.

Some reviewers have complained that the use of vampire clichés means that the writing is unoriginal. Personally, when I watch a vampire-themed show I want them to make full use of the gothic atmosphere, otherwise it's no different to the hundreds of trendy light novels and manga about modern vampires dealing with everyday life in a tediously mundane way. My collection includes dozens of vampire titles, covering topics as diverse as vampire space criminals, vampire catgirls, vampire princesses, battling vampires, vampire romance, vampire homosexuality, vampire treasure hunters, blood-giving vampires, vampire sleuths, vampire crime lords, perverted vampires, innocent vampires, vampire detectives, vampire politicians, Chinese-style vampires, vampire seductresses, anaemic vampires, tortured self-hating vampires, deadpan otaku vampires, cursed vampiric mecha pilots, half-vampires, vampire hunters (who are actually vampires), feudal vampire warlords, sarcastic ghost-hunting vampires, clumsy vampires, vampire schoolgirls, psychic vampires, vampire lolitas, ex-vampires, vampire thugs, vampires who drink their own blood, vampire pacifists... with all of this variety, it's incredible that not one of them has come close to presenting the ambiance I wanted until now, let alone coupled it with a decent psychological punch like Diabolik Lovers. Shiki would probably have been closest if the story had gone in that direction.

The thick gothic atmosphere is naturally sexy. It's the perfect companion for stories about a type of predator which hunts by using forbidden attraction as a weapon, even serving to inspire moments of black comedy in the series' audio dramas. I consider this a good kind of cliché.

Another divisive storytelling technique employed by the writers of Diabolik Lovers is that the extent of the vampires' powers is never fully explained, enabling them to do various things that the viewer couldn't have guessed in advance. Disempowering the main character is the core theme of the series, so the vampires tend not to give long, villainous monologues explaining their evil plans before carrying them out and frightening her. Some suspension of disbelief is necessary to be able to appreciate the vampires' mysterious allure.

On this note, much of the atmosphere in the Diabolik Lovers ~Haunted Dark Bridal~ game comes from the sound rather than the appealing artwork, implicitly encouraging fans to use their imaginations. The walls of situation CDs in any Japanese shop specialising in joseimuke goods - ranging in tone from comical to explicit - can attest to the popularity of this approach, and Diabolik Lovers also makes good use of dummy head recording techniques to present the vampires' dialogue in an especially intimate way. They can walk around the main character and suddenly dart closer without warning, or whisper breathy threats in her ear as they feed.

The fantastic seiyuu cast makes the aural experience uniquely memorable, further emphasising that the intended audience for this title is rather niche and owes nothing to the stereotypical straight male anime fan. As with most game adaptations, the anime was most likely intended to be a way to cash in on the existing audience while attracting a new one from the highly specific target demographic of 'older teens and grown women who want to pay tens of thousands of yen to fantasise about being verbally abused by beautiful sociopaths'.

Display at Animate Honten (Jan 2014)
Blame the heroine

Many of the negative reviews I've seen are relentlessly fixated upon the perceived shortcomings of the main character. I can only assume that these viewers aren't very imaginative at interpreting human emotions - perhaps they take the vampires' words at face value each time they dismiss Yui's intelligence? She's a sweet, naïve girl with a coddled upbringing who swiftly learns that she's walked straight into a house full of bullies with mysterious powers and absolutely no fear of retribution. This being a series aimed at women with a strong psychological aspect, she deals with this by trying to learn to survive the living hell her life has become, rather than by whipping out a concealed machine gun and instantly killing the lot of them in a shower of blood and gunpowder.

None of this seems too implausible when we live in a world where perfectly intelligent victims of abduction can remain imprisoned for years by human captors, let alone by families of influential vampires who lack any kind of compassion and show no sign of being unable to follow through on their threats. In the abbreviated anime adaptation alone it's shown that Sakamaki Laito can track Yui down outside the manor, teleport, use familiars as spies, sense what human beings are thinking and intrude on her phone calls when she tries to summon help. Vampires are often shown to possess powers of compulsion, too (and indeed, this is demonstrated in the game). The brothers casually follow her when she tries to leave in the first episode rather than grabbing her, but there is never any sense of urgency from them; no indication that they are concerned that she might successfully escape. Again, it's necessary for the viewer to exercise their own imagination and read between the lines instead of assuming that she was too gutless to make it outside.

As the story progresses Yui is frequently anaemic and disorientated from her mistreatment, undermined whenever she questions anything, forced to blaspheme against her beloved church, manipulated into thinking that she has nowhere else to go and there are strong indications that her father raised her with this fate in mind from the beginning. It would be unrealistic to expect anyone to be capable of thinking clear-headedly after what she's been through. As it's stated that she isn't the first victim these bullies have used as their plaything, perhaps it's worth thinking of the situation as being a 'what if' scenario - what if they capture a sacrificial bride who understands that she can't escape and tries to make the best of it rather than meeting a grisly end in the first episode, abruptly ending the show? All of the boys' previous victims ended up dead while the game demonstrates that Yui is capable of looking after herself once she's had enough time to become accustomed to each of them.

I find it deeply troubling that many self-proclaimed 'feminist' anime fans condemn any female character who doesn't act like a strong-minded tomboy at every opportunity. Although self-confident female characters are fantastic, if every single female in every title is forced to act like an American superhero it subtly undermines real girls with gentle dispositions. Since male characters are permitted a wide range of personalities in all forms of media, that generosity should be extended to female characters in female-orientated entertainment. Female characters shouldn't have to conform to certain ideals which replace the unnecessary stereotypes of the past with new ones.

The myth of self-insertion

Having said that, there's an assumption that when someone is playing a game or watching a movie they automatically identify with the main character and put themselves in their position, hence the argument that someone watching or playing Diabolik Lovers should take Yui's suffering personally. While I know there are people out there who will do just that - the game allows you to rename the protagonist if you choose and the dummy head audio immerses the listener in the abuse - I have absolutely no trouble in keeping Yui's identity completely separate from my own. She's a kind girl who ends up in a horrible situation through no fault of her own, and the bullies wrap her around their little fingers even though she keeps trying to improve her situation and reason with them. Furthermore, many of the things she finds humiliating wouldn't make a jaded adult so much as flinch. I have nothing in common with Yui. That doesn't mean I don't understand why the vampires make her squirm in terror; it just means I don't try to insert myself into her role when I play.

On a slight tangent, fans of the Boys' Love genre are sometimes surprised to learn that people assume they are projecting into one of the two roles when an individual's actual feelings can be more like voyeurism. A joke about fans of adult manga circulating a few years ago said something along the lines of "Guys fantasise about being cool, well-endowed studs, girls fantasise about being cute, vulnerable virgins... and BL readers fantasise about being pot plants and pieces of furniture!".

This admission further complicates the abuse in Diabolik Lovers if it's taken a step further. If players don't see themselves as either Yui or one of the vampires, they're effectively playing the part of the hand of fate watching over them instead. Consequently, the player bears the brunt of the responsibility for the situation Yui is in as they continue to watch in full knowledge that the outcome is likely to be bleak, prolonging her torment in exchange for beautiful CG illustrations and suggestive dialogue each time they press a button. It's empowering at the same time as being morally bankrupt, and that's kind of fun.

What I'm trying to say is that I don't think I'm alone in being able to appreciate this kind of material without being a masochistic misogynist who enjoys being abused. Human psychology is complicated like that.


The other elephant in the room is the inherent 'unhealthiness' of the subject matter. It's obviously not the kind of series you'd show to someone to teach them how to behave, but I don't think it's dangerous either - it can't be said that Diabolik Lovers romanticises abusive relationships when the situation that Yui is in is openly portrayed as scary and unromantic.

It's a fact that many people of both genders find the topic of submission fascinating, despite having no desire to rape or be raped themselves. Murder is a horrible, hateful crime too, and yet the literary, film and game industries make billions of dollars each year selling crime and disaster stories to an eager audience. Like millions of other people, I grew up reading murder mystery novels without feeling any temptation to experience a real murder as either the killer or victim.

Another thing that I've noticed is that whenever a game like Diabolik Lovers is being criticised there's always someone who tries to make the series' fans feel guilty by lamenting that have no idea what it's like to suffer abuse first-hand. Statistically most women in the developed world have either experienced abuse themselves or been close to someone who has. As people deal with problems differently depending on their individual personalities and experiences, I would like to propose that people who have experienced or feared being a victim might occasionally become more interested in the psychology of abuse than those rare individuals blessed with a completely blank slate. Dismissing the existence of victims who don't react in an easily-understandable way is unfair, not to mention deeply patronising.

The fans who become excited by Diabolik Lovers are indulging in the same kind of fantasy as those who read crime fiction or watch slasher films. They aren't trying to learn about how healthy human relationships work or auditioning guys as potential partners in real life. They're exploring negative emotions within a safe environment. It's mentally stimulating, and the 15+ target audience for Diabolik Lovers should be old enough to be able to make this distinction.

Personally, I feel a little uncomfortable playing 'healthy' dating games where the love interest starts to exhibit jealousy or tells his/her partner what they can and cannot do. This happens with certain types of characters in mainstream movies and books too (the less said about how women are objectified in popular culture, the better), and it always makes me feel weird instead of excited. I know that a lot of people like to see the guy 'taking the lead', but that kind of character always ends up right at the bottom of my list. In that respect the natural distance between the characters in Diabolik Lovers is rather refreshing; it clearly hints that possessive traits are undesirable instead of glamourising unequal relationships between fellow human beings.


I'll end my aimless rambling with a few thoughts about the Sakamaki brothers. The vampires in Diabolik Lovers are terrible people by human standards; they're possessive, amoral, quick to anger, violent and deeply selfish. Whether this behaviour is true of all vampires is unclear. Richter doesn't hide his disgust that the triplets killed a member of their own family, implying that there are at least some values in their society when humans aren't involved, and having Christa portrayed as a traumatised victim makes it difficult to say whether she once had a cruel streak of her own.

So without further ado, here are my impressions of the six brothers in the order I played through their routes in the game. I chose Laito first as he's my favourite.

Laito

The perverted Laito isn't merely abusive towards the heroine, he's intelligent and calculatedly abusive, listening to almost every single thing his precious 'Bitch-chan' says with her all of the attentiveness a person could ask for. He then uses this information to treat her even more cruelly as he works towards his private agenda, demanding absolute obedience at all times yet becoming both violent and excited when it's refused. His friendly, superficial honesty makes his sudden mood swings more disconcerting than they would be otherwise. Laito's unpredictability is a very effective way to keep Yui unable to relax or build up any kind of self confidence.

Laito is easily my favourite character in the series despite the unpleasant way he acts towards the protagonist and the way her mental instability escalates during his routes. He reminds me of a cat. More specifically, he reminds me of my old cat who used to catch mice and then curl up around them, purring as she licked them all over for long periods of time before devouring them alive. The mice would be paralysed with fear by this point if they hadn't died from the shock already. That inhuman juxtaposition of love and brutal torture is exactly what I felt playing through Laito's debauched storyline. In spite of the lack of affection there's a strange sense of intimacy in some of their encounters - when he's not questioning her morals and ordering her to carry out weird, dehumanising punishments. He cares about Bitch-chan like a person might care about an expensive ornament they want to cherish.

It's eventually revealed that the reason that Laito is such a manipulative jerk is thanks to his thoroughly unpleasant upbringing. That's not to say that what he's been through in any way excuses his behaviour towards Bitch-chan; the game doesn't give the player any reason to doubt that he'd have been horrible to her either way. Picking on the weak isn't a very sympathetic response to ill treatment. Instead, finding out why Laito acts the way he does gives the types of punishment he hands out more meaning; it makes analysing his character so interesting that I often had to stop playing in between scenes in order to let things sink in. As a person, Laito could be considered the worst of the group for his unrelenting persecution of the heroine. As an inhuman vampire playing by different rules, I find him nuanced and fascinating.

Laito's 'after' story was an exceptionally silly (and surprisingly long) episode where he was fussing over the chance that he might lose Yui. It reinforced the interpretation that he loved the main character if you chose to read it that way, while still making sense if you went with my preferred interpretation: no matter how much he enjoys being desired or hated by others, by the time Yui arrives in the Sakamaki house the only person Laito can truly love is himself. Playing all of the endings side by side shows that he's noticeably more respectful to Bitch-chan when she fully submits to him. It's just that Laito's idea of 'respect' is still so far into the abuse spectrum that it's easy to miss.

A few additional questions were raised about the nature of power in a relationship. In the 'best' ending (none of them could really be described as 'good'), a broken-spirited Yui fully submits to Laito's lunacy and in return it's implied that she's able to retain a small amount of power over him by keeping a certain plot element secret. However, achieving the alternate endings shows that the secret she was keeping was something Laito had known right from the start, shifting the balance of power right back into his hands. She's deceiving him out of a warped kind of love (and fear for her life) and all the while he's discreetly withholding information from her, possibly to test whether she'll tell him herself and possibly just because he doesn't feel like sharing his thoughts with a lowly human.

At the end of the story I felt very satisfied with the number of questions that had been left lingering in my mind. How much of Laito's elation during his ending was real and how much was a charade to mess with his other brothers' heads? How much of his concern for Bitch-chan was because he found her interesting, and how much was because he enjoyed the idea of finding her interesting? How much of what he said did he actually mean outside of his extremely vocal displays of pleasure? His open insincerity charmed me; I could probably write hundreds of posts trying to interpret this one character without becoming bored.

Kanato

Kanato holds the distinction of being the first 'shota' character I've ranked among my favourites in any game of this entire genre. Even with his teddy bear, huge round eyes and skinny frame he's creepy and doesn't act like that kind of character at all. I can't give enough credit to Kaji Yuuki's magnificent voice acting when it comes to bringing Kanato's fractured personality to life.

In the previous route Laito had taken absolute control of the main character's destiny from the moment she chose him as her custodian. In comparison, Kanato is exceptionally polite and reasonable. Playing the routes in this order I spent the first few episodes of his story feeling a little like a recovering trauma victim wanting to show gratitude to a saviour - a saviour who alternated between sneering, screaming hysterically and cutting into the heroine's flesh. And while Kanato is not dissimilar to his brother when it comes to his love of preying on the weak - his habit of incinerating anything that displeases him doesn't help - he's rather sweet inside. Yui is sometimes able to negotiate with him and even takes control of the story when he's too consumed by emotion to think straight, injecting a peculiar sense of balance into their relationship for a few fleeting moments.

Kanato is interesting because he's casually bullied throughout the story by his brothers and even by regular human beings who mistake him for the weakest member of the group. His mother treated him like a simplistic child, too, so he's learned to deal with his intense frustration in disturbing ways. I think it's fairly evident from the content of the game that Kanato genuinely comes to care for Yui after she's learnt to avoid triggering his tantrums. Ultimately, though, a monster's idea of affection isn't quite good enough...

Ayato

Ayato was my least favourite of the six vampire brothers throughout the anime and this impression continued into the game. I was going to leave him until last except that the handful of times he appeared in his brothers' routes slightly improved my opinion of him and it made sense to play all three of the starting characters first.

Ayato is an assertive, rather immature guy who believes that he should be the best at everything. The thing that bothers me about this kind of character is that I can't buy into their cocky attitude unless I believe they can back it up with some kind of hidden genius - and Ayato is more of a mean prankster than a cunning mastermind. Anyway, I silenced my initial misgivings and went along with it; he's good-looking whenever his guard is down, his voice is nice and he occasionally manages to wear his clothes properly. His egotism is a lingering vestige of the pressure he was put under as a child which adds a surprising amount of depth to some of his exchanges, and he even explains some of the plot points which Laito hadn't bothered acknowledging earlier on. Still, Ayato's just not my type, and the best part of his route was definitely the hilarious 'after' story where his possessiveness works against him in an entertaining way.

One quirk about Ayato's route is that his confrontational attitude makes him unintentionally honest, and consequently Yui often stands up to him and criticises his stupid demands. I'm going to assume that a lot of people find that kind of relationship cute, given its popularity in romance fiction, which makes me wonder whether the anime might have been better received if they'd used his route as the main plot from the beginning instead of trying to blend it with elements from the other stories. It would have silenced a lot of the objections about Yui's lack of resistance and given the plot a lot more consistency. However, had they narrowed the focus too much they might have missed out on attracting freakish otaku like myself who probably spend significantly more on their hobbies than the general audience a less controversial series could have charmed.

The staff really ought to make Hakuouki Sekkaroku-style OAVs themed around each character one day to give anime viewers the opportunity to get to know each brother as an individual. The way that they interact in a group is only part of the full picture.

Reiji

I'd earmarked Reiji as my favourite of the group back before I got into the series based on his good looks and crazy facial expressions. This faded after watching the anime - his too-pretty design for the television series is the weakest and he doesn't do all that much - and then he was one of the small number of characters who appeared in Laito's storyline for a few seconds. This gave him a chance to recapture my interest.

Reiji is exactly as he looks: a strict, hard-working nitpicker with a more mature streak. I assumed that his uncompromising nature would make him an excellent choice of partner for those of us who bought the game to enjoy watching a commanding vampire making the lead character his slave. This turned out to be only half correct - my longed-for tale of submission didn't get enough time to shine before being eclipsed by the drama developing around the heroine instead, greatly changing the tone of Reiji's route.

There were a few other minor things about Reiji which bothered me. His biting noises are a little strange (ok, they're really strange) and his route felt less immersive than it should have because Cordelia talks a lot. This would have been fine except that she isn't voiced outside of flashbacks, so there are long gaps in the spoken dialogue whenever she takes centre stage. Overlooking the fact that Yui would have been dead halfway through the game without Cordelia's interference, Reiji himself was wonderfully likeable and would have benefited from a more intimate storyline. Perhaps picking up his situation CDs will help with that.

Shu

I decided to give Reiji's lazy older brother a try next to see how much overlap there was between their stories. Back when I watched the anime Shu had no apparent connection to the main storyline and seemed as dull as ditchwater, ignoring everything that was going on in favour of sleeping. He didn't come across any better on the handful of occasions he appeared in other characters' routes in the game, either, so I feared the worst... but I now have to admit that he's pretty cool!

Shu's melancholy theme music and sensual voice pulled me straight into his dreamy world faster than I had ever anticipated. He's probably been most strongly affected by the painful experiences from his past due to his naturally gentle personality, which has gradually matured into something a little more twisted. As the protagonist spends time with him he slowly opens up and learns to trust again; it's very rewarding to hear the cold edge slowly disappearing from his words over the course of the game.

The alternate endings greatly compensated for the shortcomings of Reiji's route too, at poor Shu's expense. There's a lot of great content in there for fans of doomed sibling relationships.

Subaru

Last but not least came the tempestuous Subaru, the closest to the classic 'tragic, misunderstood creature of the night' archetype. I saved him until last because he didn't appear to be all that relevant to the other stories and angry young guys full of angsty testosterone don't really do it for me.

Whereas all of the vampires have secrets hidden in their past, most of them have come to terms with their problems and found a state of emotional equilibrium, for better or worse. Subaru is a little different in that respect because his family problems are still actively affecting his daily life. He reacts to the lack of stability in his world by lashing out - and consequently nobody takes him very seriously, creating a vicious cycle.

Subaru was surprisingly difficult to relate to because even he often didn't seem to know what he really wanted. Whenever he was verbally abusive towards the heroine there was a sense that he's doing it out of frustration because he felt sorry for her and wanted her to do more to help herself. He'd behave extremely violently one minute, then the next his boldness would crumble and he'd show a tender, vulnerable side. I found it hard to handle his reactive personality. The other vampires seized their opportunities and capitalised on them without a second thought; Subaru cautiously waited for things to go wrong then either flipped out or wallowed in self-hatred (then flipped out anyway).

To his credit Subaru is exquisitely good-looking, his heart is in the right place and his story was certainly never boring. Some of his scenes towards the end of the game were adorable. It's just a shame I played his route after the others; Shu's was so shockingly good that Subaru couldn't match up.


After finishing all of the content in the game my favourite character was still Laito, with the order thereafter being Kanato, Shu, Reiji, Ayato and then Subaru. I felt all six brothers were well-realised and the two I liked the least were simply not my type rather than being wasted character slots. The creators did a very good job.

I watched the anime again after getting to grips with the game to see whether there were any scenes which made more sense that way around, and it did feel more rewarding with the additional information fresh in my mind. The anime had to combine the six alternate scenarios from the game in order to include all of the characters, meaning that several of the vampires never had a chance to fully reveal their secrets. The triplets survived the transition best as their storylines overlap the most.

The drama CDs are quite interesting too as some take the anime's approach of having all six guys 'sharing' Yui while others offer a one-on-one experience like the game. The vampires act differently depending on who has control. As the group situations rarely appeared in the game once you'd picked a particular character's route, it's refreshing to have access to both options.

Steps at Animate Honten Ikebukuro (Jan 2014)
Anyway, to cut a very, very long story short the game blew my expectations away and I'm definitely going to be buying the follow-up titles, though I'm annoyed that I have to buy the PSP version of the More Blood follow-up in the absence of a PlayStation Vita upgrade. The 'after' scenarios added for the Vita port of the game were interesting enough that I want to play the best possible version of its successor.

I feel slightly ridiculous for having written such a long rant about a series based on the very simple-to-understand premise of a girl being imprisoned by nasty vampires (the first draft of this post was three or four times longer...). Using a corner of my personal blog seemed to be the best way to get the frustration off my chest.

People should, by all means, feel free to dislike Diabolik Lovers. It's not the kind of title everyone will enjoy in the first place and if you don't want to get into the extended universe of the games and situation CDs then the anime adaptation isn't all that satisfying on its own. All I want is for people to try to avoid leaping on the bandwagon and making fun of its fanbase (or the entire female otaku demographic) without engaging their brains first. There are plenty of dumber series out there.

--

* I'm calling it a 'harem' rather than a 'reverse harem' because segregating harem titles by gender fundamentally bothers me. We don't call male virgins 'reverse-virgins' in English, so arbitrarily assigning that kind of restriction to 'harem' isn't consistent - and I don't think it's a great idea to consider the female-orientated version of something 'reversed' in the first place since it makes it sound inferior. I'm aware that the 'reverse' part originates from a Japanese expression. I'm also aware that Japanese does have separate words for many expressions that English-speakers use without a gender bias, so I've chosen to ignore the distinction. Perhaps one day I'll post a rant about the similarly-unfavourable connotations of the word 'trap'...^^;

14 comments:

  1. I love Diabolik Lovers! and I agree; people who have only experienced the anime trash talk the franchise and that angers me too. That's why I tread sites where people actually understand the game and not label it as a game for low self esteem women and women who want to be abused.
    Don't worry, there are many on your side. :)

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    Replies
    1. Thank you for the supportive comment! And for reading my reallllly long (and ragey) post, which is pretty impressive ^^;;

      I'm looking forward to Dark Fate!

      (Also, I like your name, hehehe.)

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    3. I hate diabolic lovers I'm sorry it encourages rape and child abuse since you guys love this anime/games makes me feel afraid for children and people are suffering from rape in real life.and I hope to god your not a rape apolgist

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  2. What a great read!!! Thank you for writing all of this out! It's like seeing all of my own thoughts perfectly transcribed into one blog post. I wish that I could sit down with you and squeeze more excellent discussion out. Kudos! <3

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    1. Thanks, good to know there are other people out there who feel similarly :)

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  3. This was a really great read! It makes me want to give the anime another chance as more of a preview of the games to see if I want to give the franchise another shot. Thank you!

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    1. If you decide to give it another try, I hope it pays off and you enjoy the series! Thanks for reading.

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  4. Wow thank you for that long blog entry. I´m gonna continue reading tomorrow, but from what I´ve read so far I´d say you are completely right :D. I love the atmosphere and the character design and yeah I guess I don´t neccessarily need a complicated story either lol. I should maybe add that even though the guys certainly do terrible things to Yui, the series is humorous to me in a weird way. I definitely like it ;).

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    1. ...lol if that was your sister or brother or anyone you knew or real life innocent people being sexually assaulted by then or people similar to those monsters you would still find it funny? Huh hmmmm:)^^ you make me sick

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  6. I hate diabolic lovers. No offence I hate rape and child abuse that sh is fifty shades of grey bull

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