Daphne in the Brilliant Blue Anime Review
光と水のダフネ -DAPHNE IN THE BRILLIANT BLUE-
Hikari to Mizu no Dafune - Daphne in the Brilliant Blue
Daphne of Light and Water
US Release By
24 25-minute episodes + 2 special episodes
2004-01-15 - 2004-07-03
Just-graduated 15-year-old Maia Mizuki has had a rather unfortunate life--her parents were killed in a car accident, and her grandfather, who'd raised her since then, recently died of a heart attack. Fortunately, she's kept a cheerful outlook, and thanks to brains and talent she's headed for big things in the Ocean Agency. Until she inexplicably fails the entrance exam.
Now she's alone, homeless, unemployed, and desperately looking for a job that'll keep her off the street. Fortunately, Nerids All-Around Service, Kamtchatka Branch, is hiring--room and board included. Unfortunately, they're staffed by psychos and the work all too often seems to involve guns and hostages.
There's Gloria, a gun nut whose tendency to apply bullets and screaming like a maniac to all problems is as nonfunctional as it sounds. Luckily she spends most of the time knocked unconscious to keep her from shooting everything in sight. The knocker is Yuu, an icy martial artist who has no life whatsoever... when she's not in prison. Shizuka gets along better with technology than people, but at least she's friendly--just don't eat out with her. They're all kept in line by Rena, a woman who puts herself above all else and business above everything but herself.
Such is the beginning of poor Maia's daily battle to stay alive long enough to retake the exam or get a job that doesn't involve getting shot at before even leaving the office.
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Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is exactly what it looks like: another cheesy action-sci-fi-comedy featuring an assortment of underdressed women thwarting villains and wreaking havoc on the general populace while doing so. It is also among the most cheerfully and hilariously merciless series I've ever seen. Somewhere between poor, hapless Maia's repeated dodges face-first into the ground, the heartlessly businesslike Rena's use and abuse of anyone and everyone when it benefits her, and the rest of the team's attempts to apply bullets and martial arts to everything from rent collection to baby care, it goes from being cliche to completely awesome. Filled with plenty of action, a colorful voice cast, nice-looking characters and art, and capped off with a surprisingly satisfying bit of actual plot balanced just right with the humor, this makes for one heck of a sleeper comedy. The only possible downsides are that it's almost totally episodic and the women's work clothes consist of three postage stamps' worth of opaque cling-film, both of which work just fine anyway.
Don't be fooled by sob-story intro episode--the combination of hilariously brutal lack of sentiment, cheerful sadism, fun action, offhanded humor, and nice little realistic touches add up to a just-plain-awesome action-comedy, right through to the final episode.
Full ReviewSwitch to Quick Review
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is yet another cheesy action-sci-fi-comedy featuring an assortment of underdressed women thwarting villains and wreaking havoc on the general populace while doing so. It also totally rocks.
The thing is, while Daphne is exactly what it looks like, it is also among the most cheerfully and hilariously merciless series I've ever seen. Over and over the series sets up situations that could be heroic, dramatic, heartwarming, or at least a little human, and every, single time proceeds to sneer at heroism and shove a gun in sentiment's face, then yell at sentiment for wasting valuable time crying. It's not that there isn't drama, Daphne just kicks drama in the head. Literally. (Opening scene, episode 20.)
Take, for example, the protagonist: poor, hapless Maia. She is chipper, intelligent, kind, and her talents consist of high-speed driving, getting taken hostage, and dodging face-first into the ground. She does have some classic anime dramatic backstory, but not only does the series resist even mentioning it until halfway through, she then gets repeatedly mocked about her tragic past by her co-workers. Sympathy? Hah.
Maia is hired (read: coerced into servitude) by the spectacularly heartless Rena, top dog at the Nereids office. Brutally businesslike, whatever the female equivalent of a womanizer is, and unfailingly cruel to anyone and everyone when it benefits her, Rena is a character to behold. The rest of the Nereids crew is less competent but no less dangerous to be around.
One welcome tweak on formula is that most of the characters are actually old enough to drink, and look it--even officially, two are over 25 and the only minor is 15-year-old Maia, who doesn't act (or look) much older than she's supposed to be. The contrast between the far more mature Nerids members and naive little Maia sets up a reasonably interesting dynamic. Also, the fact that she's proportioned almost like a real human is used to poke fun at the rest of the preposterously busty team when she borrows an outfit briefly.
Aside from the sociopathic cast and vicious sense of humor, Daphne distinguishes itself with countless offhandedly hilarious "if you think about it" bits and lots of nice little realistic touches.
A good example of both is the language barrier when the Japanese-speaking women visit English-speaking Siberia City. Most of the group uses tiny in-ear translators, but Shizuka and Maia go for the budget option--bulky, over-featured headgear that they end up wearing through several episodes. Later, Rena makes a business call in realistically accented, correct English.
Speaking of locale, Daphne takes place in a post-post-apocalyptic world. There was a great disaster that flooded the planet, but that was a long, long time ago, and things are basically quite pleasant now, albeit a little warm, wet, and sparsely populated. We don't get any explanation until well into the series, but the setting does basically make sense.
I haven't talked much about the plot because there barely is one. The series is 80% episodic, without even a hint at the bigger picture until halfway through. It pulls this off very well, and there are enough reoccurring characters to give it a sense of continuity.
Around episode 20 it finally gets around to moving the "main" story forward, which turns out to be surprisingly satisfying. The plot is dramatic and "important" without being overblown--there may be a government conspiracy involved, but the fate of the world does not hang in the balance. It also never gets so serious (nor was it ever so slapstick) that anything feels out of place.
In fact, Daphne even proves it knows exactly how far to push the limits of silly without breaking its sense of realism in the two "bonus" episodes, where they pull out all the stops. This includes a classic (and very funny) body-switch romp that explicitly notes it isn't canon. That the production team could have nailed all-out comedy but instead drew the line right at the limit of believability for the series proper is commendable.
Now, required comparison: Agent AIKa. Similarities include a waterlogged but relatively peaceful world, submarines, mix of humor and action, characters old enough to go to a bar, and rather skimpy outfits. Daphne is better than Agent AIKa in almost every way, end of story.
Although... calling what they loosely define as clothes "skimpy" is like calling Fist of the North Star "violent." There are almost no underwear shots because they're usually about three square inches of opaque cling-film short of naked. Sure, it's a rather tropical climate, but their "street clothes" would qualify as beachwear in any other series--Yuu wears pants that ride so low they're functionally indistinguishable from assless chaps.
Then they change into their "work" clothes, which range from a chaotic tangle of shoelaces to physically impossible. Technically the shoelaces cover the most skin, but the vague bondage vibe compensates for that. The only justification for any of this is an occasional borderline-naked person in a crowd shot hinting that it's socially acceptable, if uncommon.
To Daphne's credit, once you've seen the intro animation a few times it's not nearly as bad as you'd expect. For one thing, they're so close to naked it mostly goes right past titillating and into funny. For another (and unlike Agent AIKa), the camera never leers, and since almost every second one of the main characters is onscreen would count as fanservice in any other series, after a while it pretty much stops registering.
Contrasting with the visual cheesecake is a surprisingly feminist undercurrent. The major characters are all female and entirely capable of taking care of themselves--with the rare exception of disaster-prone Maia, never once does a man show up to save the day. The meek, middle-aged branch manager, the only male in the office, is totally subservient to Rena, basically getting coffee and being used as the butt of every joke possible. Even his one heroic moment consists of sniveling on his knees dramatically. There is also no romance--Shizuka has a one-episode crush, and Gloria gets a single, hilariously disastrous shot at "love." We do see Rena in bed with men occasionally, but most of them don't even get a face, let alone anything resembling affection.
Moving on, visually Daphne is very good enough--the quality of art and animation are always good enough to stay out of the way, never quite good enough to impress. The character designs, though, are distinctive and quite attractive, in particular Rena's sharp features and a number of minor characters ranging from businesswomen to aged old men. There's plenty of action, but most memorable is the character animation--there are several spectacularly violent pratfalls and sucker punches. Yuu's vicious, hard-hitting martial arts style is the one exception, though she only gets to strut her stuff a few times.
I haven't heard the dub, but the Japanese is all-around good. There's not much room for drama, although Mai Nakahara as Maia does pull off some more serious bits well. She otherwise manages to be chipper and/or freaking out without being annoying. The rest of the distinctive cast sounds just right--Sayaka Ohara as Rena is sexy-smooth with an undertone of vicious; Yuko Kaida as throaty, monosyllabic Yuu; and Masumi Asano as Gloria, who basically screams like a lunatic most of the time. Kana Ueda's Shizuka is stock, though the pathetically meek branch manager is given plenty of middle-aged flavor by veteran Mitsuo Iwata, a specialist in that sort of character.
Kow Otani's light, playful background music is acceptable, rarely more. There's a "dramatic tension" theme that is re-used a little too often when an episode is nearing its climax, and a pretty, wistful flute tune to cover quieter drama, but otherwise it gets the job done without being noticeable. The opening and end themes are equally unremarkable.
In all, while there are plenty of retread characters and tired cliches in Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, I was laughing way too hard to care. The combination of hilariously brutal lack of sentiment, cheerful sadism, fun action, offhanded humor, and nice little realistic touches add up to a just-plain-awesome action-comedy right through to the final episode.
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Agent AIKa is the most obvious similar series on account of its setting, mood, and of course lack of clothing. It's nowhere near as good and far sleazier, though. The various Burn Up series as well as Dirty Pair both have some overlap in the fun action category, but both also focus significantly more on the crazy action. Full Metal Panic (Fumoffu in particular) also has a similarly unsentimental sense of humor.
Notes and Trivia
Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is an original concept, credited to "NeSKeS." There is a one-book manga prequel by Satoshi Shiki, published during the run of the TV show. It's available in English from TokyoPop.
The title of every episode is a play on a movie title. Some of these translate directly into English, some were replaced by a different word-play in Geneon's translation, and some didn't make the jump. The Japanese title of the series itself also includes the English subtitle "Daphne in the Brilliant Blue," which Geneon stuck with for the English release.
Interestingly, although this is never mentioned or alluded to during the series, the incantation that Maia says frequently is based on Psalm 1:3.
The proper English used goes farther than just Rena's phone conversation and some background characters with native-English-speaker accents; near the end, there's a scene where Shizuka is scanning through an English government report. The text is only onscreen for a second, but if you pause and look, not only does it say what it's supposed to with correct grammar, it's even written well enough to read like bureaucratic paperwork.
There was one bit of language in the other direction that Geneon had trouble with, though. This is a tiny bit of a spoiler, but in the episode where Gloria is told she doesn't have long to live, the misunderstanding works better in Japanese. The overheard doctor comments on the "gan" in her scan--gan is the Japanese word for cancer. But of course, if you say "gun" with a Japanese accent, you get "gan," an exact homonym.
A couple of science notes. First, the setting: While there isn't enough ice on earth to submerge that much of the world's land even if it all melted, the series never even hints at what the disaster was, so it could theoretically have been something far more violent than just global warming. Thus, unlike Waterworld, it gets a pass. We also don't know that everything is submerged--presumably because it's too hot elsewhere, the remaining cities are all near the poles, so there could be plenty of uninhabitable land elsewhere.
Second, the low-flying passenger jets, interestingly, have a basis in reality. If you weren't worried about hitting anything, the "ground effect" of anything with wings flying just above a surface means that low-flying aircraft (and birds) can fly farther with less energy by doing so. With nothing but open water between destinations, this would be a logical way to do long-range flights. In fact, the Soviet Union built a few exotic-looking planes using this principle, and more recently Boeing considered building a cargo plane designed to operate this way, the Pelican ULTRA.
US DVD Review
Geneon's DVDs get the job done, but not much more than that. No problems technically--the video transfer is clean and bright and the two-channel audio is crisp. My complaint is that they really stiff you on the last two discs--instead of wrapping the series up in six discs, they put only three episodes on volumes six and seven, and if that wasn't bad enough one of the three on each is a bonus episode. Admittedly, the bonus episodes are darned funny, but that's still cheap. There isn't much in the way of extras--clean credits, and on the last couple of discs the original previews (same audio, but a still picture instead of random clips), which is better than it sounds, since they're even funnier when you watch them back to back (they consist of Maia trying--and failing--to get her coworkers to give a proper promo).
The series has since been re-released by Sentai Filmworks on two collected sets.
Ridiculously skimpy outfits are the norm and there are a number of mature themes and a few borderline-dirty jokes, but there is never any actual nudity and the violence, while wanton, is largely bloodless. It earns the 16-up rating Geneon puts on it, but barely.
Violence: 3 - There is mayhem galore, but it's largely bloodless and the actual body count is surprisingly low.
Nudity: 2 - Hard call; there's technically no actual nudity, but some of the outfits are so skimpy it'd probably seem less dirty if they were completely naked.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - Nothing overtly graphic; occasional mature themes (mostly Rena shown getting out of bed with random attractive men, never more) and a couple of rather dirty visual jokes.
Language: 2 - Light profanity.
Available in North America from Sentai Filmworks on two bilingual collections. Was previously available from Geneon on 7 individual bilingual DVDs, the first of which also came with a box for the rest of them, or in a complete set of all seven DVDs in the box.