I’ve never seen a sequel to a popular series so butchered since Michael Bay’s stand-alone film Transformers: Age of Extinction in 2014.
This review is coming from someone who actually enjoyed the Date A Live series quite a bit, especially the “semi-canon” film back in 2015. So when I first heard about the series getting a third season, I was quite elated, to say the least. However, not too long after, I received the unsettling news of the original studio that handled the previous two seasons and the OVAs, Production IMS, undergoing bankruptcy and shutting down permanently, and thus the project was handed off to JC Staff. At the time, the studio wasn’t exactly a hot topic of controversy or debate, so I didn’t think too much of it. Unfortunately, the issues befalling the studio have started to become more apparent in the season of Fall 2018, especially during the production of the third season of Toaru Majutsu No Index. Needless to say, regardless of whatever the financial and business reasons and so-called justifications as to why the studio is currently conducting itself as of recently, it is not a good enough excuse to brush off what has obviously has become a contagious disease known as “JC Staph Infection”.
(May or may not have some spoilers*)
By now, anyone who watched or plans to watch this show should already know the common drill with how the story goes. A seemingly ordinary young man, Shido Itsuka, encounters and befriends beings called “Spirits”, and in order to stop them from wrecking havoc on Tenguu City, his home, he must make them fall in love with him and then seal their powers with a kiss. In the process, those Spirits become his best friends and allies and also part of the self-inserted harem.
The premises of the show are quite generic but not necessarily bad at all, especially with how the previous seasons depicted certain scenes and moments as fleeting moments of emotion and beauty. However, this was absolutely not the case here with Season 3. While I try to handle animation quality and story quality separately, this is one of those cases where both seem linked to each other in a bad way. So when the animation quality dropped, so did the course and depiction of the storyline.
The immediate problem I already have is how certain scenes shift so suddenly and without a proper sort of siegeway between them. Because of the entire lack of buildup between events and arcs, the scenes that are supposed to be the important chunks of the story…..just feel abstract and soulless. There is no sense of anything emotionally invested at all, not even with the most important arc of the season, the Tobiichi Origami arc. While I can’t really apply problems in terms of something like world-building, there are obvious plot holes and unwarranted plot devices throughout the story. While such occurrences are not exactly rare with most anime adaptations, Date A Live’s case during this particular season grew far too problematic.
For one particular example, during the Origami Arc, Shido, having travelled back to the past to try to undo the changing of history, seemingly dies in the act of protecting a younger Origami; however, the very next scene shows him alive and well in a brand new timeline. Regardless of whether the source material contained an answer or not, there seemed to be no clear-cut explanation as to why a brand new timeline was made, much less as to how Shido isn’t dead or even erased from existence due to the possible time paradox. Additionally, the rest of the Spirits somehow regain their memories from the old timeline without much consequence. The fact that the arc relied on an often mishandled plot element known as time travel can stir up unwarranted plot devices like that. Even then, if the production crew implemented genuine emotional investment into many of the events, instead of just forcing it down our throats, such “deux ex machina” foolery would be honestly easier to overlook in at least at face value.
Oh boy, one of my favorite parts of the review, breaking down the focused characters.’
Since this is a sequel, I don’t think I really need to talk too much about the cast that took to the sidelines for this season. The main focus here are the two characters with the two primary arcs: Natsumi and Origami.
Natsumi, in my honest opinion, is a very unlikeable character, even when she “turned a new leaf” due to Shido’s action. She is extremely childish, and is extremely self-loathing of her original petite form. She perceives everything in a negative light, including herself. Unwilling to accept this feeling of worthlessness, she took on a more physically mature-looking form to perceive herself as the perfect image of what she wanted to be. However, she is really just wanting attention, praising, acknowledgment, and recognition. The problem is that the show fails to depict her in a way where we can have at least some sort of sympathy of her, but instead, due to aforementioned plot holes, she comes off as more of a bipolar, bratty, complaining, and nosy child that only wants to cause trouble for everyone else just because she doesn’t feel confident about the image of her true self. If someone I become associated with does something along the lines of what Natsumi did during her arc, I would kick him or her out of the house almost instantaneously. Even after she was sealed by Shido, her mischievous, annoying personality is still there…just not as willing to cause unneeded trouble now, because she simply became a bench player from then on for the next arcs like all the other characters.
Origami is a primary character from way back in season 1 that I was able to put up with for the most part, up until her segment came up here this season. What I regret now is not immediately realizing that Origami had not gotten over her desire for revenge against the Spirits, even though she has allied with them on a number of occasions. Instead, she started having a growing, self-conceited desire to obtain more power, which caused her to join the villainous group of DEM and later on obtain a Sephira Crystal to become a Spirit herself. Her reasonings for her questionable acts are more immature and unwarranted than Shinji Ikari’s reasonings to not “get in the f***ing robot”. It became all too laughable when she finally realized that she became the very monster that she had always hated since the day she swore revenge for her parents in the old timeline. Her feelings of insecurity finally reaches a breaking point when she herself became the killer of her own parents in yet another (you guessed it) “well-played” case of time paradox. She then just literally loses all her emotions and became very much mentally dead as an Inverted Spirit. By now, all of us should realize that all of these foolery caused by her during her arc would be completely prevented if her deep-rooted naivety, glossed over by her serious looking expressions, didn’t cause to her to turn to the frigging DEM, of all groups. If she opened up her eyes more and tried to look at the bright side of things or even try to think about forgiveness seriously for once, regardless of what happened back then (which is now irrelevant due to the now changed timeline), she would’ve obtained something that would qualify as ACTUAL character development. Everything about her just felt absolutely wasted in her segment, in my personal opinion. I feel like if she did need to become a Spirit, such an event should’ve been set up with a totally different situation.
As for the other characters, I already stated before: they’re just mostly benchwarmers, saved for Kurumi. She actually contributed to the Origami Arc….by starting the whole time travel thing. Ugh, great. Well, at least she was sort of a saving grace in terms of enjoyment value if you’re a Kurumi fan.
From the very get-go, even with re-release of the first episode, the animation was immediately something I find hard to bear on a psychological level. In contrast to what the previous installment of the series had, the characters just feel very “off”. What I received was just a discombobulation of still frames and cheaply drawn movements that made the characters look like they’re from some goofy low-budget parody show. This bombardment of slideshows consequently downplayed numerous important scenes, including the fights, and it almost hindered the ability to drive home any sort of emotional investment for even the casual viewer. It’s almost as bad as the crapfest from the second season of TG:Re. I don’t think I really need to revisit the situation regarding JC Staff, as like I stated earlier, there’s no good enough excuse to show us such a poorly made high school project.
As for the soundtracks, they’re not exactly bad, but pretty meh compared to the previous seasons. While it was nice to hear some of the old soundtracks, it wasn’t really enough to make us ignore how awkward the majority of the scenes are visually displayed. The voice acting here is pretty mediocre; it really feels like the seiyuus are just rushing their lines as the show zips through different scenes without much of a proper transition between them. I can only fathom how depressed they are as they realize how poor the show’s quality became while they read off from the scripts.
Needless to say, watching the show felt like a chore, which made me really depressed as this was part of a series that I really enjoyed, even though it’s not a particular personal favorite. I did not want to drop this show because my mindset as a completionist kept giving me this false hope that the show will turn around. However, a part of me is resigned to the virtue I follow: “for every good or great show, try to watch at least a bad one to balance out your experience.” So I stuck with it until the end, but boy it was a pain train to behold. While I did get some sort of kick out of scenes like Natsumi trying to seduce Shido or Kurumi making her reappearance, I don’t get much else outside of the heavy shelling of my PC from the agonizing display of still frames and laughable overplayed voice acting.
Date A Live III was a tragic case of a sequel being handled by the wrong people, though it definitely isn’t the only one for sure. If you didn’t really enjoy the previous seasons for some reason, I’ll highly advise you to avoid this trash at all costs. If you’re like me and actually did enjoy the previous installments, though, prepare yourself for lots of cringe and agony as you watch a near perfect example of how to NOT handle a sequel season. Or you can just nope out and completely avoid the torture chamber that I went through.
Needless to say, this atrocity will inevitably reflect badly on JC Staff, and while I’d hope they’ll learn from their mistakes eventually, it’ll be quite a long while until the day we stop shaking our heads in disappointment when we hear the news “JC Staff will take over for production of this show/season”.