It’s not often I stumble across a synopsis for a show that flatout LIES about what it is. Not that I expected D-Frag! to actually be about game development in any shape or form (which an anime about that sounds about as entertaining as watching an apple brown), but D-Frag! seemed so uninterested in its own premise, it barely does anything unique with its loosely established concept and settle on being a rather generic run-of-the-mill shonen comedy that’s way too loud while also bringing anything remotely new or charming to the table to muster more than a small handful of laughs over 12 episodes.
STORY: So stop me if you’ve heard this before in a situational comedy; a self-proclaimed high school delinquent befriends weirdos and develops a begrudging bond with them, and together they must work to keep their school club from being shut down. I’d say D-Frag’s premise could be written on a Culver’s napkin, but that would imply someone took the effort of writing it down. The “writing” “staff” (I’m putting staff in quotes, because that would imply a team with moderately qualifying credentials sat around and brainstormed, of which I’m skeptical) merely copy/pasted a formula that’s been beaten to death since 2003. This was about as written as finding someone’s crumpled up notes from your social studies class in the garbage. If school club related premises are the backbone of modern anime and manga comedies, then this genre’s spine is riddled with an untreatable case of osteoporosis. And the “game development” aspect of D-Frag! is virtually unexplored.
With the exception of some meager retro interactive electronic and table top game references littered about, it bypasses addressing it. Given the universal resurgence of table top gaming in the last 8 years (maybe it’s different in Japan), this was a missed opportunity. The Game Development Provisional Club could’ve implemented more emphasis on poking jokes at deck builders, or multiplayer co-op board games, using those as a metaphor or morality lesson at the end of episodes, or even a chance for slapstick. But it foregoes these in favor of placing emphasis on Takao’s ridiculously gigantic breasts and misinterpreting characters yelling at each other as jokes. SCORE 4.7
ART: D-Frag is colorful, but nothing that makes it stand out in any particular fashion. Even the animation does little to accentuate whatever physical or visual humor they’re attempting to get over. I’ve seen it all before. Blank white eyes, Beam of Enlightenment, Blank Face of Shame, Cross-popping veins, nose bleeds, cross-dressing trap characters…every single anime trope is in D-Frag. I can’t laugh at things I’ve seen for 17 years. It isn’t that tropes are bad, but how and why you utilize them are more important than just simply doing it.
The character designs are alright, you can guess their personalities upon just LOOKING at them. For a comedy show, that isn’t a bad thing. Kenji Kazama looks like every other turf-headed, orange, gruff protagonist. If you threw a black cloak on him, he’d be Ichigo Kurosaki. Goofy large breasts aside, Takao is my vote for the best design. She has a more unique hairstyle (accentuated by the red ribbon, which helps her stand out) and a cuter face than any other female in the cast. The rest of the characters are a marginal amalgamation of seemingly rejected School Rumble designs.
The backgrounds, like most modern anime, use a pointless amount of distractingly average computer animation, like more than one occasion there’s just an establishing shot of things like a CGI hallway or playing cards. Again, just because you CAN do it doesn’t mean you should. SCORE 7.3
SOUND & VOICE: I’m reviewing Funimation’s English dub. All things considered, it’s not a BAD dub, but as mentioned before, all the characters are screaming at the top of their lungs seemingly all the time and it gets rather taxing and repetitive to listen to. The Japanese dub is actually slightly more grating, so I just switched it back over. Some of the funnier lines are actually the low key moments from Austin Tindle’s Kazama rather than his yelling. If you like English dubs (all 38.5 people on the planet), you may get some laughs out of the delivery of some lines, and Patrick Seitz is fairly entertaining as jock Odawara. I thought the funniest line was the very last one before the credits when their supervisor/teacher Oosawa told them they were all suspended for their gambling phone contest stunt. That was brilliant. SCORE 5.8
CHARACTERS: Maybe it’s because I’m a very cynical and nihilistic person regarding modern anime (I try to look at the glass as half full), but I feel like I’m missing something here. In a show as rambunctious and off the wall it pretends to be, D-Frag! has a surprisingly forgettable cast of characters. With the exception of Takao and Tama, the latter who shows up for the final arc, the motley crew is a mish-mash of templates and archetypes that try in exaggerated methods to seem dynamic, only come off looking rather generic.
Kazama has two childhood friends who are featured fairly regularly, but I forget their existence. Sometimes it’s a meta callback when Odawara returns and he’s not remembered, but the aforementioned teacher Oosawa, whose gimmick is she sleeps and carries a taser (lightning type) is virtually useless after the first episode. Takao and Roka have this Ryoko/Ayeka-like rivalry for Kazama’s attention, which is the only takeaway from D-Frag! I’d say is genuinely amusing. Other than that, the setup for this series’ ONE joke is the same; someone speaks nonsense, Kazama gets annoyed and yells at someone. SCORE 6.2
OVERALL: D-Frag! wouldn’t suddenly become better or worse if it dropped its gaming premise. Like Dagashi Kashi (another “why bother” comedy) I think you need a little more defined reason for existing, other than weirdness for weirdness’ sake. I reviewed Tonari no Seki-kun and those 4 minute shorts manage to properly convey its humor in greater success than all of the rambling these girls do in D-Frag! throughout its 22 minutes. I’ve said it many times, these hack anime and manga writers need to watch/read older titles like Tenchi Universe, Here Is Greenwood, Slayers, and Dragon Half and take some inspiration on how to effectively set up gags. Even if they are repetitious, change the delivery. Because offerings like D-Frag! is just the mediocre sludge that’s a big part of the problem.
FINAL SCORE: 6.1/10
PROS: Decent art. Serviceable English dub.
CONS: Way too generic, despite potential in premise. Obnoxiously loud, one-dimensional humor. Bland characters.