Daphne in the Brilliant Blue anime review

Daphne in the Brilliant Blue anime review
In the future, the earth is mostly covered with water, but the several cities that do remain are flourishing. Maia Mizuki has been trying hard to achieve her dream of joining the Ocean Agency, a government organization. When she fails to be accepted and faces homelessness and hopelessness, a series of unfortunate happenings force her into a job with Neres, a security and investigation company that will also do almost anything else for enough money. It soon becomes obvious that no one “normal” works at Neres. Shizuka is a kind, tech-crazy young woman with a passion for food, Glora is a trigger-happy, money-loving tomboy, Yuu, a quiet, brooding woman is frighteningly deadly in combat, and Rena is the capable, alluring, unofficial leader of this particular Neres office. With Neres, Maia faces danger and crazy situations daily; it’s almost too much for her, but Maia is strong, and she does her best to hang on and make it through this unexpected turn her life has taken.

Daphne in the Brilliant Blue is yet another cheesy action-Science Fiction-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, 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 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. Fortunately it pulls this off perfectly, and there are enough reoccurring characters to give it a sense of flow.

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--one 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--sexy-smooth Rena with her undertone of vicious; throaty, monosyllabic Yuu; and Gloria, who basically screams like a lunatic most of the time. 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 from the first episode to the last.

Better than review, is a Trailer video of: Daphne in the Brilliant Blue. Watch it now:
Browse Anime by Alphabet:
Browse Anime by year of production:
  • 1993
  • 1992
  • 1991
  • 1990
  • 1989
  • 1988
  • 1987
  • 1986
  • 1985
  • 1979