Never underestimate the power of the human voice. Throughout history, charismatic orators have influenced people on a widespread scale to do both tremendous good and monstrous evil. But what if an individual possessed a voice extraordinary in ways beyond imagination? What kind of power would he wield? To what ends would others be emboldened? It is a dangerous prospect, for sure, and it is precisely this scenario we bear witness to in studio NAZ’s anime adaptation of the popular sci-fi yaoi visual novel DRAMAtical Murder.
Midorijima is a land of dichotomy. This fictional island off the coast of mainland Japan was once not terribly unlike the rest of its country. Still now, in this not-too-distant future, remnants of the past linger: paper lanterns, curved roofs, and hole-in-the-wall ramen shops dot the landscape. But ever since the Toue Konzern, led by wealthy entrepreneur Tatsuo Toue, bought out the island, the original residents of Midorijima have been segregated to the grimy, graffiti-covered Old Residential District, while outsiders flock to the high-tech splendor of the newly built Platinum Jail. While the name definitely raises a few red flags, Platinum Jail is, in fact, a state-of-the-art amusement facility that promises its occupants complete peace of mind and happiness, but this carefree life is not meant to be for our protagonist, Aoba Seragaki.
As you can likely piece together, Aoba lives in Midorijima’s Old Residential District, eking out a living by working at a junk shop named Mediocrity—another business title that’d make marketers cry. After an accident, Aoba’s memories have been rendered rather hazy, and he’s prone to sudden migraines.
Luckily, Tae, who is both a pharmacist and Aoba’s feisty grandmother, provides the young man with a warm bed, tasty meals, and proper medication. Loyal companionship and service comes in the form of an Allmate, essentially a walking, talking computer that, in most cases, resembles a household pet. Aoba’s Allmate, Ren, is a tiny fluffball of a blue pooch with a hilariously deep voice, and while he’s an older model, Aoba wouldn’t trade him for the world.
Equally important to Aoba are his friends, like hairstylist Koujaku and tattoo artist Mizuki, who lead the gangs Benishigure and Dry Juice, respectively. You see, the Old Residential District is overrun with gangs known as Ribstiez, and while turf wars do break out, it’s not uncommon for members of differing teams to be cordial with each other. There comes a certain security with associating oneself with a group, but Aoba, an unaffiliated “No Mark,” is content to eschew that for the sake of a less complicated life.
This story was originally published in the February 2015 issue of Otaku USA Magazine. To get the whole thing in print, along with features on Akame ga Kill!, One Piece: Film Z, Samurai Jam, and more coverage of anime, manga, TV games, and cosplay, follow this link. Get it before it’s out of stock forever!
Concerns over the mysterious team, Morphine, and also the impact of a virtual reality cyber-battling game called Rhyme seem like matters best left to those involved, but Aoba quickly finds himself sucked into the thick of it, meeting some odd characters along the way, such as Noiz, an icy computer wiz pierced as many times as a pincushion, Mink, a former inmate with a frightfully grim demeanor, and Clear, who insists that he’s in servitude to Aoba and that a gas mask is an acceptable fashion accessory. As events spiral out of control, Aoba must question not just the motives of others but also what lies within himself.
About these friends and new acquaintances, let’s back up a little. If you know anything about DRAMAtical Murder, the game, just learning the news of its transition into anime would likely spur you to raise an eyebrow. Yes, the source material is yaoi and decidedly adults only, but the show nixes the naughty bits in favor of placing its focus on the overarching plot, which is plenty fascinating on its own.
It’s very light on blatant Boys’ Love content—the most fujoshi can look forward to is a couple kisses—but all “love interests,” if they can be considered as such in the anime, get their time in the spotlight. While the show begins by following the game’s general route, there is a shift at the midpoint to devoting an episode to each guy, condensing all the key points of their stories. While these abridged tales are a wee bit disjointed and rushed, overall DRAMAtical Murder, the anime, presents a cohesive tale.
If only the art production had gone as swimmingly. While DRAMAtical Murder starts off pleasantly enough, with a sufficient, albeit not remarkable, level of care bestowed upon the characters and backdrops and their respective motions, it soon became apparent that studio NAZ was struggling to maintain the status quo, and this comes to a head in the third episode. Distorted faces, jerky movements, and detail work stripped to a bare minimum had viewers both laughing and crying foul to such a degree that a public apology was issued, along with a promise to improve the most egregiously poor scenes.
Later episodes do not fall nearly as low, but none live up to the standards set at the series launch. With some post-broadcast cleanup, a fairly common practice in today’s anime industry, DRAMAtical Murder is bound to have a better showing in its home video release, and fans can also look forward to a special exclusive OVA episode to be included.
Thankfully, the audio work is top notch right out of the gate, with a soundtrack that is simultaneously retro and modern, mirroring the world of DRAMAtical Murder. GOATBED and GEORIDE join forces to dish out throbbing techno beats, interrupted by the occasional chiptune ditty. A number of talented vocalists contribute to the opening and ending themes, seven songs in all, as each character arc concludes with its own unique composition.
But the most pivotal voice to be heard in DRAMAtical Murder is that of Aoba. From random customers calling in to Mediocrity to those held most dear, all who cross Aoba’s path find themselves unwittingly captivated by his voice, even as Aoba hasn’t the foggiest what to make of this strange, at times undesired, talent. Is this ability destined to amount to little more than a mere curiosity, or can it serve a purpose? Furthermore, what kind of a purpose? Just as the pen is mightier than the sword, words uttered by a potent voice too can resolve … and destroy.