Home > Episode Reviews, First Impressions > Dog Days Episodes 1 and 2 – Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Dog Days Episodes 1 and 2 – Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Expectations can be defied in many ways. Yesterday I spoke about how Tiger & Bunny took standard superhero tropes and tweaked them just enough to create something fresh and innovative. Dog Days attempts to do the same with the “ordinary yet not so ordinary Japanese school kid gets sucked into parallel world” story line. It just fails horribly at it.

The basic premise is that the Kingdom of Biscotti is facing an invasion from the the Lion Army of Garrett. In desperation, Princess Millhiore decides to summon a hero to lead her people to victory. Her spell brings 13 year old Izumi Shinku into what amounts to an extended vacation.

Biscotti is populated by dog people and Garrett by cat people. It's the first time I've seen both together in anime where the cats are the "bad guys"—but to be fair, it's only the second time I've seen the two together, period

Let’s start with what isn’t innovative. The mere concept dates back to classic shoujo works like Vision of Escaflowne and Fushigi Yuugi; Escaflowne and slightly more recent Twelve Kingdoms are acknowledged classics of the genre. More male oriented shows like Zero no Tsukaima, while much more harem-oriented and not nearly as good, follow a similar pattern.

Likewise, having animal-tailed races, or even full species, isn’t uncommon either. Utawarerumono—which, I admit, is not a particularly good show—even provides an outright example of a human interloper winding up in charge of an army of animal eared soldiers. No, the uniqueness of Dog Days is its willingness to destroy any sense of drama or conflict.

The war council for Biscotti attempts to drive up the tension for the coming battle ...

For, you see, the “war” isn’t really a war. It’s a competition. Biscotti is being “invaded,” by which is meant they are playing the defenders in a sport which is half mock combat, half obstacle course. Those struck with weapons are “knocked unconscious” (where they turn into little fuzzball versions of their respective animals), and Princess Millhiore takes a great deal of pride in the fact that no one is seriously injured.

These competitions, we are told with a straight face, are used for diplomacy among different nations (as well as just straight competition). This particular battle? The right to host a popular festival. It’s high stakes here in the world of Dog Days.

... until it becomes obvious that the battle is just a detailed sports competition. The show is also really lazy with much of its animation

Thus, the reason the princess was so desperate as to summon a hero was to make sure her country wouldn’t have to handle the disappointment of yet another defeat. Apparently Biscotti had been on a losing streak as of late, and that was enough to get Millhiore to utilize a spell which only gets pulled out once or twice every generation.

As it happens, Shinku was a diehard competitive athlete in acrobatics and staff fighting, making him just about perfect for a “war” which is part-Olympics and part-martial arts competition. Being a hero, he’s also entitled to special equipment and abilities that lesser ranked units aren’t permitted to employ, not because they can’t, but because it’s against the rules.

The event is enough like a sports cast to require an announcer. Tiger & Bunny made cynical social commentary from this; here it just underlies that nothing serious is going to happen

What this winds up being, in effect, is Shinku’s dream come true. He finally has a stage where he can use his athletic talents to the fullest, and yet where there is no real consequence for failure. It lets Dog Days paint with the brush of an epic struggle between nations, yet keep any results harmless.

What I’m trying to figure out is why the writers decided this would be a good thing. No death, no consequences, ultimately strips out any reason for the audience to care. Granted, many anime aimed at children only flirt with the idea of death, only to keep at least their main cast protected at all costs, but at least the threat is present. Here, any dramatic potential is neutered from the start. I approve of faking out the audience, but only to lure them into complacency for when the real threat hits. What could that possibly be here?

Shinku's training is a perfect match for the challenge. I suppose I can't call that a ridiculously convenient coincidence, since he was selected to be summoned for that very reason

So far, the closest thing to a conflict the show has introduced so far is that Shinku will have difficulty getting home. Apparently the summoning spell is a one way trip. (The princess forgot this was why it was so rarely used.) Even so, the occasional glimpses back into the “real world” indicates that this barrier between crossing the two sides will get broken eventually.

Oh, I’m sorry. There’s also the “conflict” where Shinku keeps accidentally groping or otherwise defiling Eclair, one of his compatriots, and she keeps taking his perfectly innocent molestations personally. The show manages to cram several of these into their first encounter—I’m not going to stick around long enough to find out how long it will take for the count to reach double digits. The show’s fanservice is one element that is entirely predictable.

Only female armor seems to break apart during battles. I can't imagine why this would be the case

The one redeeming feature of Dog Days is that at least its protagonist is talented and energetic, as opposed to the long series of milquetoast male protagonists that anime is plagued with. But neither that nor the absurdly talented voice actors who are uniformly phoning in their performances can turn this dreck into something watchable.

Look, if you want a story about someone falling into another world to lead an army in a quasi-fantasy, quasi-game setting, read Erfworld. You might never think the same way about strategy games again. This show, however, will only make you think about how many better ways you could have spent your time instead of watching it. Yes, it takes the genre in ways that it has never gone before. But there are reasons why no one has ever thought to “innovate” in this particular direction.

I don't care what the show calls them: That's a chocobo

  1. cuc
    April 13, 2011 at 12:01 am

    When watching the second episode, I came up with an explanation of why the show is the way it is. The explanation seems satisfactory to myself.

    Basically, the show is the result of adults trying to recreate the fun and excitement they had when he was an innocent child watching adventure anime and playing video games.

    Generally when this happens, we get stupidly grimdark stories that make completely misguided attempts at maturity, that’s most superhero comics since 1990s (I think you can google “superhero decadence” and find some well-written criticism on that).

    What the creators of this show (also the creators of Nanoha) did here is the opposite. They very carefully thought through about the rules of a world where fun can be had, and powerful super attacks can be thrown around yet no one gets hurt. Real children wouldn’t think too much about how dangerous their world of heroic adventures is, how much suffering people who are not the heroes have to endure every day; they thought about these, precisely because they are adults.

    Of course the show will most likely introduce some darker elements eventually (like how this world of dog people and cat people came into being), but for now this is what Dog Days is about.

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