D4DJ Review

Title: D4DJ / D4DJ: First MIX
Length: 13 x 24 minute episodes
Genre: Music, comedy
Year of release: 2020

This is my… fourth attempt. Maybe my fifth. Every time I try, I get bogged down writing something I don’t want to write. I’m trying to write a review here – not a technical analysis. This is a blog for critical discourse, not contemplating the future of animation tech! I want to explain that D4DJ is actually an okay anime.

But it… looks pretty good. Relative to other CGI anime. A low bar. A really low bar. And despite clearing that low bar, we’re gonna be running into the problem where this anime looks garbage in 4-5 years. It’s a TV anime – it’s pre-rendered computation – and yet it looks worse than most modern Japanese video games. I’ve been bamboozled enough times on Pixiv to confidently say that, aside from the performance sequences which are, admittedly, a cut above – for the most part, it looks about as good as a certain 3d sex game. And now that’s a real low bar.

The blah-blah part of the review that just won’t write itself: Rinku is a new transfer student that discovers her school’s (and seemingly the entirety of wider Japan’s) love for DJ pop music. She meets up with Maho, a girl that remixed a song she’d heard as a child and BAM! we have our performance anime, where Rinku and Maho gradually try and become a better DJ… unit? It’s basically an idol anime, with a gimmick. When you see them performing – trust me, it’s an idol anime. When Photon Maiden, a professionally formed troupe, turn up, oh yeah, we’re in idol anime territory. Just one of the group happens to be behind a deck.

Photon Maiden are a DJ troupe formed by a top Producer (who seems to have a mostly unspoken backstory that we can read into well enough). They’ve got an image chosen for them, and the girls are hardworking but it’s not necessarily them. That’s all hogwash though, because their songs are lit and their choreography is dope (and they got frickin’ robbed). I’d thought all the performances up ’til this point were great music video like feats, but this is probably my favourite.

And that’s okay, because it’s pretty okay at sort-of-idol-anime territory. The girls have good chemistry, the drama isn’t anything exciting but it is passable. When Rinku and her childhood friend resolve a complex dispute via rap battle, it’s somehow not as exciting as the concept would make you think, and the use of DJ-jargon is largely forgotten past the second episode – so you get the feeling it’s a concept wasted. Even when it brings up a tournament arc (because of course it does), it’s enjoyable enough, and the drama is never extraordinarily OTT. Cute. Fun. Funny. Silly. Not hard enough in any one way to touch the heart, though Rinku’s parents’ science background created some… unusual jokes.

But the performances are the cream of a (mediocre) crop, alongside Love Live. The models are a little uncanny in fluid movement, especially when the characters turn to look at each other… it’s just not quite as nice as 2d. But it’s good. Scenes like Photon Maiden’s slick dance routines and sicker light shows hammer home how great today’s CGI can look in anime.

But – again, another but – the rest of the show is looking mediocre, and not in a way that will age. Perhaps I should start with the lighting, where the overly glossy character models seem to reflect way too much light? I’m not asking for R A Y T R A C I N G, but, come on, with anime like Violet Evergarden about, I think there’s no excuse for a CGI anime failing to blanket its actors in more natural lighting. Perhaps I should comment on the weak hair physics – something that Pixar mastered some 20 years ago in Monsters Inc., and even the late ’00s video games seemed to have included similar realistic hair physics… but here we are with blobs of pixels bouncing unrealistically some inch or so away from the girl’s shoulders (lest they clip through). Oh, and, despite how cool the dance routines are, there’s still the awkward jittery movements – sometimes charming in comic scenes, but it’s just… difficult. And at some point I need to address the occasional 2d actor adjacent to the 3d ones and how it jars.

I shouldn’t be spending my whole time being a sourpuss – the workflow of CGI anime is completely different to 2d anime, so scenes like this are considerably easier to animate. Does that mean they’ve been coasting? Definitely not. Rinku eating here like an absolute dork is excellent comic acting, and the crew have put all the stops in with editing and those eyes to make this scene such a charmer – and snippets like this aren’t at all uncommon.

If you’re used to watching CGI anime sequences, then you’d know this is top tier. Only studio Orange’s CGI (such as the gorgeously framed Houseki no Kuni and the intriguing Beastars) CGI can match it in the fully CG TV anime realm (I hesitate to mention the Pixar-rivalling movies Japan has had lately, such as Lupin the 1st). Even when Photon Maiden’s Here’s the Light begins to dazzle, you get the feeling that the artistic merit here isn’t the type you’re used to. It’s a tech showpiece. I like the girls, but it’s, fundamentally, ephemeral, and we’ll look back on this tech with cringing faces. Just like you would with Microsoft showing off their first edition of Windows like it’s a world changing graphical user interface. Maybe if you’ve got the context, you can appreciate that, but art shouldn’t need context. You can’t say ‘well it was good for the time’ – because that means it is no longer good, and we can’t give those kinds of concessions.

That’s why I’m struggling to review this anime. It’s average music shmuck, and I’d be more than happy to lap it up because the all-girl approach and solid comedy ticks my boxes, and the inoffensiveness means it’ll probably tick a few of yours without getting any crosses. Because its DJ gimmick fails to expand, the only talking point, then, is how this is actually a CGI tech showpiece. Will I be able to appreciate D4DJ as an anime in 5 years? Probably, because I’m a masochistic critic that will look through peeled eyes to find something of value. But will you?

I suppose we can put this to the test, actually: who remembers Sentou Yousei Yukikaze? That was an early 2000s attempt to showcase the melding of CGI and 2d and looked bloody gorgeous. But does anybody remember it? Nobody? I guess all it achieved is common place now with Demon Slayers even being praised for their CG blends. This is how D4DJ’ll go. It’s a fun enough anime, but if you strip away the tech feats – which will hopefully be bested before long – it doesn’t dwell enough on its hooks. Thus, we put it in the forgettable pile, despite the absolute tunes and MVs it’s got under its belt. Just like its tech, it’ll be quick to be forgotten or surpassed.

4 thoughts on “D4DJ Review

  1. XDD big oof by the sounds of it. Never heard of this anime, as you put it succinctly: forgettable.

    Oh space have you heard? you can convert your blog in to a podcast via text to speech, you just need to sync up / make an acc on Anchor (it’s owned by Spotify). I personally wouldn’t mind hearing your voice ripping in to some of these anime 😝😂😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s actually okay haha! I feel this anime is solid it’s just that, well, the main draw is being good at something that fundamentally ISN’T good!
      Interesting thought on instant podcasts. I’ll consider it! Personally I like to read rather than listen so I’ve not really looked into podcasts and such.

      Like

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