Diabolik Lovers is a reverse-harem series that began its life as a PSP otome game (if you’re unfamiliar with the term, think of it like a dating sim for girls). At first glance, it looked like a winner to me: nice character designs. Vampires. Romance. Call me a cliche, but I’m a girl who loves me a good romantic vampire tale. What can I say? It’s a weakness.
I’d also heard a lot of good things about the game this series is based on, so my expectations going into episode one of the anime series were high. Can I say Diabolik Lovers lived up to the hype though?
The episode opens up with a subdued piano tune playing as a young girl is driven up to a lonely looking mansion. The sun is setting, and by the time she makes it to the front door it’s both raining and dark. The driver has left her alone with her luggage.
At first glance, the mansion seems empty on the inside. Our protagonist, a girl named Yui, seems unsure of who she’s looking for or where she’s supposed to go. So it makes sense that she walks up to the first person she spots: a young man lounging on a sofa. There’s something wrong, though. The boy is laying too still, and he doesn’t seem to be breathing. When she checks for a pulse, she finds silence.
Panicked, Yui takes out her cell phone to call an ambulance- only to have it snatched out of her hands by the boy she’d thought was dead. He’s not too happy about being woken up and immediately grabs Yui and pins her beneath him. She starts to panic, but he holds her there anyway, leaning in to lick her neck. There’s a flash of fang for the audience, and then-
Another man walks in. He admonishes the first boy not for attacking Yui, but for causing a ruckus in the hall. When Yui begs him for help, he merely asks her what she’s doing there in the first place. She tells him, confused, that her father sent her there. This is where she is supposed to live from now on.
Turns out, all the men living in the house are brothers, and none of them seem to have heard of their newest guest. One by one they come out of the woodwork- a frail looking boy with shadows under his eyes, a flirtatious redhead who immediately nicknames Yui “Bitch-chan.” They start surrounding her, licking her and insinuating how tasty she looks. An angry young man also makes himself known, and the situation threatens to turn into one big argument until the final brother speaks up. He’s been lounging off to the side, earbuds in place, apparently not caring what’s happening. Except he has been listening, because he tells his brothers that he received a call from a mysterious “him.” Yes, this girl was sent there to live with them, and they aren’t allowed to kill her. This seems to ring a bell for the brothers, who start wondering if Yui is the “prospective bride.”
This gets to be just too much for Yui. They’ve broken her cell phone and are insinuating she won’t be able to leave. When she falls trying to escape out of the room, she scrapes her knee and turns around to see a host of very hungry, very inhuman men leering at her. Yui does the only thing that makes sense from there- she runs. The one room she finds that seems to be safe is full of old books and has a broken padlock on the door. As soon as she enters, she sees a strange vision of a woman. The sight causes a pain in Yui’s chest, nearly knocking her over.
Her stumbling knocks some books to the ground and dislodges a photo of a baby from one. Yui recognizes herself in the photo and pages through the book. It’s her father’s journal from years ago, and he writes about Yui in it. He still loves her, he writes, even if she isn’t really his daughter.
While she was distracted, the boys have surrounded her once again. Turns out the padlock had been to keep everyone out of that room- but for some reason, it broke for Yui. The episode ends there with them making it clear that if Yui tries to leave, she’s good as dead.
Alright, so I was expecting this series to be dark, given what I heard about the game it’s based on. That didn’t prepare me though for the extremely high level of discomfort I felt from the moment our main character met the first vampire brother.
Are “bad boys breaking personal space boundaries” a thing in shoujo series? You bet’cha. Usually, it’s made clear by the protagonist that the touch isn’t welcome, even if it flusters them. What really bothers me about it in Diabolik Lovers is that there is absolutely no one calling anyone out on it. There are no white knights in this show, this problematic behavior is being exhibited by just about every potential love interest available, and the main character doesn’t have the strength to repel these guys off of her. Neither does she have a strong, self-assured personality where she can argue the right to her own personal space- not that she should have to. My stomach sank more and more the longer I watched and realized that grabbing her, making sexual innuendos about “taking her” against her will, and making sure she can’t run away are not only the norm, but are being framed for the audience as “dangerously sexy.”
You know what it is really is? This isn’t flirting, it’s borderline rape, and there is absolutely nothing quirky or charming about it.
If the goal of the animators was to make her situation seem dangerous and terrifying, then yes, they accomplished that. I’m worried that this wasn’t their main priority though. It’s clear that the forwardness of the men in handling the protagonist is supposed to titillate the audience and insinuate that there is something envious about her situation, and that is really disgusting. There’s also probably going to be plenty of plot-related excuses for the behavior of the boys (“oh, he’s really a good guy and only does this because of his tragic past, so I forgive him for treating me like crap”), I can just sense it.
And then there’s this dude, who I thought would be my favorite one of the boys until he opened his mouth.
… I’m chalking the casual use of “bitch” up to cultural differences. Just a little. I’ll kind of give them that. Really though? Is this going to be a thing? Is this going to turn into an affectionate name? Was I supposed to laugh? Oh wow, that attractive vampire is calling you a bitch for no reason at all, how sexy and funny and- no.
The only attractive thing about this episode was the animation and the character designs. Everything else, particularly the characters themselves, are awful.
This episode was terrible. Here we have a meek girl thrown into a reverse-harem setup full of men who did nothing but evoke a gang-rape situation 90% of the fifteen minute run time. Their attractive character designs and their being vampires do not excuse the situation or improve it at all.
Will I continue reviewing this series? No. I’ll watch the next episode to see if there is any improvement at all, but I don’t have much faith in that right now.
Episode 1 is available for anime members to watch now over at Crunchyroll.