Anime,  Reviews

Anime Discussion: Doreiku

Last year, an anime show titled Dorei-ku: Boku to 23-nin no Dorei aired on Japanese television; the streaming rights were later acquired by Sentai Films and as a result it can be watched on VRV in English. This show is a thing. I’d like to read the novel it’s based off of, since I imagine it’s not restrained by the 12 episode format of this show, but alas it’s not in English. There’s apparently also a comic, that has a solid fan translation, but I can’t be bothered, so here we are! At any rate, I can’t really recommend this show. But unlike a lot of other viewers, I really can’t hate it. The reason for this is simple: I took this show as a pulp fiction offering. This made the suspension of belief needed for the entire thing to stick together a lot more manageable. With a ten-year-old scheming to kidnap grown women to get his mother back, a dog that knows how to gamble, and a plot to pit a group of people together into strange bets to see who will be Master and who will be Slave, that very believability is probably what makes or breaks this show for most people.

Note: The above is an affiliate link. Making a purchase may result in a commission for the website.
Also, I was going to link to VRV, which has this available for streaming, but apparently VRV doesn’t let just any old rando do affiliate links, so their loss I guess.

The Premise:
Okay, this is really kind of weird, so bear with me here: there’s a magical pair of dentures called the Slave Control Method, or SCM. When two people wear them, they get a strong high as they are gambling, as if they’re on drugs. When two people are wearing the magical dentures challenge each other to a duel, or gambling match, whoever wins becomes the master of the loser (or slave). From this point onward, because of the way the magical bracers work, the slave has to do everything the master says. There are some rules, like how it doesn’t change emotion at all, but the brain just locks in like a controlled dog. The only way they can be free is if their master verbally allows it.

In Tokyo, there’s a little over 20 of these SCMs. People get their hands on them for different reasons. It turns out they are kind of a stolen technology, so it’s a really strange loophole that the show makes them sound like they’re this really popular thing that people actively seek out. Everyone has a different reason for using these, and exactly one of them thinks of the ramifications of what will happen should they be enslaved. Somehow, none of them think of the nature of the SCMs and where they came from, which is an interesting “deal with the devil” subplot. As the show continues, all the players come to realize that there’s a Judge SCM with the power to rule them all.

The Characters:

One of the strengths of the show is the different character arcs and how they come together. Arguably the primary arc follows Eia Arakawa. She’s roped into these games by one Yuga Ohta, who needs her to be his backup of sorts. Yugo knows that there’s a very real chance he could be enslaved, and getting Eia involved allows him an “out” of sorts. Eia kind of goes along with it, but after a certain point becomes determined to play the game solely to get set everyone playing it free.

Yuga, on the other hand, is really full of himself. It isn’t shown outright at first, but he’s got a complex for how others have treated him and now he wants to come out on top. He’s actually pretty clever, and a bit of a hustler. His wins feel interesting; his loss is satisfying and in some strange ways fitting.

Meanwhile, there’s ten-year-old kid named Ryuuou who wants to rescue his mother from her debt that makes her work as at a questionably legal hostess club. Her boss demands one hundred million yen (about $920,000 American!) to let her free. He uses the SCM in an interesting way – essentially capturing thralls who then capture more thralls to serve him. Ryuuou comes across as a bit selfish, but for reasons that are understandable. One of his first slaves, Julia, has a really weird complex about filling her desire to love and be loved by wanting to take care of Ryuuou, which comes off as a little creepy but is also (thankfully) not explored to the point where it’s downright uncomfortable. Some of the best teamwork comes from Ryuuou’s arc, which makes the falling apart of his team have all the more weight.

There’s a few other story arcs, like Ayaka Toshima, a rich club hostess who is obsessed with this idea of a fairy tale relationship with her boyfriend Seiya, but he’s just using her for her money. She can’t understand why he won’t love her even after becoming her slave. I don’t understand her eyepatch, and it’s never really explained. Also, the dog Zoshiomaru, which is actually kind of a cool name for a dog when you realize it’s from Buddhist mythology. Zoshi is a dog out to avenge the theft of the SCM prototypes from the man who created them, and will stop at nothing to make his vengeance come to light. He’s a good boy who wins a match against a street thug by biting him in the groin. Love that dog.

Shown: a good boy, and the man he wishes to avenge.

Why it Works

As mentioned, I went into this show taking it as a pulp fiction offering. To that end, scheming preteens, an online cult featuring a talking doll that talks down to those that worship it, and poor gambling mechanics didn’t weigh this down for me, in much the same way as how the way 1996’s From Dusk til Dawn didn’t let the strange series of events leading up to its finale weight it down.

At its best, this is a strong character-driven show about why people would potentially sell their souls to take over and own the souls of others, the price they pay for doing so, and what happens when they are forced to come to terms with the grander scheme that this battlefield is set up in. There’s also some fitting judgement in how the lead orchestrator of the SCM program meets his match due to a flaw he hadn’t seen in the programming of the devices that he himself didn’t create. I would personally argue that this comes at the cost of a weaker ending than I would like, since it isn’t several main characters going after the individual who put them in this position of conflict but rather those main characters trying to rescue him and their friends. The interactions between characters is genuinely interesting, as everyone works their angle knowing that one false step could be the last one they take of their own volition.

Why it Doesn’t Work

I have a few points of contrition with this show.

My first issue is with how the erotic content is handled. The Master/Slave relationships portrayed are not how they should ever work, in real life or fiction, which will be a huge problem for anyone who comes into this story expecting to enjoy it on those sexual themes. In fact, when explored the sexual nature of these relationships are so heavy handed that it’s more refreshing when it sticks to being a back seat thing. I doubt there’s a lot of people who have seen this show that are upset there wasn’t more flaunting of the nature of these relationships. To the credit of the show, more often than not the cruelty of the SCM devices when used this way is absolutely put on full display.

Another point of contempt: this is not, at all, a gambling show. Why is this, despite the fact that gambling and challenging other opponents is such a strong feature? Because with few exceptions, these contests are almost always won in some underhanded, cheating sort of way. Indeed, what constitutes as a challenge or a win is sometimes the most convoluted, how-the-hell-is-that-ok thing. In one early contest, for example, two players are competing at pachinko. The agreed upon bet is whoever has the most pachinko balls at the end of the hour wins. Oh but surprise, the person making this bet has like 5,000 balls they won from earlier that day that counts towards their total! Sometimes, seeing players try to outcheat each other is part of the fun, but more often it just feels arbitrary.

There’s also an ending that ties up a lot of the story arcs portrayed rather quickly in the last couple of minutes, while also leaving events open to a sequel or second season. I hope this never happens, unless it’s with a completely different group of individuals.

Overall, I enjoyed this show more than it appears most people did, but I would be very cautious to recommend it. If the novel is ever localized, I’ll give it a look and see how its themes compare to the show. I understand there’s a live action movie that’s very loosely based on the webnovel that ultimately became the published novel and anime, but I haven’t had a chance to watch it. Feel free to comment below if you have, or if you’ve got an opinion on the show proper you wish to share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *