The Devil May Cry games run on a pretty simple, easy-to-translate-to-anime formula that makes them so popular:
-An entertaining, flamboyant, and yet totally badass main character who can brood with the best of them when the situation calls for it (and easy on the eyes, for those of you who like that in your men).
-An episodic, mission-based plot with an overlapping main story that plays out over the course of the series, with the main character running a business that can fuel the show episode by episode as more details of his past and current situations are revealed.
-Likable, layered secondary characters, some of which are chesty females (for those of you who like that in your anime).
-Buckets of blood and gore as the main character hacks and slashes his way through seemingly neverending groups of demons and monsters.
-A kickass heavy metal soundtrack, just to set the mood.
This all sounds like a sure thing, right? All elements that have gone into the making of good horror-action anime in the past. You'd pretty much have to go out of your way to intentionally mess up an anime based on this, which has already made fanboys drool in video game form for four installments now.
So I ask you, Madhouse, what the hell grudge do you have against Devil May Cry?
Let's take this bit by bit, going with the bullet points I listed above:
-The main character, loved for his cocky, smartass, and somewhat immature attitude in the games, is turned into your stereotypical silent, brooding leading man, few on words, in shadow so often I can't remember seeing his face clearly even once in the few episodes I watched, and acting like a jerk to everyone who talks to him. And not the fun kind of jerk he can sometimes be in the games, the "punch this guy in the nuts until he gets the hell off of his high horse" kind of jerk.
-Okay, so the business was left in, and does seem to be the driving force behind the series, but so far there's none of the overlapping plot of the games. The first episode seemed to imply we might get some information about Dante's lineage by having him flash back to his mother (or rather, a picture of her he has on his desk), but that seemed to fall through. And it's a thirteen episode series and I only watched three, so maybe it comes in later. I'll give this one a tentative pass.
-Well, Lady appears, and appears to be a badass of the first degree. It was pretty easy for me to draw parallels to her and the likes of Himiko from Get Backers, my favorite anime character. But she's not really how I remembered her from the one game she had appeared in (at the time the anime came out), where she was young, conflicted, cold, and bent on revenge. In the anime, she's cocky, sarcastic, and flirtatious. In fact, it's like she and Dante somehow switched personalities on the drawing room floor, like someone mixed up the character notes from DMC3 when putting together the anime. And Trish appears, and I was apparently mistaken in my initial impression that she was meeting Dante for the first time in the anime: apparently she had been working on her own for a while and Dante was surprised to see her back. Whatever. I barely saw her in one episode, and I'll give her a pass. But then we go to the non-game characters, and really, there's only one: a 10 year old girl named Patty. This is the show that had an episode entirely about brothers and what it's like to lose a brother and never had Dante flinch one, despite naming his business based on how he felt when he lost his own brother, but saw fit to replace all mentions of this character WITH A TEN YEAR OLD GIRL. Who apparently lives with Dante in the shop, for some reason! Even game Dante, who is a friendlier, more jovial fellow, wouldn't tolerate the presence of children in his business for long. Why the hell is this brooding hardass putting up with it, even being a kind of "daddy" figure for her?
-The groups of demons and gory battles are kept...sorta. In the first episode you saw very few of them, as Dante kept trying to shield the kid from the violence, and the kid was the focus of the episode (and I was hoping that would be the only episode). But the second and third episodes introduced an interesting element, where the main devils that Dante has to fight are tailored to the plot of the episode. Sure, this is an anime mainstay and even Sailor Moon had baddies of the day that fit the theme of the episode, but these were truly interesting. For example, the plot of the second episode was about a motorcycle gang being killed off one by one by an anonymous challenger called "Red Eye", because all they could see of him (before crashing and dying) where his red tail lights. It turns out at the end of the episode that the demon isn't the rider, but rather the bike itself, and the rider is the body of its past victim, as the demon is a parasite that feeds off of its victims. Cue a motorcycle race/battle scene and eventual showdown with a very cool looking demon that would have been a blast to watch/play in the games, with a more enthusiastic Dante. It's really a shame this creativity is pretty much wasted, though: it takes literally half an episode for them to spit out what the damn mission is, and you get maybe one minute of the dramatic battle between Dante and the demon of the day.
-No heavy metal. Instead we get FUCKING J-POP. I like J-pop as much as the next guy who's seen his fair share of anime and cons, and sometimes they go for gothic J-rock instead, which works for a horror anime. But it's not the heavy metal soundtrack that has become one of the defining features of the games. Not by a long shot. And no one wants to watch an ending sequence of Dante sulking in the shadows in various poses to the tune of a mournful J-pop ballad. No one.
As an adaptation of a popular video game series, it's really a mess and a slap in the face to fans of the games who were eager to see more of Dante's exploits. If I were to improve the anime, I'd have done the following, using the same bullet points again:
-Dante: A little less Aya from Weiß Kreuz, a little more Vash the Stampede from Trigun, or hell, even Spike from Cowboy Bebop or Alucard from Hellsing (they had a sequence that looked ripped off from Hellsing, where Dante cocks his gun with his suddenly-fanged teeth). There's many anime that feature a silent, brooding, cold protagonist and that works in some cases, but in a series based on games with a flamboyant and carefree main character, having the main character dare to be silly and flighty is really the best way to go. Vash could brood with the best of them when the time called for it, and you know what? So could Dante in the games. He's really a better character model all around. I know Dante was more cold and quiet and brooding in the second Devil May Cry game, but you know what? No one likes the second Devil May Cry game, and that's a big reason for it.
-Variety in the missions is good. I like that, and you need it when you're adapting a franchise that is largely driven by one mission per game. That's good, keep that in. So I'll take this moment to mention something else the series needs from the games: the running gag involving the business. They tried to insert some weak humor with a flat joke in the first episode of Dante trying repeatedly (and failing) to obtain a strawberry sundae and a running gag in every episode where he orders pizza with a different exotic topping. And Dante likes his pizza, which is true enough to the games (although no emphasis is ever placed on the topping, just his determination to eat his damn pizza even when things are going to hell). But what about the gag in the games where he points every person who comes into his shop to the bathroom? It might be one of those things that's more palatable once per game than in every episode of a TV show, but at least it'd be true to the games. But I guess Dante would need a sense of humor in the show for it to happen.
-86 the ten year old, please? Pretty please? There are some cute kids in anime, kids that are a joy to watch and add a good comedic foil. Patty is not it. She is annoying and damn inexplicable in the context of everything fans of the games have come to expect. Once she's gone, even if you're running with the "Vergil is deader than a dead thing that is dead" take on canon (i.e. aren't living in denial), at least acknowledged the guy existed and was a pretty big motivator for Dante in at least two of the games. If you have an episode about brothers, know what? That's the perfect time for some flashbacks that reveal Dante had a brother.
-Little less talking and oversetting up the plot, a little more action. It's possible to throw the main character out there and have him kick massive amounts of ass to learn more about about his mission. In fact, that's WHAT HE DOES IN THE GAMES. Have Dante go out and bust some heads, not sit there like a lump while people talk him to death, then throw in a token fight scene near the end. But keep the imaginative demons. Sure, you can have some stock, uninteresting demons for the in-between fights. Again, that's what the games do, but keep up the good work with the final bad guy.
-Heavy metal, heavy metal, HEAVY METAL. That's what sets the tone for the games, and that's what makes them so recognizable. The music should get your blood pumping and want to go out and bust some heads, not make you idly wonder if Gackt's latest album is any good.
And let's step away from "why this fails as an adaptation of a game series" for a moment and get objective. This show's format is not unlike Vampire Princess Miyu, really, featuring a quiet and cold main character, more exposition than actual fighting, and sombre, introspective tone. And that really worked well for Vampire Princess Miyu (after a while. Much of the first half of the series will bore you to tears, but at least it's interesting). But Vampire Princess Miyu had things this series is seriously lacking: writing that was thought provoking as well as disturbing, beautiful animations, likable secondary characters, a beautiful soundtrack. It made you willing to stick it out to see where this goes. Devil May Cry can't even manage that. The animation is shoddy, the "mood lighting" makes it so you're staring at a black screen more often than not, the soundtrack is more numbing than setting the tone, the exposition is boring, and the secondary characters are grating. Even treated on the merits of just another horror-action anime, it's just boring and lifeless. In the time it takes for you to watch all thirteen episodes of Devil May Cry, you can watch all of Hellsing instead and enjoy yourself a lot more. Then, when you're done watching Hellsing, you can pick up the first, third, and fourth Devil May Cry games and see Dante as he should be: one of the coolest leading men in the fictional world.
Hell, just look up all the cut scenes from the DMC games on YouTube and watch them instead. Better use of your time than this trainwreck of an anime.