Netflix has put out some excellent shows that run the gamut of genres: a political drama in House of Cards; a comedy in Orange is the New Black; and their recent television ventures into the Marvel Universe are just a few examples. Given the track record, I took notice last year when Netflix released their first anime exclusive Knights of Sidonia. It was one of my favorite series to come out this year and one Serdar reviewed here on Ganriki. Now comes Seven Deadly Sins, and what with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings suggesting back in November how his company may finance its own anime productions, it was hard not to see Seven Deadly Sins as a litmus test show. If this was good, then the more I’d trust their treatment of a series they would put money into. Seven Deadly Sins is so safe, so familiar and so broad in construction that any otaku would feel right at home watching this. The problem is I was expecting something that would push the boundaries a bit, and the show fell well within them.
Following in their footsteps
Seven Deadly Sins is the cousin of any number of other plot-driven series built to go season after season without resolution-- the Naruto, One Piece and Fairy Tale sort of mold, with great characters and a near-endless string of crises to mold them. Sins has all the ingredients to become one of those shows, but also many of their problems. It's blessed with a huge roster of characters that are all worth following, but also cursed with only an initial 26 episodes to establish them. The result is a first season that felt like a mad dash to get all the players on stage and set things up fast as possible. Many of the early episodes are origin stories and exposition that nearly grind things to a dead halt, but the show found surer footing later on when things stopped being explained and actually started happening.
At least the show wastes no time laying out the premise and nudging the characters to get on their way. Princess Elizabeth is on the run, searching for the seven disgraced knights for whom the series is named after. She seeks their help because the Holy Knights protecting her kingdom launched a coup d'etat and imprisoned the entire royal family. Of course, the Holy Knights don’t want any loose ends, and so are pursuing Elizabeth relentlessly.
The actual opening of the show is when Elizabeth runs into Meliodas, captain of the Seven Deadly Sins. From there on, the fuse is lit, and the show puts the characters' feet to the fire with battle after battle. At first it's by way of the "Monster of the Week" format, but the intensity ratchets up over time as the struggles grow more pivotal and less episodic. While Seven Deadly Sins really can’t take its time — not with the number of plot threads that need to be resolved at the end — it does a good job of piecemealing snippets of character and world-building to give everything context. The show is always courteous enough to get out of its own way, never over-explaining anything, and that kind of brevity and directness is appreciated.
The magnificent (and deadly) seven
Sins wisely doubles down on character, and while they're usually intriguing enough to keep the attention, they're also often flawed for reasons other than how they're meant to fit into the story. Consider Meliodas and Elizabeth’s relationship, which is problematic at best. Meliodas is meant to be a knight in shining armor that is expected to protect the Princess, but he’s also a lecher that gropes Elizabeth. Worse, Elizabeth always accepts his behavior is if it’s normal, and the other characters treat the whole thing in the same jokey way that the audience is also evidently intended to take it. Everybody has different shades of tolerance when it comes to fan service and Sins is scarcely the first show to do this, but over time it's become more uncomfortable when a series feels the need to treat sexual harassment as a joke.
Every other part of Meliodas’s character is interesting. though, which is why it’s a shame they decided to give him the characteristics of a dirty old man. His relationship with the other sins, the mystery behind his great powers and the personal tragedy they allude to throughout the series. all make him worth following. Even Elizabeth proves to have points in her favor, as her desire to help despite lacking any fighting skills results in some nice twists.
As good as the main characters are, it’s the supporting cast that really steals the show. Ban, Meliodas best friend and rival, is immortal because he drank from the fountain of youth. The circumstances behind his immortality are tinged with darkness and haunt him throughout the series. There's also King, the Sin of Sloth, whose fate is closely tied to Ban. Exactly what he is, and where the series takes him, manages to be tragic and also fascinating. Also Diane, the lonely giant girl; Gilthunder a Holy Knight out to kill his former mentor, Meliodas; and Gowther, the sin who is far more than meets the eye. The show does its work to make them all feel memorable and give them moments where they stand out.
The world established in the show is wacky, drawing influences from Arthurian legend, but it veers so far away from the source material that it only bears a passing resemblance. None of that mattered because the characters were compelling enough that I simply went with it.
Given the way Seven Deadly Sins ends, it's obvious a second season is expected. I sincerely hope it comes along now that the hustle 'n bustle of establishing everything is through, and the show can now go about the business of exploring its intriguing roster of characters. As far as what this show says about Netflix future ventures into anime, if everything they come out with is of this quality, then I’d be satisfied. Sins met my expectations, but I'm hoping the next show exceeds them.