REVIEW: Date a Live Volume 1 Struggles With Satire and Set-Up

Date a Live, written by Koushi Tachibana with art by Tsunako, has been around for several years, with the Japanese light novel being published back in 2011. The title was popular enough that the series ran for 22 volumes, had a manga adaptation and earned an anime series. There's also an English translation of the light novel coming out March 23, 2021; however, Date a Live Volume 1 does not quite capture the satire or romance it appears to be going for, but it sets up an intriguing fantasy and sci-fi world.

30 years ago, a mysterious natural disaster struck Eurasia, decimating the surrounding areas and killing 150 million people. This became known as a spacequake, and they would occur across the world over the years at varying sizes, with humanity for the most part learning to adjust to these deadly disasters; however, there is more to spacequakes than the public knows, as they appear to be caused by Spirits.

While the rest of humanity is unaware of this, two secret organizations -- the AST and Ratatoskr -- have formed to deal with the Spirit problem, with both having drastically different approaches. Meanwhile, what's assumed about the Spirits is not the full truth, so this sets up a vivid world that could explore many different dynamics, including the conflict between Spirits and humans, how civilians comprehend the strange occurrences of this world and the complicated relationships between comrades.

However, the light novel decides to focus on Shido Itsuka, a high school boy who gets sucked into the world of Spirits, the AST and Ratatoskr. He appears to be average at best, but through a string of events, it's up to him to learn about the Spirits by making one of them, Tohko, fall in love with him. The budding romance between a regular guy and an all-powerful Spirit has a lot of potential, especially when Tohko knows so little about humanity. She has the potential to be as badass, funny and endearing as Lelo from The Fifth Element, but Volume 1 fails to explore her in her entirety.

The novel also tries to satirize the tropes of dating sims and the harem genre; however, it does not fully commit to this. Its satire works best when the characters are their most absurd and vulgar selves, clearly establishing that the author intended this to be a comedy, not a serious romance. Unfortunately, there are moments that perpetuate the more exhausting, exploitative and sexist tropes of these media, thus making the author's goal unclear at times. This can also make those who are over these hypersexualized and immature conventions want to put the book down, regardless of its moments of genuine satire.

Furthermore, Volume 1 suffers from its need to set up the story and world. The main setting is after Earth has bounced back from the apocalypse, which means most things have returned to "normal;" however, with the inclusion of these mysterious organizations and Spirits, the novel spends a lot of time distinguishing the two groups from each other while introducing the concept of Spirits to both readers and Shido. This hurts the pacing of the novel, with the central romance not really kicking off until over halfway through Volume 1.

It also rushes through the romantic conflict, giving Shido two potential love interests, but one is so poorly developed that it leaves readers wondering why it's here in the first place. It's clear this love triangle will become a more crucial plot point in the following volumes, or at least that's hopefully the case.

It's also clear that this series will likely delve more into the harem genre based on the tropes it satirizes and perpetuates, but for those looking to either indulge in or laugh at this genre, they will have to wait since Volume 1 is mainly setting the stage for what's to come; although, readers get a taste of the direction the author wants to take this in.

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This is perhaps seen best when the narrative is upfront about being inspired by dating sims, and while there are a handful of moments that play directly with this, those are few and far between, with some moments feeling forced or missing the mark. However, the concept of a secret organization approaching the Spirit problem like a dating sim by using a high school boy as their avatar has a lot of potential, and it could be hilarious. Unfortunately, the concept is held back by setup and the tropes it's hoping to satirize.

The novel could've also been a genuinely endearing romance about a human and Spirit falling for each other and learning that they are not that different. In fact, there are a couple of moments between Shido and Tohko that are sweet and believable, but the relationship as a whole is rushed. With the book not committing to satire or romance, it's a messy start to a series.

However, the flow of the writing is easy, despite there being more than few awkward lines of dialogue. This makes Volume 1 a quick read, which is especially nice during the action sequences, as it captures the energy of the battles and disasters. These fights are also captivating because of how different the Spirits and the AST are from each other, with the former feeling pulled from the world of magical girls and the latter feeling pulled from the world of mechs.

Given how easy it is to read, this will likely benefit the series as a whole. This means one could binge books back to back or over the span of a few days, which may make all this set up worth it, depending on where the upcoming Volume 2 goes; however, since that translation isn't out yet, we can only judge the series based on Volume 1. It's possible all this setup and the few genuine moments of comedy will leave some readers wanting more; however, Date a Live is far from the satire it could've been.

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