“Does evil exist, and if so, can one detect and measure it? Rhetorical question, Morty. The answer’s ‘yes, you just have to be a genius’.” —Rick Sanchez, Rick and Morty
It will probably come as a surprise to some that I’ve been watching Gabriel Dropout, an anime from the Winter season that I initially was not looking at, at least until I heard about the depiction of angels and dæmons within the anime. The story is quite simple: Gabriel White Tenma is the top student of her year, but despite being promising angel, she becomes a sloven recluse owing to a gaming addiction when transferred to Earth to study the human civilisation. Joining her in her everyday life (and whom she considers a nuisance for interrupting her gaming) are the dæmons Vignette and Satanichia, as well as fellow angel Raphiel. While there seems to be no central narrative in Gabriel Dropout, the anime is notable for depiction of its two angels, Gabriel and Raphael as embodying of hedonism and mischief. Similarly, the dæmons are presented in a contrary light: Vignette is responsible, focused and seldom involves herself in troublemaking, while Satanichia, for all of her bluster and short-sightedness in trying to cause chaos, is someone who comes to care for those around her. This unusual presentation is meant to illustrate that notions of traditional “good and evil” do not necessarily longer hold true – Gabriel Dropout suggests, through its satirical depiction of angels and dæmons, that good and evil cannot always be so easily separated. “Good” folks can commit evils, rather similar to how “evil” folks are capable of good. In the case of Gabriel Dropout, this contrast is purely meant to create a juxtaposition to serve as a vehicle for the anime’s humour, and amuse its viewers by means of vivid humour.
My interest in Gabriel Dropout was initially piqued by the mascots of Otafest: since 2014, the premiere anime convention of Calgary has been adding new angels to its lineup, and via Twitter, their mascot’s personalities are fleshed out. There’s June-sensei, a mature angel who served as the instructors to the others and is very fond of learning, the energetic and athletic Mio who finds herself caught between the other’s antics, the mysterious but friendly Vari, and Lorelei, who enjoys music as much as messing with Mio. The similarities that these angels have with the principle characters of Gabriel Dropout are surprising. Pre-corruption, Gabriel resembles Lorelei, and post-corruption, Gabriel’s ability to torment and mess with Satanichia is similar to the exchanges seen between Mio and Lorelei on Twitter. Similarly, Vari and Vignette are friendly but often bewildered by their friends’ frequent quarrels, while Raphiel resembles June only marginally in appearance. To watch Gabriel Dropout was really to watch a form of Otafest in anime form, with a significantly greater degree of mischief and chaos. In creating original mascots that work exceptionally well to give the Otafest convention a presence even when the event itself is not running, Otafest creates this sense of community that brings the anime convention to life, but to see the similarities in an anime really makes things more visceral. In particular, I find the commonalities between Otafest’s Mio and Satanichia to be exceptionally amusing, although folks unfamiliar with Otafest and its mascots will not find this particular passage to be too useful in determining whether or not Gabriel Dropout is something worth watching: this comes later.
Screenshots and Commentary
- From a certain perspective, Gabriel Dropout might be considered a double case study on the detrimental effects of MMORPG-type games on one’s social circles and the importance of friends in helping one recover: at its inception, Gabriel is a highly-capable angel who arrives on Earth to further her knowledge of humanity. She’s seen helping out around the neighbourhood and even offers to give Vignette a tour of their school when learning they’ll be starting out in the new term together. Her initially kind disposition is what leads her into an MMORPG, as she longs to help people out in the video game to.
- From left to right, we have Raphiel, Gabriel, Vignette and Satanichia. Ultimately, the humour in Gabriel Dropout does not stem from Gabriel’s general lack of respect for those around her as a result of having developed a gaming addiction, but rather, from the situations that arise when Vignette and the others have to deal with Gabriel, as well as one another. Raphiel is another angel from Heaven, whereas Vignette and Satanichia are dæmons of Hell. Their actions and beliefs often stand in stark contrast with traditional notions of good and evil: Vignette is responsible and caring all around, for instance, while Raphiel’s propensity for enjoying the suffering of others borders on the realm of unreasonable.
- In order to continue financing her in-game purchases, Gabriel takes up a part-time position as a waitress at a neighbourhood coffee shop. The coffee shop’s master is exceptionally well-versed in all things coffee and is happiest when his house blend is praised. He finds himself bewildered at Gabriel’s seeming lack of work ethic and comprehension, but forgives her, believing her to be a foreigner. As Gabriel Dropout progresses, she continues to work there, as her want of finances beyond the stipend that Heaven provides exceeds her slothful ways.
- The reason why Gabriel Dropout can maintain a comedic atmosphere is because there is a group of characters for Gabriel to interact with: alone, Gabriel’s situation can hardly be considered comedic, and in fact, could be indicative of a mental disorder. Such an anime would not be fun to watch by any means: it is Vignette, Satanichia and Raphiel’s dynamics both with Gabriel and amongst one another that drive the mood up, pushing Gabriel out for activities that she views as a waste of time. Her friends also give her an avenue for interaction; however parasitic this relationship might be, it causes Gabriel to seek out their companionship when it conveniences her, such as when she bothers Vignette after her air condition unit breaks down,
- The self-proclaimed arch-devil, Satanichia often attempts stunts to humiliate Gabriel, only for them to backfire. Her evil schemes end up being a minor nuisance in general, and her happy-go-lucky attitude is quite charming to behold; here, Raphiel, Satanichia and Vignette prepare to make the most of a day at the beach. Episodes set on the beaches are a common occurrence in slice-of-life anime, often intended to provide a thinly-veiled justification for seeing characters don swimming attire. This concept, this trope, can also be seen outside of the slice-of-life genre – in military and drama settings, the beach might provide a backdrop to advance dynamics amongst the characters.
- As per expectation, Gabriel immediately parks herself under a parasol and breaks out her laptop, completely disinterested in the amenities and activities a beach can offer. The others spend much of the episode trying to find ways to engage Gabriel, with mixed success, despite their own inexperiences. I am doubly unfamiliar with common beach activities beyond the usual hiking, frisbee, volleyball and swimming: where I’m from, the nearest beach is on the shores of an artificial lake in the southernmost reaches of my city and the nearest real beach has waters of around 22ºC. The temperatures of Cancún’s beaches can reach 29ºC in July and August, and the warm weather here brings to mind the conference of old. If memory serves, ALIFE XVI will be in Sapporo, Hokkaido.
- After a long day’s of enjoyment, everyone is totally exhausted, leading to this tender moment here that belies very little about the contents of Gabriel Dropout. Summer activities for me tend to be predominantly biking and hiking: although quite lacking in water activities, there is much to do under the summer sun of the foothills. Besides one of the most extensive pathway systems around and presence of summer festivals, we’re only a short distance away from Banff National Park. This year, it’s Canada’s 150ᵗʰ Anniversary, and admissions to all national parks are complementary.
- Another classic element about summer breaks as seen in anime is the ever-predictable tendency of characters to neglect their assignments until the last minute. Here, everyone’s gathered at Vignette’s place to finish their work: Raphiel and Vignette have finished, leaving Satanichia and Gabriel with work to complete. During their study session, Raphiel “accidentally” brings out a book that Angels use to exorcise Dæmons; its glow causes Satanichia to give off one of the most pitiful and adorable screams I’ve seen in any anime.
- Tapris is a junior Angel set to begin her studies on Earth once her basic training finishes, and she grows disgusted after learning of Gabriel’s decay, accepting Satanichia’s claims as true when she boldly pronounces that she alone was responsible for destroying Gabriel. Tapris challenges Satanichia here to a game, with Raphiel enjoying things a little too much in the background. Voiced by Inori Minase, Tapris’ voice is immediately identifiable as having similar aural properties as that of Chino Kafuu’s; having familiar voice actors provide voices to new characters is always a blast to behold. Sometimes, their voices will be recognisable, while other times, the differences leave me impressed.
- Tapris is surprised that Angels and Dæmons can be friends, learning here that Vignette is actually a Dæmon despite her kindness. Vignette’s voice actor, Saori Ōnishi, is someone I know for her performances as Saekano‘s Eriri Sawamura; she also has several minor roles in some other shows I’ve seen.
- Satanichia is fond of purchasing items from the Hell Shopping Network, a place that allows Dæmons to acquire creepy specific old stuff that gives them powers but also fucks with them in unforeseeable ways. She’s got a revolver here that causes anyone hit with its round to laugh uncontrollably, and while she’s got every intent to use it on Gabriel, the stunt backfires: she’s hit with her own medicine and is punished by their instructor, an intimidating bald fellow who wears sunglasses wherever he goes. Visible in the background is Machiko, the class representative who finds Gabriel’s actions irrational.
- For anyone who missed it, there was a Rick and Morty reference in the above figure caption. Season three’s finally off to a start now, and I’m only a few episodes out from wrapping up season two at this point in time. Returning to Gabriel Dropout, Machiko finds Satanichia’s art requests here unusual, but nonetheless tries her best to comply in order to keep Satanichia interested in the assignment. Machiko is voiced by Mai Fuchigami (Girls und Panzer‘s very own Miho “Miporin” Nishizumi), which was a pleasant surprise (read “it was nice to see Chino and Miho in the same show).
- Vignette is very fond of Earth holidays and events: if her friends do anything that may disrupt these events, she will exude a threatening aura that keeps them in line very quickly. Here, the girls are partaking in Halloween, and although Satanichia does not understand how it works initially, they visit their instructor’s home during Trick or Treat, although they somehow manage to do so during the day than night, as is customary.
- After trying to learn how to be more evil, Vignette finds herself under the weather and falls ill; Gabriel visits her to provide her with the day’s assignments. The page quote comes from Rick and Morty, where Rick encounters the Devil selling strange antiques. He constructs a device to analyse these antiques to determine their effects on their users after concluding that evil is a metric with a quantity. In Gabriel Dropout, notions of good and evil among the Angels and Dæmons are blurred: Dæmons are capable of good acts and act mischievous, while Angels can conceal their own sinful natures behind a veneer of wholesomeness.
- As with numerous anime before it have done, having the shapeliest figure amongst everyone means that Raphiel is subject to the most fanservice-type humour in Gabriel Dropout. Here, she spends the day in relative discomfort after realising that the day’s activities will involve a physical education exam. Raphiel is voiced by Kana Hanazawa, who also plays Nagi no Asukara‘s Manaka Mukaido, Charlotte Dunois of Infinite Stratos and Yukari Yukino in Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words and Your Name.
- While we are on the topic of Your Name, the movie released in North America on Friday to the general pleasure of the viewers here. However, this means little to me, as what I need is for the Blu-Rays to come out so I can acquire screenshots for my review. Back in Gabriel Dropout, Raphiel is forced to experience a failure of equipment when Satanichia begins dominating all of the athletic events, fearing that success here will get to Satanichia’s head. Satanichia’s mirror in Otafest Mio is similarly capable in all sports, only fearing academic subjects. In the meantime, Vignette attempts to motivate Gabriel by means of a bribe: if Gabriel participates in the day’s events, Vignette promises to treat her to a sukiyaki dinner.
- There’s something immensely enjoyable about watching Satanichia’s antics unfold: she and Vignette do a mock interview with their instructor, and despite Vignette’s apprehension, she manages to perform quite well. On the other hand, Satanichia fails despite her confidence, having obtained faulty information from a book she’s purchased.
- I personally found that the best moments in Gabriel Dropout come from Raphiel’s sadistic nature making it difficult for Satanichia to know when to trust her: here, Raphiel decides to share an umbrella with her, but Satanichia fears being betrayed at any given point, having been mistreated by Raphiel so extensively. It is sufficient to imagine that Raphiel experiences an intense surge of dopamine when she’s messing with Satanichia, but in this instance, tables are turned when the rain stops and Satanichia finds a frog – it turns out that Raphiel has ranidaphobia.
- Vignette and Raphiel do their utmost to host a Christmas party without Satanichia realising that the entire concept of Christmas is built around the birth of Jesus Christ (the knowledge of thus would lead Satanichia to defile the holiday). After several near-misses, the party proceeds without a hitch. An observant reader will note that although this anime is called Gabriel Dropout, Gabriel herself only appears in 53.33̅ percent of the screenshots here.
- This is actually a consequence of Gabriel Dropout being quite entertaining independently of Gabriel’s tendencies: she’s actually got a minimal presence, and humour surrounding her alone is not particularly noteworthy. Instead, it is Satanichia and Raphiel who make the show stand out with their antics, while Vignette acts as the voice of reason who tries to keep everything in check. I’ve now lost count of how many instances I’ve watched a Christmas episode of anime away from Christmas: it is not jarring to watch Christmas episodes away from Christmas, but every time I see an episode, my mind will wander and note the days to Christmas. In the case of Gabriel Dropout, when I reached this episode, there was nine months and nineteen days to Christmas.
- Christmas is not on my mind at present, being eight months and sixteen days away: summer needs to arrive, and with it, a host of activities, especially considering the complementary National Parks Pass on account of it being Canada’s 150ᵗʰ Anniversary. Returning to Gabriel Dropout, the girls visit a local shrine to welcome the New Year; after Gabriel gets hammered by amazake, she takes flight and surprises the shrine’s patrons. The girls later return to Heaven and Hell to report on their progress, with Gabriel trying to smuggle her electronic entertainment devices past Heaven’s security.
- While Raphiel greatly enjoys harassing Satanichia, she’s also quite wise to any sort of harassment from her own butler, whose efforts to see Raphiel naked are brazen and end in failure. Owing to space constraints in this post, I’ve not shown Satanichia spending time with her family, who is as unique as she in terms of personality (save her brother), and similarly, Vignette’s misadventures with her pet are not present here.
- For their progress report, Gabriel manages to pass off her gaming adventures as achievements. Such a list should clearly be implausible; it brings to mind the antics of a rather infamous personality online. A former major player in influencing the Japanese line of tanks in World of Tanks and also responsible for starting a major flame war at AnimeSuki, this individual was purportedly a graduate from both Tokyo and Yonsei university, worked in a senior position at a major company owned by their relatives, was sufficiently financially independent as to be able invest ten million without batting an eyelash and a distant relative of current Japanese emperor.
- The probability of someone satisfying all of these criteria is very unlikely; their ban from AnimeSuki and the general decline in the community’s interest in World of Tanks suggests that far from being the oujo-sama they purported to be, they’ve been found out. The moral of this is that lies don’t last under scrutiny. Gabriel will discover this in a very painful fashion at the end of Gabriel Dropout, but we return to the point in time where Satanichia takes in the very same dog who’s been persistently stealing her coveted melon bread in almost every episode after she learns it’s a stray whose fate will be to spend eternity in a city pound.
- Satanichia’s determination in finding lodgings that will accept pets sends her on a difficult, heartwarming but also extraneous journey across Japan: it is only Raphiel’s sick mind that allows Vignette and the others to locate Satanichia – Raphiel had installed a real-time GPS app onto Satanichia’s phone. In the end, Gabriel convinces the apartment’s owner, the owner of the coffee shop that she works at, to make an exception for Satanichia. Such an action would have been unsurprising for the old Gabriel, but it is quite welcoming to see Gabriel perform acts of kindness.
- Determined to save Gabriel, Tapris yearns to learn more about computers in order to figure out what she can do with Gabriel to lessen the latter’s time spent on them. Being an Angel, Tapris is unfamiliar with computers, but ultimately, picks up C, Java and PHP. These are wonderful skills: familiarity in with an object-oriented programming language some form of scripting are skills almost universally required for developers, although for Tapris, they will prove next to useless in helping her bring Gabriel away from her MMO addiction.
- Tapris is invited to a takoyaki party with Vignette and the others: while the others botch their cooking process and produce terrible takoyaki, Vignette fares better, producing quality takoyaki that is delicious. By the time Satanichia arrives, the first batch is done and over with. While Gabriel Dropout could direct humour in a more painful fashion and have Satanichia suffer by arriving much too late to the party, instead, the anime has Vignette asking Satanichia to be patient as they make more. Comedy that depends on excessive suffering to carry a joke (SpongeBob SquarePants and Family Guy are two instances where a character’s suffering fails to be amusing because it is inordinate) does not fly well with me; one of Gabriel Dropout‘s strengths is that it knows where to draw the line.
- The lessons about lies and delusions that I feel the individual above could deal with are illustrated in the finale: Gabriel’s older sister, Zelel, appears. One of the most accomplished and powerful angels around, Gabriel fears that Zelel will eliminate the Earth as the Death Star did to Alderaan, and so, puts on an act. Zelel sees through this and subjects Gabriel to punishment so intense, it cannot be shown on screen. The resultant Gabriel seemingly returns to her former state, but her friends find the fallen Gabriel more comforting. In a barrier isolating them from space-time, Gabriel informs her friends of the truth: she’s been faking her restoration to get Zelel off her back.
- This ruse fails, but Gabriel’s lies about friendship prompt Zelel to give Gabriel a second chance on Earth, on the condition that she personally supervises Gabriel. However, Satanichia’s dog frightens her off, and Gabriel can continue her hedonistic life in peace. The lies that Gabriel are forced to come up with do not withstand scrutiny, and a part of the humour of Gabriel Dropout is watching her try to conceal all of this from her family and Heaven. While presented in a comedic, light-hearted manner in Gabriel Dropout, another lesson the anime conveys is that lies are inherently unsustainable, and it is for this reason that folks aggrandising their reality often find themselves dismissed as others catch on.
- This rather unconventional post is finally done, and with it, I’ve concluded writing about all of the winter 2016 anime that I watched weekly. Admittedly, this post was somewhat difficult to write for, but it’s finished now. On the whole, Gabriel Dropout would probably score a B- (seven points of ten): fun in its own right and using its characters as effectively given their station, the anime can evoke some laughs, although beyond this, Gabriel Dropout does nothing particularly standout in its execution (e.g. narrative, emotional impact, visuals or audio). With this being said, I primarily watched this to see if it really could be counted as “Otafest The Anime”, and with the anime under my belt, I can say that it does capture that spirit reasonably well. Coming up in the very near-future: more Titanfall 2, now that I’m halfway through the campaign.
Overall, I’m largely neutral about Gabriel Dropout: it was modestly entertaining to watch mainly because of how closely the characters’ personalities are to their Otafest incarnations, but beyond this, the setting and basis of Gabriel Dropout is nothing novel, making use of a well-tread approach as the grounds to create a space for conflicting personalities to interact and drive the anime’s humour. The anime is best suited for folks seeking humour amongst a disparate group of friends and the ensuing pandemonium that can result when angels and dæmons bounce off one another, Similarly, for the folks who do know Otafest and its mascots, it will be very entertaining to watch how similar their animated incarnations are relative to the sort of things seen in social media. The character dynamics in Gabriel Dropout largely drive the anime’s entertainment factor – individually, each character is unremarkable, but the sum of their interactions creates a sort of synergy that gives the show a distinct brand of humour even if its other components are derivative. Of course, the real question that arises is: what do the writers of Otafest lore and organisers of Otafest have to make of all this?