At first glance, The Seven Deadly Sins looks like a run of the mill Shōnen anime with a medieval fantasy twist. Indeed the story sounds all too familiar: Elizabeth, a naïve, helpless princess with a good heart escapes from her corrupt kingdom (complete with sick bedridden king and evil regent!) to recruit the titular Sins, a merry band of asskickers who once served the kingdom before mysteriously disappearing after being framed for a murder they did not commit ten years prior. While this sounds like the setup for a medieval A-Team, none of the Sins are together anymore and mostly do not feel compelled to live altruistic lives. With the help of Meliodas, Captain of the Sins and name of my next Dungeons and Dragons character, Elizabeth sets out on a journey to find the remaining Sins, save the kingdom from the corrupt Holy Knights that now run the show, and shed some light on the aforementioned mysterious murder that set this plot in motion. As this universe was also inspired by someone Dungeons and Dragons epic-level campaign of munchkin powerhouses, you can also count on the appearance of dark magic, demonic powers, a talking comic-relief pig, and the obligatory historical domain character cameo.
The opening episodes quickly establish that the Sins do not require the emotional resolve needed for typical Shōnen protagonists to unlock the depths of their powers, beat the odds and save the day as is the case in shows like Dragonball, Naruto, or One Piece. The Sins are quite capable of providing bursts of power on their own as needed, which tends to be after a sufficient amount of drama has passed or the resident foolish princess interjects herself into combat situations. While it would beeasy for most of the Sins to appear arrogant, they thankfully do a good job of not outwardly showing it, instead shrugging of danger with friendly banter mixed with “been there, seen that.” Emotional shōnen powerups eventually appear, but they are mostly reserved for the final act with the exception of a few nice hints of foreshadowing (there is a good reason Meliodas fights with a broken sword).
So how do you create compelling action scenes with such over-the-top displays of badassery? Why with an equally badass group of immoral villains. This being medieval fantasy, that gives us the “Holy Knights” a faction of corrupt Knight Templar who, like all good fictional Templar, are more gray than white on the scale of holiness. Since this is a Japanese anime, the idea of fantasy magic manifests itself more as an (often elemental) extension of physical combat instead of magical chanting. In other words, the characters are more “magic knight doing cool things with weapons” as opposed to “the wizard casts a spell.” While the latter does appear from time to time, this universe hasn’t quite figured out an answer to the age-old “magic is mysterious enough to solve everything!” conundrum so traditional displays of magic are reserved for moments of maximum plot drama.
This might sound like an anime twist on a stereotypical high fantasy adventure, and that is what you get at the end of the day. Despite the lack of originality, the anime is pretty good and fun to watch. There is plenty of compelling storytelling scattered around the fighting, and each of the Sins have very complex, well-written stories that gradually come to light as they each have their moments in the spotlight. This spotlight is frequently shared by the antagonistic holy knights, with their own complex pasts that bring a touch of gray morality to the entire cast. While I do have to knock the story a bit for being slightly too optimistic and cheery overall, it is nowhere near Disney-level and there are plenty of dark, dramatic moments.
While the Seven Deadly Sins may not break any new ground, the anime plants a lovely garden of action and plot in the old ground. If you like high fantasy or seeing crazy Dungeons and Dragons-esque adventures come to life, this short anime series is worth a look.