When writing a Lesson in Disappointment, I have always initially liked the anime I’m discussing at one point. Shows like Death Note, The God of High School, or Sword Art Online had a lot of promise at one point, before the flaws began to overwhelm any enjoyment I derived. I watched Seven Deadly Sins at the request of my wife, so I went into this show with no expectations or real interest. I had seen the advertisements on Netflix of course, and I am usually intrigued by the concept of incorporating the seven deadly sins, but I knew next to nothing about the story.
[the following will contain minor spoilers for the first four seasons of Seven Deadly Sins]
Seven Deadly Sins began as a mediocre shonen romp with a lot of forgettable characters and some moderate fun to be had, but since the humble beginnings of season one, it has completely fallen apart. I do my best to be understanding towards the kind of media that people enjoy, but Seven Deadly Sins is a work with close to no positive qualities. There are some characters I like, it’s not always unbearable to watch, but when there is so much good anime to watch, why would you?
Seven Deadly Sins takes place in a fantasy version of Great Britain, commonly referred to as Britannia. The kingdom of Liones is defended by Holy Knights, elite magic wielding soldiers who have grown corrupt under the guide of Dreyfus and Hendrickson, who seek to unlock the power of the long extinct demon race. The princess of Liones, Elizabeth, seeks out the Seven Deadly Sins, the most powerful holy knights who were named for the great crimes they had committed, who have been hunted down by Dreyfus and Hendrickson for framed treason.
It’s a pretty simple concept, and let me be clear, I love the idea of using the seven deadly sins as a motif. There are so many interesting ways you can incorporate some of the worst qualities of people to create fleshed out characters. Just by assigning these titles to characters gives them their own mystique, almost putting them on a pedestal of fame or infamy, based on the religious connotations.
A lot of anime use the sins as a motif, like Fullmetal Alchemist and Re:Zero, though they don’t do a lot with the concept. The homunculi in FMA are mostly one-dimensional villains defined by their desires, with the exceptions of Envy and Wrath. Re:Zero’s witches and Sin Archbishops do more with them, particularly in the way that an Archbishop like Petelgeuse is less defined by sloth and more motivated by it. Still, the anime is in the early stages of elaborating on each of the witches, so I’ll refrain from going any further.
The problem with Seven Deadly Sins is that is basically does nothing with its own title and premise. They went to the trouble of naming the whole series after it, and basically none of them line up. Ban of greed is called that because he was a thief, not because he’s actually avaricious. Meliodas of wrath was given his title because he loses his temper when his friends and loved ones are threatened, and the series’ writing treats it like an uncontrollable beast. The sin of sloth, King, is only called that because he was out of commission with amnesia for an extended period of time. They base the name of the show and these characters off of a misnomer, almost on purpose.
The only halfway accurate titles are Pride, and Wrath if you think that wrath counts as perfectly dignified anger that he rarely if ever loses control on. Pride is just straight up arrogant because he’s powerful, and while that’s true to form, it is also kind of lazy that the writer couldn’t come up with any better application of the worst deadly sin by far.
It’s not completely necessary that these characters are defined by their title, because no good character would derive their whole personality from one negative trait, but come on. There are so many creative uses of these tropes and yet you use it just as a shallow namedrop to attract attention on a bookshelf? It’s the manga equivalent of clickbait.
But not all of my issues with this show are so trivial. You know what is trivial? The supporting cast of Seven Deadly Sins. I like shows with big casts, I love stuff like a Song of Ice and Fire where you need a spreadsheet just to remember all of these names. Seven Deadly Sins has a massive main cast, and the line between it and the supporting actors is blurred to the point of not existing. To do a large cast right, you need to focus on small groups at a time, get intimately familiar with them, and then slowly pan out to the rest of the world so as to not overwhelm the viewer.
When you are consuming any piece of media, the creators are asking you to care about these fictional things for the runtime. That’s asking a lot, because people have a lot going on. Family troubles, money troubles, work or school being rough, and you’re asking me to spend more of my time and emotional investment on things that aren’t even real? So when Seven Deadly Sins asks you to care about not just the Sins, but a dozen holy knights, and the even more minor side characters orbiting them, it’s insulting. They dedicate nearly as much time to the misadventures of bubblegum hair, the guy shaped like a yield sign, and random holy knight #473 as I do about the actual main characters.
Most shows that use the seven deadly sins as a concept do not make them the main characters. The reason for that is because it is really difficult to make your audience care about seven characters more or less equally. There is a good reason that The Fellowship of the Ring does not dedicate its time to the internal struggles of Gimli, and it’s because it keeps the narrative from having any focus. Seven Deadly Sins wants you to be interested in the personal drama of all seven sins, and the exponentially expanding cast. I used up every bit of investment after the fourth or fifth tragic backstory, and by the end of season one, you have nothing left to give.
And this is all writing issues, which is usually what I stick to in these kinds of essays. Every other show I’ve panned has been a work of art as far as its animation and music go, but the presentation here is significantly dodgier. The studio change from A-1 Pictures to Studio Deen is rather infamous with the drop in quality, but even the early seasons were rarely good and often downright terrible. The final fight of season one between the Sins and demon form Hendrickson is egregious. The line art is rushed and sloppy and the CGI integration and compositing is stark and out of place.
The fight between Meliodas and Escanor has become a meme because it looks like an amateur on clip art. Most studio anime is given roughly the same budget, so the problem with shoddy animation usually lies in staffing and scheduling. The best team of animators in the world can’t put out a good show if they’re given a strict deadline. Unfortunately, Seven Deadly Sins has been releasing more and more often since the studio swap, and the production value is suffering as a result.
Season one was far from a masterpiece, and season two looked generally better because it was only four episodes, but things have just gone haywire from there. The later seasons now look like the production staff used every rough draft from the storyboard. Meliodas vs. Escanor was supposed to be one of the most hype fights from the manga, and I can’t imagine the amount of disappointment that comes with following a manga for this long, and seeing one of the best battles get butchered. I’ve included a clip of some of the most egregious parts, as my usual still frames would be unfair to judge off of.
But none of this would matter if the characters were good. Most people can ignore the largest flaws in a show as long as you have fan favorite characters who you can latch on to and enjoy watching. A show with this large of a cast should surely have at least a handful of likable people in it, right? And Seven Deadly Sins has a few.
Ban has the best motivations of the main cast, but trying to resurrect your dead loli gf is cliche. His personality and wolfish character design are somewhat endearing too. Gowther is amusing at times, and Escanor’s bravado is the perfect embodiment of what scientists call a “gigachad”. The other Sins and characters range from tolerable to actually frustrating.
Meliodas is put up as this swell guy who will do anything to protect his friends, and loves a good fight. He’s basically a short blond Goku, just without a lot of the charming parts of Goku. He’s also a sex pest at best, and a predator at worst. It’s supposed to be this cute character quirk that he habitually molests Elizabeth, and them being the show’s primary ship excuses that. I don’t care that she reincarnates and that they’re meant for each other, that girl is 16 and in a just world season one would end with Meliodas being confronted by Chris Hansen.
And Elizabeth is violently irritating, shrilly following the plot as it happens and crowing “Sir Meliodas!” and failing to be useful except when the plot needs a deus ex machina. Diane is usually annoying as well, as her defining personality traits seem to be petulant and obnoxious. And then Merlin…she doesn’t have a personality except for being fan service and vaguely sexual, but I bring up these three in particular because this series has a real problem with writing women. Anime and manga aren’t known for their great portrayals of women, but when they’re this ineffectual and all of the ecchi content derives from non-consensual groping, I have to point it out.
Truthfully, none of the characters have any nuance or moral depth to them. Ban was a thief whose stealing never hurt anyone, Meliodas only loses his temper when his friends are hurt or killed. At the end of season one, the vastly corrupt holy knights change their ways the moment Hendrickson and Dreyfus are defeated. Um, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in institutional corruption, but I’m pretty sure it don’t work like that.
Despite these characters having an actual flaw built into their backstories, they all range from evil demons who want to destroy humanity because reasons or paragons of justice who are motivated only by the power of friendship, or they have a crush on someone. Shonen anime depends on having a strong and varied cast. If you don’t like any of Naruto’s friends or Deku’s classmates, why are you even watching? The heroes are one-note, and the villains are even drier.
I do not like Seven Deadly Sins, and it has only a handful of positive qualities, while the rest range from bland to terrible. Pulling the good out of this anime is akin to pulling needles out of a haystack. If you’re looking for shonen popcorn shows, you could watch so many things. Watch Blue Exorcist, or Fire Force if you prefer your action with an edge of fan service. The ecchi from Seven Deadly Sins varies between gross to tired and tepid tropes like panties shots. Too much for the people who just want to watch some shonen, but not confident enough to go in for the people who actually enjoy it.
And that’s the lesson from Seven Deadly Sins, more than making your characters likable or giving your animation team enough time to put out a quality product. If you have limited resources, then devote yourself to doing one or a few things especially well. Do not spread your finite assets so thin as to create a product that excels at nothing. Rather than making a show that is serviceable in every category, you make it fall short in them.
If you like seven Deadly Sins, that’s fine. Like I said, my wife adores the show, and it is simply a subject where we have to agree to disagree. However, this is the closest I will come to calling any kind of art ‘objectively’ bad, because I don’t believe that can really be the case. I simply do not understand the appeal of this series, and through this essay, I have not come a centimeter closer.