I remember starting this manga well over a decade ago. It may have even been close to 20 years ago at this point so it’s been quite the journey. Well, after a long hiatus it finally came back and actually got an ending so I figured I’d take it back from the top and read all the way through. It’s a fun title but one where the plot is actually the least interesting part. I was just way more engaged with Daisuke’s day to day life and comedic hijinks compared to the actual story which is the only thing holding this one back a bit.
The story starts off by introducing us to Daisuke who lives in a house that’s a bit out of the ordinary. His Mom is always building a ton of traps for him to get through, some of which are quite lethal and he has to get around them to leave for school. This is because he is training in order to be the next in line to house the Phantom Thief Dark as part of the Niwa family tradition. See, Each man in the Niwa family eventually takes on the role and they have to go around stealing a lot of treasures. Typically they focus on stealing artwork from Hiwatori’s family throughout the ages.
Daisuke isn’t thrilled about this but there also isn’t really anything he can do to refuse. Dark just appears in his soul at one point and now it’s time to start the party. Whenever Daisuke’s heart rate speeds up, it triggers his transformation into Dark and then he won’t change back again until Dark’s heart speeds up or if he just chooses to cancel the transformation. This will be difficult for Daisuke since he has a crush on Risa. Will he be able to get close to her without his heart rate going crazy or is he doomed to be forever alone as long as Dark is here? Also, can he keep his double life a secret without any of his friends finding out?
There’s a whole lot of rules to the body swapping part and it keeps on changing as the series goes on so it’s really rough for Daisuke. He doesn’t even care about the whole stealing art thing and just wants to be a normal kid but his mom is super enthusiastic about it. She’s always encouraging Daisuke to steal the artwork and will even put up signs and notices for him to alert the authorities. This all must be done by the book after all and Dark puts in a notice so the cops have a fair chance to try and stop him. Daisuke’s dad doesn’t care as much and in fact he never got possessed by Dark back in the day but he does his best to help out. He makes up for his lack of physical abilities by being great at finding research and ancient scrolls to help the heroes out.
The end game for Daisuke is that Dark should eventually fade away and in the past that has happened if both Dark and his human host fall for the same girl. The issue this time is that they’ve fallen for different people this time as Daisuke likes Risa and Dark likes Riku. Both of them are twins and this complicates things because then Dark may never leave which would make things really difficult for Daisuke. Another wrinkle is that Risa likes Dark while Riku likes Daisuke. As this is a romance manga first and foremost, expect those pairings to change quite a bit as the adventure goes on.
Now you may be wondering, why would the rom-com moments beat the actual plot? Well, the story tends to be very repetitive when it happens. For example, one arc may have Daisuke fall into a painting where he is now in a what if universe where there’s another kid who likes Riku. Another time he’ll fall into a painting where he has to confront his confidence issues. Each arc tends to feel like a bit of a retread of the last one and the arcs can be a bit long. So it can just feel like nothing is really happening the whole time and you want to get back to the real world to move the story along. Typically you do get a lot of lore and sometimes you will get a new supporting character but that’s about it.
The arcs aren’t bad or anything but the just aren’t as interesting. It feels like the real world is where things are going on. As for the characters, I’d say we’ve got a reasonably solid cast here. As the main character, Daisuke definitely has to be strong enough to hold the story and I’d say that he pulls this off from an interest standpoint but he’s not really my kind of character. The guy isn’t very confident and gets pushed around throughout the whole series. He tends to be a little too forgiving even when someone is trying to murder him.
He can also be a little flip floppy. As mentioned earlier, he likes Risa at first but gradually changes to Riku. This is exactly what I would call a rebound romance since it was clear that Risa was not interested in him. The same is true of Dark who ends up switching sides so only Risa and Riku followed the person that they actually liked from start to finish. Daisuke is a nice guy and he will ultimately make the right calls in the end but I just wish he had more confidence. Even by the end of the series you can say that he still isn’t very confident yet so he hasn’t gotten the full amount of character development that Yugi got.
As for Dark, well I like his confidence but he is definitely more of a flirt. He’s fallen for many different girls and so as a result it’s hard to ever take his romances seriously. Does he really love Risa or is he just going to move on again? That’s how I always feel for characters like this. At least in a fight you can certainly count on him though. This series doesn’t have too many action scenes but Dark is consistently shown to be one of the more powerful fighters in the verse. He can definitely hold his own and then some.
Then there’s Risa who is my favorite member of the twins. Risa ultimately steps up when the going gets tough and she is also quicker to realize when something isn’t right. While Riku is still fumbling around and unsure of what’s going on, Risa is always 5 steps ahead and still making plans of her own. She doesn’t get discouraged as easily as Riku does and still looks out for her sister all the time. Risa plays a big role in at least one of the dream adventures and she comes across as being more understanding. She certainly takes more risks as well which isn’t always a good thing but it all tends to work out for her.
She just does all of the right things each time. Riku’s fun enough too though. She does her best to uncover the situation behind Daisuke always running off. She does suspect that he might be Dark but the whole concept of that is just so out there that she has a hard time convincing herself of that. In fairness to her it can be hard to believe but she needs to trust her eyes more like Risa. Risa ultimately just took a look at the facts and it added up so then she connected the dots. Riku takes a bit longer to get to her destination. Risa and Riku definitely end up working well as the two heroines though.
That said, while I have my issues with Daisuke and Dark, they do have a fun dynamic as well. Naturally they are complete contrasts to each other and Dark will occasionally try to be helpful. Sometimes he’s clearly just there to get in the way and make Daisuke feel bad but other times he’ll do his best to help the kid out. It just ends up being frustrating for both of them since only one person can use the body at once. That makes going out difficult on both of them, especially since the other is always watching so it can be a bit awkward.
Then you have Hiwatori who is a big detective and the latest in the lineage of the family that Dark robs from. Naturally that means that he is a very big character here and with Daisuke not always being very clever about hiding his secret, Hiwatori is always right on his tail. Hiwatori does have some honor so he won’t just attack Daisuke at school or anything like that. If not for that self imposed rule then Daisuke would have been really doomed.
I’m not really a fan of Hiwatori though. For starters the manga tries to build up a bit of a romance with him and Risa but it starts off way too late for it to work at all. He needs to stay in his lane there especially since he’s trying to destroy Dark and he knows how she feels about him. Hiwatori is the kind of guy who tends to follow orders most of the time and doesn’t question them. He is dealing with a lot as his alter ego Krad isn’t as nice as Dark. So you do feel bad for him and things rarely go his way. That said, he just doesn’t make the right choices most of the time and is certainly not someone that Daisuke can rely on. I don’t blame the mom for being really concerned whenever Hiwatori is around. I’d say he has earned that distrust from how he acts in the manga.
I never really ended up becoming a fan of that guy. His alter ego Krad doesn’t appear as often as you’d think. At first you would expect him to appear almost as much as Dark but that’s actually not the case. Krad makes the most of his brief amounts of screen time and is one of the only people who can actually fight Dark in close quarters combat but I still didn’t care for him much. His goal isn’t great at all and he just feels desperate since he knows that he can’t actually beat Dark in a fair fight. It’s impressive of Hiwatori to hold him back all the time but it’s also a bit of an anti feat for Krad.
After that we get into the art characters. So you’ve got Towa who I completely forgot from back in the day and she’s a nice enough supporting character. She knows a bit about the supernatural stuff going on in the series and can usually provide insight to the characters not trapped in the mirrors. Ultimately her function is more as a guide/informant than as a fighter but she adds to the dynamic reasonably well. The cast was really small without her there so she helps to round things out a bit.
Then we have Argentine who is the first big villain. The guy starts off rather whiny though and so he never got to be all that good. He just wants to be loved and all of that which is pretty deep for a painting, but in the end it’s never going to be one of the best character motivations for me. He tries to be helpful later on but I can’t really think of any really big moments where he contributed. He’s around a lot but just doesn’t do much of anything so that doesn’t help his case either.
Then you have Manisumea who ends up being one of the biggest threats in the series. I’ll give him props for having a painting arc with more personality than the others. Seeing Daisuke have to fight with a new kid for his romantic dreams and Risa actually getting her own plot was nice. None of that really helps Manisumea though who comes across as rather desperate. It seems like the only way for him to get his own identity in the real world is to replace Daisuke which is definitely a rough deal but I guess you gotta do what you gotta do. He’s less memorable than Argentine but I suppose he’s a better villain.
Outside of the paintings you’ve also got Saehara who is Daisuke’s best friend. The guy serves his role as the comic relief character but doesn’t actually do much beyond that. He’s a big Dark fan and also wants to catch him someday so the guy has spirit but you almost forget that he exists half the time. He just doesn’t tend to leave a big impression and I don’t think the series gives him a ton of screen time either way.
The final main character in the present is Hiwatori’s dad- Elmroot. So that guy is an interesting figure because the whole time you’re waiting for him to make some kind of grand move. You know it’s going to be really epic and then you see that the series is almost over and he hasn’t done anything yet. He’s a little more on the ruthless side compared to Hiwatori but ultimately he does have a pretty good backstory. By the end I thought he was an interesting character. Definitely an underused one without a doubt, but I was glad that he was around. It would have been nice if he could have met Daisuke’s Dad at some point though. I think that could have been a lot of fun with how different they are. Daisuke’s dad always had a lot of good moments even though they were low key. You’ve also got Wiz who does his best to help Daisuke out. He’s like a little winged rabbit who initially can’t talk or anything but can gradually talk a bit. This is perfect for helping Daisuke’s cover when he has to be in two places at once. He’s also Daisuke’s wings most of the time so yeah this little creature is absolutely a crucial member of the team and should not be overlooked!
Finally we get to the 3 flashback characters. Near the end of the series there was a quick mini arc about one of Daisuke’s predecessors and I thought it was handled pretty well. In fact you could probably say that it was the best arc out of the big story ones. So Taize was considered a rebel in the family and he refused to steal anything. He got along with Dark well enough but the issue was that Taize was also a big flirt and so he didn’t actually feel a special way about anyone. As a result Dark couldn’t come out. Well, one day Taize runs into a girl named Fukami who works for Yuu and that’s when his heart speeds up for the first time.
It’s a very dramatic story for sure with a lot of drama but the big 3 had a better dynamic than the main 3 in the present timeline. I think what helps a lot is how confident Taize is. He’s certainly not about to get pushed around here and he also has a lot of skills even without Dark stepping in. Taize ultimately worked on his own terms and left in much the same way. He was just a very interesting character through and through.
Fukami made for a good heroine as well. She was insecure about her voice and so initially she would only speak to Yuu. She only made an exception when Taize stole Yuu’s painting so that she could get it back. She succeeded in getting it back but Yuu was super petty and upset that she talked to someone else. Throughout it all Fukami always took the high ground and would even talk using paper after that so as not to upset Yuu. She was a very considerate person and I’m glad that things went well for her. A tragic ending would not have felt right there.
Finally there was Yuu and I didn’t care for him. You can see how the whole thing is tragic for him since he clearly liked Fukami a lot but basically lost her in an instant. I just lost my respect for him when he was upset at her about the whole thing. He only has himself to blame for not making a move and he needs to keep that in mind. From there it continued the eternal rivalry between the two families on an even more intense level. It was a nice way to see further into the rivalry and the arc was just really good.
Now after all of that you may be thinking, this review seems pretty negative eh? Can it actually achieve the positive score in the end? Wel, I’d say that this one is able to do it. It’s true that I wasn’t a huge fan of the characters or the story but I was always engaged with seeing what would happen next. The series is a good page turner and that’s because the dynamics are solid.
Dark and Daisuke always have a lot of fun conversations. Riku and Risa also have a nice bond going and the series is definitely at its best when it is focusing on the comedy. It has a lot of charm to it and the adventures are nice. In a way the stealing things element is just the backdrop for these school adventures. If you cut out the actual arcs of falling into a painting each time then the series would excel even more. Perhaps it would run the risk of being too low key but I think it could pull this off.
As for the artwork, it definitely changes a lot as you go through the series. It makes sense when you consider how long this series had to wait until the final arcs. There is something nice and retro about the original art but either way I would say it looks solid throughout the series. You can definitely follow along with no trouble at all. The character designs are all unique and at most you can just have trouble when Daisuke is turning into Dark sometimes. You aren’t always sure if he’s in the hybrid form, the faux form, or if he actually is Dark now. In fairness to the art though, sometimes the mystery is intentional by the manga since you aren’t supposed to know how it is. The transformation rules can be a little complicated as I said earlier.
Unfortunately I was not a big fan of the ending at all. I thought they kind of fumbled the ball there a bit. It reminds me of the ending for a series with a dynamic very similar to this one and it made the same mistake. When you’ve been together for so long and become best friends, you want both characters to be able to have a satisfying end. When that doesn’t happen then it just feels like a really big shame. Especially because the journey was so long. There is still more to like than to dislike here of course but a nice ending would have been a good cherry on top for the experience.
As for the romance, I touched on it a bit earlier but I wouldn’t call it particularly strong. Mainly because both characters are on their second choices in a sense. Not saying you can’t change your mind or anything but it’s always a bit of a trickier sell as opposed to going for the main pick. That’s when you can really get behind the romance and it all works out nicely. There’s no room for doubts or anything like that.
Overall, D.N.Angel is a good series. I’d say the best way to describe it is as a very peaceful manga. You can easily blitz through 20 chapters or more at a time because you are always eager to see what will be happening next. The story knows how to keep you at the edge of your seat even without any action as you wonder how Daisuke will get out of revealing his secret identity this time. The series just tends to stall a lot whenever it enters a story arc. While that may seem like it should be reversed, it is the slice of life moments that feel a lot more important. I think a better cast could have helped it turn around to the next level but if you’re looking for a solid romance type manga then this is still a good one to check out. The phantom thief element shakes things up a bit and there’s nothing really crazy here. This is the kind of title you could recommend to someone who hasn’t read much manga before and they’ll be able to follow along real easy.