Warning this review will spoil the shit out of this show, if you haven’t seen it yet, you might not want to read this post.
I think the reason Nanatsu no Taizai succeeds, and if its popularity is anything to go by I’d say it has succeeded, is because it has found balance in the areas where the vast majority of shounen-battle shows either never had any balance to begin with or slowly lose it as the story continues. Shounen as a genre, and the shounen-battle subgenre in particular, has acquired some annoying baggage and a childish reputation. Typically everyone coming into a shounen show is expecting bullshit power-ups, a focus on willpower and friendship, and teenage protagonists. Nanatsu no Taizai is not really any of the above. Most of its major characters are not even human and their lifespans are fucking enormous, you know when they aren’t outright immortals. Adding to that the characters have some variety in terms of how old they look. Merlin, Ban and Diane look like they are in their 20s or early 30s, while King and Meliodas look more like the typical teenage protagonist, and Gowther can pass as a teen or young adult. In battles characters rarely power-up and as far as I can tell, when they do power-up, friendship and willpower are not the deciding factors. Instead it usually involves Meliodas’s demon powers or the introduction of a Jingi, the relic weapons used by all major Holy Knights. In particular I liked how King explained that the Jingis didn’t actually make anyone stronger, they just allowed the user to draw out more of their magic power, the way a mage’s staff would help focus a mage’s energy in most fantasy universes.
The other major place Nanatsu no Taizai found balance was in its light and dark bits. Typically shounen shows overly favor the light part of their stories and just handle darkness by adding a tragic backstory or the death of a friend or something, which then gets swept aside later. Take Naruto for example. One the darkest parts of that show was Gaara and his backstory, it had tragedy and gore, and it was totally paved over when Naruto brought Gaara back into the light. The same goes for Itachi, he was the coolest motherfucker in the show when he was the dark, brooding villain, then his story got overdosed by an injection of brotherly love and his dark side lost a lot of its weight. Nanatsu no Taizai has found a better balance. It has lots of light scenes, with plenty of comedy and a more childish atmosphere. It also has some surprisingly dark shit that doesn’t get swept under the rug. King and Helbram in particular have to deal with some traumatic events, but rather than just overcoming said them as is normal, both characters adjust to them and they form some other aspect of their character. And I think this part of what makes Nanatsu no Taizai stand apart from so many of its shounen contemporaries, it handles the darkness in its story much more skillfully than other shounen series and they don’t smother it with friendship until it disappears, instead our characters learn how to move on, changed as they are by the darkness they have witnessed or experienced. These of course are not the only reason Nanatsu no Taiai kicked ass though.
Nanatsu no Taizai shook up the old shounen formula by making almost every major character a badass in their world before we even meet them. It would be like if Naruto’s main characters had been the Akatsuki, and we watched them get hunted down by ninja villages from their perspective. This was a fantastic decision for a number of reasons. One, it did help mitigate the bullshit power-ups because our heroes were already fucking strong and didn’t need them. Two it made the show more over the top, but in a fun way, kind of like Gurren Lagann, Kill la Kill and the currently airing One Punch Man (which is amazing by the way). Another major selling point is the characters. They don’t fall into the typical roles I’ve seen so many of, they show a level of craft and care that marks them out as a cut above. King in particular is really fucking strong on the character development front, though my personal favorite is Diane’s backstory because I better relate to her loneliness and subsequent tendencies to be clingy. Also Diane is just my favorite of the Sins for a number of reasons. But to sum this whole character thing up, I think what makes the Sins so appealing is that all of them are as equally different from each other as they are from normal people, and that they are also monsters among monsters, overwhelmingly powerful even by the standards of the powerful Holy Knights. It’s not a position your main characters are in very often and surely not at the start of the story, and it really opens up new possibilities for the mostly stale and formulaic battle-shounen genre.
The last thing I want to touch on is the magic. I am a huge fantasy fan and magic is my favorite part of fantasy. I like the way Nanatus no Taizai handles its magic, with everyone more or less having a different type of magic. It reminds of back when Fairy Tail was still really good, because I liked the variety of magics available and how they had to get creative with their attacks when people had such a limited magic skill set. Nanatsu no Taizai did a good job of making the magic decently flashy and impressive enough in scale to keep up with the show’s over the top nature of the show without sacrificing animation quality too often. Which brings me to my final point, Diane and her Earth magic. Earth magic is probably the single most undervalued and underused type of magic. Most of the time Earth Magic is just used to make walls, or shoot rocks or maybe split the ground and drop boulders or something. In the vast majority of magic shows Earth magic is the same uninspired, and not visually impressive, selection of rock walls. Most of the time an earth golem is about the coolest thing you can expect from Earth magic. Which is why Diane’s magic is so awesome. Not only does she have the single biggest attack in the show, I’m not kidding the main villain only flips out twice in the show, once when Meliodas uses Revenge Counter and once when Diane uses Mother Catastrophe, and Mother Catastrophe was way bigger in scale and a more impressive spectacle than Revenge Counter. Diane also uses Earth magic really creatively to do all kinds things, it is to the best of my knowledge the most dynamic and interesting Earth magic in anime to date, with the only possible exception being Nickelodeon’s Avatar if you consider that an anime. So yea… just watch the show, its a really good example of what battle-shounen done right can look like. Hopefully y’all enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.