Daybreak Illusion is in the same category as Puella Magi Madoka Magica – it’s a darker take on the magical-girls genre. Although it gets real dark, fast, compared to Madoka Magica, it pulled its punches for the most part. While interesting to watch, it lacked the proper development to be truly great.
Purpose: Not Really Good. It wasn’t entirely clear what they were trying to do. Much of the anime was more weighted to action. Rather, it was the impact of the action on the characters. However, events that they spend half of the anime agonizing over were glossed over in the end. It’s almost as though the author tired of that theme, treating it as more of a several episode plot-arc instead what they set it up as – an overarching theme. The focus then shifted to the “ultimate mysteries of the world.” Oddly, they don’t even go too far there. They give hints of even greater and darker revelations, but never really explore them. Frankly, that got lost in what appeared to be an odd attempt to tie in the old “plot arc” into what was going on. The lack of focus ended up sapping some strength from all of the other elements. By the end, it felt as though the events should have been really gripping – edge of the seat gripping – but they didn’t really manage to set it up properly.
Characters: Weak. It’s important to note that character depth and interesting characters are two different things, although they can be related. The characters in Daybreak Illusion were interesting, both in their character design and personalities. Each of the characters played a different role and provided a slightly different take on what was going on. However, they lacked depth. In this case, the depth was relegated to the characters’ backstories and some problem that came up, related to their past, that they had to overcome. Basically, it was a one-off problem that, once solved, was the end of the character’s development journey. In this way, it was a rather short trek for our characters to make. This ended up robbing many scenes and plot elements of their impact because the characters weren’t strong enough to make it a compelling personal struggle.
World: Good. This was another world that involves Tarot cards. However, this only serves as a basis for giving the main girls powers. Only the most basic and superficial things are explained – just enough to give you a sense of what’s going on. For over half of the anime, this bare-bones setting is used. Most of the actual world-building comes after the halfway point. Once that happens, it actually begins to explain things. Sadly, there ends up being more questions than answers – they hint at something bigger and darker lurking behind the scenes. They don’t go much further than hints, though. With all that said, the world gets the job done by providing an interesting enough setting for interesting things to happen in.
Plot: Very Good. The plot itself was quite good, in spite of some hiccups. There were a good deal of strong plot points that were clearly designed to test a character’s personality. Many of those plot points resulted in changes in perspective or trajectory of a character’s development. However, the strength of the plot was squandered by the weaknesses in other elements. That’s not to say the plot was uniformly strong. One problem was that it was a bit predictable – each character got a turn in resolving an outstanding personal problem. Another problem was that a major plot point was discarded, only to be hastily tied in at the end. This created an odd disconnect in the logical progression of events. In spite of these failings, it still managed to be quite strong, perhaps too strong for the rest of the elements.
Storytelling: Decent. While it feels like the storytelling was a major letdown, it still did a basic enough job to work without really detracting from anything. Some of the scenes were quite strong because they set up moments that were supposed to be solidly emotional. One of the strongly notable scenes involved creating an odd sense of wrongness, as though something was off. This ended up being quite important. Unfortunately, some of the stronger scenes that had proper buildup didn’t end up working out the way it should have because the weak characters that prevented the payoff. Other scenes, however resulted from a story that was disappointingly done in several areas, weakening the overall mood. Rather, it failed to set up the appropriate mood. One example is how they don’t manage to convey important information until way past its relevance. This isn’t good because it leaves the audience speculating about what’s going on instead of guiding the audience through the story. When that happens, it hurts the overall mood because the audience gets out of sync with the events that are unfolding.
Pace: Very Good. The pace wasn’t really a problem here. While the anime does get quite dark, fast, they leave enough space to prevent it from becoming overwhelming. The pace is fairly uniform throughout, fast enough to prevent things from getting stale.