For better or worse, Seven Mortal Sins is the epitome of ecchi anime. Indebted to the fanservice series that preceded it, it feels like an apotheosis, a culmination – a climax. To an extent, I’m talking specifically about the show’s fanservice, which, like contemporaries Testament of Sister New Devil and Valkyrie Drive, pushes the limits of good taste. It’s so pornographic and fetishistic at times, you could describe it as hentai. But where those series seemed to purely exist to be wrapped up in paper bags and sold to sweaty-necked otaku, Seven Mortal Sins boasts formidable production values and a narrative substantial enough to shoulder full-fledged characters, self-aware jokes and, of course, abundant nudity.
The series begins with a descent into hell. We follow fallen angel Lucifer (Nicole Endicott) as she plummets from heaven into the depths of Hades, with only a brief stopover with the devout human Maria (Madeleine Morris). After attracting the attention of Leviathan (Brittany Lauda) – aka Envy – Lucifer challenges the demon lords representing the eponymous sins for supremacy over the nether kingdom.
These demon lords are Vanity: Belial (Elizabeth Maxwell), Wrath: Satan (Dawn M. Bennett), Sloth: Belphegor (Ella Davis), Greed: Mammon (Annabel Thorne), Gluttony: Beelzebub (Arielle O’Neal), Lust: Asmodeus (Morgan Garrett) and Melancholy: Astaroth (Jad Saxton). Each is clad in the kind of scandalously revealing outfit that you’d expect to find at a Heaven-and-Hell costume party held by Hugh Hefner. The character designs wouldn’t be out of place on the cover of Playboy, either; each lord is implausibly busty with the obligatory underdeveloped exception of Gluttony.
That the ravenously hungry, forever-eating demon lord would exist in the form of a perilously thin teenage girl is testament to Seven Mortal Sins blunt, but effective, sense of humour. This isn’t the sort of show where you expect complex character arcs, but the tying of each of the main characters – including Lucifer, who’s burdened with Pride, but excluding Maria – to a mortal sin allows the writers to do distinctive character work. Leviathan is a great example; immediately infatuated with Lucifer, she approaches literally any interaction with fearsome jealousy, especially ‘Lucy’s’ bond with Maria (which has storyline justification but is mostly there for the Sapphic overtones), embodying the sin of envy with every action. These broad character definitions facilitate similarly broad comedy, but they also become the foundation for an entertaining string of mid-season episodes.
After Lucifer’s attempts to assume the throne of Hell are foiled by Belial, she returns to Earth and plots her revenge, taking on the remaining six demon lords one by one. Rather than staging the kind of effects-heavy action sequences popular in anime but rendered mind-numbing through repetition, each of the Labours of Lucifer have their own unique characteristics. Belphegor’s Sloth is realised in her MMORPG addiction, so of course Lucifer must conquer her virtual realm. No surprise that Beelzebub’s Gluttony showdown is an eating contest, though the extended hospital stay thereafter makes for a weird digression. The most memorable confrontation is between Lucifer and Astaroth; the lord of Melancholy is a successful rap artist, so the two battle to become the most successful pop idol – with surprisingly not-shit original tunes and all!
The production values of Seven Mortal Sins are surprisingly high across the board, actually. The animation is detailed and kinetic throughout, with lighting and computer effects on par with top-of-the-line contemporaries. Where the time has been really spent, though, is on all that fanservice.
Where fanservice series from a few years prior might miserly dole out scenes of nudity or sexual innuendo, every episode of this series is packed with lewdness. Throughout Lucifer’s showdowns, these might be incidental, but some episodes really push the boundary of an Australian R-rating. The tenth episode, for instance, sees Lucifer descend through the nine circles of hell, finding in each one of the defeated demon lords subject to some overtly fetishized torture – typically sans clothing. From time-to-time the series might threaten to engage its audience in its trifling storyline, but invariably it snaps back into pure pornography, enthusiastically indulging in fetishes I hadn’t even heard of.
All of this begs the question – how does a series like this get made? Specifically, how does a series this unapologetically ecchi get paired with reasonable writing and impressive production values? I understand the success of crossover series like High School DxD, which split their time between leering fanservice and serialised storylines, but it’s hard to imagine anyone watching, say, a censored cut of this series and connecting with the story through a maze of light beams. I have a soft spot for guilty pleasures like this, but it’s hard to understand the economics driving a show like this.
Perhaps the economics don’t quite work out; from what I understand, the Blu-Ray and DVD sales have been comparatively lacklustre (though it’s entirely possible other merchandise can make up the difference). If Seven Mortal Sins is the epitome of ecchi anime, it’s hard to imagine a follow-up series managing to live up to this standard – to cram in so much perversion alongside glossy animation and an honest-to-goodness storyline. That said, perhaps this is the first shot across the bow for an ecchi subculture that, like the porno boom of the ‘70s, pairs titillation with ambition for a very specific audience. Once you’ve descended into hell, though, it’s hard to imagine how you can sink any further.