By Nakaba Suzuki
The Seven Deadly Sins exudes a sort of playfulness in its narrative that hearkens back to classic action-adventure shonen like Dragon Ball. Its rich world inhabited by relatively simple but well-developed characters provides it a flexible tone, giving it leeway to experiment and have fun in a way more indulgently serious fare like Bleach simply can’t. Where last week provided strong character development and a compelling relationship drawn for Elizabeth and Elaine, this week shifts focus to Meliodas and Ban and appropriately provides an entirely different experience. While the former were vulnerable enough for their opponents to present a credible threat, the series knows that very little is going to faze the likes of the latter two powerhouses. Consequently, the series drops all pretense of making their opponents, scary-looking but simple-minded demons, anything more than foils, taking the focus into more comedic territory.
Comedy works through many facets, but most will agree that it is based in surprised expectations, and often at the pain of at least one of the characters involved. This chapter is a prime example of these two attributes. As soon as the battle begins, Meliodas and Ban begin a pissing contest talking about how much better their respective love interests are than the other’s. No matter what their demon opponents do to them, whether they rip off an arm, or hit them right in the face, Meliodas and Ban continue their conversation as if nothing as happened. The reaction of the demons to their successively failing attacks is priceless, partially because of how animalistic they are, and how one doesn’t expect to see mindless monsters displaying shocked and bewildered expressions, but also because their attacks on the duo actively hurt them.
Take, for instance, when one of the monsters swoops down to grasp Meliodas in its claws. One might expect Meliodas to be picked up by the beat and have to wriggle his way out, but instead, Meliodas doesn’t budge. Instead, the creature’s arm has been ripped off while still gripping Meliodas’ face, as Meliodas continues his conversation in Ban without even noticing it. The reaction the beast has as its screaming in agony over its lost foot is such a great gag, a Looney Tunes-esque bit of slapstick you just don’t see in most battle shonen fights. The pain the monsters are feeling as they are casually beaten down, their shocked faces, bulging eyes, and pathetic ineptitude, is all sold by the artwork, which perfectly captures the brutality while humanizing the monsters to an extent where the reader can recognize a relatable frustration in them that makes their failure all the more funny.
The way everything keeps escalating until the final comedic stinger, when Meliodas and Ban finish their argument and look around only to realize the monsters are already dead, is paced just right, never taking too long for a gag or overstaying the scene’s welcome. By coupling the one-sided fight with Meliodas and Ban’s equally funny banter about which of their girlfriends is better and reaction shots of said girlfriends wondering what the hell they’re talking about, there’s both physical and dialogue-based comedy going on simultaneously, keeping the scene moving and packing in twice the jokes in a small amount of time. Balance it out with interesting character insights stemming from said conversation, including new information about Meliodas’s relationship with Elizabeth’s past incarnation Liz, and you’ve got one heck of a substantially entertaining chapter.
Nakaba Suzuki, like many others of his generation, grew up reading Dragon Ball, and no where better can that influence be seen than in the execution of this chapter. It’s striking in how witty and effortlessly the series balances an exciting fight, character development, and hilarious comedy all at the same time while never once feeling unfocused. It’s a Toriyama-esque conceit masterfully executed, something rarely captured in a manga outside of Toriyama’s own, even in One Piece, which is practically Dragon Ball’s spiritual successor. The way Dragon Ball was able to creatively infuse humor into its fights and create a world and characters that could effortlessly weave in and out of comedic and serious moments made that series the gold standard to which all other battle shonen manga are compared to. With this chapter, The Seven Deadly Sins has shown that it not only understands the strengths of that seminal work, but also has the tools to replicate them and make them its own, a credit to Suzuki’s talent, and yet another enthralling demonstration of the series’ creative vitality and flexible construct.