There are moments during the first half of the fifth season of The Seven Deadly Sins where it is worth reminding yourself that most of the characters come from Arthurian legend. Mostly that’s because since Lancelot and Tristan haven’t come in, that means that Ban, Elaine, Elizabeth, and Meliodas have to survive long enough to spawn them – Ban and Elaine are the parents of Sir Lancelot while Meliodas and Elizabeth are the parents of Prince Tristan. That’s a very academic way of saying that things are incredibly tense for most of these twelve episodes, with the main cast split up for the majority of this half of the season, and loyalties shifting all over the place.
Because the focus of the actions in the story’s present are so rooted in the events of three thousand years in the past, there’s an opportunity for the show to develop some of the previously one-dimensional characters a bit more. Arguably the character who benefits the most from this is Zeldris, Meliodas’ younger brother. Prior to this storyline, Zeldris was mostly a black-and-white villain, determined to squash anyone who got in his way and utterly devoted to the cause of reviving – or creating a new version of – the demon king. His bitterness towards his brother seemed to stem from the fact that Meliodas betrayed the demon race by joining forces with Stigma and later the Sins, but now we learn that Zeldris’ anger may very well be towards himself. In the distant past, he had a lover, a vampire (classified as a lesser demon race) named Gelda. Gelda was considered Zeldris’ social inferior much in the same way that Meliodas’ relationship with Elizabeth was considered beneath both of them, and ultimately, Zeldris lost his love. But the reason behind this could be framed in a few ways. It’s certainly possible that Meliodas’ betrayal and the Demon King’s anger both contributed to this – if they weren’t the outright cause – but there’s a more intriguing possibility: that Zeldris wasn’t as brave as Meliodas in standing up for his love and thereby lost her. Meliodas had the guts to throw everything away for both his beliefs and the woman he loved and, if it wasn’t an outright success, at least ended up with more of a chance to be with her. But Zeldris couldn’t do that. What he told himself was loyalty may really have been fear and a sense that he had to be the responsible brother, and because he couldn’t bring himself to more openly defy the demons and his father, he has been holding onto a slim, slim hope and bathing daily in his anguish over Gelda. The person he hates most may not be Meliodas, but himself.
Certainly, this has a parallel in the Estarossa/Mael storyline, but what’s perhaps more interesting is the way that the characters who are not members of the Sins manage to embody them in much more traditional ways than the Sins themselves. Escanor may be Pride in that he’s proud of his power and himself (at least while the sun is high), but Ludociel is arguably more arrogant with less reason – look at the way he assumes Gilthunder takes a hit for him when we viewers know that has more to do with Ludociel possessing Margaret’s body than Ludociel himself. Similarly, Zeldris could be said to be a more traditional embodiment of Wrath than Meliodas, as he takes out people because of his own internal anger rather than because he has any solid reason for it. And Estarossa’s lust (or love, depending on how you see it) for Elizabeth is behind his actions in the first part of this cour, while Gowther’s lust for love is a less typical way to depict that particular sin as well as a nod to his Arthurian namesake, a knight whose desires for good and evil warred within him. In fact, we could almost look at Estarossa’s feelings as showing the corruption of the Commandment of Love as it turns into the Sin of Lust. Every character, especially the Sins and the Commandments, has a flip side, and these episodes do a good job of making that clear and guiding you to consider just why original creator Nakaba Suzuki divided and categorized them as he did.
Another interesting theme that continues to be developed is the idea of change. Demons have consistently shown more ability to do so than angels (so called in this review for ease of discussion; I know they’re members of the goddess race), possibly because angels appear to be born and many demons created from humans, such as Derieri. The reveal that Estarossa is Mael fits into this, because he began as an angel before being changed into a demon in order to maintain the balance of the world…but also because his actions revealed him to be perhaps more comfortable with what he viewed as “righteous” killing than some of the others, even among the Archangels. He is unable to truly revert to his former self as Mael until he is shown the truth of his own hubris by Gowther, and it is by recognizing his folly that he finds the power to change. Since this is also something we saw with Derieri and Gowther himself, it cements the idea that in the world of the show, change is something that has to happen from the inside out.
That makes for a slightly too direct parallel with Purgatory being inside Hawk’s eye, at least in the portal sense. Ban and Meliodas fight the Demon King from the inside, and Purgatory transforms them based on how long they suffer in its clutches – spend too long, and you will transform into a beast from the place’s malign influences. Their changes are therefore rather more on the nose than Estarossa/Mael’s or Ludociel’s and Zeldris’, but it is impressive that the metaphor holds up through so many permutations – including King’s physical transformation into a young man with some truly bad hair as he finally breaks through his internal power block.
The Seven Deadly Sins: Dragon’s Judgement is clearly guiding us into the story’s endgame. It’s never been a show that was afraid to be overtly romantic or to torment its characters, and we’re really starting to see both of those things pay off as we edge closer to the second cour. While the art and animation suffer a bit this time around – a few episodes are noticeably off-model and apart from big fights there’s a definite sense of less dynamic animation – both English and Japanese vocal casts are at the top of their games. The use of Arthurian legend continues to form a solid backbone for the series as well, and it’s interesting to note that Mael (written Maël) is the name of a Welsh saint in Arthurian lore, because that’s likely to have some bearing on whatever becomes of that character later on. It looks as if it will have been worth waiting for the gang to get back together when the second half of the season drops and we see who among the cast has the ability to look inside themselves and change – and who will be relegated to the dustbin of series history.
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