29 November 2009
I haven't forgotten about the site! It's simply that I've been working on time-consuming projects, which may or may not eventually wind up on here. In the meantime, here's a review.
Only recently did I finally cave in and watch Vampire Knight, a 13 episode mini-series by Studio DEEN, and adapted from the popular shoujo manga. Timely, as vampires appear to be going through another phase of popularity in mainstream culture. It's set at a prestigious academy that runs both a night and day class. As you may have already guessed, the night class is made up entirely of vampires, kept separate so they don't get overwhelmed by temptation. Of course, the fact that they are vampires is a carefully kept secret, guarded by the two prefects - the protagonist Cross Yuuki, and her adopted brother Kiryuu Zero, who hates vampires. The night class is controlled by the presence of the pureblood Kuran Kaname, who Yuuki has a childhood crush on, and struggles to reconcile this with the knowledge that they belong to different worlds.
To begin with, let's clear out any expectations. Vampire Knight is the sort of vampire story of the Twilight variety, rather than the Hellsing or Blood+ variety. These vampires do not sparkle, but they might as well. Sunlight appears to hardly bother them at all - so the Night Class and Day Class could easily be reversed - and while they possess a variety of magical powers, the only thing truly vampiric about them appears to be a dependency on blood. There is some interesting lore regarding the pureblooded vampires, but you only catch glimpses of it. Even the purpose of the academy - to promote peace and harmony between humans and vampires - seems to get forgotten at times, as the vampires only ever appear to study in one class throughout the whole series, and spend the rest of their time standing around looking mysterious in the moonlight.
It's difficult to pinpoint the setting beyond that. The architecture of the school and dormitories is rather Victorian, but the nearby town looks more Meditarranean. Yet still some distinctly Japanese elements pop up - such as the Chairman roasting squid, or the vampire under the cherry blossom tree, dressed in kimono-style clothing, or the Valentines day/White Day traditions. You can't even accurately pin down the time period, with the clothing almost randomly jumping from classic modern threads to dreadfully old-fashioned shawls and ruffles. There are cars, though rarely seen, and certainly behaviour appears to be modern, even if only a couple of scenes later they're using swords and crossbows alongside guns. Perhaps the mesh of old and new is intentional, but given that most of the vampires appear to age at a rate similar to humans, the juxtaposition is worthless and serves only as a distraction.
As for the story, settle in for something melodramatic and predictable - it is not suspense when you present a character with two choices, and every time they take the predictable way out. You may find yourself despairing as they gloss past what could have been a truly exciting plot twist. Not to say the story is without twists, just that it only takes the safe ones.
The protagonist herself one of the more infuriating female stereotypes to come out of anime for a while. Yuuki initially appears to have a strong personality and some fascinating internal conflicts over a fear of vampires from an encounter as a child clashing with a deep adoration of Kuran Kaname who saved her. This personality and these conflicts are soon pushed to the side, however, as the spotlight shifts to Zero's more interesting dilemma, and she soon becomes nothing more than a pawn with a penchant for self-sacrifice and apparently uncommonly delicious blood. While she appears to be taking actions on the surface, in reality she becomes a passive member of the plot, so perhaps that allusion in the end credits to Yuuki as a dancing marionette is a form of foreshadowing.
Of course, in the end, we never get an answer to the most pressing questions regarding Yuuki - such as what it is Kuran has planned for her, why her blood is so delicious, or even her mysterious origins. Perhaps we will never find an answer to these questions, because the only story that gets resolved in the first series in Zero's, and apparently you'll need to watch a second series - 'Vampire Knight Guilty' - to gain any satisfaction on the main plot. Even then, it's more of a cliffhanger than anything else. Not cool, Studio DEEN. You're not really making a mini-series when you do things like that.
The art is lovely, at least - Studio DEEN has an appealing style, and you're rarely exposed to any visual flaws. While not an obviously high budget affair, there was still a respectable amount of polish, and the character designs for the vampires in particular managed to be both distinct and visually interesting without becoming outlandish.
The editing is also worth a mention. It sounds like a trifling detail, but editing was a large part of what made Code Geass so compelling, and is an often overlooked detail. While the editing of Vampire Knight is not nearly as ambitious or effective as Code Geass's, it does execute several key scenes masterfully, heightening suspense in scenes where there really shouldn't be any. Particularly in Yuuki's emotional crises, which is fortunate, for they are many.
The soundtrack is full of lovely moody melodies, heavy on the strings. You may watch out of curiosity or an appreciation for the gothic visuals, but the soundtrack is what will keep you there and make you BELIEVE in it.
Art, editing, mood and soundtrack all weigh in on the series's favour. When it comes to plot, setting, and satisfaction, however, Vampire Knight doesn't make the cut. However, it will most probably scratch the itch of any vampire romance fans who also enjoy anime. Apparently that's a sizeable demographic.
Overall Score: 401,777 / 1,000,000