2004: Year of Vampires?
Meet Shingetsutan Tsukihime, a hentai doujinshi reincarnated as one of the best vampire animes you'll see all year
I'm predicting that 2004 will be a year of vampires, in particular vampire princesses with magical powers. If this is the case, then Shingetsutan Tsukihime will be remembered as the series that kicked the horror-mystery genre wide open, and for doing it with such elegance.
Shingetsutan Tsukihime tells the story of a high school boy named Shiki who has an unusual talent: he sees death lines, literally dark lines that when cut instantly kill. The victim of a car accident when he is a child, he is given a pair of glasses by a sorceress that block this rather disturbing ability. However, Shiki has total amnesia, so he is sent to distant relatives for rearing. Then his father dies, and Shiki is recalled back to the family house where his sister Akiha is now the head of the Tohno family. Only naturally, the Tohno family has a lot of family secrets on top of the mystery of what really happened to Shiki as a child.
One day as Shiki is going home from school (which has the usual assortment of friends and sempai), he sees a mysterious woman and kills her. However, Arcueid, princess of the Shinto vampires, is not so easily killed. She uses Shiki to help her hunt down a dangerous enemy vampire, but as time goes by, a deep relationship springs up between them. Arcueid has never been free to roam and explore the human world before, so she eagerly desires to experience life, while recognizing that as a vampire, she can never truly be a part of this world, nor be a part of Shiki's life. It's the classic tale of a love that can never be realized.
Shingetsutan Tsukihime is truly a beautiful anime, as are most of the J.C. STAFF productions that I've seen. The colors are rich and feel as if their world is as real as our world. Matching this is the music. I have the original soundtrack (maybe I'll do a separate review next month) and I often listen to it as background music, which is not something that I usually do with anime OSTs. The score is very orchestral, with an emphasis on the violin and piano. The opening song is very Gregorian Chant-like, living up to its title "The Sacred Moon" and giving the series a sense of solemn importance. The ending song flows much like the running animation of Princess Arcueid, surrounding the episode in a cocoon of beautiful elegance.
The only glaring weakness I found to this series was the pacing. It runs very slowly and requires you to pay close attention to the action, which is difficult when the dialogue runs slowly and painfully as it reflects Shiki's teenage awkwardness. There are episodes where you truly wonder if anything of real importance to the plot happened at all (and it probably did, but you didn't know it at the time). It's very much like Serial Experiments Lain in that respect. However, if you stick with the series and continue plowing on, it is worth it. The ending was not what I wanted to see, but I think that can be considered a strength. Surprises are good. However, Shingetsutan Tsukihime's final minutes were rather depressing and seemed to fizz out on what should have been a bang ending.
Oddly enough, Shingetsutan Tsukihime is based on Tsukihime, a hentai doujin game released at Winter Comick 2000. It's generated a lot of publicity since this is the first time that a doujin H-game has been turned into a widespread anime. Looking at the "one-boy/many girls who want him" set-up, the H connection seems rather obvious, however, at the time it escaped me. Shingetsutan Tsukihime stays out of the hentai trap by making Shiki almost oblivious to his female friends' advances, or merely turning away and murmuring one word replies.
The character growth of Shiki must be commented upon. It's really quite refreshing to see a character in anime grow so deeply through twelve episodes. Shiki is initially a self-absorbed, broodingly quiet high school student, who has friends, but they are more like mere acquaintances to him. During the series, he slowly opens up to his friends, realizing that he does make a difference in their lives and they in his life. By the end of the series, Shiki is ready to have a romantic relationship. He's ready to talk to people. Of course, by then he is centered on Arcueid as his soul mate, so whether this newfound confidence will extend towards others is still up for debate.
Being that this series is being distributed in Japan through Geneon - the first two DVDs are already available - I personally think that our chances of getting this series overseas are pretty good. With its wide appeal, Shingetsutan Tsukihime is likely to become the Hellsing of 2004. After all, can anyone resist a mysterious vampire princess and a silent everyman? Anyone? Hello?