Reviewby Theron Martin, Jun 3rd 2007
DVD 1 - Infusion
On the surface Karin Maaka seems like a perfectly normal high school girl suffering from perfectly normal problems like anemia and being boy-shy. In truth, though, she is an abnormality among abnormalities. The middle child in a family of vampires, she lacks many of the normal vampire characteristics, such as vulnerability to sunlight, night vision, and the ability to erase memories. She does have vampire fangs and gets drawn to her own unique blood affinity like all other vampires, but instead of draining blood from her victims she actually injects them with excess blood she generates, which has a revitalizing effect on the victim. If she doesn't do it on at least a monthly basis she suffers from explosive nose bleeds as her blood increases beyond her body's capacity to handle it. Thanks to the help of her family she has been able to keep her secret so far and still function in the daylight world, but a new problem arises when transfer student Kenta Usui, he of the scary eyes, joins not only her class but her place of work as well. Kenta, it seems, represents that peculiar quality that is Karin's affinity, which makes it difficult for her to keep her blood under control in his presence. Can he be trusted when he learns of her secrets? And how will Karin learn to cope around him?
Karin is the anime adaptation of the manga currently being released in the States under the title Chibi Vampire. Though it diverges later on, the early stages of the anime follow the first few chapters of the manga closely, with one major exception: the tone in the manga is lighter and more humor-oriented, while the anime takes itself a bit more seriously, especially at first. Both versions, however, are essentially a teen vampire romantic comedy with an unusual twist.
It's the pervasive influence of that twist which makes the series worth watching, however. Anime has long had a fondness for vampire tales, but the concept of a reverse vampire (or “un-vampire,” as the opening narration puts it) is a novel idea which allows the series to cast many aspects of both vampirism and teen romantic comedies in a new context. A girl getting so uptight about a boy that she runs from him, and who gets all hot and bothered in his presence, are scenes that are staples of anime high school romantic comedies, but here they have to do with Karin's vampire nature rather than her raging teen hormones. A girl making lunch for a boy she likes is another stereotypical anime scene, but here Karin does it for an unromantic reason: it will (she thinks) make Kenta happy, and that will keep her blood from raging when she's around him. A guy intently watches a girl in class and has her on his mind a lot, but in this case Kenta isn't trying to figure out how to ask her out; he's trying to figure out if she's really a vampire or not. Naturally Karin's best friend Maki misinterprets it all as normal boy/girl shenanigans, but it also leaves open the possibility that the two will eventually hook up romantically, too. Amusing parallels are also drawn between Karin's peculiar blood problem and a more ordinary kind of blood problem girls have at that same age.
The take on the nature of vampires here is also a little different. As per the norm, sunlight badly burns them, they suck blood, use bats as familiars, and so forth, but in this interpretation vampires are born and raised like they are a separate race rather than being created by biting someone. Each vampire has a distinct taste in blood that they are instinctively drawn to, such as the blood of liars, the prideful, or those who are stressed, and discovering the nature of Karin's taste becomes a major plot device through this span of episodes. That biting a victim can have a beneficial side effect, in that the characteristic the vampire is drawn to is temporarily drained away, is both a novelty and another plot device.
Barring her vampire nature, Karin fits a fairly ordinary teen romantic comedy personality type, as do Kenta and Maki. Kenta's mother, with her unintentional habit of bewitching middle-aged men and dramatic change in persona after being bitten, makes for a fresher character. Karin's brother Ren entertains as the playboy with a wicked edge, while Karin's parents more neatly fall into the stereotypical roles of the doting, protective father and domineering mother. Soft-spoken younger sister Anju is a delight as the wiser, more mature, and more competent of the two sisters, and her talking, meat cleaver-wielding puppet Boogie-kun fills the requisite smart-mouth role.
The weakness of the series so far lies in its artistry. Background art is substandard and most of the character designs have a rough edge to them, especially in portraying Karin's overly generous curves; this is a series which would never be called pretty. It also doesn't help that Kenta could be mistaken for the male lead in any of a number of other teen romantic comedies, particularly Midori Days. The one character who truly does stand out visually is Anju, with her dedicated Goth-loli look. All of the character designs are faithful recreations of those in the manga, however. The animation is nothing worth speaking of, either. While the manga version was generous with its fan service, these four episodes limit such content to the fan service-intensive opener, which also takes the highly unusual practice of blanking out a couple of prominent characters who have yet to appear in the series.
The soundtrack fares much better, doing an excellent job of setting the tone and backing the action for any given scene, especially in the longing piano theme which first pops up late in the volume. The opener is a fairly ordinary J-pop number, while the gentle and sweet love-themed closer, with its complementary still-frame graphics, composes the series' audio highlight.
Unfortunately the same can't be said of the English dub. Geneon has once again relied on Odex Private Ltd out of Singapore to provide the dub, a company which will not escape its reputation of poor-quality dubs with this title. Karin's parents and work manager hit the mark, as does Boogie-kun, and her brother, sister, and best friend are at least passable, but the performances of Kenta and his mother are unrefined, even amateurish, in delivery, as is the school nurse, and the timing is sometimes off. The English VA for Karin does improve over the course of the volume, but early on she struggles to find the right tone, often coming off louder and more shrill than was probably intended. She also has an odd vocal resonance in the first couple of episodes that could be a recording/mixing error more than an acting flaw. The English script sometimes takes a lot of liberties, but does handle one language translation incident in a school class by having a statement originally translated from Japanese into English translated the other way instead. Overall the dub isn't intolerably bad, but it isn't something that could be recommended even for dedicated dub fans, either.
The Extras for the first volume are quite limited, consisting only of a clean opener, a reversible cover (which arguably has better artwork than the actual cover), and an additional art insert featuring Karin and Anju. An art box is available with the Limited Edition version.
Karin takes a while to get truly funny, and the full meaning of its opening scene will not be understood for a few volumes yet, but when it finally does get to the humor it produces a satisfying amount of laughs and drama. Though it uses a lot of typical elements, its twist is enough to give its first volume a fresher feel.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Novel twist on standard themes, can be quite funny.
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