Reviewby Theron Martin, Sep 20th 2008
DVD 4 - Human or Vampire
While lamenting over having nearly bitten Kenta in a berserker fit caused by holding her blood in for too long, Karin finally comes to the realization that what everyone else has been saying is true: she really is in love with Kenta. When Maki makes an auspicious first visit to Karin's house to help her with a last-minute homework cram session, Maki indirectly spills her guts about her own feelings involving Karin and Winner, although thick-headed Karin completely fails to interpret the situation correctly. Life soon becomes much more complicated for Karin when Elda, her look-alike grandmother, awakens from a long sleep, much to the consternation of Karin's siblings and mother Carrera. Elda's visits to Karin's school as it prepares for the cultural festival stirs up trouble for Karin and leave her concerned about Kenta's safety, especially after hearing Elda's own sorrowful tale about how vampire/human relationships don't work.
Of all the first-run titles whose American DVD releases were suspended mid-run by the Geneon fiasco in the autumn of 2007, this adaptation of the manga known in the States as Chibi Vampire was arguably hurt the worst. Unlike the other series, which were generally either at break points or just starting into new story arcs, volume 3 of Karin ended solidly in the middle of its main story and with something of a cliffhanger. Funimation resuming its release, complete with a rerelease of the first three volumes, finally rectifies that problem. The series is hardly a masterpiece, but taken for what it is – an unusual twist on a standard teen romantic comedy – it works quite well.
Actually, labeling this a “romantic comedy” is, at times, a misnomer, as through this block of episodes the storytelling takes itself seriously more often than not. It never turns dark, or stoops to melodrama, but the comical spurts have become less frequent. They are still fully effective, however, and the introduction of Elda offers a wealth of new opportunities for good jokes. In fact, Elda's appearance in episode 15 is perfectly-timed in general, as it energizes the story before its “I like him, but I can't admit that even to myself” routine fully passes its freshness date. A properly mischievous character is one thing that the story has been lacking, and Elda certainly offers that. Her presence also allows a convenient excuse to seamlessly work in more vampire background information – and pay careful attention to the backstory Elda tells in episode 16, as its details will become particularly relevant in future volumes.
Humor is not the only thing the series has in its favor. Once you strip off the vampire trappings, a typical romantic scheme involving timid leads, a kinda-sorta romantic rival, a busybody friend, and a compelling reason to separate the two potential lovers remains, yet despite the banal construction the romantic hijinks stay involving. The Karin-Kenta relationship, and Maki's budding jealously over it, has a sweetness and sincerity to it that, with the backing of a nicely supporting musical score, allows the romantic story to transcend its structure. The tentativeness in the key relationship can occasionally get irritating, but that does not happen much in this volume.
And then there's the fan service, which continues to ramp up in concentration by including multiple near-nude scenes and considerable breast size-related content. J.C. Staff's artistry and animation is almost invariably at its best in such scenes, apparently showing where the studio's priorities lie. Otherwise the artistic quality is somewhat erratic, with character designs looking sharp in places and a bit rougher in others. The backgrounds always look cheap by comparison, but the animation actually does not fare badly. The only new design is Elda's, which looks like Karin with longer, alternate-colored hair and a considerably less well-developed bosom. For further variety she normally dresses quite differently and generally sports a smug smirk, a stark contrast to the more fragile and frequently panic-stricken Karin. The ever-changing eye catches do showcase some additional visual creativity, but devoting that extra effort to the regular artistry would have been appreciated more.
What the series lacks in artistry it makes up for with its simple, sometimes repetitive, but usually very effective musical score. It consistently hits the right tone throughout this volume, whether the scene requires light-hearted comic spirit, gently melancholy piano numbers, or a tension-inducing string piece. The fan service-laden opener remains unchanged as the series head into its second half, as does the lovely closer with the positively scrumptious-looking cake.
As the series did throughout its first half, the Odex Pointe Ltd.-produced dub struggles to achieve even adequacy, with its good performances (and it definitely has some) being dragged down by weak ones. The Usui mother-son duo are still the most consistent problem spots, Ren is shaky at times, and the voice actress chosen for Elda is trying so hard to avoid letting a Chinese accent slip in that the character sounds a bit weird in English. Contrarily, the other prominent new role – Alfred, Elda's human lover in the flashback – is both a great fit and delivers a flawless performance. (In an interesting twist, the voice actor cast for the bit role of Alfred's father is apparently the real-life father of Alfred's English VA. Can't get more authentic than that!) Other good performances include Anju, Carrera, Makie, Winner (surprisingly), and especially Boogie-kun, while Karin has at least improved to acceptable. The script modifies terminology in places but, with one or two small exceptions, stays close and loses little in translation.
Like with Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage, Funimation is merely releasing the original Geneon-created volume 4, complete with the Geneon label, Geneon company previews, and the now woefully out-of-date release schedule on the case insert; clearly this volume was fully ready to go before Geneon shut down its distribution last year. Like most other volumes Geneon released in 2007, this one has no other on-disc Extras. It does, however, have a reversible cover and bonus interior artwork.
Although the episodes offered here at least generally correspond to chapters 16-21 from volumes 4 and 5 of the manga, this volume shows that the anime is increasingly slanting in a divergent storytelling direction; the marked differences in Elda's motivations between the anime and manga versions are a clear sign of that. Her introduction does further enliven the series' sweet, silly, and lightly dramatic content mix, however, and the interestingly different take on vampire lore continues to give the title some separation from its competitors. If you're going to watch a story about vampire/human love and want something that offers more than just fan service (but still has some), you will be much better-off watching this one than, say, Rosario to Vampire.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B
Art : C+
Music : B+
+ Sweet and sincere romantic elements, effective soundtrack, introduces a lively new character.
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