Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Tsukune Aono's grades are poor enough that the only private high school which accepts him is Yokai Academy, but as Tsukune soon learns, there's a huge catch: Yokai Academy is an institution by monsters and for monsters, designed to teach monsters how to “pass” in the real world, and humans aren't supposed to be allowed. Tsukune is able to get away with his secret because Yokai Academy students are expected to be in human form except in crises, but he lives in constant fear of discovery. That doesn't stop him from gradually (and unintentionally) acquiring a gaggle of female admirers who seek to make him their mate, including the busty succubus Kurumu, the underage witch Yukari, and the snow woman Mizore. Tsukune's main interest, though, is the sexy Moka Akashiya, a vampire who regularly nips at his neck because Tsukune smells good to her. When the rosary that seals Moka's full power is removed from her neck (something which only Tsukune seems able to do), Moka's normal kind and gentle personality disappears as she transforms into the butt-kicking supermonster that engenders fear and respect in nearly all other monsters. Over the course of two seasons the girls bicker with each other over Tsukune while contending with problems that include an obsessively protective witch, an oppressive school Security Council, overzealous mothers, Moka's terror of a little sister, and a peeping Tom while also contending with the regular uppity monsters.
Some franchises try to succeed by innovating within their genre, while others doggedly pursue perfection of well-proven tropes and formulas. This early 2008 Gonzo series and its late 2008 sequel decidedly fall into the latter category. They never aspire or pretend to be anything other than exactly what they appear to be: monster-themed, panty-obsessed harem romantic comedies with a touch of magical girl elements in the Moka transformation scenes. If you don't accept them on that level then you will find nothing worth watching here.
Those who are normally enticed by such fare will find themselves in their comfort zone here, as both series execute their harem formulas with slavish devotion. Central characters Tsukune is a cookie-cutter harem male lead, an unfailingly kind-hearted, indecisive wimp who primarily has a thing for Moka but still treasures the other girls as friends. The harem girls are all common stereotypes for the genre: the busty girl who routinely flaunts her assets in the male lead's face, the loli jailbait constantly concerned about her lack of a chest (even though she simply hasn't had time to grow into it), the soft-spoken stalker girl, and the sweet and gentle girl who may not have the most generous figure but does have the best overall body. Their antics are practically a checklist of harem stand-bys, with the school Newspaper Club used in this case to give them a common school activity and crises manufactured in the late stages of each season to provide some pretense that the series actually have a plot. All of the girls having super-human powers which they use to battle each other or threats to Tsukune is also hardly rare within the genre; the monster angle is merely a convenient excuse to set up regular fight scenes and make some half-hearted assertions about discrimination. It does, however, also allow for regular appearances by a mascot bat whose main purpose is typically to announce how long the climactic fight of each episode takes.
Both series have significant amounts of action and the occasional good joke, such as the running gag (mostly in the first series) involving Tsukune and Moka reciting each others' names repeatedly as they stare dreamily at each other or the recurring joke in one episode involving the bat constantly flying into road signs. Characters also occasionally break the fourth wall, especially in the second series. Jokes fall flat nearly as often as they succeed, however. Neither series has much of an ongoing plot or story to speak of, although as we discover late in the second series, one recurring character's odd behavior does have a purpose to it. Neither series spends much time trying to be serious or probing into character depths, either, nor are either of them effective at it; one episode which focuses on Yukari suddenly becoming grown up does have some satisfying content, but that is definitely the exception. Apply any logic to either series and they also fall apart, such as how vampires in this setting can be crippled by water but not snow or how an organization at the school as powerful and oppressive as the Security Council wouldn't have been more visible prior to suddenly showing up in episode 11 of the first series.
The main attraction, though, is the fan service, which pervades every aspect of both series, from the first minute to the last and even the openers, closers, and Next Episode previews. Outright nudity only appears in the second series, but neither series ever passes up on an opportunity for a panty/crotch shot; camera angles are commonly at a peeping level, some shots suggest that the typical school uniform skirt offers only barely decent coverage (if that), and girls are given numerous opportunities every episode to fall down, perform high kicks, or otherwise take actions that (usually unintentionally) involve flashing. One would have to resort to something like Najica Blitz Tactics to find a series which can challenge these for per-episode concentrations of panty shots.
Gonzo's artistic merits, which are helmed by the director of Desert Punk and Indian Summer, usually maintain solid but unspectacular levels of visual quality, ones which lovingly detail fan service and key cast members (especially the gorgeously sleek Moka) but often take shortcuts elsewhere. The exception is episode 10 of the first series, which has by far the highest action concentration and the greatest difficulty staying on model; expect some almost Gainax-like animation distortions, too. Although characters generally look sharp in human form, many of the monster forms (even those not intended to be jokes) leave a lot to be desired. Graphic content does include some bloodshed, but the TV-MA rating is based far more on the fan service.
Music directors Kouhei Tanaka and Shiroh Yamaguchi both have long and varied careers doing anime music, and their experience shows here. The soundtrack is almost never especially bold but does a terrific job choosing themes to support comedy moments and transformation scenes; for instance, how much the music contributes to the dreamy Tsukune/Moka scenes mentioned above becomes apparent in the second series, which more sparsely uses the signature melody from the first series. First series opener “Cosmic Lover” is as generic as they come, but second series opener “Discotheque” shines by turning all of its regular female teen cast members into disco idols, complete with sexy go-go dancer outfits. The reverse is true for the closers, with the lively, sexy regular first series' closer “Dancing in the Velvet Moon” far outstripping the second series' “Trinity Cross.” All are performed by Nana Mizuki.
Funimation's English dub plays around with the script quite a bit at times and does a significantly different but still entirely cutesy rendition of Moka's trademark nip of Tsukene's neck. The casting choices and performances are very solid, though, with Alexis Tipton (Mizuki in Baka and Test) exactly hitting the mark in the key role as the human-form Moka, Todd Haberkorn proving once again why he's Funimation's go-to guy for wimpy male leads, and Monica Rial naturally getting the Yukari role; Jerry Jewell is also great but nearly unrecognizable as the bat. Unlike the Japanese dub, the English dub gives vampire-form Moka to a different voice actress (Colleen Clinkenbeard in this case). Both series – especially the second one – feature heavy use of insert songs sung by the voice actors, and Funimation takes the ambitious step of dubbing all of these songs, too. Other dubbing companies could learn something from them on this, as at least the actors used for the songs can actually sing; Jerry Jewell deserves special mention here for an unexpectedly great performance in one late second-series episode.
After licensing both series in mid-2010, Funimation has finally gotten around to releasing them on DVD. (Apparently no Blu-Ray release is being offered.) The first series is available in regular or Limited Edition, with the Limited Edition including an artbox sized to hold both series and a 28 page artbook which contains some beautiful portrait art of the main characters. Both series offer bonus art on the backs of their case covers and clean opener and closers on the DVDs. The two series can also be purchased as a bundle, with a limited-time 4x6” lenticular card featuring both versions of Moka offered as a special bundle promo.
Neither Rosario + Vampire nor Capu2 could by any stretch be called a good series, but they do provide at least a minor level of consistent entertainment value (when not irritating viewers with trite tropes) and do occasionally do better than that. The sheer amount of fan service is nothing to be scoffed at either.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ A panty-lover's dream, effective musical choices, Moka's design.
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