Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, May 10th 2011
Vampire Knight Guilty
You don't kill a pureblood without consequences. Unfortunately everyone thinks Zero was the one who did Shizuka in. Vampire assassins infiltrate Cross Academy looking for him, but are turned away by Kaname. Who manages to imply in the exchange that he thinks Zero did indeed do the deed. That puts some cracks in his relationship with Yuki. Yuki in the meantime is feeling insecure about her missing past and decides to go hunting it. Every indication, though, is that it isn't something she really wants to know. Elsewhere an evil power stirs, a power set to make Yuki, Zero and Kaname's relationship troubles look like the childish distractions they are.
What? Vampire Knight gets a plot? No! It isn't exactly true that it didn't have one before, but the show was definitely more concerned with wallowing in atmosphere and the unhealthy affections of its cast than with moving forward, kinking its plot, or even making sure that its story made complete sense. That's now poised to change. The Shizuka arc that finished off the previous season found the show moving away from pure romance towards something a little more complicated, and Guilty is definitely intent on continuing the trend.
All of the subplots that Vampire Knight had flagrantly neglected previous pull themselves up here and start marching forward. Yuki's missing past has her hallucinating tubs of blood and hunting in the Hunter's Society archives for clues. The vampire Senate is taking a more active role, sending assassins and maneuvering mysteriously behind the scenes. Kaname's vague stratagem is taking shape (not too much, but some) and the Hunter's Society is mucking about behind the scenes too. Of course the show gives little indication, unless you've cheated and used Viz's Vampire Knight streams to watch ahead, that it's going anywhere with all of those marching subplots, but the sense of motion is undeniable. And there are rumblings even this early of an overarching plot, mostly from the hints dropped about a "true enemy" as well as the preparations being made for the resurrection of someone. (No one ever resurrects insignificant dweebs.)
Vampire Knight isn't revamping itself as a convoluted thriller or some other plot-heavy variant of its former self, however. It is merely adding dirty vampire politics, ominous portents, and devious schemes to its core emotional attack. Its center remains, and always will remain, the deviant love triangle that binds Yuki, Kaname and Zero together, its greatest joys always to be found within the web of guilt, affection and hatred that entangles them, cutting further in with each passing episode. Despite improved plotting (no more evil twins, thank god) and progressively cleaner integration of its romantic and non-romantic content, Vampire Knight still puts off a melodramatic stink that can be smelled (and by certain among us, savored) from miles off. When Yuki is seduced into attending a vampire soiree, Kaname unleashes his cold passion, leaving her trembling. Zero explodes at Yuki's me-last attitude, uncovering his raw self-hatred and deeply felt devotion. Yuki's fears and insecurities build behind defensive walls of emotional isolation before breaching them in a flood of tears. You can have my melodrama, Guilty may as well be saying, when you pry it from my shapely undead fingers.
Kiyoko Sayama continues to wrap everything in an atmosphere so rich and velvety that you could put on pounds just looking at it. The series is swathed in an intangible emotional opulence that fully earns it its gothic classification; there's a dark decadence to its visuals, to its very style that fits perfectly with its paradoxically restrained and overblown emotions while also giving the distinct impression that the series could turn virtuous viewers to pillars of salt. Sayama isn't afraid of arty flourishes, using them to potent effect during Yuki's internal struggles, nor is she above base exoticism in the form of crumbling vampire haunts or the Victorian excesses of vampire high society, and she knows the value of a well-deployed SD gag, but her most memorable images are often her subtlest: the aching vulnerability of Yuki, wet and naked after her tub ordeal; Zero wiping a welling tear from Yuki's eye while asking her to rely on him more; Kaname's overpowering sexuality as he tempts Yuki with immortality. Her action scenes, by the way, still stink.
Takefumi Haketa's score takes on a slightly more layered sound, with fewer of season one's simple, distinct themes and an increasing number of more intricately constructed compositions. It isn't as instantly memorable as before but it is equally haunting and arguably more appropriate given Guilty's (relative) complexities. The new opening and the closing songs are styled after, and inferior to, their predecessors.
How heavily you are invested in Vampire Knight will govern how you feel about its rather dull dub. The more you love the series, the more the dub's deadening influence will rankle. Some will find its decent casting and exacting script satisfactory. Most won't. The performances are pretty uniformly lax, defanging far too many of the best scenes. For the record, I loathe it.
With its cast established, their tapestry of feelings intricately woven and we the viewers firmly bound up in it, Guilty gets right to the business of pushing its little needles into our hearts. That's the advantage of being a sequel. Also to its advantage is the work done on its cast of characters: Yuki's self-sacrificial ways have been exposed in all their borderline fetishistic glory, Zero's internal agonies have stripped away some of the badass posturing from his essentially caring nature, and Kaname has learned over the past season how to deftly combine frightening reserve with terrifying intensity. Even the Night Class's barn o' bishonen is starting to resemble a collection of real people (as opposed to fangirl fetishes).
Perhaps it is because of this, because its grunt work is already done, that Guilty is able to create a smoother, more pleasing mixture of plot machinations and shameless emotional manipulation. Whatever the reason, it does—and manages to suck less at plotting in the bargain—making this perhaps the best disc of the series to date. It makes its mistakes (Aido has a flashback episode that is essentially dead weight and Yuki gets attacked by vampires again) but nonetheless shows the series to its best advantage: as a ridiculous, ridiculously unwholesome, and ridiculously affecting melodrama...with a brain.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Develops its badly underdeveloped subplots; hints at an overarching plot; improved character dynamics make for an even more potent melodramatic experience.
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