Reviewby Theron Martin, Apr 29th 2011
DVD - Complete Series
The private Cross Academy is actually divided into two schools which occupy different dorms but otherwise share the same facilities. Normal students attend the Day Class, while a select group attends a special study group that is the Night Class. Disciplinary Committee members Yuki Cross (adopted daughter of Headmaster Cross) and Zero Kiryu (the Headmaster's ward) are charged with the difficult task of keeping the Day Class and Night Class apart, in large part to protect the school's big secret: the beautiful people in the Night Class are entirely composed of vampires, and they are here as part of a clandestine experiment to prove that vampires and humans can peacefully coexist. Complicating Yuki's job is that Kaname Kuran, the leader of the Night Class and one of the rare and powerful Pureblood vampires, is the one that saved her from a marauding vampire ten years earlier (her earliest intact memory), and she has had feelings towards him ever since. Also complicating things is that Zero was bitten by a different Pureblood vampire four years earlier when the rest of his family was slaughtered, which means that he is gradually turning into a vampire – the kind of creature he most abhors – as well, and a doomed one at that since humans-turned-vampires eventually go crazy and descend to the state of a raving beast. Kaname also makes it no secret that he cares for and deeply cherishes Yuki, leaving her stuck between the sexy vamp she admires and the one she wants to protect even as all sorts of danger swirls around her. The arrival at the school of a new teacher who is a vampire hunter and a flaky vampire transfer student who seems to have her own ulterior motives only further stir up the mix, but newcomer Maria isn't the only one around who seems to be plotting something.
The first anime adaptation of Mishuri Hino's popular shojo manga series was first released in the U.S. in 2010 by Viz Media in a trio of four episode volumes. This offering, made available in early 2011, merely copies the original single disks onto one double-sided and one single-sided DVD (menu screens and all), tosses in a sample of the manga as an insert booklet, and puts the case in a slipcover featuring new art. The on-disk Extras are the same, too – merely a set of relationship charts on the third DVD – so anyone who already owns the single volumes will gain nothing from purchasing this set. For those new to the series or who never got around to picking up the singles, this more economically-priced set offers a chance to see it all in one shot.
And it is a series worth seeing if you have any taste for shojo anime, as Vampire Knight is the poster child for what it means to be a modern shojo Gothic-flavored romance. Shojo characteristics ooze out of every pore and lace every breath; character designs look like they were generated based on shojo style guidelines, the personality distribution of lead and main supporting characters is a collection of common shojo archetypes, and story execution follows common shojo paths in setting up a love triangle involving the female lead and (essentially) two vampires. While this may seem like an ideal breeding ground for triteness, the series nimbly avoids that fate through two means: decidedly above-average execution and actually having a plot which goes beyond just whether Yuki's adoration for Kaname or desire to protect Zero is stronger. Some interesting variations on standard vampire lore and the novel twist on the nature of the school setting don't hurt, either, though one would think that someone in the Day Class student body would eventually connect the dots about the Night Class holding sessions at night, being normally segregated from the rest of the student body, and all being Beautiful People and realize that those factors strongly suggest vampires.
The plot component does not kick into high gear until Maria steps into the picture in episode 8, as until that point the story mainly focuses on establishing vampire lore, the assorted dangerous situations that Yuki gets into, the way Zero or Kaname always dramatically extricates Yuki from those situations, and Yuki's relationship with the two young men. From that point on the story sizzles as Maria's real identity brings all sorts of fresh complications and scheming into the picture (and not just on her front) and elaborates on the tragic background of Zero. On the downside, Yuki suffers from a startling lack of self-preservation instinct throughout; she needs two tough, hunky guys looking out for her just to assure her own fragile existence. Granted, some of that is necessary to give the hunky guys something to do besides just walk around and look pretty or despair at becoming a vampire, but any attempts to give Yuki any semblance of strength as a character get washed away by her repeated lack of common sense.
Even when the series flounders, its execution still sustains it. Vampire Knight does a better job than most of crafting and maintaining its mildly Gothic ambiance, an effort due in no small part to the skillfully light touch of its musical score. When the series focuses on its serious content, events flow along smoothly, gracefully, and with excellent timing, creating an appeal which can be enticing even when nothing special is actually happening. The occasional comedy bits are more a disruption to this flow than a complement, especially the Headmaster's silly prattling, but they rarely get in the way for long and are easily forgotten once passed.
While the character designs may be standard shojo fare, important characters are still rendered very well while minor background characters are commonly faceless. The white uniforms with black highlights worn by the Night Class provide a sharp, aesthetically pleasing contrast to the black school uniform with white highlights worn by the Day Class. Background art is also good, though at times certain scenes and character renditions have too much of a CG gloss to them. The animation shows the hallmark of a limited budget and unambitious effort, as the few true action scenes feel stiff when not dominated by shortcuts and the overall look of the series gives more the impression of animated set pieces rather than a true effort at showing events in motion. One highlight is the art design of vaguely creepy closer, which features Yuki as a doll shedding blood tears as her attic room fades to darkness, leaving only glowing red eyes and blood clearly visible. The opener, contrarily, does nothing special.
While the English dub does a (barely) sufficient job of getting the mood and tone of the characters and setting across, it is hit-or-miss on its casting decisions and performance quality. None of the disks provide any translated or English credits, but most of the principal parts are voiced by well-known English VAs, including Vic Mignogna, Stephanie Sheh, Laura Bailey, Wendee Lee, Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and Spike Spencer, so this is a veteran cast which sometimes seems to be turning in a half-hearted effort. Mela Lee is a bright spot and good fit as Yuki, but Ethan Murray (Outlaw Star's Fred Luo, Gankutsuou's Franz) sounds a little too much like Jerry Jewel in voicing Kaname, and there's a reason why Jerry Jewel is not typically called upon to voice pretty-boy roles like this. The English script sticks close to the original, but that was not necessarily to its advantage in this case as it saddles the dub with some rather unexciting phrasing.
Though the series technically climaxes at the end of episode 12, it spends its last episode filling in a little more background and wrapping up a couple of loose ends before returning to the status quo, albeit one which has some shadier undertones based on the events and revelations of the final few episodes. Clearly this is only the first stage in a broader story, though, one that continues into Vampire Knight Guilty, which Viz is releasing in single volumes through the spring and summer of 2011. This one should not be looked at merely as a set-up for its following series, though, as it tells a decent story on its own merits and has plenty enough attracting factors to stand on its own.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : C+
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ Effectively establishes mood and tone, well-rendered characters, good late plotting.
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