The Spring 2015 Anime Preview Guide
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign
How would you rate episode 1 of
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign ?
Community score: 3.7
I'll say one thing for Seraph of the End, it's hella good fun to watch. Oftentimes, an entertaining story can be just as valuable as a well-written one, and while the writing quality of a show subtitled Vampire Reign is unsurprisingly dubious at best, it starts with a bang and never lets go of your attention.
The premise is good too, once again if only for novelty over execution. I've never seen this precise concept executed this way before, so whether it'll be good meat for a long-running series remains to be seen, but at least it brought some new ideas to the old and crumbling vampire table. The children of the world have been vamp-napped after a virus that kills anyone over the age of 13 spreads across the globe. Kids are rounded up in droves and herded into a fancy underground vampire kingdom where they are well taken care of but forbidden to leave, and their blood is traded for perks as they live out the rest of their childhoods before the still airborne virus claims their lives once they become of age. On the one hand, it's a neat new spin on the vampocalypse, but on the other hand it leaves me wondering how the undead plan on replenishing their now rapidly expiring food source, since their snacks are dying off too early to reproduce. I'm sure they'll explain it later. It's a nifty concept if you're not tired of vampires in general, and I'm not when they're done well.
That's the story in broad though. It gets much sketchier in further detail. Our pint-sized hero Yu has had enough of being used like a Capri Sun packet until he dies young, and with one year left to live, decides to mount an escape with his blatantly red-shirted friends. Surely there's some place out there that hasn't been hit by the virus, right? I understand the wanton hopes of childhood against all logic here, but the dumb kids' tragic dialogue is a little much. "Let me tell you about my tragic backstory! I have no family!" Yu declares. "We're your family now," his clearly-not-long-for-this-world blond buddy replies. Five minutes later, their escape attempt is foiled, the kids are all massacred, and Yu finds himself shouting "Don't die on me, we're family!" as his blond buddy gurgles back, "That's the first time you called us...family." Gag. Yu stumbles away from losing his family a second time only to blunder straight into the arms of grown adults living outside the complex that survived the virus! So we're discarding the show's most interesting aspect, its child-world premise, right out of the gate. To make matters worse, the adults' leader immediately declares Yu the "Chosen One" of some kind. Gag gag.
So yeah, the script itself is very paint-by-numbers melodrama, which means the whole experience could go south even quicker once the concept and production values can't keep it buoyed, but there's a lot to be said for the enthusiasm of the presentation so far. It's sharply animated, smartly paced, and packed with angsty energy. This could be a lot of violent good fun, if you keep your expectations for complex storytelling in check. I'm cautiously optimistic about Seraph of the End and its "World of Blood Legacy," as the episode is titled. Dumb is not always bad.
Rating: 2.5, as the prophecy foretold
A deadly pandemic has been unleashed on the world by a race of fancy vampires, and it takes out everyone over the age of 13. The remaining kids are herded into an enormous baroque gothic underground complex and used like livestock, milked for blood and allowed to live a simple life under the well-manicured thumb of the vampires. Chosen one Yuichiro and his band of plucky, innocent orphans, all from the same orphanage, scrape together a life as a makeshift family, but he just can't handle it – he needs to murder these vampires and escape!
His exit is facilitated by his best friend, the kind-hearted, big-eyed blonde Mikaela, who has particularly tasty blood and thus gets invited to dinner at Ferid's, a particularly fancy vampire from whom he manages to steal a map of the city and a gun. The orphans make their escape, but right before they're breathing fresh, virus-infected air, Ferid shows up, pirouettes around a little and slaughters all of Yu's friends right in front of him. Oh my god! Surely this will further harden Yu's already-tragedy-hardened heart!
Anyway, Yu manages to shoot Ferid right in the head and run out of the vampire industrial complex, where he's found by living (human?) adults who declare him immediately to be THE CHOSEN ONE AS THE PROPHECY FORETOLD and let him know he's gonna murder vampires for a living, which is a job he's more than qualified for.
So this competently-animated, crisp and beautiful show is leaning so hard on the generic Chosen One monomyth, articulating it in dialogue so blunt and direct I couldn't help but laugh most of the way through this. Yu spits out his DARK, TRAGIC PAST at Mikaela immediately upon meeting him in a flashback (his father abandoned him! His mother killed herself after calling him a demon child! WEEP FOR YUUUUU) and spends the entire rest of the episode being an enormous bummer who reaches critical brooding levels right before being told he can escape. It's never explained exactly why Yu thinks there's anything for them beyond the vampire barnyard – he knows humanity was eradicated by the disease, he was there for that (along with all of his friends - they saw it happen firsthand), so when he tells the innocent orphan children that there's a world of magical feasts and nonstop fun beyond the city gates, it rings a little hollow and moronic.
His best pal, Mikaela, is so sweet and naïve and selfless that in a story like this he may as well be wearing a tee-shirt that says “I AM GOING TO DIE TRAGICALLY TO PROVIDE MOTIVATION FOR THE HERO” in big bold letters. It's telegraphed so hard that it's kind of shocking Yu didn't see it coming. When he spills forth from the gates of vampire Disneyland and is immediately told by a stranger that he is a CHOSEN ONE AS THE PROPHECY FORETOLD I thought for a moment that it's possible this is a satire of chosen one narratives – surely nobody would cut to the chase this bluntly. It sure is funny, but I don't think it's supposed to be.
Anyway, there's a timeskip, and it's 4 years later. The next episode preview features scenes of Yu in a regular anime high school, with pink-haired girls, bullies, and all the other trappings you'd expect from an anime high school. I know where this show is going, and it's funny to see clichés just laid out one after the other with no real attempt at drawing you in, but the only reason I can think of to watch more would be to gawk at the nice animation. Unfortunately the fight choreography kinda sucks (or at least, that's where they cut corners – the fight with Ferid is pretty basic given how much detail there is in the movement in this show). Seraph of the End is a visually impressive but hilariously blunt and straightforward execution of material so well-trod it feels like an unintentional satire, which is kind of impressive, I guess.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Sometime in a time not too distant from our own, a virus suddenly overtook humanity in Japan, wiping out all people under the age of thirteen. In the immediate aftermath, a voice announced that humans had brought it upon themselves with their own foolishness and that all remaining children would be taken into custody by the vampire race. Shortly thereafter the group of small children we watched run through the horrific aftermath of the disease to the orphanage they called home are taken by dead-eyed vampires, loaded into a truck, and shipped off to a life as human cattle, livestock maintained for their blood. The kids are from the Hyakuya Orphanage, and the three oldest children, Mika, Yu, and Akane, manage to keep them together in their new home in the vampires' underground city. Yu is openly rebellious and can't understand why his best buddy Mika is essentially prostituting himself to Lord Ferid until Mika reveals that he's found a way for them to escape...but of course only one of them can.
Based on the manga of the same name by the author behind The Legend of the Legendary Heroes and A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives, Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign is not a particularly easy first episode to watch. For me this was in large part because the main characters are all children ages twelve and under, and the cruelty is unstinting. The imagery is also quite disturbing, from the train of vehicles taking the kids away in the beginning to the collars with ID tags the children wear to the bloodbath that ends the underground scenes, this show wants to upset you. It works in part because a lot of these images seem designed to conjure up various distasteful periods in human history, but it also smacks of being a bit overdone and melodramatic. Lord Ferid in particular feels like a cookie cutter villain, suave and dapper while being ever so calculating behind his lovely face. We've all read about him before, whether he was called Mr. Wickham or lived in Westeros. There's also a few too many hints dropped that All Is Not As It Seems, with a prophecy mentioned, Yu throwing out that his mother called him a demon child, and a comment about Hyakuya test subjects. It would have been enough to set up a violent humans versus vampire tale without littering the episode with “deeper meaning” hints.
For all of that this looks decent, with even the unnamed Hyakuya kids staying on-model and having fairly recognizable designs. All of the vampire guards are identical with the same red, dead gaze and blank faces, but the manga characters have translated fairly well into anime. The massacre scenes are handled relatively tastefully, with a lot of implication and sprays of blood but no actual scenes of kids getting their throats slashed. In some ways, this makes it more powerful, since generally our imaginations can be much crueler than any picture.
Seraph of the End's debut is a decent entry into the overcrowded vampire genre, and thus far it appears that it will be faithful to the manga. It overplays its hand trying to pull viewers in, but it does go by quickly; I didn't catch myself checking how much time was left once. If vampire hunts are your thing, I think this is going to be worth giving a chance.
Two years ago, humanity received a grim reminder - that action blockbusters with just the right mix of worldbuilding, horror, and momentum can become ludicrously successful mega-franchises. Attack on Titan was Wit Studio's breakout hit, and with Seraph of the End, it's looking like they've decided this is how they'll recapture lightning in a bottle. Seraph begins with a virus that kills all adult humans, leaving the remaining children of humanity at the mercy of vampires. Four years later, the orphans Yuichiro and Mikaela live under vampire rule, huddling with their younger “siblings” from the orphanage between visits to the vampire blood bank. Yuichiro is a revenge-happy hothead who refuses to accept vampire rule, pretty much the mirror of Eren Yeager, while Mikaela has bigger plans. By pretending to cooperate with the vampires, Mikaela is able to steal a gun and a map, and together with Yuichiro and the rest of the orphans, they sneak out and try to escape the city. This goes about as well as things ever go for orphans in anime, and in the aftermath of their botched escape attempt, Yuichiro vows to get back at the vampires for everything he has lost.
It's hard to escape that Attack on Titan vibe here. Yuichiro shares more than a little in common with Eren, and the show is equally free-wheeling in its helping of blood and tears. The direction is similarly loud and dramatic, though some scenes possess more grace than Tetsuro Araki's perpetually over-the-top style can manage. The character designs once again have a variable line density that helps them pop out, and the backgrounds are once again beautifully ornate and painted in rich purples and browns. The storytelling certainly isn't subtle (you can pretty easily tell which characters are marked for death within moments of their appearance, everyone monologues their motivation, and this episode's villain devolves into gleeful “I want to see your despair” cackling), but neither was Titan's, and subtle storytelling isn't what you watch a show like this for.
You watch it for… well, things that didn't really show up in this first episode. Sweet fight scenes, which are difficult when your big setpiece is a bunch of orphans being demolished by a vampire. Triumphant moments for the hero, which, again, orphans - though Yuichiro does get a nice “dodge this” moment at the end (actually, The Matrix isn't a bad reference point for this show either, given the whole “human battery” thing). And a compelling world, which we haven't quite constructed yet. This episode was all prologue, and it seems likely the format of the actual show will be more of a classic hero squad-versus-monsters deal, so it's tough to evaluate much beyond the raw strength of the execution. As far as that goes - the dialogue is lousy, the animation is about par, the premise seems like it might go somewhere, and the backgrounds are very nice. If you're specifically looking for a breezy but entertaining popcorn action show, this might eventually get there, but we haven't arrived yet.
Review: In a very different version of 2012, a potent virus abruptly kills off anyone over the age of 13. The surviving children are rounded up by vampires, who take advantage of humanity's collapse to emerge and take control. That includes several children from the Hyakuya Orphange, led by Mikaela, who insists that they are all family. Relative newcomer Yuichiro never accepted that, as his rotten image of family was tinged darkly by a horrible set of parent. Four years later, with Yuichiro and Mikaela now age 12, that dynamic has changed little. The children regularly have blood drawn in a factory-like setting, though one particular noble vampire also regularly invites Mikaela to parties in exchange for favorable treatment. (Although this is clearly about blood-sampling, I cannot shake the impression that an allusion to an old practice in both Western and Eastern cultures of boys around their age being homosexually preyed upon was also intended.) Though disgusted by this, Yuichiro eventually learns that Mikaela hasn't been toadying himself up to the vampires for nothing: he has claimed a gun and a map out of their underground city. As all of the orphans discover, though, the map is both a game and a trap set by the vampire noble. Only one of them will survive to see the escape through – and that is either a sign of or because Yuichiro is a fated vampire-killer, as older teens whom he meets on the surface suggest.
Seraph of the End is listed as a “dark fantasy” shonen manga, and boy, “dark” is the right word for it. This is an uncompromisingly grim first episode, and even the enthusiasm of most of the children at eating what will turn out to be their last meal doesn't assuage that for long. It opens with civilization collapsing and later features children being fed upon and bloodily massacred. While it does mostly pull its punches on getting too graphic on that (although one of the older boys is shown getting his arm cut off), what happens is still abundantly clear. What's also clear is that this is merely the prologue for the series, as it looks like most of the events will take place four years later.
Because of that, estimating how good this one might actually be is difficult. The first episode is put together and paced very well (if also fairly predictably so), and does have quite a good amount of initial character development; given how much effort is put into portraying Mikaela, I suspect that we have not seen the last of him, even if he did seem to be expiring as Yuichiro escaped. It also throws out a potentially interesting mystery in that the vampires’ emergence at the beginning seemed to be led by a little girl. (No female vampires are otherwise shown.) The technical merits are also pretty well-done, as the musical score is used sparingly but effectively and the animation cuts surprisingly few corners. The visual style is almost more reminiscent of Western cartoons than anime initially, although as the screen shot shows, it does get back to a more typical anime style on the character designs.
Both the way things play out and the Next Episode preview suggest that this is headed in a more typical shonen action direction, and that could restrict the series to being just another vampire-hunting action series. That sense is why I am not giving the episode a higher rating than I am. At least the virus that killed off all of the teens and adults gives the story a more justifiable excuse than normal to have all of the cast on the good-guys side be youths.
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