The Fall 2021 Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Visual Prison ?
What is this?
Ange Yuki is a lonely boy with no family. He travels to Harajuku to see his favorite artist, and there sees an intense musical battle between the bands Eclipse and Lost Eden, their energetic performance striking a pain through his heart.
How was the first episode?
Visual Prison is quite the unusual offering. It tells the story of Ange Yuki, a young man who encounters a strange performance in the streets of Harajuku. The moon turns red, a van pulls up, and young women gather around, screaming in excitement. A pair of strangely-dressed young men perform a dramatic musical number, but then are joined by an opposing group who also sings a musical number. Ange faints, but is rescued by Guil, who encourages him to sing. When he does so, a red moonbeam shines down. The vampires from the beginning explain that the scarlet moon has acknowledged him, and soon, a yearly competition will begin, when all the vampires gather to sing and compete for recognition by the Scarlet Moon. Then, they will gain a great power known as the “Visual Prison…”
…and this is Cats. Visual Prison is just the musical Cats with visual kei vampires. You're welcome.
Seriously — it's a series of elaborate musical numbers strung together with a very silly plot about a yearly supernatural competition. There's even an outcast who can't perform anymore like Grizabella the Glamor Cat. If this makes the show sound really silly, then good! I've effectively done my job of accurately evaluating the show.
I, like many anime fans my age, had something resembling a visual kei phase. (Oops, there I go dating myself again.) I preferred L'Arc~en~Ciel and Gackt, but I had some hide and X-Japan numbers on my WinAmp playlist. It's an over-the-top, theatrical genre by its very nature, and Visual Prison leans way, way in. The characters, dressed in complicated costumes with heavy makeup that look like they would be a pain in the ass to wear, spout lines like, “We shall be the pure white wings who lead you little lost lambs,” with completely straight faces and have names like “Mist Flaive” and “Guiltia Brion”. We know these names too because there was a roll call at the beginning of the episode, flashing their faces in and out of makeup inside a blood-red crystal, not that I'm going to remember any of them after I hit submit on this. Either you'll be giggling in delight, sincere or ironic, or you'll be rolling your eyes straight out of your head. There is no in-between.
As for me… well, the style for Eclipse and Lost Eden, the two bands with the most elaborate numbers, were a bit too much for me. Plus, the CG rigs for the performances didn't look fantastic. The ending, performed by Ange's band Oz, was framed more like a music video and hand-drawn, plus I liked their overall look more.
Visual Prison is completely ridiculous, but somehow, I kind of want to watch more. It reminds me a bit of Hypnosis Mic, which I also enjoyed every preposterous minute of. At the very least, I know it won't be boring.
Well, I'll at least say this for Visual Prison: I was never bored.
At its most basic level, Visual Prison is about a world where all those crazy-dressed visual kei bands are actually groups of vampires. This is the most believable plot of this season. I mean, it makes sense. They dress in pseudo-anachronistic clothing, disguise their true appearance with makeup and contacts, and lure in an audience of rabid young goth fans who are totally down with all of it. I mean, they can act as crazy or out of touch with reality as they want—hell, even outright say they are vampires—and their
hunting ground fans will still come to them willingly.
The big issue with the first episode is that, beyond the basic concept, it's borderline incomprehensible. I get that vampires are chosen by the moon to partake in a singing contest, but there are proper nouns all over the place that aren't properly defined. I'm not even sure what we are seeing half of the time. There is a second moon (a red one), fangirls become cheering balls of light during concerts, swords come out of the vampires' tattoos, which are also microphones for singing. None of this is explained in any way, shape, or form. It's like the show is a ride. You're expected to question nothing and just enjoy the audio-visual spectacle.
When it comes down to it, Visual Prison feels more like a collection of music videos than anything else. A few of them are even creatively directed, such as having the words in the song appearing in the background, or an over-the-top use of colors (namely red) to accent everything.
The show is also so homoerotic. It's “let's touch sword tips in the light of the moon" homoerotic. It's “let's let out orgasmic screams while getting our blood sucked" homoerotic. If you like BL and crazy-ass visual k fashion (and the music) you'll probably enjoy this one. If you want things like plot and well-developed characters, on the other hand, it might be best to look elsewhere.
For simplicity's sake, this is the elevator pitch for Visual Prison: There are a bunch of glam-rock vampires that are duking it out in a deadly Battle of the Bands, and our main guy Ange gets roped into the conflict one day after he has been transformed into a fanged up idol and teams up with the mysterious Guil. This isn't a terribly complicated premise to get across, but it's kind of impressive how long it takes Visual Prison to get to the danged point.
For his part, Ange spends the entire first half of the episode simply staring in mild, dumb surprise as these impossibly flamboyant vampire dudes put on their impromptu shows. It isn't until after all of this goes down, at around the fifteen-minute mark, that Ange is transformed into a bloodsucker and swept away by Guile. Naturally, before we can get any reasonable semblance of what the story is about, or why we should care about any of these characters, we have to sit through another musical performance. Here's the thing: I freaking love musicals, and I would rather listen to generic Japanese glam-rock over generic Japanese pop songs. I'm more than happy to kiss logic and common sense goodbye if it is in the service of some good, stupid showtunes, but that's only as long as the end result is coherent enough. If Visual Prison wants to be a thinly-veiled excuse to show off its CGI vampire-idols' moves, then so be it, but I found this premiere's odd writing and directing choices to be too distracting to simply ignore. It doesn't help that Ange is such a nothing character that there isn't anything emotional to latch on to in this story. You're either here for the glorious camp of it all, or you're not.
The show does have promise, though. I've been able to find very few idol anime that truly click with me, and Visual Prison probably has a better chance than most of its competitors, since almost every genre is much improved with the addition of some crunchy guitar riffs and few elegantly flared gothic capes. I'm not going to tell you to that Visual Prison is must-see appointment television or anything, but those of you who are predisposed to like this kind of show to begin are liable to eat it up.
If there's any show that's more “Made for Me” on paper than Sakugan this season, it's probably this one. While I've never delved into visual kei subculture much, I'm absolutely a sucker for music-based narratives, especially ones that embrace the inherent theatricality of on-stage performance. Add to that the wonderfully and ridiculously gaudy gothic aesthetic of it all and you basically have the second coming of Dance with Devils, a full-on musical otome series from a few years back that was a pet favorite of mine. Add in a creative team with deep connections to Symphogear and Uta no Prince Sama and this should be, if not a big hit, at least something I should eat up like a hungry raccoon in an Arby's dumpster.
Sadly, this premiere is a pretty big let down. While Visual Prison certainly isn't a show you'd ever come to for a complex or intriguing narrative, it's still noticeable how little actual substance there is to this premiere. The bulk of the run time is taken up with lengthy musical numbers from all the sexy vampire boys, aimlessly introducing at least eight musically inclined dudes without ever really establishing anything beyond a single personality trait. It takes until the final couple of minutes for the entire cast to just stand still and explain the plot to our barely-present main character, Ange, before ending on a totally weightless ultimatum. It's a remarkably sparse opener: something is always happening on screen, yet it feels like barely anything has been meaningfully accomplished by the end.
But like I said, this isn't the kind of show you watch for an involved plot – you watch it for the spectacle of these very pretty men decked out in over-the-top gothic attire, right? And that's where the bigger issue rears its head: the show just doesn't look good. All of the production seems to have gone into crafting these intricate, decoration-heavy designs, without any consideration to how any of them would work in motion, so they just...don't. Characters move as little as possible outside of the CG musical numbers, and those are at best functional, at worst actively disorienting with how out of sync the faces are with their voices. The direction is similarly lifeless, failing to capture or heighten the flamboyant energy the characters and premise are obviously begging for. It's almost an accomplishment to take visual kei – a subculture defined by aesthetic indulgence for its own sake – and make it feel this lifeless.
So in the end we have a purposefully thin story stitched together with the expectation that its presentation will compensate for any missing pieces, delivered with a dearth of style. The only part of this episode that really achieves what it's designed to is the OP, which promises so much that we already know the series can't actually deliver. That all amounts to a sadly boring time, and left a pretty poor taste in my mouth. Which means I better get back to begging somebody to license the DanDevi movie.
'Tis the season for vampire comedies! Although in all fairness, I don't think that I was meant to cackle throughout the entirety of Visual Prison. I'm also not sure what I was expecting it to be, but somehow “vampire musical competition under the blood moon” was not on my list of potential plots. And yet that's precisely what it is: a show about glam vampire bands duking it out beneath the Scarlet Moon for…reasons. It's a bit like a differently-stylized Dance with Devils crossed with an old Lordi music video.
So yes, the “visual” in Visual Prison appears to stand for Visual Kei, a particular style of Japanese music characterized by varying degrees of make-up, costuming, and often an androgenous aesthetic. Our symbolically-named protagonist, Ange, is a fan of the band Eclipse, which appears to have stopped producing music at some point during the VHS era, if the noise at the bottom of their old music video is any indication. He's happily walking somewhere one evening when all of a sudden your friend and mine Truck-kun pulls up and announces the return of another band. This is our first hint that vampires are going to play a major role, because the angel-themed singers (see what I mean about Ange's name?) are sporting some very prominent incisors. But don't worry; if you didn't get it from them, as soon as they're done with their musical number, another band, Lost Eden, shows up to perform, and not only do they have fangs, they also bite first themselves and then a band member. It's at this point that Ange is revealed to be a dhampir (half-vampire) and Guiltia, the lead singer of Eclipse, shows up to serve as his appropriately cryptic mentor.
As you may have noticed, Ange isn't the only one with a loaded name. That really says a lot about the degree of teen goth seriousness this show takes itself with, because that absolutely sounds like a name I might have thought was clever when I was in middle school. And those aren't the only two: this is a show that also counts HYDE, Eve, and SaGa among its cast, along with the super-edgy Veuve, which is French for widow. How do I know all of these names after only one episode? Because we're treated to a rundown of what I believe is every single named character before the story gets started, with their “regular” and “band” personas floating across the screen. That's rarely a good sign in my experience, but it's also worth a chuckle as you see how very hard the names are trying to be symbolic.
Visual Prison has style for days and four, count 'em, four separate songs in this episode, only one of which is a theme song. It's ridiculous, but also pretty damn funny, even if that's not what it's trying to be. It feels a little like Dark UtaPri without the laser-eyed heroine, and while I hesitate to say that it was actually good, I really did enjoy myself watching it. So turn off your brain and sing along – this could be a lot of fun.
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