Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
After fleeing the city, Hazuki and Kouhei have settled into life at the Mido shrine. Under the tutelage of the Mido house's head, Kouhei is attempting to master the mystical arts of his family, while Hazuki apparently sits around doing nothing but cleaning the shrine. They can only meet on the night of the full moon, so that Hazuki can slake her thirst. The separation is hard on them both, and when Kouhei is hurt in a training accident, it seems that Hazuki's powers will be necessary, giving them anther excuse to meet. But a joyful reunion it is not, as Kouhei has fallen into the clutches of Arte, a vampire princess, and her two retainers, all of whom are on the hunt for their missing Mistress Luna.
After following up the potent action of volume three with some quiet downtime and a whiplash shift in locale and leap in time in volume four, this fifth volume cements suspicions raised after the shift; suspicions that the series may have peaked when Count Kinkel died. A combination of questionable changes in character relations, poorly developed enemies, and silly clichés has lowered the once-powerfully entertaining series to something far more pedestrian.
Make no mistake, director Akiyuki Shinbo's visual prowess hasn't lagged or been blunted in the least (though admittedly his particular style is better suited to cluttered mansions and neon-slicked streets than to wooded mountains and spacious shrines). He fills Hazuki and company's daily life with sun-bathed peace, amusing details (let's play find-the-cat-ears!), and occasional moments—Hazuki in a pastel sea of flowers, a luminous red skeleton tree reaching for the sky—of surpassing beauty. But his real skills only become apparent during supernatural battle, when the shadows stretch ominously, trees morph into deadly fractal weapons, and his distinctive neo-noir sensibilities manifest themselves unabated. It's every bit as striking, original, and simply beautiful as it has ever been.
But Shinbo is primarily a visual stylist. His grip on the quality of his stories isn't nearly so solid. And his story is slipping. Not in any obvious way; it hasn't suddenly become insensible, introduced a stampede of romantic interests, or transmogrified into a period samurai bloodbath. Nor has some nebulous malaise set in. MoonPhase has always been a tightrope act, balancing romantic comedy and gothic thrills while staving off moe pandering with a little smart characterization and a heap of vampire action. A couple of changes have upset that balance; it hasn't exactly fallen off and broken its neck, but the act is no longer going smoothly.
The series abandons Hazuki and Kouhei's complex, thorny master/slave, sister/brother bond in favor of a simpler romantic bond, and in doing so loses several factors that lent it charm. The emotional basis of their relationship, namely their motherless, mutual sense of loss, is discarded altogether. And Hazuki's growing self-reliance, her surprising power to come through during a crisis, is given only lip-service before reducing her to the dependent role in her relationship with Kouhei. In a final blow, there's a revelation in the disc's final episode that has the already traditional dynamic of their relationship take a Neanderthal "Tarzan protect helpless female" turn that is not only insulting and deeply disappointing but also entirely illogical given Hazuki's vampiric powers. Adding tinder to the fire are the poorly developed villains of this arc, who are but pale shadows of the black evil of Kinkel, and some silly masked-man-lurking-in-the-shadows clichés.
Luckily Shinbo's oddball humor keeps things light when they could easily get ponderous, and there's more than enough basic cuteness to distract (little-girl villain Arte is positively huggable). Of course, you can't be the sort to let things like (comically) wiggling little-girl butts deter you if you want to enjoy either.
With a suitable mix of gothic and silly music, the main body of the score is appropriate, without being particularly memorable. It really hits its stride when breaking out the spooky vocals and strong action themes. The trippy opening remains unchanged. Episode 19 has a new, reasonably pleasant but entirely more mundane closer sung by the seiyuu for the twin priestesses, but the fragile original ending theme returns with new, and superior, visuals starting in episode 20.
The dub continues to modify the dialogue considerably, even going so far as to alter the meaning of certain scenes. Never the important scenes of course, but smaller character-building scenes are sometimes noticeably different in their end effect. It remains true to the plot and basic nature of the characters, but spices things up with a lot of verbal sparring and sometimes alters dialogue in ways that go well beyond the necessities of preserving natural flow. It does flow naturally though, devoid of any of the unnatural pausing, awkward phrasing, and unnecessary, meaningless add-ons that sometimes plague more faithful adaptations. All of the female roles are pitched noticeably lower, reducing the squeak 'n squeal factor. Of the trio of villains, only fly-headed Jeda opts for a serious deviation from his Japanese version, with a whispery villain voice that, while fitting for the character, is definitely a tad overripe. The result is a noteworthy variation; worth checking out if you're interested, but loose enough to drive strict sub fans to acts of self-mutilation.
On-disc there are only standard character profiles and a clean opening and closing. The closing is for the irregular episode 19 closer. The DVD also comes with a nice glossy little booklet crammed with explanatory notes and interviews. The various takes that the staff and crew have on the concept of "moe" are telling.
It's gorgeous; it's dead-pan funny; it's still highly entertaining when it wants to be; but MoonPhase is definitely sloping downwards in quality. The tone of Hazuki and Kouhei's changed relationship never feels natural, and worse yet starts devolving into protective male, submissive female gender roles that betray Hazuki's previous flashes of melee-moxy. It's beginning to seem that the series peaked with Count Kinkel, never again to reach the heights of drama that Kinkel's evil manipulations brought forth.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C
Animation : A-
Art : A
Music : B+
+ Same sense of style and sly humor as before.
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