Reviewby Christopher Farris,
Phantom in the Twilight Episodes 1-12 Streaming
Baileu Ton and her gal-pal Mu Shinyao have only just arrived in London when they're robbed! With seemingly otherworldly forces behind the theft, Ton ends up turning to Cafe Forbidden, a haven for the supernatural established by her grandmother. The magically mysterious boys known as Twilights who staff the cafe assist Ton on account of her heritage, but recovering her luggage is only the beginning of Ton's mystical adventure. Shinyao winds up spirited away in the interim, and Ton will have to team up with the Twilights in the long run to get her friend back. And it seems a harem of supernatural suitors isn't the only thing Ton has inherited from her grandmother, as her own powers start to develop and set her on the path to after-dark adventures.
Phantom in the Twilight's setup is pretty rote by the standards of its peers. Just having ‘Twilight’ in the title gives you a basic idea of what to expect from a show whose chief visual selling point is an assortment of cute supernatural boyfriends. Vlad and Luke represent Teams Edward and Jacob, respectively, while Toryu is the surprisingly not-unheard-of sexy Jiang-Shi, with Wayne initially appearing to be some sort of cute ghost. They work in a cafe, they solve crimes, and they all just happen to be linked to assisting central girl Ton on account of their connections to her monster-fighting grandmother. Ton alternates getting to know the boys over the course of the series, some stories more episodic than others, with the idea that the monster-men endear themselves to the audience as well as Ton as the show goes on.
So right away an issue emerges in that the titular Twilights aren't super-interesting by even basic reverse-harem standards. They fall into neat little boxes based on how nice or tsundere they act towards Ton, which some pretty basic quirks added for drama. Luke has issues with his antagonist brother Chris who also appears in the series, Toryu can go dangerously berserk if his spell-tag is removed, those sorts of things. They are interesting enough to keep the audience's attention for a bit, but that's about it. Wayne probably gets the closest, with his true nature only teased a couple of times throughout the series to good effect, but for the most part these boys just function as pretty faces.
As pretty as the series can render, that is. This series is a co-production by underachieving company Happy Elements, so the show overall tends to look pretty rough. The character art strays off-model unfortunately often, and there's a general lack of complex, impressive animation. There are some mildly exceptional cuts here and there, particularly in the battle-heavy final couple of episodes, and generally the backgrounds look nice and the various monster designs themselves are actually pretty interesting. But overall the look of this thing really just rises to ‘competent’ at best.
The actual story of Phantom in the Twilight at least carries things a bit better for the series. After the initial setup of Ton meeting the Twilights, discovering her powers, and having Shinyao kidnapped away from her, the show uses somewhat episodic plots to introduce the main boys, and expand on the supernatural nature of the world. These get the job done well, and there is some interesting world-building at play in this series' particular take on how supernatural entities work. The idea is that the ‘Twilights’ are merely apparitions based on the influence of supernatural legends, so they can split the difference between evoking pop-culture versions of monsters while still being their own characters. The show also brings in some lesser-known myths, such as the Leannan Sidhe that features in the stand-alone tragedy of Episode 5.
Unfortunately, the main plot powering the show isn't without its own issues. Most pressingly, the narrative's seemingly only way to keep pressing ahead is by keeping Ton's friend Shinyao captured or away from her in some way, with the heroes constantly having to figure out how they're going to rescue her. There are a few near-reunions as the show goes on, which only serve to throw into relief how needlessly manufactured the whole setup feels. It also drives home a point of frustration in how much chemistry Ton and Shinyao have when they are together, so much that it sometimes genuinely seems like they're being pushed as the central romance of the show. The girls' relationship is a highlight the few times we see it actually depicted, so having them split up as the only source of narrative momentum feels like cheating us out of an entertaining element.
Ton and Shinyao being separated from each other does factor into the final act of the show better than the rest of it. This last arc brings Shinyao into the story much more directly, rather than simply being dragged along as a damsel in distress. The big weakness of this portion turns out to be the villains at play in it, since their motivations remain pretty broad and nebulous while their methods are somewhat blatantly in service of any spectacle the story can depict. There's something funny about a character known only as ‘Backup’ desperately trying to attain his own villainous agency, but in practice it just means he's never credibly depicted as a threat. Likewise, Haysin is pretty generic as far as evil guys go, with a boilerplate desire for eternal life and not much else. Mid-season antagonist Van Helsing can come off somewhat annoying at times, but at least he's outrageous enough to be memorable in his motivations and methods.
So if it's all just kind of a competently-executed shrug, what does Phantom in the Twilight offer in order to be worthwhile? Well it has its main character, and true to her name, she contributes a ton (pun intended). Ton is a great character on her own, not simply in spite of her genre. Her relationship with Shinyao, established at the outset and how that drives her throughout the series (Shinyao's terminally distressed status notwithstanding) give Ton an edge in motivation apart from other girls who just go along for the ride. She jumps at the chance to pull magic spells and weapons out and do battle as much as the beastly boys in her entourage. She's a joy to watch most of the time, and it's almost enough to carry the show.
Again, it's easy to simply cite Ton as an effective ‘strong female character’, but that's because her take-no-crap attitude lays that out so plainly as a trait. The difference in her dynamic with the boy-toys of this show compared to others in similar genre setups is easily exemplified in a scene late in the series: Vlad tries to convince Ton not to fight or use her powers moving forward, going so far as the threaten to use his vampiric influence to compel her to do so. Ton doesn't acquiesce to his power-wielding or even try to debate or compromise with him- she blatantly challenges the vampire to a fight and confidently states she could kick his ass! It's a wonderfully-unexpected yet perfectly in-character turn, and it demonstrates exactly why Ton's role as the lead of this series elevates it practically on her own.
Even though most of its individual elements are pretty mediocre, Phantom in the Twilight isn't so difficult to recommend - there's enough strong material in here to elevate the show to "pleasant surprise" status, a good-enough romp worth watching if you have a craving for sexy supernatural boyfriends, and want a series that likely won't disappoint you.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B
Animation : C
Art : C
Music : B+
+ Ton is a terrific main character, interesting world-building, strong finale
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