Reviewby Theron Martin,
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign
BD+DVD - Complete Collection [Collector's Edition]
A sudden and powerful disease has struck humanity, seemingly killing off everyone over the age of 12. Yu, Mikaela, and their fellow orphans are among the survivors, which means that they get to witness the vampires emerging and taking control. Four years later, Yu and his “family” are mere livestock who periodically have their blood taken by the vampires. An ambitious escape attempt results in only Yu alone escaping to the surface, where he discovers that some adults did survive after all. Four years later, Yu is becoming a soldier in the Imperial Demon Army, which uses demon-possessed cursed weapons to combat the vampires on nearly even terms. Though he finds worthy comrades within the Imperial Demon Army ranks, there are also elements among them with certain power plays in mind, which seem to involve Yu and something called Seraph of the End. Meanwhile on the vampire side, Mikaela was recaptured, turned into a vampire, and has been led to believe that the humans are exploiting Yu. But the vampire side has its own schemers, and when the two sides come into conflict, there are far more angles at play than simply exterminating the other side.
Note: Because I have previously separately reviewed the first half of the series, this review and its rating will almost entirely concentrate on the second half and collector's edition bonuses.
The first half of Seraph of the End was passable as a mostly formulaic shonen action series. The second half of the series is still predominately that—at its best, anyway. The problem is that the second half takes a good amount of what the first half did right and devolves it into an unholy mess of overwrought angst, mind-numbing clichés, and difficult-to-follow logic, all leading to an ending that doesn't resolve anything, instead feeling more like a seasonal break point. The result is a dozen episode run that can be tedious to watch and offers little reward for perseverance.
There are still some good points, mostly due to the show's solid cast. Yu may carry the “idiotic, bullheaded protagonist who's obsessive to a fault about protecting his family” to an irritating extreme, and Mika's overwhelming angst about drinking blood is no less of an annoyance, but the supporting cast and guest appearances continue to save the day. Shinoa is once again a star, but she's hardly the only team member who rises to the challenge. Guren is still a great guy until things all go to hell (literally!) towards the end. We also meet a whole corps of additional Imperial Demon Army soldiers, and many of them are likable even in their relatively brief appearances. Amongst the vampires, Crowley Eusford initially looks like just another blasé super-strong boss foe, but he shows some charisma too, while Ferid remains his entertainingly inscrutable self. When the various squads actually show teamwork, they can also be fun to watch.
The problem is that the writing is now more ambitious than it can pull off. It tries so hard to load up on depth and meaning that too many scenes come off as forced and cheesy; Yu's flip-flops between being an ass and a genuinely good guy are particularly unconvincing. The logic of the grand scheme involving the titular Seraph also raises too many questions, such as why some parties involved in orchestrating it would even bother to be involved. What do they get out of this that's worth the high cost? It only makes a slight bit of sense if there is some much bigger endgame brewing here than what has been hinted so far. Storywise, the only thing the series manages fairly well in its second half is the successive tension-building as the vampire and human storylines converge.
And we can't forget about Yu and Mika! Though separated again after episode 12, they eventually find their way back together in the series' final quarter, only this time they actually get to have some quality time. It's hard to say how Yu feels, as he never shows clear romantic interest in anyone, but the homoerotic angle seems much clearer on Mika's side. Episode 22 in particular definitely gives BL fans plenty of material to work with, though it's not so overwhelming that a brotherly interpretation for their relationship is made implausible. Any other romantic subplots that may have popped up in the first half get kicked to the curb here, since there's is simply no room for them when most of the season involves preparing for battle, engaging in battle, or dealing with its immediate aftermath.
The battle animation in this half of the series seems a little more robust and consistent than in the first half, but otherwise the visual production merits of the series are unchanged from the first half. Sharp and visually appealing character designs are still a strength, while their contrast against the oil painting-like backgrounds can still be a distraction. Graphic violence remains roughly the same but fanservice is virtually nonexistent this time (unless you count the homoerotic overtures between the show's leads). The musical score doesn't slack off at all, remaining suitably dramatic as the other strongest point of the production.
Funimation naturally retains the entire dub cast from the first half, with performance results being about the same. Amongst characters who become more prominent in this half, Austin Tindle makes an excellent Crowley, but Aaron Roberts sounds a little too weak as Lacus Welt. The English script does what it can, but there's only so much that can be done with some of this dialogue.
Funimation is releasing the second part of the series separately, but if you don't flinch at a premium price for a premium release and deeply love the series, then this release is absolutely the way to go. A quad-folded case contains all eight Blu-Rays and DVDs and comes in a sturdy artbox. On-disc extras are fairly standard: clean versions of both openers and closers, assorted promo videos and series trailers, English audio commentaries for three episodes, English video commentaries for two episodes, and all 13 installments of the “Seraph of the Endless,” omake, which can be anywhere from total duds to quite funny in their parody versions of scenes from throughout the series. Physical extras include a nice set of art cards featuring assorted major cast members, a sticker set in a black envelope, and the real treasure: a 200-page hardback artbook, which features character profiles, a collection of end card illustrations, a couple of short interviews from production staff, and scores of character and background art, including numerous fantasy poses. This is one of the nicest-looking artbooks I've seen in quite a while.
Overall, the only thing that Seraph of the End does to step slightly beyond being remixing other supernatural shonen action series (Bleach, Blue Exorcist, Attack on Titan) is to throw in the notion that the two male leads may have more than just familial feelings for each other, and that isn't enough in the end. As shonen action and angst-ridden vampire stories go, I'm perfectly content to forget this one and move on.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Impressive extras, character designs, Shinoa
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