Reviewby Theron Martin,
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign
BD+DVD - Season 1 Part 1
In the wake of a virus that ravaged the Earth, seemingly killing everyone over the age of 12, vampires have come forth to take control of the world. They herded children into their underground cities to be used like livestock, including Yuu, Mikaela, and the fellow members of their orphanage. After four years, the now-12-year-old Mikaela leads a daring escape attempt, which only Yuu survives after seeing his fellow orphans slaughtered by a vampire noble. Once on the surface, Yuu discovers that some adults did actually survive, and they have formed an effective resistance to the vampires by using cursed (demon-imbued) weapons. Yuu insists on joining the Imperial Demon Army to earn a cursed weapon so that he can take the fight to the vampires, and four years later he gets his chance. What he doesn't know is that the vampires have a nasty little surprise with a familiar face waiting for him too.
This release covers the first half of the 24-episode adaptation of Takaya Kagami's manga, which aired on TV in Japan during the Spring 2015 season. In many respects, it is a very typical Weekly Shonen Jump adaptation, and it seldom strays far from the base formulas, character archetypes, and plot progressions of shonen action series. This one just happens to involve vampires with some faint homoerotic leanings. (Even if that wasn't overtly intended for the relationship between Yuu and Mikaela, it's difficult not to read that subtext in their behavior towards each other throughout their relationship as 16-year olds.)
The standard shonen elements start with the protagonist. Yuu is a classic bull-headed idiot: acerbic, confrontational, and full of himself, but values those he considers friends and family very highly. He's basically a cross between Bleach's Ichigo Kurosaki and Blue Exorcist's Rin Okumura. The similarities go further than that, as his passion for vengeance echoes Rin's (as well as his difficulty acting responsibly within a military-like setting), and his efforts to obtain and master his cursed weapon have heavy similarities to Ichigo's efforts to master his zanpakuto. Like many other prominent shonen action heroes, Yuu has a power within him that can have dangerous consequences if unleashed. He also slowly gains stalwart companions and potential love interests who he occasionally butts heads with. The only thing that really separates him from other shonen heroes is his intimate brotherly relationship with Mikaela. (Or is it something more?)
Fortunately, Yuu has been surrounded by a more interesting set of companions. Some of them are still pretty standard – there's a tsundere blonde and a big guy who quickly becomes Yuu's unspoken rival – but the mild-mannered yet competent Yoichi is a fresher addition to the mix, and Yuu's rough-edged commander Guren has an entertaining no-nonsense nature, much to the consternation of his chief female subordinate. However, the real supporting star is the petite, lavender-haired Shinoa, whose snarky attitude and persistent amusement with almost everything that isn't life-or-death dangerous is a delight to watch in action, especially when she interacts with Yuu. On many occasions, she saves an otherwise irritating scene with her sharp observations and playful attitude.
The story progression through the first 12 episodes is also nothing special, though it does make the wise decision to fully devote its first episode to a prologue rather than integrating it later on as a flashback. After that come several episodes about Yuu doing what needs to be done to move up in the Imperial Demon Army, an episode devoted to his newbie team's first mission, and then a few episodes involving a major vampire incursion into the IDA's Shinjuku stronghold. After a certain point, some attention is also paid to the vampire realm, although the balance of attention is roughly 3-1 in favor of the human side. Naturally, there are some choice revelations toward the end of this season, such as some hints about the eponymous Seraph's true nature, and of course Yuu and Mikaela have to finally encounter one another again at some point.
Action scenes are also pretty standard fare. While they do entertain, there's almost no freshness or originality to how they play out. Even the Seraph aspect in the next-to-last episode has been done before, though the visuals involved in these climactic battles do stand out more. While the fights can get graphic, they are never taken to a gruesome level, and fan service is limited to one mild shower scene. The animation generally remains consistently on-model with a fair amount of detailed movement, but there are also quite a few still shots and cut scenes in the midst of battles, especially the biggest one near the end of the season. Ultimately, it does nothing extraordinary for TV series level action. Meanwhile, the artwork shines in the character designs but the oil painting-like effect of the backgrounds bugged me; the contrast between its roughness and the smoother character animation was just too great.
While the strength of the musical score varies some, its mix of synthesized sounds and orchestration rarely disappoints in action scenes, often hyping them up dramatically. The sound is often more effective than the visuals. The electronica-based, dance beat-styled opener and the alternative rock-styled closer are strong numbers supported by dynamic use of visuals, though the former would probably be better as a full single. (It sounds more like it cuts off than wraps up as an opening theme.)
Funimation's English dub mostly casts its roles well and achieves a few exceptional performances. Felicia Angelle brings out Shinoa's attitude perhaps even better than the original performance, and Eric Vale makes a great Ferid Bathory. And who else but Monica Rial would have been chosen for Krul Tepes, given her track record of playing loli vampire queens with the surname Tepes? (See Dance in the Vampire Bund.) If there's a weak point in the dub, it's the sparingly-used Dave Trosko, who never quite sounds convincing as Guren Ichinose.
The Funimation release of the first season comes in both a regular Blu-Ray/DVD combo and a Limited Edition; the latter comes in a chipboard box and includes a glow-in-the-dark specialty print. On-disk Extras for both versions include English audio commentaries for episodes 1 and 8, a visual commentary (where you get to see the actors) for episode 11, clean opener and closer, various trailers and promo videos, and a collection of nine “Seraph of the Endless” omake episodes. The latter vary in length from 30 seconds to 5 minutes and present alternate takes on scenes from various episodes that sometimes spin off in very funny directions. Unfortunately, they are only available in subtitled form.
Overall, the first season of Seraph of the End is a solid but unspectacular work of entertainment that only fitfully tries to rise above being a generic action tale. Other than its ambiguous BL elements, the only other interesting element to its story is the implication that the humans may be up to something just as detestable as the vampire side. After all, is it worse to be livestock or a laboratory rat?
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Shinoa, takes a solid amount of time to set itself up
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