Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Servamp Season One
Limited Edition BD/DVD
Mahiru Shirota is the kind of guy who would rather do everything himself than rely on others. In his mind, this keeps things simple – he knows the job will get done with minimal fuss. That's why he stops and picks up what he thinks is a stray kitten on his way home; if he takes it home now, he doesn't have to worry that no one else will. He's picked up more than he bargained for when it turns out that the kitten is actually just the daylight form of Sleepy Ash, the Servamp of Sloth, and before long, Mahiru's good deed has sucked him into a bizarre world of hundred-year-old grudges and complicated conflicts between supernatural forces.
Based on Strike Tanaka's manga of the same name, Servamp (a portmanteau of “servant” and “vampire”) isn't sure if it wants to be a comedy or a serious supernatural story. That's less of an issue for the source manga, because page limits allow for more wiggle room than a set runtime of twelve half-hour episodes. The result is a show with moments where everything is going just right, only to be derailed by an attempt at being too serious or too silly at the wrong time. Watching it feels a little like being a yo-yo with the series moving your string – just as you reach the top of a good arc, you get jerked back in the other direction. That's not to say that Servamp isn't decently enjoyable, but its tone and pacing problems do make it much less than it could have been.
The story follows sixteen-year-old Mahiru Shirota. Orphaned in elementary school, young Mahiru had to sit around at his mother's funeral and listen to relatives argue about how difficult it would be to give him a home before an uncle simply stepped up and took him in. Because of this, Mahiru has a hard time allowing people to dither about decisions, feeling that it just saves everyone grief if he simply volunteers to do the job himself. This makes him look like the biggest overachiever in his class, but he finds it easier that way—and maybe a little safer, since he never has to worry about anyone letting him down. (It should be mentioned that his uncle is pretty much nowhere to be found in the series, which may be another way Mahiru feels betrayed.) So when he finds a kitten on his way home, he may feel some kinship with the abandoned feline alongside his need to be the person who always does something about a problem.
That the kitten turns out to be a Servamp named Sleepy Ash (although he goes by Kuro, the name Mahiru gives him) makes him even more of a parallel to his new human roommate. Like Mahiru, Kuro has had problems in his family, although it seems to be from not doing anything, because in a world where the Servamps represent the seven deadly sins, Kuro is sloth, and he'd rather just lay around in front of the TV all day. But Kuro's exterior an opposing truth, giving rise to the overarching theme of the series: everyone has their own baggage to carry, whether the rest of the world sees it or not.
As themes go, it's a pretty powerful one, and moments of the show do a good job conveying it. The Servamp named Lawless' arc is a particularly good example, giving us insight into his character and explaining his callous relationship with contracted humans, known as "Eves" in the parlance of the story. Equally striking is Sakuya's inherently cruel backstory; he's a created vampire (or "subclass"), meaning that he was turned when a Servamp gave him some of his blood as he lay dying. Since Sakuya's death came at the hands of those who were supposed to care for him, this creates a major emotional conflict within him – once Mahiru teams up with Kuro, he and Sakuya are effectively enemies, even though Sakuya cares much more for Mahiru than he does for his creator. But he feels that he has to remain loyal to the one who saved him, because he wouldn't be alive without him and therefore never would have met Mahiru in the first place. Even villain Tsubaki has a wounded side, and his choice to save so many people by making them into his subclasses is an effort to ease that pain – after feeling rejected by his real family, he attempts to create one that must love and be loyal to him. These character arcs are one of the stronger parts of the series, subtle enough to work without wallowing in melodrama.
However, things fall apart in the lighter moments. This is largely because they feel misplaced, often trying to break a dark mood too soon or shifting too quickly into more serious content. While Kuro and Mahiru's back-and-forth is generally fun to watch, as is Lawless and Lict's, other aspects don't work as well, such as Misono's complex about his height or virtually everything about the incredibly annoying Berukia.
The animation shifts between being beautiful (especially the dancing in the way-too-catchy ending theme) and being so off that knees are shown bending the wrong way. There are a lot of interesting visual choices involving dark reds and the use of static, but the visuals are overall as mixed a bag as the plot. Performances are good in both languages, with a few stronger on each side (you don't want to miss Micah Solusod's maniacal Tsubaki laugh), though much of the dub cast has trouble pronouncing “Tsubaki” to such a degree where I wasn't sure what the name was at first. All of the extras are dubbed as well, which is always nice, and there are two commentaries – episode 1 (come for Clifford Chapin shipping Kuro and Mahiru, stay for three men discussing period panties) and episode 11, which is a video commentary. Off-disc extras for the limited edition are quite nice – an artbook with both anime and manga images and a sheet of foil stickers in a blue envelope. The box is attractively shiny as well if you like having your shelves gleam.
Servamp is a fairly middle-of-the-road series that mostly could have been better. It wastes much of its potential by not being able to settle on a tone (or at least not mixing tones well), but when it sticks to its guns, the story can really pull you in. This is a case where I might suggest reading the manga instead, but the anime is good enough to still be a fun experience, even if it never quite becomes its best self.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Its high points leave a strong impression, good integration of the central theme, nice extras
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