Reviewby Justin Freeman, Oct 14th 2004
Lunar Legend Tsukihime
DVD 1: Life Threads + LE Artbox
Tsukihime is a show that is very mysterious in its desire to be mysterious. Its protagonist, Shiki Tohno, is prone to forgetfulness. In these early episodes, he spends most of his screen time not remembering his childhood, the previous night, how he ended up in bed, what is going on in school, or why he slaughtered a random woman with his pocketknife. His creators spend their time playing with flashbacks, shady women, “strange” murders, foreshadowing and intentionally jarring cuts. The scenery is lonely and foreboding. Resonant violins and solemn pianos crash in the background.
The mood, then, is set rather well. It lends some depth to the proceedings.
The problem with all this mystery and intrigue is that there are no genuinely mysterious happenings at all. We, as the viewers, need not put forth much effort to be in on the events and circumstances of these rather straightforward episodes, leaving us wondering what all the fuss is about. What we have is either a problem of tone, or of plot structure. Let's investigate.
The show begins appropriately enough. Shiki, learning of his father's death, returns to his childhood home under the orders of his younger sister Akiha, who now acts as something of a mater familias. We learn through flashback that Shiki was sent away at a young age because of a serious illness. It is easy to sense some past problems between Shiki and his family as well, but they are mostly shoved aside for the time being. The episodes on this disc spend little time examining the circumstances of Shiki's departure and subsequent return to the (quite spacious) Tohno manner. This is, of course, due to the introduction of several secondary characters. And vampires.
The woman Shiki randomly slaughters is one of these vampires. Her name is Arcueid Brunestud, and your guess on the proper pronunciation is as good as mine. She comes back from the dead, enlisting Shiki in her fight against…other vampires. See, in Tsukihime's world, only a bite from a “True Ancestor” (read: pure vampire) will turn one into a creature of the night. Arcueid figures killing all the other True Ancestors (she is one herself) will make the point moot. How noble of her.
Arcueid is actually something of an interesting character. She threatens to kill Shiki one minute, and is protecting and even seducing him the next. She is both angered and fascinated by his violence. Her motives are difficult to pin down at this point in the series, but it is easy to see touches of humanity in her actions. She manages to avoid most of the cliches associated with vampires—her romanticism is muted at best, and she is not power hungry. There is no animosity in her actions. Being a vampire is only part of Aruceid's character, and that in itself is refreshing.
This humanity is inherent in many of Tsukihime's characters, and it is ultimately the show's greatest strength. About midway through the disc, after both Shiki and the viewer are introduced to his new home, and after the whirlwind of vampiric activity, the show manages to settle down with its characters for a while. We are properly familiarized with Shiki's school friends. Shiki sits down for dinner with his sister and their twin maids Hisui and Kohaku. The early seeds of shounen-romance-esque relationships are planted, oddly enough. There is a relatively distinct split between the supernatural elements of the show, and its more normal aspects.
There is a reason for this, it turns out.
Tsukihime is something of an oddity in the anime industry. It is actually based on a wildly popular visual novel/dating sim by the doujin group Type-Moon. Outside of the anime, it has also spawned a visual novel pseudo sequel named Kagetsu Tohya, and Melty Blood, a (quite good, for those interested) fighting game developed by another doujin group named Watanabe Seisakujyo. As one might imagine, there isn't exactly a whole lot of precedent for doujin gaming properties becoming commercial anime.
In visual novels, nearly all of the information regarding the narrative or the setting comes from speaking with other characters. It is a limitation of the genre. This often times leads to several romantic relationships developing as a means to move conversation forward, and offer the player choices. This doesn't seem like it would translate very well to the pacing of an animated show--particularly when the property in question also happens to deal with vampires and other aspects of the supernatural.
The task of director Katsushi Sakurabi, then, is to find a way to balance the slower character based aspects of the show with the supernatural elements, without ruining the pace or the focus. He has to successfully meld a dating sim with a supernatural anime. He almost succeeds.
The show looks nice, for one. Violence looks painful, characters emotive. When Shiki finally stumbles home after a night of fighting vampires, we can see Akiha's displeasure without it seeming too choreographed or excessive. Shiki's confused nature leads to some visibly tense conversations as he stumbles about. Colors flood the screen at sunset. Flashbacks are often appropriately hazy. But, again, an air of mystery drops over the proceedings at every turn. It apes the feel of some of the more successful “supernatural” shows like X or Witch Hunter Robin, but the content rarely follows suit. There is nothing epic, mysterious, or scary about Shiki's exploits at school, or his conversations with the maid Hisui. Watching these episodes develop, I felt myself constantly waiting for something bad to happen. This is not a good thing for a show that is at its best while exploring its characters; some comfort would go a long way. It is not a surprise, then, that the best individual scenes in these four episodes are those conversations that manage to produce a natural tension more in line with the overall tone.
I have not written extensively about the plot or premise of the show, you might have noticed. This is because there's simply not a whole lot to go by. Shiki and his crew just sort of exist, and we are supposed to find it all inherently interesting. We don't know much about him. We don't know much about how he's spent the last eight years of his life. We don't know what makes Arcueid tick either, and that's a bit of a problem. Her desire to eradicate all vampires is supposed to be what drives the show. As it stands, this feels like X light, with some good pacing that keeps it from falling apart. There is still some potential here, however. If the show can find its focus later on, it could very well be worth the while. Those with a soft spot for its slick, moody presentation might want to give it a go anyway.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A
+ Looks nice, sounds great. Shows a real willingness to devote time to its characters…
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