Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jan 9th 2006
Ever since a near-fatal childhood accident, Shiki has been able to see strange scribbly lines on everything—objects, people, even buildings. If he traces a knife along these lines, the object instantly falls apart, but a pair of glasses stops him from seeing the lines. One day, after passing a beautiful woman on the street, Shiki is suddenly overcome by the urge to kill her—which he does, cutting her into 27 pieces. The next day, he sees her again, fully reformed, and Shiki begins to wonder if he's going crazy. The woman introduces herself as Arcueid and explains that she's a vampire. Shiki's world gets even more surreal when a monster attacks the two of them, and he soon finds himself tangled up in something far more serious than fantasy roleplay.
It's a doujin game! It's an anime! And now, Tsukihime is a surprisingly dull manga series. Without the evocative music score or stately visual pacing of the on-screen version, this understated tale of modern-day vampires loses much of its appeal. Now it's just a straight-ahead horror story that isn't particularly horrifying or creepy, rendered in an art style that adds nothing to the mood. Somehow, this comic has sucked all the fun and intrigue out of Shiki's disturbing power and Arcueid's mysterious vampire world.
The manga version of Tsukihime is absolutely clear about how the story progresses—Volume 1 opens with a flashback scene and methodically works its way forward to the point where Shiki gets caught up in Arcueid's ancient battle. This clear-cut approach is a mixed bag: on one hand, nothing is ever confusing, but following the plot is like driving in your parents' car to the supermarket. It gets somewhere, but there's nothing special about the trip. No wicked twists; no chapter-to-chapter cliffhangers; even Shiki's first confrontation with a malevolent force can be summed up in four words. He fights. He runs. The book tries to build an air of mystery, but most of it is just Shiki being confused about the supernatural hoopla around him. I suppose I'd be confused too if everyone I knew was vaguely evil or creepy—where did all their personalities go?
Even Shiki falls victim to shallow characterization. As the main hero, he spends most of his time being freaked out about his macabre ability and wondering about Arcueid's motives. Admittedly, he's got a really cool power—the idea of destroying anything by reading its lifelines and making a single cut is the most interesting thing about the series—but he only demonstrates his skill every other chapter or so. Meanwhile, the rest of the volume is time-wasting fluff about being at school, at home, or getting into scrapes with Arcueid. There isn't anything special about generic horror elements like killer wolves or blood-sucking serial murderers, and yet they take up more page space than the real heart of the series, which ought to be Shiki going around and cutting things like crazy.
One flip through the volume, however, and you might not even know that this is supposed to be a horror or drama series. The artwork is clean to the point where it's been robbed of all emotion; a great idea for streamlining an anime production, perhaps, but a death blow to this genre of manga. Shiki, Arcueid and friends have such a polished, sharp-lined look to them that might as well be characters in a romantic comedy (not the giant wolves, though). This clean approach has a more positive effect on layouts, however—with the panels lined up in neat geometric shapes, the visual flow is easy to follow, especially in the dynamic action scenes. It's in these fights and confrontations that the artwork comes out best: angular panel shapes combine with speedlines and blood to capture the excitement of battle.
DrMaster's translation is straightforward and conversational, despite a few grammatical slip-ups. Some lines of dialogue also show up outside of speech bubbles, and in these cases the translation is added beside the Japanese text—fortunately, it happens rarely enough that it doesn't interfere much with the art. Likewise, sound effects translations are provided next to the Japanese characters, with their shape and positioning also suggesting the feeling of that sound. The printing could be better, however: the paper is similar to the kind that's used in trashy paperback novels, and the artwork comes out looking dull and blurry, especially in the blotchy gray-toned areas.
Some of the best stories succeed by taking one unique idea and spinning it into something fantastic. Tsukihime goes the wrong way, taking its unique idea—the ability to kill by seeing lifelines—and diluting it with clichés like vampires, monsters, and even maids. In other formats, the series got away with this by focusing on darkly emotional moods. As a manga, however, the main mood is one of boredom as the story ends up all too plain. Shiki's got a very intriguing skill, and Arcueid has a very intriguing past, but if everyone's just going to act mysterious and get into the occasional fight, then there isn't much incentive to stick around.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : C+
+ Easy to follow visuals and storyline; dynamic action scenes.
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