Reviewby Carlo Santos, May 2nd 2005
Lunar Legend Tsukihime
DVD 3: Nocturnal Fate
After recovering from his near-fatal fight with the ruthless killer Roa, high-schooler Shiki snoops around the house in search of his family's secrets. After finding an underground chamber, memories start coming back. The pieces still haven't come together, though, and when a night out with the vampire Arcueid is interrupted by undead enemies, Shiki learns that she's got a secret too. Meanwhile, Shiki's sister Akiha tries to confront Roa, and the resulting mess finally brings out the full details of their family secret. Armed with that knowledge, will Shiki still have the courage to stop Roa's killing spree? Arcueid has the power to defeat the madman, but Shiki's unique ability to see the "Death Lines" that can kill a person on contact may be their last hope.
Can a horror story still be horror if it isn't all that scary? Tsukihime is that kind of a series, where traditional horror elements—vampires, zombies, creepy family secrets—serve to create a gloomy atmosphere rather than being outright shocking. With richly colored backgrounds and shadowy lighting, it's a world that's sad, yet beautiful. But the final volume of Tsukihime isn't only about setting a dark mood; the mysteries that seemed to be there just for the sake of being mysterious finally come together to form a somewhat coherent ending. It's an ending that takes its time, however, as this show's deliberate pacing ensures that the story is revealed only to those who are patient enough.
Tsukihime's greatest strength in the story department is that it avoids the typical clichés of the supernatural. By emphasizing drama and mystery, it steers clear of the gore that characterizes other vampire tales. There's still violence and bloodshed involved, but it's actually essential to the story rather than being there for shock value. The plot itself finally fills in the gaps, although it piles on so many twists and revelations that they become a cheap dramatic device for pushing the story forward (any moment now, we'll find out that Shiki's sister's pet hamster is actually the ninja zombie vampire king, or something like that). It's an ending that just about makes sense, although with so many interlocking mysteries, there are invariably some open ends left. The slow pacing might turn off some viewers—it does help to build suspense, as well as giving the characters time to chat, but if you're in this for the death and destruction, then scenes like Shiki's "date" with Arcueid will feel like pointless fluff.
Those with a genuine interest in the characters will see these slice-of-life moments as more than pointless fluff, however. Conversations between characters are the key to unlocking Tsukihime's mysteries, and they also unlock the emotions that drive each character. Arcueid starts out with a sinister aura, but as her true identity and destiny are revealed, you can't help but feel bad for her. Even the point where we learn the truth about Shiki's family history isn't so much chilling as it is depressing. In fact, every major character in the series is somehow flawed but sympathetic, except for the heartless Roa. Like a typical archvillain, Roa seems to be evil just for the sake of being evil, and even his back story isn't quite fleshed out. It's the only shortcoming among a cast of characters who are genuinely human, even though in a biological sense they aren't.
While Tsukihime's storytelling techniques may not suit everyone, there's no doubt about the show's visual qualities—the artwork helps establish the moody atmosphere more than anything else. Animators J.C. Staff have taken the ordinary setting of modern-day Japan, and with some slick techniques, made it uncommonly beautiful. Blue-tinted backgrounds and deep shadows make the nighttime scenes more vivid, while daytime is governed by rich colors and the careful use of soft-light effects. Against such pretty backgrounds, the character designs look awfully ordinary and mainstream, although their mature appearance is a nice break from the usual "cartoony" proportions of more popular anime. These characters don't get into a whole lot of action, but when those scenes do come up (such as Shiki's duel with Roa), the animation is sharp and energetic, even if it's a few notches below the best in the business.
Accompanying the eye candy in Tsukihime is a music score that constantly tries to be as pretty as possible. Composer Toshiyuki Omori matches the tone of the series with melancholy strains, although the repetitive use of piano and strings threatens to make everything sound alike. Even during fight scenes, the music stays essentially the same except for an underlying percussion track. This is one soundtrack that's worth owning on CD if you enjoy exquisite melodies for relaxing (or slaying the undead).
Geneon's dub of the series is performed by the reputable Bang Zoom! studio, whose script and casting choices stay close to the Japanese original. Steve Cannon and Michelle Ruff provide the voices of Shiki and Arcueid respectively, approaching their roles with subtlety rather than melodrama. However, it's a performance that's so subtle, they almost sound bored at times, and other characters like classmate Ciel and Shiki's sister Akiha are somewhat shaky in their delivery. There's also the occasional insertion of Japanese terms like "sempai" into the English dub, which does nothing to ruin the script itself, but will leave language nitpickers arguing for weeks.
Tsukihime is a show that's all about creating a mood, which it does very well with its carefully planned color schemes and evocative music score. Even the plot, which seemed like nothing but a series of unexplained mysteries at first, finally reaches some closure with a series of twists and revelations. It's slow going all the way to the end, but anyone who's watched this far was obviously patient enough with the first two DVDs. Some will say that vampire stories are overdone, but with some genuine character drama, it's not so bad after all.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A
Music : A-
+ Striking visuals and a touching ending that makes sense—sort of.
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