Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Vampire Knight Guilty
Yuki is more desperate than ever to remember her past. Any sensible girl would take the escalating, bloody hallucinations as a sign that perhaps she shouldn't pursue the issue, but Yuki has never been a sensible girl. So she confronts Kaname about his role in her missing past, which naturally leads to him declaring her as his lover. It's patently obvious, even to Yuki, that there's something besides mere affection behind his declaration. But what? Between Yuki's memory, Shiki returning from break a (very) changed man, and Ichiru transferring into the Day Class there can be no doubt that something big and probably very, very bad is in the offing. Can the relationships that Yuki treasures survive it? Not unchanged they can't.
When I imagine someone casting about for an appropriate appellation for the second season of Vampire Knight, I imagine them opening an English dictionary, the pages flipping naturally to the Gs and a little pencil of light piecing the clouds to highlight the word "guilty." Vampire Knight is all about the guilt, be it the lakes of it that the protagonists bleed when their adolescent emotional fumblings accidentally cut too deep, or the lakes we bleed for enjoying theirs. The problem with this volume is that there isn't enough of it. The increasingly complicated plot has too few guilt-making developments of any variety. Until, that is, it introduces a volume-end twist that puts us straight back on the guilt train. First class. With benefits.
If you've been hungry for plot, this volume will give you plenty to chew on. We are finally introduced to the threat that Kaname has long been hinting at, Yuki's memory returns, Ichiru re-enters the picture with some very shady intentions...the disc is crawling with activity. The series is still keeping a lot of essential cards clamped tight to its chest, but we learn much this volume: about the characters, about their motivations, about the past. Compared to the languorous first season, and even the first leg of the second, this volume is positively buzzing with big events and bigger revelations. All of the subplots that the previous volume got moving accelerate visibly here, drawing ever nearer to merging into a single entity.
That could easily have resulted in a mess had Kiyoko Sayama not proved as intelligent an orchestrator of plots as she is of emotions. She allows the truth to emerge of its own volition and leaves it mostly to us to piece it together. Not until the last episode's extended flashback does she make an obvious push to bring everything together, and even it brings enough new details to the table to be worthwhile. Given the series' previous disregard for plot, that isn't a bad showing.
Unfortunately, much of the effort is wasted. It's fine that the series is showing some ambition, that it aspires to be more than shameless teen melodrama. It's nice that it respects us enough to give us something meaty to get our intellectual teeth into (even if, in the chewing, one finds more than a few indigestible lumps—primary among them the plot's failure to explain why Kaname killed Shizuka). But we don't tune into Vampire Knight for the politics and scheming and twisty-turny plotting. If we wanted that we'd be re-reading the Song of Ice and Fire right now, not watching high-schoolers lick blood off of each other's faces. Preposterous melodrama isn't a flaw; it's the reason we watch.
And there is a lot of preposterous emoting going on. It's just that it's the same preposterous emoting that's been going on for a while. Yuki will be tormented by visions of blood-spattered rooms, but nobly deny it to Zero, sparing him the worry. Zero will fret at the burden he's laying on Yuki, Kaname will silently chafe at the distance he must keep from her, and Yuki will flay herself alive for hurting Zero and backing him into a corner. And so on, and so forth. While the plot is lunging forward, the central love triangle—that irreplaceable source of deliciously diseased drama—is standing still. Emotional stings sneak their way in, notably when Yuki finally pours all of her guilt and self loathing and dirty inner thoughts out for Zero to see, but the vicarious wallowing in emotion has been noticeably curtailed.
That's frustrating. Vicarious wallowing, intricately woven webs of wonderfully unhealthy affection, floods of overwrought angst—these are Vampire Knight's strengths. Just look at the series. Its characters look their best when sulking or slinking moodily through its equally moody architecture. Its ravishing score casts an opulent spell under which it is all too easy to accept teen angst as truth. Besides its seductive gothic atmosphere its finest artistic achievements are the moments when inner turmoil, fresh pain and impossible longing come flowing from the shimmering eyes and carefully-positioned bodies of the cast. Action scenes are just shy of laughable, suspense is minimal at best. The scenes where Zero witnesses Yuki and Kaname in an intimate embrace or gives her a self-sacrificing push towards Kaname? Sublime.
Similarly, Viz's awkward dub is at its most painful when flubbing the series' delicate emotional constructs. You could fill a ledger with the dub's shortcomings: the way it loses Aido's emerging strength of character, the way the little-girl voice that haunts Yuki sounds strangely cheerful rather than hauntingly fragile. But where the dub really hurts is when the cast fails to sell the series' melodramatic conceits. Which, since there are fewer of them here, isn't as often as in volumes past. Often enough to make subtitles the preferred option, though.
Having emerging developments to think about helps reduce the chafing caused by their lack of new emotional complications. Still, it comes as a relief when the volume finally breaks out the big guns, springing a monster-sized revelation with devastating, far-reaching consequences on the central trio. Taboos are shattered, relationships twisted, and novel new combinations of grief, fury, hatred and love suggested. It also casts the previous stasis as a deliberate build-up rather than a lapse in melodramatic productivity and, thank the unholy gods of warped romance, promises a humdinger of a final volume.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ As beautiful and atmospheric as ever; heavier on plot than ever; ends with the most ludicrous, depraved turn of events yet.
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