Reviewby Theron Martin,
Vampire Knight Guilty
DVD - Complete Series
Several days after the events of the first series, Yuki Cross struggles to conduct her Disciplinary Committee duties solo until Zero unexpectedly turns up again. His return brings trouble to Cross Academy, however, for the vampiric Senate wants Zero dead because they believe that Zero killed the Pureblood Shizuka, and while Kaname knows differently and puts a stop to the Senate's interference in the Academy, he seems willing to let people think that Zero is involved, much to Yuki's consternation. He also continues to impress on Zero that Yuki belongs to him and he only tolerates Zero's presence (and Zero drinking his blood!) as a means to protect Yuki. Things get even dicier when Zero's twin shows up at the school as a transfer student, one of the Night Class regulars starts acting abnormally, and another seems to change allegiances, but Kaname is conducting as much of his own scheming as what is being directed against him and the Hunter's Society seems to be involved, too. At the heart of it is Yuki, who is haunted by bloody hallucinations as she edges closer to truths she has long forgotten about how she ended up being rescued by Kaname that fateful night a decade earlier and why he has such an interest in her. Her truth, when it finally does come out, changes everything.
The first season of Vampire Knight established its appeal by grounding itself solidly in a mixture of vaguely Gothic ambiance, an angst-ridden love triangle involving a human girl and two vampires, stereotypical shojo style points, and Vampires Being Cool, all flavored with occasional moments of incongruously silly comic relief. The second season ramps up to the max all but the last of those factors and adds a healthier dose of plot, resulting in a triumph of carefully-tweaked and targeted shojo storytelling execution. Those who were fans of the first season should find Guilty to be a dream come true.
And why wouldn't they, when nearly every shot and line of dialogue (excepting the comic moments) was carefully calculated to make its target audience – teen and preteen girls – squeal in delight? Others may find their gag reflexes triggered by, for instance, the nauseating degree to which the whole “I'm only keeping you alive and sane because I know you'll never betray Yuki” business plays out. Give credit where credit is due, though: original manga-ka Matsuri Hina and director Kiyoko Sayama (whose other directorial credits include shojo staples like Angel Sanctuary and Pretear) know how to push their audience's buttons and do it so well that even those left rolling their eyes over various parts, and those who only muddled through the first season, may still find the second season oddly compelling.
That happens largely because Guilty is far more plot-intensive than its first season. The writers no longer need to waste time establishing character relationships, setting, and mood, so the scheming kicks in much quicker and more intensely. The first season left the impression that Kaname had just as many devious plans directed outward as what were directed towards him, and here those plans come to fruition, while on the other side enemy plans also come to fruition. Caught in the middle is Yuki, who turns out to play a pivotal role in the scheming on both sides, and not one that viewers might initially suspect. The secret of her past and how she fits into everything, when it is finally revealed late in episode 7, is the kind of massive game-changer which can reshape an entire story. It certainly explains why Kaname has always been so protective of her and, naturally, it throws a whopping big wrench into at least one side of the love triangle.
What it does not do, unfortunately, is turn Yuki into a better character. She may be a bit more interesting after the revelation, but both before and after she continues to demonstrate that she has no sense of self-preservation and a brain so wrapped up in feelings that she seems barely aware of anything else. Granted, she spends much of the first half of this season being freaked out by bloody visions, but even that cannot excuse her being so pathetically useless that she exists mostly just to give everyone else something to react to. With Zero mired in his angsty self-loathing and Kaname basically having one steady mood, the supporting cast must supply the character development here, and indeed, we do see some as the other Night Class members examine where their true loyalties and priorities lie and Kaien gets serious enough to show that his days as a Hunter of legendary strength are not completely past. What passes for character depth here, though, is usually just layers of agonizing and self-recrimination.
There is nothing artificial about Studio DEEN's artistic effort in this season, however; in fact, it may even surpass the first season in that regard and certainly stands amongst the best-looking of all shojo series. Even the dark overtones cannot dim the lush, vibrant coloring; rarely has ordinary brown hair looked so vivid. Character designs are still dominated by the long, lanky builds and pointed chins so typical of male characters in shojo titles and Yuki's almost disturbingly wide, rounded eyes, but they are all sharply-clothed and well-rendered, with nary a flaw to be found. Backgrounds are not quite as sharp but still provide a great and impressive variety of suitably stylish settings, and power uses, in most cases, are suitably flashy; the main exception is Kaname's visually lame ability to essentially pop lesser vampires out of existence with a glance. The animation tends to stress quality over quantity, with even the action scenes minimized as much as possible and a lower proportion of SD gags.
The musical score also takes a slight step up during the episode content, with a handful of low-key, organ-based tunes carrying much of the weight. More layering and texturing of the music can also be heard in key dramatic moments. Opener “Rondo” fails to impress, while closer “Suna no Oshiro” by Kanon Wakeshima (who also sang the closer for the first season and has a bit voice role in one episode) does not have creepy style of the first season's closer but nonetheless has its own appeal and impact.
Although the English cast has had a full season to settle into their roles, the results are not much of an improvement. Mela Lee still sounds fine as Yuki and Christopher Smith nicely transitions between the silly and serious sides of Kaien Cross, but Ethan Murray still sounds too flat in the critical role of Kaname and some of the casting choices are a little shaky; Patrick Seitz never sounds quite evil enough as Rido, for instance. The English script does stay reasonably close and enough performances are solid that the dub is more just a little inadequate than outright bad.
The release for this Complete Collection follows the same pattern as the one for the first season: the episodes are spread across one double-sided and one single-sided DVD in a slipcovered case which features some sharp bonus artistry, though the picture actually on the slipcover can be considered a bit spoilerish. The only Extras on the disc are clean opener and closer and an updated Relationship Chart, all on the third disk. (The chart is spoiler-laden, so do not look at it until you've completed the series.)
In the end Yuki does (thankfully!) make a concrete decision between her suitors and the story does wrap up its existing story arcs, although the overall story hardly seems over. The final few episodes also drop some references about who Kaname actually is that may be confusing to those who have not read the manga; these make more sense with a bit of follow-up Internet research, however. Despite a bit of drag towards the end, the series definitely delivers on what it set out to do: present a stylish, supernatural romance about two hot guys obsessing over one foolish girl. And in the end, that's what really matters.
Overall (dub) : B-
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Looks great, considerably more plot, everything story and style-wise that fans of supernatural love triangles could want.
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