Geneon // 2004 // 100 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 27th, 2005
Blue blue glass moon, under the crimson air.
"Blue blue glass moon, under the crimson air"?
What the hell does that mean?
As a child, Shiki suffered an accident that he cannot clearly remember. He was always told it was a car accident, but as an older teenager, he begins to have his doubts, especially considering that after the incident, he could suddenly see thin red lines on everything -- people, animals, plants, the ground, buildings, everything. Even more terrifyingly, if he "cuts" the lines, then whatever they are attached to simply falls apart...often with horrifying and grisly results.
A member of an influential and powerful family, Shiki is sent away after his accident to live with his relatives, in order to distance the family from his "condition." Eight years later, Shiki is now a high school student, content with his friends and his life, though his friends find him a bit pensive and weird. After his father suddenly dies, his sister is appointed heir to the family, and Shiki is summoned back to the family estate in order to fulfill family duties. If things were not bad enough, even more troubling, the town is on alert after a series of horrific murders that seem vampiric in nature...bodies drained of blood with puncture marks on the neck.
Shiki tries to settle into the opulent mansion with his strangely intense sister, but he feels awkward in the gigantic house. Leaving school one day, he notices a woman walking down the street. He follows her, and without consciously realizing what he is doing, pulls out his knife. The next thing he knows, he finds himself standing over a slashed and mutilated corpse. Horrified, he passes out, and wakes up in his bed. He chalks the experience up to a nightmare. It seems unthinkable that he would ever do such a thing, especially having kept his "condition" carefully guarded for years.
The next day, he has the strangest sense that somebody is following him. He turns around to encounter the woman who he "killed," looking very much alive, and understandably upset about him slashing her into seventeen pieces. In terror, he tries to run away, but she doggedly follows his every move. As it turns out, she is a vampire, though not the vampire killing people in town. She is both irritated and fascinated at the fact that he was able to kill her, and demands that he take responsibility for his actions by submitting to her authority, and recruits him as her bodyguard.
It seems the mysterious female vampire's task is to hunt down the monsters responsible for the murders plaguing the town, committed by an evil vampire named Nero. She tells Shiki that the lines he can see are the lines of Death, and his ability to cut the lines makes him an absolutely formidable weapon in the fight against evil...a fight that he is suddenly neck deep in...no pun intended.
Lunar Legend Tsukihime is a supernatural and psychological horror anime that gets its chills through mood and atmosphere rather than on-screen frights, and bears more than a passing resemblance to Witch Hunter Robin in both tone and pacing. The anime is based on a popular Japanese H dojin video game, which for all the non-otaku out there, are independent fan-created video games. It seems Tsukihime became so popular that it inspired the creation of an anime series to tell its mysterious tale. As for the "H" prefix, that indicates...ahem, adult content, but it is my understanding that most of the adult content from the video game has been removed in creating the anime series.
Well, outside of the occasional terrible knife-slashing dismemberments. I'd say that's pretty darn adult.
Despite the liberal amounts of horrific gore and spookiness, Lunar Legend Tsukihime plods along surprisingly slowly; the four episodes included on this disc do set up a loose premise and feature a few bloody battle sequences between vampires, and an attempt is made to flesh out the characters as much as possible, but the series seems to be lacking energy, as if languidly sleepwalking through its battles and dramatic encounters. I stop short at categorizing this as problematic, but it is definitely going to turn off some people from enjoying the show, especially if they go in looking for high-octane thrills. This is the kind of series that takes its sweet darn time getting ready for the prom, and you have to place a great deal of faith in the show not to completely shaft you and let you down.
The gimmick of a kid who can see the lines of death and cut them at will is a very nifty one, and the on-screen depictions of his targets simply falling apart is both horrifying and cool at the same time. The whole "good vampire vs. bad vampire" thing has been done many times before, but trying to predict where an anime series ends up after only watching the first four episodes is like trying to build a F-15 fighter jet after making a paper airplane. Personally, I am interested in seeing more of the show, if only to see where they take the brooding storyline. Unfortunately, I am unable to actually give a crap about any of the characters, which are paper-faced and wooden and hardly stand out from one another in any meaningful or dramatic way. To me, this is probably the biggest flaw so far in Lunar Legend Tsukihime: the boring, uninspired character designs and the lack of any likeable or standout personalities. Even the protagonists feel flat and lifeless like wooden dolls, without any individuality of their own. I had the same problem with Witch Hunter Robin, now that I think about it; I guess all that dramatic and spooky atmosphere kind of kills character development or something. Either that, or being based on video game characters will do the trick.
The quality of the transfer is simply smashing, one of the best-looking anime titles I have seen on to DVD. The colors are perfectly balanced, the black lines are sharp and solid, and despite the show's delicious hazy animation style, the level of detail is quite outstanding. The only imperfections that mar this otherwise perfect transfer comes in the form of some shimmering edges now and again, and a few sequences that appear softer than the others, but otherwise a flawless presentation with nary a scratch or blemish in sight. The sound is almost as excellent, with both Japanese and English Dolby 2.0 tracks dynamically utilizing the rear channels effectively. I prefer the Japanese mix to the English; the dialogue and environmental noises are mixed slightly louder, especially in the rear channels, and the presentation sounds fuller as a result, but both sound sublime. The English dub is performed numbly and unenthusiastically by its voice actors, but is perfectly serviceable. The soundtrack, a pulsing strings and somber piano score, helps build the mysterious tension that slowly rises as the episodes progress, though it gets a bit droning and repetitive as the show runs on.
Two subtitle tracks are included, both regular English and a special "signs only" subtitle mode that leaves the dialogue alone and simply prints up translations of any building signs or other Japanese text that appears on-screen. This mode is perfect for all those who want to practice your Japanese skills, but are still rusty on Kanji characters. Other than that, some trailers and a non-credit opening sequence animation, no other extras are included on this DVD. With a technical presentation so outstanding, the lack of extras is incredibly disheartening, but that's anime for you.
Mysterious and compelling, and with more than its fair share of gore and blood, Lunar Legend Tsukihime is definitely an anime series to keep your eye on, especially for fans of slow-paced brooding anime like Witch Hunter Robin, Boogiepop Phantom, or Serial Experiments Lain. But beware; the show seems far more interested in cultivating dread and anxiety than violence and conflict, so those looking for a big slice of action pie will no doubt walk away hungry from this table.
As with all introductory anime DVDs, it is difficult to get a sense of where
the show is going from the first few episodes, but as it stands now, fans of the
aforementioned anime will certainly enjoy the somber mood and psychological
horror in Lunar Legend Tsukihime. The lack of developed characters and
the absence of excitement are the two biggest pitfalls so far, but hopefully the
series can spice things up and flesh its characters out while preserving the
delightful eeriness that makes the show so cool.
I'd be interested in seeing more of it, so I'd wager that counts as a "not guilty" verdict!
Review content copyright © 2005 Adam Arseneau; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
* English (signs only)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Non-Credit Opening Animation
* TV Tome: Lunar Legend Tsukihime
* Wikipedia: Shingetsutan Tsukihime