Judge Jon Mercer loves a rainy knight.
"You must never get close to a vampire. If you do, their gaze will enslave you."
Recent years have proven to be a weird time for stories of the vampiric variety. While the immortal damned have certainly enjoyed a re-energized box office in the last decade thanks in no small part to fare such as the Blade trilogy or the more recent Underworld films, blood-sucker popularity has attained heights unheard thanks to the extremely popular Twilight franchise, and all other followers in its vein (ouch). Tortured souls and brooding, high-school inspired romances are the new oaken stakes and globes of blessed holy water. With that in mind, is there enough room in this crowded coffin for Vampire Knight: The Complete Series, or would fans of both anime and the undead be better off ordering an extra-large garlic pizza?
Facts of the Case
At the elite private school known as the Cross Academy, things are rarely what they seem. There are two completely separate student bodies, a day class and a night class, and for safety reasons, outside of the five minutes they see each other at sundown, neither group is permitted to mingle with the other. The human students of the day class see this as a silly and outdated rule, meant to be broken. They are all too unaware that the exotically beautiful elite of the night class are in truth, vampires (gasp)!! Enforcing the fragile balance between the two groups are student disciplinary committee members Yuki Cross (ugh), and Zero Kiryu (barf). When shadows long forgotten from the pair's past begin to loom over Cross Academy, will even an alliance with powerful night class senior Kaname Kuran be enough to keep the peace between human and vampire?
Even with its silly premise, Vampire Knight does little to endear itself to fans of either romantic anime, or vampires. The series haphazardly jumps between low-rent anime silliness and hijinks, and overwrought, star-crossed drama. The entire ordeal feels like the younger sibling of the rest of the teen-pire ilk, shouting "me too!" after Mom told Twilight it had to let its little brother join in. The plot twists and character revelations manage to both be blatantly predictable yet bat-out-of-hell insane at the same time. Viewers should have no problem seeing each telegraphed incoming swerve, yet will still bury their face into their hands as it utterly fails to add any momentum to the a story completely overburdened with marzipan. By the time the eighth episode rolls around and the series finally gets a clear idea of the antagonist, two thirds of Vampire Knight has been squandered on the same frustrating love triangle plot that fans have seen so many times before.
Things are certainly not helped by the vapid triteness of the three main characters. By story's end I no longer cared whether or not Yuki chose between her schoolgirl's crush on Kaname, or her inexplicable desire to protect Zero; despite her complete inability to do anything during the 13 episode runtime other than be rescued by her peers. Nor did I care what the sullen Zero's secret past tragedy was, or what Kaname's dark connection to Yuki truly meant. None of it matters, because there's no mystery to speak of. Episodes begin, the players all preen and pose and spout their lines, and occasionally there's some earth-shattering unveiling…only without the earth-shatter. I can't see anyone being invested enough in Yuki and her friends to really care one way or another. The case advertises the series as "Original and Uncut," but outside of some arterial spray, I can't remember much of anything that would have been out of place on television.
Vampire Knight is at the very least a handsome affair for a TV series. The character designs are nothing to write home about, and there is an overabundance of still frame pan-and-scan, but at the same time the 1.77:1 widescreen picture is crisp and clean, with a nice use of color. Equally impressive are the stylish backdrops and some slickly implemented CGI weather effects. The voice acting, on the other hand, is a well intentioned mess. It's a cast of recognizable modern anime standouts and veterans, but they all sound woefully miscast. The worst offender is the usually delightful Vic Mignogna, whose charming sarcasm and hair trigger outbursts are wasted on the mopey Zero. Both audio mixes are shoulder-shrugging sufficient stereo mixes; the sort of sound that is just lively enough to listen to, but flat enough to betray the fact that Viz probably didn't want to spend a boatload of money as they cashed in on the Team Edward fervor.
As for extras, well, fanged fan girls are sure to thrill at the lifeless relationship charts on the second disc, or the hideously edited Viz trailers (including an anemic preview for the second season, Vampire Knight: Guilty). Inside the case is a 16 page Bonus sampler of the original Vampire Knight, of which I can only confess did little for me other than serve as a sad reminder of how much the beautifully inked and hand painted artwork's punch was lost in the translation to animation cels. But then again, I sincerely doubt that I'm the target demographic for a Shojo Beat manga (usually aimed at girls aged 11-16), and I really must say it's a great cross promotional strategy for Viz that more anime studios should be employing.
Viz' would-be epic undead romance is tragically caught between two fan bases, and lacks the tools to please either. Anime fans can find better written, better looking fare with a simple turn of their heads, and the legions of vampire supporters out there are certainly in no shortage of superior entertainment. Vampire Knight plays the strong-willed loner, but is ultimately fangless.
This blood-sucker probably still needs a Knight-light.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Viz Media
• Relationship Chart
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