Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase – review

dvdDirector: Akiyuki Shinbo

First aired: 2004

Contains spoilers

This is an anime series of 25/26 episodes – the original TV series was comprised of 25 episodes but there was a 26th ‘encore’ produced for the DVD release. This was one that I wasn’t too sure about at first but was kind of sucked in to.

The main reason for this was not just the fact that it was, in places, rather weird but because that the weirdness stemmed from the conflicting styles that make up the show.

opening imageryThe best way to explain this is to look at the opening episode. We are at the Schwartz Quelle Castle in Germany. We see the castle, twisted statues drawn in earthy reds and browns. A beautiful refrain plays, haunting in its melody, as we hear a girl – later revealed to be Hazuki (Chiwa Saito/Monica Rial) – talking of her loneliness and how it will end soon. It is a beautiful, moody opening that promises a dark, Gothic cartoon. And then…

opening creditsThen we get the opening credits. A bouncy synthesised pop piece plays, concerned with entering ‘cat ear mode’, and we see Hazuki wearing nekomimi, or cat ears. The imagery is bright and cutesy, Hazuki pops from a turtle shell, out of a bear suit (still wearing the damn ears) or bounces across the moon in a space suit with cat ears built into the helmet. Suddenly you are thinking, “What the Hell am I watching?” and yet it is strangely engrossing.

Kouhei is psychically retardedKouhei (Hiroshi Kamiya/Jason Liebrecht) is, despite being psychically retarded – as his family calls it, on a photo assignment for a psychic magazine. He is there with his friend Hiromi (Michiko Neya/Laura Bailey) and his cousin Seiji (Takahiro Sakuurai/Sonny Strait) and they are looking at the castle. He has taken pictures the night before – getting spirits in shot even though he cannot see them – but missed the shot he tried to get of the girl on the castle roof – Hazuki.

As it turns out Hazuki is a vampire and is trapped in the castle. Originally from Japan, her mother was taken from her and her father – who happens to be king of the vampires – had her locked away. To try and keep control of her he created, through hypnosis, a secondary personality – Luna – a detached and unfeeling creature. Luna’s appearances seem controlled by a pendant Hazuki has to wear, itself becoming active on the full moon. Why the full moon? Because that is when vampires have to feed.

Hazuki bites KouheiShe uses Kouhei to try and escape and bites him to make him a blood slave. Any human bitten by a vampire immediately becomes that vampire’s devoted slave. Except for Kouhei. He is what is known as a vampire’s lover – he is immune to the enslaving properties of a vampire’s kiss, as the bites are called, and also any vampire who drinks his blood will be freed from the servitude ties that they have to their masters. Later this makes him a target, obviously, as he threatens the established vampire hierarchy.

Seiji uses a magical attackDespite not being her slave both Kouhei and Seiji help Hazuki escape. This is achieved through a combination of Kouhei’s psychic ineptitude making him immune to some attacks and Seiji’s magic. Once escaped she follows Kouhei back to Japan, ostensibly looking for her mother but also to be close to her slave – though he keeps denying her belief that he is a slave. Kouhei’s grandpa, Ryuuhei (Mughito/Randy Tallman), allows her to live with them and work in his antique shop so long as she wears nekomimi (!)

a love/hate relationshipThe show then fluctuates between being rather dark and rather silly and cutesy. The dark aspects follow the attempts by various vampires to get Hazuki back to the castle. The silliness often surrounds the relationship between Hazuki and Kouhei which ranges from annoyance and bickering to true friendship with hints of a romantic direction later. We meet other members of Kouhei’s family and discover that the whole clan are great psychics, except for him.

One of the reasons the show really worked was characterisation. Hazuki could have been nothing but a brat but the show develops her character well, as it does with most of the primaries. Some of the story aspects are under explored – such as the fact that Kouhei’s mother vanished (he has been told she died) and it had something to do with vampires – indeed her spirit guardian, Akuda, was somehow involved with Hazuki’s mother and the guardian is reassigned to Hazuki by grandpa (and changes form from a standard cat to a cat creature named Haiji (Vanilla Yamazaki/Luci Christian)). This seemed important and yet was just left hanging as a plot point. There was also the moment when we were led to believe two main characters had died, and then they returned later. The principle I could accept but, as the audience, I wanted to know how they escaped their certain deaths – this was never answered.

Christopher Lee-a-likeThe lore is varied. (Incidentally, we get a Christopher Lee looking vampire when we get a slideshow of images during a discussion of vampire lore on the show.) Vampires have a power based hierarchy with born vampires at the top and made vampires – known as ludo – below. The main ludo we meet is Elfriede (Yumi Kakuzu/Stephanie Young) tasked to bring Hazuki back but freed from servitude through Kouhei’s blood and, eventually, the family’s ally. She was, as a mortal, the daughter of a pure blood vampire – Count Kinkell (Takashi Matsuyama/Troy Baker) – proving that vampires can reproduce sexually though there is no indication that she was dhampier.

a vampire in the sunlightAll the vampires have different powers. Elfriede can summon creatures and monsters. Kinkell can manipulate light, allowing him to take on other forms and also daywalk by bending light around himself. One vampire can drain the power from another, if they are strong enough to best them, and Hazuki has a power most would want – one of the reasons she was locked away by her father was to prevent other vampires discovering it and trying to steal it, thus being able to challenge him. Vampires can be destroyed by a stake through the heart or by sunlight.

just blooming wierdThere are some genuinely funny lines in the show – the build up to, followed by the cry of “This cat has no rectum”, and the reaction to such a pronouncement, was rather amusing; to me anyway. I have to mention the last episode (26). This has nothing to do with the show and its story – though it features the main characters, and the house afloat in the ocean. Its serious weirdness can be summed up with the image of grandpa in a tutu fitted bathing suit resplendent (or just disturbing) with its swan neck.

Cute and dark – nasty and silly, they all clash in this strange, strange show – and the clash works. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


CrabStiX said...

Hmmmm.... as you should know T, cats do not have rectums. They have raisins!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

There is just no answer to that!