Thursday, July 03, 2008

Rosario + Vampire – season 1 – review

Directed by: Takayuki Inagaki

First aired: 2008

Contains spoilers

If Lament of the Lamb showed us that anime can be a thoughtful character driven drama, then Rosario + Vampire is almost the polar opposite. It is, what I have heard described as, harem anime – in other words a central male character gathers a harem of female characters through the series and, as such, has plenty of fan service (a concentration on sexual tease for the viewer) – some of which seems somewhat inappropriate – and has a battle system through it that inevitably leads to a fight at the end of each episode with power transformations.

That said it is good fun, has a dark aspect to it, an underlying theme that you wouldn’t expect and, in many respects, turns the fan service aspects – and general anime concepts – around upon the audience in a knowing way.

Tsukune Aono (Daisuke Kisho) is a young man on his way to high school. The thing is, his grades were not good enough to get into high school and then his father met (accidentally bumped into) a priest who gave him (dropped as they collided) enrolment papers for Youkai Academy and thus Tsukune is being taken there. He is the only pupil on the bus. His cousin phones him and has been researching the academy but, before Tsukune can discover anything, the bus enters a tunnel and the signal cuts.

On the other side of the tunnel… well I guess the phrase ‘we’re not in Kansas anymore’ would be appropriate. A scarecrow – that holds the bus timetable – stands atop a cliff, a blood red sea is in sight and the academy is in the distance. Tsukune can get no reception on his phone and walks towards the academy. We see a bat, called Nazo Koumori (Takehito Koyasu), fly by and tell us, “I’m a bat”! Suddenly something hits Tsukune.

It is a bike, ridden by a girl – Moka Akashiya (Nana Mizuki) – and the resultant tumble leads to much fan service. She apologises as her eyesight is blurry due to anemia but then smells the blood from Tsukune’s bleeding nose. She bites him and then asks if he hates vampires. When he checks his neck there seems to be a hickey only.

He and Moka are in the same class but in the first lesson he discovers the truth – this is a school for monsters, hidden from the human world by a barrier and no humans are allowed – under pain of death. The monsters are there to learn integration (in order to remain hidden) and must maintain human form at all times, never revealing their true form. Moka, who has already told him what she is, explains to him that her true vampiric form is locked by the rosary she wears. Remove the cross and her true form appears.

Tsukune decides to leave and Moka tries to stop him but he explains that he is a human – and she has already stated she hates them (she went to a human school and was the odd one out). However another student wants Moka for himself and attacks Tsukune whilst in his true form – that of an orc. During the attack Tsukune pulls the rosary from Moka’s neck and she transforms. The transformation sequence involves bats appearing, her hair turning white, her eyes red and the bats that strike her plumping her ass and breasts up! In true form she is (one of) the most powerful monsters in the school. She defeats the orc and then Tsukune realises that the bus is not due for a month – he is stuck in the school.

The episodes fairly much take that form, short story (though later the stories carry over two episodes), Tsukune removing the rosary and Moka kicking butt. Nazo the bat will tell us how long the battle took and move the story along at certain points. Nazo also makes commentary on some of the character and tells us a little about the monsters that Moka battles. Of course there is also the harem anime aspect.

Eventually Tsukune develops a full harem of girls who fancy him and become rivals to Moka – but still they all become firm friends. The first is Kurumu Kurono (Misato Fukuen), a succubus who wants to enslave all the male students as she searches for her ‘destined one’ the one who can help her continue her race. Having charmed Tsukune and fought Moka she ends up believing Tsukune to be that one.

Later we get Yukari Sendo ( Kimiko Koyama), a witch who begins her episode in love with Moka and ends up loving Tsukune. Her presence went a little too far as she is depicted as very young but at least the series shied away from using her for fan service. There is also Mizore Shirayuki (Rie Kugimiya) a snow woman and, much later, Ruby (Saeko Chiba) another witch. There is an underlying theme in this of loneliness. It is hinted that Kurumu is of a dying race and the others have tormented, lonely pasts and band together as friends.

Lore wise things are limited. Moka can clearly go out in sunlight, drinks blood and is very powerful. We discover that water is a problem; it has a purifying effect and causes her great pain (and makes her look like she is electrically shorting). She can inject blood, much in the way we saw in Karin, though in this case it heals injury. I have mentioned the rosary, this allows her true form to speak to her at times and it very much seems as though there are two actual creatures; the human form of Moka being distinctly different to her vampire form and having a different personality – Moka (human form) is sweet, Moka (vampire form) is cold.

There are a couple of interesting creatures, from a genre sense – the first being a lamia. We have looked at the idea of the lamia in the past and there is some definite cross-over with the vampire myth. In this case the lamia is a dominatrix teacher who likes to literally pump knowledge into a chosen pupil through, what can only be described as, a flower like appendage to her tail. As such she isn’t vampiric, but her presence deserved mentioning.

The other creature is the mermaid. These are displayed as, almost, vampires of the water. They like to lure young men (cue lots of fan service) and then bite them, feeding off their life energy and causing them to age and corrupt it seems. This is a somewhat unusual view of the mermaid, of course.

What I found interesting within the series was the knowing self-effacing aspects thrown in. There are disparaging comments about cosplay, manga fans and the standard male lead characters in manga. What was also interesting was the use of a werewolf in an episode about a peeping tom. The fact that the female characters are up in arms about a clear disrespect, when the show itself uses voyeuristic devices to achieve the fan service aspects of the series, was amusing. We, on one occasion, also get a main character speaking directly to audience and other characters asking who she is speaking to.

The animation style works. Standard animation is mixed with some chibi style and occasional computer generated 3D. What I found most fascinating was that this had a real dark heart to the story, not only looking at loneliness and alienation but also throwing in an undercurrent discourse on racism and the folly of judging others by their race.

It should be said the idea of a school for monsters and magical creatures hidden from humanity by a magical barrier did have a touch of the Harry Potter to it – Harry Potter twisted almost beyond recognition it must be said.

The series proved to be much more than the standard style would have led you to think. 6.5 out of 10.

The series’ imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

I love rosario vampire, I really wish gonzo would come back and make season 3.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

ditto :)