NightWalker Anime Review
Night Walker - 真夜中の探偵
Night Walker - Mayonaka no Tantei
Night Walker - Midnight Detective
US Release By
Investigative Vampire Action
12 25-minute episodes
1998-07-08 to 1998-09-23
Shido is a P.I. with a caseload like Magnum never dreamed: when the police come up with an X-file that defies normal investigation, they turn to the one vampire who can make things right (for a bit of cash, of course). With the help of Yayoi, a cop who deals with the special cases, and his high school intern Riho, Shido stalks the creatures that stalk the night. Only one problem: what might happen when an ancient vampire from Shido's past comes to visit his old "friend"?
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Though the idea of a friendly vampire detective sounds like it has potential, in the end Night Walker is yet another dark, angst-ridden vampire drama. The relatively light early episodes and generally non-noir visual style provides an odd contrast for the darker later part of the series, and on the whole it doesn't go where I would have expected, but the individual (and mostly self-contained) episodes are predictable, lacking in originality, and not much fun, either, and it doesn't even look stylish enough to forgive the generic vampiric angst. Aside from the concept it fails to take advantage of, it's biggest strengths are probably the cool funky soundtrack and solid cast from the leads down through a variety of single-episode appearances.
Grabbing chunks wholesale from a variety of anime and live action vampire stories, NightWalker serves up a few good parts and quirky characters, but is for the most part too derivative, too scattered, and too angsty to distinguish itself from its kin, and not even stylish enough to feel at home with them.
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Ah, another vampires hunting monsters series (see: Hellsing, Vampire Princess Miyu, Darkstalkers, Vampire Hunter D, Blade, et al). NightWalker is, unfortunately, not the most memorable of the variety to choose from, but it does share a lot with several better known vampire series, so I'm going to indulge myself and sprinkle this review with comparisons. Bear with me.
Put bluntly, NightWalker is a cross between Phantom Quest Corp, Interview With The Vampire, and the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series. Its biggest flaw is how accurate that analogy is--the series feels derivative and a bit scattered.
The first three or four episodes start out looking interesting; a vampire detective hunting demons while embarrassing his intern with lots of innuendo. Though bloodier and somewhat darker than the look had me expecting, it's fun enough and still has something of a plot. Then, the series takes an unexpected twist, switching into Vampire Princess Miyu/Interview With The Vampire mode--hunting down a variety of demons preying on the weaknesses of humans, while taking time out to brood about the tragedy of eternal youth and life in the night.1
The problem is, once the element of fun fades, it gets less original and a lot less interesting; I'm not a big fan of vampire angst to begin with, and NightWalker seems to try unnecessarily hard to wallow in it. The monster of the week episodes aren't badly done, and I'll admit to there being some interesting supernatural twists on human flaws (see: Vampire Princess Miyu), as well as an air of relatively down-to-earth realism that appealed to me. But even these are marred by the fact that the climactic plot twists are so consistent that they ironically end up being rather predictable.
I do give the series as a whole credit for not going at all where I was expecting it to. Then again, I didn't exactly see the end coming because it's entirely inconclusive (not to mention disappointingly unrelated to the rest of the story), and I would have found the whole thing a lot more interesting if it hadn't changed quite so much midstream. The characters are a basically likable lot, but the slightly quirky flavor of Shido (the guy's a P.I. and wears a top hat) and his banter with Yayoi early on are a lot more fun than Riho's incessant whining about the destruction of her life (and for no readily apparent reason--sure seemed like she could have worked around her "problem").
Getting to another analogy, I hope I'm not giving too much away here when I say that plot-wise, NightWalker is almost exactly the same as Hellsing. The funny thing, though, is that it does more or less the opposite of everything in Hellsing--wherever Hellsing is funny, NightWalker is serious, and the roles of the vampire, villains, and the vampires' respective muses are all essentially reversed. Unfortunately (again) for NightWalker, Hellsing made all the right decisions--instead of just enough levity about the vampire mythos to keep the otherwise dark story from overwhelming itself, NightWalker takes a potentially fun opportunity to twist the vampire role a bit and throws a far too traditional angst-soaked blanket on it.
The one area where NightWalker probably stands out the most is its artistic style--not because it's memorable, but because it doesn't look like what it is. The light art style and relatively cute character designs have the look of a Pioneer comedy, which you'd think would be appropriate from the opening episodes. In actuality, the series is fairly violent, bloody, and for the most part quite dark. The story seemed to beg for darker, more stylized art, although I rather liked some of the subtle but creepy changes in the character designs, and it certainly works to put you a little off balance.
As far as the quality of the visuals go, there are no major problems; the animation isn't bad and there are some decent attempts at dark imagery. But there is really only one good original spot--Shido uses a sword (and a few other magical-type attacks) made from his own blood. Although a bit more could have been done with it stylistically, it's still cool. Then for some reason at the halfway point they switch from nice, red blood dripping about and solidifying into a blade to a rather abstract (and slightly cheesy) shimmering pink blob, basically making the only original thing in the entire series look way less cool. Go figure.
Actually, there is one all-around good part of NightWalker--Akifumi Tada's musical score. Not exactly spectacular, but I loved the sad, mellow, slightly funky opening theme, and it captures the feel of the series surprisingly well. The background music is similarly funky and features a range of appealing themes, with a light-hearted, jazzy tune that accompanies some of the investigating being among my favorites.
The acting is all-around quite good, and I enjoyed pretty much all of the Japanese voices. Shido's laid back but not overly dispassionate tone, supplied by Takumi Yamazaki, is my favorite of the leads. More noteworthy, though, are some strong performances behind the episodic characters--several short but powerfully acted scenes. The slightly weaker English dub is still good for the most part, and the casting is similar, with the exception of Shido--Vincent Hatcher's voice is much higher than his Japanese counterpart and too whiny for my taste. Not badly acted at all, just questionable casting.
In summary, today's equation: Phantom Quest Corp + (Interview With The Vampire + Vampire Princess Miyu TV series) - originality - fun = NightWalker. Unless you're relatively big fan of at least two (preferably all three) of those series, it's probably not going to be worth your time.
For those unfamiliar with those series, here's a recap: NightWalker starts out fun, goes dark, and then doesn't really go anywhere. The overall story is relatively unpredictable but the individual episodes aren't, and it's too heavy on the vampire angst for my taste. Definitely watchable and maybe worthwhile for big fans of vampires, but there's not enough quality in any of the important areas to make for a memorable series.
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As mentioned above, Hellsing does everything this does, and does it better. Vampire Princess Miyu (particularly the TV series) shares just as much with the story, and also does the demons taking advantage of humans thing better. But perhaps the series with the most similar feel is Bastard!! -- it's somewhat funnier than NightWalker, but has a similar mix of funk and grit, and a similar artistic style.
Notes and Trivia
NightWalker is loosely based on an adult PC game released about five years before it aired; the game had similar characters, but significantly different plot and a much lighter mood. This likely explains why Shido and Guni don't seem to quite fit in this series in terms of angst-level. An updated version of the game was re-released a couple of years after the anime aired.
Takumi Yamazaki, who supplies Shido's voice, voiced one of the villains in Hellsing. Maaya Sakamoto--Riho's voice--also voiced a major character in Hellsing Ultimate.
Footnote 1: The abrupt change in tone and visual style after the first four episodes is because the show had originally been intended as a four-episode OVA series. It was later extended into a full-season late-night TV show, which likely explains most of the changes that happen starting with episode five. One can even see how the story could have ended after four episodes without seeming any less-conclusive than it does eight episodes later (in fact, it might actually have made more sense at that point).
US DVD Review
The two DVD volumes are relatively standard USM fare, featuring a standard bilingual presentation with a decent selection of bonus features: storyboards, trailers, plus an art gallery and scripts if you have a properly equipped computer. The discs were re-released at a lower price. There is also a newer 2-disc budget-priced set of the whole series that is dub-only for some bizarre reason, which seems a rather insulting development for a medium where a dual-language disc costs the same as a dub-only disc to produce.
Though rated 13-up by US Manga Corps, it could legitimately be rated 16-up for a variety of mature themes, graphic violence, and a small amount of nudity.
Violence: 3 - It isn't gory, but there is a fair amount of violence and blood.
Nudity: 2 - Very brief bits in a couple of spots.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A variety of innuendo, a bit of semi-implied hanky-panky, and some more direct mature themes.
Language: 2 - Some profanity.
Staff & Cast
Original Japanese Cast
Tatsuhiko Shido: Takumi Yamazaki
Yayoi Matsunaga: Emi Shinohara
Riho Yamazaki: Maaya Sakamoto
Guni: Ikue Otani
Cain: Hideyuki Tanaka
Gimel: Kazuko Yao
Police Inspector: Taiki Nakamura
Police Officer: Hidetaka Takeda
Man: Ryoichi Hino
Other Voices: Kyosei Tsukui, Shigenori Souya
Yukie Tsukimura: Yuko Kobayashi
Manager: Ryoichi Hino
Yoko Asahina: Takako Kikuchi
Director: Naoki Bando
Young Actress: Shiho Kawaragi
TV Reporter: Hidenari Ugaki
Ryuichi Taki: Tetsuya Iwanaga
Megumi: Maya Okamoto
Doctor: Naoki Bando
Stall Keeper: Shigenori Souya
Criminal: Koichi Sakaguchi
Person A: Ryoichi Hino
Megumi: Maya Okamoto
Furano: Naoki Bando
Anonymous Man: Koichi Sakaguchi
NOS Member: Hidetaka Takeda
Female Students: Mikako Takahashi, Tomoko Kotani
Shunichi: Akira Ishida
Mikako: Makiko Omoto
Girl Students: Asako Shirakura, Yumiko Kobayashi
Driver: Ryoichi Hino
Bait: Toshihiko Seki
Girl: Nariko Fujieda
Woman (Recollection): Sanae Miyuki
Girl (Recollection): Shiho Kawaragi
Shinji: Satomi Korogi
Yoko: Rumiko Ukai
Woman: Tomoko Kotani
Asami: Ai Uchikawa
Shuzo: Eiji Maruyama
Koichi: Koichi Sakaguchi
Miharu: Ayumi Kida
Man: Ryoichi Hino
Truck Driver: Hidetaka Takeda
Schoolboy: Hisayoshi Izaki
Little Yayoi: Hiromi Nakamura
Witch: Masako Katsuki
Yuki: Chiemi Chiba
Mother: Masami Toyoshima
Father: Keiichi Sonobe
Breeds: Naoki Bando, Morikubo Shotaro
English Dub Cast
Tatsuhiko Shido: Vincent Hatcher
Yayoi Matsunaga: Jane Alan
Riho Yamazaki: Dorothy Melendrez
Guni: Sandy Fox
Cain: Lex Lang
SWAT Officer: Bob Bobson
Mariel/Yukie Tsukimura: Sonja S. Fox
Yoko Asahina: Wendee Lee
Director: Steve Kramer
Ryuichi Taki: John Smallberries
Megumi: Ellen Wilkinson
Doctor: Simon Isaacson
Perpetrator/Student A: Terrence Stone Breed/Student B: David Umansky
Megumi: Ellen Wilkinson
Furano: John Smallberries
NOS Agent: Francis Cherry
Shunichi: Lex Lang
Mikako: Lia Sargent
Manami: Georgette Rose Truck Driver: Terrence Stone
Bait: David Mallow
Shinji: Jane Alan
Yoko: Mona Marshall
Asami: Melissa Charles
Monique: Melissa Charles
Shuzo: Abe Lasser
Koichi: David Umansky
Miharu: Melora Harte
Kasumi: Jane Alan
Little Kasumi: Mona Marshall
Truck Driver: Francis Cherry
Schoolboy: Joshua Freedman
Little Yayoi: Wendee Lee
Witch: Mary Elizabeth McGlynn
Yuki: Georgette Rose
Mother: Ellen Wilkinson
Father: Chuck Farley
Breeds: Chuck Farley, Steve Cannon
Director: Kiyori Sasano, Yutaka Kagawa
Planner: Ryota Yamaguchi
Screenplay: Ryota Yamaguchi (1-6), Genki Yoshimura (7), Toji Gobu (8)
Animation Director: Hiroshi Ishiodori (1-4), Toru Yamada (5,8), Takahiro Takigami (6,11), Takashi Kobayashi (7), Tadao Matsu (9), Takuya Nonaka (10), Kiyori Sasano (12)
Storyboards: Yutaka Kagawa (1), Sei Ikeda (2), Kunihisa Sugishima (3-4), Kiyori Sasano (5), Takahiro Takigami (6), Nobuhiro Kondo (7), Toru Yamada (8)
Character Designers: Miho Shimokasa, Satoshi Isono
Art Directors: Shigemi Ikeda, Hitoshi Nagao
Music: Akifumi Tada
Opening Theme: "Tsuki Sekai" ("Moon World")
Performance: Buck Tick
Mercury Music Entertainment
End Theme: "Mirai Kouro" ("Future Course")
Performance: La'Cryma Christi
Formerly available in North America from the late US Manga Corps on 2 bilingual DVDs (later re-released at a lower price). Was also available on three dubbed VHS volumes, as well as a 2-disc set of dub-only DVDs.