Vampire Princess Miyu (TV) Anime Review
Kyuuketsu Hime Miyu (or Kyuuketsuki Miyu)
Vampire Princess Miyu
US Release By
Gothic Horror Action
26 25-minute Episodes
1997-10-07 - 1998-03-30
What's In It
- Catfights (of the very symbolic and supernatural sort)
- Swordfights and Scythefights
- Violence: 3 (significant)
- Nudity: 1 (mild)
- Sex: 2 (moderate)
- Language: 1 (mild)
Miyu is a strange creature in a world of dark supernatural beings that lurk just below the surface of modern society. She is a Guardian, a special vampire gifted with great powers and charged with returning stray Shinma--demons who prey on human frailty--to the Dark from whence they came. She fights with Larva, her faithful Shinma servant, and Shiina, a minor demon with the power to see through illusions, but there are many forces at work against her--the many Shinma of Japan, the possibility of an invasion by Western Shinma, and even her sometime ally Reiha, another potential Guardian. But as she walks among the humans to protect them from their own weakness, is it possible that she may begin to fall victim to these human emotions herself?
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Vampire Princess Miyu is a magical girl show done as dark, gothic horror. Each element, from a rabbit sidekick to surreal battles, twists an anime standby into something darker, and the setting takes the modern world and shadows it with dark forces and things beyond the scope of rational understanding lying just below the surface. Although the world is at times inconsistent, and the monster-of-the-week episodes can drag on occasion, thanks to plenty of action, a number of creepy situations and moments of chilling realization, a solid voice cast, and appropriate music, the series comes out ahead on average.
So long as you don't try to compare it to the far more elegant and creative Japanese gothic horror of the OAVs, the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series stands out a dark twist on the traditional schoolgirl action genre.
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Before I say anything about this series, I have to establish that I consider the Vampire Princess Miyu OAVs to be among the best gothic horror anime there is, and I like the early manga as well. That said, I'm trying very hard look at the TV version of the series as something entirely separate from the OAVs, because I have trouble calling it anything but disappointing in comparison. I'll explain why later, but I'll start with the TV series based on its own merits.
Vampire Princess Miyu is something like a magical girl show done as dark, gothic horror. All the basic elements are there--a high school girl with special powers, a few perky friends, a studly guy that helps her out, a monster to fight in every episode, and even a cute little bunny sidekick. The difference is that every element is in some way wrong--Miyu is a nearly-emotionless vampire charged with returning stray Shinma to the Dark, the battles are bloody and surreal, and even the cute rabbit is a demon with an all-seeing evil eye. These unsettling tweaks makes for an unusual and very creepy series that offers a fresh twist on a couple of traditional genres.
Although the world of Miyu superficially looks like the place we all live, every aspect seems to be steeped in the supernatural--not simply magic and demons, but powers truly outside the realm of clear explanation. In most of the stories that make up the series, a clear picture of what, why, and how is never drawn.
Vampire Princess Miyu is a shoujo series at its heart, which means that the focus of the stories is as much on the emotional interaction of the characters as on blood, gore, and battles, though none of those are lacking. One of the most interesting things to arise out of this is the depth of character that many of the villains have; although they are all demons, they also have personalities that go beyond "I want to kill people." Some of the Shinma don't even seem to be particularly bad, providing a hint of tragedy and emotional tension when Miyu is faced with the prospect of removing them from the human world. Tragedy, be it from the cruel fate of some Shinma or the frailty of their human prey when faced with temptation, is an ongoing theme, although in contrast to many shoujo series the mood throughout is subdued and seasoned with chilling moments of realization.
Another strong point of Vampire Princess Miyu is the indirect way in which the stories are told; throughout the series characters are introduced and actions explained in vague allusions to the grand scheme of things, and important details are only revealed in fragments. Even Miyu's past and her relationship to the Shinma and the other ongoing characters are only explained in bits and pieces of conversation and brief flashbacks, leaving the viewer to piece together much of what is going on.
All this comes together to give a sense of mystery and unease to both the story and the characters who inhabit it. The result is a disquieting experience, and quite a few creepy moments.
But this series is far from flawless, even if you don't take the other incarnations of the characters into account. For one thing, the tragedy is unrelenting and heavy-handed; after a while it can get a little overwhelming, especially considering how subdued the series tends to be. Likewise, a few of the episodes get carried away with the "deep" moralizing, and end up dragging along not making a whole lot of sense. Along the same lines, although this is almost to be expected from a series of this sort, the stories frequently sacrifice coherence or logic for the sake of a concept, leading to scenes that don't flow together well at all.
None of these flaws are unforgivable, but there are enough poorly constructed parts that it's easy to start picking it apart if you're not completely absorbed in the mood.
A bigger and more obvious problem is its episodic nature; although later episodes do begin to develop Miyu's character and offer bits and pieces of a larger picture that eventually brings things together, almost every episode is a self-contained cat-and-mouse game with one Shinma. Each Shinma and its style is introduced early on, Miyu stalks it one way or another through the episode as it attacks a human in some unusual manner, then at the end the Shinma reveals its true form. There's a climactic battle, and the episode closes with a tragic or chilling twist. There are plenty of creative variations on this formula, but almost every episode fits it, giving the whole thing a monster-of-the-week feel. In the more emotionally substantive episodes it also leaves the inevitable battle seeming out of place.
Finally, the widely varying themes of some episodes also caught me off guard; jumping from a very quiet story about a jilted lover to a more action-based one about a Chinese martial artist, for example, weakens the coherent feel of the world.
That's my opinion of the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series on its own merits; time to indulge in a few comparisons. I already said that I thought the TV series was a major disappointment in contrast to the OAVs; there are a lot of reasons for this, but it boils down to creativity. Where the battles with the Shinma in the OAVs are almost like an abstract supernatural dance, the TV series features bloody showdowns involving leaping and slashing, with Miyu firing Shinma-banishing fire blasts--she even says "flame" when she hurls them. Compared to your average monster-fighting TV series, Miyu may be something very different, but compared to the OAV version it's almost embarrassingly traditional, and too many of the battles seem to be there because the standard episode progression requires it.
Elsewhere are similar concessions to "standard" TV themes, rather than the traditional Japanese artistry of the OAVs. The monsters, though their modus operandi are usually creative, are definitely monsters, lacking the subtlety and creepy concepts behind the Shinma of the OAVs. Other characters simply feel too "anime-like" in their styling, such as that Chun Li-esque martial artist. The demon-bunny Shiina, as subtly disturbing as she is, still seems out of place, and the silent, masked Larva now frequently takes his mask off and speaks. Actually, even though the different take on Larva seems suspiciously like fanservice, I'm willing to accept that particular change as a necessity for providing more interesting interaction and deepening the characters. I also thought his new scythe was very cool, even if it leads to more action-oriented battles. In all, though most of these things aren't major, I repeatedly got the feeling that things were included to increase the audience of the show, rather than because they were artistically appropriate.
Lastly, there is the level of explanation. Although I love how little of the large scale story is explained in the TV series, neither that nor the many individual episodes have the same feeling of a coherent story that the OAVs offer--something that snaps clearly into focus at the end. The TV series is more of a meandering journey, with Miyu learning a bit about humanity in each episode, lacking a sense of any real progression. Much more importantly, the mechanics of Miyu's supernatural world are explained too well; although a clear "how" is never spelled out, I much prefer the almost completely abstract nature of the OAVs.
Finally, on more of a comparative note, Miyu's character is somewhat different. The OAV version is usually seen from a distance, and is portrayed as simultaneously child-like and confidently knowing, contrasting with Himiko's maturity and discomfort with supernatural situations. The TV Miyu is a little older, and though she shares some of the same quiet confidence, tends to be quite reserved, contrasted with her more childish and lively classmates. Although we are still kept at a distance from what she is thinking, we also see more of the story from her point of view, and are privy to more of her private life. The main result of these changes is that where the OAV series' Miyu is an eerie and shadowy figure that we, like Himiko, struggle to understand and keep up with, the TV version is more human, and much more time is spent on her emotional development. In general I prefer the OAV version, but the TV version is also an interesting character, and the changes allow for more depth and intrigue.
Getting back to the TV series on its own merits, the technical end of things is hit and miss. Some of the character and monster designs--the Grim Reaper-like Larva, an evil mask, an armored rider on a skeletal horse, to name a few--are properly frightening. Many others, unfortunately, are generic at best, and a bit on the cheesy side at worst. Most of the backgrounds are quite nice, featuring surreal imagery or just a normal locale given an unsettling air, but a few take potentially great images like ghost ships or abandoned towns and do little to make them memorable. The art and animation are more consistent, if not necessarily good. The art is decent, if usually a little too simple for my taste, but the character animation frequently looks awkward.
Kenji Kawai's score is better; despite being a little on the overdramatic side, there are several appropriately creepy background pieces, and I particularly like the choral intro and sad, pretty end theme.
The acting in Japanese is solid all-around, though there aren't any particular standout performances. The exception is snow-girl Reiha's superficially gentle but appropriately chilly voice and her ornery doll (a particularly impressive performance considering that they're both voiced by Emi Ogata).
The English dub, though it lacks the flavor of Japanese dialogue in a series about Japanese demons, is surprisingly good for the most part. The casting is quite consistent with the Japanese version, the dialogue is closely translated (in fact, it's more accurate than the subtitles in a few cases), and the acting is very good--even the bit parts are solid. The one exception is Dorothy Elias Fahn as Miyu; she sounds a bit on the old side, and although the character is short on emotion (and the Japanese version usually sounds somewhat distant), the English version is just too dry, coming across as stiff and sort of sleepy sounding. On an unrelated note, they missed the opportunity to give the Western Shinma British or other European accents, which would have been a nice touch.
The bottom line to all that is that, if you look at it as a shoujo action series, Vampire Princess Miyu is emotionally deep, creative, and quite creepy, if a little slow. If you compare it to the OAVs, it feels less refined, a little cheesier, and much more anime-like. Some people will probably prefer the TV version--it was, after all, targeted at a broader audience--but looked at from an artistic perspective and at least my taste in horror style, it is disappointing. Not bad, certainly--there is still a great deal of interesting material--but don't come expecting a series that will be much like the OAVs.
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Obviously, if you liked this series, it's worth giving the OAVs a shot, even if they are somewhat different. Shamanic Princess is another series that shares many elements, in visual style and story, and is beautiful to boot. Two other series with a somewhat similar feel, if entirely different stories, are Boogiepop Phantom and Serial Experiments Lain. In the other direction, if you want the tragic emotional themes of this series without the horror element, you might try more standard shoujo series like Fushigi Yuugi or Please Save My Earth. Lastly I'll point out Revolutionary Girl Utena even though it's an entirely different sort of series, since it has a similarly vague and unexplained plot.
Notes and Trivia
Based on the Vampire Princess Miyu manga series by Narumi Kakinouchi.
The title is something of a play on words; it can be read as "kyuuketsuki," the Japanese word for vampire, but the final character is written using the character for "princess" (which can also be read as "hime"). The meaning, therefore, comes out as "Vampire Princess Miyu", though it could be read either "Kyuuketsu Hime" or "Kyuuketsuki."
Dorothy Elias Fahn, who voices Miyu in the English dub, dropped us a note to say that her particularly low-key performance was the choice of the director rather than her own decision.
US DVD Review
Tokyopop's 5-episode-per-disc DVDs are well done, featuring crisp video and audio (though a few spots on the video have a surprising amount of visible dirt considering how new the series is), English subtitles, a separate subtitle track of only the translations of onscreen text that can be turned off via the menus, plus full English and Japanese cast lists. The attractive menus provide access to individual scenes, plus a few goodies, but the best extra is an insert in the case with sketches of each Shinma with plenty of notes by designer Teraoka Kenji.
Some pretty scary stuff and some graphic violence put this into probably the high end of the 13-up range.
Violence: 3 - There are a few particularly graphic Shinma death scenes, but mostly the violence is less gory.
Nudity: 1 - Some exposed skin, but no nudity to speak of.
Sex/Mature Themes: 2 - A few implied mature themes, and a lot of stuff that's just scary.
Language: 1 - Very little strong language.