Vampire Princess Miyu (TV) Anime Review
This first look is based on impressions from the first 6 episodes of the series and may not accurately reflect the quality of the series as a whole. Until a full review is posted, the opinions here are subject to change and should be taken with a grain of salt.
In the aftermath of Neon Genesis Evangelion, anime TV series underwent a resurgence of popularity rather than the much less risky OAVs. Many old OAVs were dragged up and adapted into TV series, such as Record of Lodoss War (which became Chronicles of the Heroic Knight), Bubblegum Crisis (which became Tokyo 2040) and a short, quality OAV based on a moderately successful manga--Vampire Princess Miyu. This was a haunting saga of beauty, immortality, blood and sorrow which was a far cry from the "tentacles" genre of horror. Unfortunately, this 1997 TV series so far has failed to recapture any of the dark charm of the original.
The story has undergone some changes, in its content, its execution and its structure. In the OAV we followed Miyu's adventures through the eyes of Himiko, a medium who constantly encountered the vampire princess during her own dealings with the supernatural. In the TV series Himiko is gone and it is Miyu herself who is the main character. This may have been a mistake. Admittedly it would have been hard to have executed the series the same way that the OAV had been, but having a human constantly running into Miyu through 26 episodes is much different from doing the same over 4. However, making Miyu the main character provides only two options--dispelling most of the mystery which made her such an appealing character in the OAV, or playing her as she was anyway. The writers mixed the two options, letting you find out a bit about Miyu while still playing her as an enigma with motives and desires we cannot understand. This didn't work. It is impossible to understand Miyu's actions sometimes--in some cases she is prepared to sympathize with the humans who become involved in her battles with the Shinma, other times she obviously doesn't give a damn, being more concerned with other forces "playing on her turf" than in saving human lives.
There are other differences. Miyu is now accompanied by another Shinma servant, Shiina, a wicked twist on the "cute series mascot" concept. Shiina looks like a small, white Ryo-ohki-like creature until its ear moves to allow you to see its massive, bloodshot yellow eye. Although capable of talking, Shiina doesn't do much and is relatively unimportant. Another difference is that Miyu's main servant, the silent masked Shinma Larva can now not only talk, but can even remove his mask. This may have seemed like a good idea to the writers at the time, but not only does it totally contradict what we were told about him in the OAV, it also ruins the whole point of the character, removing most of what was cool about him. Even though he only talks rarely, the fact that he can talk at all makes him much less unique.
So far there have been two new characters of any importance. The first is Miyu's rival Reiha the snow maiden. Reiha is a very interesting character--a supernatural creature who, like Miyu, also fights the Shinma but for her own reasons. She despises Miyu and wouldn't be averse to seeing the guardian destroyed, but wouldn't do such a thing to her "old friend" herself. The other new character is Miyu's schoolfriend Chisato. A excitable girl of the same (hypothetical) age as Miyu, Chisato is cliched and somewhat annoying. Her purpose is to bring out Miyu's human side to contrast with her cold vampire princess side, but this results in a lot of sappy "friends forever" stuff. There's a lot of potential for some interesting plot stuff in there, but only if the story makes a concerted effort to go there.
The biggest problem with this TV series is the stories themselves. Although not predictable, the episodes are extremely repetitive--they take the "monster of the week" theorem so seriously that the name of the Shinma appears on the screen in big, bold Japanese text when it rears up in its true form every episode. The plots themselves aren't entirely predictable because almost every episode has a serious plot twist in it which can completely change the shape of the story. The problem is that, no matter how many twists there are (although some are, in fact, very clever) the resolution is always the same--Miyu confronts the Shinma and sends it back to the dark or destroys it; you really can't tell which these days. The fights are reasonably interesting, or would be in the action wasn't so lame, but as a result of this repetitiveness, watching the series turns into a game of "guess the plot twist". The angst from the OAV has been replaced with a heavy-handed kind of "crap happens" feeling whereby something sad happens at the end of the episodes. The poignant sorrow from the original has turned into "bad things happen to good people, but there's nothing to be done about it". Case in point--at the end of the second episode, dozens of women are condemned to suffer for eternity. Miyu says that there's nothing she can do about it, they brought it on themselves and leaves. It feels like the angst was tacked onto the end. This totally sucks and isn't at all in keeping with the mood of the original. The series had better begin to go somewhere in the next few episodes or it will go very badly with its final score.
Technically, Vampire Princess Miyu TV series is disappointing. The animation is simply shoddy. This is not simply a result of watching a relatively poor quality fansub projected onto a university theatre screen--it is really unforgivably poor in places, inferior even to the aging original. The level of detail is fairly low, which is forgivable, but the action scenes are really cheap, made up of still frames, recycled shots and blurring background. Unlike some series, Miyu fails to work with its flaws, making them even more noticeable.The character designs have supposedly been reworked, but since Miyu and Larva are the only characters to hold over from the OAV this is unnoticeable. The new characters are unremarkable with the exception of Reiha who seems almost doll-like and is as chilling as her icy attacks. However the Shinma are lame, every one of them. Their design was weird, a highly appreciated alternative to the more generic "claws, horns and fangs" or the more extreme "hundreds of tentacled eyeballs", but they all look absolutely stupid as a result, with the exception of the one in the first episode which was merely dull. In the OAV we had enormous parasitic centipedes, living dolls and massive suits of spectral armour--here we have creatures best left undescribed, for fear of bursting out in laughter. Virtually nothing has been done to update the look of the series since 1988 and these flaws are simply unable to be overlooked. The music is still by Kenji Kawaii, but is very different from the eighties sound of the OAV. I loved the OAV soundtrack, but at best the TV soundtrack is "interesting". More often it is "mediocre". Finally, the voice acting is solid, neither more or less than expected.
In summation, although I'm only to episode 7, I'm totally not impressed with what I've seen. Even dubbed, I found the OAV totally engrossing; I'm finding the TV series a chore. Out of respect for the original I'm prepared to stick with it, but it had better lift its game pretty damn quickly or I'll be forced to condemn this series as something better left in the crypt.