Vampire Princess Miyu (TV Volume 2: Haunting) Review
Last month I did a write-up of 'Initiation', the first volume of the Vampire Princess Miyu (Kyuuketsuki Miyu) TV series currently being released by TOKYOPOP. At that time I also mentioned that the DVD suffered from a few failings when it came to the show's OP/ED sequences and the disc menus. Happily, all of these problems were corrected in time for the release of this second volume, 'Haunting', which understandably comes across as a much more professional product.
Although I'll discuss the various improvements in their specific sections, another nice change that has been made involves the number of episodes per disc. While the first volume contained three, this one and the next both have four... and the final three DVDs in this set include a generous five instalments each.
Otherwise, in the story structure department little has changed, with each episode following the formula laid down in the first volume: 1, Miyu finds out (either directly or through her mates) that something a bit strange is going on; 2, she investigates/stalks the culprit; 3, she discovers the lurking Shinma behind the strange events/behaviour; 4, a massive supernatural battle sequence ensues; and 5, Miyu emerges victorious. Obviously, this is just an outline; as she progresses through these stages, the writers spend some time exploring the nature of her personality and her relationships with others. Further, the end of each episode generally includes a plot twist of some sort and generous ironies for the Shinma's victims, so it's not as if this simple structure isn't also effective.
What this means is that the series continues to be very episodic... a series of self-contained adventures that have yet to develop into an overarching story arc. (Although it's early days yet and there's plenty yet to be learned about the backgrounds of Larva, Shiina, and – for that matter – the newcomer Reiha.) My guess is that now that the character groundwork has been well and truly laid, the show will set to work on a background plot that Miyu and her friends get drawn into at some point.
4: 'Reiha Has Come'
Probably the strongest episode on the disc, this one introduces the first supernatural entity who is neither friend nor foe to Miyu. While our eponymous vampire princess is mucking about in the mountains of Japan (why her companions Larva and Shiina aren't with her is never addressed), she runs across Reiha – a mixed-heritage Shinma child who seems to have inherited the powers of a 'snow demon'. Miyu and her seem to have some kind of history which isn't explored much in this episode, but suffice it to say there's no love lost between them. To add to the weirdness factor, Reiha's always seen carrying a doll named Matsukaze who spends most of 'his' time making acerbic comments about Miyu's actions and motivations. (It's not really clear whether he's a separate entity or just a part of Reiha that has a mind of its own.) As Reiha has decided to hunt Shinma too, you can already see a future showdown between Miyu and her in the works...
5: 'Sepia Coloured Portrait'
The last three episodes on this DVD are more standard fare, with Miyu returning to Tokyo and back in the company of all of her companions (human and otherwise)... but with the addition of the occasional appearance of Reiha, who is apparently sizing up Miyu and her methods. This instalment focuses on a film professor at Tokiwa University who (as a much younger man) made a short student film featuring an unrequited love which he still bears the weight of. Miyu's closest school chum, Chisato, takes it upon herself to locate the woman from the film only to make a very surprising discovery...
6: 'Ghost of Miyu'
A grim rumour is circulating among the local taxi drivers, regarding the 'ghost' of a teenage girl who is killing cabbies and drinking their blood. Worse, the description is of someone garbed in the school uniform of Kabiya High and wearing Miyu's very distinctive hairstyle! While Reiha and Matsukaze quip about her showing her true nature at last, Miyu has to find some way of luring out the impostor. (This episode provides another glimpse into her character, though, as she doesn't hesitate to use her 'friends forever' school chum Chisato as bait.)
Miyu encounters a pair of homeless kids possessing paranormal abilities. The older brother is strongly psychic and finds the merciless onslaught of other people's disparaging thoughts difficult to bear, and his little sister – witnessing this – tends to lash out with a telekinetic force at the very people who are thinking ill of him. No, despite what you may think, neither of these children is Shinma. However, when the brother takes in a stray dog that's clearly been abused in the streets (like himself), it sets in motion a dark chain of events.
The picture score on this disc edges up slightly in light of the intro and ending sequences that TOKYOPOP have restored. (For those new to this issue, the first DVD volume of the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series contained the three episodes as one monolithic block, with all of the intervening closing and opening segments excised. There was a right uproar from fans, and the problem is rectified on the remaining five discs of this set.)
Not only are all of the OP/ED bits back, but the original Japanese title screens for each episode are present, as well as complete 'next episode' preview segments. In addition, the nasty 'black sidebar' is gone from the closing credits, as the company wisely decided to let the unretouched Japanese credits roll first and only afterwards scroll the English credits. Speaking of which, the end titles theme song has been given English subtitles... but these are optional (as opposed to hard-subbed). They've literally done everything right this time around.
As for the picture quality itself, things are much as they were on the first volume ('Initiation'): great colours and good contrast (though slightly soft), but still scattered evidence of aliasing, macroblocking, and cross-colouration... not to mention some dust in the print. Despite these minor shortcomings, the series is still a pleasure to watch; one just has to bear in mind that it was produced on a TV budget and as such cannot be expected to compare to the original Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs [original video animations]. Obviously, this slight step-down in animation quality bothers some people more than others. I myself like the new character designs for the TV series, and don't mind the extensive use of static pans and lingering background shots.
I don't have much to add to my comments from the previous review when it comes to the audio department. The sound quality is still good but workmanlike, as might be expected from a simple stereo mix. One thing I didn't mention last time around, though, concerns the score. Many animé fans will recognise the name of Kenji Kawai, the composer who's created the themes for everything from Ghost in the Shell to Irresponsible Captain Tylor. He's the same guy responsible for the music on the original Vampire Princess Miyu OVAs, so it's not surprising that he was brought back to score the TV series as well. Particularly nice is the opening theme, 'Shinma no Kodou' ('Heartbeat of Shinma').
Again, the menus on this disc are a definite step up from the previous volume. TOKYOPOP has secured the services of the design house Nightjar for all of its current releases, and the commitment to quality shows. Better known for their superb DVD menus on many animé releases (Akira: Special Edition, Fushigi Yugi and Sol Bianca come to mind), they've also worked on Hollywood stuff (e.g., Lost Souls). Anyway, although nothing so spectacular as the work they did for the Real Bout High School DVDs, the menus here are nonetheless elegant and evoke a subdued mood, with each screen flickering as if illumed by candlelight.
As for the extras, well, they're on the slim side, pretty much on par with what the last volume offered – 'DVD Credits', 'Previews', 'Art Gallery' – but with the nice addition of the original 'Japanese Opening' for the show. (Note that no 'Japanese Closing' is needed as the original ending sequence is already provided at the end of each episode.)
It probably sounds too obvious, but if you liked the first volume of Vampire Princess Miyu, you won't be disappointed by the second. In every regard it's either equally as good or a slightly better than the last DVD. Be aware that the show is still extremely episodic in nature, but that so far I haven't felt myself wondering 'When is it going to get around to the überplot?' Reiha is certainly an excellent addition to the cast of characters, as it's nice to see someone being antagonistic towards Miyu without just being 'this week's disposable baddie'. I'm curious as to how their relationship will develop.