Vampire Princess Miyu (TV Volume 3: Illusion) Review
'Illusion' is the appropriately-named third instalment in the 6 DVD Vampire Princess Miyu television series released by TOKYOPOP. Although the core characters and backstory are explained in my review of the first volume, the short form for those new to the scene is this:
- Miyu is a vampire, yes. (Ignore that 'princess' bit for now.)
- She's stuck eternally in the body of a teenager, but is really quite old.
- She has a few friends she hangs out with, both human and otherwise.
- In order to blend in, she's adopted the cover of a high school student.
- More importantly, she's obligated to scour the mortal realm for evidence of stray Shinma [supernatural creatures which prey on human weaknesses] and forcibly return them to 'the Dark' [an alternate plane of existence].
One of the nicer aspects of this particular animé continues to be its episodic nature. Unlike other series of similar length (this TV incarnation runs to 26 episodes), Vampire Princess Miyu doesn't seem in any particular hurry to establish a sweeping story arc. While naturally I would welcome one should it appear, the simple fact is the show doesn't need one.
The reason for this is twofold. First, Miyu's personality is the result of many decades (perhaps even centuries - it's never entirely clear how old she is) of life in isolation, during which time she was either utterly alone or accompanied solely by her Shinma protector, Larva. As such, it's not really necessary to chronicle her character development because she's reached a point where she is who (and what) she is, and her own emotional inertia is strong enough to resist most changes. About the solitary exception to this is an extremely subtle shift in her attitude towards humans, and even this is only because of her (relatively) close relationship with her schoolmate Chisato.
Further, because Miyu's stated mission is essentially non-escalating (stay alert for suspicious behaviour; locate Shinma responsible for it; vanquish same; rinse; repeat) there is no obvious reason that the series should adopt an evolving überplot. With each foe she sends back to the Dark, she doesn't achieve more recognition/notoriety, gain new powers/attacks, or view herself or her world in a new light. It's just not that kind of show.
What kind of show is it then? Well... although it would be obvious to compare it on one level to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, in reality Vampire Princess Miyu is a lot closer in spirit to The Twilight Zone (or, for those of a more SF persuasion, The Outer Limits). One-shot stories, similarly focusing on isolated 'what if' vignettes of a primarily dark emotional register, and never offering the viewer any guarantee of a happy ending... yes, I'd say we have a good match here.
The episodic nature of VPM is also welcome in that it allows you to dip into Miyu's universe in short (half hour) bursts, rather than having to set aside enough time to watch an entire multi-part arc... or (in the case of particularly trippy animé series) undertake a marathon viewing session just to be able to absorb all of the necessary details in one go.
Although the show does hold the promise of delving deeper into the backstories of Miyu's various associates - particularly the 'ice demon' Reiha and Larva himself - I find it a completely satisfying watch even when Miyu herself barely gets any screen time (as is the case with the four episodes on this disc, which spend much more time concentrating on the human interactions, and generally waiting until the very end to have Miyu sweep in and deal with the Shinma in question).
8: 'Red Shoes'
What in another genre might have been a sweet little story about a shy girl being given a chance at fame by a good-natured music producer and his harmless ruse about a pair of 'magic shoes' of course conforms more closely to the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale in the VPM universe. Not only are the shoes genuinely magical, but they threaten to inevitably drain the lifeforce out of their hapless victim. It of course comes as no surprise that the producer himself is a Shinma, but there are a few other interesting little touches in this otherwise straightforward piece.
9: 'Your House'
When the owners of a black cat mysteriously commit suicide and the lovey-dovey couple living nextdoor decide to take him in, you just know nothing good can come of it. In an episode pretty much hand-tailored for ailurophobes, we observe the rapid degeneration of this 'ideal' relationship as the woman begins to obsess over the manipulative feline and grows increasingly distant from her husband. Will Miyu intervene in time to ward off impending disaster?
10: 'Swamp of Promises'
This episode is interesting not so much for the basic premise ('boy promises to defend shrine in swamp, is apparently granted immortality in order to do so'), but rather because its key character is not only not Miyu, but is in fact her 'best friend' Chisato. Miyu and her mates visit a village famous for its hot springs, but Chisato promptly gets lost and manages to stumble upon a long-forgotten swamp on the outskirts of town, whose protector is a young boy who is lonely from untold years of guarding the area. Oh, and Reiha shows up again... as seems to be the rule whenever Miyu considers letting a Shinma remain in the mortal realm.
11: 'A Supple Face'
A gang member is set up to take a fall by his boss, but after he is gunned down in the street, he wakes up to discover he is not only unharmed, but that his face has completely altered, so that he is free to choose a new path in life if he desires. Of course, Shinma aren't generally in the habit of granting unalloyed boons to humans, so there's a sinister undercurrent to the episode as we realise evil must ensue. This is a nice little instalment with only one real twist... but it's the twist that gets the victim in the end.
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
This DVD carries on the tradition of quality established in the second volume, and as such there is not much to add to my comments in that review.
The picture remains decent, albeit far from perfect. Drawbacks include a very faint grain that crops up now and then over the course of the disc, some occasional rainbowing (as before), and scattered instances of night scenes where the 'blacks' were actually dark greys. However, most of the time the video quality is perfectly OK. Perhaps not what we'd like to expect of a 1998 animation, but some of that no doubt can be attributed to print damage (dust, nicks, etc.).
The audio is free of any notable defects, but also won't precisely give your speakers a workout. Both the Japanese and English tracks are basic stereo mixes with little directionality or bass action, and the English dub continues to be acceptable while not quite conveying the same depth of emotion as the original Japanese. I suppose the best aspect of the sound on this disc continues to be the lovely music by Kenji Kawai.
The menus are the same beautiful Nightjar creations seen on the previous DVD, and continue to be a joy to use. On the other hand, the special features (which were already fairly limited on the last disc) have taken something of a nosedive, and we are left with only the original Japanese opening for the show. (No, no art gallery this time around. Shame, really.) However, one bonus that isn't on the DVD itself is the nice 4-page 'parchment' insert in the Amaray case, which contains brief preliminary comments and designs for the Shinma seen in these four episodes. It's a nice touch and one I hope TOKYOPOP will carry on in the remaining volumes.
Vampire Princess Miyu continues to be an engaging television take on the original 4-part OVA series, and one that certainly benefits from professional-looking DVDs. There's something very appealing about the one-off episodic format and the eerie dramatic ironies that the show specialises in. Sure, there could be more disc extras - and some viewers may long for an overarching story arc to complement the capsule nature of the series - but overall VPM is solid entertainment value.