Vampire Princess Miyu (TV Volume 4: Mystery) Review
And so we come to 'Mystery', the fourth DVD volume of the 6-disc Vampire Princess Miyu television series. I naturally assume that anyone reading this is by now already familiar with the show, but anyone looking for an explanation of the backstory can find a lot more details in my previous reviews of the Miyu universe, whether it be the earlier instalments of the TV series or of the OVA series that preceded it.
Notwithstanding my earlier praise for the 'dip-in, dip-out' episodic nature of the show, as we pass the halfway mark we're beginning to see hints that there may be an extremely subtle background story arc lurking behind these one-off instalments after all. For example, we see the series' first multi-episode story, which fittingly examines Larva's background before he came to Japan and became Miyu's protector.
Similarly, there's the continuing friction between Miyu's and Reiha's widely-contrasting views regarding what constitutes the former's duties as Guardian. While Miyu prefers to take the compassionate (and thus, to Reiha's eyes, human-tainted) perspective towards those occasional Shinma who are not actually causing any harm in the mortal plane, Reiha and Matsukaze act as foil with their draconian insistence that every single stray Shinma must be returned to the Dark... no extenuating circumstances need apply. It seems clear that a showdown must eventually occur between these two powerful supernatural entities, so that is something I am looking forward to seeing.
TOKYOPOP once again ramps up the disc content another notch, providing not four but five episodes on this DVD. (As there are 26 episodes total in this TV series, this means that the remaining two volumes of Vampire Princess Miyu will also include five episodes each.)
12: 'Garden of Crying Reeds'
This is probably the weakest episode on this disc, but considering that this volume includes some particularly good stories, this isn't the damning criticism it may at first appear to be. Telling the tale of a lonely man whose only friend is his cat - which has recently gone missing - this is also one of only two episodes on this DVD that feature Miyu's schoolgirl chums.
Predictably, Chisato - who by a convenient coincidence has just picked up a stray kitten of her own - is the one falling all over herself with a desire to help the poor guy out. As usual, Miyu detects that something weird is going on and begins to look into matters. Clearly it has something to do with the bizarre mansion he reported stumbling across in a neighbourhood where no such building is known to exist, occupied by a mysterious woman who seems inordinately fond of cats herself... but what is her secret and will the man work it out in time?
13 & 14: 'Light of the Sea (Parts 1 & 2)'
These two episodes provide a fascinating glimpse into the history of Miyu's closest companion. Up until this point, all we've learned about Larva is that he is a 'Western' (which is to say, European) Shinma, and that when he arrived in Japan he and Miyu faced off and she ended up binding him to her will. Now we begin to examine precisely what he gave up at that moment, and peer into some of the mysteries of the Western Shinma themselves.
Essentially, some of Larva's prior associates come looking for him, anchoring their ghost ship off the coast of Japan and sending in an emissary to seek him out. Of course, things aren't introduced in quite so straightforward a fashion. The first Team Miyu knows of any of this is when a rogue Shinma attacks them, but sparks recognition in Larva, who convinces Miyu to let their attacker escape so that he can deal with the situation himself. Of course, this is Miyu we're talking about here, so the chances of her not conducting her own little investigation are about zero...
There's a nice bit in the middle where the fleeing Shinma is rescued by another, rather innocuous one... a 'woman' who has blended into the human world by allowing men to have sex with her, and harmlessly drawing off their excess energies in the process. Both Miyu and Reiha manage to home in on the hapless duo at about the same time, and it's the usual Mexcian standoff between these two Shinma-vanquishing lasses.
Meanwhile, Larva goes off to confront the Shinma who have come looking for him, including the one who used to be his comrade-in-arms and closest friend. Adding to the mix a strange communicable 'crystal' disease that only affects Shinma, and you've got a lot to think about.
I won't go on, because there are some excellent revelations to be made about Larva, the Western Shinma, and - interestingly - Reiha herself... and these should remain a surprise until you've seen the episodes.
15: 'Dream of the Mermaid'
The final two instalments on this disc are both good quality stories, but this is the better of the two. A young man, forlorn after his girlfriend demands a temporary reprieve from his adulation, ends up drawn to a secret viewing chamber at the local aquarium. There he discovers a bona fide mermaid who always seems happy to see him, and he begins to dream that she is trapped there against her will. While he schemes some way to set her free, the curator of the aquarium begins to notice the changing tone of his visits. But where is Miyu in all this... and who is the Shinma?
16: 'Woman Priest'
Although the show tends to focus almost exclusively on Japanese Shinma, it occasionally throws in ones from other corners of the world to good effect (as illustrated in the two-parter above, as well as the early episode 'The Forest Calls' from the first volume). This time it's a Shinma from the Chinese mainland who tormented and murdered a young woman's family and then fled to Japan. The human protagonist, Yuiri, has come from Hong Kong to avenge them, but doesn't appear to realise that despite all of her spiritual and martial arts training, she is no match for her opponent. Cue some interesting debates between her and Miyu on the subject of vengeance.
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
By now this series of DVD releases has really hit its stride and everything from the disc menus to the packaging looks absolutely gorgeous. (I have to admit, I've now become somewhat addicted to the lovely 'parchment' liner notes that accompany the standard glossy insert in each volume of Vampire Princess Miyu. Not only are the illustrations beautiful, but it's very interesting to read in his own words the musings that Kenji Teraoka put into the preliminary character designs of the Shinma for each episode of the show.)
The picture quality doesn't seem to have suffered at all for the addition of yet another episode per disc... in fact, if anything I think it looks a little better. Go figure. Of course, these are dual-layer DVDs, so perhaps it's not unsurprising that there's enough room to comfortably fit five whole episodes with a good encode. There's still a faint grain and a little bit of pixel crawl when the characters are viewed from a great distance, but that's about it for complaints.
The sole special feature on this disc - even though it's not listed on the back of the case - remains the original Japanese intro segment. While this is always nice to have for any animé series, I miss the little art galleries that were present on the first two DVD volumes. Also present are two previews of other TOKYOPOP releases (Saint Tail and Spring and Chaos).
Other than the above, there's not much else that needs saying. For more details of the menu layout and audio quality, I refer you to my review of the second volume, as in these two departments the story is much the same as before.
The more I see of Vampire Princess Miyu, the more I'm struck by how amazingly watchable it really is. When I first heard that a TV series was being made that would extend the Miyu universe originally presented in the OVAs, I was slightly sceptical... but excited nonetheless, considering the high quality of that original four-part series. Although it's certainly true that the TV show is a very different beast, it has a great deal of charm in its own right, as well as the ability to make you keep coming back for more.