Vampire Princess Miyu (TV Volume 5: Dark Love) Review
'Dark Love' is the penultimate disc in TOKYOPOP's release of the Vampire Princess Miyu TV series, which runs to half a dozen DVDs in total. As before, I refer anyone new to the Miyu universe to my reviews of the preceding volumes, all of which are available from the sidebar at screen right.
This fifth instalment features a nice selection of stories, running the gamut from the very surreal (yes, this is stock and trade for Vampire Princess Miyu, but some of these are weirder than usual) to a particularly unambiguous piece at disc end that explores some of the negative consequences of Miyu and Reiha's involvement in the human world.
Although this DVD volume isn't quite as powerful (writing-wise) as the one that preceded it – after all, Mystery did feature a couple of great one-off tales in addition to the two-part Larva story, 'Light of the Sea' – it isn't far behind, either. Those few episodes featuring bog-standard VPM treatments ('Love of the Dolls' and 'Butterfly Enchantment') are counterbalanced by more innovative storylines ('The Moray Boat' and 'Flag of Shinma'). There is a sense of rising tension over the course of this disc, especially between Miyu and Reiha... but also fairly telling is the fact that the supernatural action blatantly spills over into the 'human world' for the first time in the entire show ('City of Illusion'). Normally something like this that might blow Miyu's cover would probably have been avoided, but the writers clearly felt that this close to the end of the series it was a risk they could afford to take.
Episode Guide (and Potential Spoilers)
17: 'The Moray Boat'
This story features an unexpected introduction... sometime early in the 19th Century, a naked woman in a small boat drifts ashore near a fishing community. The villagers, assuming that she's being punished, push her back out into the ocean to die. Cut to modern times, where we see a woman named Mayumi telling her boss she can't possibly work any more hours because she needs to take care of her boyfriend.
We soon learn that he had been trapped in an unhappy marriage for the sake of his child, but when his daughter eventually ran away from home, he gave his wife all of his money and left, soon finding Mayumi. This episode is also interesting in that there is no 'hunt' for the Shinma du jour; Mayumi openly admits her status to Miyu from the very start, and begs to be allowed to stay with her boyfriend until he dies... at which point she will willingly come to Miyu to be returned to the Dark. Miyu seems to consider this, but – as usual – Reiha confronts her and goes so far as to suggest she'll deal with this Shinma herself as Miyu seems unwilling to carry out her duties. Although Miyu does convince Reiha not to interfere, it's clear that the latter will be watching to see what transpires.
Mayumi's boyfriend has a dream of a perfect life together, forever. This leads to a frank discussion about whether you can run away from problems or not, not to mention the depth of Mayumi's devotion to him and her boyfriend's promise to finish his novel. However, things begin to fall apart once he goes to ask his wife for a divorce... who predictably refuses to give him one for sheer nastiness sake. When she encounters Mayumi upon her return, the wife goes a bit mental, and in the ensuing scuffle Mayumi accidentally kills her. (As you might imagine, Reiha is on hand to give Miyu the usual 'I told you so'.)
And so we come to the battle sequence. Mayumi agrees to fight Miyu in front of her boyfriend – who, interestingly, already knew she wasn't human – and switches into her Shinma form (a kind of cute hedgehog-girl). Not one of Miyu's stronger opponents, she is easily defeated... and when the boyfriend breaks down and cries, despairing of destiny, he asks Miyu to send him away also. She refuses, but offers him her own brand of 'eternal happiness'. Bending down to bite him, Miyu is shocked as he dissolves into a baby (cleansing him of his sins), and ends up placing the infant in a small barrel that is conveniently at the waterside.
18: 'City of Illusion'
Buildings are starting to literally dissolve all around Tokyo, leaving large piles of what looks like sand. Meanwhile, we are shown someone working feverishly on a twisted miniature version of the city in some underground location, where each roof is askew and there is a giant Buddha statue watching over everything. When Miyu eventually turns up and asks if he's the one building this city – which he of course says he is - he mentions that the Buddha is from a temple, and that he saved it from being burned. Neither Larva nor Shiina seem to be able to find the Shinma responsible for these strange goings-on, so it's only a matter of time before Reiha appears to mock Miyu and her assistants for their lack of progress.
Back in town, everyone seems to be talking about a new railway crossing bridge... so it's only to be expected that it'll be the next thing to dissolve into sand, and it does. Zillions of spiders leave the sand and scutter off into the city. Back in the subway, people are going about their daily commutes, and the worker from earlier is discovered sitting on the floor by a priest who knew his father, expressing happiness that he obviously escaped the temple fire. However, this revelation isn't taken kindly and the priest is pushed to the floor; the worker runs away, and some of the metro police start to chase him through the subway.
The police are led deep into the tunnels, where they discover the warped miniature city. As the Buddha statue moves to attack we cut back to the priest, who explains that the fire was in fact started by the city worker as he was so upset the temple was going to close. When the giant Buddha makes its way up to the heavily-populated businesses above the subway system, its destructive rampage is only brought to a halt by Reiha and her ice-demon powers. Miyu, meanwhile, turns up at the city worker's house... having apparently worked out that his wife is the lurking Shinma responsible for all this madness. The usual battle ensues, with a similar outcome.
19: 'Love of the Dolls'
Somewhat reminiscent of the marionette story from the OVAs, this episode is all about a famous dollmaker (Kimihara) who lives in an enormous mansion with only her dolls to keep her company. Very quickly we see her talking to a doll as if it were her lover... ah, all part of the freakiness we expect from VPM. She sits down to dinner with her dollfriend, and spouts undying love and romanticism for it. Her happy little fantasy world is about to be torn apart, however, as the very next day she meets Yuki, a young lady who has been sent by Kimihara's agency to be her assistant. (It's clear that the company would like to see an increase in the production of her dolls, as demand has well outstripped supply, and Kimihara herself seems to have lost her focus recently. Quelle surprise, eh?)
Things go from there pretty much as you'd expect. Kimihara reluctantly permits Yuki to work with her, but forbids her from entering a particular room (ha ha, like that ever works). Naturally Yuki discovers the beautiful male doll... and even after being punished by Kimihara cannot help but continue to sneak in to touch and even kiss the doll herself. Meanwhile, Kimihara is finding it hard to concentrate, feeling jealous of Yuki. In a final confrontation between the two, Kimihara whips out a wood-carving knife and attacks the doll, which reverts to Shinma form and taunts both her and Yuki for being stupid enough to fall in love with it.
Miyu naturally shows up to deal with the situation, then wanders off disinterestedly as Yuki offers herself to Kimihara as someone to love instead of the artificial substitute of her dolls. Cutting to the future, we witness Yuki's first collection of dolls being displayed, with the not-so-subtle suggestion that Kimihara's need for affection is merely being exploited by the girl.
20: 'Butterfly Enchantment'
This episode focuses on a lonely girl whose mother has died and whose father (a paleontologist) stays at home all of the time and tends to his greenhouse. When Miyu - investigating a strange butterfly that seems to be hanging around the students - finagles an invitation to the girl's home, the latter gratefully introduces her to her father in the hopes that he will stop worrying about her and start to get out more. (When they leave the father she tells Miyu that he usually locks himself in the greenhouse all night.)
Back at school, Miyu is told by her chums that her new friend only just got out of an institution and apparently did something horrible when she was little (that is, pushed her mother down some stairs and attacked a teacher), advising Miyu not to befriend her. When Miyu asks the girl about the stories, she says she can't really remember and her father doesn’t discuss it with her. We also learn a little about how the butterfly came into her father's life and how worried she is that her father seems to have become a slave to it... naturally triggering 'Shinma alert' in Miyu's mind.
Miyu disturbs a greenhouse tryst, snapping the man out of his dreamworld... and making the interesting discovery that her new friend is in fact the one being controlled by a Shinma, desperate to be the only one to make her father's dreams come true. A black shadowy mass leaves the girl's body and fights Miyu, who relegates it to oblivion as expected. Unfortunately, the father runs into the destructive fire after his 'love' and disintegrates, leaving Miyu to sort out the girl in the only way she seems to know how.
21: 'Flag of Shinma'
A trio of Shinma brothers is terrorising an isolated village in the countryside. When Miyu later turns up in the town, having found a secret path into that region, she is immediately accused of being a Shinma and thrown in a cell with... yes, Reiha! (If one thing is abundantly clear about these two entities, it's that they both tend to be drawn to the same circumstances and seem pretty much on par with one another in the fields of investigation and fighting prowess.)
It soon transpires that one of the three Shinma has demanded the daughter of the village chief as a bride, and so her father went off searching for a warrior to deal with the situation. Upon his return from this fruitless search, he apologises profusely and frees Miyu (and by association, Reiha), explaining to the villagers that she's a descendant of their master, and that his family in particular has a duty to protect the Guardians.
However, when the chief tells Miyu and Reiha that they must leave this matter to him, they both refuse and insist that stray Shinma are not the responsibility of humans. A fairly obscure dialogue between Reiha and Miyu regarding their shared history ensues, and although we don't get any proper details at this stage, it's quite clear that Reiha doesn't want Miyu involved in the upcoming battle. You can of course guess Miyu's response to this, so come midday the following day the two of them are standing side-by-side to confront the three Shinma brothers.
An extremely hard battle follows (made worse for Miyu by the fact that Larva cannot respond to her calls for help). Reiha manages to save Miyu from certain defeat, but as the fighting continues, Miyu's attacks are deflected by the spiritual flag the Shinma brought with them... and end up spilling onto the villagers' homes, burning them to the ground. To add insult to injury, when the village chief finally offers up his daughter in order to stave off further destruction, Miyu refuses to allow this... and in the resultant melee he dies protecting her. The final blow comes when the frightened villagers then take the chief's daughter hostage, at which point Reiha freezes the lot of them after drawing a parallel between her own history and the girl's. (So it's your usual Vampire Princess Miyu happy ending, then.)
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
On the picture, sound, and menu fronts, this Vampire Princess Miyu DVD continues the tradition of quality established in the second volume and maintained in the third and fourth instalments. The video suffers from nothing more damning than a faint background grain and the occasional overuse of static camera pans, and the audio remains a clear (if workmanlike) stereo mix. The menus are lovely as usual, thanks to Nightjar's expertise.
The special features on this disc include the original Japanese intro segment and no less than three art galleries ('Character Sketches', 'Prop & Scene Sketches', and 'Location Sketches'), for a total of 32 images spanning not only the stories on this particular disc, but definitely going back at least a dozen episodes. There's also the usual set of previews for other TOKYOPOP releases, including Reign and GTO. And let's not forget the 'parchment' style liner notes (in the Amaray case) by character designer Kenji Teraoka, which are always a joy to behold.
Obviously, if you've come this far in the Vampire Princess Miyu television series and still enjoy it (as I do), then whether or not to pick up disc number five is a no-brainer. As we approach the end of the show, it seems that the writers are paying more attention to fleshing out the personalities of the principals, and this can only be a good thing. Miyu, Reiha, and Larva have all come a long way from their initial 'rough sketches', and there's definite promise of further development happening in the final volume.