Vampire Princess Miyu (TV Volume 6: The Last Shinma) Review
With 'The Last Shinma' we find ourselves at the sixth and final DVD volume of the Vampire Princess Miyu television series as presented by TOKYOPOP. I've reviewed all of the preceding instalments elsewhere on DVD Times, so check the sidebar for links if you're interested.
Let me begin by saying... what a great collection of episodes! You honestly couldn't ask for a better concluding disc for this show; it's important to have a strong closing arc with a series like this, and Vampire Princess Miyu certainly delivers in that regard.
The events depicted in the five episodes on 'The Last Shinma' have been in the making since the very beginning of the show, and it's very satisfying to see the writers bringing things full circle and examining how Miyu's childhood set in motion a chain of events that inexorably led to these final scenes of the series. Essentially, this DVD starts by going back to the day when Miyu became the Guardian and then, having introduced a few key characters from that period of her history, returns to the present day to play out the endgame between her and the Shinma, who (as it turns out) have found a way to kill her after all... and have been patiently pursuing this secret plan without her (or our) knowledge.
Also very key to the success of these episodes is how the writers deal with the human relationships Miyu has developed over the course of the show... far from being forgotten or brushed aside, the fates of Miyu's schoolgirl friends form an integral part of how the series' denouement actually plays out. It's particularly nice to see that Chisato, Yukari, and Hisae were not merely 'throwaway' characters in the Miyu universe, but each gets to have a strong role.
Another appealing aspect of the episodes on this DVD is the surreal quality with which they are infused. Nothing is chiseled in stone here... although many key questions are resolved, other events are delberately left open-ended for the viewer to decide for herself. You might say that Vampire Princess Miyu has an ending that perfectly fits the twilight atmosphere of all that has gone before in the show.
Episode Guide (and Definite Spoilers!)
22: 'Once Upon a Time'
This episode is apparently set back in the Taisho era, and begins with Miyu sitting at a table with her mother discussing how a local theatre troupe has arrived in town. It's almost Miyu's 14th birthday and her mother seems mysteriously distraught, telling her not to go anywhere near the birds. It's clear that Miyu has not yet assumed the mantle of Guardian, and we also learn that Miyu's father has died... something which seems to conflict with the history presented in the OVA stories.
This is a very nicely presented episode, done in full cinematic style with a soft, period drama feel. It also focuses on a number of major characters who not only round out Reiha's formative relationships with both Miyu and Matsukaze, but one in particular is set to become a key player in the show's endgame. This would be a scruffy-looking guy who seems to be strongly associated with the 'birds' that Miyu's mother was warning her about. It won't take the audience long to work out that these 'birds' are in fact a certain sub-sect of Shinma who (even before Miyu herself realises her own destiny) have concocted a plan to kill her off.
Fortunately for Miyu, there are also forces already aligned in her favour; she has protectors of which she is similarly unaware. (You must remember, this is many decades before she meets Larva, so don't look for him to come rushing to her rescue in this episode!) Over the course of the show, she plays what to her seems an innocent part in a play being put on by the theatrical troupe... which is led by a magician which turns out to be Reiha's father. The fact that her dad seems more concerned for Miyu's welfare than for her own is something that does not go unnoticed by this young girl, either.
As it turns out, this is the very night on which Miyu will 'hatch' into her true form (the Guardian), at which point the bird Shinma know that she will be too powerful for them to easily take down. Unfortunately for them, up until this point she has been shielded from harm by some type of protective magick laid down by her own father before he vanished/died. So they have been waiting for the critical transition period, during which she will be vulnerable. This occurs during the 'play' Miyu, Reiha, and her father are acting out (which, in true story-in-a-story fashion, is actually the story of Miyu and her mother... and is in fact an awakening ritual designed to bring the Guardian to the awareness of her true self and activate her latent powers).
Obviously a huge battle ensues, with the members of the theatrical troupe (led by Reiha's father) attempting to protect Miyu from the onslaught of the bird Shinma (led by the scruffy guy from earlier) long enough for her to successfully metamorphose into the Guardian. In the course of the fight, Reiha's father gives her a doll (which will later become Matsukaze) and tells her that the doll will be her father from now on. When he is killed by the leader of the bird Shinma, the last name he calls out is 'Miyu', which distresses Reiha and sets in motion the animosity which will underscore their relationship for the rest of their days.
At last we come to the final confrontation between Miyu and Reiha, although this episode starts with a bit of misdirection in true VPM fashion... a man walks through a city street, sweating; he's confronted by someone we don't see and the next thing we know, he's frozen solid in a block of ice. Police cordon off the area and the action is shown on TV, where Chisato watches it, while eating her breakfast. She's a little surprised to see Miyu in the background. Cutting back to Miyu leaving the crime scene, we hear her thoughts that the victim must have been a stray Shinma.
We are given a clear sign that Miyu's schoolfriends will have a determining role to play in the series' denouement when they bump into Reiha, who not only asks them if they know where Miyu is but also casually reveals that she's known Miyu for many decades. While the trio attempts to digest this info, Reiha vanishes, an event that will send two of the girls down the dangerous path of scrutinising Miyu's background in greater detail. Yukari and Hisae start to put things together, associating all of the recent weird occurrences they've witnessed with Miyu. Predictably, Chisato takes a while to be persuaded, but Miyu's whole living-in-the-cemetery thing does take her aback a little.
Freak snowfall has disabled commuter trains; houses and land are blanketed with a thick layer of snow. Reiha finally emerges and both she and Matsukaze are determined to finish the Guardian this time around. Once more, Reiha accuses Miyu of doing a bad job and threatens to keep the snow falling until many humans are hurt. This inspires Miyu to fight and Larva shows up to help, though he's quickly immobilised in an icy barrier. Over the course of their fight, there are a series of flashbacks to the death of Reiha's father, and all of Miyu's attempts at explaining how she didn't ask to be Guardian fail to dissuade the petulant Reiha.
Miyu tries a new tactic and fireballs Matsukaze (as her direct attacks on Reiha are having little effect) and he and Reiha have a semi-touching final scene before Reiha gets mad at Miyu again and the bad weather waxes into a full blizzard. However, when Miyu has fallen to the ground and Reiha is coming after her with an ice spear, Larva finally manages to break free and Reiha (doll-like herself at the end) is decapitated. However, the next thing we see is her carrying her head under one arm, pointing out that Miyu's always had someone to protect her. Larva removes his mask and talks a little about his own destiny, while Reiha counters that she will be the one to defeat Miyu and leaves the two of them to discuss Miyu's responsibilities further.
24: 'The Boy Who Returned'
Chisato's older brother Tokiya returns home unexpectedly after a long absence. He claims to have spent a while visiting a bird sanctuary after he got fed up with college, and although she's overjoyed to see him again, it's clear that something's very changed in his demeanour. When Yukari, Hisae, and Miyu drop by the next day for a visit, it becomes quite clear to the audience that: 1, he's being controlled by a Shinma; 2, he knows that Miyu is the Guardian; and 3, he means to do her harm.
Miyu is genuinely distressed for Chisato, knowing how precarious this situation is for her, but Shiina and Larva try and firm up her resolve to fight this new Shinma that is obviously targeting her. Tokiya eventually shows up and the two stand off again, with him calmly explaining that he's there to defeat Miyu and that Chisato won't get upset because he's going to win. Unbeknownst to them, they're being watched by Hisae, who overhears him calling Miyu a vampire and openly declaring himself a Shinma. After he says he'll be ready for Miyu that night, Hisae runs off to tell Yukari.
Before the inevitable showdown between Miyu and Tokiya takes place, he visits the sleeping Chisato and gives her some kind of weapon to use should he fail in his mission to kill Miyu. This is an interesting bit of foreshadowing regarding his younger sister and sets up the last major plot twist of the series.
Meanwhile, Hisae and Yukari have tracked Miyu to her cemetery home, but cannot follow any further when they see her disappear in front of their eyes. They take this as a sign everything that was heard must be true and they continue to search for Miyu. Meanwhile Larva and Miyu follow Tokiya through a demon gate and confront him just as the two schoolgirls arrive on the scene.
The standard Miyu vs. Shinma battle sequence ensues, but when Larva afterward suggests that Miyu tell Chisato her brother has simply left on another trip, Miyu isn't sure she wants to lie to her best friend. The episode ends on the semi-cliffhanger of Miyu stepping through the demon gate again only to find Hisae and Yukari waiting for her. Meanwhile Chisato wakes, finds the weapon and realises her brother is gone forever.
25: 'The Last Shinma'
In probably the strongest opening of any VPM episode thus far, the intro segment depicts the funeral of Hisae, with Chisato sobbing and Yukari attempting to comfort her. Yukari clearly suspects Miyu of being a vector in their friend's death, but despite Chisato's own doubts about Miyu, when Yukari broaches this suggestion to her, Chisato gets upset and the girls have a falling out.
In the cemetery, Miyu goes to find Yukari. Miyu says they're both looking for the same killer and Yukari demands to know who and what Miyu is. During their conversation, another Shinma attacks – none other than the weird street vendor who originally sold Chisato and Miyu their friendship charms – and drops the bombshell that they were designed to conceal Shinma from detection by the Guardian! After Miyu advises Yukari to run away, she and the Shinma move into an alternate dimension to chat. Unsurprisingly, he reveals that he is a bird and that the Guardian has always been the target of all birds. More interestingly, he goes on to admit that Miyu turned out to be so much stronger than any of them had anticipated that they had no choice but to create the strongest Shinma, hand-tailored to defeat her.
Yukari runs off to warn Chisato, telling her about this weird guy and how Miyu was fighting him. Chisato invites her in, but it quickly becomes apparent that Chisato is not all that she seems! Miyu still refuses to make the now-obvious connection, and is openly mocked by her adversary when she claims that Tokiya was the Shinma awakened to defeat her. We soon learn the gory details of Hisae's death by way of a flashback to Chisato's own earlier encounter with the street vendor Shinma, who dissolves the friendship charm now that it has served its purpose and helps her to 'hatch' into her true form.
When Miyu reluctantly realises the horrible truth, that Chisato is her arch-nemesis and that she not only probably killed Hisae but may yet murder Yukari as well, she orders Larva to fight the street vendor Shinma so that she can quickly locate Chisato and stop her. However, after her departure, the Shinma smugly reveals that this was all according to the plans of the birds, as it means that Miyu will be isolated and without Larva's protection...
26: 'The Eternal Sleep'
OK, I'll level with you. This is a very weird episode and some may find it vaguely dissatisfying... not because it's weak – much to the contrary! – but rather because it is artfully vague about how exactly these final events play out between Miyu and Chisato. I had to watch it a couple of times just to understand the various implications of what was going on, and even then, I believe there are several possible alternate takes on the actual end of the show.
The actual structure of the episode is fairly straightforward, basically alternating between the ongoing battle between Larva and his (many) bird Shinma adversaries and scenes depicting Miyu and Chisato having a lengthy dialogue in a variety of locations... from the mortal 'human' realm, to the alternate reality which Miyu and Shinma can both call up, to flashbacks and even a bizarre surrealist take on the classroom back at the high school where all of the students have been replaced by giant eggs.
There's more linking back to Miyu's childhood, including a scene where the scruffy guy more or less forcefeeds the girl a human soul and then mocks her for having consumed it. Another key revelation is that the powerful flames that Miyu uses to send stray Shinma back to the Dark are in fact a reflection of her own emotions and for that reason she will have a hard time using this attack against Chisato, whom she cannot help but still consider a friend.
Things go on in this fashion for a while, but eventually Chisato moves in for the kill, stabbing Miyu through with the special weapon Tokiya gave her, and telling the latter that Miyu's power will live on in her as the latter crumples to the ground, calling out for Larva. The scene then cuts to Reiha and Miyu sitting across from one another, where Reiha interrogates Miyu, demanding to know if she is really going to die, defeated by a mere stray Shinma, and chastising her for making moot all the sacrifices made by generations of Shinma-Protectors who gave their lives to save Miyu.
This is only one in a series of curious death-as-limbo conversations Miyu has with various characters we've met over the course of the series. There are more flashbacks and lots of philosophical questions posed as we wend our way towards the conclusion of the episode. In the end, Larva manages to defeat his foes by using Miyu's own flame power against them, something he's never been able to do before but which appears to be graced him by way of his blood link to Miyu. He arrives on the scene in time to finish off Chisato, but it is unclear whether or not Miyu actually died or not. There is a peaceful coda showing Chisato, Hisae, and Yukari sitting on a park bench enjoying an eternal summer... somehow knowing that they can stay there and rest forever as children.
Picture, Sound, Menus & Extras
Not only is this DVD a strong finish to the Vampire Princess Miyu television show from the perspective of the writing, but the actual production qualities on this disc are similarly solid as well. I honestly have little more to add to my comments concerning the picture, sound, and menus on the second through fifth discs in the series... which can be summarised as 'good', 'good', and 'excellent' respectively.
I do have a few quick observations specific to this disc, however. First, the video score gets a slight boost this time around because it looks like slightly more care was given in the animation department to this final arc of episodes, which is always appreciated. I also really liked the way TOKYOPOP left the cinematic intro segment intact on the first episode on this DVD ('Once Upon a Time'); instead of the typical use of overlays, we get to see the full Japanese titles throughout... and since, as in a feature-length film, these continue well into the start of the action, it gives it a very nice feel.
On the negative side, this disc suffers from two weird quirks that I haven't seen before in the VPM releases: 1, there don't appear to be any opening credits whatsoever on the final episode ('The Eternal Sleep') – but perhaps this was intentional? - and 2, of the three automatic previews which play when you first insert the DVD in your player, the last (for Reign: The Conqueror) is completely unskippable... which is minor, but an annoyance nonetheless.
The special features on this disc are similar to those on the previous instalment, primarily consisting of four different Miyu art galleries ('Character Sketches', 'Shinma Sketches', 'Prop Sketches', and 'Location Sketches'), for 33 images in total. There's also the usual set of previews for other TOKYOPOP releases and one final example of those great parchment-style liner notes by character designer Kenji Teraoka.
Having now seen Vampire Princess Miyu in its entirety, I'm more than happy to recommend this DVD (and, naturally, the five preceding volumes) to any fan of the genre. The bulk of the series has a nice episodic feel that allows you to watch a couple instalments whenever you fancy it without worrying about losing track of the overall plot arc between viewings, while the final disc does a fine job of giving the show a feeling of closure. Furthermore, TOKYOPOP has since released a deluxe VPM boxset which includes all six DVD volumes as well as a bonus CD featuring various selections of the show's lovely and haunting music... so if you're already a fan of Miyu, then that may be the best option yet to pick up this excellent series in one go.