Tsukihime, Lunar Legend Vol. 01: Life Threads Review
There has always been a symbiotic relationship between Anime, Manga and Video Games in Japan, with many popular shows quickly spawning spin-off games and popular games receiving Anime or Manga adaptations. Tsukihime is part of the latter. It started out as a Doujin game, or to put it in western terms: a video game created by amateur programmers at home. Traditionally in Japan, these games had the stigma of being somewhat voyeuristic or violent, but over the years programmers started to adopt a more professional approach - including a group called Type-MOON, who would eventually create Tsukihime. Placing the emphasis on the characterisation and story, the game quickly became a huge success, enabling Type-MOON to become quite famous in the process. Needless to say, Anime and Manga adaptations soon followed, with the Manga opting for a more faithful recreation of the original game, while the Anime chose to refine the story and settings ever so slightly.
The story revolves around the unlikely alliance between the vampiric princess, Arcuied Brunestad and Shiki Tohno, a seemingly normal teenager hiding a mysterious past and devastating ability. Eight years ago, Shiki was involved in some sort of accident. When he regained consciousness in hospital, he could see lines running through every object around him. At first no one would believe the youngster when he told them about these lines, but one day a mysterious woman with crimson hair paid him a visit. After demonstrating that if he severed these lines he could destroy any object, the woman told the child that these lines were death itself and the ability to see them is a terrible gift that should only be used to protect someone important. With this, she handed him a pair of special glasses that reduced his vision back to normal, and Shiki has lived a normal life with his Aunt and Uncle ever since. But now this is about to change, because Shiki’s father has recently passed away and his younger sister has requested he move back into the family estate. On his way to this new home, he bumps into a beautiful golden haired foreigner and loses himself in a trance. He awakens at home, with only a faint memory that he viciously attacked the woman, but with no evidence to support this he decides it must have been a dream. That is, until this woman appears before him the next day and confirms the attack, saying she only survived because she’s a vampire, and even so, she has been left in a weakened state. To atone for what he has done, she demands that Shiki act as her protector and aid her in a mission to rid the city of fellow vampires.
Anyone who sees the words “Vampire” and “Anime” then immediately expect plenty of violence, lashings of gore and lots of T&A better move on to the next show now, because Tsukihime weaves a complex tale full of mystery and suspense. On the surface, the story may appear to revolve completely around the rather clichéd device of a mortal teaming up with a noble vampire that’s hunting evil vampires, but the strange ability of Shiki Tohno coupled with the fragmented memories of his past is where the heart of Tsukihime truly starts to beat. Flashbacks appear throughout the first four episodes, giving us only the briefest of glimpses into this mysterious past, and the intrigue conjured up by each new vague revelation drives the narrative forward quite well, because it’s pretty clear that Shiki’s current situation is closely associated with his past. Numerous conundrums abound. We know an accident eight years prior left Shiki with these mysterious eyes of death perception - yet we do not know what kind of accident it was. Early on in the first episode a flashback to his childhood shows his sister Akiha crying. At first it appears to be a memory of a time when his sister was upset and he tried to comfort her, that is until you notice the body of a young boy lying stabbed on the ground between them. Then there’s the first encounter between Shiki and Arcuied, and the rabid manner in which he suddenly attacks her. It seems to hint at a possible encounter between the two some time in the past, but for now Arcuied doesn’t seem to register this and Shiki is under the delusion that it was a moment of temporary insanity. There are so many other questions raised in just the first episode alone that it would be unfair to reveal them all, but one thing’s for sure – an awful lot of thought and attention has been put into the plotting of this show and it pays off very well indeed.
The characterisation is equally complex and well written; just about every character in Tsukihime is a fully realised, multi-dimensional individual. Arcuied Brunestad may be a proud, powerful vampire monarch who has presumably lived for many years, but she exhibits a surprising amount of vulnerability in her relationship with Shiki. Then again, there’s always a chance that this is all an act and her sardonic nature hints at an inherent darkness within the character. Shiki also has a dangerous edge to him and there’s plenty to suggest that his past his tainted in blood. His sister Akiha is another enigma, with her current, introverted and studious nature contrasting heavily to the cheerful child that appears in Shiki’s flashbacks. Last but by no means least is Shiki’s classmate Ciel, who acts like a normal friendly high school student by day, then turns into some sort of warrior by night. At the moment it’s difficult to decide which side she’s on, the religious markings on her clothing suggests she’s operating for the church but some of her abilities are quite inhuman. Her attitude towards Shiki is also pretty dichotomous, exhibiting concern for his well-being one minute, then animosity the next. For now though, she seems to be playing the role of impartial observer from the shadows, tracking his movements outside of school, so I’m sure there’s some sort of connection between these characters that Shiki isn’t aware of right now.
Katsushi Sakurabi’s assured direction complements the writing well, his understated approach and deliberate pacing effortlessly recreates a very serious, sombre atmosphere. Toshiyuki Omori‘s elegant, classical score backs Sakurabi up rather eloquently and some of the piano pieces in particular are quite evocative. There’s not an awful lot of action in the first four episodes, but when it does kick in, it’s dealt with in a similarly understated manner, with the restrictions on violence in Japanese TV shows ensuring there’s only a moderate amount of blood gore. Some vampire anime fans might be expecting more bangs for their buck, but the patient viewers will no doubt appreciate the meticulous compositions and imaginatively twisted character design of the vampire enemies.
There’s certainly a lot to appreciate in the first batch of episodes and with a back-story as intriguing as this, there should be plenty of revelations to come from volumes two and three. I can’t wait!
While I have tried my best not to reveal too much about each episode in these synopses, please bare in mind that the second episode and onwards may feature spoilers for the episodes prior.
Episode 1.: A spate of horrific murders that leave the victims drained of blood with two bite marks on their necks is terrorizing the general public. All over the city people are beginning to wonder if a vampire is roaming the night and concerned parents are setting strict curfews. As worrying as this may be, high school student Shiki Tohno has other matters on his mind. Today’s the day he moves back in with his sister at the Tohno family mansion after eight years living with his aunt and uncle in a cosy yet modest environment. He and his sister used to be very close, but are now total strangers, so naturally the teenager is more than a little apprehensive about the move, but it seems this will become the least of his problems when a chance encounter with a mysterious foreign lady will change his life forever.
Episode 2.: Confronted by the woman he supposedly slaughtered the day before, Shiki completely freaks out and frantically fleas from her presence. Later, his behaviour at school starts to worry his friends, but they quickly blame it on the disruption of relocating to a new home. However, upon his return to this home, he bumps into the mystery woman, who has been waiting patiently outside the mansion gates. This time his mad sprinting is in vain and she quickly catches up with him, but rather than attacking the boy, she explains how she has returned from the dead. It turns out she is in fact a vampire and because of Shiki she has been left in a weakened state, this is a dire situation for her because she’s being hunted by some powerful enemies. Her only option is to spare Shiki’s life and demand he take responsibility for her current situation and become her temporary bodyguard, an idea that the teenager doesn’t particularly care for.
Episode 3.: After escaping Nero’s clutches, Shiki and Arcuied have a chance to hole up in an apartment during the day. Now that Shiki has laid eyes on Chaos he will be hunted too, so he no longer has any option but to aid the beautiful vampire in a direct confrontation with the monstrous Chaos. For now though, they need to rest their wounds and this gives the duo ample opportunity to get to know each other a little better and for Shiki to fill Arcuied in on the secret behind his devastating ability.
Episode 4.: With Nero vanquished and his debt repaid, the dazed and injured Shiki returns home fully expecting to never see Arcuied ever again. He passes outside the iron gates of the Tohno mansion, where he is discovered and tended to by Kohaku. The next day he has some serious explaining to do because his sister Akiha is not too impressed by his disappearing act. To break the tension, Kohaku suggests they hold a welcome home party for Shiki and this gives the siblings a good opportunity to make up and get to know each other all over again. But the more Shiki reminisces on his childhood, the more dark secrets and vague shadows begin to surface.
PresentationPresented anamorphically at 1.76:1, Tsukihime adopts a more modern style of animation, meaning the image can appear a little soft and hazy, with an earthy, muted colour palette that exhibits some gradient issues on certain displays – for instance there’s persistent banding problems throughout on my TV set up. There is good news for viewers with higher-res displays because the banding problems are not nearly as bad, with only some minor instances. Otherwise the image is very pleasing. Black levels are deep, colours are crisp and relatively clean (with only some minor chroma noise creeping in), and cross-colouration is non-existent. Likewise there’s no print damage, but there is some heavy digital grain present during certain scenes. Fear not though, because this is a stylistic choice on the director’s part.
For audio there’s a choice of the original Japanese or an English dub, both in DD2.0 Surround. For the purposes of this review I listened primarily to the Japanese DD2.0 track and I have to say it’s a very fine audio presentation. Dialogue is delivered cleanly with no hiss nor tear and bass reproduction is quite deep when it needs to be, striking the right balance of warmth whilst handling the moody score and aggression during the action sequences. The English dub is pretty much identical, obviously bar the English dialogue. Speaking of which Tsukihime has been given a decent enough English dub, which should satiate those who hate subtitles and the only real criticism I have is that compared to the Japanese actors, the US ones are extremely bland, but I’ll take bland over coarse and annoying any day of the week.
Optional English subtitles are present.
ExtrasThe usual assortment of Geneon extras are present, that being creditless opening sequence and trailers for Demon Lord Dante, Captain Herlock and Gun Grave.
OverallThe involving story and richly fleshed out characters ensure that proceedings remain thoroughly engrossing, while the stylish direction and slick production values should provide enough ambience to keep horror fans happy as well. Tsukihime is a show well worth seeking your teeth into. Seeing as the series is so short and Geneon have delivered a solid DVD presentation, then it’s easy to recommend for casual and hardcore anime fans alike.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 10:57:10