Tsukihime Lunar Legend (Volume 2: Lunar Dance) Review
I really wish I could report that this series was getting better, that it had shrugged off its initial sluggishness and myriad structural flaws, and that the story was growing more involved and the characters more intriguing… but I simply can't. Tsukihime Lunar Legend is, if anything, more frustrating now that it's burned through two-thirds of its total episode count than it was at the end of the previous volume. By this point, the writers have had plenty of time to get around to the story, but just don't seem like they can be asked, frankly.
Generally shows like this fall into one of two types: 1, the highly-episodic, 'X-of-the-week'-style programme, where there's not much in the way of advancing the overall plot arc (if there even is one) but at least there's a good, self-contained story in each episode; or 2, the 'grand design' series, where it may not seem as if much is happening each episode, but inexorably the show makes solid progress towards revealing the über-plot and (hopefully) reaches a satisfying denouement by the final instalment. Up until this second volume of Tsukihime ('Lunar Dance'), I was willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume it might fall into that second camp. However, having viewed another four episodes consisting of mostly nothing, I'm creating a third category to add to the above two: the series that has pretensions of a 'big concept' but never manages to actually deliver it, either on an episode basis or as an overall storyline.
But I did say 'mostly' nothing, so what actually happens on this disc? Well, for one thing we learn that Nero Chaos – the vampire that was stalking Arcueid earlier and who potentially seemed like a major antagonist from the first volume – actually wasn't all that important after all, and that the real villain is now someone called Roa, a vampire who has a nasty habit of reincarnating into new bodies. (Of course, considering the treatment of Nero, Roa will probably be similarly forgotten by the next volume.) Ciel, whilst still pretending to be Shiki's friend, turns out to be an old enemy of Arcueid's – and probably works for the Church, as all good vampire-hunters seem to lately. Akiha, whilst appearing to make an effort to understand and compromise with her brother, remains generally haughty and snubs some of his friends at the amusement park… but more importantly, seems to be keeping more than just the usual 'run-of-the-mill' family secrets from Shiki. Oh, and there are a few more seemingly-random confrontations which don't lead to anything. (Well, to be fair, perhaps they don't lead to anything just yet.)
Truth is, the pace has picked up slightly from the glacial first volume of Tsukihime. There's still not a lot in the way of character development (as I refuse to acknowledge the cool posturing between Arcueid and Ciel as bona fide development), although the writers may actually be going somewhere with Shiki's sister Akiha. The Tohno estate becomes an even weirder place for Shiki, but then again all of his friends seem so bland and lifeless in comparison to the key players/manipulators in his life that almost anything is an improvement over the 'school scenes' which predominated in the first volume. Other than that, the show still remains something of a snooze-fest for me. It may perk up a bit on the final volume, but I'm not holding my breath.
5: 'A Bow of the Sky'
Just when Shiki thought he was done helping Arcueid for a while, she turns up at his school, causing a massive stir of the stereotypical 'Whoa, dude, is that your girlfriend?' variety. Arcueid informs him that the continuing serial killings are being perpetrated by a new, even more dastardly foe called Roa, and enlists Shiki's assistance in taking down one of Roa's minions. After Shiki and Arcueid have the Tsukihime equivalent of a date, he heads home and Ciel confronts Arcueid alone, warning her away from Shiki.
6: 'White Dream'
Quite a lot of Akiha-Shiki interaction in this episode. At first it seems that his sister has relented somewhat from the strictures of her cold personality, seeming to place her brother's well-being as a very high priority and being willing to compromise to the point of letting him bring a television set into the Tohno estate… but Shiki's set to burn his bridges a bit when all his late-night sneaking out (against the house curfew rules) is discovered by Akiha. Back on the school front, Shiki and his friends are planning the next day's outing to an amusement park, but the mood is soured by the mysterious disappearance of three students from one of his other classes… who, predictably, turn up later as enthralled 'acolytes' of Roa. Whilst Shiki has to contend with the idea of killing a friend (or at least, something that used to be his friend), Arcueid seems more interested in the idea of dating.
7: 'Blue Sin Mark'
At last, a light-hearted day at the amusement park… erm, or not. Since Akiha discovered that Shiki's been sneaking out, she decides to come along to keep an eye on him and judge his circle of friends. And although he tried blowing off Arcueid for the day's outing, she of course turns up anyway, causing a massive stir as the hostility of two other women (Akiha and Ciel) and the uncertainty of a third (Yumitsuka) are turned upon her. So it becomes a day of sniping, with Akiha disapproving of Arcueid, Yumitsuka second-guessing Shiki's relationship to Arcueid, Arcueid and Ciel continuing to have it out with one another (in private), and Ciel hinting darkly to Akiha that she knows more about the secrets of the Tohno household than she's letting on.
And things just get weirder from there. In the wake of Akiha's meeting with all of Shiki's current associates the day before, she falls ill and he is left wondering if there's anything he can do to help. Evidence mounts to support the idea that his sister may not be entirely human, and Shiki's own investigations into the murky history of the Tohno family bear their own strange fruit.
Nothing to add to my comments from the previous volume. The video is still presented in a crisp and beautiful 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. No encoding problems mar the print (with the possible exception of a consistent faint grain), although the restricted palette is beginning to make things look slightly dingy. There are a lot of dark scenes, and although the blacks never seem to be super-deep there's nothing really wrong with the colours in this show. The main drawback continues to be the fact that the animation itself is not very spectacular, but instead utilitarian. Again, the audio is presented in both Japanese and English Dolby 2.0, with no surprises (nor much in the way of stereo separation/directionality) in store for the viewer. So Tsukihime remains solid, albeit workmanlike, on the technical front.
And the dearth of special features continues on this second volume, with only one extra on offer: the non-credit closing, a text-free version of the end credits animation for your viewing pleasure. (Oh, and two trailers for Full Metal Alchemist and Texhnolyze.)
Although I'm sure there are some animé fans out there who will warm to Tsukihime Lunar Legend (with the usual 'vampire chic' playing in its favour), I confess that I'm not one of them. The plot continues to meander uncertainly towards whatever conclusion the writers have in store for us, the characters aren't precisely groundbreaking, and the dialogue isn't gripping. There are one or two nice ideas thrown in, but even these aren't being developed with any kind of regularity. I can't imagine that there will be a big enough of a 'payoff' at story's end to compensate the audience for the drudgework involved in getting to it, but I suppose only time (and the release of the third and final volume) will tell.