Vampire Princess Miyu (TV series)

Most reviewers of this series have had the good fortune of having seen the OVA. I have not, and am thus able to review the series on its own merits, though I am sufficiently aware of the OVA from reviews which make me want to find it for rent if not buy it.

A school-girl with a mysterious powerful other identity, a cute animal side-kick, a mysterious male protector, perky school-girl chums, a treacle-ish "friends-forever" motif. Sailor Moon? No, but in moving from OVA to a TV series, Kakinouchi, deliberately adopted a host of magical-girl conventions. By the end, however, each either twisted (masked, blade-handed Larva as the protector, the hideous evil-eyed all-seeing Shiina as the 'cute beast', or for that matter, the duty and destiny driven, not quite-emotionless Miyu as a school-girl) or left dead and bleeding along with almost every character.

As in the OVA, Miyu is a Guardian shinma, whose duty and destiny it is to send 'stray' shinma who have infiltrated the human world and usually prey on human weakness, tempting humans to their ruin, back to the Darkness.

Viewed from the end (too many reviewers of this series seem to have bailed out after a few DVD's), this is the darkest and most dismal entertainment in any medium I have ever seen. Though it does not rise to the level of high art, or even particularly great anime, the view of life in Shakespeare's tragedies or Sartre or Camus's existentialist dramas is positively sunny compared to the world of the Miyu TV series.

The world-view of the series may be summed up as "dystopic Buddhism": all desire, even the most innocent leads directly to suffering and death. There are no happy endings, not a single one. Indeed happiness is only a dream or an illusion, the only reality in the series seems to be duty, destiny, death and despair. The darkness in drawn all the closer about the viewer by the fact that the series is built out of conventions we associate with light-hearted shoujo anime. The nearest one gets to happiness are Miyu's vampiric mercy killings of utterly ruined victims of shinma she has banished, sending them into a kind of quasi-Nirvana, a static dream of endless happiness in which all suffering and all desire, save one, are gone, and that desire fulfilled. The only shinma-victim left alive and not in utter despair at the end of an episode has lost her career and all her possessions, and is seduced and supplanted professionally by her maid. A final comment from Miyu, though, shatters any hope one has that the lesbian affair is at last a happy ending.

Many aspects of the series are disappointing: the over-use of static shots (sometimes done to good effect, but often looking like budget-dictated compromises), the freeze-action identification of shinma by name just before each battle (though in the next-to-last episode, this convention is finally used with good effect), the stylized challenges (and in the dub the bad voice-acting and stilted translations which make them worse), the over-use of the "monster-of-the-week" formula in the early episodes (but, watch the details even in these, some are important later).

In general, the animation is quite beautiful (though, I am told by other reviews not up to the OVA), and the music is haunting--some of the best I've encountered in anime. I had the misfortune of seeing most of it dubbed. The voice-acting in the dub is very weak, though it improves gradually over the course of the series. The original voice-acting is much better--Miyu is only almost emotionless, with subtle nuances of emotion showing though at appropriate times. Reiha is suitably chilling in both the dub and the sub.

The plots are uneven in quality, the monster-of-the-week variety varying from excellent (when the shinma's temptation or plot shows great psychological depth) to really awful (skip episode 16, variously titled "Woman Taoist" or "Woman Priest", the shinma's activities are straight out of a bad martial arts movie--the only way in which the episode advances the overall plot is that it shows that a human being can resist the shinma, albeit ineffectually without Miyu's help). The episodes which break out of the monster-of-the-week format and give Miyu's history (different from the OVA) or advance toward the final unhappy ending are outstanding (modulo the annoying features noted above).

All-in-all, it is worth watching (if you can stand the magical girl conventions until they come undone in the end, and can stand having every episode's ending make you "want to cry yourself to sleep" as a fan-reviewer wrote on another site), but only if you stick with it to the end.

Not for the kids: no overt sexual content (though lesbianism and incest (!) are implied in two episodes), no nudity (unless you count two bathing scenes with implied nudity, bare backs only showing), most of the violence is stylized, but some would be disturbing. However, the content is either too heavy or would be over most children's heads.

Ratings (out of 5, 1 being worst, 5 being best)

Plot 3.0*
Voice-Acting (original)4.0
Voice-Acting (English dub)2.5
*individual episode ratings range from 1.0 to 4.5.

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